Showing posts with label Super Bowl. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Super Bowl. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

It Doesn't Matter if Tom Brady Is a "Top-5 QB" or Not

An ESPN article has outraged the sports fans of Boston and New England. Sam Monson wrote a piece that argued that Tom Brady was no longer a "top-5 QB." I contend that as far as the Patriots are concerned, it doesn't matter if Brady is or isn't.

I'm not going to waste much time dwelling on Monson's assertions. If forced at gunpoint to give my top 5 NFL QBs, I'd include Brady. You'd have to force me at gunpoint because I think such discussions, and the side-arguments they spawn, are essentially meaningless. Being in the top 5 is such a relative, changeable thing. One year the 6th best QB could be great, another year the 3rd best could just be good. What does it matter?

It's all relative, yet the discussion is phrased in absolute terms. Instead of Brady "being in the top 5," pundits and some fans say Brady "is a top-5." That's an important difference in words. Being "in" a top 5 suggests that there's a list that QBs enter, fall out of, rise, and fall. The list is permanent, the player's spot on the list is not. Saying someone "is" a top 5 suggests that it's the player's greatness that is permanent, that he has some sort of top-fiveness quality to him, and somehow this attribute can only be possessed by 5 players at any given time. Once this greatness transfers to another player, the player drops out of the top 5.

So instead of acknowledging that these are rankings and are relative, they become attributes, described the same way that someone might describe height or weight. "He's a tall QB," "He's a big QB," "He's a top-5 QB." Saying a player "is a top-5 QB" sounds much more absolute than saying "he's in the top 5."

It pisses me off.

The biggest reason I hate these discussions is because football is so team-oriented that it doesn't matter if your QB is in the top 5 or not. Monson didn't include Russell Wilson in his top 5, but did include Philip Rivers. Who won the last Super Bowl? Was Joe Flacco "a top-5 QB" in 2012? Eli Manning wasn't a top 5 candidate until the Giants won in '07 (against Brady, who was a top 1 QB that season), then Eli was top 5 material, then he wasn't, then the Giants won again so he was, now he's not.

A "top-5 QB" is not a necessary ingredient to victory. Monson's top 5 (Rivers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger) have a total of 5 Super Bowl rings, none in the last 3 years. Non-top-5 QBs have won the last 3 Super Bowls, and wear a total of 7 rings.

Six of the last 11 Super Bowl winning QBs aren't among Monson's top 5. Eight of the last 14 Conference champions have been helmed by QBs outside his top 5. In the past three seasons, only 1 of Monson's top 5 has made the Super Bowl, and he lost.

Have I made my point?

Two conclusions can be drawn from this:

1. Monson's list isn't very good

2. More importantly, teams win Super Bowls, not top 5 quarterbacks

Tom Brady may or may not be in the top 5 in 2014. Time will tell. Ultimately, it doesn't mean that much in determining the fate of the 2014 Patriots. And here's why:

If the Patriots win the Super Bowl this season, it will be because they did not need Brady to be amazing.

I'll phrase the argument to address Monson: If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, it will be because they did not need Brady to be a top-5 QB.

In other words, for the Pats to win this year, they have to win as a team. Brady could be the best QB in the League, but if the Pats NEED him to be "a top-5 QB," they'll lose in the end, no matter how good Brady is. By the same token, if the Patriots DON'T need Brady to be "a top-5 QB" to be successful, then they have a strong chance at winning it all. And that's the only way they'll have a chance, if they don't need him to be amazing all the time.

Therefore, Brady's position in the rankings of quarterbacks is irrelevant. He's part of a team. An important part, but still just one part. If that team needs him to be spectacular, the team will fail. If the team doesn't need him to be spectacular, the team has a good chance to succeed.

Where Brady falls in QB rankings is meaningless for the Patriots, and should be meaningless for their fans. What matters is that the Patriots don't rely solely on him to win. Brady being in or out of the NFL's top 5 QBs has little bearing on the success or failure of the 2014 Patriots.

Monday, February 03, 2014

What the Patriots (and Their Fans) Can Learn from the Super Bowl

For two weeks, Patriots fans have been comparing the Pats with the Broncos, and trying to imagine ways that the Patriots could be more like the Broncos. These people saw the Denver Broncos as a team with a high-flying offense, a full arsenal of receiving weapons, and therefore the team most likely to win the Super Bowl and the team the Patriots should try to emulate. Except the Broncos didn't win a Super Bowl. The Seahawks crushed them 43-8.

The Broncos didn't lose because of their offensive talent. They lost because they didn't execute and Seattle did. And Seattle also had more playmakers on defense, particularly rushing the passer.

A record-breaking offense beaten by a pass rush. Remind you of any other recent Super Bowls?

The Seahawks were the best team in the NFL and always were. Denver had the most spectacular offensive talent, but Seattle was strong on both sides of the ball. They didn't have All-Pro receivers, but their WRs were all talented (unlike the Patriots). They had a good QB, solid lines, decent WRs, an excellent running game, an elite defensive secondary that read plays incredibly well, and edge pass rushers who could pressure the opposing quarterback.

Patriots fans have been pining for their team to acquire Pro Bowl caliber receivers. And while that would be fantastic, maybe the Pats should try to build a team more like the Seahawks as opposed to the Broncos. We've gone down the 'Offense First' road in New England, and it didn't work. Maybe it's time to try a new approach.

By that I mean balance. More specifically, I mean a pass rush on defense balanced with the offensive passing game. Peyton Manning's poor throws and interceptions Sunday night were all a result of pressure. Pressure did more than just sack Manning. Manning was only sacked once (and he fumbled). Seattle pressured him on 3rd downs and forced mistakes: Incompletions, short completions, interceptions. The biggest plays of the game were caused by Seattle pressuring Manning.

I think it's more feasible to pressure one quarterback than it is to cover 4 receivers.

The Patriots must improve their WR corps. As I mentioned in parenthesis above, the Seahawks didn't have All-Pro WRs, but they did possess talent. Tate, Baldwin, Kearse, they're all more talented than Thompkins, and probably Dobson. All of them would have had jobs with the 2013 Patriots. And those Seattle WRs can thrive in different areas of the field, unlike the one-dimensional receivers the Patriots feature. However the Pats don't need to break the bank acquiring WRs to do well. I'd prefer a receiver big in height/weight as opposed to a big name receiver.

And to beat the other good QBs out there, like Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson; the Pats need smart DBs and a consistent pass rush. Limit the chances the opponent has to make plays and give your defense more opportunities to make them.

You could say that the Patriots, through injury and criminal activity, were limited in offensive playmaking. And look how important those limitations were in the playoffs. Acquire some DBs with awareness and outside pass rushers with strength and speed, and the Patriots can take away opposing playmakers just like injury and arrest took out the 2013 Patriots' playmakers.

So acquire WRs, but don't go nuts. Make sure to address the defensive backfield and pass rush. They'll help you find multiple ways to win. And pressure your opponent to find ways to lose.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Super Bowl Drinking Game: Broncos-Seahawks Edition

Another football season comes to a close with an orgy of alcohol, complex carbohydrates, corn syrup, and Buffalo sauce. The hometown Patriots aren't involved, which means you can enjoy the commercials and the drinks without enduring the tension and anxiety. Here's a drinking game to play during the Super Bowl.

Anytime a commentator says...
"Super" = take 1 drink from a beer
"Peyton" = 1 drink
"Eli" = drink from a beer for 10 seconds
"Manning" = 1 drink
"Legacy" = 1 drink
"History" = 1 drink
"Career" = 1 drink
"Record book(s)" = 1 drink
"The game" = 1 drink
"Weapons" = 1 drink
"Thomas" = 1 drink
"Colts" = 1 drink
"12th man" = drink for 12 seconds
"Wilson" = 1 drink
Something about Wilson running the ball = 1 drink
"Media day" = 1 drink
"Sherman" = 1 drink
"Thug" = drink all the alcohol in the house/apartment/bar (unless the word is used mentioning that other people were saying it, because the commentators will avoid this word like a plague)
"Carroll" = 1 drink
"USC" = 1 drink
"LOB" = 1 drink
Anything about the weather = 1 drink the first time, 2 the second, 3 the third, and so on
BONUS GAME: WEATHER BINGO:
-Compile a list of weather terms (such as wind, chance of, cloudy, balmy, brisk) and arrange them in randomly patterned boxes. Cross out each one as commentators use them and drink for 6 seconds. The person who first gets a line (up, down, or diagonal), wins free beer


Anytime this is on screen...
Roman numerals = drink beer for a number of seconds equal to the numerals (this includes logos painted on the field)
John Elway = drink for 7 seconds
Eli Manning = drink for 10 seconds
Seattle fan and the number 12 = drink for 12 seconds
Tim Tebow = take a shot, drink for 15 seconds, say a prayer
New York City = 1 drink
People waiting for a shuttle bus to take them to NYC = 1 drink
Unnecessary computer generated graphics or robot football players = 1 drink
Fox promotes a show coming on after the game = 1 drink
Pete Carroll chewing gum = 1 drink
Carroll urging his players on = 1 drink per urging
Carroll clapping = 1 drink per clap
Richard Sherman talking = 1 drink
Erin Andrews = drink for 5 seconds then yell at her about Michael Crabtree for 10 seconds
Marshawn Lynch disguising himself during Media Day = 1 drink
People in Seattle/Denver bars watching the game = 1 shot and 1 drink
Highlights from a previous Super Bowl = drink during the entire highlight
Highlights from previous playoff games = drink during the entire highlight
Peyton Manning makes a Manning face = drink a shot, and permission to vomit is granted
Any other Manning makes a Manning face = drink 2 shots, permission to vomit granted


Anytime this happens...
Someone doesn't know their Roman numerals = that person must drink a VI pack of beer
Peyton says the name of a city (including "Denver" in interviews) = 1 drink
Peyton yells "Omaha" = an additional drink
Peyton yells the name of a state = 2 drinks
Peyton yells the name of a province/region = 4 drinks
Peyton yells the name of a country = half a beer
BONUS GAME: PEYTON MANNING BINGO:
-Compile a list of states and major cities (Omaha, Alabama, Tennessee, Detroit) and arrange them in randomly patterned boxes, cross out each one as Manning mentions them in cadences and take a shot. The person who first gets a line (up, down, or diagonal), wins an 18 pack of Bud Light
Peyton mentions beer = drink an entire Bud Light
Peyton seems to change the play = 1 drink
Commentators praise Manning's play-calling = 1 drink
You want to use the DVR to see a play again but someone else wants to see commercials = 1 drink
Someone mentions Super Bowl squares they've wagered on = 1 drink
Someone scrambles madly to the bathroom = 1 drink
You wait in line for the bathroom at halftime = drink the entire time standing in line
Someone mentions the Patriots should have kept Wes Welker = throw unopened beer (cans only) at him, then shotgun said beer


Anytime in a commercial...
You've already seen the commercial before = 1 drink (this will happen more often than usual)
The cuteness of animals is used = 1 drink
A car company doesn't even try to be funny = 1 drink
A celebrity endorser hawks a product = 1 drink
A celebrity endorser that would probably never use the product is shown using it = 1 drink
Beer or junk food is advertised = 1 drink and 12 Doritos
Beer is advertised and you're drinking the brand = finish the beer
A TV show or movie is advertised = 1 drink
You regret going to the bathroom and missing a commercial = finish your beer
You found a commercial completely uninteresting = 1 drink and get beers for everyone else
Someone asks a question about the rules of football = 1 drink
You feel hungry and don't eat = finish your beer

Enjoy the game folks. And enjoy the taxi/ambulance ride home.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bill Belichick vs. Wes Welker Continues After Game, a.k.a. PickGate

Did Wes Welker set a pick on Aqib Talib? Clearly. Was it intent to injure? Only Welker knows that. Was it a targeted hit on Talib? Probably.

Bill Belichick seems to think so. And I'm inclined to agree. I know by agreeing with Belichick, that somehow invalidates my opinions. The cool thing to do is to disagree with him, and to side with Wes Welker. That's what people do when someone stands up to Belichick the bully. The media, the fans, they all side with the poor David of a player standing up to the Goliath of Patriot Management. Welker is like Bob Cratchit standing up to Scrooge, or the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi fighting against the Empire and Darth Belichick.

Welker's play was dirty. Maybe not an explicit intent to injure, but certainly an intent to hurt. I do think Belichick used some hyperbole in his remarks, making his comments sound like sour grapes. I've seen dirtier hits from defensive backs and receivers. Some of them wearing a Patriots uniform.

What makes me think Welker's actions were intentionally dirty is the timing, the players involved, and the potential benefits of hindering/hurting/injuring Talib. Not necessarily knocking him out of the game, but hitting him around enough so that he was less effective. The game-ending injury was a bonus for the Broncos.

The Broncos were held to 3 points in the 1st quarter (only the 19th time in 69 quarters of play that the Broncos failed to score a TD). Part of that was because Talib was covering Demariyus Thomas. Thomas had 1 catch for 29 yards in the 1st quarter. Once Talib was removed, Thomas exploded for 6 catches, 105 yards, and a TD. Without Talib, the Pats' coverage on other receivers also struggled, as everyone was forced to shift assignments.

It's something Welker witnessed first hand in last year's AFC Championship game against Baltimore. Talib left that game with a thigh injury. Anquan Boldin, whom Talib had been covering, took advantage of Talib's absence and scored 2 touchdowns. Meanwhile the rest of the Patriots' secondary struggled with their adjusted responsibilities. Talib's presence allows Dennard and Arrington to cover easier assignments. It also allows the safeties to give them more help.

Taking Talib off the chess board (or making him less mobile on it) would make things easier for all of Denver's offensive pieces to get open. Welker knew that.

I'm not saying Welker meant to injure Talib. But how often did we see him run into defensive backs like that while he was here? It didn't seem accidental. Maybe it was a mistimed block, which seems odd after the refs flagged New England for setting a pick.

Which is more likely, that Welker was setting an early block or that he saw Talib and saw an opportunity to make a hit on the Patriots' most important defensive player?

In hockey if a player hits someone away from the play like that, we assume there is an intention. If someone took a similar run at Zdeno Chara in a playoff game, for instance, everyone would know that it was deliberate and targeted. Especially if the team that took him out was struggling to score. So what was Welker's intention? To block? To send a message? To make an impact on a key part of the opposing defense which had done well to contain your high-powered offense?

Which is most likely?

Welker had motive: his team had been struggling to put up points and their best receiver wasn't much of a factor.

He had the opportunity as crossing plays are a big part of Denver's offense.

And he knew what losing Talib would do to the Pats' defense after seeing it firsthand against the Ravens last season and seeing how well Talib did against Thomas in the regular season (4 catches, 41 yards).

The most important defensive player was injured by an ex-teammate running into him away from the play. That's suspicious at the very least. It's probably intentional, and likely dirty. I think Belichick was a bit over the top in his analysis of the play. Then again, I'd be pissed too.

I don't think Welker should be suspended or fined or hated by Patriots fans for this. It was a physical play. He went after a key player on the opposing team. We've praised that type of play from the Patriots for years and criticized the lack of it when it's not there. Marginal dirtiness is something the Patriots are known for.

However, it is time to dismiss the childish fairy tale notion that Wes Welker represents the forces of Good fighting against Evil. It's time for media and fans to stop "feeling good" for Welker's success with the Broncos. He's a person, he's a football player, and he did something that was marginally dirty on Sunday. He injured the most important defensive player on the hometown team. Sorry, but that doesn't jive with the narrative that he's the good David fighting against the evil Goliath. He didn't use a slingshot to take down the Patriots, he used a dirty play.

Leave Richard Sherman Alone

Immediately after this frightening interview, Richard Sherman became the center of the football world. But I don't think what he said was out of line. How he said it was shocking. I bet Erin Andrews wishes she could go back to interviewing Koji Uehara's son. Sherman was hyped up, in the moment. That whole team rails adderall anyway so we shouldn't be surprised when one of their most energetic players has a bit too much energy.

Sherman talked trash about his opponent. So what. Wasn't that what we were primed for in this game? "These teams hate each other." We heard that all week. Sherman expressed the hate we'd been told to expect, then he gets criticized for it?

He didn't do or say anything violent, anything inappropriate, anything obscene. And when he had calmed down later his interviews were heavy helpings of the same flavorless porridge we get from everyone else.

I suppose what he said was technically "classless," since it wasn't classy. But if we go out and look for classless things in pro sports, we'll be very busy. Sherman isn't any more classless than most athletes. What he did was bring his true personality to a segment of sports coverage we've been conditioned to expect polished and polite responses. Thank teammates, thank coaches, option to thank family and/or God, praise opponent, then for some reason say "thank you" to the interviewer. Sherman was himself for an interview. Who cares?

The outcry in response to Sherman's "classlessness" ironically verged on being more classless and inappropriate. Justin Verlander, who plays baseball, which is not football, Tweeted this...



Is that tweet considered classy or classless? I'm not a member of the Classless Police, so please tell me.

So this baseball player is suggesting that if an NFL defensive back were to play baseball, he'd be taught a lesson. Okay, Justin. I respect Verlander as a pitcher, as an athlete, and for hooking up with Kate Upton. But baseball players shouldn't be touting the physicality of their sport to football players.

Maybe I find all this Sherman backlash to be amusing and trivial because I'm a Patriots fan. I've heard my favorite athletes and coach called "classless" countless times. The word carries little weight with me. And if you are a Patriots fan and you have a problem with Sherman being "classless," remember that in 2006 the Patriots celebrated a playoff win over San Diego by dancing on the Chargers' logo, and we all ripped LaDainian Tomlinson for whining about classiness and classlessness. And in the Patriots-Eagles Super Bowl Mike Vrabel flapped his arms like the Eagles after scoring a touchdown. It's an emotional game.

So don't be a hypocrite. Don't hate Sherman because he was emotional and in the moment. I thought he acted like a bit of a clown. And a good clown is an entertaining one. But also kind of scary. And Sherman pulled that off Sunday night.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I'm Sick of Hearing About Legacies

What does this game mean for Tom Brady's legacy? Peyton Manning's? Bill Belichick's? Who needs to win a Super Bowl more this year?

Ugh...

I am so completely and utterly tired of hearing legacies discussed on sports radio and at work, and being bombarded with stories about the topic. It's trivial crap. People are speculating and conjecturating (I know that's not a word, it's a Johnnie Cochranism) about what a game to be played in the future will mean in the more distant future when people look back on the past, which is our present. That does not make sense.

Can't we just look ahead at this future game and suppose what might happen WITHIN the game itself? Can't we say the Patriots need to hit Wes Welker and put him off his game, then find a way to pressure Manning without blitzing? Can't we say that if the Broncos hold on to the ball and slow down the Pats' running game, they have a good chance of winning?

Nope! We have to philosophize about the larger meaning of the game. What does it all mean?

Which is funny because whoever wins, this game will add nothing to their "legacy" if they lose the Super Bowl.

We don't know what will happen in this game. Which is why I can't wait for it to be played. I'm anxious, nervous, excited, optimistic. I'm ready to be entertained, hopeful to be elated, prepared to be disappointed. I'm on the edge of my seat thinking about how I won't be able to sit down on Sunday.

The other reason I can't wait for this game to be played is so people will shut up about legacies. Although they won't. Because one of these QBs will go to the Super Bowl, which means 2 more weeks of legacy talk. Along with the whole "changing of the guard" theme as Brady or Manning faces Kaepernick or Wilson.

What happens on Sunday is still unknown to us, to everyone. So I'm tired of people who don't know what will happen on Sunday, arguing with each other about how those unknown events will be seen by future generations of fans. Who cares and how can you know? How can you even guess? It's like speculating about how a child who isn't even born yet will be seen by his/her future kids.

Just live in the now, people. Enjoy the exciting build up, have fun watching the game, and stop thinking about legacies.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Broncos and Seahawks Trying to Keep Patriots and 49ers Fans Out of Their Stadiums

There's a good chance you've already heard this story. Both the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks have gotten cute and decided to try to keep visiting team fans from going to Sunday's Conference Championship games. They're doing this by not selling tickets to people with addresses outside of their region. Only fans with addresses in the Rockies can buy tickets to the AFC Championship, and the NFC Championship is being sold exclusively to those living in the Pacific Northwest.

It's ridiculously childish. And moronic. StubHub and Craigslist don't care where your money comes from. Neither do the countless other legitimate ticket brokers and illicit scalpers.

And who wants a stadium filled exclusively with their own fanbase? That's the remarkably childish aspect of this. That hurts atmosphere and crowd noise, it doesn't help it. Visiting team fans add to the raw emotional intensity of football. Just look at college football and the hordes of Alabama and Texas fans that follow their teams around the country. They come to town, they rile up the opposing fanbase, everyone takes the game personally because their enemy is sitting two rows behind them, and they want to see you feel miserable because your team failed. They cheer when your favorite player fumbles. They cheer when you're pissed. They're against you. I fucking hate them, don't you?!

That got away from me there but that's the kind of intensity visiting fans can bring.

I've been to every home Patriots game since 2007 and some of the most exciting atmospheres I've experienced at Gillette Stadium involve large numbers of visiting fans, especially at playoff games (the Ravens and Jets drew the most). There's tension in the building because of the animosity between the groups. There's a building energy as fan groups verbally react to every play and then emotionally react to each other's reactions. There are raised stakes because you spent an hour talking trash to the punk in the Revis jersey and you'd hate it if he gets to spend an hour talking trash to you. Victory becomes more enjoyable, defeat more painful. All on a personal level.

By the way there were plenty of Denver fans and Tebow fans at Gillette Stadium two years ago when the Broncos played the Patriots in the playoffs. We let you into our house. You can't extend the same courtesy to us?

Denver and Seattle don't want excitement and tension. They want monochromatic, bland, conformist fans at their games. No Brady or Kaepernick jerseys. Just Manning and Wilson. No blue and silver in Denver. No red and gold in Seattle. Everyone dressed the same, everyone cheering for the same team, everyone enjoying themselves the same. How very nice and pleasant. But the words "nice," and "pleasant" have no place in football.

That's just boring, just lame, just stupid. Grow up, Denver. Grow up, Seattle.

Monday, February 04, 2013

The Ravens Win

I found myself confused at the end of this game. Initially, I wanted the 49ers won win, because I didn't want Ray Lewis or Joe Flacco to achieve any further glory. But then, as the 49ers played the first half from a Foxhole, I lost all respect for them. So I was forced to choose between a team I didn't like, and a team I didn't respect.

The Ravens won, and they deserved it. It's remarkable how one brother could be so much more aggressive than the other. Sigmund Freud would have a field day.

One thing the Ravens had on offense that the Patriots didn't was a strong receiver. Rob Gronkowski was out. And the Patriots' WR corps was small and not as physical as Baltimore's DBs. Meanwhile, Baltimore's receivers outmatched the Patriots' safeties.

Imagine what would happen if Anquan Boldin were on the Patriots roster. How much would Brady rely on him? How many receptions, how many TDs would he haul in? The Patriots could really use a large WR that can win battles in difficult situations.

Baltimore deserved this. As much as we can mock Ray Lewis for consuming deer antler velvet like some drunken and lonely Mainer, just about everyone in the NFL is on PEDs. So let he who supports a team without sin cast the first stone.

The Ravens played a game of football. The 49ers tried to play the Super Bowl. And in doing so they failed. The 49ers were conservative, tight, nervous, locked-up, not aggressive. They dug their foxholes from kickoff to the final whistle. And that's why they lost. The Ravens played football, and played it well.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Marcio Sanchez

Friday, February 01, 2013

Yuengling Wing Sauce

I was introduced to Yuengling (pronounced Ying-ling, if you didn't know) when I went to college in upstate New York. It's a remarkable beer. It's delicious, but not so heavy that you can't enjoy a generous amount on a Friday evening.

We can't get Yuengling in Massachusetts. I'm not sure why, exactly. I've been told it has something to do with imprinting letters on the bottles. I've also been told that Massachusetts doesn't allow beer to be sold unless it's distributed by a Massachusetts based distributor. And Yuengling wants to distribute on their own. Whatever the reason, I'm sure we have some stupid regulations that prohibit the the beer from flowing.

It sucks. And now this lack of Yuengling sucks even more. They've come out with a line of sauces.


BBQ and wing sauces, just in time for the Super Bowl. Good God. It's torturous to look at this. I'm hungry. I'm thirsty. I want wings, some BBQ pork, and a dozen Yuenglings...

It's only a 3 hour drive to New York...

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hunter S. Thompson Would Have Enjoyed the 2012 NFL Season

I miss Hunter S. Thompson. I miss his writing. He decided to shoot himself in 2005, at the age of 67, in his fortified compound in Colorado. And I respect that decision. But I think he missed one of the more engaging, ugly, and intriguing NFL seasons in recent memory.

What would Hunter have to say about replacement officials? A devoted gambler, the tremendous influence that these amateur flag-throwers had on games might have driven him insane. Or thrilled him, adding even more randomness and chaos to an already difficult to predict maelstrom of variables.


Thompson lived in San Francisco for a period, and was once addicted to betting on the 49ers. He probably would have enjoyed the rise of Colin Kaepernick to prominence. An exciting, playmaking, tattooed star taking over as frontman of an already successful band that hadn't quite broken through to super-stardom. Kaepernick took over from a competent, but predictable lead singer. Alex Smith was the guy that sounds okay in a small club. Kaepernick is a rock star that can command an entire stadium.

The rampant PED usage by NFL players probably wouldn't have bothered Hunter. He used plenty of substances himself. One of his more famous quotes is: "I wouldn't recommend sex, drugs, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me." If LSD and ether helped Hunter write (or at least influenced the experiences he had that he would eventually write about), I don't think he would mind players who use adderall or deer antler to play football. Football is already an unnatural act, and football players are already freaks of nature. Why not use chemicals to augment that freakishness?

He might mind the concussions. Back in the early 2000s he bemoaned the number of QB injuries there were in the NFL. It was an epidemic. And now QB injuries are fewer, but repeated skull bashing has created a generation of NFL players whose brain tissues have been reduced to ground hamburger. I think he'd have a problem with that. From his writings, such as a piece he wrote after Dale Earnhardt died, he seemed to have an ethical line that sports should not cross. Violence was fine, so long as there was no blood, no permanent injury. And once that line was crossed, sport became disgusting. Stadiums became Roman Colosseums, fans became voyeuristic sadists, and games became crimes.


Then there's the New York Jets: an endless source of writing material. They'd be pitiable if they didn't try so hard to be unlikable. I think Thompson would thoroughly enjoy the dysfunction of the Jets. Everything from butt fumbles to Tim Tebow to Rex Ryan's tattoos to snacks. The Jets are almost too cartoonish to write about, actually. It's like doing a thesis paper on the shortcomings of Wile E. Coyote's bird-catching tactics, it's too easy to point out the mistakes.


And finally there's the rise of the rookie QB. I think Thompson would have welcomed this fresh blood infused into the League. A League which has become somewhat repetitive  On Sunday the Super Bowl will have no Tom Brady, no Peyton Manning, and no Ben Roethlisberger for the first time since 2002. Think about that. A decade of football with 1 of 3 QBs always making an appearance in the Big Game. That's tedious. New faces are needed on the game's biggest stage.

RG3 might be Thompson's favorite. He would have reveled in the absurdity of the accusations that Griffin isn't Black enough. He would have loved to see football thrive in the Capital. He would have loved to see Daniel Snyder finally learn that you can't buy success, you have to cultivate, and harvest it from the Draft.

The 2012 NFL season would have offered Hunter S. Thompson a feast of intrigue and barbarity. The greed, the stupidity, the rises, the falls, the inspirational, and the abhorrent.

I'm not sure if there's a Heaven. But if there is, I think Hunter S. Thompson will be up there on Sunday, watching the game, making prop bets with Louis Pasteur, mocking the halftime show with Leo Tolstoy, and going shot for shot with Teddy Roosevelt.

Mahalo, Hunter. You're immortal.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Giant Disappointment

Two plays can sum up this game. One was Mario Manningham's toe-dragging sideline catch in the 4th. The other was Wes Welker's drop, also in the 4th. Manningham was covered well yet brought his toes down, maintained control of the ball, and in one play brought his team from its own 12 yard line to just 15 yards shy of field goal range. Manningham reached his maximum potential in that moment. He made the play.

Welker's drop came with the Pats up 2, with 4:00 on the clock. Had he held on, it would have been 1st & 10 on the Giants' 22 yard line. The Patriots could have drained at least another minute off the clock and would have almost surely scored at least a field goal. And if they'd scored a touchdown, the game would be over. Welker had all 10 fingers on that ball. And it popped out. He didn't make the play.

The Giants made more plays than the Patriots. It's not rocket science, it's fairly simple.

There were plenty of times in this game that the Patriots were just a play or two away from claiming victory. They didn't make the plays. The Giants did.

It's not effort, it's execution. No sane person can question Wes Welker's effort. But when his number came up, he just didn't make the play. Mario Manningham did.

After the Pats scored to start the second half, victory was within reach. They never grabbed it.

17-9 Pats and the defense gives up a field goal. If the Pats respond with a touchdown, they're up 21-12 and in the driver's seat. Instead they went three and out.

The defense gives up another field goal. 17-15 game, Pats get the ball back, move it a bit, then on a 1st down Brady evades pressure, then throws deep to Gronkowski. He underthrows a bit, Gronk can't outmuscle the linebacker covering him and it's an interception. What was Brady thinking? Throwing a jump ball on 1st down? That was a cocky decision.

The Giants eat about 5 minutes of clock and pin the Patriots back on their own 8. That drive ended the play after Welker's drop. Punt, Manningham, a few more plays, touchdown, history.

Victory was out there. The Patriots didn't reach out and take it. The Giants did.

Looking ahead, there's little reason to despair. There is a great deal of talent on this team. There's room to improve, but there's a strong foundation to build on.

I think you'll see significant defensive retooling. As much as I blame the offense's lack of execution for this loss, the Giants did mount an 88 yard game-winning TD drive. It'd be nice to have a better chance to prevent that. A team can't be so dependent on half of its roster to win all its games and right now the Patriots are dependent on the offense to make every single play in order to win.

That needs to change. Safeties that know what they're doing. Cornerbacks that can cover one-on-one without being embarrassed. A consistent pass-rush. Maybe an OLB that can rush the passer.

Here's a weird, almost frightening thought: the Bruins are the clutchest team in Boston sports.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Friday, February 03, 2012

Super Bowl Preview


Vegas favors the Patriots by 2.5 to 3. Which seems a little strange. The Pats were 13-3, and were the AFC's #1 seed. The Giants went 9-7, and were the NFC's 4th seed, even though they had the 6th best record. Of course, the Giants beat the Patriots 24-20 at Gillette Stadium in early November.

I don't want to play the underdog card too much here. As I said, Vegas is favoring the Patriots. Which means people are putting their money behind the Patriots. But the fact that questions like "Would you rather have Eli or Brady?" are being asked at all seems a little weird to me.

The Giants appear to match up well against the Patriots. They have a strong 4 man pass rush that can pressure Brady but also leave 7 men in coverage. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots have the 31st passing defense, allowing 293.9 yards per game in the air. The Giants have a good QB, with a bevy of weapons for him to throw to. Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, and tight-end Jake Ballard who caught a TD against the Pats in November.

As bad as the Patriots' pass-defense has been, people don't seem to be noticing how bad the Giants are at defending against the pass. The Giants are 29th in yards allowed. Opposing QBs have an 86.1 rating against the Giants. What is the QB rating for Patriots' opponents? 86.1. Isn't that funny.

And since when has Eli Manning become an elite QB? I heard one pundit say that Eli's success is due to his not making mistakes anymore. Really? Doesn't make mistakes anymore? He threw 16 picks this year, 7th most in the NFL. He threw 25 picks last year.

He's been excellent in the postseason so far, with 8 TDs, only 1 INT, and a 103.1 rating. But his whole career has been defined by inconsistency. And he was hardly dazzling back in November against the Pats.

The Patriots lost that game because Brady wasn't as good as he should have been. They lost because they made mistakes like missing a 27 yard field goal. They lost because they turned the ball over 4 times. Brady threw 2 interceptions and fumbled. Edelman muffed a punt. The Giants scored 10 points off turnovers.



Eli Manning is the best QB that the Patriots will face in these playoffs. But he doesn't scare me. The November game was actually one of the better games played by the Pats' defense. People are talking about Ahmad Bradshaw not playing in that game and how much it helps the Giants that he's back. But the Giants were 32nd in the NFL in rushing for a reason. Bradshaw rushed for 3.9 per carry this year, and never once eclipsed 60 yards in a game.

And to be blunt, rushing the ball against the Patriots is doing their defense a huge favor.

This game comes down to one person. And his name is Tom Brady. How he throws, and how he's protected, and how he executes will determine if the Patriots win or lose. I know I've been saying it all year, but it is all about Brady, Brady, Brady.



The Patriots beat the Ravens without a fully effective Tom Brady. They won't be able to pull the same rabbit out of the hat twice. Brady needs to have a good game for the Patriots to win. And if he has a great game, the Patriots will win. No matter what Eli does against the Pats' defense.

One thing that unnerves me is that for the past few years Brady's tried to force the play in big games. He's thrown into double coverage with no margin for error. For example: that deep ball in the Ravens game intended for Slater. No need to try to be that perfect in one throw. He needs to realize that it's better to throw a couple good passes instead of forcing yourself to throw one absolutely perfect one. Because if a good pass is off, it's incomplete. If the attempted perfect pass is off, it's an interception.

I think Brady and the offense will execute on Sunday. At the very least, they won't turn the ball over as easily as they did in November.

Gronkowski's health will play a huge part in the Patriots' offense. He caught 8 passes in that November game. He's Brady's #1 target in the Red Zone, and he's a good receiving option to have if Brady is getting hurried. When Brady needs to press the panic button, he can throw to Gronkowski's general direction and Gronk will haul it in. If he's healthy.

Let's not forget about Wes Welker, though. Welker would have been Super Bowl MVP in 2008 had the Patriots been able to hang on. He caught 11 passes in that game. He caught 9 passes for 136 yards in November. He also had a 13 yard run. He will have a big game on Sunday.

The Giants are vulnerable against the run. They allowed 121.3 yards per game on the ground, 19th in the NFL. In November, BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran well at the start of the game, 52 yards on 12 carries. Then for some reason Ridley and Woodhead got more of the carries. They didn't do as well (combined 10 carries for 36 yards). This might have been due to Ellis' health, or might have simply been a play-calling mistake.

Look for Ellis to get the ball with regularity on Sunday. Not only do the Giants give up chunks of rushing yards, but a strong run can also slow down and wear out a pass-rush. Then of course comes play-action. Ellis can also become an outlet receiver, chipping a lineman then sitting in the middle of the field or the flat for a safe pass. J.R. Redmond style.



Brady will not look at Ochocinco unless he's clearly on the good side of a mismatch.

In the November game, Brady targeted Ochocinco 5 times. This was before we all accepted the fact that Ochocinco is not a significant part of the offense. It was Game #8. In the first 8 games of the season, Brady targeted Ochocinco 21 times. In the 10 games since then, Brady's targeted him 11 times. So from 2.6 targets per game down to 1.1.

Why is that a good thing? Because it demonstrates that the Patriots have adjusted their offense. Ochocinco was thrown to at key moments in that November game. And it didn't go well. Now, he won't be. Brady will be looking for someone else.

One thing this offense has done remarkably well this season is adjust, adapt, and evolve. Adjust to coverages, adjust to pass pass rushes, adjust to Ochocinco's inability to adjust, and so on. The Patriots didn't adjust back in 2007, they simply kept hammering away at the same thing the same way.

They've adjusted since November. The Pats have won 10 straight since that game. The Giants are 6-5 since that game. Yet somehow they've been billed as the red hot team. And give credit to them for their playoff wins. But they are prone to inconsistency.

I think the Patriots' offensive line will man-up and slow down the Giants enough for Brady to find open receivers. We can talk about schemes and strategies all we want, but football usually comes down to one group of guys outplaying another group of guys. It'll be up to the Pats' offensive linemen to protect Brady and make holes for Ellis.

I think BJGE will also slow down the pass rush and set-up a few 2nd & 2 situations. Eli will put up a few TDs, but he'll throw a pick or two. The Giants will score, and will have one or two painfully unstoppable drives. But they won't keep up with the Pats.

Patriots 34, Giants 27.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A Super Bowl in New England?


There was a story the other day about a Super Bowl being played in London. I think a bit more likely possibility is a Super Bowl being played in New England. And why not?

The reason the Super Bowl has always been played in the South or in domes is the weather. But who cares? Football is the sport that's supposed to be played rain or shine, warm or cold. Wouldn't a well fought, snowy Super Bowl go down as one of the most memorable anyway?

The NFL doesn't seem to care much about climatic complications anymore. They've staged games in cold weather cities like Detroit and now Indianapolis. And in 2 years they'll be playing outdoors in New Jersey. Foxborough is only a few degrees colder.



The NFL obviously divides the money that the Super Bowl takes in among the 32 teams. But what about all the money that gets poured into the economies of cities that host the big game. Why should Tampa Bay, Dallas, Glendale, and Miami rotate the Super Bowl between them and rake in all the cash?

So much money would be made. Hotels would be full. Restaurants and bars would be full from Norwood to Norton. People would go into Boston and take tours of Fenway Park and Faneuil Hall. They'd go to a BC basketball game or a BU hockey game. They'd eat our lobsters and drink our Sam Adams.

It happens every year. Thousands of fans and media descend on a city and spend money. So why not have it here in New England?

As a sports fan, it'd be thrilling to host such an event. And as a Massachusican, it'd be great for the economy.

Legacies on the Line


How Super Bowl XLVI plays out will have a tremendous impact on the legacies of four men: Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin, Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick.

If the Giants win, and Manning does well, perhaps even wins another Super Bowl MVP, he'll be regarded as the superior Manning. At least he should be.

While Peyton has always been highly praised, and has been putting up gaudy regular season stats for years, the game of football is about playing your best in the big game. It's about performing in the clutch, capitalizing on the big moment, making that one play. More so than any other sport because other sports have best of 7 series. In the NFL, it's win or lose, live or die, all in one game on one night.

If Eli wins, he's the better big game QB. He'd have 2 rings. One more than Peyton. He'd have an 8-3 playoff record. Peyton is 9-10.

Eli would also have a much better record against the Patriots, a team that most NFL teams have measured themselves against for the last decade. Eli would have 2 playoff wins against New England. Peyton is 1-2. Eli would have a career record of 3-1 against the Patriots. Peyton, when facing the Patriots with both Belichick and Brady, is 4-8 against New England.

So if Eli does well and helps propel the Giants to a Super Bowl win, his legacy will surpass his older brother's.

What about Tom Coughlin's legacy compared to his former boss, Bill Parcells?



If the Giants win, then Coughlin matches the Tuna in the ring category with 2. Parcells won 303 games as a head coach, Coughlin has 256 wins. Parcells' playoff record isn't staggeringly amazing. He's led teams to 3 Super Bowls, won 2 of them, and is 11-8 in the postseason. Coughlin has been two 2 Super Bowls, won 1 of them, and is 8-7 in the playoffs.

I don't see much separation there. If I told you those numbers were some mystery coach, you might say that Coughlin is just a step behind Coach X. But Parcells' name carries the weight of his reputation as a winner. So it seems like Coughlin is further behind than he really is.

Parcells gets praised for producing lots of coaching talent. Like Coughlin, and Belichick. But that also means he's had high quality assistants helping him win. Was Parcells a great teacher? Or did he have genius students? Probably both.

I'm not saying that if the Giants win on Sunday, then Coughlin is better than Parcells. But he's at least in the conversation. Looking at just their bodies of work, there wouldn't be much separating the two.

And as for former Giants assistant Bill Belichick, a win on Sunday would put even more distance between he and Parcells. Belichick would be 96 games over .500 as Patriots head coach. Think about that. Parcells had a .570 winning percentage, and .611 with the Giants. Belichick has a .643 winning percentage, .724 with the Patriots.



Belichick has 272 career wins (31 behind Parcells, 22 behind if you include playoff wins), a 21-6 playoff record, 5 Super Bowl appearances, 3 titles. A win on Sunday would be icing on the already impressive cake of Belichick's legacy.

The same goes for Brady. If the Pats lose then both Brady and Belichick will still be considered among the best at their particular jobs. If they win, they'll be among the best ever in all of sports at anything, not just their specific positions in their specific sports. They're both already great. Winning Sunday could add an -est to the end of that word.

What would make ring #4 so impressive is that this team is completely and utterly different from the previous 3 Super Bowl champions. The Patriots won those with patient passing and a playmaking defense. Now they're trying to win with a playmaking offense and a defense that tests the fans' patience.

For a coach and quarterback to grow and adjust so dramatically over a 10 year span is impressive. Brady has become the poster boy for the passing frenzy that is the NFL. I think Belichick saw Brady's potential being underutilized in 2006, as he was forced to work with Reche Caldwell and Doug Gabriel.



That's when Belichick went out and acquired Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth.

And for 18 games, the formula worked. It just hasn't won Game #19. Yet. But if the Patriots win on Sunday, Belichick and Brady will have 4 rings, coaching and playing for 2 very different kinds of teams. Brady would have won as a "game manager" and as a "flashy" QB. Belichick would have won as an old-school defensive mastermind, and as an offensive "guru."

It's like a great actor who can do comedy and drama, who can play the hero in one movie, then the villain in another.

That kind of success puts you in the upper upper stratosphere of sports greatness.

Those are the legacies on the line Sunday. A good quarterback and a very good coach who can emerge from some shadows. And a great quarterback and great coach who can start casting even bigger shadows of their own.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

This Isn't 2007

Well, technically, I should say this isn't 2008 when Super Bowl XLII was played. Then again, it still isn't 2007 either. It's 2012.

Anyway, this isn't the same Patriots team that lost that Super Bowl to the Giants. Nor is this the same Giants team. Some key figures have returned. Belichick and Coughlin. Brady and Manning. Welker, Tuck, and a few others. But only 7 Patriots from that 18-1 team are still on the roster. Only 15 Giants are still on their roster.

The team's are fundamentally similar to their 2007 versions. The Patriots have a high scoring, high flying, pass heavy offense. They had 5 offensive starters named to the Pro Bowl. The Giants have a ferocious pass rush, and a QB who is now recognized as clutch, if not as flashy as guys like Brees, Rodgers, and Brady.

So will we get the same kind of game? Will Brady have 0.2 seconds to get rid of the ball. Will there be a new David Tyree? Will Devin McCourty see a ball fly just over his fingertips?

I think the game will be just as close as Super Bowl XLII. But the Patriots are different. For one thing, they have BenJarvus Green-Ellis and not Laurence Maroney. Maroney's hesitation and dance moves in the backfield frequently led to negative plays in Super Bowl XLII. BJGE will at least get to the line of scrimmage, maybe a few yards past it, and maybe he can help set-up play-action, maybe force the Giants' line to respect the run, and maybe give Brady some time.


The Patriots' offense is more dynamic than it was in 2007. It isn't just vertical passes to Moss with Welker as the outlet. Now the Patriots throw underneath to their WRs, and deep to their tight-ends. In 2008, Wes Welker caught 11 of Brady's 30 completions. Brady didn't complete a single pass longer than 20 yards, thanks to the Giants' pressure.


The passing game is more diverse now. Brady completed 0 passes to his tight-ends in 2008. That's just slightly different from what the Pats have done in 2012. It's also why Rob Gronkowski's health is such a big story this week. If Gronkowski can help Brady as an outlet, especially if the Giants send all 4 linemen at Brady, and leave Gronk covered by linebackers without chipping him at the line, the Patriots can move the ball at will.

Cartoon by Larry Johnson

But while the Pats offense is now more flexible, their defense has gotten significantly worse since 2007. They were an old crew back then. Now they're young, riddled with injuries, and loaded with subpar talent.

There are playmakers like Wilfork and Spikes. Then there is Julian Edelman playing as a slot corner, and Matthew Slater as a safety. And Devin McCourty getting neck cramps as he watches balls fly over his head to the receiver who has just smoked him. His nickname should be Parliament Light he's smoked so easily.

The Giants are no longer a surprise success story. Eli Manning is being touted as one of the NFL's clutch QBs. And it's hard to argue against that. a 7-3 playoff record is a 7-3 playoff record. And 5 of those wins came on the road. How is it that Eli and the Giants have found such playoff success, while rarely being considered elite during the regular season?

Some might say that they're clutch. I'm going to say that they're inconsistent.

The Giants are capable of brilliant stretches, like their last 5 games (all wins), or their 6-2 start of the 2011 season, or their 2007 playoff run, or their 12-4 record in 2008. But they're also capable of some painfully frustrating stretches. They lost 4 straight this year, and 5 out of 6. They lost their playoff game in 2008, after their 12-4 record. They missed the playoffs in 2009 and 2010.

Eli Manning is 7-3 in playoff games. He's had some good ones. Some bad ones. He'll be up against a porous Patriots defense that will let him accumulate yards by the dozen. But I'm not quite convinced that he's Mr. February.

There's a significant psychological difference between this Super Bowl and Super Bowl XLII: The Patriots won't have the pressure of playing for 19-0. And this season they've been playing for something a bit more meaningful, and that's the memory of Myra Kraft.


These are not the same teams that met in 2008. The Patriots' offense is more versatile. But the defense is also more bendable. So maybe the game will be just as close, only with a few more points on the board.

And the result will be different.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Can the Patriots Get Revenge?



In a word: no.

I've heard this game called "Revenge Bowl." And even before last weekend's Conference Championship games, I knew several Pats fans who were craving a Patriots/Giants matchup because they wanted "payback," or "revenge."

But win or lose, the Patriots can't get revenge. The team can't, the coaches can't, and the fans can't.

Even if the Patriots win, we'll never forget what could have been but wasn't in 2007. I'm sure the team and players have moved on from what happened, that's their job. They've been able to focus on playing the next game, not reliving Super Bowl XLII. But we as fans are still living February 3, 2008 over and over again.



There have been comparisons to the Red Sox in 2003 and 2004. Since the Sox won the World Series in 2004, and went through the same Yankees that defeated them in '03, we no longer feel excruciating pain when Grady Little is mentioned. We don't cringe when we think about Giambi's solo homeruns, Mussina's relief effort, or Posada's double. We don't really think of those plays at all. The memory has been mostly erased, and replaced with the euphoria of winning in 2004 and fond recollections of moments like Roberts' stolen base and Damon's grand-slam.



Would a Super Bowl win cause the same acceptance, the same selective amnesia? Would we forget Asante Samuel's near interception? Or David Tyree's miraculous catch? How about Ellis Hobbs getting burnt like toast by Plaxico Burress? If the Patriots win on Sunday, would we forget these plays?



No.

The difference between the 2003/2004 Red Sox, and the 2007/2011 Patriots is simple. The Red Sox hadn't gone 162-0 in the regular season. Their goal was a World Series title. Which they accomplished the next year, thus achieving redemption.

The Patriots were going after a perfect 19-0 season in '07, which would have been the biggest and most impressive achievement for a sports team in American history. This year, the stakes are not as high. A Super Bowl title is still an amazing accomplishment, and not to be diminished in any way. But Don Shula won't lose any sleep over it.

There is no opportunity for revenge here, not for the players (only 7 Patriots return from that '07 team anyway), or the coaches, or the fans. The Patriots cannot achieve what they came so painfully close to achieving in the 2007 season.

By the same token, what the Giants did cannot be taken away from them, for their players, their coaches, their fans. They won Super Bowl XLII, and nothing that happens in Indianapolis can change that. It's in the past and there is no chance of redemption, revenge, or forgetting it happened altogether.

The haunting memories of Super Bowl XLII will remain in Patriot fans' memories forever. No matter the outcome of this Super Bowl, they cannot be erased. But, they can be joined by new memories, positive memories. There'll be no revenge. If the Patriots win, though, the memories of pain from 2007 will be joined with fresh, happy memories. And these new memories will temper the old ones. Like dipping spicy wings in bleu cheese.

So if you're a Patriots fan, don't watch the game on Sunday thinking about "revenge" for 2007. Because even if the Pats win, you'll be disappointed. Just hope they win so you can think about a great 2011 season.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Going to Indianapolis

The defense won this game. The defense and Billy Cundiff. It certainly wasn't the offense that won this game for the Pats. While I don't think Brady "sucked pretty badly," he wasn't good. The Patriots lost the turnover battle, Flacco in many ways had a better game than Brady, the Ravens accumulated more yards, and held the ball longer. But the Pats defense made some big plays in big moments and that's why the Patriots are going to the Super Bowl.

The defense did allow a pair of token touchdown drives, struggling to contain Rice and giving up chunks of yardage in the air.

But when Woodhead fumbled a kickoff return on the 28, the defense held Baltimore to a field goal (which gave the Ravens a 4 point lead instead of an 8 point lead). Spikes' interception might have been a big play if Brady didn't throw a pick a few seconds later.

In the 4th, the Ravens had a 3rd and 3 on the Patriots' 30 (48 yard field goal range). Wilfork stuffed Ray Rice for a 3 yard loss, and Baltimore was forced to go for it on 4th and 6 instead of kicking a field goal. The Pats did not allow the Ravens to convert that 4th down thanks to good coverage and pressure from the aforementioned Wilfork.

The offense had a chance run out the clock late but went 3 and out. The defense did allow a big 29 yard Anquan Boldin reception, which put the Ravens in field goal range. Then Sterling Moore saved the game by breaking up a pass in the end zone, then deflected the next pass. So at the very least, the defense preserved a tie.


Billy Cundiff did the rest.

The Patriots' offense wasn't bad all game. They just couldn't come up with many big plays. They struggled in the Red Zone, the Ravens got timely pressure on Brady, then there were the turnovers. Brady threw 2 picks, he also had one called back because of an illegal contact penalty, and he threw another one after an encroachment flag. He was not that sharp. He also missed a wide open Gronkowski and what would have been a touchdown in the 1st quarter. He missed a number of passes, and frequently threw into double coverage.

The Pats' best player had his worst game of the season, but because of Wilfork, Spikes, Moore, and Ellis, the Pats still won. And Brady will get a chance to redeem himself against the Giants.

Longest two weeks of the year. Let's party.


Photo Credits:
AP Photo

Monday, February 07, 2011

NO PARADES FOR SCHADENFREUDE


Schadenfreude (noun): enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others (German)

As a Patriots fan, it's nice to see the Steelers lose. Apart from Mike Tomlin, there's really not much to like about that team. By the way, had Pittsburgh won, I would have written how Mike Tomlin doesn't get nearly enough credit as he deserves. Probably because he's not as secretive as Bill Belichick, not as preachy as Tony Dungy, and not as loudmouthed as Rex Ryan. The guy just coaches a football team and does a damn good job at it.

As a Patriots fan, and as someone who dislikes the Steelers, and who has an intense animosity (coupled with respect) toward Ben Roethlisberger, I'm relieved this morning. But I'm not happy. I'm not from Wisconsin. My team got bounced, early, again. So I recommend to my fellow Patriot fans not to smile so smugly today. Because for the last two seasons, we've enjoyed watching NFC teams doing our dirty work, and eliminating our rivals.

I do think that this game thoroughly exemplified what the NFL is truly about these days. There were about 10 quality teams in the League this year. And there wasn't much on paper that separated them from each other. Green Bay lost 6 games this year. They lost to the Falcons once, then beat them. The Patriots lost to the Jets, then beat them, then lost. The Steelers lost to the Jets, then beat them.

These games really do come down to execution on a few key plays. Last night, Pittsburgh's turnovers pretty much cost them the game. But there were also potential big plays that never materialized. Green Bay muffed an early punt, but fell on the ball. The entire shape of the game changes if that one play changes.

It's a League of execution. So while Patriot fans shouldn't be jumping for joy for a parade in Wisconsin, they also shouldn't be moping about. Our team in Foxborough, though imperfect, has sufficient talent to be among those 8 to 12 good NFL teams. They just need to execute. It's simple to say, difficult to do.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

BEN AND AARON



I hate phrases like "changing of the guard" to talk about the evolving environments of a sport. Although Tom Brady and Peyton Manning took early exits from the postseason, and neither has won a title since George W. Bush was President, it's hard to eliminate them from the elite, uppermost echelon of quarterbacks in the NFL.

However, I think it's time we allow more names to populate that short list. It's no longer just Brady and Manning, then everyone else. I think it's Brady, Manning, Roethlisberger, and maybe even Rodgers.

What are the arguments against Roethlisberger's inclusion? His lack of eye-popping numbers? The help of a good running game and an excellent defense? But weren't those the precise arguments used against Tom Brady about 10 years ago? And since when has a QB won a Super Bowl by themselves? Ask John Elway and Terrell Davis, or Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. Better yet, ask Dan Marino and nobody else.

In this pass-happy NFL, Roethlisberger's numbers don't dazzle. Even if you extrapolated his 12 game performance into 16 games, he'd have thrown 23 TDs (tied for 13th with Garrard, Cutler, and Fitzpatrick), although with only 7 INTs. He would have been among League leaders for yards thrown, and his QB Rating was 5th at 97.0. So the numbers don't fizzle, either.

Those are good numbers. Even the TD number is good considering what sane coach would throw the ball on 3rd and goal at the 1 when Rashard Mendenhall is in the backfield? The whole "supporting cast" argument can go both ways.

Then there's his ability to win. He just does it. He makes plays when plays are needed. Apart from his experiences with the mid 2000s Patriots, he's beaten all comers in big games. He's won two Super Bowls, 3 AFC titles, and 10 playoff games. And he hasn't been a passenger along for the ride in those games, either.

So no matter what happens a week from Sunday, I think Roethlisberger has cemented a spot in that top tier of QB.

Then there's Rodgers. And unless he throws for 500 yards and 6 TDs, he might have to show us a bit more in years to come before being included in the Manning-Brady-Roethlisberger discussion. I don't get to see him often, being in the NFC. But I've yet to be thoroughly impressed with him as a player. So much so that even after a bad game, or a bad year, I'd be sure that he'd recover.

His numbers are gleaming, and his postseason performances have been admirable. A ring would go a long way to solidify himself at the top of the food chain. He certainly has the potential to reach such heights, but there needs to be more results over a slightly longer stretch of time.

So I'd say it's now a three horse race for the top spot among NFL QBs. They all have strengths, they all have slight weaknesses that can be used in an argument against them. Their biggest achievements have all come with assistance. And each of them plays the position in a different way, within different systems, that have all been successful.

But there's something about these three guys that transcends stats, and wins, and rings. There's an aura of strength around them. Opponents respect them, even fear them, in a way above and different from other QBs. I think that says a great deal more than passer ratings or playoff records.