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 ESPN.com’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

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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.

patriots-from-johnbranchnyt

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.

HUBRIS ALERT.

HUBRIS!

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:

SORRY, NFL; THE PATRIOTS JUST KEEP ON WINNING – Tom E Curran.

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? 

Childish.

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.

Who Are These People?

I remain as baffled as anyone by the results of the annual New England sports and media poll as presented by Channel Media and Market Research.

It discourages me to see how Boston sports fans apparently enjoy being trolled by their sports media. It really would interest me to see the demographics of the fans polled.

(Entire Survey Here)

As Steve Buckley notes, the survey was especially hard on the Bruins.


I mentioned last week about the WBZ preseason telecasts. Watching other preseason telecasts around the league, it’s striking to me how different the Patriots’ broadcasts are. Most teams seem to hire an established NFL announcer and analyst for the preseason, the Patriots sort of used to do this when they used Don Criqui and Randy Cross – who weren’t exactly at the top of their game.

I applaud the Patriots for trying something different. But when I see some of the other preseason broadcast teams, I realize the gap in quality.

All that said, the overwhelmingly negative atmosphere of Boston sports radio and television has made me appreciate guys like Steve Burton and Dan Roche more than I have in the past. They may be awkward at times, but I know I’m not going to be trolled, and that they’re good people who enjoy what they’re doing.

I can’t believe I wrote that, but there it is.

By the way, they’re on tonight:


The Red Sox must have the most gut-punch losses of any playoff contending team. It is astounding, it really is, yet there they sit, tied with the Blue Jays atop the AL East.

Imagine where they’d be with someone other than John Farrell as the manager. At least that’s the hot take of this season. Some minor (and a few major) sports media members in town have made crucifying Farrell for every loss into a personal mantra.

Second-guessing the manager is a time-honored tradition, especially in Boston, but the constant criticism here by some sound more like efforts to establish hottake bona fides.


Speaking of hottakes, the half-hearted effort to generate some sort of quarterback controversy, or rift between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and Jimmy Garoppolo are nonsensical. The alleged evidence being that Brady has been distant, grouchy, generally a little less genial than we’re used to.

Why shouldn’t he be? Isn’t being pissed off and angry exactly how we want him to be right now? The guy just got railroaded by the NFL, suspended for a quarter of the season, while guys like Le’Veon Bell get their suspensions reduced, and serial wife beaters like Josh Brown can get suspended for just a game.

The Brown case is especially infuriating as the pious John Mara who apparently is one of the puppet masters behind Roger Goodell and the case against Brady, hypocritically brushed off the allegations against Brown because of not having sufficient evidence.

 

 

These Red Sox Sure Are Hateable Right Now

Just putting this here:

The Red Sox have now won six in a row, including three on the road against Cleveland and Baltimore.

That’s Hall of Fame worthy analysis by the voice of Boston sports right there.


John Dennis is gone. It certainly appears that the longtime morning co-host will not be returning to the WEEI airwaves.

This meshes with what I had been told, which was that he flat-out quit.

While Dennis definitely had his flaws, he was infinitely a better host than Gary Tanguay, who seems to be the lined-up replacement. (Please no.)


The Patriots play their second preseason game tonight, against the Chicago Bears, whom they have scrapped with in joint practices this week.

The preseason broadcasts remain a bit of a disjointed mess. I like all the people involved on the telecasts, but they’re not in great roles. I appreciate Dan Roche for his positive outlook on sports – a refreshing alternative in a sea of negative pundits, but he’s not a play-by-play guy, or whatever facilitating role he is expected to perform on these broadcasts. Christian Fauria is not a great a analyst. He’d be better as the sideline guy where he can be be Tony Siragusa Jr. Matt Chatham would be better as the booth analyst.

I’m never sure when they’re tossing to the PFW guys, or what they’re expected to contribute to the telecasts.


It’s A Shame About John Dennis.

No, no it isn’t.

Will John Dennis return to Dennis and Callahan on WEEI? (Finn)

The only shame of it is that it probably means more Gary Tanguay foisted upon us.

If John Dennis is indeed done with the morning show at WEEI, it is the end of an era, the Dennis and Callahan program was the last show from WEEI’s heyday which had its original hosts remaining intact.

At their best, Dennis and Gerry Callahan (with or without Kirk Minihane) provided a smart, snappy program which always carried an edge. At their worst, they were bickering, angry, borderline hateful men who could force a dial change faster than anyone else in town not named Tony Massarotti.

In a way, it is rather sad and pathetic that it has come down to this. John Dennis, who has spent much of his media career as a bully to to his co-workers, can’t get along with his co-hosts, publicly threatens to beat them up, and then disappears, perhaps for good.

There’s no complicated legacy at play here.


The world got another close up view of the disaster which is the NFL Ops department last night as the annual Hall of Fame game which kicks off the preseason for the league was cancelled due to unsafe field conditions.


I’ve refrained from knocking David Price thus far, knowing that he’ll be better next year than this year, but man, he’s been a tremendous disappointment this season. To his credit, he’ll admit the same, but things are not improving.


Bryan Curtis of The Ringer profiled the voice of Boston sports, Dan Shaughnessy last week: Dan Shaughnessy Roots for Himself.

It’s also confirmation that Shaughnessy has no real interest in sports.

In 1986, when Mookie Wilson’s grounder rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs, Dan Shaughnessy felt a familiar sensation: nothing. Here was a play so awful that it seemed — as Shaughnessy would lucratively suggest — cosmically directed. Yet as he perched in the Shea Stadium press box, Shaughnessy was unmoved. Without a pang, he put aside the feature he was writing about Dave Henderson and changed course.

Yes, Shaughnessy is just as narcissistic as the headline would lead you to believe. Rather than reflecting about the moment, Shaughnessy thinks about himself.

“What does this mean for my work and my travel and my book?” he continued. “What does this mean next spring, and how we’re going to have to cover these guys? It’s not about, Oh my god, the team of my youth was just denied winning the World Series. None of that. … I always say, ‘I’m rooting for myself.’”

I suppose there are points for honesty there, but he can’t resist twisting the knife, even in an interview. When asked what moments did bring him pleasure and move him, he mentioned a couple events.

It was just that his exultations were often untethered to Boston’s happiness. As he ticked off the times he’d been genuinely moved, he listed Aaron Boone’s homer in ’03 and David Tyree’s helmet catch in ’08 — two moments that made Bostonians want to jump off a bridge.

Kind of says it all.