Fourth Quarter Woes Continue for the Patriots

October 16th, 2012

Okay, so it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these postings.  A really, long while.  But for some reason I felt compelled to start writing a few entries again.

This came after yet another putrid Boston Red Sox season, and now as the New England Patriots are 3-3 in what was supposed to be the easiest NFL schedule for 2012 after losing in the final minutes to the Seattle Seahawks.  Let’s tackle the Patriots first, shall we.

It would be easy to call out the curse of east coast teams traveling to Seattle, where all never seem to do well.  Or the fact that they are known for the twelfth-man for causing visiting teams fits.  But this is a game that the Patriots should have won, yet let if sputter away in grand fashion.  And what was once their bread-and-butter, winning these type of games from behind, is now just something of the past.  Like the 2004 Super Bowl winning season.

Since then, their offense has ramped up as Tom Brady morphed from a really good possession quarterback to one of the best offensive quarterbacks of all time.  And the defense, which was really the reason for all of the Super Bowl wins, has just gotten worse as time has moved on.

Yes it has become a “pass happy” league where many teams are trying to find quarterbacks who can heave the ball and rack up tons of yards.  Lots of teams are trying to go that way too.  But there can only be two teams that can make the Super Bowl each year.  And while you can somehow make it there with the worst defense in the league, chances are you aren’t going to win it.

But to me, the hardest part to watch hasn’t been their defense, but their fourth quarter offense.  It seems now that there is no score too big that the Pats offense should be racking up as quickly as possible.  That’s because there always seems to be those terrible drives that make the Pats go three-and-out, just to give the ball back to the other side with plenty of time left.

That was the beauty of the older teams with not that much offensive star power to them: they could close out games.  To me, if that Seattle game was like it used to be, that sure they would make it a six-point game with 7:21 left in the game.  But then the Patriots would just have one of those 15-play drives that would only result in a 25 yard field goal, but make it a 2 possession game with less than a minute left.

But now we’re getting intentional groundings at key moments (remember the first possession in the Super Bowl?), interceptions, missed receivers and three-and-outs.  Even in the win over Denver, New England tried to convert a 4th-and-5, and the worst possible outcome happened: Brady was sacked and fumbled for even a bigger loss.

I don’t think that it has to be a shootout for the offensive-based Patriots to win, but more than anything else, just win the time of possession.  There are now a plethora of runnings options (Woodhead, Ridley, and Bolden) to use to keep the chains moving and the clock winding down.  Bring back the days of Clock Killin’ Corey Dillon.

Yes, it’s tough to admit this, but Brady is getting old.  He’s still really (, really, really) good, but having to keep putting all scoring and possession responsibilities solely on his shoulders, just to erase the defense will begin to make it tougher as this and other seasons go on.

That all being said, even at 3-3, I think they’re still okay.  New England still has an easy schedule coming up as well as playing in what many deem as an easy AFC East.  I still think they’ll make the playoffs, likely winning their division, but how far they can go from there, to me, comes down to if they can figure out how to close out these games.

Patriots Week 12 Recap: Detroit Lions on Turkey Day

November 28th, 2010

After a close victory against the Indianapolis Colts 89 hours earlier in New England, the Patriots had to prepare and fly out to Detroit for their traditional Thanksgiving game against the Lions.  This had “trap game” written all over it.  Similar to the Cleveland Browns game, this seemed like a game that would be overlooked.  Just after playing the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts, and the rival New York Jets coming up next week, a losing team could have been an easily ignored and forgotten.

And for the first half, it looked as though the Lions were at least going to hang with the Patriots if not completely out-gamed.  The first half saw the Pats were down by 11 and ended down a touchdown.  The third quarter ended with the game all tied up at 24 each, but Tom Brady was starting to heat up.

Then the final quarter went completely New England’s way with three touchdowns against the no points scored for Detroit.  Brady was absolutely carving up the Detroit defense without throwing a single incomplete pass.  He scored three of his four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the other one was in the third; with two of them going to Deion Branch and the other two going to Wes Welker.  And to stay with the powers-of-two, BenJarvus Green-Ellis had two rushing touchdowns.

The biggest fear that I have with these 2010 Patriots is their inability, it seems, to close out games.  Indy made it close because the defense was letting the Colts easily march down the field in the fourth quarter and score touchdowns at will while the offense was just going three-and-out with no time off the clock.  The same happened to the defense against the Steelers, though the game was well in hand and it was clear that they were in a prevent defense (as well as the offense was scoring; though I would like to point out that if the offense didn’t do anything, we would be talking about how the young defense let Pittsburgh win the game).

But in a span of 12 days, they have played three tough games that may start to define the 2010 New England Patriots.  Following a 34-14 loss against the Cleveland Browns that just became a real head-scratcher, the Pats have reeled off wins at the Pittsburgh Steelers, at home against the Colts, and in Detroit.  It seems that year in, year out, the Pats are always playing meaningful games against the Steelers and the Colts for top-dog of the AFC, so to win them back to back this year at least gives them some sort of measuring stick.

And now they practically have a bye-week with 11 days off until they play the Monday night game in Foxborough against thew New York Jets, a team that has been keeping pace with the Patriots (or vice versa).  A lot has been made about many of the Jets latest victories, though they seemed to handle the struggling Cincinnati Bengals fairly well on Thanksgiving day.  And with them also having 11 days off as well, two well rested teams will be duking it out for the top position in the AFC East, and will likely decided how the playoffs will setup (with the one-seed being either team).

Patriots Week 11 Recap: Indianapolis Colts

November 27th, 2010

There was just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter, and I decided that maybe the best place to watch the rest of the game was on my hands and knees… praying… to the porcelain vortex.

Okay, maybe I really didn’t watch the rest of the New England Patriots game against the Indianapolis Colts from the bathroom.  But a nauseating sensation of déjà vu wasn’t just creeping in – it was flooding in.

The Patriots missed a great opportunity to score a touchdown at the start of the final quarter and settled with a field goal to go up 31-14 with over ten minutes remaining.  And then what followed has happened many times in the last few meetings between Indy and the Pats: no lead is safe with that Guy across the field.

In the next 2:26, Peyton Manning marched down the field and scored a touchdown.  The Patriots responded with a 40-second three-and-out. The Colts then scored another touchdown in 2:18 (which also included a very helpful unnecessary roughness penalty by Tully Banta-Cain).  That’s 14 points in 5:24 to make it 31-28.

So, with 4:46 to go, I was looking for a nice old fashioned staple of the New England Patriots: the clock draining drive.  Get first downs.  Make the opposing team use timeouts.

Instead, the Patriots got one first down and punted on the next set of downs to kill 2:21 of clock.  That allowed Indianapolis to have 2:25 with all three timeouts and the two-minute warning.

And there was Manning driving yet again.  Going to do it yet again against New England.  Then with over 30 seconds left, the Colts had first down on the 24 yard line.  With an Adam Vinatieri game-tying field goal already in their pocket, Indy decided to go for the glory and get the seven points for the lead (and essentially the win).

And then the young defense finally got a little pressure at the right time.  Jermaine Cunningham came around the edge and made Manning hurry a throw (and I thought that he got a finger on his arm just enough to make his throw alter ever so slightly).  The pass was off the mark and James Sanders was able to pull down the interception.

A win is a win is a win, I suppose, and this one is over Indy at that.  But boy do they make it interesting.  And at 8-2, they now lead the NFL with the best record along with AFC East rival New York Jets (why won’t they ever seem to go down), and the Atlanta Falcons.

Mike Lowell Hanging it Up

October 3rd, 2010

Mike Lowell is playing his last game of professional baseball, with the Red Sox honoring him yesterday before the second scheduled (but first played because of rain on Friday) game . Ironically, the game at Fenway is against the same team the drafted him in 1995.

(And in another piece of irony to me, the game was intended by MLB scheduling to be the final showdown between the bitter rivals but is now anything but.)

Mike Lowell

Mike Lowell is hanging it up after twelve seasons.

At the crippling age of 36, Lowell probably knows that’s the hips are on the complete opposite end of the Shakira spectrum. He missed significant time the last few seasons of not being able to run or hit without pain.

But looking back there are two things that I will remember most about Lowell:

(Maybe three if you include that he was part of the 2003 Marlins team, along with Josh Beckett, to defeat the Yankees in the World Series. I know most Yankees fans thought at the time that beating the Red Sox in seven in the ALCS was more important than winning the World Series, I just couldn’t stand to see them win yet another since my entrance into the Yankees realm (college 1997-2001 was hell). But there was also some consolation in the fact that the very next year, the Yankees became the first team to lose a series after going up 3-0, and then watch the Sox win two since. Though 2009 had just the reverse effect. But I digress.)

The first was his performance in the 2007 postseason, culminating with World Series MVP honors. Right after that, I was screaming that they should sign him to whatever he wanted. He was only 33 at the time, and hitters and tremendous third basemen don’t come around too often. After turning down woos from Philly for more years and money, he agreed to stay in Boston for three years.  And it was almost right away that he started to show signs of wear and tear.  But his play in that post season to help the Red Sox get their second championship in four years (or second in ninety years, depending on how you look at it) was spectacular, especially after he was considered a burden on the Josh Beckett trade.

And that is the second thing that I’ll remember the most.  In a trade with the Florida Marlins to get ace pitcher Josh Beckett (a trade that was made while Theo Epstein took a break from being the Sox GM), Florida wanted to dump the contract of Mike Lowell.  At the age of 31 (my age right now), he was viewed as too old.  He was essentially a washed up player that the Marlins were looking to lighten their salary for the year.  Yet Boston got anything but that.  The first year, 2006, Lowell looked to be the better player received in the trade.

With Lowell leaving, it will give the Sox $12.5M to work with for next season, as well as a position to fill (third or first, opposite of Kevin Youkilis when he gets back).

So, on his last game played (sitting out the last two games of the season), he went 2-for-2 with a walk which included a 2-run double in the first and scored in the third.  Outside of the “homerun in your last at bat,” I thought it was a fitting ending for the gritty player in Mike Lowell.

Red Sox Officially Out

September 29th, 2010

For the last few weeks, the Boston Red Sox were hanging on to the slimmest of hopes to remain in the playoff hunt.  But as the New York Yankees were able to win a few games recently, the magic number has finally reached zero.

With a chance to end up with 90 wins this season, the Sox are going to finish third in the very tough A.L. East.  There record with five games to go in the season has them in a dead heat with the Texas Rangers in the West and five games behind Minnesota in the Central.  But that is the curse of playing in the toughest division in baseball.  Without a doubt the wildcard will be either New York or Tampa Bay as they are half a game apart, and Minnesota also vying for home field advantage.

I know that I’ve stated this before, but it was impressive that the Sox made it last this long.  I thought for sure that they would have been eliminated a while ago after having key player after key player either be lost for the season or have a stint on the DL.  Yes, of course I get the fact that a team like the Red Sox who had $168M in salaries (including players who were on the books but on other teams) should be able to to have other players on their team who should still be better than the more frugal teams.

And I also know that I have brought this up earlier, but in the end it was the pitching that did them in.  Very highly paid starters had terrible seasons:

Player Salary
Starts W L ERA
John Lackey $18.7 32 13 11 4.47
Josh Beckett $12.1 20 6 5 5.77
Daisuke Matsuzaka $8.33 24 9 6 4.72

Jon Lester $3.75 31 19 8 2.96
Clay Buchholz $443K 28 17 7 2.33

The first three cost over $39M this year (add about another $8.5M for the amortized posting fee for close to $48M) and combined for a 28-22 record.  On the other hand, the saving grace hasn’t been the pitchers acquired via free agency or trades, but the two homegrown kids who totaled a record of 36-15 while hardly a burden on the ownerships’ wallets at just over $4M.  Lester will end up around second in the league in wins and fourth in ERA, and Buchholz will finish second with his ERA just a few points behind leader Felix Hernandez.

The bullpen was spotty as well as the season progressed.  When Jonathan Papelbon wasn’t blowing saves (similar to Sunday night against the Yankees), he would make the outing an adventure; there never seemed to be an easy 1-2-3 ninth for him.   Daniel Bard provided some energy in the setup roll, and is apparently the heir to the closing roll.  For the most part, the rest just weren’t good.

To go along with all of these issues were some bad loses down the stretch.  From September 10th, Boston lost two-of-three games in Oakland, to Toronto and to Baltimore (a .395 team they were 9-9 against this season).

But the injuries definitely was thing that kept them out of the postseason.  They played a good chunk of the season with Mike Lowell at first, Bill Hall at second, newcomer Ryan Kalish in the outfield, and a slew of other minor leaguers to fill in.

And we that, the baseball season in Boston will go quietly into the night, with nothing more than gobs of trade and free agency rumors that will over saturate the airwaves and blogosphere… I’m sure I will be writing one soon anyway.

Patriots Week 2 Recap: New York Jets

September 23rd, 2010

Well, that didn’t go according to plan.

And not a single thing I thought would happen ended up being the case.  New England’s offense and defense were very good in the first half; that was about the only thing that I got right.

Then the second half was anything but.

[Before I forget, that catch to with a minute left in the first half by Randy Moss was unbelievable.]

Watching Brady throw two picks, trying to exploit a Darrelle Revis-less Moss instead of continuing to use Wes Welkers and his new toys, the tight ends, just was too much to watch.  The running game gave them nothing, forcing third-and-longs on every series in the second half, and then not converting.  Then the Jets looked like the Patriots in the first half offensively, just marching down the field at will.

I know that the Patriots aren’t going 16-0 (again) and weren’t going to run the table in the AFL East this season, so maybe in the grand scheme of things, a road loss to the Jets might not be something to keep them out of the playoffs.  But if the defense can’t keep a supposed-suspect offense from constantly marching down the field, and if the offense gets shutout with 3 major players on the Jets defense out, then the wins might be hard to come by with their schedule.

Patriots Week 2: New York Jets

September 19th, 2010

The season opener for the New England Patriots is in the books and ended much better than I initially thought it would.

Yes, everyone has been saying that the offense was going to be fine, though there are questions in the running game.  And since then, they traded away their former first-round draft pick and a sixth-round pick next year, for a fourth-round pick.  With Laurence Maroney now gone, there is an abundance of old running backs to go along with the younger BenJarvus Green-Ellis (25); Sammy Morris (33), Fred Taylor (34) and Kevin Faulk (34).

But the idea that there is not one but two viable receivers at the tight end position is what I think makes this offense extremely powerful.  In the end, I think that there will be just too many options to cover that Tom Brady can just stand there and pick a defense apart.  He was able to do just that in Week 1 over the Cincinnati Bengals, but a true test will be this weekend against the New York Jets.  The key match that will be the focus of attention will be Randy Moss (who is apparently going to play harder for a contact) versus Darrelle Revis (who just got his payday after a long holdout).  Assuming that Wes Welker (who looked like he never had ACL surgery in the offseason) will draw Antonio Cromartie, that would leave plenty of options still for Brady.

The defense was the big question mark coming out of the preseason, with a very young crew of in the backfield.  Against the much-ballyhooed Bengals offense, they practically shut them down for the first half.  I don’t know if Cincinnati was able to figure it out in the second half, or the fact that the Pats went into a prevent-defense since they were up 31-3 very early in the half, but 3 touchdowns were scored.

So the week 2 matchup between these two rivals will line up as these two questions: Can the high-powered New England offense out-gun the great New York defense?  And, can the struggling Jets offense put up enough points against a young Pats defense?

I don’t think that New York will be limited to field goals all season long.  Baltimore has one of the top defenses in the league, so it can make any defense look terrible.  But on the flip side, I don’t think that the Baltimore offense is that great, so it made the Jets defense look fantastic.  So with the shortened week to give both sides less time to heal, this should help the Pats with the trip to the Meadowlands.

Red Sox Racing for their Tee Times

September 6th, 2010

With 20 games left in the 2010 season, the Boston Red Sox are limping their way to the finish line of what will be remembered as a miserable season that was marred by injuries but was seemingly within reach until the end.

John Lackey Dejection

John Lackey has underperformed for the 2010 season.

The most frustrating part was that despite it all, it wasn’t the injuries that finished them.  It was the players who were on the field and couldn’t perform that did them in.  Josh Beckett and John Lackey both received large contracts and both shown otherwise on the field.  Jonathan Papelbon will likely end up with stats that will show he was an above average closer, but everyone will remember the save chances that were blown.  And while the injuries forced Boston to use bench players or Triple-A players, hitting seemed flat all season long.

Now on one of those dreaded West Coast trips, the Red Sox have dropped two to the Oakland A’s; the first game getting shut down by surprise started Trevor Cahill while Boston’s own ace this year, Clay Buchholz couldn’t even get an out in the second inning.  The second game Lackey actually pitched well, except he couldn’t hold the 2-0 lead in the seventh, and closer-of-the-future Daniel Bard couldn’t seem to get an out.  One more game in Oakland, three in Seattle, and then a slew of tough games at home and on the East Cost… the Yankees aren’t playing the rest of their games in Texas for anything to change.

While they are not mathematically eliminated, there is no way that the Sox would be able to catch up to the Rays for the wildcard spot nor the Yankees for the division.  And because of this, the roster is mostly made up of Pawtucket players who are looking to get some major league time for the Sox to either a) showcase them for potential trade-bait in the offseason, or b) look to see if these players can help the Sox in the future.

There’s always next year.  Again.

Red Sox Back in Familiar Grounds

July 17th, 2010

Going into the Fourth of July weekend, the Boston Red Sox had been able to take a very large 8.5 games behind in the American League East and whittled it down to a simple half-game difference with the New York Yankees.

Then starting on the holiday, they rattled off four loses in a row, took two of three from Toronto, rested for the All-Star game (Lester threw one inning, Ortiz won the Home Run Derby and had two at-bats in the game, and that was it for the Sox’s roster), and now have lost the first two games back to the Texas Rangers.

They have been able to allow the Yankees’ lead to ballon back to 6.5 in just nine games.

To be fair, in the past 15 games or so, they have lost a ton of key players to injuries, adding them to a list that was already a few deep.  Two catchers are out, a 10-game winner as well as an All-Star and MVP second baseman.

After Sunday’s day game against Texas to wrap up a four-game homestand, Boston flies out to play ten games against the AL West starting Monday night in Oakland.  Their first seven games are against the bottom dwellers of the division (including four against a Cliff Lee-less Seattle team), but it always seems that the Sox have issues going out on those west coast trips, where you just hope that they play .500 ball.

I think it’s safe to say that unless the Yankees go through a stretch of bad baseball and a slew of injuries, they are going to take the AL East this year.  Thus looking to try to take Tampa Bay (3.5 behind them) is their only option to making the playoffs this year.  I don’t think that there will be any major moves coming to Boston by the trading deadline (and hey, if they are this far below after the deadline, they might be in a position to pick someone off the waiver wire).  But, by the end of July, players like Beckett and Buckholz, Pedroia and Ellsbury (maybe), Martinez and Varitek, and some nice roll/bench players like Lowell and Hermida should be back in the lineup.  These players could be better than anyone else out there for whom they would have to take on more salary or lose top prospects.

Perkins is Bound to Miss a Game

June 2nd, 2010

Kendrick Perkins needs one more technical foul to join Brian Scalabrine for a game.

Kendrick Perkins is one technical foul away from missing a game in the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The problem with being a somewhat clumsy, physical big who battles down low all game is that he will be getting tangled up under the basket trying to get positioning.  That will just lead to players getting heated, have an extracurricular shove or two, and the refs will just call a double technical, because they didn’t see who started it and just don’t care.

This isn’t good for Perkins and the Celtics if they are hoping to keep him on the court to offset Pau Gasol in the paint (not to shut him down, but to play Gasol more physical than he has so far in these playoffs).  It would behoove the Lakers to have anybody take a technical for the team to Perkins out for a game-plus.

If I were Doc, and just concede that this is inevitable, I would hope that it happens in Game 1.  This way he can contribute in the first game, sit for the second game which is on the road (i.e., not likely to win that one), and have a rested Perkins who can play without being so concerned with technicals for the remainder of the series.