Patriots Report Card: Super Bowl XLVI

For converting their only field goal and committing no penalties, Stephen Gostkowski and the Patriot special teams unit get an "A-" for Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI. (REUTERS/Jim Young)

Well… crap. Just like four years ago, the New England Patriots came up just a couple plays short of beating the New York Giants and claiming their fourth Lombardi Trophy Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI. Instead, Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning once again bested Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, with Manning executing yet another fourth-quarter comeback highlighted by an improbable reception. Brady’s quest to tie Joe Montana and Bradshaw continues.

The Patriots under-performed on their last test of the season. Which Patriots will get credit and which are now on academic probation? Here’s the last report card until September.

Quarterback: B

Brady wasn’t terrible, completing just over 65 percent of his passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns, but he definitely wasn’t at his best. His line gave him all kinds of protection, but he still had trouble hitting his receivers. Wes Welker should have caught that second-and-11 late in the game, but Brady could have thrown a much easier pass, one that didn’t require Welker to simultaneously spin around, leap into the air and haul in a ball barely within his range.

Brady occasionally gets lost inside his own mind, seeing diagrams of plays instead of the actual field. His deep-ball interception is a perfect example. On paper, Rob Gronkowski would out-jump a linebacker every time. But the real Gronkowski couldn’t run or jump with that high-ankle sprain Sunday, yet Brady tried to bomb it to him anyway. Chase Blackburn hauled picked it, squandering yet another second-half drive that could have extended the Patriots’ lead beyond one possession.

Brady only played above-average football (including the bone-headed if oddly penalized safety), while Manning played spectacular football, especially in the second half. The better quarterback took home the title.

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Super Bowl Preview

Unless Vince Wilfork or another Patriot can disrupt Eli Manning, Manning will pick the Patriots apart in Sunday's Super Bowl. But the reverse holds for the Giants' pass-rush and Tom Brady. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Each conference’s representative in the last two Super Bowls have been identical. Both the Colts and Saints were pass-heavy offenses without much defense. Both the Steelers and Packers liked to build big leads early, then rely on opportunistic defenses to force turnovers in the second half. And this year, the Patriots and the Giants have incredible quarterbacks backed up by dominant receiving units.

Both teams try to run just enough to ease up the pass-rush, and both rely on pressure up front to bail out bad secondaries. Whichever team better executes their identical strategies will will the game.

Here’s my Super Bowl preview.

The Battle for the Line

Super Bowl XLVI will be won at the line of scrimmage. The Giants will try like hell to either hit Tom Brady or force him to throw before Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez or Rob Gronkowski inevitably get open. Even with the ankle injury, Gronkowski’s physical size makes him particularly tough on the Giants’ defensive backs, the biggest of whom are still four inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than Gronkowski.

The Patriots’ offensive line will face quite a challenge themselves, because not even the Ravens could match the pass-rush onslaught of the Giants’ linemen. Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Osi Umenyiora can all get to the quarterback, as can linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka. If the offensive line can control those four, Tom Coughlin may have to pull an extra linebacker out of coverage, freeing up one of the Big Three receivers, who are all lethal in single-coverage.

The Patriots have the personnel to counter the pass-rush, with Logan Mankins and Matt Light healthy again. Whether they can do so without drawing holding penalties is another question entirely.

Flipping things, Vince Wilfork has had a monster postseason on the Patriots’ defensive line, but he’ll need help to shut down Eli Manning. Some combination of Mark Anderson, Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich will have to step up. If they can get to Manning early, they might rattle the sky-high confidence he’ll feel, having already beaten the two best teams in the NFC and beaten the Patriots in a Super Bowl.

A confident Manning is dangerous, because receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are very, very good. Even if the Patriots double-team them, either one could break away for 15- to 20-yard receptions without much difficulty. And considering the tackling problems the Patriots had with the Ravens, a 20-yard reception could easily become a 40-yard reception.

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Ward’s Shutout Gives Hurricanes First Season Sweep Over Bruins

Hurricane goalie Cam Ward deflects the puck against Patrice Bergeron during Thursday's game at TD Garden in Boston. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Boston Bruins did just about everything they could against the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night at the TD Garden. They won over 70 percent of their face-offs. They hit hard and often. And they ripped shot after shot after shot at goalie Cam Ward.

They just couldn’t score.

Ward saved all 47 shots against him Wednesday, and the Hurricanes scored in each period to beat the Bruins, 3-0. With the win, the Hurricanes completed their first season-sweep of the Bruins in franchise history.

Ward Unflappable in Goal

The Bruins put Ward to work almost instantly Wednesday night. David Krejci won the opening faceoff – one of 38 faceoff victories – and the Bruins went on the attack. Tyler Seguin and Chris Kelly both fired at Ward within the first two minutes of the game, but Ward turned them both aside.

The Bruins kept this attack up throughout the period, hammering but never fooling Ward. They couldn’t even score when Brad Marchand stole a puck in the Hurricanes’ zone and found Patrice Bergeron wide open in the slot.

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What Athletes Do After Retirement

Curt Schilling getting into video games is easily my favorite post-retirement career move by a professional athlete. (bleacherreport.com/articles/520766-25-most-bizarre-jobs-after-sports)

Every professional athlete, both great and not-so-great, retires. Some exit after just a year, injured or unable to transition to the professional level. Many make it into their 30s. Some stay in the majors until their mid or even late 40s. But the career always ends, usually with half a lifetime left.

Athletes exit able to do just about anything they want, and that means some of them do some pretty weird stuff. How weird? Here are my 10 favorite post-athletic careers.

10) Mookie Wilson, center fielder. Post-baseball career: truck driver. Wilson hit the ball that went under Bill Buckner’s glove to end Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. That paved the way for a Game 7 Mets victory – their last World Series title – and 18 more years of Red Sox misery. Now, he drives a truck. Seems kinda anti-climactic.

9) Johnnie Morton, wide receiver. Post-football career: MMA fighter. Morton played in the NFL for 11 years before retiring. He fought Bernard Ackah in his first MMA fight and was knocked out in 38 seconds. Then he refused to take a post-fight drug test and was banned indefinitely. I think the only possibly shorter career would be “nuclear bomb catcher.”

8) Gerald Ford, center/linebacker. Post-football career: 38th and 40th President of the United States. This is my catch-all tribute to athletes who go on to politics. On the football field, Ford helped the Michigan Wolverines win two undefeated national championships. As president, he pardoned Richard Nixon, and that was kinda it (discounting two assassination attempts). This is probably the most extreme example of good athletes becoming bad politicians (see also: Jim Bunning, Heath Shuler).

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