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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One of the most pathetic wins you'll ever see

Due to some problems connecting to the Internet today, I had more time to digest the Patriots-Bills game from yesterday before I put my thoughts online.

Nothing changed as the did that really happen question lingered in my head.

Yes the Pats (2-1) won 38-30 at Gillette Stadium against the Bills (0-3) but it's hard to remember a much less satisfying win.

Sure New England's offense looked great and I couldn't be happier to have Danny Woodhead on our side but could the defense be any worse?

Today Buffalo released Trent "Captain Checkdown" Edwards and you know why he was expendable? Because former Harvard star Mark Zuckerberg I mean Ryan Fitzpatrick torched them for 247 yards and two touchdowns.

If he didn't throw two terrible picks in the fourth quarter, the Bills might have snapped their 13-game losing streak to the Patriots but here we are.

Ridiculous haircut not withstanding, Tom Brady can still tear it up (especially against the sisters of the poor) to the tune of 252 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

The good news for Pats fans is that the offense looks potent, at least when they're not playing the Jets and throwing it deep to Moss on every play.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis got the start and he had his best regular season game in almost two years with 98 yards rushing on 16 carries. The aforementioned Woodhead made his Patriots debut, carrying the ball three times for 42 yards, including a 22-yard run.

Moss only had two catches but they both went for touchdowns, Aaron Hernandez had a team-high six catches and 65 yards, Wes Welker caught four balls for 45 yards and Rob Gronkowski had 42 yards receiving and another touchdown.

As good as the offense looked, the defense was equally head-scratching and just plain awful, making the Bills (one of the worst teams in the league with one of the most wretched offenses) look like the Colts.

Rian Lindell, the Bills' excellent kicker, gave Buffalo an early 3-0 lead in the first quarter. Brady responded with a 7-yard touchdown to Moss that was too easy.

After another 39-yard field goal by Lindell, Buffalo went ahead in the second quarter thanks to a 5-yard catch and run from Fitzpatrick to rookie running back C.J. Spiller.

Woodhead provided what will surely be one of the most memorable plays of the season with his 22-yard score in the second quarter, which gave New England a 14-13.

The tiny running back that won over America this summer during Hard Knocks with the Jets proved that he has some serious game. Plus with Kevin Faulk done for the season, he could very well have a role on this team.

Lindell's 34-yard field goal put the Bills up 16-14 right before the half but Stephen Gostkowski hit a 43-yarder as time ran out in the first half.

As everyone knows, the second half has been a twilight zone for this team last season and so far this season, sadly yesterday was no exception.

Brady and Moss connected again on the first drive of the second half, a 35-yard dart between a couple Bills defenders.

On the ensuing kickoff, Spiller went 95 yards for the score. The terrible angles and tackle attempts that plague the Pats' defense was evident on the return. That shouldn't be a surprise since many of the same starters play special teams too. Yikes!

Gronkowski's 5-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter put New England up 31-23 and Green-Ellis added to that with his 7-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter.

The fact that the Patriots couldn't finally step on Buffalo's throats then and end it is horrifying enough. Some clown named Steve Johnson caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick and after a three-and-out, the Bills got the ball back with the chance to tie it.

Is this real life? For the second time, the Patriots' defense made a play or more accurately caught an interception that was thrown right at them. Patrick Chung (7 tackles) had the first one and Brandon Meriweather closed it out with the second one.

Jerod Mayo also made an appearance, recording a sack (the second of his career, really?) and nine tackles, six solo.

Even though the Jets (2-1) won in Miami on Sunday night, the Dolphins (2-1) proved that they are on the same level as New York and probably a step ahead of the Pats.

New England heads to Miami on Monday night for what should be a very tough road game. In the past decade when the Dolphins were miserable, they always seemed to give New England problems and now they're a legitimate contender in the AFC East.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Jets repeat as Week 2 Super Bowl champions

There is no sport that clings to cliches like football, perhaps because so many of its players, coaches and announcers have suffered so many head injuries but I digress.

One of my current favorites that I truly believe is that the team with more urgency usually wins. Therefore yesterday's 28-14 by the Jets over the Patriots at the New Meadowlands was not a surprise at all.

New York (1-1) could simply not fall to 0-2 (when the Patriots and Dolphins would be 2-0) and New England (1-1) played over their heads in their Week 1 laugher vs. the Bengals.

The biggest surprise was how much Mark Sanchez (220 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) badly outplayed Tom Brady (248 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions). This wasn't a passing of the torch (there I go) but it was a sign that Sanchez isn't as hopeless as Hard Knocks and Week 1 vs. the Ravens made us believe.

The two hallmarks of the forgettable 2009 Patriots were that they were awful on the road (2-6; one of those in London) and they couldn't protect leads in the second half, forcing them to crumble.

Here we go again. True to form, the Pats started out on fire in the first quarter and went up 7-0 on a six-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Wes Welker (6 catches, 38 yards).

New England controlled the ball for the first half but couldn't go up further when Stephen Gostkowski missed a 37-yard field goal (he's 1 for 4 this season).

Braylon Edwards (5 catches, 45 yards) tied it up with a 10-yard touchdown grab from Sanchez.

Randy Moss (2 catches, 38 yards) helped New England go up 14-7 with an amazing 34-yard one-handed touchdown catch. It was the 150th catch of his NFL career, the fourth skill position player to reach that mark but it became a footnote when he was held without a catch in the second half.

That was shocking since Darrelle Revis went down with a hamstring injury on Moss' touchdown. Antonio Cromartie (4 tackles, interception) did a great job against Moss in the second half.

Nick Folk hit a 49-yard kick to end the first half and give the Jets a manageable 14-10 deficit.

From there, it was all Jets all the time. They outscored New England 18-0 in the second half as the Patriots were left to one play (throwing it deep to Moss) which never worked.

Folk added a 36-yard field goal, cutting it to 14-13 in the third quarter then Jerricho Cotchery put the Jets ahead for good with a two-yard touchdown catch. Edwards' two-point conversion catch put New York up 21-14 heading into the fourth quarter.

Dustin Keller (7 catches, 115 yards) capped the win with a 1-yard touchdown catch.

Trading Laurence Maroney was fine with me but I assumed that the Pats running game wouldn't be so pathetic (52 yards).

Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez had a great game, catching six passes for 101 yards.

Too often, New England's young corners (Darius Butler and Devin McCourty) were beaten downfield against the Jets' bigger receivers.

Tully Banta-Cain had eight solo tackles and a sack and rookie Brandon Spikes added nine tackles (five solo). Gerard Warren had two sacks in the loss.

I'm sure the Patriots will beat up on the hopeless Buffalo Bills (0-2) next Sunday afternoon at Gillette and everything will be right in the world but there has to be some progress if they ever hope to beat any good teams and/or win on the road.

Monday, September 13, 2010

oh hello NFL regular season

It's probably because the 2010 Boston Red Sox have been out of the race for basically all season but I can never remember being more excited for an NFL season to start.

I have absolutely no idea what to expect from my New England Patriots but therein lies some of the excitement I guess.

Yesterday afternoon was about as good a start as you could ever dream of: New England beat a playoff team (Cincinnati Bengals) 38-24 at Gillette Stadium.

Where to begin the plethora of highlights? Tom Brady, the NFL's highest paid player, looked awesome spreading it around (25 of 35 for 258 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions).

Wes Welker played his first real game since the 2009 regular season finale, racking up eight catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns, looking nothing like a guy recovering from ACL surgery. Even Fred Taylor (71 yards rushing) and the ageless Kevin Faulk (70 total yards) had a spring in their old steps.

The Patriots had a defensive touchdown (a 59-yard interception return from Gary Guyton) and a 97-yard kickoff return by Brandon Tate. All this led to a 31-3 lead and a cruise control second half which led to the tighter final score.

With so many young guys and new names, particularly on defense, New England looked very promising. Pat Chung led the way with 16 tackles (12 solo), rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez had a 45-yard catch and rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski capped the scoring with a 1-yard back of the end zone grab.

Carson Palmer's numbers (34 of 50, 345 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) look nice but he didn't do anything when it mattered and the outcome hung in the balance. Ditto for Chad Ochocinco (12 catches, 159 yards, 1 touchdown) and Terrell Owens (7 catches, 53) who are well on their way to a 8-8 season that nobody will ever remember.

Welker fittingly caught the first pass of the 2010 season and finished the first drive with an easy nine-yard catch and run for a score. Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal put the Pats up 10-0 after the first quarter.

Welker added a four-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter along with Guyton's awesome individual effort.

Mike Nugent hit a 54-yard field goal to get the Bengals on the board late in the second quarter.

After Tate's kickoff return, Cincy finally scored two touchdowns (a one-yard pass to Jermaine Gresham and 28-yard pass to Ochocinco).

Gronkowski's touchdown sealed this one before Cedric Benson wrapped it up with a one-yard run.

The Dolphins eeked one out on the road over the Bills yesterday afternoon and the Jets begin their season tonight with a game at the Baltimore Ravens.

New England travels to the New Meadowlands on Sunday (4:15 p.m.) for an early AFC East showdown.

Randy Moss had five catches for 59 yards but he made headlines for his bizarre 14-minute post-game press conference. I have already seen too much coverage of it so I don't feel like I have to talk about it like everybody else.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Goodnight Red Sox, see you next spring

Going away on vacation for a week to the Cape allowed me to fully withdraw from the 2010 Boston Red Sox (even though I still paid attention to their games) and admit that this season is over, on to the next one (with apologies to Swiss Beatz).

I faithfully kept up with this ill-fated team from the beginning but from the start (even before all the injuries), you had the feeling that this edition couldn't go anywhere based on their shortcomings and the fact that they play with two of the best teams in baseball in their division (New York and Tampa Bay).

Most will remember this Red Sox season for the injuries but mostly it was about the failure of GM Theo Epstein and the owners to spend money on the right players or make the right moves befitting of such a big market, high spending team.

Their bullpen was a joke all season and that never really changed. They threw money at John Lackey and Mike Cameron and predictably both have been busts based on performance and getting injured respectively.

In a season full of bad losses, yesterday might have taken the cake. The Red Sox (76-51) took a 5-3 lead into the ninth and it looked like they might avoid the sweep at Fenway Park by the White Sox (76-60).

Not so fast my friend. After entering in the eighth, Jonathan Papelbon blew his seventh save of the year and threw a career-high (out of the bullpen) 48 pitches as Chicago won 7-5.

Josh Beckett (6.1 innings, 3 runs, 1 earned, 9 hits, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts) was better than Mark Buehrle (7 innings, 4 earned runs, 10 hits, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts) but Chicago's superior bullpen was the difference. Other than the fact that they're in the inferior AL Central, the White Sox are still alive thanks to a solid bullpen, Boston's biggest flaw.

Alexi Ramirez put Chicago up 1-0 in the second with an RBI single. David Ortiz made it 2-1 in the third with a two-run double.

In the seventh, two Chicago runners scored on Daniel Bard's throwing error. That appeared meaningless in the bottom of the seventh when Victor Martinez blasted a two-run homer over the Monster. Bill Hall added an RBI groundout in the eighth.

However, Carlos Quentin's (3 hits, 2 RBIs) two-out, two-strike bloop double cut it to 5-4 in the ninth and Ramon Castro's RBI single tied it at five. After Papelbon was pulled, PawSox bum Robert Manuel came on and walked two White Sox with the bases loaded. Thanks for playing, season's over.

Darnell McDonald and Adrian Beltre both had three hits in the loss. They've been two of the only brightspots this whole season.

Telling ourselves that the Red Sox had any chance to make the playoffs the last few weeks (months really) has been avoiding the obvious. With college football underway and the NFL kicking off for real on Thursday, now is a fitting time to bid adieu to the Red Sox.

Sure I'll still follow them for this last pitiful month but barring a crazy win-streak or choke job by the Yankees or Rays (both unlikely), the Red Sox will be done in less than a month. It's the first time since 2006 that they'll miss the playoffs.