Thu, 28 January 2016
AFC Championship: This Loss Hurt
Losing the AFC Championship game to Denver was and is a painful experience. The aftershocks will go on for days, weeks, even months. And in special cases, the truly heart-breaking, soul-splitting losses, the pain never goes away. I don't think this one is special . . . time will tell.
Special case or not, dropping that game on Sunday burns badly. It's left me feeling all kinds of bad. First was the shock of the loss. Then, soon after, the confusion, because this wasn't supposed to happen. Watching Peyton Manning celebrate while Tom Brady and Bill Bellichick walk off the field dejected and beaten, didn't make sense in my mind. The reality I was experiencing wasn't what I expected to see and my mind was having trouble making sense of it. How could they have lost?! Did they really just lose that game?! They were supposed to win a fifth Super Bowl this year. Gronk and Edelman were healthy (?) and playing – our offense was awesome. Peyton Manning sucks now. He couldn't beat us when he was good, never mind with a broken wing.
But he did. And the Broncos beat us fair and square. Manning was better than we all thought he would be. Brady wasn't as good as we thought he would be and the offense wasn't awesome. The Patriots lost in the biggest game of the year and now the season is over, no fifth Super Bowl win, no crowning of Brady as the undisputed GOAT, no laughing at Peyton and his forehead.
Once this reality set in, I got that dreaded feeling inside. The one that lingers and makes me not read The Globe sports section or listen to Felger and Mazz et al. Its a crappy feeling, and I suspect there are a lot of fans in Patriot Nation that feel the same way.
When the football season ends so abruptly, so badly, so . . . unexpectedly, it's like an emptiness fills me, I get the 1000-yard stare, I feel the pain in my gut. It's like when a family pet dies. It's akin to getting dumped out of the blue. It's that level of misery. But as with everything, time heals, and I can hope for just a dull melancholy and eventual relief.
Am I just way too invested in this team and losing a grip, or do we Patriot fans all go through something similar? I'm guessing we do. And judging by the commentary that I'm reading and hearing, there are a lot of people in New England pretty pissed off and disappointed. We thought this team could get it done. We connected with this team and invested so much time and effort and emotion in it and we didn't get the return on investment that we expected. We're not happy about that. This team should have been in the Super Bowl and we all know it. They were the best AFC team when healthy and the road to the Lombardi trophy should be going through New England. But it's not, and there is a lot of blame to go around; the blown home-field advantage, the offensive line, the game plan, Brady. Too many mistakes were made in the most important moments of the season and this team didn't fulfill its potential.
I'm placing it in my top five all-time worst Patriot losses. Now, it is early so that may change with time. I know it definitely won't take the number 1 spot. That belongs to the 2007 team that went 18-1. That is one of the special cases, an elite level of loss-related despair. That devastating experience will not be forgotten and the pain still resides in me. As does the 2006 team's loss to Peyton's Colts in the AFC Championship game. We had never loss to Manning in the playoffs and I hadn't a thought in my mind that we could or would. A 20-3 half-time lead just made me comfortable enough so when the walls came crashing down and Reche Caldwell dropped a touchdown and the Colts won, I was crushed. Sunday reminded me of that game. Shocking, unexpected, I wasn't prepared for the reality of a Patriot loss that day either.
All that said, I know we have it good here in New England. The Patriots have dominated the NFL for 15 years and the Brady/Bellichick window should be open for several more years, and the other major sports teams win championships and compete at the highest level of their sport. Its been a wonderful time to be a Boston sports fan.
However, this gives nobody the right to diminish the pain and suffering we endure when our teams lose. We bleed just like everyone else! I'd argue our losing is harder to accept because our expectations are so high.
The Patriots are the best sports team any of us will see our lifetime, and they give us something to be proud of. They are simply the best and have been for a long time now. They've become part of our cultural psyche, part of our self-identification. And when they fail horribly at the most important time, we feel every bit of the pain because whether they win or lose has become whether we win or lose.
Category:Patriots -- posted at: 2:02pm EDT
Tue, 26 January 2016
Joe and Shawn work through their pain and disappointment after the Patriots lose to Denver in the AFC Championship. Where does this loss rank for us? Who are the zeroes and can we find any heroes? What does the future hold?
Wed, 20 January 2016
The Patriots: Colossus of the AFC
The New England Patriots beat the Kansas City Chiefs 27-20 to advance to their fifth straight AFC Championship game. Fifth straight! Hearing that got me thinking; how do you define 'dominate?' Does beating your opponent 75% of the time, 153-52 including playoffs, over 15 years show dominance? How about nine AFC championship games in fourteen years; while winning six, plus a tenth appearance this Sunday?
Chew on this for a moment. After Sunday, the Patriots will have played in 10 conference championship games in 15 seasons. Two out of every three AFC championships since '01 have involved the Patriots. That is truly remarkable. We are witnessing an astounding run of success that the AFC has never seen.
The Indianapolis Colts, the Patriots' main AFC competition during the Brady/Bellichick era, have done quite well since '01. Remember all those years of Peyton Manning blowing doors during the regular season then going one-and-done as a #1 or #2 seed. Good times! They've barely missed a beat with Andrew Luck picking up where Peyton left off. But they've only won at a 67% clip in the AFC, including playoffs, going 133-67.
The playoffs numbers are even more disparate. The Patriots are 18-6 against strictly the AFC competition. That number looks familiar, a .750 winning percentage again. No difference, the Patriots win just as often when playing the cream of the AFC, the elite. The Colts, not so much. They wilt significantly come playoff time, going 11-10, a .520 winning percentage.
What about the Steelers? They've been pretty good this century, winning a couple super bowls, fielding a good squad every year, playoff bound most of the time. But they're not in the Patriots' class. The Steelers won 63% of their AFC match-ups from '01-'15, dipping slightly to 61% in the playoffs.
The Ravens perhaps? Nope, not even close. A couple super bowl titles if you count 2000, but they have an up and down regular season pattern over the years and are only one game over .500 once they make the playoffs. The Ravens lack the consistency you see with the Patriots.
This version of the Patriots, the Brady/Bellichick version is the greatest dynasty in AFC history, arguably NFL history as well. The early '90s Buffalo Bills were good, 4 straight AFC championships, Jim Kelly and the K-gun offense, Thurman Thomas, but they didn't last very long. The Steelers of the '70s had a great run; and the Dolphins and Raiders have all had their moments in the sun. However, none of them combine the consistent winning with the longevity as the Patriots have. In the American Football Conference, it's the '01-'15 Patriots and then everyone else.
I am in awe of the Patriots. It is hands down the greatest sports team I have ever had the pleasure of rooting for. I am ashamed to admit that I doubted them coming into the Chiefs game. They limped to end of the regular season, whether by design or not, this team did not look like it had what it takes to win another Super Bowl. Wrong! I was humbled by what they showed us on Saturday. They flipped the switch into playoff mode, just like that – SNAP! And boom, they come out throwing the ball all over the yard, Brady doing Brady things, leaping into the end zone on a qb sneak, firing darts at his BFF Edelman. It was awesome to watch. I almost felt bad for the Chiefs. They are a good football team, well-prepared and talented defensively. Yet they will go down as just another stepping stone on yet another Patriots run to the Lombardi trophy.
The Patriots are the greatest AFC team in history
Enjoy it folks because it can't last forever. As machine-like as they seem at times, Brady and Bellichick are human, they will have to stop at some point. And when they do, the golden days are over. So bask in the glory while it lasts.
* Statistics collected from Pro-football-reference.com
Category:Patriots -- posted at: 12:01am EDT
Mon, 18 January 2016
This is the 50th episode of the Boston Sports Pod! Joe and Shawn look back at what they have done and why. They also discuss the decade and half of AFC dominance by the Patriots and Brady (09:30). In the second half of the show, they talk about the return of Edelman, the porous 3rd down Pats D, and the victory over the KC (37:00). They close with a look forward to the AFC Championship Game against Denver next week (55:00).
Sat, 16 January 2016
The Bengals, oh the Bengals. Are they not the most predictable chokers in league? Man, they just did the self-fulfilling prophecy thing. Its almost as if they couldn't handle winning a playoff game, so they purposely threw it away. Saturday night's game was a disgrace. The fans, the coaches, the players – they were all a disgrace. They set the football program back years with this display. The city of Cincinnati ought to be ashamed of itself.
Full disclosure, I lived and worked in Cincinnati for 2 years, about 2007 – 2009. I missed a lot of good Patriot football in 2007. Well, I missed being in Boston and the daily hype and talk around that 2007 team, but I digress. Cincinnati blows. The city has little class, second-rate culture, horrible dining and cuisine (Cincinnati chili is an abomination), and crappy sports teams. Remember those fun days when Bengals were getting arrested every other week? From living there I know how much those players loved to cross the Ohio river into Kentucky where the rules are looser. A whole cottage industry of vice thrives over the bridge to serve this demand. Heck, I would go over there myself to buy cheaper smokes. Nevertheless, I couldn't hang there for long and moved back to Boston as soon as work allowed for it. Ultimately, it was the people that I had daily contact with that discouraged me from planting any roots there. They reeked of insincerity, they would stab you in the back without a thought. Casual racism was widely accepted and depth of character was hard to find. Concepts, trends, and behavioral norms common on the East Coast were either non-existent or years away from arriving there. Which brings me to my point, Cincinnati is a third-rate city, the local fan base and ownership leaves much to be desired, and the local football is simply an extension of this below-average, mess of a town.
This is not to say Cincinnati has no redeeming qualities. It has an interesting local history, a quality museum or two, an excellent zoo, and good medical facilities. And I'll give credit where it's due, Marvin Lewis has turned around a bottom-dwelling team and made them competitive and a perennial playoff entrant. But that's as far as it goes. The Bengals don't win playoff games, haven't in 7 straight tries over 20 years. They don't often win high-profile match-ups. Monday Night Football, SNF, any situation where the stakes are higher than your average game, the Bengals usually cough it up. Andy Dalton is good quarterback, to a degree. But he plays poorly in big games. Marvin Lewis is not good at high-pressure decision making. He screws up clock management and substitutions during the most important moments. The rest of the team seems to follow this lead, and plays its worst when it counts the most. We saw all of this on Saturday night (except Dalton due to injury). All of the Bengal's classic, choking ineptitude on display for the world to see, with a heavy dose of poor sportsmanship and atrocious decision making thrown in just in case viewers weren't completely sure the Bengal's are losers.
I'll give them this, the Bengals made for fun viewing. The game was entertaining as hell. It got fantastic ratings.
What was already a chippy affair turned nasty when Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier drilled Giovani Bernard helmet first, knocking Bernard unconscious and the ball loose for Pittsburgh to recover. No penalty was called and I didn't think the hit was illegal, or even dirty. Hard, helmet first, but Shazier didn't launch himself, or pile drive Bernard. It looked like a hard, well-executed, borderline illegal hit. The way the Bengals reacted you'd think Shazier kicked Bernard in the head, stomped on his hands, took his lunch money and stole his girl all at the same time! Vontaze Burfict sure seemed to think so. As well the fans.
On a Ben Roethlisberger drop back, Burfict launched himself at the QB, hit him hard and dropped his full weight onto him. Big Ben was hurt, enough to be carted off the field. The Cincinnati fans now covered themselves in glory by cheering the injury and throwing bottles at Roethlisberger as he was being carted down the runway. Really Cincinnati? That is how you conduct yourself when an opposing player is badly injured? Have some class. The whole stadium and Bengals team seemed to think they were gravely wronged by the Shazier hit and getting payback for it was the only thing that mattered. Not winning the game, not maintaining your dignity, forget sportsmanship.
But they weren't done embarrassing themselves yet. With 1:23 left in the game, after a Jeremy Hill fumble gave the Steelers the ball and a chance to drive into game-sinning field goal range, Burfict decided (decided might be a compliment to Burfict's faculties at the time) to drop the hammer on Antonio Brown's head. I think we've all seen the play by now. Burfict meant to drill Brown in the head with his shoulder. He intended to drill him as hard as he could in the head. It was a disgusting display of brutality. As Brown is lying on the turf, the man formerly known as “Pacman” Adam Jones takes it upon himself to shove Steelers coach Joey Porter and bump a referee. All in the name of respect right Pacman? Getting payback huh?
That payback was costly. The combined penalties on the Bengals brought the Steelers into field goal range and kicker Chris Boswell nailed it for the 18-16 win.
The Bengals and their fans showed us, reminded us, of why they are a losing program and a losing fan base. The players on the field are only as strong and disciplined as they are asked to be by their coach and Marvin Lewis doesn't instill enough discipline in his team so they run wild when put into high stress moments. They haven't been trained to handle adversity and reacted like bratty children (big, dangerous children) when exposed to pressure at its peak; in the playoffs with the click-ticking down, hard hits, fumbles, things just not going your way. The fans reacted similarly. And they are now going home after a one and done again. They deserve no better.
Category:Patriots -- posted at: 12:53pm EDT
Fri, 8 January 2016
Joe and Shawn kick off the new year with some Bruins and Winter Classic discussion (6:30). Then they get into Manning, the HGH delivery scandal, and the woeful media coverage (20:00). At (44:00) they get into the AFC playoff match-ups and the impact these might have on the Pats. They close (54:00) with a look at the Pats chances in the playoffs.
Joe's blog post: http://bostonsportspod.libsyn.com/espns-double-standard-on-display
Thu, 7 January 2016
Peyton Manning is having a rough season on the field. His arm resembles a wet noodle, his passes floating to receivers, too often into the opponent's hands. He got removed from a game in which he was playing poorly. His stat line read: 5 for 20, 4 picks. Brock Osweiler replaced him during the second quarter.
At that point in the season, Manning was the worst full-time QB in the league. Digest that for a moment. The great Peyton Manning was the worst QB in the NFL, his stats rivaling those of old friend Ryan Mallet. Mallet can't throw a football into the ocean if he is standing on the beach. Peyton was hurting his team more than helping. If Brock Osweiler is a more attractive QB option, you know you've sunk to previously unseen depths. Denver attempted to cover his rear by blaming an injured foot, plantar fasciitis they said. I didn't buy it, many did not.
If the on-field problems weren't enough, now he has an off-field problem. And it's a doozy. According to an AL-Jazeera report released on December 26th, The Dark Side, during Manning's rehab from multiple neck surgeries, Human Growth Hormone (HGH) was shipped to his residence in Florida addressed to his wife, Ashley Manning. Manning came out the next day and vehemently denied the allegations. Subsequently, Charles Sly, the intern who made the allegations, recanted. Those were the basic facts as we knew them last week.
Now we have more. On Monday this week, Deborah Davies, the Al-Jazeera reporter from the story, revealed she has a confirming secondary source who is, “absolutely impeccably placed, knowledgeable, and credible.” The facts are starting to pile up.
But I'm writing this post because I'm disgusted. Disgusted by the national media converage of this story.
First, let me say that the following opinions are mine alone. My partner in the Boston Sports Pod and all around great guy, Shawn, does not necessarily agree, share them, or disagree. I do not speak for him. Don't let my likely misguided musings reflect poorly on him.
I don't buy for a millisecond what Peyton is selling. I usually think where there's smoke there's fire, and I smell smoke. Are we supposed to believe his wife was taking the HGH? Seriously? Are we children? Does Peyton think we believe him? I'll bet the less-inquisitive minded folk he is used to hood-winking do. You know those super-fan types in Indy and Denver who still think he's better than Tom Brady.
Not that those types don't exist here in New England. There is definitely a hard-core sect who think Tom Brady walks on water and had nothing to do with some pigskin skull-duggery involving his preferred PSI. I am not one of them. I smell smoke with deflategate too.
In fact, I have no problem, moral or otherwise, with the actual act of using HGH to
recover from an injury more quickly at age 37. I don't care if Brady had a back room deal with the locker room guys to get his footballs to his favorite PSI level. I think Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. One does what one has to. I would.
But what really runs up my . . . spine, is how unabashedly the national media protects Manning while it fails to give Brady the same benefit of the doubt. Recall that night of last season's AFC Champiobship game. After the Patriot's thrashed the Colts, the nation learned of a situation with the refs taking a ball off the field of play. Some reports of deflated footballs were issued. The Pats being the team under suspicion.
What became known as deflategate blew up from there and continued to burn through the spring and summer. I won't go into that fiasco any further except to say that Tom Brady was treated like crap. Mark Brunnel cried on TV over Brady's alleged discretion. ESPN and the national media ran Brady's name through the mud and never let up. Not an ally was to be found. Despite the faulty weakness of the Well's Report, Brady was branded a cheat. His reputation sullied, his legacy tarnished.
Now that Mr. Manning has a scandal on his hands, why is he not getting similar treatment to what befell Mr. Brady? Why is ESPN so quick to pillory Brady, Bellichick and the Patriots, and so quick to protect Peyton Manning?
On one of their round-table pundit talking spots, the ESPN “analysts,” Chris Berman, Chris Carter, Mike Ditka et. al., jumped to Peyton's defense. They uniformly believed his “vehement” denial, expressed extreme doubts about Charles Sly's credibility, even went as far as Berman uttering in disgust, “what a world . . . “ I say what a clown. I mean who couldn't believe Peyton? After all he was so angry at the allegations that he threw the ball so hard at practice he thinks he broke fingers out there! Oh, well if you put it that way . . .
What a goober he is. He can't throw anymore! His passes are in slow- motion. He couldn't bruise a hemophiliac.
So why does the national media treat Peyton Manning differently than Tom Brady?
That is the question I came to this sheet of typing paper to ask. I don't have the answer. I'm not sure I want it, it might ruin my faith in Man! But it is so obvious, so duplicitious, I can't turn away from it without saying something. Is there an agenda at ESPN? Did Tom Brady once sleep with an exec's girl? What is it! Why do they treat Tom like a criminal and Peyton like their buddy they need to defend?
Is it as simple as human nature and ESPN is jealous of Brady's success in life? The dude has it all, no question. But by all accounts he's a good guy. He never did anything dirty; never was under any prior suspicion ; never did anything that should forfeit his reception of the benefit of the doubt that they give Peyton.
It boggles my mind and I'm as irate as anybody over this. Some may think it doesn't matter, its only the media right? Wrong! The media has huge role is settting public opinion and creating legacies. Tom Brady didn't deserve the treatment he got and it makes me sick to think his legacy, all the great play he has given us over the years, is now tainted in part because ESPN doesn't like him.
It was one thing to see and deal with the media coverage of deflategate. Its another to have ESPN's double-standard laid bare by this Peyton Manning HGH scandal.
Category:Patriots -- posted at: 10:59am EDT
Thu, 31 December 2015
Joe and Shawn talk about New Year's Eve before getting into the Bruins and the Winter Classic (6:00). At (14:00), they turn to the Patriots loss to the Jets and at (35:00) the Heroes and Zeroes. At (49:00) they discuss some playoff scenarios and close with a look at the Miami game (1:03:00).
Mon, 28 December 2015
By the eye test – my eye I mean – the Patriots’ secondary is very good. Not excellent, awesome or elite. Not top of the league. But good, much better than expected preseason. I’ve heard some rumblings, chatter about the Patriots secondary lately, some flattering stats, some middling stats. Let’s see if what the vaunted eye test – my eye, though admittedly deteriorating with age – is telling me is reflected in the statistics. I’m thinking it is, mainly based on the strength of the play of corners Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. However, we may be seeing a dropoff with Devin McCourty out. One thing is for sure, its better than just about anybody thought it would be without Darrell Revis. Brandon Browner was never more than the right piece in the machine last year.
The Patriots secondary in the 2014 regular season, stacked with a still-elite Revis, a mean S.O.B. in Browner, and McCourty the Pro Bowler at free safety, were not an elite unit. They ranked 17th (of 32 teams) in passing yards allowed per game with 239.8, 10th in passer rating allowed at 84.0, and they picked off opponent quarterbacks 16 times, a top ten result. According to pro-football-reference.com, in yards per attempt allowed per game, the Patriots tied with 5 other teams last year in allowing 6.2 per game. The league average was 6.4.
We can conclude that this unit was good to very good. Sound reasonably accurate?
Through 14 games this season, the secondary of the Patriots has performed as follows: 230.3 passing yards per game allowed, good for 8th, clearly improved over last year; an 83.3 passer rating allowed, ranked 9th in the league; 5.7 yards per attempt allowed, good for 3rd in the league and improved by a half of a yard from 2014. Butler and co. have snatched 12 opponent attempts.
My eyes have deceived me. This 2015 unit is better than I thought. Who'd have thunk after losing that talent they would actually improve? Not I. Recall what the secondary was like prior to Revis arriving. It cheweed up cornerbacks and safeties. Weekly we would learn a new name and see a new player give up catches and yards to average quarterbacks and receivers. It made average players look elite. Ryan Tannehill looked like an All-Pro at times. Mark Sanchez could and did rip apart. The motto around the team defense was bend-don't-break. It was pretty effective at this, but man did it bend! It bent so badly at times, even Bellichick's acumen was being questioned, never mind that of Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia.
It appears those days are in the past. The performances of Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan this season have been revelatory. Butler looks like he could become a top level corner, and Ryan is progressing well as the season goes on. ESPN.go.com has Butler tied for 9th in the league with 15 passes defended, Ryan 12th with 14. These two guys compete for the play, for the ball. They are in every play. They mark their man tight, they annoy and hassle and attack the wide receivers like they owe them money. This is not the kind of coverage we saw prior to 2014. It used to so often look like the corners and safeties were giving receivers wide berths of space - and they got eaten up for it.
Let's not forget McCourty. He is having an off year and is currently injured, but he has made some key game-changing plays while covering deep center field.
This begs the questions, why? Why is this secondary playing differently than in the past. Is it conceptual? Could be. They play aggressively, moreso at least. In past years, I frankly didn't want the corners playing too aggressively, they would just get burned deep anyway. I think the difference is we have talent now. Young talent. That, and quite possibly, the coaches and players learned last year. Did Revis and Browner leave an imprint on the culture of this secondary unit? Maybe.
I don't think Bellichick or Patricia would ever admit that, if even true. But I think you see a legacy in Butler and Ryan. With these two young corners getting better every week while improving the overall secondary performance, I'm confident the bend-don't-break soft coverage days are past.
Category:Patriots -- posted at: 1:35am EDT
Tue, 22 December 2015
Joe and Shawn first focus on playoff scenarios and upcoming Jets game. Then in the second half of the show, they talk Heroes and Zeroes from Pats victory over the Titans. They close with some discussion of Boston Sports radio personalities.