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; http://seattletimes.com/html/seahawks/2025601887_brewer02xml.html 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 chris.warner@patriotsdaily.com or @cwarn89 on Twitter.

Watching The Reporting On Chandler Jones

It will be interesting watching what facts come out in the next few days/weeks regarding what happened to Chandler Jones over the weekend.

This is what we know for sure:

What else do we know? Very little apparently, but that’s not stopping rampant speculation.

This was what started the whole story:

DandCShowTwitter

 

The Tweet was taken down soon after and replaced with this.

DandCShowTwitter2

The bit about Gronk’s house was removed. Then Lou Merloni advanced the story.

So now of the original Chris Curtis (D&C producer, runs the Twitter account) Tweet, the bit about Gronk’s house has been removed, Lou says Jones “walked” into police station which would seem to disprove the “OD” aspect. The Police dispatcher in the case mentioned “class D Delta” which often refers to marijuana. Other unnamed sources suggest sleeping pills and a bad reaction to something.

For someone who spent months railing against Chris Mortensen for blindly tweeting what sources told him, Curtis seems the ultimate hypocrite here. Instead, much of their show today was spent focused on whether the police covered up for the Patriots and Jones, and calling Patriots fans hypocrites. Okay.

There is definitely a story here though. The question is, who is going to get it, and get it right? Gillette Stadium was mobbed with reporters this morning, ensuring that this story will already have more coverage than the Peyton Manning HGH story. But will the stories rely on facts, or speculation?

We’ll be watching, media.

Try and get it right this time, OK?

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 WEEI.com 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

Brady vs Manning – Rivals Even In Media Hypocrisy

The narrative of the national sports media never ceases to astound me.

On false reports and leaks to well-placed reporters, Tom Brady and the Patriots were villainized, accused of cheating, and became a national story leading the evening newscasts.

The media was eager to lap it up and proclaim Brady and the Patriots guilty and demand their removal from the Super Bowl and the record books.

Within days, the majority of people believed without reservation that the Patriots had cheated. For many of those, nothing that came afterwards would sway their opinion.

During the Super Bowl broadcast, the topic came up numerous times – even with under two minutes left to play and the game on the line.

Over an alleged few puffs of air –  of which, the veracity of such claims has been proven to extremely questionable.

The case against Tom Brady involved false leaks to reporters, a sham investigation which has been mocked by scientists and a federal judge and lies by the Commissioner of the NFL.

Now we come to Peyton Manning.

A report comes out linking Manning to Human Growth Hormone. The initial report comes from Al Jazeera, which, fair or not, probably plays a part in the perception of the story.

After numerous neck surgeries, including one overseas because no one here in the U.S. would perform it, Manning was treated by a doctor with a checkered past, who had a history of putting his patients on HGH. Manning’s wife was also a patient and shipments were sent in her name to the Manning house.

The difference in coverage between Boston and Indianapolis of two stories which have some similarities is startling. Both involve a star quarterback and someone with a sketchy past who has helped with their recovery from major injury and/or training.

The Indianapolis Star has dug into the past of Dr. Dale Guyer and advanced the story admirably, but have been very careful to not to tarnish the reputation of Peyton Manning, keeping his (and his wife’s) involvement on the periphery of the story.

The Boston Globe (and Boston Magazine) dug into the past of Alex Guerrero with the sole purpose of trying to tarnish the reputation of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. This was reflected in the tone of article and the insinuations that besides legal issues, the situation was violating the NFL salary cap, of all things.

In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz, who was spoon-fed the deflategate scoop by a malicious NFL source, and proudly proclaimed it the biggest story of his career – had actually been treated by the same Dr Guyer, and had been prescribed HGH – but didn’t deem it worthy of any sensationalism.

Old friend Gregg Doyel who was at the forefront of the pitchfork-wielding mob that was out to lynch Brady, (and to this day – literally, today – still believes it.) has had only one stance on this Manning story.

Can you fathom a writer, any writer tweeting, “I ride with 12.” ?

Nationally though, this Manning report, is not being viewed with the skepticism that we would’ve hoped the whole deflategate case would’ve been, even though there is more evidence here that something happened then there was ever on the deflategate case.

When the original source of the story Charles Sly recanted his story after it became public – his original claims having been filmed by an undercover reporter – out of fear, embarrassment, or whatever, many people took that as enough evidence that the story was bogus. When Manning told reporters how angry he was about the report, for many, well, that was all they needed to dismiss the story, despite several very compelling unanswered questions.

It’s interesting to see the media used in the opposite way from the Brady case in this Manning case. Take, for instance, the fact the when the Broncos were playing a national game on CBS, this story was not mentioned at all.

On purpose.

This is what Jim Nantz said when asked why he didn’t mention it:

Wut.

Al Jazeera says there is a second, “impeccably placed” source to back up the network’s recent assertion that human growth hormone shipments were provided to Peyton Manning’s wife.

Let’s pose a hypothetical:

Instead of deflategate last January, what if it came out that during his recovery from the ACL tear in 2008, that shipments of HGH were sent to Tom Brady’s house, addressed to Giselle.

What would the reaction have been? Would the national media have called it “a story that on all levels is a non-story?

I think we know the answer.

Finally, this week, a large media outlet looked into this story The New York Times set about Finding a Common Thread in the Al Jazeera Doping Report

With the help of my New York Times colleagues Ken Belson and Doris Burke, I scrutinized the list of names, and it soon appeared less random than at first blush. Nearly all of the athletes Sly named are clients of Jason Riley, a fitness trainer based in Sarasota, Fla.

Riley and Sly founded Elementz Nutrition and had an impressive stable of big time athletes using them.

The conclusions are very interesting. On the undercover interview with Sly:

But what to make of Sly? In the end, this story hinges on his credibility. A man who operates in the athletic shadows, he was confronted with his hours of undercover interviews and recanted. He proclaimed himself an idle boaster.

What was he supposed to do, if what he had said was true? Acknowledge it and allow his words to become his manacles?

Mitosomal growth factors, stem cells and pig brain peptide: He talked of all with a chemist’s ease. His network, as he described it, extends from Germany and Switzerland to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Chad Robertson, a pharmacist, said Sly was a savant of doping.

The other obvious question is, if he really was a savant of doping, and knew all these things, why would he just boast about random athletes even if he was just trying to look impressive to the person he was talking to?

So is anyone going to do anything about it?

The Al Jazeera documentary was only the latest report to reveal sports doping as a spider’s web that stretches across continents and oceans. You wonder if the pro league chieftains, Rob Manfred in baseball and the N.F.L. sachem Roger Goodell, have paid attention, and have the stomach to pursue these strands.

Then comes the killshot. A brilliant way to end the story, as it is a true drop-the-mic ending.

They might want to hurry. Last week, Elementz Nutrition voluntarily dissolved and closed its doors.

Remember the NFL leak to Stephen A Smith about how Tom Brady destroyed his phone? A leak that was completely malicious, and designed to again taint public perception because it was scandalous on the surface, yet immaterial to the case. Yet people still bring it up. Just a few days ago Mark Schlereth, while trolling Patriots fans, brought it up.

In this Manning case, the company owned by the source of the story shut its doors. Think about that. The entire company! You can image the paper-shredding and hard-drive erasing that is going on there.

Yet, where is this story? Jim Nantz won’t talk about it on CBS. ESPN hasn’t published a single thing about this story since December 29th.(Too busy breaking federal laws?) NBC put out Manning’s side of the story giving him the chance to tell Peter King how angry he was about it. How he was “probably” going to sue. Which he hasn’t done yet, despite two other athletes doing so already.

Like Chris Price wrote, I don’t care if Peyton Manning took HGH to aid his recovery from injury. Athletes do what they need to do to keep their careers going. I don’t really begrudge them that.

For me, this story isn’t really about Manning. It’s about the coverage of the allegations and the blatant hypocrisy of many in the national media. Once again, they’re showing their true colors, this time by their silence.

Catching Up – Ratings, Red Sox Announcers, et al.

It’s been a busy time for everyone, but especially in the world of sports media, where things are moving fast and furious. A few items:

98.5 The SportsHub once again topped the radio ratings for the Fall book, demonstrating repeatedly that trolling is king when it comes to gaining and retaining listeners. WEEI however, finished a very strong second, with numbers they hadn’t approached since their heyday of the early-to-mid 2000’s.

The Sports Hub led the market with a 13.6 overall while WEEI was second with a 9.1.

The breakdown:

Timeslot Station Show Ratings
Mornings 98.5 Toucher and Rich 14.6
Mornings 93.7 Dennis and Callahan, With Minihane 13.4
Middays 98.5 Zolak and Bertrand 12.3
Middays 93.7 Ordway, Merloni and Fauria 8.5
Afternoon Drive 98.5 Felger and Mazz 16.9
Afternoon Drive 93.7 Dale and Holley, With Thornton 9.6
Evenings 98.5 The Adam Jones Show 11.4
Evenings 93.7 Planet Mikey 7.8

Those are tremendous numbers across the board for both stations. It has to be frustrating for WEEI, especially in morning drive, that they just can’t top Toucher and Rich. It amazes me, as other than the occasional guest – Mike Gorman, Rosevelt Colvin, etc, I rarely listen to 98.5 in the mornings. (or at all, to be honest.)

I’m clearly out of the target audience then, as 98.5’s numbers are just eye-popping across the entire grid above. Amazing. Hats off to them for figuring out what Boston wants to hear.

*****************

WEEI made it official on Monday, hiring Tim Neverett as the new play-by-play host for Boston Red Sox radio broadcasts. He’ll work alongside Joe Castiglione after Dave O’Brien moved over the the TV side, taking the place of Don Orsillo.

The announcement came through on the Pittsburgh side as well:

Also, Chad Finn has a look at Neverett, who hails from Nashua, NH.

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Speaking of Chad, I enjoyed his column last week: Here’s the ‘nice’ list in local sports media

So Bill Belichick told his team they wanted to kick off to start OT.

Arrogant? Wut.

This is pretty much the perfect answer to that:

On Peyton Manning, I personally don’t care if he used HGH while recovering from his plethora of neck surgeries. I don’t think it’s a big deal. I am interested in seeing how the media and NFL react to and cover this story. Will there be the same zeal?

In other developments, Al Jazeera is a more credible news outlet than ESPN when it comes to the NFL.

So, The NFL CAN Correct ESPN Reports?

Hmmm.

otl-tweet

https://twitter.com/OTLonESPN/status/679304105538535424

(Tweet has been deleted.)

Less than 30 minutes later:

I don’t trust either entity, so who knows the actual truth?

I do find it interesting that ESPN would call out the NFL for allegedly pulling out this concussion study, when ESPN pulled out of the Frontline documentary with PBS (reputedly at the NFL’s urging) on concussions a couple of years ago. The documentary was based on work done by the Fainaru brothers.

Also interesting: NFL does have the ability to refute what it says is an inaccurate report from ESPN? Who knew?

 

P.S.A. – Avoiding Toxic Sports Media

No doubt, my absence around this address has been noticed. Part of this has been due to my new job (Though I could count writing this on the new WordPress editor as work-related.), but a bigger part really has to be with my recent total apathy with sports media in general.

Apathy over sports media? After having run a sports media site for over 13 years?

Yeah. Much has changed since 2002 when I began doing this, but a world in which Dan Shaughnessy is honored by a sports hall of fame is not one which has any sort of grip on what people are interested in. When was the last time Shaughnessy actually wrote a baseball column that was of value? How does that translate to hall of fame worthiness?

Sports media in Boston has always been antagonistic to a degree – back to the days of Dave Egan.

But it seems now, almost constantly on the air, and more and more in print, that the focus is on making fans miserable. Whether it be mocking them as “fanboys,” attempting to diminish accomplishments, dreaming up doomsday scenarios for local teams, telling us how arrogant the greatest coach in NFL history is, or just the constant trolling, it is enough to make someone wonder just why they subject themselves to this.

It certainly has made me wonder. Why have something so toxic like that as part of your life?  It’s not healthy. Toxic things come with a warning. They should be avoided. More and more, I’m avoiding toxic sports media altogether.

Sports should be a diversion from the stresses and anxiety of everyday life. It’s an outlet. We live in a country where mass shootings are happening seemingly every day,  and – yes this is hyperbole here – yet if you turn on your radio or read the alleged paper of record in this town, it would seem that Bill Belichick’s rugby on-sides kick attempt was a far more grievous a crime than some of the things happening in the real world.

I hear it already – oooh we can’t be critical, the fanboys get upset… If you’re saying that, you’re an idiot. There’s a difference between being critical of decision-making and of outlet trolling and intentionally being irritating and antagonistic.

It’s a twisted world in which we exist when people are rewarded for attempting to rile others up or just get a reaction – it doesn’t matter if it is negative or positive – from their audience, their consumers. The reason they are able to make a living.

  • Dan Shaughnessy has recycled columns and taken the same cheap shots for 25 years, made a cottage industry out of a hokey “curse”and it now rewarded for it by the Baseball Hall of Fame?
  • Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti have pretty much dedicated their program to taking shots at the most successful sports franchise of this century, telling us at every turn how fraudulant it is, and creating the perception of unending ineptitude. They’re rewarded with top-of-the-hill ratings.
  • Gary Tanguay, having been fired from jobs involving Celtics and Patriots broadcasts has attempted to turn himself into some sort of truth-teller, who actually has no grip on reality. He’s rewarded with every fill-in spot that comes up at WEEI.
  • John Tomase writes bold-faced lies, which are quickly taken as fact to this day by 90% of the population, his employer is forced to apologize and issue a meaningless retraction, and his career suffers not at all. In fact he is rewarded with a move to the Red Sox beat, and then as a columnist.

It’s mind-boggling, and encapsulates the very reason I’m so disgusted with the state of sports media right now.

Once again, I ask – why would anyone want this as part of their life?

I know that many of you have cut out the toxic sports media from your lives. I applaud you. But clearly it’s not nearly enough, so either these tactics actually are very popular, or New Englanders just love their sports so much they’re willing to put up with these constant slaps to the face.

During the last several weeks, I haven’t had the time to keep up as much with the local sports media. My viewing, reading and listening has largely been limited to actual games (and what I might see on Twitter). I’ve watched the Patriots, I’ve watched the Celtics. I’ve peeked in on the Bruins. I have read a few things on the moves the Red Sox are making.

I really don’t feel like I’ve missed much, if anything.

My aggravation levels are much lower (despite the Patriots having lost two in a row) and I’m not annoyed at faux controversies. I did make the mistake of flipping through the latest ESPN Magazine this morning and saw Seth Wickersham has another target on the Patriots, specifically Ernie Adams. But overall, my sports experience has been a whole lot better.

As a Public Service Announcement, I’m putting forward this list of local sports media people who you should absolutely, positively never read, watch or listen to.

Avoid at all costs

Dan Shaughnessy

Tony Massarotti

Gary Tanguay

Ben Volin

Ron Borges

Adam Jones

Marc Bertrand

John Tomase

Michael Felger

Kevin Paul Dupont

If you can cut those people out of your life completely, your existence as a sports fan will be much more satisfying. I highly recommend it.

Do it.

I’m issuing a 30-day challenge.

Do not consume anything from the people on that list above. You come across them on the radio, flip it, same with TV, someone tricks you with a link to a column, close it immediately. Do this for 30 days.

See how you feel.

*************

Addendum

There are still media folks in this area who are worth your time. I’ve often dreamed of being able to put together my ultimate Boston sports site. These are the folks currently working here that I’ll read/watch/listen anytime. If I was putting together that site, this is how I would do it, and the roles each would have:

Alex Speier – Columnist, MLB

Chad Finn – Columnist, General

Tom Curran – NFL

Fluto Shizawa – NHL/Bruins

Mike Reiss – Patriots

Rich Levine – Columnist, General

Jay King – Celtics

Sean McAdam – Red Sox

Jen McCaffrey – Red Sox

Dale Arnold – Sports radio/TV

Mark Daniels – Patriots

Steve Bulpett – NBA

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 boston.com 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.

Ripped From The Forums…

Two articles, same paper.  (h/t Kevin)

Shank Today:

How many more weeks can we count on the other guys mismanaging the clock, making stupid decisions, overthrowing open receivers, clanging field goal attempts off the uprights, dropping passes in the end zone, and botching interceptions?

How many more times does the Tom Brady interception get called back because of defensive holding? How many more times does the tumbling Patriot fumble bounce into the arms of a Patriot fatty? How many more times do the other guys lose their minds and mismanage the clock down the stretch?

Alex Speier Today:

There’s a natural suspicion that can enter compare-and-contrast conversations such as these, particularly given that the Patriots have faced just one team with a record that is better than .500 (the 6-4 Steelers, who fell to New England in Week 1): Is the Patriots’ ability to constrain opposing offenses a reflection of their defense or is it a sign of their poor quality of opponents?

You can’t blame the opponents. Teams faced by the Patriots this year have averaged 22.8 points per game overall, close to the league average of 23.0 points per game. New England has held opponents 20.2 percent below their total season points average – meaning that they’ve done a better job of holding offenses below their standard than have the Broncos, whose opponents have scored 18.3 percent fewer points against Denver than their season-long standard of 22.5 points per game.

Only the Bengals have done a better job of holding teams below their scoring averages. Cincinnati’s 18.6 points per game allowed falls 21.7 percent below their opponents’ 23.7 point average.

Which one of these actually required some work?

Another Week of Mini-Controversies For Patriots

Anything but the games.

It seems like that’s the focus on the New England Patriots at times. Coming off one of the most compelling regular-season games of the Brady-Belichick era, some of the biggest stories this week have instead been about the actions of Brady and Belichick.

We’ve had Chuck Klosterman’s completely mind-numbing article on Brady as GQ’s Man of the Year.

There’s nothing new in there, and instead of perhaps discussing Brady’s amazing on-field performances in the face of an idiotic witch hunt by the NFL, Klosterman attempts to play Mike Hammer and shake down Brady.

Klosterman says he’s “on Brady’s side,” but then has exchanges like this:

But what you’re suggesting is that the reality of this is subjective. It’s not. Either you were “generally aware” of this or you weren’t.
I understand what you’re trying to get at. I think that my point is: I’m not adding any more to this debate. I’ve already said a lot about this—

Tom, you haven’t. I wouldn’t be asking these questions if you had. There’s still a lack of clarity on this.
Chuck, go read the transcript from a five-hour appeal hearing. It’s still ongoing.

Brady ended the interview shortly thereafter, when Klosterman refused to move off the questions aimed at trying to get Brady to confess to heinous crimes.

I’ve enjoyed Klosterman in the past, he’s kind of a hipster-dufus-ironic version of Bill Simmons, mixing sports with pop culture, but this was just idiotic, annoying and yeah, stupid.

The GQ article also generated Tweets like this one:

brady

Who is Joseph Barracato? His bio reads:  Assigment Editor, Father of twins, fanatic, and worshipper.

Yes, an editor for the New York Daily News is rooting for a career-ending injury for Tom Brady.

Seems like the editor needed a “tighter edit” – he deleted his Tweet without comment after it garnered attention.

The second issue that briefly flared was Bill Belichick and his non-cooperation with the NFL’s mandate that coaches wear camo headsets and gear to honor the military.

A big part of this erupted when TheBigLead posted this click-bait tweet:

Never mind that the actual article mostly defends Belichick. The Tweet on its surface was enough to stir the anti-Belichick and Patriots factions to faux outrage.

It allowed the likes of Gerry Callahan to whine to the effect of why can’t Bill just play along…

As usual, Dan Wetzel was a voice of reason: Bill Belichick’s stiff-arm of camouflage campaign an unlikely coincidence.

Anyone with half a clue about Bill Belichick knows his ties to the Naval Academy and his commitment to it and admiration for those who have served their country. They also know that he doesn’t suffer fools, and doesn’t do empty gestures, which is what this NFL thing was all about.

This week also featured a Rex Ryan meltdown in a conference call with the Boston Media – A defensive Rex Ryan rips into New England media: ‘I don’t know why you even bother’

This week’s media columns:

Kathryn Tappen on national stage, but still keeps local ties – Chad Finn looks at the former NESN host, coming back into town with NBC for the Boston College-Notre Dame game tomorrow at Fenway Park.

‘Pregnancy has been very smooth’ for Celtics courtside reporter Abby Chin – Bill Doyle has the CSNNE reporter planning on working as close as possible to her January 7th due date.