Patriots Thursday Observations, Steelers Review

A brief history seems in order here. In 1981, your New England Patriots went 2-14, earning the nickname “The Patsies.” They played the Baltimore “Dolts” in the season finale, with both teams ending the season at 2-14 (Baltimore’s two wins coming against New England). In the strike-shortened 1982 season, the Patriots went 5-4. They managed 8-8 in 1984, then 11-5 in 1985, leading to their enthralling playoff run, where they beat the Jets, Raiders, and Dolphins in their own houses.

Then, of course, they suffered what was at that time the worst Super Bowl loss in history, getting torn apart by the Bears, 46-10.

That was the team I grew up with. That was a team that, much like most franchises, saw its fortunes go up and down through each decade, without a championship.

I mention this because the Patriots beat the Steelers at Heinz field, 27-16, yet the listless atmosphere around New England suggested we had all just simultaneously finished The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Yes, the team has some issues to deal with, as we’ll discuss below. Still, considering how that game started – with one offensive play resulting in a turnover in their own half of the field – it’s a solid win overall.

The Patriots are now 6-1. With one more victory, defensive end Chris Long will have as many wins as he did in any full season over his eight years in St. Louis. Right now, the Cleveland Browns are 0-7. Speaking of the Browns, let’s recall this little ditty from way back on 2003, when the 5-2 Patriots hosted the 3-4 Browns and needed a Ty Law interception late to seal a 9-3 win. I don’t remember hearing too many complaints after that one.

So maybe we should all lighten up, look at New England’s record over the past 15 years (and contrast it with the 15 before that) and just relax a little. Every victory is sweet and should be savored.

On to Buffalo Sunday at 1 p.m. That’s good stuff, those 1 p.m. games. Win or lose, you can get things done on Sunday afternoon.

“Who wants to come out here and help Dad rake leaves? Sweetie?”

Sound of wind whistling through trees…

Player/Game Observations

Where The Heck You Ben? A couple of reasons why this game might not have been as easy as some expected. One, while Ben Roethlisberger’s inability to play may have helped overall, it could have messed with the Patriots’ psyche. Think about it: While Tom Brady sat out the first four games, a pattern seemed to develop with New England opponents regarding sluggish starts. The Cardinals, despite opening at home, looked lackadaisical. Miami got torched by Jimmy Garoppolo in the first half before making a rabid comeback in the second. And Houston, facing rookie Jacoby Brissett, never quite got off the plane, mentally.

I point these out because I have to think playing against the backup of a renowned QB has to take some momentum out of a defense. Instead of telling your grandkids that you got to tackle Brady, you’re explaining that Brisett was in for that game. Maybe the Pats experienced that against Landry Jones (29 of 47, 281 yards, one TD, one INT) and had trouble motivating for this one. I don’t know.

Two, after their one-play, turnover-stopped opening possession, the visitors scored on their next two drives and went up, 14-0, looking very tough to stop. Tom Brady completed his first nine passes for 90 yards and ended up completing 19 of 26 (73 percent) for 222 yards and two touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount looked tough early, gaining 28 yards on his first four carries during the Patriots’ early scoring drive. As humans with all the foibles of such, New England might have figured they had a win in their pockets after a two-score lead. Back to the previous point, the Steelers going Roethlisbergerless probably made it tempting for the visitors to start coasting.

Not saying taking a mental break was the right thing to do; the Patriots need to address playing four full quarters of football. We’ll see if they can sustain a lead and even increase it against a tough team.

For Whom The Bell Trolls: You know, considering the faux penalty on Dont’a Hightower for a perfectly legal hit on LeVeon Bell, which happened right after a woeful punt/shank by Ryan Allen, which succeeded a missed third-down conversion catch by Brandon Bolden, it’s amazing the Patriots held Pittsburgh to a field goal attempt on their ensuing drive (which was missed). The Steelers had more chances to gain momentum than an iceboat on a windy day. Commendable work by the defense to limit the damage.

Young Guns Having Some Fun: Oh, not big fans of Wham! you say? Well, you were on Sunday, as New England’s combination of blocking schemes – including tight end whams and wide receiver crack blocks – opened the way for Blount’s day. The burly-back finished with 127 yards on 24 carries (5.3 avg) and two touchdowns, the second of which featured him darting left, cutting right, and charging toward the end zone like a cartoon rhinoceros in ballet slippers. For a clip of that run, click here. For an image of a cartoon rhinoceros in ballet slippers, click here. (Ah, Internet. You can’t be stumped.)

Ghost Story: Okay, Stephen Gostkowski’s kicking problems are officially a thing. Not sure what else to say about it. On the one hand, it would seem prudent to bring in another kicker. On the other, that might mess with Gostkowski’s head. Maybe competition isn’t what he needs right now.

Not sure. But if I see another extra point attempt go wide, I will lose it to the point where my wife, once again, will have to call from the other room to see if I’m okay.

A Modern Day Warrior, Mean, Mean Stride: I know, I know, sacks are an overrated stat. Still, it would be amazing if the Patriots could get a super-nasty pass-rusher into their defensive mix (and, while Kyle Van Noy should prove a reliable complementary player, he is not the guy). Again (ad infinitum), holding the home team to 16 points mattered the most, but allowing some of those third-down conversions proved infuriating. For example, late in the third, Pittburgh got two successive third-and-10 conversions. They failed to convert a third third-and-10, however, and settled for a 44-yard field goal to make it 20-16 at the start of the fourth.

Yes, the Patriots held off on the blitz, usually sending just three or four defenders. But if their front line had more dynamism – if, for example, Jabaal Sheard could require more double-teams and Long and Rob Ninkovich could win more one-on-one battles – then your defense could start making things happen, getting the ball back to the offense more quickly.

(Fun note: As pointed out by Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit, the Patriots’ third-down defense at Pittsburgh was their best showing of the season, as they held the Steelers to a 31 percent conversion rate. Hunh. Funny how a couple of third-and-longs can fuzzy-up perception.)

Of course, when you get the ball back, you have to take care of it…

Ho-o-o-o-g-a-a-n! Two turnovers from Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman didn’t contribute to a winning formula, especially in an away game. Edelman’s was especially disappointing. He held that football like he was Jean Valjean trying to feed his family. At least it’s likely that two of the most capable receivers in Foxboro will work on avoiding such mishaps again anytime soon.

Sans Antonio: Saw a tweet by Steelers super-receiver Antonio Brown featuring a photo of him and Tom Brady with the hashtag #DontSleepOnThe6thRound, and it reminded me of my interview with Brown as a Central Michigan junior before the 2010 draft. I figured the Patriots could get some production out of a versatile receiver like him, but instead they used a third-round pick on receiver Taylor Price and a fourth-rounder on The Tight End Who Shall Not Be Named.

I’m usually not the best at scouting pre-draft talent, so forgive me as I cash in one of my few “I Told You So” chits here.

On a related note, you can also read this engaging Q&A with Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats from when he was prepping for the 2010 draft. As a senior defensive end at James Madison, Moats earned the Buck Buchanon Award for best defensive player in the FCS. He also had some noteworthy comments on his meetings with the Patriots and the Redskins. The Bills drafted Moats in the sixth round.

No, I Can’t Dig It: All-Pro receivers aside, I don’t like to nitpick on the draft. Results are still too early to call here, but I think we’re all disappointed in rookie cornerback Cyrus Jones’ “healthy scratch” (a journalistic way of saying “benching”) Sunday. Jones looked like a solid contributor as a slot corner in the preseason. He also did great work as a punt returner for Alabama in 2015, with four touchdown returns. In the first preseason game at Carolina, he had this nifty 60-yard take-back and seemed on his way to a regular gig. Hey, anything to keep Edelman and Danny Amendola out of harm’s way. But Jones’ recent ball-handling issues (e.g., the ball squirting loose on a kick return vs. Houston) have made him unreliable.

Here’s hoping Jones gets another chance and takes advantage of it.

Pat On The Back: Safety Patrick Chung hounded the Steelers, tallying 11 tackles and defending two passes. Chung did a little of everything and did it all well, covering tight ends and receivers all over the field while also providing stout run support. Sometimes when a defensive back piles up the stops, it’s a bad sign. Not so for Chung, who tackled runners like they were trying to steal the Olympic torch.

Random Observations

Giant Error In Judgment: Like adjusting their rearview mirror after the car crash, the Giants finally released kicker Josh Brown. The NFL had suspended him for one game for domestic assault. Of course, for months, the New York brass and NFL Commissioner/Owner’s Waterboy Roger Goodell had a decent idea of what had happened.  Apparently, knowledge of abuse wasn’t quite enough for Giants owner John Mara to suspend his kicker until public outrage grew. As Mara told WFAN in an interview a week ago:

“He certainly admitted to us that he abused his wife in the past. What’s a little unclear is the extent of that.”

So, here’s what’s been bothering me: after Brown’s admission, what, exactly, was Mara’s follow-up question? How is the “extent” of the abuse “a little unclear?” If someone says they’ve done something bad “in the past,” that connotes a repeated behavior. A proper investigation – and by no means am I giving Mara credit for anything proper here –  would have included the simple, direct inquiry, “How many times has this happened before?” Brown’s statement didn’t help much, especially considering he didn’t apologize to his ex-wife.

Keep in mind, the greatest quarterback of his generation served a four-game suspension after an 18-month odyssey that involved a $12 million investigation and multiple trips to court over alleged deflation of footballs that science has proven untrue. The Brown case tells us everything we need to know about a) Mara’s power among owners, b) Goodell’s arbitrary method of ruling, and c) the NFL’s callous disregard for the victims of domestic abuse in particular and, we have to assume, women in general.

Call It A Girlcott, Maybe: In light of the NFL’s mishandling of the Brown case and multiple other issues, let’s considering turning our televisions off when our favorite team isn’t playing. We can keep track of our fantasy team online (hell, we can keep track of everything online). Think about it. Sunday nights free. Monday nights getting to bed at a more reasonable hour. Thursday night games via Twitter for all the “color rush” jokes. This is the right time to make an impact and let the NFL know they have flaws that need to be changed.

Last year, I wrote a piece on The Unstoppable NFL, where I interviewed sports journalists to ask what, if anything, could derail the league. Most of us didn’t see a ratings decline anytime soon. I hate to admit this, but I didn’t include domestic violence as an issue, as I assumed Goodell had learned his lesson from the Ray Rice case. The league seemed to have established specific rules for such events. And, hey, the photos of Greg Hardy’s girlfriend’s bruises taken in 2014 didn’t reach the Internet until November of 2015, so I totally get a pass, right?

God damnit.

I said this about the problem of leadership within the NFL:

“It seems probable the commissioner will make more mistakes; therefore, it must be possible he makes one or two big enough to actually make an impact. But how big do those gaffes have to get?”

I guess we shall see.

The Catcher Kicker In The Rye Tie: What a bunch of phonies. Just when we thought the Gostkowski situation looked depressing, here comes last Sunday night’s game, featuring two missed field goals in overtime to ensure an oh-so-suitable 6-6 tie between Arizona and Seattle. (One more 6 would confirm our suspicions on who engineered this hellfest.) And these are, presumably, two of the best teams in the NFC.

I love great defensive plays as much as anyone, but I feel like people who enjoyed the Sunday night game as a “defensive battle” probably appreciate action movies for the exposition. (In seismology terms, what we’re experiencing is what we call ‘a swarm event.) I mean, yeah, it’s important, but it’s not the only reason to watch, you know?

Kind of like that 9-3 Pats win over Cleveland in 2003. Ugly. Frustrating. I was happy it was over. But at least it wasn’t a tie.

Not A Home Run, Derby: As much as I understood it, I was sorry to see the Patriots trade away tight end A. J. Derby to Denver. The second-year athlete had an eye-opening preseason, averaging 12.6 yards per catch (15 for 189), and seemed ready to contribute as a smaller, quicker, “move” tight end. But, with the multiple talents of Gronk and Martellus Bennett, Derby had no receptions. Seems risky to have only two tight ends on the roster, but if necessary, tackle Cameron Fleming can come in to block, while Edelman, Hogan, Amendola, and James White can handle the short passes.

W-E-E-Why Oh Why: Listening to the WEEI morning show hosts discuss (shout?) politics reminds me of when “Law & Order” features a case involving a rock band. They try to hit the right notes (literally, I guess), but it always seems forced and obvious. The name of the band is something like Slutty Sally and the Punky Girlz, and the suspects say things along the lines of, “Bummer, man. She just wanted to rock ‘n’ roll, you know?” The rudimentary, intentionally ignorant political talk on WEEI doesn’t seem to go anywhere. I hear about politics everywhere else in media; call me nuts, but I listen to sports radio to hear about sports-related topics.

By the way, no complaints here if they want to have Trenni Kusnierek on the show more often. Nice to have an informed voice amidst the same old noise. You can follow her on Twitter @trenni – worth it for her recent takedowns of the NFL botching the Brown case.

Walking Dead To Me: I have seen every episode of “The Walking Dead,” and this past Sunday I saw my last. No spoilers here, but it said a lot that Chris Hardwick, the host of the companion show “Talking Dead,” teased viewers by saying, “I’m here for you; let’s get through this together.” And it hit me: why on God’s Great Green Earth would I want to watch a TV show that I need help to “get through?” It wasn’t entertaining. It didn’t make me feel good; it didn’t make me look forward to the next show.

It actually reminded me of my last episode of “ER” (darkly titled, “Be Still My Heart“), where adorable intern Lucy Knight got stabbed. Just … why? I don’t want to go through that. Sure, it’s a hospital emergency room where characters are expected to die, but it made no sense to take out the adorably plucky intern, especially by having a psychologically disturbed patient murder her. In interviews, the “Walking Dead” writers constantly talk about how, as much as they don’t want to, they have to kill off characters to keep the stakes real. But, wait: No. No, they do not. It’s a show about a zombie apocalypse. Realism isn’t a huge requirement.

Also, if they cared about realism, why would they have seasoned, grizzled characters constantly doing stupid things? And how come the walkers can run and climb a fence in the season one episode “Guts” yet don’t do either action again for the rest of the series? Did they forget?

To hell with it. I’m done.

Chris Warner hated that goddam Elkton Hills. He can also be tweeted @cwarn89

Patriots Thursday Observations, Bengals Review

Welcome home, Tom Brady. The longest-tenured Patriot had himself a day on Sunday, leading a second-half offensive outburst that helped get the home team past the can’t-get-out-of-their-own-way Bengals, 35-17. New England sits at 5-1 and travel to Pittsburgh next Sunday at 4:25 p.m. Eastern, which should be an interesting game given the Steelers’ roster adjustments.

Some compelling story lines vs. the Bengals, including some none-too-surprising events unfolding near the end.

Player/Game Observations

Tom Pain: Cincinnati certainly felt it in the second half. After a more human-like 12 of 16 (75 percent) for 136 yards and one touchdown in the first two quarters, Our Tom connected on 17 of 19 passes (89 percent) for 240 yards and two TDs after halftime. Overall, he completed 29 of 35 passes for 376 yards and three scores, giving him an 83 percent completion rate for the game. Now, that’s a disappointing number if you’re Larry Bird shooting free throws (lifetime .886 avg), but Larry never had to worry about getting his foul shots intercepted.

You’d think, after having a month without practice or even any contact with the team, the man would come in with some timing and/or accuracy issues. Nope. Instead, it looks like he’s been sitting back and connecting with receivers like he used to bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home. I mean, no, he wasn’t perfect, but 83 percent is pretty close, right?

Brady just passed quarterback Steve Grogan for longest-tenured Patriot with 17 years in New England. Growing up, I loved Grogan. It wasn’t official, but I considered myself a citizen of Grogan Country. Well, Ol’ Steve had a 52.3 career completion percentage. Brady is currently at 63.7 for his career. His 76 percent after two games will get lower as the season progresses, but every Patriots fan has to remember: this is pretty good stuff we’re witnessing.

Train Rob-bery: Lookout! It’s a runaway Gronk! Tight end Rob Gronkowski got the offense locomotivated (note: not really a word) with seven receptions for a career-best 162 yards and one touchdown. With a mix of crossing patterns, sideline and seam routes, and just plain old posting up (you can see his highlights here), Gronk is fast turning into the spike machine we’ve known and loved. If teams gear up to stop him – which they have to, now – look for Martellus Bennett, Julian Edelman, James White and others to benefit.

Ghost Protocol: A couple of years ago, Bill Belichick got the idea to make the extra-point kick a less-than-sure thing, and the NFL competition committee went with it. As expected, percentages decreased last season, from 99.3 in 2014 (eight total misses) to 94.2 in 2015 (71 total misses). Belichick must have thought, hey, I’ve got the best kicker in the league, this can only be good for us, right? Yipes. So far, Stephen Gostkowski has missed three field goals (nine of 12) and one extra point.

As a Bird lover who practiced free throws for hours and never got significantly better, I can tell you: it’s in his head. Time will tell if he can get back to his old, automatic self. I’m sure we’ll all be keeping an eye on the Patriots’ tryout list.

Riding Coach: What a difference between halves. New England adjusted to the Bengals’ offense, foregoing much of their earlier zone defense for more man-based schemes. Cincy QB Andy Dalton opened up the game 10 for 10 for 93 yards; from there, he went 11 of 20. The Patriots offense got the ball out more quickly and found open pockets in Cincy’s D that allowed receivers to catch the ball and run like pronghorns out on the prairie. Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit has some strong film study in this piece elucidating how New England keyed on Cincinnati’s linebackers in the second half.

We Can Dance If We Want To: But not if you’re Andy Dalton trying to escape the clutches of Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower. The defensive captain had 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks, including the tone-changing safety in the third quarter. A well-timed, well-executed play by New England, as tackle Alan Branch, linebacker Elandon Roberts, and tackle Malcolm Brown occupied Cincinnati’s middle three O-linemen, creating a gap between the center and guard that Hightower exploited. A game-changer making the score 14-12 and giving the home team the ball back. About two minutes later, Gronkowski hauled in a worm-skimming pass for a 19-14 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Elandon Calling: How inaccurate is draft status in terms of determining a player’s worth? Seriously. New England has done a better-than-average job at selecting players – so much so that they had to cut some potential contributors at the beginning of the season (number eight in Mike Reiss’ very necessary Sunday column) –  but look at what sixth-round rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts has done. Seen initially as a special-teamer/linebacker-in-case-of-emergency-only by some (including me), Roberts has filled in nicely for Jamie Collins, playing in 50 of 68 snaps Sunday and compiling seven tackles. He had a notably nifty stop at the goal line where he raced to the running back like a kid hustling after piñata candy. He also elicited an offensive holding call on his pass rush. The Pats were smart to take Roberts when they did, but where would he go if the draft happened today?

One Nice Stand: The Patriots’ red zone defense has had its issues, forgotten for a few minutes during their impressive goal-line stand around the 10-minute mark of the second quarter. Giovanni Bernard gained five yards from the six, but from the one-yard line, the Bengals’ attempts to dance in the end zone were met with the Patriots playing the minister from Footloose. On second down, Roberts started a good six yards from the line of scrimmage and came careening toward the offensive left side, undercutting the attempted block of D-lineman/ersatz fullback Domata Peko (aka The Dude With The Hair) and smacking Bernard at the two, getting help from Brown and Hightower to pig-pile at the one. (Roberts got dinged up on the play and had to leave the game temporarily.)

Third down, a fade route to the left, A. J. Green vs. Malcolm Butler. Butler did enough hand-checking to stay on top of Green, with the ball bouncing off the receiver’s gloves.

Fourth down, and it wasn’t even close. Bernard headed toward the line and hit a torrent of humanity, as Woodrow Hamilton and Anthony Johnson shimmied past their blockers while Branch and Chris Long stood their guys up, allowing everyone in a Patriots uniform – possibly including a few fans wearing Tedi Bruschi jerseys – to stop the play at the one. Just good, solid, old-fashioned football. The end result didn’t show it, but this was a close game. This play kept it that way.

Random Observations

He’ll Pass: When I lived in New York, I used to go to Professor Thom’s, a Boston sports bar on the Lower East Side. Watched some historical stuff there, both coincidentally involving Kansas City in 2008: Jon Lester’s no-hitter vs. the Royals (“Honey, I’ll head home soon, but, ah, let’s just say Lester’s having a REALLY good game“) and Brady’s debut vs. the Chiefs (“God DAMNIT”). Every once in a while, I’d come across a Patriots fan who was also a Yankees fan, or a Red Sox fan who also rooted for the Giants. As someone born in Boston who spent my childhood pretty close to that area, rooting for two different cities’ teams always seemed odd to me. I know it happens, but sometimes sports don’t mix with other sports. So, if that’s true, then sports sure as heck don’t mix with politics. recently posted a Sound FX video of Brady highlights that I’ve watched several times already. I think he should be mic’d up for every game for the rest of his career; seriously, I’d run that loop 24/7. That said, I don’t need to know much else about Brady. I don’t really need to sit down to dinner with him (I like pizza, and ice cream not necessarily high in healthy fats). I don’t need to know his politics. As long as he keeps contributing to charities and playing as hard as he can, I’m not asking for anything else.

Mission To Marvin: This column by Ian Logue of covered the Bengals disciplinary issues well, but I thought it was worth mentioning here.

Here’s a section of my notes from the fourth quarter, verbatim: Pac-Man lost it after pen. (holding Hogan), then Burfict in Gronk’s face after catch. (And yes, I now understand he spells it Pacman.)

Okay, the call on PacmanJones was questionable. So, what do you do? Play football, right? But Jones got so riled up that, it appeared, the Bengals were not lined up on defense for the ensuing play and had to call a timeout. Does Jones, a 33-year-old man in his 10th season, seem like a calming veteran presence? Is linebacker Vontaze Burfict worth the trouble? Coach Marvin Lewis seems to think so.

Watch the fourth quarter again and pay attention to the post-whistle stuff (including when Burfict appears to intentionally step on LeGarrette Blount’s leg). After Burfict was fined $75,000 for said stomp, Lewis said, “I don’t think he did anything wrong.” Not sure what Lewis was looking at, but the real kicker is that Lewis complained that the fine stemmed from Burfict’s reputation due to past indiscretions.

Umm … yes. Yes, Marv, it did. Your linebacker has been fined for groin-punching (2013), ankle-twisting (2014), and ankle-targeting (2015), and those don’t even include his illegal hit to the head that helped the Steelers to victory in the AFC Wild Card game. He’s an issue, so let’s hope no one needs to get seriously hurt before his coach takes him to task.

The Imagination Agency: If you’re tired of troll journalism where opinion is everything, I’d advise a look at this piece by Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal. In it, Daniels follows up on how tight end Martellus Bennett got to know his teammates by hitching rides with them to get to practice. Ten people are quoted in the piece, a testament to Daniels’ persistence and his imagination in how to frame the story. He sets himself apart, not by ranting or offering up counterpoints to common thought, but by asking specific questions of people who have specific, yet thoughtful, answers. Solid piece that deserves attention.

We Can Leave Your Friends Behind: Was anyone else surprised by how CBS handled showing the goal-line stand and the safety, replay-wise? Big plays that didn’t get their due, in my opinion. Let’s focus on the broadcast of the safety. The play happens, then we spend 20 seconds watching Hightower celebrate in the end zone with other defenders before heading to the sideline, with Ian Eagle saying what we already know (“New England has cut the Cincinnati lead to two. Hightower makes the play on the quarterback”), then we go to commercial. And not just one, “Now you can have a McGriddle at 10 p.m. and devour your self-loathing!” commercial. Nope: McDonald’s, Toyota, Verizon, and a quick CBS self-promo for what I’m sure is a hilarious reworking of “The Odd Couple,” because the original just had it so wrong.

Then, once we return to the game, we get the post-safety punt/kickoff (punt-off?). We don’t get to see a replay for a few minutes. That replay included one view from behind the defense and no real explanation of how it worked other than Dan Fouts saying, “Nobody picks him up until it’s too late.” Yeah, but Roberts blitzed and occupied the center, and the guard double-teamed Brown, so Hightower’s delayed A-gap blitz …

You know what? Forget it. I like Fouts in general, but I can’t expect that much from a color commentator who called Elandon Roberts “Eldon.”

The Times Are Tough Now, Just Gettin’ Tougher: Here’s a pet peeve I’ve had for a while: What’s up with knee pads that don’t cover the knees? I first remember seeing this phenomenon with Marcus Allen, and wondering how in the hell a running back could sprint into a cluster of tacklers with any confidence knowing that his knees didn’t have protection. I guess it’s for freedom of movement, but when it comes to knees it’s hard for me as a Patriots follower to forget the fate of poor Hart Lee Dykes. Also, in the era when I last suited up, most players dressed like Robocop, with plenty of coverage.

Another Saturday Night And I Ain’t Got Parody: You know, I actually feel bad for the writers of “Saturday Night Live.” How can anyone effectively satirize this election season? What can you exaggerate and/or make funnier? At this point, it’s like trying to write a parody of Gallagher’s act. “Hey, maybe instead of using a sledgehammer, we could blow up the watermelons with C-4?” That said, there’s just not a lot of life to their sketches. One of the first offerings of the season – this bit with Margot Robbie about a live news report – delivered, with numerous cast members meshing well. In ensuing weeks, though, the pickings have been slim, with decent, oft-absurd ideas failing to get the proper execution.

Meh. I’ve actually seen worse. My junior-high heyday came in the forgettable-at-best early 1980s, when it was Eddie Murphy and not a heck of a lot else.

Why Are You So Far Away From Me? Another game across the sea, New York vs. Los Angeles, 9:30 a.m. Eastern. The Rams took a 10.5-hour flight on Monday to adjust to an eight-hour time difference. The Giants will travel Friday to adjust to a five-hour time change. London, folks! Me ol’ bamboo!

Please consider spending your Sunday morning doing something else besides watching this crumpet-load – or, more likely, having it on in the background.

Chris Warner puts the over/under on comments until the section gets hijacked at 1.5. He can also be tweeted: @cwarn89 

Pats Thursday Observations, Browns Review

The Patriots went to Cleveland and did the expected, reaching 4-1 overall by overtaking the Browns, 33-13. They host Cincinnati next Sunday at 1 p.m.

Yup. That’s it. Not much to report. Well, except for a few small details…

Player/Game Observations

Genius Of Love: Oh, Tom Tom Club? Sure. Members of said establishment must have felt happy with the return of Tom Brady, who was suspended for no good reason whatsoever.  The world’s greatest quarterback returned with what some might call a vengeance, completing 28 of 40 passes (70 percent) for 406 yards and three touchdowns. Sunday, New England hosts the Bengals, who lost at Dallas last week, 28-14.

Loosen Up Your Too Tights: The recipient of Brady’s three TD passes was tight end and fantasy football roller-coaster Martellus Bennett, who ended up with six receptions for 67 yards. Though his line mate Rob Gronkowski didn’t score, he caught five passes for 109 yards, including this schoolyard romp through half of the Browns’ defense to set up the visitors’ first touchdown.

Before Brady’s return, Gronk had caught one pass for 11 yards. Bennett had one touchdown reception. So, yes: release the hounds!

What Can Brown Do For You? Stop the run, apparently. Second-year defensive lineman Malcom Brown had three tackles, a statistic which tells about as complete a story as my daughter does after knocking something over.

Sweetie, what happened?


I know it was an accident, but what happened?

“I don’t know.”

Brown consistently manipulates his blocker and causes problems for opposing offenses. Between him, veteran Alan Branch, and rookie Woodrow “All Right” Hamilton, the defensive line helped shut down the Brown’s previously vaunted rushing attack, as Isaiah Crowell – who came into the game averaging 6.5 yards per rush – tallied just 22 yards on 13 carries (1.7 ypc, which, by the way, is a stat that tells a story).

Mr. Roberts, Report To The Captain’s Cabin On The Double: This past spring, the Patriots drafted two smaller linebackers in the sixth round: Kamu Grugier-Hill out of Eastern Illinois at the 208th selection overall, and Elandon Roberts out of Houston at 214. Grugier-Hill is the better athlete, as he posted some notable pro day numbers, including a 4.45-second 40 and a 6.89-second 3-cone drill. He impressed onlookers in spring camps, but when it came time to winnow down the roster, New England cut Grugier-Hill and held on to Roberts. This week, Roberts got to show off the kind of instincts and strength that earned him a nation-best 88 solo tackles last season. The rookie notched seven stops at Cleveland, leading the team.

Perhaps his best play came with 6:03 left in the first half. With the Browns backed up against their own end zone and looking to give themselves some space, Roberts used his none-too-tortoise-like 4.60-40 speed to power toward the ballcarrier. On the way, he caught tackle Joe Thomas under the shoulder pads and took the perennial Pro-Bowler to the Magic Pan, while somehow making the tackle on Crowell for no gain. (You can see a clip of the play here.)  Roberts flexes his biceps after the play, and, as much as I dislike showing off, we all should feel fine about that.

Ghost Right-er: So, we’re not worried about Stephen Gostkowski missing to the right on a few kicks, are we? We’re not concerned that will come back at some grossly inopportune time and bite the team again?

No? Okay, good.

Nope, me neither. Hadn’t even crossed my mind.

We’re On To Cincinnati: There we go. Though now at 2-3, the Bengals are not to be overlooked, as their losses have come against the Steelers, Broncos, and a very peppy Cowboys club. Should be fun to watch.

Random Observations

Outside The Lines: I’m not here to rant against sideline reporters. They’re fine. Still, I have to admit, watching last Sunday’s game in Cleveland, right after Jamie Erdahl got through her pre-game bit on Brady, I realized I hadn’t paid attention to a single word. Something about playing catch, maybe? Who knows?

Also, if she’s at the game, what the heck is former kicker Jay Feely doing there? Two sideline reporters? That’s like having two appendixes. But, no, there’s Jay Feely, telling us what Brady was up to over his “break.” Family. Check. Just not sure of the usefulness. Plus, with his comically large necktie knots, Feely looks like an extra on Bugsy Malone.

So, yeah, fine: be the sideline reporter. Just let me ignore you.

Pretty In Pink: When considering whether or not to buy pink NFL gear to support breast cancer awareness, please keep some numbers in mind. On its website, the NFL boasts that,

Since 2009, the first year of the NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” campaign, the NFL’s work has raised nearly $15 million for the American Cancer Society, with the majority of the contributions coming from the sale of Breast Cancer Awareness-identified pink merchandise at retail and via the NFL Auction website.

Now, that’s great. It’s wonderful that $15 million has gone toward the ACS. But, the campaign has been happening for seven years now, which averages out to $2.14 million per year. Again, not too shabby, but remember that a) the league made $7.2 billion in 2014, which meant $226.4 million per team, and b) the NFL spent $12.5 million to prosecute the Deflategate case. If they wanted to spend more to support the ACS, they certainly could, but – just as they do with military veterans – the NFL uses righteous causes as PR fodder.

Sometimes they can’t even do that right, as evidenced by last season’s kerfluffle when Steeler running back DeAngelo Williams was denied permission to wear pink gear throughout the season to honor his mother, who died of breast cancer in May of 2014. Williams ended up dyeing the tips of his hair pink. The NFL said they could not make an exception to the uniform policy.

What? Of course they could. Here’s an example of how:

Hey, players, listen up. If you want to wear pink gear throughout the season to honor a loved one, please email me and let me know whom you’re doing it for. We will keep a list on our website to further promote breast cancer awareness. Thank you for supporting the program that we started.

Roger “Media-Friendly-And-Decent-Human” Goodell 

Never forget: the NFL is a business. They don’t care about you beyond your wallet and what’s in it. Please consider donating directly to the ACS by clicking here.

Pryor Engagement: With the realization that Bill Belichick had some interest in drafting Ohio State QB/Browns WR Terrelle Pryor (thank you, Mike Reiss),  it’s always compelling to wonder what a great athlete could accomplish with a better team around him. Pryor has caught 24 passes this season for 338 yards and one TD. He has also rushed for 18 yards and passed for 40. Those 24 receptions have come after being targeted 45 times this year, which is a pretty rough ratio.

Not that New England is desperate for receivers, but it’s an intriguing “what if?”

You Should Have Seen The ’80s: Ah, shoulder pads. Watching Cleveland quarterback Cody Kessler get knocked down by Dont’a Hightower looked like a frame-by-frame homage to New England QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s hit by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso, and it got me thinking. Why can’t someone figure out a way to protect a ball carrier’s shoulders? Think about flopping onto your side from a kneeling position. That would hurt your shoulder, right? I mean, maybe not injure it, but you’d feel it. Now imagine falling onto your shoulder from a standing position. Now, add a 250-pound linebacker driving your shoulder into the ground. Yeesh.

Is it possible to run a rod or slat of hard material through the back of the shoulder pads and attach it to the shoulder flap – something that could break the fall and take the stress off the shoulder if need be? Maybe, if the player wanted to raise his arms, it could be attached by an elastic that would bring it back into place when the arm went down? I dunno. Just spitballing. Seems like a recurring injury – the kind where we know exactly what happened the second it happened – should get a closer look in terms of prevention.

No, Really, What Can Brown Do For You? I know they’re called the Browns, but do they have to wear that abysmal color? For a brief period in the early ’90s, Brown University experimented with red and black uniforms, which are the colors of the school’s seal.   Cleveland could go with the colors of any of various Brown family crests, none of which seems to feature the color brown prominently. Seriously, brown denotes rust and rot, among other things. Adding bright orange doesn’t help. At best, Cleveland’s football team could be an advertisement for Reese’s peanut butter cups.

Lions aren’t really blue. I’ve never seen a purple raven. So, Browns, consider keeping the name and ditching the color.

(Very proud of myself for not referring to Cleveland coach Hue Jackson, as in, “Looking For A New Hue.” So I guess now I’m not so proud of myself.)

Whitehurst, Right Now, There Is No Other Place I Want To Be: Sure, we can all sit back on our couches and make fun of Charlie Whitehurst, aka “Clipboard Jesus.” Thin on QBs after Kessler’s injury, the Browns gave Whitehurst the reins and watched him do as well as expected, completing 14 of 24 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Whitehurst banged up his knee Sunday and was cut by the Browns on Tuesday. He’s been in the league for 11 years. He’s played for five different teams (Browns, Colts, Titans, Seahawks, and Chargers, twice). He has sat through seven seasons where he threw as many NFL passes as I did (which, coincidentally, is the same number of Olympic gold medals I’ve won, or times I’ve climbed Mt. Everest).

But here’s the thing about Charlie Whitehurst: he’s 34 years old. These days he gets a base salary of about $950,000 a year. He has never played in more than seven games in a season (Titans, 2014), and he should be able to literally walk away from the league in good health. As I said, we can all sit back and laugh at Whitehurst all we want; in the end, I have to imagine he’ll have a few chuckles saved up for himself.

For The Last Time, What Can Brown Do For You? The Patriots’ website posted a video of Belichick bringing the team to the statue of NFL great Jim Brown. Once at the base of the statue, Belichick calls Brown the greatest player that ever played, and goes on to call him a great person. I can’t be the only one who flinched. While Brown may well be the greatest player ever, and he has in many cases acted as a “great ambassador” (Belichick’s words), he has also compiled a disturbing police record of domestic abuse.

On The Big Lead website this past February, Stephen Douglas recounted the numerous occasions that Brown has been implicated in domestic violence incidents. They began in 1965 and occurred at least once each decade until 2000, when Brown went to jail rather than serve probation and attend a domestic violence counseling program. Now that he’s 80 years old, I have to hope that he’s slowed down and left these problems in the past. But let’s not go overboard praising him as a person, at least without mentioning some of his troubles.

Sox 2BU: Well, that certainly wasn’t the way I wanted David Ortiz’s last game to go. If anything, the 2016 Red Sox remind us of how stunning the 2013 Sox were. That team won it all with a .211 World Series batting average, and that included Ortiz’s Zeus-like .688 BA. Mike Napoli batted just .154, but he had four World Series RBIs. Jonny Gomes batted a mere .118 (!), but he had three RBIs. Hell, Mike Carp batted .000 (0 for 2) and still managed to push a run across the plate (a forceout at second got Xander Bogaerts home). It’s not average, it’s timing, and this year’s club lacked it.

Hunh. Seems like a bummer to end on that note. Hmmm…

Pumpkin Peeve Of The Week: Pumpkin Spice Sweet Potato Chips. Suck it, Whole Foods.

Chris Warner can be reached via email ( or Twitter @cwarn89 

Patriots Reading List

While we wait for the Red Sox to start their first-round series with the Cleveland Indians tomorrow night, a few notes from a Patriots long-form rich Tuesday.

No More Questions – We’ll start with this impressive oral history of Bill Belichick from David Fleming at ESPN. This article will appear in next week’s edition of ESPN the Magazine.

Unlike a previous ESPN piece, the anonymous quotes are kept to a minimum. Only two individuals decided to go unnamed in the piece, and unsurprisingly, both had a negative opinion.

Former NFL Head Coach: “Bill likes creating the image of an outlaw, the tough guy. I think he really relishes it. But who is he really? He was kind of a geeky kid. Not that athletic. A failed football player.”

What a coward. “A failed football player.” How so? I’m pretty sure Belichick wasn’t under any illusions at Wesleyan that he was going to be playing in the NFL. The comment also seems to indicate that it was someone who had played in the NFL as well.

Don Shula? Dan Reeves? Tony Dungy?

So who is this? The line about being him being “kind of a geeky kid” makes me think it is an older coach, someone who might’ve seen Belichick at that age.

The second bit:

Former NFL Coach: “He will step across the line at any point he thinks he can get away with it. That [stuff] happens. It absolutely fits with the culture and the mindset there. It’s all about winning, and when you’re working 23 hours a day looking for every advantage and you have your whole life invested in the outcome of a football game, honestly, how long before you start to think, ‘Well, if I go just a little bit further with pushing the envelope, what’s the difference?’ The harder you work and the more you’re invested in it, the more you start to think like Bill and the easier it becomes to justify it.”

Is this the same guy as above? Or someone else? This seems an interesting connection:

Other than these couple blips, the piece is overwhelmingly positive. It just shows how much easier it is to trash someone when you’re being anonymous. (Hello, Don Van Natta!)

Letters from a young Bill Belichick reveal another side to coach – Another piece on the Patriots head coach focuses on a fan who wrote to him while Belichick was coaching the Cleveland Browns. In contrast to the portrait painted in the local papers at the time, the writer finds Belichick to be engaging, kind and helpful.

WHY YOU REALLY HATE TOM BRADY – Jeff Pearlman at Bleacher Report with a half-satire look at why people actually dislike the Patriots QB.

This part was fascinating:

The leading voice in category B is John Teerlinck, a longtime NFL defensive line coach who retired in 2012 after 11 years with the Colts. In 27 total seasons in the league (four as a player, 23 on the sidelines), Teerlinck says he witnessed every sort of imaginable rules violation. Vaseline-coated jerseys? Check. Taping the practices of opposing teams? Check. Paying off players for vicious hits? Check. Deflating and inflating footballs? Check.

“Everyone—and I mean everyone—is guilty of doctoring and messing with footballs,” he says. “But the media makes a big deal out of something that’s not a big deal. At home games, I’ve seen teams take 50 footballs, put them in the sun, roll them around, scuff them up. I’ve seen kickers take 45-pound plates from the bench room, put the nose of the football through the weight and drop the ball through, just to break the nose off either end of the ball and un-stiff it. I can tell you stories about two-way glass divides where one team spies on the other. I can tell you about microphones in the visiting team’s locker room. I can tell you about guys coming in and taking pictures of what coaches write on the board. There’s no end to it.”

Wait, what?

“When you’re good, people don’t like you,” says Teerlinck. “The cheating thing—that’s just bulls–t. Tom Brady is really good.”

Tom Brady has done his time for Deflategate, but the science says he’s not guilty – MIT Professor (and Eagles fan) John Leonard reacts after Exponent’s defense of its Wells Report work in John Branch’s recent advertorial in The New York Times.

He challenges the Exponent scientists to show their work.

Respectfully, I request Dr. Robert Caligiuri, Corporate Vice President at Exponent, to review his team’s work for the Logo Gauge and to explain what seems to clearly be either an error in logic or an error in computation. In my opinion, the league’s experts should publish a correction: “If referee Walt Anderson used the Logo gauge, the Patriots halftime measurements are fully explained by the environmental factors tested under the most likely game conditions and circumstances.”

Specifically, I believe Exponent should clarify their decision not to retract or qualify their findings based on the readily apparent errors in Figures 26, 27 and 28. These figures show the transient pressure curves for the Logo Gauge measurements of the two teams’ footballs over the course of halftime. It applies a calibration conversion of the Patriots Logo Gauge values to match a more accurate “master gauge” that Exponent used in its experiments. (Exponent’s master gauge costs about $1000; Anderson’s gauges cost about $20; in measurement, cost translates to accuracy.)


In an ideal world, I would love to get the chance to talk through many of the details of the case with Exponent’s scientists. I am extremely curious if they have additional experimental data not included in the report—for example, did they perform simulations with the Logo Gauge with a 71°F locker room temperature? Are they willing to publish the individual ball-by-ball measured values for their simulations? Did they perform simulations that included the rubbing procedure? I can think of many questions to ask and additional experiments that would be interesting to perform.

Tom Brady’s Revenge Tour Has NFL Up at Night – Mike Freeman has some interesting quotes.

An AFC defensive assistant coach put it rather succinctly, and he’s right.

“Thanks to Roger Goodell,” said the coach, “Tom Brady is going to kill us all.”


The Most Red Sox Thing Ever

That was weird.

It seems like only the Red Sox could suffer a crushing loss via a walk-off grand slam, and then go have a champagne celebration in the locker room over winning the division.

I’m not condemning the celebration, they won the A.L. East (Thanks, Buck Showalter!) and deserve to celebrate that accomplishment, but it doesn’t make the whole night any less weird.

This Red Sox team is going to be interesting in the postseason. I honestly have no idea what to expect. There are questions about the ace, closer and manager – three pretty important areas. The lineup seems to score either 10 runs or 1.

Yet, they’ve won the division anyway. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

NESN was supposed to air their second David Ortiz special last night, but because of the coverage of the clinching celebration, the special will air tonight, following the Red Sox/Yankees game. (Around 10pm)

The David Ortiz Era presented by Foxwoods Resort Casino is a one-hour documentary-style feature that tells the story of how Big Papi went from signing with Boston as an unheralded free agent to winning three World Series titles with the Red Sox.

Ortiz is everywhere in the final days of his career, there was his piece on the Players Tribune this week – Thanks for the Memories, New York and Sports Illustrated is devoting a large chunk of its magazine to the Red Sox slugger, as well. Here is the regional cover:


(Arnold Palmer is on the national cover)

The issue contains the longform piece The Big Interview featuring Ortiz.


Sports Hub is tops in latest radio ratings – The beat goes on.

Tanguay storms off WEEI morning show over needling – WEEI on the other hand, is resorting to wacky staged stunts in order to try and get attention.

Patriots Three-Sixteenths Through 2016 Review

Come on. I mean, 3-0? Sure, most fans hoped for it, but to see it happen the way it has happened has been a real trip.

Yes, here the Patriots sit after coming back to win in Arizona, outlasting the Dolphins at home, and besting the Texans in every phase of the game last Thursday night. Each an impressive win in its own right, even disregarding the players who missed time on the field.

A list of some of the topics we’re discussing this week.

Flying Coach: The game day roster had dwindled like the cast of a Hitchcock movie. The offense had more questions than a six-year-old watching a Pinter play. Who’s held in higher esteem right now than the Patriots’ coaching staff? They got their team prepared, set them off to strong starts, and beat some teams who are expected to do something in the league this season. Impressive all the way around.

The Third Man: Imagine hearing this a few months ago. Hey, listen up, Patriots fans. Tom Brady won’t play the first four games because of a supercilious, sniveling toady who wanted to clarify his power over players. Then, less than halfway through what will be shaping up as a benchmark performance vs. Miami (18 for 26, 232 yards, three TDs), Jimmy Garoppolo will hurt his throwing shoulder. So, Jacoby Brissett will start vs. the Texans. (That’s the rookie.)

Well, you might ask, who’s Brissett’s backup? Oh, nobody. I mean, Julian Edelman, I guess, but if it comes down to that, the match is more or less lost, anyway.

With 103 yards passing (11 of 19 for 58 percent), Brissett’s first start will not make the Patriots Hall of Fame, but it should stay in fans’ memories for a while. The rookie got sacked just once and ran eight times for 48 yards, including a slick touchdown run where, even if Houston had brought 13 players onto the field, all 13 would have gone for the fake handoff. Keep in mind, no opposing coaching staff knows the Patriots as well as the Texans staff does, yet Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and company kept Houston on their heels for much of the night during their 27-0 dominance.

Part of that game plan, of course, called for a focus on running the football.

Develin A Deep Blue Key: Donning his smart “color rush” threads last Thursday, fullback James Develin once again demonstrated his importance in the running game. After three weeks, he has compiled exactly zero yards on zero carries with zero receptions. Yet he’s one of the most important offensive players on the field. LeGarrette Blount is averaging 4.0 yards per carry (75 for 298) with four touchdowns. While much credit goes to O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia with his young charges, Develin has made a huge difference, paving the way for the Pats to run out the clock this year.

Giving Him The Bennett Of The Doubt: I must admit, I did not have high hopes for tight end Martellus Bennett coming into this season. His preseason performance seemed a bit underwhelming (seven catches in four games). Though his blocking made an impression in Week One (largely the impression of Cardinals defenders planted in the Arizona turf), he caught just three passes for 14 yards. This was why I convinced my wife to bench him for her fantasy football team (still sorry, my Love!). Bennett, of course, caught five passes for 114 yards and a TD. He continued his essential role the following week, acting as a safety valve for Brissett (two catches for 10) and pushing bodies around like a Tokyo train conductor. Also, for the first time in his career? Carrying the football. One rush for six yards on an end-around.

So, yeah, I was wrong about Bennett. Imagine what he can do playing with a healthy Rob Gronkowski alongside him.

Take The Long Way Home: The Patriots showed interest in defensive end Chris Long before the 2008 draft. Nice they kept their interest, and nice for a solid veteran like Long to experience winning on a regular basis. In his eight years on the Rams, the team never had more than seven wins (four times) and went 2-14 twice (2008, 2011) and 1-15 once (2009). Long seems rejuvenated, with one sack, two passes defensed, and numerous pressures. Here’s hoping he discovers what it’s like to go over .500 in a season.

Dont’a You Forget About Me: Important to note that New England’s defense held Houston’s offense in check without linebacker Dont’a Hightower. New England’s defensive play-caller and run-stopper managed one tackle before getting hurt against Arizona. In the meantime, battery mate Jamie Collins has turned Kraken, tallying 23 tackles in three games (14 vs. Houston), along with two interceptions. Backup Jonathan Freeny (10 tackles, one forced fumble) has pitched in, but when Hightower returns, the defense has the potential to improve. This really seems like the proverbial icing on the cake. I mean, life’s great, you’re eating cake, and someone comes along and says, “Hey, how about some icing on that?” Hells, yeah. Frost that sonofabitch.

All The White Moves: Some impressive plays from running back James White thus far this season, and that observation comes from a big supporter of running back D. J. Foster. Some idiot may have even figured it would have been a good idea to release White in favor of Foster. That same nincompoop feels relieved this never happened. Besides averaging a nifty 4.4 yards per carry (eight for 35), White has caught eight passes for 52 yards and shown an increase in power and elusiveness from last year. With pass-catching dynamo Dion Lewis’ expected return later this season, White might see his playing time limited. For now, though, he has provided quarterbacks not named Brady with a comfy fallback option.

All Four One And One Four All: As much as I questioned New England keeping only four receivers on their roster (not counting special teams ace Matthew Slater), it has paid off to this point in the season. Edelman (18 receptions, 180 yards) remains a central, go-to guy. Danny Amendola (nine for 119, two TDs) just seems to catch tough passes to convert third downs. Rookie Malcolm Mitchell (four for 75) has shown the potential to become the first dependable receiver the Patriots have drafted since Edelman. Chris Hogan (eight for 122) has popped up in key moments (none better than his opening TD at Arizona) and shown the willingness to block so necessary for NFL pass-catchers.

Vito, You’re Blocking: Speaking of which, check out this clip of Blount’s touchdown run, and keep an eye on Develin, Hogan and Edelman. This play reminds me of when the Naval Academy’s option offense really gets rolling: the entire offense accounts for every defender. For Pete’s sake, Edelman IHOPs his defender as Blount runs by. Houston came to Gillette as favorites, the first team to do so since the Portsmouth Spartans in 1931. (Note: This is decidedly untrue.)

You’re Wondering Now, What To DoNew England’s special teams have made such a huge difference over the past few weeks, from punter Ryan Allen dropping footballs at the Texans’ 10-yard-line, to kicker Stephen Gostkowski hitting all three field goal attempts at Arizona (including a 53-yarder), to myriad contributors forcing fumbles and making tackles (Gostkowski’s high-flying kickoffs have helped). Play-for-play, special teams contributions have the highest impact, and their ability to fluster opponents has been a key part of the Pats’ 3-0 start.

Nothing But Flowers: Defensive lineman Trey Flowers has six tackles and one fumble recovery this year; he gets mentioned here for something beyond numbers. The best Patriots teams over the past 15 years have had strong backups to help weather any injury fronts. Flowers backs up both Long and Jabaal Sheard (two sacks). Free agent athlete Barkevious Mingo and Shea McClellin back up the linebackers, including the aforementioned Freeny. This is a talented team with a deep roster that, if necessary, could make a difference in January.

The Brady Hunch: One aspect of the Patriots’ as-hot-as-could-be-expected start that no one seems to consider is opponents’ motivation factor. Are teams starting out flat vs. New England? As’s Mike Reiss pointed out in his indispensable Sunday notes, the Patriots have outscored their three foes 34-0 in the first quarter. Partly Pats’ preparation, of course, but also a sign that the other guys aren’t as pumped as usual? Though impossible to tell, it might make sense that a defensive player isn’t quite as focused facing Garoppolo or Brissett as he would be vs. one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.

Not saying that going without Tom Brady for a month has been good for the team, the league, or anyone else. Just looking at it from another angle.

What angles are you looking at this season? Let us know in the comments section below.

Chris Warner tweets a little more than he should @cwarn89

Streaking Sox, Underdog Pats

The Red Sox continue to cruise along, winning their seventh in a row last night, behind a resurgent Clay Buchholz. The magic number to win the division sits at six games with ten to play.

It is always satisfying to see cocksure loudmouths have to eat their words when it comes to the local teams, and this is especially fun with all the demands for the head of John Farrell earlier in the season, the proclamations that Rick Porcello is terrible or that Hanley Ramirez is a lazy bum who will be a disaster at first base.

They may not win the World Series this fall, but this Red Sox club has made the summer interesting.

The Patriots enter tonight’s game with the Houston Texans as a rare home underdog.

With rookie Jacoby Brissett the likely starter at QB we could see some interesting stuff from Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels tonight. The Washington Post tells us that Brissett is perfect for the Patriots.

(Hey, have you heard that Brissett was mentored by Bill Parcells????)

The New York Times, which has mostly been on the right side of deflategate, allowed one of its writers to publish an infomercial for Exponent, the company behind the pseudoscience of the Wells Report.

The writer of the article has a history of anti-Patriots Tweets and articles, so that he choose to present things in this light is not much of a surprise.


The article essentially consists of Exponent giving a tour of its facilities and saying “we’re smart! we stand by our work!

None of the objections brought by critics were asked of the scientists. Nothing about the doctored photos of the gauges, etc. They emphasize that they did not allow their Boston office to participate in the study to avoid “fan bias” in their work (They don’t trust their own people?) but allowed a New York Giants fan to lead the work.

Elsewhere from the last week or two (I’ve been out of town):

Jim Donaldson: It’s a wrap after this final column – The longtime ProJo columnist accepts a buyout from the paper.

NFL Week 2 Finals: Season Off to Slow Start – NFL ratings aren’t great thus far. Thanks Roger!

The WEEI morning show “tryouts” are a sham. Despite being likely the least popular candidate, barring a huge surprise Gary Tanguay will get the gig alongside Minihane and Callahan. I hope I’m wrong. I’ve already put @OldTakesExposed on notice.



The funny thing is, Tom E Curran called this #hotsportztake exactly yesterday morning:

But you won’t see the hashtag #UnconventionalBill if Edelman starts taking snaps. It will be #ARROGANCE and it will be trending like a motherscratcher.

To the people who revile Belichick for what they see as a mumbling, smarter-than-thou pomposity, using Edelman at quarterback won’t be fun – WHEEEE!!!! – like it would be if some coach who’s cuddly with the media did it. It will instead be seen as an attempt by Belichick to show how smart he is. Another “Look at the big brain on me….!” moment in which he’s toying with an opponent like a cat with a mole.

Any bets on whether ol’ Yianni read Curran’s post and thought Yes! I’ve got my hottake for the day!

Just Like Old Times

A few thoughts and observations from last night and the last week or so.

Games like last night are always so much fun. Whenever I see prediction sets like this:

and this:

and this:

I have to smile. I bring these up, not because of any perceived “disrespect” being handed out, but because it’s fun to see unanimity  of opinion be unanimously wrong.

If people haven’t figured out that Bill Belichick-coached teams thrive under these conditions, I don’t know what they’ve been watching for the last 15 years.

You look at those and you can understand why Julian Edelman feels underdog role is a media creation.

Bob Costas did a nice job at halftime on Thursday night eviscerating Roger Goodell and the NFL for their handling of deflategate.

NBC must’ve gotten a nasty call from the league offices, because they immediately lined up a softball interview with Matt Lauer that will air on Wednesday.

In the interview Goodell maintains that he is “100 percent certain that he got Deflategate right” and proudly touts his “independent investigation.”

Then on last night’s broadcast, when it came time for Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth to discuss Brady’s suspension and the “end” of deflategate, these were pretty much their comments summing up the affair:

Michaels: It was boring.

Collinsworth: It was bad for the league. And you know, I think it might’ve been as much about the commissioner having sole authority over disciplinary matters.

And then they waved to Brady on TV, laughed and moved on.

Very careful not to say anything negative about Goodell, the Dear Leader.

Belichick mismanaged the clock, the offensive line sucked, Bennett is a lazy dog!

Judging by Twitter, those were the hottakes coming out of the CSNNE studios following the game last night.

I’m glad I didn’t switch over to see for myself.

Despite the win, it might be a good time to largely avoid sports talk radio as well. (Of course, when isn’t a good time to avoid it?)

Here are a few of the top links covering last night:


Rewarding Patriots’ victory a strong reflection on Bill Belichick – Mike Reiss

What got Jimmy Garoppolo going before vintage Patriots victory: smelling salts – Dan Wetzel.

Sorry, Patriots Haters, but Jimmy Garoppolo Is Going to Make You Miserable Again – Mike Freeman

In debut, Patriots thrive in rare underdog role – Karen Guregian

The Red Sox took two out of three in Toronto this weekend, including a wild one yesterday.

Red Sox on verge of worst-to-first repeat – Evan Drellich

Powered by David Ortiz, Red Sox pad AL East lead – Peter Abraham

Patriots Writers Play To Type In Reimer Article

Alex Reimer has written a fascinating look at the mindset of reporters covering Bill Belichick in this piece on the Forbes website:

Inside Bill Belichick’s Masterful Game Of Media Manipulation

To me, the title is a bit misleading, because I see it more as a look inside the minds of those working the Patriots beat, and what their agendas and predispositions are towards the Patriots coach.

The article leads off with Dave Brown, the Concord Monitor writer, who made himself the center of attention the first days of camp with his questions about Tom Brady’s job and the insinuation that if Jimmy Garoppolo plays well, Belichick might have a tough choice to make. It was clear at the time that Brown was looking for an angle to back Belichick into a corner. Brown confirms it here, saying:

So for the last eight years, I’ve been thinking: ‘Is there a way to get [Belichick] off his game plan?

Really?  For eight years you’ve been looking for the opportunity to trip up the coach of the team you’re supposed to be covering? Sounds a little obsessive to me.

Next up is Tom E Curran, who disputes the narrative that “Belichick doesn’t answer questions and is a prick” which seems to be the national view of the Patriots coach. Yet, as Curran notes, there are always several times during the season when Belichick goes expansive on a topic, and the same people act like it is a unique episode because it is contrary to their Belichick narrative.

After a look at the first week of Deflategate and how Belichick handled that week, including his masterful Saturday press conference in which he played scientist (and in retrospect was largely correct about everything he said.), Curran acknowledged the skill with which Belichick handled that week:

“Nobody, in my opinion, is more instinctive than Belichick at reading what needs to be done,” Curran says. “You have this guy employing the Ideal Gas Law, using it, and taking attention away that day as his team was going to the Super Bowl, and then not talking about it again. It was masterful.”

Mike Giardi comes on stage next, showing himself to be the good media soldier, willing to jump on the grenade and sacrifice himself for his media colleagues. We’re talking of course about the press conference after the 2014 Kansas City game in which Giardi asked Belichick if the QB position was going to be evaluated that week. Giardi says:

That was one of those days where we felt like we had to ask the question, and the result was fairly predictable. But it had to be asked anyway.

That will be a line in the oral history of the Kansas City press conference.

I’ve never understood this mindset about the questioning having to be asked. It reminds me of the quote usually attributed to Albert Einstein about how insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

It had to be asked. That’s usually the response of someone who asks an obvious question when they are challenged about it.

What does that mean? Why did it HAVE to be asked? You’re not grilling a Presidential candidate here on foreign policy. It feels like a misplaced sense of importance is at play here.

The Boston Globe‘s Ben Volin steps up next and has a similar sentiment to Dave Brown.

you can’t let him win, because we have a job to do, too

Ben, your job is covering football. Maybe focusing on that rather than whether you “won” a press conference with the head coach might serve you and your readers better.

I mean, look at that mindset – you can’t let him win – you’re not in a war, or a contest here. The adversarial view isn’t going to work.

Shalise Manza Young is another who has frosty feelings for Belichick. Despite acknowledging that for almost her entire time on the beat, Belichick treated her professionally, she holds a grudge over being correctly publicly by the coach.

“When you want to try to demean me and put me down –– and I hate how this sounds, but I don’t know how to say it any other way –– all of the stories I had broken over the years and none of them had ever been proven wrong, and now all of a sudden I have hundreds of people telling me I’m garbage because he came out with a statement saying I wrote something that was incorrect? It was a lot to handle. And I thought it was really shady and really underhanded,” she says.

Now read the actual statement. What is she talking about? Demeaning her? Putting her down? Shady? Underhanded?

In protest, and this says a lot more about her than him – she refused to ask a single question of Belichick for the rest of the season and then left the beat.

Oh, by the way:

So…what about all of the stories I had broken over the years and none of them had ever been proven wrong? 


She wanted Belichick to approach her privately instead of making a public statement. But she has not problem saying stuff like this about Bryan Stork.

Very next tweet:


Apparently it doesn’t matter until he’s gone. Then you can dish.

A story on the Patriots media would not be complete without Ron Borges.

According to Reimer “it’s not his annoyance with the press that Borges takes issue with, but the apparent enjoyment he receives from humiliating those who cross his path.”

I think the technical term for that is “not suffering fools gladly.” Borges then throws this gem out:

Many of the people who are so enthusiastic about how Bill Belichick operates, if they were working for him, their asses would be in the HR department in about 15 minutes. All of the things they’re cheering, they wouldn’t like it. They’d be crying about it,

The only people crying about things here are the media. Borges winds things down with a statement about the utter otioseness of sports media:

if you win, the writers can’t hurt you, and if you lose, the writers can’t help you.