It took the New England Patriots a drive to get in rhythm, but once they did, Sunday’s game went according to plan. Tom Brady dissected the Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary, the defense allowed just three points across 50 minutes of football, and the Patriots handed the “dream team” Eagles a 38-20 nightmare of a defeat. The boobirds started singing early at Lincoln Financial Field, and they didn’t quit until the stadium emptied out.
Whose play was masterfully artful, and whose was just b.s.? Here’s your weekly report card.
Tom Brady turned in a brilliant performance Sunday, completing over 70 percent of his passes for 361 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. With little pressure to worry about, Brady had plenty of time to find the open receiver and throw a perfect strike. Only one pass even had a chance at being intercepted, and it wasn’t. Otherwise, immaculate decision-making from the emotional leader of this team. He even rushed for 28 yards!
Brian Hoyer took over midway through the fourth, successfully handing the ball off on three straight plays when the Patriots just wanted to bleed the clock and punt.
Running Backs: A-
BenJarvus Green-Ellis did most of his damage on the Patriots’ first scoring drive, churning up 28 hard-fought yards on eight carries. He ended the drive with a 4-yard burst into the end zone that cut the Eagles’ lead to 10-7 and chewed up almost seven minutes. Green-Ellis added a second, 1-yard touchdown on the Patriots’ next drive.
The running game’s focus shifted towards clock management as the Patriots’ lead grew and grew, but the threat of the run still helped sell two play-action passes. The first, with Danny Woodhead on the field, left Wes Welker wide open for a 41-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. The second led to a 14-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski early in the fourth. That drive ended with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski.
NBA owners and NBA Players’ Association executive director Billy Hunter reached a tentative agreement Saturday that could end the class-action lawsuits, reform the NBPA and allow for an abbreviated, 66-game 2011-12 NBA season.
Should the players ratify, they will give up just over 6 percent of the vaunted Basketball Related Income. In return, their new collective bargaining agreement will, among other stipulations: improve qualifying offers for NCAA “starters” entering the NBA, increase the maximum salary for young players who finish their rookie contracts and re-sign with their old teams, and maintain player-controlled option years.
This new CBA would either improve on or at least maintain the current money-making possibilities available to both young players and veterans, so it’s unlikely that a workforce eager to return to work wouldn’t ratify and reform. That means the battle for the CBA is just about over.
The battle for the fans, however, has just begun.
This negotiation took far too long to reach the outcome that fans and the media knew was coming. For whatever reason, the NBA doesn’t make what the NFL or MLB does (and kudos to the MLB, by the way, for quickly and quietly reaching a new CBA). Players make too much, teams make too little, and some re-division was simply inevitable.
While both sides crawled towards the inevitable BRI re-splitting, fans were subjected to an ugly, hostile “negotiation.”
Despite two tough-to-swallow road losses, the Wisconsin Badgers will still have a shot Saturday at the Big Ten Leaders division, the next step in their quest back to the Rose Bowl.
Standing in their way: the Penn State Nittany Lions, whose players desperately want the focus on something other than former coach Jerry Sandusky and the accusations of child molestation and statutory rape that have thrown the football program and school into chaos.
Beyond the division title and a shot at Michigan State (or in Wisconsin’s case, another shot) for the conference, both teams will be playing for the right to control the season-long storylines surrounding them.
Wilson the Hired Gun
Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson mixes a powerful, accurate arm, with great speed and agility, and a brain smart enough to discern when to use either.
The result: a 73.6 perfect completion-rate, a 26-3 touchdown-interception ratio, and a 199.3 QB rating that leads the NCAA and is more than 30 points higher than his predecessor, Scott Tolzien. And at Camp Randall Stadium – where Saturday’s game will be – Wilson’s numbers somehow are even better.
But Wilson has had to post numbers that good – his place in Wisconsin history is still very much in flux.
Coach Bret Bielema brought in Wilson as a change of pace from the quarterbacks Badgers fans were used to. The move worked, with a 6-0 start that had Wisconsinites dreaming of national championships and Heisman Trophies.
Then came back-to-back road losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. Wilson threw two picks against the Spartans and completed a season-low 62.5 percent of his passes against the Buckeyes. He struggled most in his team’s two biggest tests.
As a hired gun, Wilson knows his story will be defined by how he did on the biggest stage. He’s not a QB who Bielema developed for two or three years before finally giving him the starting job; Bielema brought in Wilson as is. Should Wilson struggle, Badgers fans won’t be able to blame the steady but uncreative Bielema.
If Wilson fails, the loss will fall squarely on the quarterback himself. Wilson set a high bar for himself with his early-season magic, and on Saturday he’ll need to cast a spell over a Penn State defense that ranks second in the nation in opponent-scoring.
The Buffalo Sabres start fights. The Boston Bruins finish them.
And they win games.
Zdeno Chara‘s power play goal in the third period of Wednesday’s game in Buffalo completed a two-goal comeback, and Benoit Pouliot scored in the fifth round of the shootout to beat the Sabres, 4-3.
The Bruins have now won 10 games in a row and lead the Northeast division. They need just two points to catch the conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins.
Third Period Remains Bruins’ Ally
The Bruins entered Wednesday’s game as the highest-scoring third-period team in the NHL. And down 3-2 entering the third, they played like it, pounding the puck repeatedly at Sabre goalie Jhonas Enroth.
The Bruins’ offensive onslaught earned them a power play at 2:11, when center Derek Roy hooked Rich Peverley. Despite two shorthanded Buffalo shots to start the power play, Boston eventually worked the puck back towards Enroth.
Chara fired off a wristshot from 58 feet which Enroth deflected, but the puck came to David Krejci in the slot. Krejci opted not to shoot, instead passing to Milan Lucic just to the right of the goal post.
Lucic then sent the puck back to Chara at the blue line, and Chara fired off a powerful slapshot that sailed past Enroth to tie the game 3-3 at 3:35.
The Somerville Highlander boys’ soccer team finished their season with a 13-3-4 record and a Greater Boston League championship. The season may have ended prematurely and tearfully at Chelsea two weeks ago, but coach George Scarpelli said his team’s roster of untested seniors and still-raw underclassmen performed above and beyond expectations.
“These kids, while we’re losing them, they really brought our program to a whole new level,” Scarpelli said. “You can see kids on the J.V. and the freshmen team now look at them and say, ‘hey, I can make an impact like they did.’”
The Highlander senior class developed through the program with a hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone attitude, improving each year until they were playing their best soccer in their final year. No one exemplified that like goalkeeper Richard Rodriguez, who started his final year without a single meaningful varsity game under his belt.
Rodriguez responded with multiple shutouts, including a 1-0 postseason victory over Brookline.
Scarpelli said that Rodriguez so prepared himself in the offseason before his senior year that he will graduate as “probably the best goalie Somerville High School has seen in a long time.”
“Richie is being offered a chance to play at the university and the college level,” Scarpelli said. “That, to me, is probably our biggest success story.”
The Kansas City Chiefs threw everything but the kitchen sink (unless you count Jerrell Powe) at the New England Patriots Monday night, hoping to disrupt Tom Brady early on and keep the game close late. It worked for about 20 minutes, but the Patriots eventually solved the Chiefs’ defense. The end result: a 34-3 Patriot victory and a tie atop the AFC standings.
Who published and who perished? Here’s my weekly report card.
Brady showed considerable poise in the midst of the Chief’s early onslaught, then used a combination of screens and hurry-up offenses to regain control at the line and beat that onslaught. Once Brady could breathe again, he began to pick apart the secondary, finishing the game with 234 passing yards and two touchdowns.
The Chiefs played early on as if they really felt they could beat the far-superior Patriots. Instead of panicking when they made a few plays, the unflappable Brady simply waited until they returned to earth, then swatted them aside like the flies they were.
When Arlington High School left the Greater Boston League for the Dual County League following the 2007 season, the Somerville Highlanders had to find a new Thanksgiving Day opponent, having played the Spy Ponders every year since the late 1970s.
After three blowout wins over Cambridge’s Matignon High School, the Warriors justifiably ended their partnership with the Highlanders after the 2010 season.
With the Highlanders’ long-term arrangement with the Cambridge Rindge & Latin Falcons not starting until 2012, for one Thanksgiving the Highlanders will be without a game. And some Somerville administrators say the true blame lies with the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which has not taken an active enough role in the composition and regulation of its individual leagues.
“There’s been no leadership from the MIAA to help facilitate equity in high school athletics,” says Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.
“You have a set of rules and regulations in the MIAA without any order.”
Tim Wakefield‘s declaration at the end of September that he wanted to return to the Red Sox made perfect sense: if the team wanted him back, why not? The fans have always loved him; he needs just seven wins to break the team’s career wins record; and figuring out what to do next – every professional athlete’s most-hated task – gets put off one more year.
If the tweet is accurate and not just a hypothetical, it makes no sense. Why in God’s name would Wakefield want to play for another team? And what other team would actually sign him?
Wakefield’s Horrible 2011
Wakefield’s surface numbers alone make it unlikely another team would sign him. He finished with a sub-.500 record, sported an over-5.00 ERA for the second consecutive year, and gave up 25 home runs – a number that has more than doubled since 2008.
However, Wakefield’s problems don’t stop there. In previous years, Wakefield had no problem pitching as strongly late in games as early on. But in 2011, Wakefield could never finish. From the fifth inning on, Wakefield had an ERA of 6.57. That’s 1.8 runs over his career average during those innings.
Wakefield became too hittable too early on in his outings, and that put tremendous strain on a both over-used and under-manned Red Sox bullpen. Even if other free-agent pitchers wouldn’t bring a greater skill set, they’d probably still bring more durability. Most teams wouldn’t want a starter who’d tax the rest of the pitching staff as badly as Wakefield would.
Wakefield hasn’t had a 200-inning season since 2005. He hasn’t even had a 180-inning season since 2008. The idea that other teams would pay much of anything for that little production is just silly.
Few of Bill Belichick’s 2011 off-season acquisitions have worked out. Chad Ochocinco has barely contributed. Albert Haynesworth is gone. The Patriots rotating cast of defensive backs has quite possibly been replaced by cardboard cutouts.
The same can’t be said of Andre Carter, who on Wednesday was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. The award follows Carter’s franchise-record 4.5 sacks against Mark Sanchez and the Jets on Sunday (note: there are some discrepancies across various sports sites as to whether he recorded 4.5 or 4.0; for now, this article will go with 4.5).
Unquestionably the Best Pass-Rusher on the Patriots
Overall this season, the Patriots’ pass-rush has been pretty mediocre; it’s currently ranked 20th in the NFL with 20 sacks. They sacked Sanchez five times Sunday, but that game’s total was a full third of the Patriots’ total over the previous nine games.
Though the Patriots have an above-average run-defense, most opponents have responded by just giving up the run, happy to just pick apart the Patriots’ awful secondary instead. After all, how much pressure will they really have to face?
The lack of pass-rush cannot be blamed on Carter, who has been as much of a disruptive force in the backfield as he can be. His 9.0 sacks tie him for fifth in the NFL. While Mark Anderson has helped out with 5.0 (again, this is based on Carter recording 4.5 Sunday), Carter is far and away the best pass-rusher on the team.