Happy Monday all! Random thoughts from the weekend:
- It appears that President Obama may have gotten a 5-7 point bounce out of his convention. According to several polls (great graphic here), Obama’s bounce has sustained, even despite a weaker than expected jobs report on Friday. We won’t know the full bounce for a few more days, because most of these polls include some percentage of interviews conducted before key convention moments. So, there is still the potential for a larger bounce, perhaps as many as 10 points.
- For months we’ve been hearing that this election is a “base election.” In other words, given that most people have already made up their mind, turnout will be the key to winning. That’s why you saw the Democrats hit social issues so hard in Charlotte – they are trying to fire up their base and get key constituents out to the polls. And therein lies the advantage for the President. The New York Times calculated that, if everyone who is registered to vote shows up at the polls, Obama has a 90%+ chance of winning based on party registration etc…This blog has a great breakdown of how that figure was identified and what it all means. If you are interested in party registration over time, check this out.
- The debates are going to be more important this year, than I can ever remember them being. Between now and election day, Romney and Obama will debate 3 times and Biden will square off against Ryan once. In an election where both sides are willing to say anything (true or not) and the challengers have steadfastly refused to provide specifics about their economic plan, it will be super interesting to see how much the moderators or candidates push for information and call people on their lies. Who can say the things that will motivate and excite their base, while not turning off the few undecideds or the ones who could still be swayed? That, ultimately, will decide this election.
Football is back and I could not be more excited! All you need to know is that, at the Red Sox game on Saturday night (another loss), the fans started chanting “Go Pats” in the 7th Inning. And I was among them! After a great first weekend, here are my winners and losers:
- New York Jets
I don’t think you can understand how painful it was for me to type that. Look, their top two QBs (Sanchez and Tebow) didn’t score a single TD in the preseason (see below). And they were facing the Buffalo Bills, who sport a revamped, and very expensive defense) in Week 1. Many, including me, were convinced it would be an embarrassing display by Ryan’s boys, but were we ever wrong. How they managed to put up 48 points is beyond me. This was more shocking than Brady Anderson’s random 50 homers in 1996. Which reminds me, someone check the Jets’ offensive coordinator for steroids!
- Peyton Manning
In the you’ve gotta see it to believe it category, I give you Peyton Manning. After not playing in a game for 600+ days, Manning returned to the field and, against a pretty good defense, led his team to a comeback win. Seeing him in Bronco orange was defintely strange, but the result was not. He’s still got it, folks, and that’s a scary thought for the rest of the AFC.
- Replacement Officials
Look, they weren’t perfect, but they survived and this ragtag bunch of retirees, teachers and insurance salesmen got some difficult calls right. Although they did their best by giving Seattle an extra timeout at the end of the Seahawks-Cardinals game, they didn’t change the outcome of any game and that, my friends, is a win. Of course, regardless of how long this strike lasts, they also made history by counting in their numbers the first woman to ever officiate a NFL game. Congratulations to Shannon Eastin and I hope you blaze the trail for more gender equality in the sport. Way to go!
- Preseason footbal
It means nothing, as the Jets showed, and 4 games is way too many. It looks like the NFL may, finally be making the change. Week 1 showed just how meaningless those games really are.
- Rookie QBs
It’s a tough jump from college to the pros, no question about it. All the rookie QBs starting this weekend, with the exception of RGIII looked way over matched and out-of-place. Weeden, Luck, Wilson and Tannehill all may be great NFL players but, on week 1, they looked very mortal.
- New Orleans Saints
After quite the offseason, I thought the Saints would come out firing on all cylinders. Us against the World would be their motto and, especially playing at home, they would steamroll over any opponent unlucky enough to be on the other side. That didn’t happen. They looked flat for the first half of the game and, to me, didn’t seem like there was any motivation or desire to beat the odds. They tried to recover in the 2nd half, but it was too little too late. Let’s see which team shows up next week.
It is clear what Scott Pioli’s recipe for success will be as the GM of the KC Chiefs…bring in as many former Patriot players/coaches as possible. Last week, he locked up Charlie Weis to be the Offensive Coordinator and, now, he has gotten the other architect of Patriot success at the start of the decade, Romeo Crennel, to run the defense. This is all on the heels of him getting Cassel and Vrabel at the start of last season and, more recently, Matt Gutierrez. I think I join all Patriots fans in hoping that Pioli doesn’t throw the bank at Belichick and Brady in the coming years!
Well, that’s not exactly true. I do want to talk about it, but I don’t want to believe it happened. That is, by far, the worst I have ever seen the Patriots play in the Belichick era. From the D to special teams to an offense that looked totally lost, this was a terrible way to end the season. All in all it was an up and down season but, overall, this was a team that never seemed to be able to put the pieces together and seemed strangely lost for most of the year. Lest we forget, aside from a furious comeback in week 1 and a dropped pass in week 4, the Pats would have likely been 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Of course there were bright spots as well (the drubbings of TB and Tenn) and games where a play or two (or holding a late lead) would have netted them a couple more wins (Indy, Miami, Houston etc…) but, when all is said and done, the 2009 Pats were like the 2009 Red Sox. A good team that beat who they were supposed to beat, but didn’t make the key plays you need to make to beat the really good teams.
However, to say this is the end of an era or this team is finished as a contender is to overreact. There are still good solid pieces in place and, with good offseason decisions, I think this is a team that will compete again next season. You have a young D that is pretty good and should get better. If you take away the 83 yard run by Rice, they only gave up 156 total yards and only 16 first downs…not bad. Now, I know that doesn’t tell the whole story and you can’t just take away that run. But, the basic point is that there is talent there.
I think the biggest changes need to come on the other side of the ball and, to me, there are four key things the Pats must do this offseason to regain their elite status.
1. Protect Tom Brady: I don’t know if it was a scheme problem or a talent problem, but the beating he took, especially late in the season, is inexcusable. Part of this is the lack of a running game (so teams can key on him) and part of it is the play calling (can’t have the long developing plays if you can’t protect). But a part of it has to be the blocking schemes and who they have in place to block. Solutions must be found.
2. Get a RB: Maybe it is Maroney. Maybe it is Taylor. Maybe it is Morris. Maybe it is someone else. A running game has to consist of more than draw plays to Kevin Faulk. You need a back who you can trust to carry the ball 20 times a game, who you can rely on pick up the extra blitzer, and who can eat up yards, and clock, for you late in the game. Look, Faulk is a good thrid down back. But he is not an every down guy and I just don’t buy that he gives you the best chance to win. And to have a combined 4 carries for 12 yards between the other three is a recipe for failure. I do think the solution may be on the roster, but I do think you need to go into next season with a clear starter.
3. Find another receiving weapon: This doesn’t mean go out and sign a veteran. This means get back to what made the Patriots so dangerous in the early part of this decade. Remember when Brady’s favorite receiver was the open one? He needs guys he can trust there and that means you don’t just go for the big name, you go for the right guy. Hell, I’d probably throw the bank at Jabar Gaffney or Deion Branch and try to get them back. Welker, Moss and Edelman is good first three, but we need more. However, no matter who you bring in, it is essential that they start working with Brady ASAP. Brady must be at the mini-camps and pre-training camps in order to maximize the opportunity for him to build chemistry with his weapons.
4. Retool your game plans: Belichick is known for putting his guys in the right position to make plays. Guys like Vrabel and Bruschi could handle schemes that Guyton and Mayo can’t. If I were Belichick I would instruct my coordinators to start over. Spend the next few weeks looking at the guys who are on the roster and design plays with them in mind. What makes them good? Where are they strong? How can we give them the best chance of making the key plays? And, when the players start coming back to camp, appreciate who you have…don’t gameplan like you are longing for the past.
Wild card weekend has arrived and we have some good games on tap! Before we get to the picks, I had to share this GREAT article from the Onion about Wes Welker. Nice to be able to laugh about one of the worst possible storylines for Pats fans. Of course Welker isn’t the only big injury teams are dealing with as the playoffs begin. Perhaps no team is more banged up than the Arizona Cardinals. Going into their matchup with GB several key contributors are question marks and that will make winning difficult. That game is one of three that feature rematches of games played in week 17, albeit under different circumstances. In looking at the slate of games, they are all really hard to pick – with no clear favorite in either the AFC or the NFC, this promises to be a wide-open and fun playoff season. Now for the picks:
Jets at Bengals
The Jets embarrassed the Bengals last week in a game they had to win but can they do it again? If the Bengals D can hold Thomas Jones to under 80 yards and avoid the big mistake that hurt them last week I like their chances because the Jets can’t win if the game is on Sanchez’s shoulders. On the other side, when the Bengals have the ball, Cedric Benson has to gain real yards on first and second down. With Revis blanketing Ocho Cinco and the creative schemes Rex Ryan can come up with, a day of 3rd and long means the Bengals will be one and done. When all is said and done, I think Jones finds just enough running room and the Jets D makes a big play at the end. On the other hand, I could easily envision a scenario where the Bengals, feeding off the “no one believes in us idea” and the tragedies their team has experienced this year blow the Jets out of the water.
Jets 16, Bengals 14
Eagles at Cowboys
Philadelphia entered last week’s game, against Dallas, with a chance to secure the 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye but, in what is no shocker to Eagles fans, they totally blew it. Now they have to travel back to Dallas for a really tough first-round matchup. Will the new young guns led by the most exciting player in the game, Desean Jackson, erase years of postseason frustration or will Tony Romo and Wade Phillips win their first playoff game together? Tony Romo is playing great football right now and I’m not sure the Eagles D can get the kind-of pressure they need to beat him. Points will be scored in this game but, if Romo is given all day, the Eagles have no chance. I’m looking forward to this great game between these two bitter rivals. As a side note, I am rooting for the Eagles because I will be in Philly during the game…do NOT want to see the town if Philly blows another postseason game.
Cowboys 31, Eagles 21
Ravens at Patriots
No Wes Welker? No problem…at least not in this game. If the Patriots can find a way to contain Ray Rice/Willis McGahee, then they will win this game without a problem. Belichick will find a way to mitigate the loss of Welker by getting other players involved and I am big fan of the current crop of Pats RBs. Remember when Jermaine Wiggins came out of nowhere in the Snow bowl game back in 2002? I bet we will see some unexpected guy make a huge contribution on Sunday. What’s the formula for Baltimore? Run and play-action. I just don’t think the running game will have enough of an impact to beat this team on a field that visitors rarely win on.
Patriots 37, Ravens 17
Packers at Cardinals
A banged-up secondary going up against one of the best QBs in the NFL? Almost doesn’t seem fair. Aaron Rodgers has been so good all year, even when playing against good defenses that it is really hard to pick against him versus an inferior D. I do like the Cardinals offense (if only they trusted Wells more) but, if Boldin doesn’t play or isn’t close to 100% that will really hurt. Anyway, I really believe there are football gods and those gods will let us down if we don’t have a Rodgers vs. Favre part 3 (just like a Pats vs. Colts part 2)
Packers 31, Cardinals 24
What do CNN, ESPN, millions of bloggers around the world, every local news station, NPR, and random people have in common? They have all spent the last few weeks creating those “year-end lists.” You know the ones: Best moment of the year, saddest death of the year etc… Of course, since the end of 2009, also draws the 2000s to a close (if you count the years in the way that most people do), those year-end lists have become decade-end lists. I thought I could resist giving you the sportypolitics lists but, alas, I could not. So, as we count down the final hours of 2009, I hope you enjoy my list of moments I felt the desire to highlight.
Decade’s defining moment: The attacks of 9/11/2001
Sports or politics, there really is no question that the events of that Tuesday morning defined the decade. We are still feeling repercussions from those attacks and we are a fundamentally different society because of them. Thousands of people lost their lives that day and many more have been killed in the wars that the attacks spawned. The attacks brought the world together but the choices that followed splintered us again. We lost the illusion (however foolish it was) of being safe on our own soil and, as we saw on Christmas Day, there are still many out there who are willing to give up their life to kill Americans. As we move into the next decade, it is critical we find a way to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan and continue to rebuild our image in the world. Otherwise the defining moment of this decade will become the defining moment of the next decade and so on.
Defining struggle of the decade: The economy
One could certainly make an argument for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the fallout from the recession we have been mired in gets my vote. Greed and poor choices led to the near collapse of our Economic system and cost many people their jobs. With the unemployment rate above 10%, we once again saw that the consequences of decisions by those at the top are felt most dramatically by workers. It is a real shame that so many of those who made the decisions (or allowed the decisions to be made) have had so little interest in being a part of the solution. Greed is a powerful force and people like Anastasia Kelly who resigned from the disgraceful company AIG because she was upset at only making $500,000 (and will pocket several million dollars in severance pay because she left for ‘good reason’ show how few lessons those top decision-makers have learned. The economy affects all of us and, while I think the Obama administration has taken strong steps to avert disaster and get us on the right track, jobs must come back for his work to be considered a success.
Now for some happier news…
Baseball team of the decade: The Boston Red Sox
I certainly could be accused of being a homer for this pick, but I feel pretty strongly about it. Yes, the Yankees had more wins. Yes, both teams won two World Series. But the way in which the Red Sox turned their team around and, in doing so, re-energized their fan base, gives them the edge. They maximized revenue from their ballpark, developed some really strong players, spent money when they needed to, and are really well-positioned for future seasons.
Football team of the decade: I don’t know
This is a really really tough one. Arguments could be made for the Pittsburgh Steelers (although their collapse and the fact that they may not make the playoffs this year argue against them), the Indianapolis Colts or the New England Patriots. To me, a lot depends on who wins the Super Bowl this season. If the Pats win, they are the team of the decade. If the Colts win, then they are. If neither wins, I think the nod goes to New England, but it is mighty close. Colts vs. Patriots is one of the best matchups of this decade and they sure have played some memorable games.
Basketball team of the decade: The Los Angeles Lakers
They didn’t have the most wins. They didn’t have the best winning percentage. They didn’t even have the most memorable championship (the Celtics get credit for that). But they were the most dominant and they were the team to beat in this decade.
Hockey team of the decade: The Detroit Red Wings
It’s not even really close. Sure, you could make an argument for the NJ Devils, but you would be wasting your time.
Sports city of the decade: Boston
These are incredible times to be a Boston sports fan. From the Red Sox (2 world series) to the Celtics (1 championship) to the Patriots (3 SB championships plus an almost perfect season) to the Bruins to the college teams we have winners everywhere you look. 6 parades in 10 years…pretty incredible. Add to that the hockey championships won by BU and BC and you have a pretty successful decade. Think about the transformation in the Boston sports scene over the last 10 years. In 2000 no one really cared about Boston. We hadn’t won in years and things weren’t looking too promising. Fast forward to today and we are called “arrogant,” “spoiled,” “cheaters,” and “obnoxious.” Such hatred is saved for winners, which is what Boston has become over the past decade.
Sports story of the decade: Cheating
From steroids to videotaping, this decade will be known as the one where fans were forced to confront the fact that our athletic heroes willingly and knowingly broke the rules to achieve greatness. Hopefully, with so much now out in the open, we can have faith that the sports legends of the future will get to the top legally.
Society’s story of the decade Lack of personal contact
In some ways Google’s IPA in 2004 is a defining moment for our society. From Myspace and Linkedin (2003) to Facebook and Twitter (2006)…from smartphones to ipods and email to online cards to blogging, this decade has been given us the tools to be constantly in touch without ever having to actually speak. Communication means something very different than it did 10 years ago and everyone, from retailers to relatives are having to adjust. How we get and share information and build and maintain relationships has fundamentally changed and may be the most lasting societal change we have seen this decade.
I know there is a lot I haven’t touched on in this post. The deaths of groundbreakers like President Reagan, Senator Kennedy, Julia Child, Fred Rogers, Richard Pryor, June and Johnny Cash, Arthur Miller, Johnny Carson, Michael Jackson, and so many many more. The true heroism of our troops and Captain ‘Sully.’ The incredible elections of 2000, 2004 and 2008 (and the historic election of Barack Obama). We’ll see what 2010 and the next decade have in store.
Happy New Year and all the best for a wonderful 2010. Thank you for reading and may the coming year be filled with more smiles than frowns and more laughter than tears.
Despite one of the most rollercoaster seasons the Pats have had in a long time, the drubbing of the Jags yesterday meant that we are, once again, AFC East Champions. This has been a challenging few months for the Patriots but they really seem to be rounding into form now, when it matters most. Brady is playing better, the D is thriving under the new and simplified schemes, the O Line is playing really well and Faulk, Taylor, Morris and Maroney have given the Patriots a respectable running game. To be sure questions remain: Who is the third receiver? Can Maroney get those tough yards at the goal line without fumbling? How will the young defense hold up in the playoffs? Answers to these questions will go a long way towards determining if the Patriots have a real chance to hoist the Lombardi trophy again this year. What we do know about the team is that they are hungry and they have heart. The enthusiasm I saw on the field last Sunday will certainly help them going forward. That, combined with the best coach in the NFL, makes them a scary team in the playoffs – even if they may not be the most talented on paper. Should be fun to watch!
Now, if you are a fan of any of the teams on the bubble, ESPN has a great rundown of exactly what you need to have happen to make it to the playoffs. Good luck sorting it all out! So who will the final 2 in the AFC be? For my money, I think Denver and Baltimore will be those lucky teams to sneak in. But we shall see.
I remember stretches of days where I just LOVED being a sports fan. You know that I’m talking about – those days where every team you root for manages to pull it out and it just seems like nothing can go wrong. Here in Boston, this past weekend was the opposite. From the Celtics to the Bruins to the Patriots, each team managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and it was hard to watch. On the bright side, none of the teams were eliminated from anything and, even in defeat, there are some positive take-aways.
Patriots: Let’s start with the most painful one first (and the one with the most to discuss). Quite simply, this was a game we should have won. We totally outplayed the Colts for 56 minutes, but couldn’t close the deal. And it wasn’t just the ‘interesting’ clock management and decision making by the head coach. With 4 minutes left we were up 13 and the Colts were 80 yards from the endzone. Giving up the game at that point is inexcusable. Looking back over the entire game, however, we see that the Patriots left, at best, 10 and, at worst, 18 points on the field because of failures to convert key plays and redzone turnovers. Despite dominating throughout they let the Colts hang around and, in this league, when you do that you often pay for it.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on “the play.” I am not one of those who is going to jump all over Belichick for going for it on 4th down at his own 28 with just over 2 minutes remaining. I don’t agree with the call (and I said so before the play) but I do understand the rationale. A first down seals the win and a punt allows one of the top 2 QBs in the league a chance to win it. Think about it. When the Pats were facing that 4th down, was there any doubt in your mind that Manning was going to be able to drive his team down the field and put them in a position to win? None in mine. Do I trust a banged-up and tired D vs. Manning or Brady to get two yards against a fairly inexperienced Colts D? Tough choice.
I’ve looked at replays and pictures of Faulk’s catch and boy is it close. It seems to me that he initially made the catch somewhere around the 31 yard line and did bobble the ball momentarily. However, he regained full control at the 30 yard line which would have been enough for the first down. Either way, don’t you think it odd that the official who made the call was positioned in such a way that he could NOT have seen Faulk’s arms. He made the call looking at Kevin’s back. Sure, the Patriots should not have been so careless with their timeouts so they could have had the option to challenge the play, but that doesn’t excuse the official being in the wrong position to make that call. However, I am pretty sure (and I’ve read a few others who agree) that Faulk did have enough for what should have been a game-winning first down. One final note on this: If Coach Belichick knew he was going to go for it on 4th down (and I’m sure he did) why not run on third down to keep the clock moving and get you a bit closer. I have more of a problem with that call than I do with the decision to go for it.
What are the ramifications? Well the failure to put the Colts away will cost us any shot at the #1 seed and, because the Bengals are playing so well (I can’t believe I just wrote that), will make getting a first-round bye a real challenge. Does this mean we won’t go to the Super Bowl? Absolutely not. But it does mean that the road to Miami won’t go through cold and snowy Foxboro and that, my friends, will make the road much more difficult for Brady and company.
Bruins: The B’s have been tough to figure out all season. They have some real talent on their roster yet have had trouble scoring. They have one of the best goalies in the NHL, yet have had days where they seem to forget how to play defense. However, they are still a fun team to watch and that is why I, and many other Bostonians, were so keyed up for the tilt against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. Sadly, the incredible excitement when they scored twice in three minutes to take a lead with just over 2 minutes remaining was so cruelly dashed. Even when Pitt. got possession of the puck in their defensive zone with about 10 seconds left, I NEVER thought there was any chance they could mount an attack in time. But attack they did and, old friend, Bill Guerin put it past Thomas with a scant .4 seconds on the clock. We were .4 seconds away from a HUGE win against one of the best teams in the NHL. After that, it was no surprise we lost in OT and the one point we got was no consolation.
Celtics: The Celtics are one of the best teams in the NBA and will certainly be one of the top seeds in the playoffs again this year. However, this weekend, they played like they were all hung-over or thinking about something other than basketball. Losing to Atlanta can be excused – the Hawks are a good team and seem to always play the Celtics tough. However we have so much more talent than the Pacers and our sloppy and unfocused play pretty much handed them the game. It is time to get back to fundamentals. Losing 2 in a row and 3 out of 5 makes me nervous!
With all that gloom out of the way, let’s end with some positive take-aways.
1. The Patriots were about 24 inches (or an official’s mistake) away from knocking off an undefeated team, on the road. Even in defeat we showed we are still among the top teams in the AFC and, by extension, the NFL.
2. The Brady to Moss connection worked a couple of times and, once again, we were able to establish a running game.
3. The Bruins showed that they can play in a high-scoring game against a very good offense.
4. The Celtics are, well, the Celtics. They will be fine.
5. Even with all the losses, the Pats still lead the AFC east by 2 games and are only 1 game behind the Bengals for the #2 seed in the playoffs.
6. The Celtics still have a 2.5 game lead in their division and are .5 game behind Atlanta for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Finally, not to be cheesy, but I got to watch the games with some pretty awesome and fun people and had a really fun time watching the games. At the heart of it, isn’t that what sports are all about. Having fun watching with good people. Ok, you caught me. I’m just saying that because we lost, but it sounds good right? 🙂
Well, what do you really say after a day like today. 99 times out of 100 Papelbon saves that game. 99 times out of 100 Brady wins it for you when he has the ball at midfield with 90 seconds left. But today. Well, today in both games, it was the 100th time. The Pats will play on (and continue getting better) but, for the Sox, the season is over.
It is a crazy thing having a favorite team in the playoffs. There is so much hope, optimism and excitement. You just feel like your guys will find a way to get it done. I really believed that, despite being down 0-2 to the Angels, we would find a way to win. And, up 5-1 early and 6-4 in the 9th, I was already liking our chances with Lester and Beckett…But, alas, it wasn’t to be. The fact is that this team just wasn’t quite good enough. They couldn’t hit good pitching for most of the year (especially the second half) and seemed to only be able to beat the teams they were supposed to beat. It will an interesting offseason but, for now, all that is left to do is reflect on the season that was and turn our attention to the Celtics, Bruins and Patriots. And, in doing so, we can consider ourselves lucky that we do have other teams to focus on. Even if one of those teams had a heartbreaking loss in Denver today.
Thank you to the Red Sox for a fun year. Theo – the ball is in your court. Time to make us even better for next year!