Friday, September 28, 2012

The Amorphous NBA

ESPN's #NBArank is why I love the NBA. While ranking 500 players objectively is pretty ludicrousness within itself, it's a symbol of the fantastic, aqueous nature of the league.

Some players claw their way to the top. For example, in three years Kevin Love went from sixth man, to Most Improved Player, to All-NBA Second Team, and in the MVP conversation.

Some players fall precipitously and tragically, like Tracy McGrady (former scoring champ, 33 and unemployed).

While there is a consistent pantheon of great players (the guys in shoe commercials), new players can come in at any time and shake up the league (Ricky Rubio, Kyrie Irving). New players can affect this league more than any other professional sports organization. Player's success, failure, and constant movement is part of what makes this league so exciting.

We may be living in the greatest times.

Let's compare this to the other two major pro sports leagues in the US. (Sorry hockey, most people don't even care that you're locked out right now.)

Football has its place at the pantheon. It's the biggest league with the most money. But do you know who the greatest player in the league is right now? Is it Aaron Rodgers? Arian Foster? Calvin Johnson? Mario Williams? Even though the NFL has tried to objectively rank these players, you just can't do it. Is a running back only great because he had a great O-line? There are just too many questions.

And who is the greatest QB of all time? Marino? Favre? Montana? Unitas?

Baseball is the refuge of purists. And while I am a romantic at heart, it gets stale after a while. Baseball is seeped in slowness and tradition. Opening day, pennant races, the triple crown...yadda,yadda,yadda. We get it.

It's also difficult to compare even two outfielders. Dimaggio vs. Williams, for example. Williams was the better hitter, but Dimaggio was the better field. The fight goes on.

Coming back to basketball. Every season people make comparisons to Michael Jordan. And I love it. While that may be hard to prove as well, it's a discussion that will continue to be had in bars and online.

No one is arguing if Tom Brady is better than Joe Montana. It just doesn't happen.

Basketball changes. That's why I love it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Scott Walker, Please Be Quiet About Scab Refs

Is this the first time the American Public is actively cheering for a union? Maybe not cheering for, but desperately clamoring for something to happen. It's the most unified the American Public has been on a labor issue since probably the McKinley administration.

Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have chimed in, saying the NFL needs to settle this dispute. If this doesn't get settled soon, it's going to go in to Saturday Night Live territory.

Even the poster boy for union-busting, Scott Walker got in on the action. After the controversial end to the Packers-Seahawks game (understatement of the year) the Wisconsin governor told Sports Illustrated, "“I don’t think this has anything to do with unions, but has everything to do with refs making bad calls."

Oh please. This is all about labor vs. management. Slate's Dave Weigel broke down an audio clip of Walker saying he would focus his efforts on public sector unions because those cost the public money. 

Scott, you ARE the governor of a state with the only publicly-owned team in the NFL. You don't have a Jerry Jones or Bob Craft to defer to. Your team is publicly owned by the good, hardworking citizens of Green Bay.  Don't hide behind those job-creating football team owners. You don't have any.

And how much money is being discussed here? 

Not, really at least by NFL standards. According to ESPN's Chris Mortenson: "The officials work about 36 hours a week -- nearly full time -- and pension benefits have become an important issue to them. It would probably cost each team about $100,000 to settle the pension issue."

$100,000 per team? Really? Why haven't 32 different Kickstarter campaigns started yet? Haven't the players been fined this much already?

While we all may be sheep and continue to watch games, it's going to morph into some sort of reality TV train wreck instead of quality football.

Fans, let's continue to embarrass the league, egg on the frustrating player tweets, and make great parody videos.

Stop thinking you're a man of the people, Scott. Go hang out with your "job-creating" NFL owner friends.
Except, make sure you leave the cheese head state first. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Under the Spotlight: Receiving Corps

At under .500 for the first time in over a decade, the Patriots deserve some scrutiny. Who won/lost the three games so far? Who has been under-performing? What can we expect to see for the rest of the season? Today we are going to break down the receiving corps (wide receivers and tight ends).

The Good:
-         Brandon Lloyd: A midst the chaos Sunday night, you may have missed the fact that Lloyd had a nice game. He caught nine passes for 108 yards and looked like Cris Carter 2.0, snagging anything that was headed towards the sideline. According to, Lloyd has a 67% catch rate which is highest on the team. If Lloyd can continue to get in synch with Tom Brady, this could turn out to be a really good pick-up for the Pats. 

-          Wes Welker: Even with all this talk about Welker’s contract, he’s still really, really good. He lit up a good Ravens backfield for 142 yards. And in the previous week versus Arizona, even though he lined up on fewer plays Welker had five catches for 95 yards.   He’s still the best slot receiver in the game. With Aaron Hernandez out for the next few weeks, Welker's role will probably look more like it did in previous seasons. 

The Bad:
-          No Deep Threat: Through three games, the Pats have only completed five deep ball completions (catches for over 20+ yards) for the season. This hurt them in Cardinals game when Tom Brady was facing more pressure and the Stevan Ridely/Danny Woodhead combination was not able to finish on plays.

The Disconcerting:
     Gronkowski productionHave teams figured out Gronk? Should we be worried that he has not had a multiple TD game yet? He only had 21 yards on two catches versus the Ravens. Also, his two penalties on the final drive against the Cardinals were frustrating to watch (although, with the officiating situation as it is we might let it slide a bit.) Gronk is still a good blocker and a versatile weapon. 

The Ugly:
-          Welker Contract TalkThe talk of “freezing Welker out” is awkward for all New England fans. Belichick isn’t known for his sympathy, but the leading receiver in Patriots history deserves better.

The Hopeful:
-          Deion Branch: Even though he's only been back for one game, Pats fans are happy to have him back. He looks like he is happy to be back wearing a Patriots uniform again as well. On a second-and-nine play in the third quarter, Brady rifled a pass to Branch in the Red Zone. Ravens' Safety Ed Reed prevented the catch with a clock-cleaning hit to the head. It looked pretty bad, but Branch got up, walked away, and had a huge grin on his face. Smiling through adversity, it's just what this team needs. 

The Skeptical:
-         Julian Edelman: Edelman's blocking skills are what have been highlighted so far this season. However, he's still no Welker when it comes to running slot routes. Welker has twice as many Yards After Catch as Edelman with only six more receptions. He shouldn't be crowned the next Welker, yet.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Patriots Lose Emotional Shootout to Ravens

Politics and football are two things that get America’s blood boiling. For the voting public, political anger will come to a boiling point on Election Day, November 6th. For the New England Patriots, their anger may have boiled over on Sunday night. This game was so full of nastiness, that it made Thursday’s Scott Brown-Elizabeth Warren Senate debate look like a pillow fight between four year olds. There were skirmishes seemingly after every play. Bill Belichick and Ravens coach Jon Harbaugh looked like they were both going to have aneurysms yelling at the replacement officials, and there were plenty of post-play skirmishes.

New England fans held their heads like saddened members of the party faithful as they watched Ravens kicker Justin Tucker’s booted ball barely cross the very top of the right upright as time expired. No reviews were made and the Patriots lost for the second week in a row, 31-30.

This wasn’t an ugly loss for the Patriots, like it was against the Cardinals. It wasn’t a trap game. It was a shoot-out defined by a few key plays at the finish. And unfortunately, those plays were not laser passes from Tom Brady to Wes Welker or sideline snatches by Brandon Lloyd, which had been happening all evening. They were careless mistakes by the Patriots defense that allowed Baltimore to get back in the game and eventually win.

Leading 30-21 with less than seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Patriots had a chance to stop the Ravens’ momentum. The Ravens were at their own 16 yard line facing a second and 14. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco tossed the ball deep to receiver Torrey Smith – who had already caught 4 passes for 106 yards at that point – in hopes that the deep-threat receiver could continue their drive.

The ball sailed out of bounce and the Ravens were looking at a third and long. They Patriots did not allow the Ravens to get a first down until the second quarter, so they were hoping to stuff to stuff the offense one more time.

The defense wouldn’t get that chance. The play came back on a defensive holding call on cornerback Devin McCourty. The Ravens only moved five yards, but they also gained a first down and new momentum. Flacco proceeded to complete his next four passes to four different receivers for 69 yards. This eventually led to Torrey Smith’s second touchdown of the day. This drive put the score at 30-28 and in reach for the Ravens.

On the ensuing drive, it looked like Tom Brady’s cool-head might prevail over the wildly emotional Baltimore defense. A flag on John Harbaugh – one of 24 thrown on the day – gave the Patriots a first down on the Ravens’ 45 yard line. Fans thought Brady would look to Wes Welker or Brandon Lloyd – both of whom had caught at least 75% of balls thrown their way on the day – would make another catch. Brady sputtered through the next three plays: 1 yard run, 7 yard sack, and incompletion. The Patriots were forced to punt.

The much maligned Flacco put another feather in his cap by leading a 70 yard game winning drive. McCourty helped the Ravens out once again by getting called for pass interference on 3-and-12 with :53 seconds remaining. That mistake effectively sealed a safe field goal range for Justin Tucker.

It may as well have been a political rally at M&T bank stadium on Sunday night. Emotions were already high among Baltimore fans who hadn’t forgotten last January’s playoff loss. There was also a moment of silence for Torrey Smith’s younger brother who was killed early Sunday morning in a motorcycle accident. The public address announcer also mentioned NFL Films creator, Steve Sabol who passed away last Tuesday.

All of that plus a crew of bumbling replacement referees who had a hard time getting a handle on the game made for one roller coaster of a football match up.

Many Americans will be happy to relax once when the political mud-slinging stops on Wednesday, November 7th.

Even though they have one of the easiest schedules in the league, with two losses in a row, no one in Foxboro is going to be relaxing any time soon.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Patriots vs. Ravens: 5 Things to Watch

The top two AFC teams from 2011 are both 1-1.  Most people probably didn't expect that to happen. Both teams are coming off of ugly losses last week. The Ravens lost a heart breaker to the Philadelphia Eagles and the Patriots looked sloppy in a loss to the underdog Arizona Cardinals.

This is by far the toughest opponent yet for either team. 

Here are a five things to watch for on Sunday:

1) Ray Rice
 Week 1 was all about containing Chris Johnson. Week 2 was all about stopping Larry Fitzgerald. The Patriots defense did a good job at taking the star offensive player out of both of those games. However, this week is a different story. Ray Rice is a double threat to either run or catch the ball. Rice is second on the team in receptions and has the longest catch of any Ravens reciever (37 yards). Both the defensive line and the backfield will need to keep an eye on number 20.

2) Chandler Jones vs. Michael Oher
It's the Blind Side vs. the Sidewinder. Oher moved from right to left tackle after the Ravens benched usual starter Bryant McKinnie. Jones gave Arizona Cardinals left tackle D'Anthony Batiste a headache last week by constantly speeding around the edge to get to QB Kevin Kolb. Oher should be a more suitable match for the rookie.

3) Deion Branch and Kellen Winslow
These two guys have their work cut out for them. Branch probably not as much, seeing as his nameplate was never taken off of his locker. Winslow only met Tom Brady for the first time on Tuesday, so it may take a few snaps to get these guys in sync. It will be a much different offense without the versatile Aaron Hernandez.

4) The Patriots Backfield vs Torrey Smith 
Smith is fast. He is also the de facto deep threat for the Ravens. He has averaged 27.8 yards per catch on four catches this season. The Pats secondary was burned by Nate Washington for an easy touchdown in week 1, and that was with a mediocre quarterback. Smith was the second leading receiver on the team last season (second to Anquan Boldin by only 46 yards). Smith and Ray Rice will keep this defense on their toes all day. 

5) Offensive Line
Even though the Ravens are without 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, Baltimore still has a stingy defense. Tom Brady was thrown off his game by the Arizona defense. Brady is going to need more protection in order to get on the same page with his new receivers. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Is Our Greatest Good Enough?

Do we even like to hear our athletes talk anymore?

On Dan Lebatard's podcast, Jeff and Stan Van Gundy talked about athletes speaking with the media. Lebatard mentioned a conversation he had with Cal Ripken Jr. He asked Ripken if he had any opinions on religion. Ripken said yes, but he wasn't going to share them with him. I'm sure Ripken's image wasn't hurt by him being silent. And while I could care less about Cal's opinions on those things I wouldn't mind hearing athletes open up every once in a while.

However, I think any team sport athlete who speaks his mind freely with the media is looked on as some sort of weird, fringe character who belongs with the circus rather than a pro sports team. For example: Jeter, Brady, Duncan, Kobe, those guys always toe the party line and won't open up to people on much more than the game. And their viewed as the best athletes of the generation. As they should be.

You also have your "characters." Like Chad Ochocinco (pre-head butt incident), Clinton Portis, and Gilbert Arenas (pre-guns in the locker). Those guys were fairly good in their prime, but are they in the same discussion as the guys listed in the previous paragraph? No way.

You also have those guys who take a stand. There is NBA player Etan Thomas, who may be the most politically active professional athlete in the US. There was also the recent comments supporting gay marriage by Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. Most notably, then Phoenix Suns star Steve Nash publicly called out the controversial Arizona immigration bill in 2010.

I applaud those men for using their celebrity for something good. However, most people didn't take those comments too seriously. Thomas is a mediocre player. Ayanbadejo was told to basically shut up and play football from a member of the Maryland legislature. Nash is probably the only one who got away with it because he's one of the greatest point guards of all time. Even though Nash is notably political, people just don't really talk about it.

So why can't athletes be entertaining and broadcast a meaningful message? Why can't we have more athletes like Muhammad Ali? He was hip-hop before hip-hop. Ali was at the center of probably the biggest poltical-sports firestorm ever when he refused to fight in the Vietnam War. He was stripped of his titles and banned from fighting for life.

Ali had some of the most memorable quotes of all time on the subject of war:

"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?"

"I aint got no quarrel with them Viet Cong... they never called me nigger."

Could you imagine someone like Kobe or Peyton Manning saying stuff like that? They would be skewered by the media for not shutting up and playing ball.

And lest we forget that Ali was entertaining as hell... Just listen to this interview

We want our athletes to shut up and play in this day and age. Those that do take a stand are either criticized or brushed aside if they aren't winners. 

If athletes have something of quality to say I would implore them to share it. 

Muhammad Ali did and he's The Greatest. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

There's no "I" in team, but There Should Be One in "Fantasy Football"

Football season is two weeks old and I'm feeling nauseous. Not due to the scab refs, the unsettled debate on concussions, or that my Sundays are booked from now to February.

It's due to fantasy football.

I must admit that I've played fantasy sports for about three years now. I started a league after my buddies and I went our separate ways in college. It was a good way for us to stay connected and talk about things other than our mind-numbing jobs for the 500th time. We didn't do it for money. Just good old-fashioned bragging rights.

And then I noticed something with my cheering. I didn't care about who won or lost games. I just wanted to know the answers to questions like, "Did Arian Foster get over a 100 yards?" and "Did Wes Welker get a touchdown today?" To hell with my Vikings, I just wanted to know about Percy Harvin.

I told my friends about my fantasy football struggles. I told my co-workers, parents, and anybody who had a heartbeat and a passing interest in football. I was obsessed. Just like most other red-blooded, football loving males who had access to a computer.

And now this obsession has boiled over. A replacement referee told Eagles running back DeSean Jackson, "I need you for my fantasy team."  I don't know if Jackson misheard the comment, but if its true, it's pretty disgusting.
Aren't there insider trading laws against this type of stuff?

I think the thing that bothers me most about this is that Fantasy Football is inherently selfish. If you're a Patriots fan and they lose, the blow is softened by the fact Tom Brady threw for 400 yards. And if the biggest problem you face all week is deciding whether to start Joseph Forte or Reggie Bush, your life is pretty good.

There was a post on The National a while back called, "Hell is Other Peoples Fantasy Teams." It's so true.

A comment on the article from SportsShakesepeare summed it up perfectly,

"Fantasy Sports is entering the hallowed list of things no one but you gives a f#*$ about:
1. Stories about your kids
2. Things your cats/dogs do
3. That restaurant that just couldn't get your Filet medium-rare
4. That new song you learned on guitar/piano
5. ** Fantasy Sports **"

Yeah, he's about summed it up.

So in the end, will I stop playing fantasy sports? No, probably not. But you won't hear me yapping my trap when Trent Richardson has a crappy game. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Patriots Fall to Underdog Cardinals

December 26th, 2008 was the last time the Arizona Cardinals visited Gillette Stadium. That team was annihilated by the home squad. The Patriots offense gained 514 yards, the defense limited the Cardinals to 186 yards, and Steven Gostkowski did not miss the uprights once.

Odds makers were predicting a similar story this afternoon. The Patriots were 14 point favorites. It was the largest spread of any NFL game this week. Vegas got this one wrong.

An athletic and punishing defensive effort by the Cardinals combined with costly errors by the home team caused the Patriots to lose their first home opener ever at Gillete Stadium, 20-18.

Things almost turned out differently. The Patriots were all but handed a victory with about a minute left to go in the game. Cardinals running back Ryan Williams fumbled the ball as Pats fans were heading towards the exits, thinking the Cardinals were going to let the clock run out. Linebacker Brandon Spikes punched the ball out from Williams and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork landed on the ball deep in Cardinals territory, breathing new life in to what seemed to be a lost game.

On the second play of the ensuing drive, running back Danny Woodhead sprinted untouched in to the end zone. However, a holding call on Rob Gronkowski nullified the touchdown. Gronk made another mistake two plays later when he was called for a false start.

The Pats remained calm as kicker Steven Gostkowski, who had already made four field goals on the day, came out to try win the game. The 42 yard kick should have been easy pickings for Gostkowski, who already had made attempts from 46, 51, and 53. The ball sailed wide left and the Patriots lost at home for the first time in nearly 10 months. 

However, the blame for this loss should not fall squarely on Gostkowski’s foot. The team failed to put together a consistent offensive rhythm. Tom Brady threw an interception on the first play of the game. Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker failed to pick up the receiving slack after tight end Aaron Hernandez went down with a gruesome ankle injury in the first quarter. The two receivers were overthrown multiple times and failed to find the holes in the Cardinals backfield.

Mistakes were costly for the Patriots, but they were also thrown off guard by an overpowering Cardinals defense. The defensive line harassed Brady all day, sacking him four times. Calais Campbell was a one man Tom Brady wrecking crew. The defensive end had two sacks, three tackles for loss, and hit Brady three times. This consistent pressure wore Brady down. The Patriots quarterback did not throw a touchdown pass until midway through the fourth quarter.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the Cardinals defense was their ability to prevent the Patriots from sustaining momentum even after their own offense sputtered. Halfway through the second quarter Chandler Jones stripped the ball from Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb. The Patriots recovered.
The Cardinals did not let this mistake slow them down for even one play. They sacked Brady on two consecutive plays for a loss of 10 and a loss of seven yards. 

The tide shifted in the third quarter when Cardinals linebacker Quentin Groves blocked a Zoltan Mesko punt. It was the first blocked punt of Mesko’s career. The heads up play by Groves gave the Cardinals the ball on the two yard line. Kolb connected with Andre Roberts and the Cardinals took the lead for good.

This game will provide a valuable lesson for this Patriots team, the fourth youngest squad in the league. It’s a good thing that they have such a cool headed coach at their helm. Belicheck will probably tell these guys to forget, refocus, and prepare for the Ravens. He’ll probably also remind them that there are no guarantees in this game, even if Vegas says otherwise. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Being David Halberstam in the Digital Age

I may be on the verge of becoming something I despise. The privileged sportswriter.

I'm arriving in to the sports journalism at the time of an upheaval. Old school sportwriters are being crowded out by fan-driven coverage of sports.  The megaphone that is the internet is becoming more ubiquitous among sports fans. Is this good, bad, or evil for the profession?

Thankfully, this revolution has been televised. This 2008 video from Costas Now shows an "old school" sports journalist, Buzz Bissinger vs. a "new wave" journalist and founder of, Will Leitch. (Braylon Edwards is also on there for some reason, but he doesn't add much.) It's a fantastic video.

Will Leitch On Costas Now by Machochip

If I hadn't read a single page of Deadspin before seeing this video, I would have thought that Buzz was the crass one who wrote a blog in his parents' basement.

I am caught in the middle of these two camps. I was born in to Buzz Bizzenger's world, but my coming of age was in Leitch's. My family subscribed to the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper and the sports page was the first section I went to every morning. Now, I love reading John Feinstein and Gay Talese. Frank Deford's recent book, Over Time was one of the best books I read all year. I have so much respect for these guys.

David Halberstam's Summer of 49 was the book that piqued my interest in writing about sports. It was a fantastic look at the pennant race of 1949 between the Red Sox and the Yankees. It is a story of a nation tired by war and finding something innocent and powerful in a baseball game. It's a story I only wish I could tell. Halberstam is the writer who made me want to be a writer myself. He passed away in 2007 in an auto accident. I wish I could have met him.

Unlike those guys, I didn't get my start writing for newspapers. (Well, I did write for my college paper, but that was just me spouting opinions and saying stupid crap for laughs, not doing actual reporting.) I read the the Bleacher Report on a regular basis. They always had ads on the site saying they were looking for writes and one day I decided to apply. I got the gig and soon had a vast digital soapbox at my disposal. I wrote what I thought about games and other just random funny stuff for the laughs. Most of the time I didn't pretend to be a journalist. I just liked to write. I hoped to be like those guys whose columns and books I devoured.

I wasn't crass or mean. I was just a guy who liked writing and sports, with no real journalism experience. Now I am in grad school training to do this thing full time.

The question is, can I be like my hero Halberstam and still respect blog world?

Yes, but I have to do my homework.

So on my journey to do this thing I love for a living, I need to remember these three things...

1. The fundamentals. I feel like a DIII college phenom whose now playing in the big leagues. Does the flashy stuff I do on my blog work in the pros? Not really. Work on the basics. Clear syntax, correct spelling, and showing, not telling.

2. After doing it right, do it well. I shouldn't try to do everything right now. I shouldn't try to be Rajon Rondo or Ricky Rubio. Right now, I need to be Bob Cousy. Simple, yet deadly effective. Former Celtics coach Red Auerbach sums this sentiment perfectly in the video, "Cousy and I had an understanding. I didn't care how he threw the ball as long as somebody caught it."

3. Tradition, tradition, tradition. The Sportswriter is a lauded profession. Many people think that anyone who has an opinion about sports can do this for a living. That's not true. Halberstam (and Leitch) put in the time and learned the right way to do things. However, as the video exchange showed, things are changing, quickly. Don't be afraid to innovate, but remember the others who have carried this mantle.

And one more thing, don't be a jerk. And while Buzz might be a perfectly nice guy, I refuse to read Friday Night Lights due to this exchange. I emailed Will Leitch after I read his book Are We Winning? And he responded. That increased my respect for him 100 fold. Don't be grumpy if things change, adapt.

Sportswriting has changed. Yet, there is one indelible thing that remains at the core of this profession, the power to tell a good story.

This year's for you, David.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Pats Poet: Week 1 Report Card

The Pats Poet: Week 1 Grades
Because who doesn’t love a Haiku

Get out your "Prose for Dummies" books, folks. The Pats Poet is here to hand out the letter grades for week 1.

Quarterback: A-
Tom Brady knows he’s
One tough metrosexual
Eyes toward Big Easy
-Tom Brady must been one of those kids who got really excited to get back to school after a long summer vacation. Of course, anyone who has as many tools at their disposal as Brady does would be eager to get back to work as well. The only knock on the QB from this week was the lack of success throwing the deep ball (only two receptions +20 yards). However, if Stevan Ridely can keep up his running game and the Pats can successfully execute the no-huddle, short pass offense, maybe they won’t need to rely on the deep threat.

Running Back: A
Ridley riding high
Brings back such fond memories
Of one C. Martin
-This was one of the biggest surprises of the week. Stevan Ridley has already equaled the number of +100 yard games that Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis had in 2011. Week 3 against a much more well established Ravens defense will be the first big test for the second year back.

Wide Receivers: B
Where was Wes Welker?
It’s really got fans worried
But B. Lloyd looked good
-Wes Welker’s contract is going to be a talking point all season. However, one “un-wes like” game (three catches for 14 yards) should not be cause for alarm. Welker is a consummate professional and he isn’t known as a whiner. Julian Edelman will need to contribute more (one catch for seven yards) if Welker is not contributing. Other than one long overthrown ball in the beginning of the game, Brandon Lloyd (five catches for 69 yards) looked like he will fit in nicely amongst the Patriots receivers. 

Tight Ends: A+
Gronk miss the Gronk spike
What can we call these two guys?
Aaron Hernan-does?
-Did Gronk break the Sports Illustrated cover jinx? Gronk showed no ill-effects from being on the cover of the magazine’s NFL preview issue. (Other than a TD celebration fail.) Gronk also had a nice block on a 15 yard run for Ridley. Hernandez showed his versatility in the second quarter by coming in for a wildcat set and rushing for a first down.

Offensive Line: A-
Brady hurts the schnoz
Other than that, real,good , day
Brian Waters, who?
-The O-line opened up holes all day for Stevan Ridely. Left Tackle Nate Solder also did a fine job limiting Titans DE Kamerion Wimbley to two tackles. And other than the one sack, Brady was well protected in the pocket.

Defensive Line: A
D E Chandler Jones
Plays like a video game
Johnson no factor
-Was it fate that Chandler Jones made defensive headlines this week? A fan playing Madden 13 may have thought so. The fan tweeted a screenshot of a digital Jones making nearly the exact same fumble causing play that he did in real life. Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork literally stopped Chris Johnson in his tracks. The Titans titans running back was -3 yards going up the right side of the field.

Linebackers: B
Mayo, Spikes, Hightower
One scary sounding law firm
All about the hits
-It was all about the hits for these guys. Jarod Mayo had 11 tackles almost evenly distributed amongst the sides of the field. However, Jake Locker wasn't nearly pressured enough in his first game as a starter.

Defensive Backs: C
It was the McCourty twins
that may have confused these refs
Missed big PI call
-Even though Kyle Arrington tipped a ball that led to an interception, things could have gone a lot worse for this unit. The Titans burned the right side of the Pats secondary on two pass plays for gains of 29 and 35 yards. They need to wake up for Larry Fitzgerald next week.

Special Teams: B-
Gostkowski perfect
You don’t mess with the Zoltan
Punt Returns, messy
-Stephen Gostowski was perfect from extra points and field goals. Zoltan Mesko pinned his punts so precisely that the Titans didn’t return a single one of them. However, the rest of the unit was a bit messy. Titans returner Darius Reynard blew by the return coverage team and averaged 24.5 yards per return. Julian Edelman didn’t convince anyone that he is a perfect fit for the punt return role. The receiver only managed 6.8 yards per return.

Coaching: A
Belicheck, hoodie
Brings back the no huddle scheme
Titans caught off guard.

-The Pats  silenced Chris Johnson, got good contributions from the rookie defenders, and pushed the throttle of the game by going no-huddle for a few series. Nice work, Bill. 

Next week: Iambic Pentameter
Until then.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Brady, Ridely, and Defense Shine in Win Over Titans

Nashville, Tennessee may be the Music City, but it was the New England Patriots who orchestrated quite a performance on Sunday afternoon. Quarterback Tom Brady looked like an ageless front man of a rock and roll band eager to get on the road again after a much too long break. Off-season rust and youthful jitters were nowhere to be found on the field today amongst any player. This band from Foxboro has one final destination in mind for their five month football tour, New Orleans. They showed today that they just might have the talent and mettle to return to football’s biggest game.

Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez started their 2012 seasons on the right foot. The centerpieces of the passing attack caught 60 and 59 yards, respectively and each hauled in a touchdown. Newcomer Brandon Lloyd also looked like everything he was promised to be, catching five passes for sixty nine yards.

While touchdowns and first downs are the expectation for this Patriots passing attack, the running game turned a few heads as well. Running back Steven Ridley scored one touchdown and ran for 125 yards. The second-year RB looked more like the Titans all-star running back Chris Johnson than Johnson did himself. Johnson eked out four yards rushing for the day.

Holding a three-time Pro Bowl running back to the lowest output of his career is one of many accolades this Patriots defense hopes to rack up this season. This young squad (only two players above 30) looked like it will play its way into many more highlight videos.

Rookies Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower teamed up for one of the most exciting plays of the game. Midway through the second quarter Jones swiped the football from the hands of Titans QB Jake Locker. Fellow first round pick Hightower picked the ball up and ran it in for a 6-yard TD.

Rookie safety Tavon Wilson also added to the day’s rookie accomplishments. The fourth round pick snagged a ball that bounced out of Cornerback Kyle Arrington’s hands in the Tennessee end zone.
There was a scary moment at the beginning of the fourth quarter when two Titans players were injured on the same play. Wide receiver Nate Washington was shaken up by a hit from Patriots LB Jerod Mayo which caused him to drop the ball. Safety Patrick Chung scooped up the ball and proceeded to run down the field. It looked like a potential score until Locker got in his way. Locker stopped Mayo, but ended up injuring his right shoulder in the process.

Both Washington and Locker were able to leave the field under their own power, but neither returned to the game. Matt Hasselbeck took over for Locker and proceeded to lead the Titans to a field goal. However, that momentum was quashed by a stealthily quick Patriots offense who answered right back with a field goal of their own.

Youth seems to be the keyword for the Patriots 2012 season. It does not look like that will be a negative asset for this team. The team looked energized and in sync. Brady successfully executed the no-huddle offense multiple times during the game which caught the Titans off guard multiple times during the game.

There are still a number of concerns to be addressed before this team plans its flight to New Orleans. The offensive line did an adequate job protecting Brady, but allowed a particularly gruesome sack in the second quarter by Titans LB Kamerion Wimbley that caused Brady to get his nose bloodied. (There is still no word if veteran lineman Brian Waters will be reporting to the team.)

While the Titans passing game is not elite the pass defense should be concerned that Locker ended the day with only seven yards less passing than Brady. The Patriots do not face an elite quarterback until Peyton Manning and the Broncos come to Foxborough in week 5. However, the secondary will have its hands full when they face all-pro WR Larry Fitzgerald next week.

With the Red Sox season in full cacophony, the Celtics wheezing towards another season, and the Bruins silent as a lockout looms, Boston fans can rejoice that the sweet music of Tom Brady and company is back.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Bread, Roses, Football

The question on my mind entering Sunday is not "Are you ready for some football?" It's "Which side are you on?"

If you haven't already heard, the NFL will be using Scab referees for Sunday's games (and for the near future) due to the lockout of NFL refs.This has created turmoil for both fans and players. And these refs, some whom come from the likes of the Lingerie Football League, haven't quite gotten their job responsibilities down yet.

Dave Zirin from Edge of Sports has a good break down of what these numbers mean:

"Consider the multi-billion dollar entity that is the National Football League. Then consider that NFL referees are 119 part time employees who make $8,000 a week. As Jeff MacGregor calculated at, at a cost of $50 million a year -- less than one percent of total revenue – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell  could hire 200 full-time officials at $250,000 a year. Conversely, if Goodell gets everything he wants from the referees union and he doesn't have to spend too much in legal fees, it works out to league-wide savings of just $62,000 per team."

That's not a lot of money from Mr. Goodell and company. And this isn't quite the "millionaires vs. billionaires" theme of the last NFL lockout.

So what's the proud son of union parents do? Am I supposed to just stop watching football? 

Well...probably. But I don't think the other 99.999% of  fans will follow suit. Football is just too big, too ubiquitous, too all over. And I'm a budding sports journalist who can't afford to let my politics interfere with my career.

I am surprised this issue hasn't gotten more play in an election season. Maybe it just affirms the fact that people don't like their sports and politics served on the same plate. 

To go back to the refs, I don't like them when calls don't go the way I want them. I don't like them when they take too long at the review booth. 

However, I hate it when the little guy isn't getting his fair shake.

Am I going to watch the games? Yes. Am I going to keep an ear to the ground for union updates? You can bet my AFL-CIO workers for Obama button on it. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pats Pitter Patter: Today's Patriots Links

Field Yates of ESPN Boston posted highlights of Tuesday's conference call with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. The coaches talked about new players, improvements amongst the veterans, and what to expect in Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans,

Curious as to who is still on the Patriots roster after the latest round of cuts? Not to worry, the Boston Globe has put together a slideshow of who is still on the roster.

It's tough to see a friend lose his job. It might be even tougher to take his place. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reports on how Center Ryan Wendell is handling replacing his good friend, and recently released Patriot, Dan Koppen.

Rookie Defensive End Chandler Jones has excited Pats fans this preseason. Christopher Price of WEEI says  that Jones draws comparisons to an elite defensive end.

Over at, Tom E. Curran examines who the Patriots have worked out following last Friday's cut day.