Roger Goodell Is A Pathological Liar – But We Already Knew That

The NFL’s release on PSI testing in August:

At designated games, selected at random, the game balls used in the first half will be collected by the KBC at halftime, and the League’s Security Representative will escort the KBC with the footballs to the Officials’ Locker room. During halftime, each game ball for both teams will be inspected in the locker room by designated members of the officiating and security crews, and the PSI results will be measured and recorded.  Once measured, those game balls will then be secured and removed from play.

For these randomly selected games only, the back-up footballs will be used for each team during the second half. Approximately three minutes prior to kickoff, the KBC along with a designated Game Official will bring the back-up set of game balls to the on-field replay station to be distributed to each club’s Ball Crew.

At the end of any randomly selected game, the KBC will return the footballs to the Officials’ Locker Room where all game balls from each team will be inspected and the results will be recorded.

All game ball information will be recorded on the Referee’s Report, which must be submitted to the League office by noon on the day following the game.

First paragraph: the PSI results will be measured and recorded

Third paragraph: all game balls from each team will be inspected and the results will be recorded.

Fourth paragraph: All game ball information will be recorded on the Referee’s Report, which must be submitted to the League office

Translation: We know we’re right and we’re going to nail the Patriots. They’re in big F___ing trouble.

In October, NFL Spokesman Greg Aiello told Tom E Curran about the PSI data:

A determination on how it will be shared has not been made yet.”

Translation: Welp, the early results haven’t been exactly what we thought, but we’ll spin it accordingly.

Today, Roger Goodell went on The Rich Eisen Show, and when asked about the PSI testing, had this to say:

No, Rich, what the league did this year was what we do with a lot of rules and policies designed to protect the integrity of the game, and that’s to create a deterrent effect. We do spot checks to prevent and make sure the clubs understand that we’re watching these issues. It wasn’t a research study. They simply were spot checks. There were no violations this year. We’re pleased that we haven’t had any violations and we continue the work, obviously, to consistently and importantly enforce the integrity of the game and the rules that are designed to protect it.

Translation: The data in no way supported our preconceived notions. We need to minimize this.

It wasn’t a research study. They simply were spot checks. There were no violations this year.

Let that sink in for a minute.

The audacity, the arrogance of that statement.

The league devotes a big section of its August Operations release to outlining specifics of the procedures that will be followed, including the note that all reports are due into the league office by noon the day after the game.

But according to Goodell, this was no research study, it was just spot checks. Meant to be a deterrent.

There were no violations this year. A bold-faced, pathological lie, given all that we’ve learned about the Ideal Gas Law this past year, and the NFL’s insistence that it simply doesn’t exist.

Roger Goodell vilified Tom Brady by leaking that he had destroyed his phone, insinuating that there was important information on it that would’ve made Brady look bad. Today, Roger Goodell essentially confessed that the league has destroyed data that would’ve made the NFL look bad.

Because if the data was in the NFL’s favor, would this have been the outcome?


But if they released data that supported the Patriots, it would’ve gone against the case they’re appealing in federal court next month, and the cry to restore the Patriots draft picks would’ve arisen. They couldn’t let that happen.

I’ve been hoping beyond hope that the Patriots have been doing their own PSI testing this season, and waiting to spring it at the appropriate time. It’s a pipe-dream, but now would be the perfect to drop that.

Patriots’ “That Guy” 2016 Senior Bowl Edition

Last year, we had our most success yet with Patriots mock drafts. The key came in worrying less about what New England would do with specific picks (their active trading makes that tough), and focusing on the types of players they tend to select in general areas of the draft. You can take a gander at our 2015 draft review that wrapped up the “That Guy” series here.

With last weekend’s Senior Bowl in mind (along with the previous weekend’s East-West Shrine Game and NFLPA Bowl), we looked at some players of note and tried to figure out where they’d fit in the Patriots draft.

The Solid First-Rounder: The Patriots draft as well in the first round as any team, but they lost their top 2016 pick for using footballs that followed the Ideal Gas Law. Damnit. We’ll do better than the NFL here and just move on.

The Small-School Defender: New England drafted Zach Moore (Concordia) in 2014 and Markell Carter (Central Arkansas) in 2011. Javon Hargrave (6-2, 295) of South Carolina State could fit here. Hargrave had a late sack that helped keep the South atop the North. The stout defender was named the Defensive Player of the Year for the Mid-East Athletic Conference for the second year in a row after notching 59 total tackles (22 for loss, 13.5 sacks) and forcing two fumbles.

The defensive star of the East-West Shrine Game was pass-rusher Victor Ochi (6-1, 244) from Stonybrook. Though on the smaller side, Ochi succeeded no matter who lined up against him, with constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks and one sack. Last season, Ochi tallied 13 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss.

Offensive Line Double-Dips: Just as they did with Bryan Stork/Cameron Fleming in 2014 and Tré Jackson/Shaq Mason in 2015, the Patriots could use a couple of mid-round picks to strengthen their offensive line. Looking at the tackle position, we’ll take prospects Le’Raven Clark (6-6, 312) from Texas Tech and Kyle Murphy (6-6, 300) from Stanford. Clark showed surprising power on run plays, while Murphy displayed good feet and technique on pass protection.

Clark started 50 games at Texas Tech, which this year ranked tops third down conversion rate (52 percent), and second in scoring offense (46.6 ppg), total offense (595 ypg), and passing offense (390 ypg). Big 12 coaches voted him to the conference’s First Team. At Stanford, Murphy helped the Cardinal average 222 yards per game rushing and allow a mere 18 sacks over the season. He was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team by conference coaches.

Pats could have some size and talent to work with, there.

The Alabama Guy: Even if Bill Belichick and ‘Bama coach Nick Saban didn’t go back to the first Bush administration when they coached in Cleveland together, the current national champs are always worth a look. Last year, New England drafted Xzavier Dickson, currently with the Falcons. In 2012, the Patriots took Dont’a Hightower in the first round.

Lots to choose from here, but – despite a pass interference penalty in the end zone – we liked most of what cornerback Cyrus Jones (5-10, 196) presented, as he knocked down two passes and returned punts for the South team. At Alabama, Jones had 37 tackles (four for loss), two interceptions, and seven pass break-ups. He also averaged 12.6 yards per punt return (42 for 530), and took four (yes, four) back for touchdowns.

The Rutgers Guy(s): Having drafted Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, and Logan Ryan and taken on Kevin Snyder and Jonathan Freeny as free agents, the Foxboro front office is contemplating renaming the team “The Scarlet Patriots, ” or maybe just “The New England Knights.”

In terms of picking a Senior Bowl favorite, this one should have been easy – receiver Leonte Carroo was the only Scarlet Knight in Mobile last week – but Carroo injured his leg during practice and could not play. Looking back at the Shrine Game, we saw left tackle Keith Lumpkin hold his own. Lumpkin’s got size (6-7, 327) and versatility (38 games at left tackle, 11 at right guard). He was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last year.

In the NFLPA Bowl, linebacker Quentin Gause (6-0, 243) led all tacklers with 6.5 stops (and frankly, the announcers should have talked about him more). By the banks of the Raritan, Gause served as a team captain and All-Big Ten Honorable Mention, tallying 96 tackles including 12 for loss. A smartypants (4.0 fall GPA), Gause fits perfectly as the Rutgers/Special Teams Guy.

For all news of Rutgers football, please follow NJ Advance Media for writer Dan Duggan on Twitter @DDuggan21.

The Ohio State Guy: Ol’ Belichick pal Urban Meyer added ol’ Belichick pal (and former Rutgers coach) Greg Schiano as a defensive coordinator at Ohio State, so maybe some kind of connection here, you think? Some interesting guys to choose from, including receiver Braxton Miller (see below), tight end Nick Vannett (see below), safety Tyvis Powell, and defensive lineman Adolphus Washington. They all looked pretty good to us.

You know what? Of the two defenders, we’ll stick with Powell, who had the good sense to not solicit a prostitute before OSU’s bowl game. Powell (6-3, 208) demonstrated solid run support at the Senior Bowl. The graduate student (he completed his studies in 3.5 years) placed third on the team with 71 tackles, adding three interceptions, three pass break-ups, and a blocked kick.

The Injured Guy: New England tends to take chances with players who missed time due to injury. Defensive lineman Dominique Easley and offensive lineman Tré Jackson had knee problems in college; Rob Gronkowski had back issues at Arizona. Sometimes the gamble pays off, sometimes not. (Ras-I Dowling, for one, never got over the injury bug.)

Penn State defensive lineman Carl Nassib didn’t play in the Senior Bowl (he hurt his shoulder in December and had some injuries during the week leading up to the game). Nassib, a walk-on for the Nittany Lions, had 15.5 sacks in 13 games this past season, with six forced fumbles and one interception. The 6-7, 275-pound pass-rusher was the 2015 Ted Hendricks Award winner, given to the nation’s top defensive end.

East-West Shrine Game running back Danny Lasco of Cal (6-0, 205) caught the eye with a 41-gard draw play on third and eight, and ended up with 62 yards on six carries (10.3 avg). In 2015 Lasco rushed for a 5.1-yard average for the Golden Bears, but only started three games as he battled an ankle injury in the latter part of the season.

The Backup Tight End: Starting with fifth-rounder Dave Stachelski in 2000, the Patriots have drafted plenty of tight ends under Belichick. They got their starters in the first (Daniel Graham, 2002; Benjamin Watson, 2004) and second rounds (Gronk, 2010), but the search for a second TE hasn’t been as productive. (We won’t discuss The Tight End Who Shan’t Be Named.)

While Ohio State’s Vannett (6-6, 260) looked the part of a sub-Gronk, and Greg Gronkowski (6-3, 234) looked the part of a lil’ Gronk, we went with South Carolina’s Jerrell Adams (6-5, 244) as a pass-catching tight end who showed decent on-line blocking skills. Adams looked smooth catching the ball in limited opportunities. We also appreciated his hustle as he prevented a TD by tracking down a South defender trying to return a blocked field goal. Last fall, Adams was second on the Gamecocks with 28 receptions for 421 yards (a noteworthy 15 yards per catch) and three TDs.

The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: The trick of drafting? Predicting how a player can fit in one’s system. The receiver position has the most pitfalls, because they’re not just learning a system, they’re trying to mesh with a perfectionist QB who also happens to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Too bad Tom Brady can’t got along on scouting trips to play catch.

Yes, the dynamism of former Ohio State QB Miller reminded us of Julian Edelman and would be fun to watch in Foxboro. Still, we’ll go with Jay Lee (6-2, 214) out of Baylor. Lee made some solid catches, running fine routes and showing some elusiveness after the catch. At Baylor, Lee averaged almost 20 yards per reception (38 for 758, 19.9) and scored eight touchdowns.

Two Shrine Game receivers who stood out were Geronimo Allison of Illinois (6-3, 197) and Jared Dangerfied of Western Kentucky (6-1, 214). Allison led the West team with six receptions for 68 yards and two touchdowns. He got invited to the Senior Bowl, where he caught one pass. Last season, Allison had 65 catches for 882 yards, both tops for the Illini, with three touchdowns. In the Shrine Game, Dangerfield tallied five catches for 84 yards, a 16.8 average. At WKU, Dangerfield had 82 grabs for 844 yards and eight TDs.

The Special Teams Guy: It began with Matthew Slater in 2008’s fifth round. It continued with selections of long snapper Jake Ingram in 2009, punter Zoltan Mesko in 2010, Nate Ebner in 2012, and long snapper Joe Cardona in 2015. The Pats like to pick guys with a special teams focus.

Oh, man. So many choices in these bowls. We’ll stick with two undersized linebackers: Tyler Matakevich of Temple (6-0, 233) and the appropriately named Eric Striker of Oklahoma (5-11, 228). Matakevich filled in running gaps well, making many of the opening tackles of the Senior Bowl. Striker made a couple of hard-nosed stops, notable for their speed. At Temple, Matakevich compiled 126 tackles last fall, with 15 tackles for loss (4.5 sacks). He also grabbed five interceptions. At Oklahoma, Striker had 67 tackles, with 19 for loss (7.5 sacks), 11 QB hits, and one interception.

The Navy Guy: Just about everyone following last year’s draft figured Cardona would end up in Foxboro for some length of time; few of us figured he’d get chosen in the fifth and end up starting for the year. Belichick, due in large part to his father’s background as a long-term assistant coach at the Naval Academy, always keeps an eye out for Midshipmen.

Fullbacks Kyle Eckel (scored two TDs in 2007) and Eric Kettani (practice squad, 2009) were signed by the Patriots as free agents, a fact that we believe will pave the way for 2016 Senior Bowler Chris Swain (6-0, 247). At Annapolis, Swain rushed for 847 yards, averaged over five per carry, and notched 10 TDs. Not bad for a guy who sought contact more often than Velcro.

The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver: Thinking about players like Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert (2012) and Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon (2014) for this category, as well as a little-recognized former QB out of Kent State with a name that sounds like Hulian Jedelman (2009).

In limited snaps, we noticed Minnesota receiver K. J. Maye (5-8, 194), whose quickness helped him make yardage on two end-around plays and one bubble screen. Maye was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last year with a team-leading 65 passes for 706 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed nine times for 46 yards and a TD.

At the Shrine Game, one guy – one small guy – stood out. Washington receiver Jaydon Mickens (5-10, 174) caught three passes for 49 yards and one touchdown. He looked like a tough guy to cover, and continued to show his elusiveness as a kick returner, bringing one back for 35 yards. At UW, Mickens led the team with 58 catches for 692 yards (11.9 avg), scoring two TDs. He also ran the ball seven times, averaging 6.3 per carry and getting in the end zone once.

Next month, keep an eye out for our Patriots That Guy 2.0: Post-Combine Edition.

Chris Warner tweets about the inanity of life @cwarn89 

With A Little Bit Of Luck (2016 Edition)

(Editor’s Note: We ran this column last year and – given the craziness of the past wild card weekend – think it’s worth an updated review.)

In the NFL, every team needs some good fortune to win the Super Bowl.

Last Saturday and Sunday each provided a startling example. In weather so frigid they could have called in Jack London to write the game story, Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh made three field goals in a row, including a 47-yarder, only to miss the potential game-winner from 27 yards out. Walsh had been on a 10-for-10 hot streak (including two 53-yarders) since his last miss on November 29 vs. Atlanta. Seattle did well to come back from a 9-0 deficit, but they got a big break.

Maybe Pittsburgh got a bigger one. After getting slammed to the turf, QB Ben Roethlisberger left the game for three series. He came back in despite moving with all the easy grace of a rusty lawn chair. After a few short passes, his one long throw sailed harmlessly over Antonio Brown’s head, the same head that Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict crushed with a brutal-looking hit. Unnecessary roughness penalty,15 yards.

But wait, there’s more: while on the field arguing the call and standing off vs. his opponents, Cincinnati cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones confronted Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter, getting another 15-yard penalty. So, with 22 seconds left and no timeouts at Cincinnati’s 47-yard line, the Steelers picked up 30 yards on zero offensive plays, taking up zero seconds. Kicker Chris Boswell jogged onto the field and pushed the ball through for a 35-yard game winner.

Pittsburgh deserves some credit for not completely losing their minds (a low bar), and also for putting enough pressure on the Bengals to evoke the possibility of a meltdown. Jones insists that Brown faked getting hurt on the play, and that the receiver actually winked at him. If so, impressive. But, really, the Steelers basically did what children do on Christmas: they showed up and got their gifts.

This Saturday, a New England team with some key starters returning to action hosts a Kansas City team with at least one key starter (receiver Jeremy Maclin) nursing an injury (ankle). Is that the Patriots’ big break this week? We shall see.

For a look at how every team – no matter how deserving or how talented overall – needs the ball to bounce its way, see below, starting with the Patriots’ first Super Bowl run in early 2002.

2002 Super Bowl: New England 20, St. Louis 17

Most Fortunate Moment: Has to be the Tuck Rule, right? An obscure, now-abolished rule – albeit one with which Patriots fans had become familiar in 2001 after their Week Two game against the Jets – was implemented correctly to overturn an apparent Tom Brady fumble, thus allowing Adam Vinatieri to kick the football into the maw of a blizzard for the greatest field goal in playoff history.

Hey, Raiders fans? That was 2002. You want to live in 2002, go listen to Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” and watch “CSI.” We can share content on Friendster. Might be time to let it go.

Honorable Mention: Pittsburgh’s special teams implosion in the AFC Champsionship game, allowing two TDs (punt return and blocked kick return); having Drew Bledsoe as a bench QB after Brady hurt his ankle in the first half of that game; the Super Bowl refs adapting a “let ’em play” attitude, with Pats DBs getting their hands on more Rams than a shepherd in a shearing contest.

2003 Super Bowl: Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21

Most Fortunate Moment: Coach Jon Gruden got to play his previous team in the Super Bowl, reaping the benefits of new Oakland head coach Bill Callahan failing to make significant changes to the offense that Gruden had developed. Talk about an in-depth scouting report. Almost makes one feel badly for Raiders fans. (The first word of that sentence is key.)

Honorable Mention: Oakland’s starting center Barret Robbins did not show up to practice Super Bowl week (he was barred from playing and later diagnosed with manic depression).

2004 Super Bowl: New England 32, Carolina 29

Most Fortunate Moment: After Carolina tied it at 29, John Kasay kicked off out-of-bounds, giving New England the ball at their own 40 with 1:08 left. Vinatieri kicked the game-winner with four seconds remaining.

Honorable Mention: Panthers coach John Fox went for two 2-point conversions in the fourth quarter and failed; in the divisional playoffs, normally sure-handed Titans receiver Drew Bennett dropped a pass that would have gotten Tennessee into field goal position to tie it; in the AFC Championship vs. Peyton Manning and the Colts, the refs allowed the Pats’ defensive backs to play with the type of aggression that would get penalized today; plus, snow fell in Foxboro, an anathema to most dome teams.

2005 Super Bowl: New England 24, Philadelphia 21

Most Fortunate Moment: The failure of the Eagles to deal with shaken QB Donovan McNabb. Down by 10, Philly declined to hurry on offense, in part because McNabb was having trouble breathing after getting hit by Tedy Bruschi. (You can read a more in-depth story on that here.)

Honorable Mention: Optimum health. As they had in 2003, many New England starters missed games due to injury, but most came back in time for the playoffs; more snow in Foxboro vs. the Colts.

Overall, it’s tough to associate pure luck with this team: one of the best of the decade and certainly one of the strongest, deepest squads in Patriots history.

2006 Super Bowl: Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10

Most Fortunate Moment: Not having to play the Patriots in the playoffs. (Well, they had shown Pittsburgh the way home twice in four years.)

Honorable Mention: Some close officiating in the big game. This is not to say that Pittsburgh didn’t deserve to win (they appeared to be the better squad), but had some of those close calls gone the other way, Seattle would have been the lucky ones. In the divisional playoffs at Indianapolis, Jerome Bettis fumbled on the Colts’ two-yard line, paving the way for glory for Nick Harper on the fumble return, but Roethlisberger made a diving, spinning tackle at Indy’s 42; Colts kicker/anti-hero Mike Vanderjagt missed a potential game-tying 47-yard field goal.

2007 Super Bowl: Indianapolis 29, Chicago 17

Most Fortunate Moment: Whatever switch went off in Manning’s head in the AFC Championship that had him looking for drive-sustaining first downs instead of long passes. The Patriots defense had to stay on the field forever and couldn’t protect their halftime lead.

Honorable Mention: The Patriots defense was also suffering from the flu, wearing them down further; NE receiver Reche Caldwell dropped an easy pass that would have at least led to a clock-killing first down; cornerback Ellis Hobbs got a questionable pass interference call in the end zone that led to a Colts score; Indy got to play Rex Grossman in the Super Bowl.

2008 Super Bowl: New York 17, New England 14

Most Fortunate Moment: We think we know what most fans would say, but we’ll point to the NFC Championship, specifically Brett Favre and his ill-advised pass-punt in overtime, an easy interception that led to the Giants’ game-winning field goal. Few New England fans doubt that the Pats would have cruised past the Packers.

Honorable Mention: The Helmet Catch, of course; Eli Manning fumbled twice in the Super Bowl but lost neither; Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel failed to secure what could have been the game-sealing interception on New York’s final drive.

2009 Super Bowl: Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23

Most Fortunate Moment: While Steelers defender James Harrison returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown, he got unintentional help from Cardinal Antrel Rolle who – stepping onto the edge of the field for a closer look – bumped into receiver Larry Fitzgerald, preventing Fitzgerald from making the tackle in time. (Keep an eye on number 11 running along the sideline in this clip.)

Honorable Mention: Roethlisberger bounced back from a concussion suffered during the final week of the regular season to beat the Chargers in the divisional round; in the AFC Championship, the QB fumbled twice but lost neither in a 24-19 win over the Jets.

2010 Super Bowl Winner: New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17

Most Fortunate Moment: On a potential game-tying drive, Colts receiver Reggie Wayne came up short on his route, allowing Tracy Porter to cut in front of him for a pick-six.

Honorable Mention: During their on-sides kick – a gamble that made putting all your cash into lottery tickets seem like a sound investment – Indy receiver Hank Baskett had the ball bounce off of him, giving the Saints possession to open the second half.

2011 Super Bowl: Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25

Most Fortunate Moment: I’m not sure what I was doing at this time, but, honest to God, I remember nothing about these playoffs. Apparently the Chicago Bears were down to their third-string QB (Caleb Hanie) in the NFC Championship game; Hanie threw an interception directly at Packers defensive lineman B. J. Raji, which seems like trying to throw a crumpled-up piece of paper into a wastebasket and not realizing there’s a door in front of it.

Honorable Mention: Um, I dunno … health? Seriously, I got nothing. Did these playoffs happen?

2012 Super Bowl: New York 21, New England 17

Most Fortunate Moment: An injury to regular San Francisco punt returner Ted Ginn, Jr. put Kyle Williams into the spotlight for the NFC Championship. That worked out great for New York, as Williams muffed one return and fumbled the other, respectively leading to a regulation TD and the game-winning field goal in overtime for a 20-17 win.

Honorable Mention: Gronkowski getting hurt during the AFC Championship, making him less than 100 percent for the Super Bowl; New York fumbling three times in the big game and – again – losing nary a one.

2013 Super Bowl: Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31

Most Fortunate Moment: In the divisional playoff, Denver safety Rahim Moore got lost on Joe Flacco’s 70-yard pass, allowing the tying touchdown with 31 seconds left to play. Baltimore won in OT.

Honorable Mention: Gronkowski’s absence from the AFC Championship game; Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib’s injury during that game opening up the passing lanes for Flacco; in the Super Bowl, terrible play-calling for the 49ers on their potential game-winning drive; on that drive, the refs allowed contact on a potential pass interference penalty in the end zone. (Something that probably would get the call this year.)

2014 Super Bowl: Seattle 43, Denver 8

Most Fortunate Moment: On the first snap of the game, Denver center Manny Ramirez shotgunned the football past Peyton Manning into the end zone for a what-the-heck-just-happened safety. Seattle’s D had a huge game, but didn’t have to lift a finger to get the lead. The Broncos’ lack of preparedness for the Seahawks’ 12th man set the tone for the night.

Honorable Mention: In the NFC title game, on a fourth-and-seven play, Niners defensive end Aldon Smith went offside, giving QB Russell Wilson a free play (as he told in this game story); Jermaine Kearse snatched Wilson’s pass in the end zone, giving Seattle a 20-17 lead on their way to a 23-17 win.

2015 Super Bowl: New England 28, Seattle 24

Most Fortunate Moment: Unlike what seems like the rest of the world, we don’t think the play call was the worst in Super Bowl history; however, the Seahawks’ decision to pass from the one-yard line gave rookie Patriots defensive back (and instant fan favorite for life) Malcolm Butler the chance to intercept the ball and seal the game. Also fortunate? As we saw in the “Do Your Job” program, the Patriots had planned for that exact play in the previous week’s practice.

Honorable Mention: The Patriots finally – finally! – had a mostly healthy roster, with Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Vince Wilfork and a full O-line contributing; Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner signed with New England and re-shaped the defense. (For a year, at least. A very good year.)

For most of the past two games, the Seahawks seemed destined to win this thing. From Green Bay’s inexplicable breakdown in the NFC Championship to Tom Brady’s first interception (I mean, really Tom. Where? To whom?) to what would have been deemed the Juggle Catch, Seattle looked like SB repeaters for sure.

The Pats just needed a break. And they got it.

Thoughts regarding lucky moments on the big stage? Let us know in the comment space below.

You can reach Chris Warner at or @cwarn89 on Twitter.

Pats 2015 Fourth Quarter Review

The Patriots flew into Miami for their regular-season finale with only slightly less energy than a potato battery. Their 20-10 loss made them 2-3 over their past five games, the worst mark for New England in December/January since Pete Carroll’s final season in 1999.

The Pats beat the teams they should have, keeping pace by demolishing the Texans 27-6 and pushing past the Titans, 33-16. They lost one game they could have won, falling to the Jets in overtime, 26-20. Had they taken that game, the Dolphins “contest” (quotes all mine) would not have mattered. As things sit, New England has a 12-4 record and a bye week to try to figure it all out.

Some thoughts as we prepare to watch others play for the privilege of visiting Foxboro…

Price Is Right? Chris Price of wrote a follow-up piece on how, when it comes to the playoffs, health trumps momentum. It’s a compelling debate, especially when you look at a team like Baltimore, who went 1-4 at the end of 2012 on their way to Super Bowl success. Again, this Pats team might get bounced faster than a Super Ball in a paint shaker. But the phrase “anything can happen” can work for optimists, too.

Lost In Logan: Disappointing couple of weeks for cornerback Logan Ryan. After a sharp run through most of December, Ryan got bypassed by Brandon Marshall in New York (eight catches, 115 yards, two touchdowns) and outplayed in part by Devante Parker in Miami (five for 106 and one TD). New England’s defensive backfield is playing like season two of that show you unexpectedly enjoyed last year: you want to keep liking it, but it hasn’t been living up to its potential. A healthier safety crew and front seven might help.

O, O Sea Bass: Yup. You know it’s the end of the regular season when I’ve run out of puns. (Oh, Sheila? Anyone? No? Too bad.) Anyhoo, this season the Patriots O-line has gone through more combos than a busload of returning Outward Bound students at McDonald’s. Tackle Sebastian Vollmer went down with an ankle injury during the first quarter of the Jets game December 27, providing the final push to this superhuman-sized row of dominoes. Vollmer had stepped over from right tackle to take over for Nate Solder. His injury forced Cameron Fleming to left tackle, which has made things tough for the offense. His expected return could help settle down the entire line.

Jules Of Denial: I mean, yeah, if you want to talk injuries, the Patriots have more personnel on reserve than the Coast Guard. Yet, amidst all the gloom, we seem to look past the fact that Julian Edelman, New England’s best receiver, looks primed to come back for the playoffs. After catching 61 passes in his first nine games, Edelman sat with a broken bone in his foot. That means almost seven completions per contest had to got to other targets. Nice to have that potential back for the big games.

How LaFar He LaFell: I suppose Patriots fans should consider themselves lucky they got the 2014 version of Brandon LaFell when they did. That guy distinguished himself as a solid pass-catcher in big situations, culminating in the game-winning score in the Divisional Round vs. Baltimore and the opening TD in the Super Bowl. Not sure what happened to that guy. Maybe off-season foot surgery took more of a toll than expected. His first game back, vs. the Jets, featured nine drops. He has only 37 receptions in 11 games, half of his 74 in 16 games last year. Zero touchdowns this season vs. seven in 2014. Pretty rough, especially considering the absence of Edelman and the need for different receivers.

I’m Just A Bill: Everything I just said about LaFell works for tight end Scott Chandler, minus the Super Bowl run. Last year Chandler had 47 receptions with Buffalo. This year in Foxboro, 23. Too often these guys react to the football like emotionally stunted bridesmaids watching the bouquet flying toward them, giving an effort that seems perfunctory at best.

No Reason To Get Excited, Or All Along The Hightower: If injuries to a football team are like removing tools out of a toolbox, then linebacker Dont’a Hightower is the hammer. New England’s run defense hasn’t been the same since Hightower’s injury in Denver; it remains to be seen if he has played again at full strength.

Eh, at this point it just feels like we’re making excuses, but when you’re the most injured team in the league, it makes a difference. Getting back to full health, or close to it, will give the Patriots a chance to show what they can do.

Or maybe everyone should just lower their expectations. Speaking of which…

Earthwind And Fired: In past years, New England has been able to find a free agent or practice squad player who can fill in at an acceptable level. No one should ever confuse defensive back Earthwind Moreland with Ty Law, but the former stepped up from the practice squad after Law’s season-ending injury in 2004 and notched 17 total tackles (the only stops recorded in his five seasons in the NFL). Not a long-term solution, but a good enough stop-gap.

In a similar way, Danny Woodhead got to Foxboro in September of 2010 and took over Kevin Faulk’s third-down role less than two weeks later after Faulk went on injured reserve with a knee injury. Woodhead averaged 5.6 yards per carry (97 for 547) and 11.1 yards per catch (34 for 379). Last year, guys like LeGarrette Blount and Alan Branch helped out down the stretch. This season, the rewards have been harder to come by.

Defensive back Leonard Johnson had a sweet Pats debut at Houston, breaking up two passes and dancing like it was Gino time. He did fine vs. Tennessee, then seemed to slip over the past two games. Offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle got hurt before getting to show much. Receiver Chris Harper came with high hopes off the practice squad. I’ve watched him twice in the past six weeks and have yelled at the TV both times.

Just catch the punt! Just get out-of-bounds!

Disappointing. Much like running back Steven Jackson, who has averaged 2.4 yards per carry. Not all his fault – he’s only been a Patriot for two weeks and could deliver more in the post-season – but still tough to watch.

Bye Curious: The past month has felt like a team tetanus shot they just wanted to get out of the way. So, how much can one week off really help? We only know that things can change quickly in the NFL. No AFC team looks unbeatable right now. Kansas City has had a great run, but how will they play at Foxboro? Denver deserves credit for nabbing the number one seed, but how will they transition from a young, promising QB back to their Hall of Famer, the amazing Ashley Manning?

(Oops. Sorry. That was meant for Peyton Manning, but I addressed it to his wife.)

This thing is wide open. No one’s undefeated. No one’s playing perfectly. Let’s see how it all turns out.

Chris Warner like to spend a little too much time on Twitter @cwarn89

Patriots 2015 Third-Quarter Review

New Englanders take to losing about as well as fish take to land: beyond your occasional mudskipper or lungfish, it does not tend to work out well. After two losses in a row, you’d think the Patriots had fallen out of playoff contention.

In our Second-Quarter Review, we predicted 3-1 at the worst, noting that the Broncos looked like the toughest opponent in that four-game slate. Denver proved it, despite some late-regulation heroics by Hall-of-Fame shoo-in Tom Brady and potential HOF kicker Stephen Gostkowski to bring the game to overtime. Execution by the home team brought the Patriots their first loss of the year. After a humbling loss to the once 4-7 Eagles featuring more screw-ups than a warehouse full of ceiling lights, New England went 2-2 for the quarter and sit at 10-2 on the year.

The Patriots began this four-game slate with a near-nauseating 27-26 triumph over the Giants, a thriller so taut it could have made Dennis Lehane faint. Gostkowski nailed a 54-yarder with one second left. (Highlight here.) Just a tense, frustrating, memorable game to watch.

Dwelling on that frustrating note, New England scored just 20 points vs. Buffalo, their lowest output of the season, but the visitors couldn’t muster enough to overcome a stout defense in the Patriots’ 20-13 win November 23. In their first full game without Julian Edelman, Brady looked to Danny Amendola, who delivered nine catches for 117 yards. But no one else stepped up. Foreboding, one could say.

As far as the loss to the Eagles? I mean, really: if you were going to concoct an upset, you’d go by the book written last Sunday, with special teams snafus, questionable coaching choices, silly penalties, and more ball drops than a slippery Christmas tree. And yet… the Patriots scored 14 in the fourth and made it exciting. Maybe this was their Kansas City game from last year. I mean, they can’t lose another game in quite that way, can they? Right?

According to columnist Chad Finn and any reasonable interpretation of history, no, they can’t.

Anyway, on to the notes…

Gillette: The Best A Team Can Get. The Eagles came into Foxboro looking lost, having given up 90 points in two weeks. Well, beating the defending champs can cure whatever ails a team. Now they’re a contender in the adorably inept NFC East. There’s the lesson for the Patriots and their fans: opposing coaches and players can save a season with a win vs. New England. Those calling for Chip Kelly’s firing as late as Sunday afternoon probably switched topics to how he out-coached Bill Belichick. We hear the expression, “you have to overlook this team’s record,” and we have to apply it to every club that gets a chance to knock off the defending champs.

Is Pass-Dropping Contagious? Because They’ve Caught That: The Patriots allowed Brady’s final three passes to slip through their hands against Philly, taking away any chance at an improbable comeback. Watching the Pats pass-catchers (maybe not the best name for them) has felt like watching Timmy Lupus in left field: you hope for the best, but expect the worst. Even Amendola succumbed to the trend Sunday, dropping two passes. It’s one thing to miss Edelman and Gronk. It’s another when backups can’t make much of their opportunities.

YACkety-YAC: With injuries to Dion Lewis (out since Nov. 8, yet still ranks fourth on the team in receptions), Edelman (out since Nov. 15, yet still leads the team in receptions), and Amendola (back just this week), the Patriots have missed their coveted Yards After Catch, where a five-yard pass to the flat becomes a first-down pickup. The team looked to add to their yardage with the signings of slot receiver Damaris Johnson and running back Trey Williams. (We actually mentioned Williams as a potential late-round pick on our mid-April Patriots mock draft.) Johnson displayed some nifty speed on an end-around play, and – given the difficulties receiver Keshawn Martin has had taking on a greater workload – we could see more of him in the next few weeks.

Speaking of difficulties…

Ship Chandler. Ship Him Far Away: Now, that’s not fair. Tight end Scott Chandler is a big target who, when paired with Rob Gronkowski, provides a viable red zone threat. Without Gronk? Well, that’s the issue. He’s a gigantic ‘tweener, really, as a tight end who doesn’t block all that well and a receiver who drops a pass or two every game. Despite measuring 6-7, 260 pounds, Chandler doesn’t create space for himself as well as one would think, and he often gets out-fought for footballs vs. smaller defenders. He’s a solid complement; he’s just not the guy.

What’s My Line? These days, Brady seems to get knocked down more than that guy in the Chumbawumba song. The same QB lauded for getting rid of the ball faster than any other in the first half of the season now has to wait an extra half-second for receivers to get open. Call it the Edelman effect, and put some blame at the feet (the heavy, slow-to-react feet) of the offensive line. New England needs to figure out their best O-line combination and make it work. Anyone else thinking of putting undefeated rookie David Andrews back at center and trying Bryan Stork at guard, where rookies Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason have had some trouble? That seems like it would work, but the best blocks I ever threw had brightly colored letters on them, so what the hell do I know?

Okay, okay. So who hasn’t been disappointing?

Going In The White Direction: Notice how running back James White a) catches the ball when it’s thrown to him, and b) runs with said ball for the aforementioned YAC? (Here he is scoring a TD vs. the Bills after doing something called “breaking a tackle,” which hasn’t happened around these parts in a while.) White’s 10 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown this past Sunday show how important he has become to the offense, as he only had 12 receptions for 95 yards and one TD in the previous nine games where he was active. With the way receivers with names that don’t rhyme with “Ham-and-cola” have been playing, look for White to get his hands on plenty more throws.

No Ifs, Ands, Or Butler: The Pats came into the season with a built-in excuse for failing to live up to expectations when they let go of most of their defensive backfield. Iconic Super Bowl photo subject and free drink recipient-for-life Malcolm Butler has had a number of strong performances this year, while Logan Ryan has provided some pleasant surprises along the way. The defensive backfield has fallen short of great, but they’ve made some solid plays. They also could get Justin Coleman back onto the active roster soon, although according to this recent piece on Mike Reiss’ Patriots blog, there’s no timetable yet.

Don’t’a’s Circles Of Hell: Imagine trying to stop the run without your best run-stopping linebacker. Such is the deal with Don’t’a Hightower missing from the lineup. Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit called attention to a Kevin Duffy (of MassLive) tweet that said, at Denver, New England gave up less than three yards per carry with Hightower on the field and eight per carry once he got hurt. Math never served as my strong point, but even I can see the significant difference there. With Hightower out and with linebacker Jamie Collins still recovering from a mutant zombie virus (note: possible misdiagnosis there), James Freeney has had to step up.

And when Freeney steps up, he gets blocked.

Point Of No Return: There comes a point when the term “next man up” just runs out of gas, and the Pats may have reached it. One example of how one player’s absence affects a team has shown up in New England’s kick returns, where Keshawn Martin averaged 17 yards in his four runbacks. Taking a knee in the end zone each time meant three more yards for the team. Martin had the job in part because Amendola, who’s averaging 21.5 yards, has to focus more on his receiving duties with Edelman out.

The answer? Maybe newly-signed running back Williams could help out as a kick returner, as he averaged over 24 yards per return at Texas A&M.

You’re Wondering Now, What To Do: Ah, the Specials, for this week’s misnamed special teams. Should we go into detail about this past Sunday’s blocked punt, or punt return, or pooch kick, or the previous Sunday’s muffed punt in Denver? No? Okay, then. Let’s wrap this thing up.

Fourth Quarter Preview

New England travels to Houston to take on the Texans next Sunday night, then host the Titans in their last home game of the season December 20 at 1 p.m. (Oh, how we love 1 p.m. games.) They wrap up with two AFC East trips, at the Jets Dec. 27 and at the Dolphins Jan. 3. Besides the Tennessee game (which, I mean, they have to win, right?), the three remaining tilts fall under the “best effort against the best” category. Games New England should win, but you never know.

No coaching staff understands the Patriots better than Houston’s between their head coach Bill O’Brien, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, offensive coordinator George Godsey, linebacker coach Mike Vrabel. Ridiculous amount of knowledge there. They are also playing at home (where New England has never played all that well) with first-place AFC South standings at stake. The Pats should win this one, but there looks like a lot of potential for ugly to happen.

As far as ending the season within the division at New York and at Miami, we’re looking at two more tough games, with the Jets looking especially spry lately. Again, if the Patriots play well, they’ve got a clear shot at 4-0. Any mishaps like the past couple of weeks, though, and any of games against non-Nashville-based squads could go the wrong way.

In the end, we’re looking at a double-digit win team who should a) make the playoffs, b) win the division, and c) open with a home playoff game. That’s the worst-case scenario. Best case? They win out, get a first-round bye, welcome Edelman and Gronk back (along with Hightower and Coleman) and field the most complete team they’ve seen in months.

Patriots 2015 Second-Quarter Review

In our First Quarter Review, we figured New England would have some trouble with the Jets, but should take care of their other three opponents without much drama.

The Patriots outlasted the over-thinking Colts in Indianapolis, 34-27. Then they hung tough against the aforementioned Jets, 30-23, in a game that had more drops than a bottle of Visine. They cut the Dolphins’ win streak at two with a decisive 36-7 outcome. Despite their latest victory – a 27-10 handling of the Washington Powhatans – the Patriots may feel as though the let one into the loss column after Dion Lewis’ season-ending knee injury and Sebastian Vollmer’s apparent concussion.

So, I guess we buried the lede: your New England Patriots are 8-0. Back in the last century, some Pats fans began the season hoping the team stayed above .500. They haven’t had a losing year since Bill Belichick’s (and Tom Brady’s) first in 2000. Back then, you could call your friends on a pay phone to see if they wanted to go see Almost Famous, and you’d commiserate on how you couldn’t get that damn “Thong Song” by Sisqo out of your head.

It was a long time ago, is what we’re saying. If you’re not enjoying each and every game, you’re missing out on some fun stuff.

In any case, some thoughts on the previous four… [Read more…]

Yoiks, And Away!

With the Patriots off to a 7-0 start, the media strategy this year seems to involve talking up that week’s opponent (at least one that looks more than half-decent on paper), point out their strengths, and speculate on how they can beat New England. The more exuberant the prediction, the funnier it gets.

Much like Daffy Duck as Robin Hood, the prognosticators keep calling, “Yoiks, and away!” and ending up with a tree trunk in the face.

The Patriots open their season against Pittsburgh, a perennial contender featuring that gritty defense and Big Ben!

Yup. Pats give up a late touchdown, but hold on for a 28-21 win.

Well, Rex Ryan has the fans in a frenzy up in Buffalo as he works on building a bully. Tom Brady has always had trouble with Ryan’s defenses. With the Bills adding running back LeSean McCoy –

Patriots win 40-32 in a game they lead 37-13 after three quarters.

Really? Forty points? Hunh. So, anyway, the, uh, Jaguars are looking solid with Blake Bortles …

Come on.

All right, fine. Give it to me.

51-17, Pats.

Yeesh. Okay, the Cowboys, in Dallas. They’ve got pass-rusher/rage-aholic Greg Hardy back, and with Tony Romo under center –

Brandon Weeden.

Beg your pardon?

Romo’s hurt. Weeden starts vs. the Pats, and that helps New England to a 30-6 win.

Yes, but, here come the Colts! Looking for vengeance for their AFC Championship setback, Indianapolis, led by Andrew Luck, will do whatever it takes to deal the Patriots their first defeat.

Colts lose, 34-27, but they do try whatever it takes, including one of the most poorly conceived fake punts ever.

Oh, wow. Look at that. Why did they snap the – you know what? Let’s move on. We’re in a New York state of mind, as the J-E-T-S will challenge the Pats for dominance in the AFC East!

They will challenge. And they will lose, 30-23. Brady will throw for two fourth-quarter touchdowns and lead the team in rushing.

Well, he – sorry, say that last part again?

New England hands off the ball five times all game. Brady, despite double-digit drops by his receivers, completes 34 of 54 passes for 355 yards.

That is impressive. But, hold on, the Dolphins, though! Most-heralded defensive line in football! Undefeated under interim coach Dan Campbell! Two straight blowout wins!

All true. Pats 36, Dolphins 7.

Oof. Did not see that coming. Ah, but this week: the Redskins! Kirk Cousins in on fire!

Yeah. He sure is. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Despite the doggedly incorrect predictions, it’s a constant of the NFL that any team could knock New England into the loss column. Just look at the schedule. After Cousins and his well-rested arm visit Foxboro, Eli Manning could have another savant moment and put his Giants over the top. Trips to Denver (Nov. 29), New York (Dec. 27), and Miami (Jan. 3) are never easy. Hell, maybe the Eagles can pull it off Dec. 6. You never know.

We’ve heard some talk about fans wanting to avoid an undefeated regular season. After how the last one ended, that makes sense, but the thing is, this season isn’t like 2007. We’ve been there, and as Bruce Allen so eloquently put it in February 2008, that was The Most Miserable 18-1 Season in History. Part of that frustration stemmed from NFL fallout with the previous ‘gate, but most of it arose out of their loss in the 2006 AFC Championship and the desperate desire to get another chance.

Now, to this year. New England won the Super Bowl (their fourth) in thrilling, exhaustive fashion. While last winter’s playoff foes have stumbled early this year, your Patriots have come storming back in late-season form. They will try to win every single week. To think that they lessen their chances of advancing in the playoffs due to regular-season success doesn’t give the players or staff much credit. Certainly not as much as they deserve.

This all reminds me of what my father said on a bitter, windy March night at our kitchen table after we had watched Larry Bird score 60 points for our beloved Celtics. “We should appreciate what we have here,” he said, speaking of the man and his team. “This doesn’t happen very often.”

In Pete Carroll’s last year in Foxboro, New England went 8-8. In 2000, new coach Bill Belichick went 5-11. Since 2001, the Patriots have won. They have been to six Super Bowls. They have been to nine AFC Championships. They have had only one season with fewer than 10 wins (9-7 in 2002). Let’s appreciate what we have, here. Sit back and watch the show.

A Comment On Each AFC East Opponent

The Jets could contend, but they’ve had a bad couple of weeks. New York built their defense on a stout, impressive line while bringing back a strong DB tandem. Their loss to the Raiders this week demonstrated that New England, to some extent, exposed them. If you can pass with consistency, you can move the ball. New York also seemed to lose their one QB who did not consistently crush their dreams when Ryan Fitzpatrick left the game with a thumb injury and got replaced by Geno “Jekyll/Hyde” Smith.

On a positive note for them, the Jets got a coach who focuses on game-plan details rather than trash talk and bluster. Now at 4-3, they have games with the Jags, Bills, and Texans coming up, which could get them back on the winning track.

The Dolphins need to figure out how good they are. Miami began 1-3, but a coaching change and an AFC South doubleheader appeared to cure all of their ills. They traveled to Foxboro feeling strong at .500 and got a long look at a football team in contention. Ryan Tannehill’s TD drive to open the second half demonstrated why South Beach fans hold out hope: it was consistent and at times spectacular, though Tannehill has shown too little of each. Miami could contend for a playoff spot, but they’ve got to get past their 3-4 record, their 0-3 division record, and the loss of their best pass-rusher (Cameron Wake, out with an achilles injury.)

Can they find stability? Next week’s divisional tilt up in Buffalo will tell us a lot.

The Bills are indeed “building a bully.” Funny how new Bills coach (and former Jets coach) Rex Ryan said this on his preseason victory tour of Buffalo. Yes, a bully pushes people around. He picks on smaller, weaker targets. But doesn’t he always back down when confronted by a peer? Now at 3-4, interesting to see if the Bills can reevaluate themselves and focus on winning actual games rather than mid-week press conferences. They lost to the Jaguars in England (where they pronounce it JAG-ooh-AHS) but have had a bye week to prep for their biggest five days of the season: Dolphins Sunday, November 8, Jets Thursday, November 12.

Anyway, the Patriots are on to Washington. We’ll give them a mid-season report next week.

Chris Warner has a Twitter account and uses it more frequently than he should: @cwarn89

Patriots 2015 First-Quarter Review

With one-fourth of the season in their rearview, the Patriots have cruised along with four wins and zero losses.

It really didn’t have to be like this. They could have had a drop-off from last year, an exhausting odyssey through NFL competition both on-field and off. Letting go of most of their defensive backfield while laying off draft picks of need could have been seen as signs of, hey, let’s feel satisfied with a fourth Lombardi Trophy. Let’s rebuild. But, nope.

Instead, while playoff foes Baltimore (1-4) and Seattle (2-3) strive for .500 football, and the Colts fight to stay above that line, the Patriots cruise along at 4-0.

New England opened up at home with a 28-21 takedown of a gritty Steelers team. They then traveled up to Buffalo – this year’s Rex Ryan entry into the Patriots’ annual King of the Mountain contest – and settled for a 40-32 victory where they took off most of the fourth quarter. They played rude hosts to the Jaguars (51-17) and toppled the Cowboys 30-6. The most important aspect of these wins involved the overall learning experience.

Pretty Sneaky, Sis: In the future, New England should have Tom Brady sneak the ball on fourth and short. It remains their best option. We saw too many instances where LeGarrette Blount runs (vs. Dallas) or Brady bombs (vs. Buffalo) failed to convert. The thing is, now they know, and they didn’t have to lose a game to learn a lesson.

Lippy The Lineman, Hardy Har-Har: (and if you get this reference, I’m impressed.) Defensive lineman/tone-deaf hump Greg Hardy, who suffers from elephantiasis of the ego, did New England a favor by playing as well as advertised and exposing weaknesses along the line. Left tackle Nate Solder did little to prevent Hardy from harassing Brady, but any complaints that may have come up about him this week are lost due to his placement on IR. Now, there’s renewed appreciation of how much this team needs him anchoring that spot. His replacement Marcus Cannon failed to fare any better.

Hey, it’s adjustment time. It’s not like they can go out and buy a top-tier left tackle this week. Instead, they’ll set up their linemen for success, helping out up front when necessary and having Brady get rid of the ball like it’s a flaming bag of Hardy. Definitely adds to their degree of difficulty, though.

At Their Beck And Collins: Sure, I thought Jamie Collins could help this team when the Pats drafted him. A quick review of his combine numbers reveals a 4.64 40-yard dash, a 41.5-inch vertical leap, and an 11-foot, 7-inch broad jump. (For comparison, stand with your feet together and jump. Now look forward several feet to where 11-7 is. Laugh.) But this guy can do anything, just about anywhere on the field. In four games, he has 32 total tackles, 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. After two full seasons, he’s gone from a commendable athlete to a leader, and that I did not see that coming.

To Aaron Is Human: So… What’s up with Aaron Dobson, do you think? Seems like he’s run out of excuses. He’s not hurt. He’s not a rookie. There’s no other receiver on the roster with his body type, so it’s not like he should be sharing reps. Back in August 2011, we discussed Chad Ochocinco and the JG Scale, which came down to this: receivers (and I meant free agents, but it counts with rookies, too) either pick up the offense quickly (Jabar Gaffney) or not at all (Joey Galloway).

A seventh-round pick named Julian Edelman can start Game One of his rookie season and contribute. Chad Jackson, a second-round pick, can struggle with the offense and catch 13 passes for his two-year Pats career. The fact that Keshawn Martin can come over from Houston and nab five passes in two games after catching six all year for the Texans does not bode well for Dobson. Brady likes Martin. Interesting to see what will happen there. We’re rooting for him, but it doesn’t look good.

Onto a more optimistic outlook.

Feeling Good, Lewis: Know whom else Brady likes? This Dion Lewis fella. He can start-stop like a squirrel on a tree, or duck and dive like an otter on an ice floe. We had some hope for him this summer, but he has delivered far more than expected. He’s got a high school sophomore build at 5-8, 195 pounds, and has taken on the bulk of the halfback workload, with 36 carries for 180 yards (5.0 avg) and 23 receptions for 238 yards. And he got cut by Cleveland and the Colts, for Heaven’s sake.

I know fans of other teams must get tired of hearing about guys who start their careers elsewhere and end up reaching another level in Foxboro (The Mike Vrabel Rule? The Wes Welker Corollary?), but Lewis has staked his place atop the list for 2015.

Hoo, Man, That Was Rough: Very sorry to see Michael Hoomanawanui get traded, but it’s understandable given the current roster makeup. Between Rob Gronkowski, Scott Chandler, and Michael Williams, the Pats boast over 800 pounds of tight end. Plenty of blocking to be had here, and enough receiving to make even a solid fan favorite like Hoo-man seem expendable. In four games, Gronkowski has 20 grabs for 375 yards (18.8 avg) and four touchdowns. Looking forward to watching the non-Gronks get more involved with the offense and the downfield rumbling that could ensue.

I did not make this up: there’s now a twitter hashtag and urban dictionary definition for “RiGronkulous.” We live in a wonderful era.

Lots Of Hicks In Indy: In exchange for Hoomanawanui, New England brought in defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, adding to the team’s list of DL’s who have disappointed other teams (Alan Branch also resides on that list). At roughly the size of a bank vault at 6-5, 324 pounds, Hicks won’t run down backs or get to the QB that often, but – even though he didn’t register a tackle – he contributed in Dallas by clogging lanes and freeing up linebackers to make plays. If he gets on board like Branch seems to have done, this could become a positive trade for the Patriots.

Sheard And Sheard Alike: Look how far we’ve gotten in this column without even talking about Jabaal Sheard. Four sacks in four games? Sure. Stout against the run? We’ll take it. Potentially giving Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich occasional breathers? Why not? Sheard seems to have lived up to expectations in Foxboro and could provide more help given greater playing time.

Another Cleveland castaway. Weird.

Ghost Is The Machine: I’ve used this pun before. Like the album after it’s named, it still holds up, because Stephen Gostkowski continues to make kicks. This past Sunday he set a personal record with a 57-yarder in Dallas.

Seems simple enough. Trot onto the field, mark off some steps, give your holder a nod, and boot away. Yeah. Went to the Patriots Hall of Fame museum a few years ago and tried a kick. Almost pulled my hamstring while sending the ball knee-high into the wall. Bad look. In a year where kickers seem to have the accuracy

Two Questions About The League

One: What the hell is up with Houston? You’d figure a defense with J. J. Watt, JaDeveon Clowney, and Vince Wilfork would be able to get something done. Watt has four sacks in five games, a mere mortal number, while Clowney has zero. I mean, it makes sense that the offense isn’t exactly Air Coryell, but for them to sit at 1-4 with a loss to the Colts filled with about as much enthusiasm as a pediatric dentist’s waiting room? Did not expect that.

At this point, anybody agreeing to appear on “Hard Knocks” must not be paying attention.

Two: How long will it take for the NFL to outlaw pick plays? New England showcased the effectiveness of so-called “rub” or “pick” plays in the second half at Dallas, with a Danny Amendola screen freeing up Edelman for a long TD. (’s Phil Perry does a nice job describing the play here.) All of a sudden it seems like New England is getting credit (or, as usual blame) for conceiving this play. It works, and it frustrates defenses, and officials aren’t always sure how to call it, so look for the NFL to take a hard look at it soon. But don’t forget that other teams do it, and have done it for years.

Case in point: Denver’s Wes Welker taking out New England’s Aqib Talib in the AFC Championship two seasons ago (clip here). Welker never even looked for the ball. No call, and it’s not even close.

Second Quarter Preview

At the Colts Sunday night, hosting the Jets the following Sunday afternoon, the Dolphins on Thursday (10/29), then hosting the Nacotchtanks (see, Dan Snyder? Not that hard).

The Colts, Dolphins, and Redskins have six wins between them, with the Indyhorsies riding high at 3-2. All three wins have come against the AFC South, which is a bit like reigning as thumb-wrestling champion in a league of six-year-olds. Just adorable.

The Jets game looks like the toughest, with a focused 3-1 squad coached by a guy who manages to stay under the radar. The Patriots could go 3-1 over the second quarter, but barring any major setbacks, 4-0 looks more likely.

Seriously, predicting games for New England feels like working as a weatherman in San Diego. Occasional storms, but sunny skies most of the way.

Chris Warner can be tweeted: @cwarn89 

The Unstoppable NFL

Like a TV zombie that takes multiple hits to the body, the National Football League continues to survive, and thrive. The September 20 Sunday Night Football game between Seattle and Green Bay led all programs that week with over 26 million viewers. According to, “This was the largest audience for a Week 2 NFL primetime game in 24 years (since Dallas-Washington on ABC’s ‘Monday Night Football’ in 1991).”

We could have seen this coming. The Hall of Fame game on August 10, the NFL’s preseason opener between the Steelers and Vikings that featured neither Ben Roethlisberger nor Adrian Peterson, had a 6.9 rating, (according to CBS Sports) better than Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals and both the American League Championship and National League Championship openers.

This all seems incredible based on how the NFL has presented itself as a tone-deaf botch-fest this year. We have witnessed many events that would weaken most corporations. Yet pro football keeps gobbling up brains.

So what, if anything, could possibly derail the NFL’s popularity? We asked a number of journalists their thoughts on the topic and categorized their answers.


Most seem to have joined this camp (well, less “joined” than “acquiesced to”). Even those who posited potential problems with the league included disclaimers. Nothing, it seems, shall damage the allure of the shield.

BSMW head Bruce Allen laid out the bullet points: “Well, what hasn’t derailed the NFL’s popularity? An active player arrested and convicted for murder. Numerous drug arrests and suspensions. Concussion and brain damage studies. Numerous domestic violence incidents. An inept boob of a commissioner who has been proven a liar on more than one occasion. Made up scandals (Bountygate and Deflategate) which the WWE wouldn’t even attempt…

If those things haven’t – I don’t know what will.”

Tanya Ray Fox, writer for SportsGrid, had a similar outlook, including a few specifics and a New England perspective.

“Let me put it this way,” Fox said. “In a league where a superstar QB has been substantially accused of rape, a superstar RB was videotaped beating his wife, a Hall of Fame LB was arrested for rape, a former TE is in jail for murder, a former DB and NFL Network employee is in jail for serial rape, and Pacman Jones is still playing (Note: a rundown of Jones’ arrests here), you know who the fans hate the most? Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, who they believe have been in six of the last fourteen Super Bowls because they cheat.

“Think about that. Fans still watch loyally, despite the fact that they think the most successful team in the NFL are cheaters and the rest of the teams that they hate far less are peppered with violent criminals. If that’s not enough to take away even a fraction of the fan base, I don’t know what is.”

Dan Duggan, Rutgers football beat writer, agreed. “I really don’t think anything (can derail it), at least in the short-term. We all get outraged about the off-field issues, and then we dedicate all day Sunday, Thursday night and Monday night to watching the NFL.”

Duggan did hint at a possible pitfall. “Maybe there will be an effect down the road as parents shy away from allowing their kids to play football due to concerns about concussions. But I can’t see the popularity of the NFL diminishing any time soon.”


The greatest trouble for the NFL lurks within this issue. Just a few years ago, we would hear about a player from a past era dealing with what was then an alleged – and seemingly rare – brain injury. Now, in real time, we’re witnessing the decline of recent retirees whom we followed into the new millennium; meanwhile, young players have decided to hang up their cleats early. The most recent report from the Department of Veteran Affairs and Boston University study on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) puts the rate at 96 percent of NFL football players tested.

The study comes with caveats, of course. The brains that have been tested came from players who showed symptoms and/or had concerns. Still, we could see these occurrences increase. We have to ask: will more and more of our favorite players live out their post-NFL lives in constant physical and mental pain? That’s tough to consider, and even harder for the league to spin.

“The only thing that could remotely threaten the league’s popularity is the concussion issue, and even that is probably not enough to stop it.” said Mike Giardi of “I think it’s pretty clear that we’re just scratching the surface on the staggering amount of brain injuries players have suffered in the past, and I wonder if eventually we get to the point where players are forced to sign waivers, absolving the league of any legal responsibilities and the financial burden that can come with it.

“That’s obviously a slippery slope, but unless there are some dramatic rule changes – say no helmets – then this will continue to be an ongoing issue. But by and large, I think the average fan doesn’t care. They want points, they want big hits and they enjoy the potential that you can rebuild your team from year to year if needed.”

Mark Daniels, football writer for The Providence Journal, said, “I think it would come down to the concussion issue. I still think we’re a long ways away from that, but it would have to get to a point where parents didn’t want their children playing because they were fearful of head injuries. If people stopped playing, then you might see a diminished product on the field. But so many people love this sport and it’s so popular, I don’t know if I see that happening in my lifetime.”

Mike Reiss, ESPN Boston writer, and Shalise Manza Young, writer for Yahoo! Shutdown Corner, saw both the concussion problem and a leadership problem plaguing the league in the future.

Reiss said, “Head trauma and concussions remain issues worthy of further exploration. As we learn more about it, perhaps there is a possibility that the game becomes more challenging for the general public to support. Admittedly, that seems like a reach right now.”

“You know, at this point I’m not sure if anything could (derail the NFL’s popularity).” Young said, adding, “Parents are rightfully concerned about their own kids playing, but that doesn’t mean they won’t watch someone else’s kids play. Maybe if we start seeing an increase in former players committing suicide (i.e., more Junior Seaus), that could affect it.”

The concussion/CTE issue puts the NFL in a tough spot. They have to admit their product can cause irreparable damage to its employees, yet the scheduling of Thursday night games reveals players’ health remains a minor concern. If former Patriot guard Stephen Neal can allude to NFL games as “car crashes every week” and few people bat an eye, it will take more time – and more exposure of damaging effects – for health issues to make a difference in fans’ minds.

While most respondents considered the long-term, chronic effects of playing football, Christopher Price of brought up another, more immediate danger. What if, he asked, a player died because of an on-field injury?

“I think that would cause the rest of the world to take a hard look at player safety and and the level of violence associated with the game. You’d likely get Congress involved, and there would be hearings, which would (inevitably) lead to other revelations, most of which would probably come down to money. I think the fallout from something like that would be incredibly severe, and making a sizable impact on how the game is viewed and played going forward.”

In 2005, Al Lucas of the Arena Football League’s Los Angeles Avengers died of blunt force trauma to the spinal cord. A write-up of the incident from 2013 can be seen here on Grantland. A high school player from New Jersey died last Friday night, cause as yet unknown.

These deaths happen rarely enough that they can be viewed as aberrations, but if an NFL player were to get killed in front of tens of thousands of spectators and millions of TV-watching fans, how would the league handle that? Is leadership prepared for this?

Which brings us to another potential issue…


In talking about the leaders of the NFL, I am reminded of a slogan from 30 years ago: Certs have Retsyn.

Sounds like an Eastern European language? Let me explain: the Certs breath mint company created an additive (basically cottonseed oil, sugar and flavor) specifically so they could mention it and set themselves apart from competitors (as does this vintage commercial).

“The NFL has integrity.” Right? They use words like “integrity” and “shield” as if they mean anything, as if they give the NFL something that other professional leagues can only long for but never attain.

We’re talking about a league with a commissioner that has – on the record – mischaracterized the testimony of two different players. Roger Goodell said Ray Rice lied to him; a judge disagreed. Goodell said Tom Brady did not mention speaking of the football scandal with his equipment manager. Brady’s appeal transcript showed that was not true.

“And maybe,” Young said, “if Goodell keeps making such stupid decisions, that could affect interest.”

Maybe. 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?


We know they’ve busied themselves with keeping the shield clean, but have the heads of the NFL stayed in touch with fans’ interests? As Reiss said, “Any time you are No. 1, there is always the possibility of resting on one’s laurels and not pushing harder to continue to improve and be proactive against competitive threats. Resisting against that is critical.”

This topic provides fascinating hypotheticals. What could possibly draw viewers away from the NFL?

We look past baseball, basketball, and hockey because, frankly, they’ve had their chances. Soccer? Too many teams, too many leagues, too many countries. And too floppy for the taste of many.

Maybe we’ll see a non-traditional sport like “American Ninja Warrior” grow, where we root for the contestants (rife with human interest stories) and root against the obstacle course. At some point, there could be a kind of live-action single-shooter video game, a choose-your-own adventure where viewers would text an actual human being where to go in a game of laser tag.

Mixed martial arts has gotten popular. But then we go back to the health/concussion issue.

I dunno. Is dodgeball still viable?

Well. Maybe something can take viewers away from football, but hell if I can predict it.


If you watch television for more than two minutes on a Sunday afternoon, you will see an ad for a fantasy sports website. On these sites, visitors pay money to participate in a fantasy league. According to, “Daily fantasy sports is a skill game and is not considered gambling.”

Hey, remember when Pete Rose gambled and got banned from the Baseball Hall of Fame for life? Bet he wishes he’d had the Internet.

This angle seemed to intrigue Matt Chatham, founder of, writer for Fox Sports “Game of the Week” breakdown, analyst for NESN and ESPN, and volunteer Super Bowl 38 security guard. Chatham sees the NFL’s potential downfall in the money that exchanges hands outside of NFL arenas.

“Reversal of some law regarding fantasy sports and some government overreaching would be the biggest potential blow,” he said. “Stripping away a huge new part of the audience that likely otherwise wouldn’t watch. TV revenue projections and ad values are based (I believe) on the assumption that that audience will be there and continue to grow. If for some reason it was gone overnight and there were a competing product that could accept that audience, that’s probably the most plausible scenario.

“But I don’t think that’s happening. Very unlikely. The wagering (legal, fantasy and otherwise), the league, and the communities that have these teams are symbiotic at this point. They both need each other. There would be holy hell to pay if it was ever disrupted, for politicians, whatever. So in the absence of choice, everything will be done to maintain the status quo.”

Young said the NFL could also get hurt “if some major scandal like finding out games are fixed is uncovered. But really, at this point I don’t think anything could have a major impact on numbers and interest, and fantasy plays a huge role in that.”


Related to Young’s point, let’s look at officials not for what they do or how well they do it, but for their role in upholding the (dare I say it) integrity of the game.

As Price said, “If there was some sort of overarching scandal involving officiating and/or gambling regarding major games, like the conference championship and/or the Super Bowl. I’m not just talking about Donaghy-esque style issues with regular season contests between the Bucs and Jags. If there were marquee games that were found to be not on the level, the fallout would be massive. The ripple of suggestion that games might not be on the level would in turn create sizable waves throughout the sports world – namely distrust among the NFL’s fanbase.”

Fans don’t trust the NFL front office or its players. They do trust the game itself and the effort put into each one. Taking those elements away could deal the biggest blow of all.

Concussions/Injuries, Leadership, Competition, Gambling, Officiating. All possible traps for the NFL. But, for now at least, it looks like they shield is safe.

Chris Warner has email ( and tweets: @cwarn89