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The Pats weren’t that good to begin with…

Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England P...

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There is no question that the Patriots were awful on Sunday vs. Cleveland, they came out flat from the start and were never able to able to stop Peyton Hillis and Colt McCoy. Credit goes to DA/98.5 for comparing this beat-down to the Raven’s playoff game last year. We were teased to think we were back in the game few times (especially before Gronk fumbled ahead of half) but really didn’t have chance without an answer for Hillis (i.e. Ray Rice). This was a classic trap game, as predicted by EPSN’s Adam Shefter, and the Pats did not disappoint.

Although, looking back on it now, the only thing more overdone than the fans/media negative reaction off the loss, was the positive hype about the Patriots leading up to it. As the only one loss team in the league before the Browns game, the Pats mistakenly ended up atop the power rankings of Fox Sports, Fanhouse, ESPN, etc…They were not the best team in the league before the Cleveland game and they clearly aren’t after. They are adjusting to life without Moss, surviving a number of key injuries (e.g. Bodden, Taylor, Faulk) and one key holdout (Mankins), and rediscovering some of the old winning formula. Along the way they have found a way to win some tough games at the end. But this is by no means a finished product and anointing them as the best in the league off the Minnesota win was clearly aggressive. Bill Belichick approaches each season like he does individual games; figure out what you have early on then make the right adjustments to peak by the end. The 2010/11 version of the Patriots is still a work in progress. This is a young team, especially on defense, that will need every single game of the regular season to find its real identity.

Until the Cleveland game the Pats had made the best of a favorable first half schedule. Looking back on it now, they have beaten only one team with a winning record. Going a bit deeper, against quality opponents  (as defined by this very cool site) the Pat’s are 2-1, trailing PIT 4-2, INDY 3-1 and WASH 3-2. THE GOOD NEWS is they enter the 2nd half of the schedule as well positioned as anyone, especially in a season that doesn’t appear to have a dominant team. THE BAD NEWS is the upcoming schedule is BRUTAL. The Pats will get an immediate chance at redemption when they visit the Steelers (the real best team in the league up to this point) Sunday night. Watching how they bounce back off the Cleveland thrashing, and how the defense stands up to another strong running game, will be the best  indicator yet of what we really have in this 2010/11 entry. The five game stretch that follows (IND, @DET, NYJ, @CHI, GB) will either make or break them. Surviving this stretch at 3-3 would be a huge success, making them 9-5 w/@ BUF and MIA to close out the season. I just hope this loss to Cleveland doesn’t come back to haunt us come playoff time.


Streams of Conciousness, vol. 2

Drew Bledsoe

If you haven’t yet read the Ron Borges article in the Boston Herald on Drew Bledsoe in retirement you should. It turns out that the fateful Mo Lewis hit wasn’t the worst thing in the world for Drew. I file this one in the “everything happens for a reason” category. A mind blowing stat from this article…78%of pro football players are broke or in deep financial crisis within three years after retirement.

While Charlie Villenueva was wrong to bring the on-court trash talk to Twitter, the Celtics and Garnetts handling of the matter has made them look even worse. Can anyone really picture Garnett running down the court saying “you’re cancerous to your team and to the rest of the league”. And then Garnett, unable to let it die, call’s Villenueva a “nobody” in an interview after the Bull’s game Friday night.

Something happened over the past few years where the NBA now passes the “would you sit down and watch a game on TV without your local team in it” test. It’s too bad that the players salaries are out of control (rumored that 25-27 of 30 teams lost money last year) and there is a high probability of a work stoppage after this season.

Per last nights updated BCS standings, if Oregon and Auburn happen to lose between now and the end of the year there is a good chance it will be TCU and Boise State in the BCS National Championship. I am now cheering for this matchup as it is a disaster outcome for anyone with a financial interest in the BCS. If this doesn’t force a serious playoff discussion, I don’t think it ever happens.

TV shows are always a topic of conversation when out with friends and I am always left out because I don’t watch any shows. And then I remember that there is reason for this…there is a competitive Boston sports team playing on TV practically every single night.

The Sox had a tough choice with Ortiz but at least they had a choice, and at least one of the options was a one year deal. The Yankees really have no choice but to re-sign Jeter to a multi-year deal. Jeter, who turns 37 in June of ’11, is coming off his worst statistical season in which he made $22.6m.

Speaking of tough choices, the Bruins have a really tough one coming up with the impending returns of Marc Savard and Marco Sturm off long term injured reserve. The salary cap exception has the B’s $7m over the cap and  they need to clean this up before these guys can rejoin the team. Ryder and Wheeler are probably at the top of the short list but there is no easy option.

I am all for the NFL locking down on illegal hits, but fining Myron Pryor last week for his hit on Brett Favre is absolutely ridiculous (video here). There is nothing remotely close to illegal about this hit. The only person doing anything wrong here is Favre for wearing a chinstrap 20 years past its time.

Streams of Conciousness, vol. 1

Some random one off ramblings that come to come to mind throughout the day/week…
Game 4 of World Series lagged Sunday Night Football in ratings and then the Game 5 clincher lost out to Dancing With The Stars. Yeah I know they were both small market teams but if MLB doesn’t realize they have a major problem on their hands then the league is in worse shape than I thought.

If I am Theo Epstein I look down at my WWBD (What Would Belichick Do) wrist band and I decline the $12.5m option on David Ortiz for ‘11. I love Big Papi and all he has done for this organization but we should have bunched him in with the Mike Lowell Celebration last year. Theo has to make a decision by this Thursday. The only way they keep him is if they figure he will keep fans in seats for a “bridge” year in ‘11 and then off the books for ’12. The problem is Papi wants a multi-year deal and is already making noise about it.  

The 2012 MLB free agent class (Pujols, Fielder, Ad. Gonzalez, Yadier Molina, Jose Reyes, Grady Sizemore) is too good to panic on a Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford this year

The first cut at my Sox free agent wish list for this offseason:

  • Victor Martinez, DH/C – make him full time DH with occasional night behind the dish
  • Carlos Pena, 1B – my gut says don’t pay up for Beltre, bring cheaper Pena in to play first and move Youk back to 3rd
  • Derrek Lee, 1B – Plan B to Pena but only for 1 yr, righty compliment to Lars Anderson
  • A good middle reliever reliever to bridge between starters and Bard/Papelbon. A few to choose from; Scott Downs, Dan Wheeler, Matt Guerrier, JJ Putz, Jesse Crain.
  • Orlando Hudson, 2B – move Pedroia to SS, is there any way we can cut short the Marco Scutaro era? And the Mike Cameron Era while we’re at it.
  • Ramon Hernandez, C – splits w/Salty and VMart (when no DH’ing)
  • Reed Johnson, OF – we need guys like this on our team again

You can fault Theo for signing Cameron and Scutaro, and JD Drew for that matter, but at least all three of them come off the books after this season to allow the Sox to be players in the 2012 bidding.

How is it that Edgar Rentaria can be so clutch in the playoff spotlight for small market teams (apparently with a torn bicep no less)  but play so poorly in the regular season in a large market…the pressure levels can’t be that much different, can they?

It is still early but how great would it be to see Patriots East playing Patriots-Midwest in the AFC Championship Game? Second to the Pats it is easy to root for Scott Pioli, Matt Cassel, Mike Vrabel, Charlie Weissl and Romeo Crannel.

Who fares better in their 9 week free agent showcase, Randy Moss in Tennessee or Shawn Merriman in Buffalo.? Both are playing for new contracts in ’11. Btw, hard to believe Merriman is only 26 years old.

Every time I see a new headshot of TB12 all I can think of is QB Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass from Remember the Titans. Regardless of how he looks I love the fact that Brady is banging helmets again and talking smack to Terrell Suggs.

Ronnie "Sunshine" Bass

Tommy "Sunshine" Brady

The Moss Era is over…now lets keep it that way

New England Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss ...

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That didn’t take long. Of all the high profile Patriots to leave as free agents or get traded away/cut amidst contract disputes under the Belichik/Pioli era, I think all but two of them (Vinatieri, Samuel) would admit today they would have rather made it work with the Patriots. The obvious president of The Grass Isn’t Greener Fan Club is Deon Branch, followed in no particular order by Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Damien Woody, and probably Richard Seymour. Now, judging by his post-game monologue Sunday night it didn’t take long for Randy Moss to realize the error in his ways either. Now first reports this afternoon that Randy Moss has been reportedly waived by the Vikings. The quick fan reaction would be that Moss, if given the choice, would want to return to New England (assuming he was to clear waivers). However for the Patriots organization, having rediscovered the Patriot Way in the first 3 games of the post-Moss era, the decision to bring back Moss is easy, don’t do it.

Losing our way. With Randy Moss passing thru Foxboro last Sunday for the first time post-trade I found myself trying to assign some sort of value to his time here. Notwithstanding the ridiculous catches, and arguably the greatest single season offensive showcase in NFL history, the jury is still out on the Freak’s net impact on the Patriots during his 3.5 year stay in Foxboro. We can debate Randy Moss the person and player all day, but reviewing his tenure solely along these two lines is an incomplete evaluation. Instead, I think the debate should be centered on #84’s impact on the “Patriot Way”. My thought process here is directly influenced by the fact that in the three games post-Moss (BAL, SD, MIN) the Patriots have reverted back to the formula that won them three super bowls; bend but don’t break defense, timely offense, near-flawless game management and crisp execution when it matters. This formula produced a lot of ugly, grind it out, wins for the ’01-’04 dynasty. But following this era, somewhere along the way, the organization lost touch with the roots of this model.

Where did we go wrong? The team went into ’06 season, having lost David Givens and Deon Branch in the offseason, with the trio of Troy Brown, Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney as the top WR’s. The Pats lost to the Colts in the AFC Championship game that year, blowing a 21-3 lead en route to a 38-34 defeat. Had they not blown that lead, I am pretty sure they would have found a way to beat Lovie Smith and Rex Grossman in Super Bowl XLI. Instead of hoisting their 4th Super Bowl trophy of the decade, the organization entered the offseason determined to fill its void at wide receiver. These pursuits yielded Welker, Stallworth and most importantly Moss. And while Welker has been at least as impactful as Moss in his time here, it was the Moss acquisition, and all that came with it, that set in motion a deviation from what had made the Patriots so successful up to that point.

For better or worse? While it may be hard to conceive that the Patriots are better without Moss, his impact on the team’s offensive approach, and overall team identity, was a net negative. Obviously Moss is “freak” talent, and his ability to stretch a defense and attract a disproportionate amount of attention from the opposing defense (and coaching staff) on a weekly basis, cannot be understated. However, to me Moss is like the hot chick that looks great on your arm but does nothing to make you a better person. Sure Moss’ pure skills are unquestioned, and the product is flashier for the fans, but his actual value to the team is where he falls short. Randy’s game is hit or miss, and the offense with him in it took on this identity, reliant on big plays while losing touch of the steady and methodical execution that had previously defined them.

The ’07 Anomaly. While the ’07 regular season was a dominant run, come playoff time the new deep ball/quick-score style proved less conducive to playoff, and Belichick, football. Belichick is more comfortable in the grind it out, find a way to win style, confident he can overmatch 99% of NFL coaches in a chess-match of game planning and on the fly adjustments. Moss’ presence, and the allure of his talent, distracted Belichick from his core football philosophy. The ’07 Super Bowl is the most glaring example of Belichick, with the clearly superior team, getting out-game planned, out-adjusted and plain outcoached. I can’t help but think the presence of Moss, and his impact on the offense, created a false sense of confidence and complacency.

Blame it on Asante. Now, in fairness to Moss, if Asante Samuel had caught the damn ball vs. the NYG in Arizona in, or David Tyree hadn’t for that matter, the Monday-morning quarterbacking of the Moss Era would have a different tone, however for me his impact on the Patriot Way would still have the same conclusion. Moss’ skill-set, while incredibly intriguing to fans and fantasy owners everywhere, is overvalued when it comes to winning. Stretching a defense and running off the safety sounds likes a great asset to have, but name me a Super Bowl champion that required this skill set to win it all. Heck, outside of what it did for Percy Harvin’s fantasy stats, ask Minnesota how it worked it for them in their short-lived four game experiment.