Here’s everything I wrote for the Cape Cod Times in September 2015.
The Red Sox have the Yankees. The Celtics have the Lakers. The Bruins have the Canadiens.
And Tom Brady and the Patriots have Peyton Manning and the
Colts Broncos. While the first three rivalries sometimes fail to live up to expectations, the Brady-Manning rivalry consistently delivers excitement and suspense.
Brady vs. Manning, Round 13, went to the Patriots, 31-21 Sunday at Gillette Stadium. So before Manning shakes his head with disgust and re-injures his neck, let’s dole out the grades.
Brady completed just under 75 percent of his passes for 223 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He also rushed for a touchdown. Solid numbers, sure, but anyone who watched Sunday’s game knows that for once, the Patriots’ running game, and not their passing game, carried the day.
Manning out-dueled Brady, throwing for 345 yards and three touchdowns, but the Patriots still won. That means Brady doesn’t get top marks, but I have a hunch he doesn’t care as long as his team wins.
Running backs: A+
The Patriots rushed for 251 yards and three touchdowns. Stevan Ridley rushed for a career-best 151 yards, crossing the 100-yard mark for the third time this season, and added a rushing touchdown (as did Shane Vereen).
Brandon Bolden chipped in 54 yards of his own, while Danny Woodhead rushed for 47 yards overall and 6.7 per carry. Woodhead also converted two third-and-very-long situations, making a 25-yard catch on third-and-14 in the second and rushing for 19 on third-and-17 in the third.
The Patriots controlled the pace of the game for all four quarters, and the running backs made it happen. Perfect score for this group (even with Ridley’s fumble).
Before Sunday’s New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens game, noted actor (also Ravens linebacker) Ray Lewis said, “Revenge is a dish best served cold. We on fire tonight.”
Facing a mind like that, the Patriots should count themselves lucky they just lost, as opposed to waking up tied to a chair in a basement somewhere.
But lose the Patriots did, blowing a two-possession lead in the fourth quarter and losing on a game-ending 27-yard field goal by Justin Tucker. But before Pats fans start moaning, just remember that the Ravens are a very good team, matching talent with physicality and effort. The Patriots didn’t lose this game — the Ravens won it.
With that said, and before Ray Lewis comes bursting through the door in a clown costume singing “Helter Skelter,” let’s give out some grades.
Tom Brady looked very sharp Sunday, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 335 yards and a touchdown. He might not have gotten it done on the Patriots’ last drive, but he executed a near-flawless two-minute offense at the end of the first half, capping an 81-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman.
Thirty points usually means victory. Brady did more than enough to put his team in a position to win. Don’t hang this loss on the quarterback.
Running backs: B
Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden each scored a rushing touchdown, but along with Steven Ridley combined for just 75 yards, all three averaging fewer than 3 yards per carry. And with the run-game all but stopped, the Ravens began overloading on pass-defense.
Against a worse pass-rushing team, the Patriots can get away with that weak a running game. But against the Ravens? Not so much.
Wide receivers/tight ends: A-
Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd recorded over 100 receiving yards apiece Sunday. Lloyd may have made the flashier catches, but Welker handled the nitty gritty. And both starred against a Ravens secondary that tested the replacement referees’ excessive contact rules every chance it could.
Lloyd brings a dynamic element to the Patriots’ receiving corps that’s been missing since Randy Moss circa 2007. Expect big aerial numbers for Brady and his receivers this season.
Offensive line: B-
The offensive line allowed a sack four plays into the game, tightened up for awhile, then crumbled late in the fourth, allowing a key sack that killed the Patriots’ last drive, forced them to punt and ultimately led to the Ravens’ game-winning field goal.
The line also utterly failed to open up holes for the Patriots’ running game, repeatedly allowing Ravens linemen to simply move across blockers and chase down running backs from behind.
On a positive note, the O-line played penalty-free. And with Sunday’s officiating crew, that’s quite an accomplishment.
Defensive line: D
The defensive line put no pressure on Joe Flacco… literally. No sacks, no quarterback hits, only one tackle for a loss (by Patrick Chung, no less). And Ray Rice rushed for over 100 yards, a touchdown and 5.1 yards per carry.
The defensive line so struggled Sunday that Bill Belichick had to abandon his original defensive scheme, moving up a safety to help on run-defense. That left New England’s mediocre cornerbacks one-on-one with receivers — one reason why Flacco threw for 389 yards and three touchdowns.
Jerod Mayo‘s pass-interference penalty on third down in the second quarter extended a Ravens drive that ended with a touchdown pass, but he also led the team with 11 tackles. Brandon Spikes‘ holding penalty, meanwhile, wiped out the Patriots’ only sack and gave the Ravens first-and-goal from the Patriots’ 5-yard-line.
Flacco’s third touchdown throw came on the very next play, making it a two-point game with four minutes left in the fourth. These veteran linebackers have to play better than that moving forward.
Defensive backs: C-
Too, too many penalties really hurt the Patriots secondary. Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore and Devin McCourty all gave away third-and-long situations with defensive holding penalties, and McCourty’s pass-interference penalty turned a 52-yard field goal attempt into a 27-yard chip-shot.
Despite the secondary’s inadequacies, three things picked up its grade: Chung’s fourth-down tackle, Steve Gregory‘s first-quarter interception, and the secondary’s overall high level of energy. For once, the Pats’ defense didn’t look exhausted by the fourth quarter.
Special teams: B+
Stephen Gostkowski made all of his field goals and extra points, and for the most part just kicked touchbacks. Excluding the Patriots’ two drives off turnovers, however, they lost the starting-yardage battle to the Ravens, and no one on the Patriots’ special teams did anything spectacular.
Acceptable play from special teams, but nothing distinguishing.
Belichick’s decision to leave the Patriots’ front seven to deal with the Ravens’ running game worked for awhile. But once Rice began running roughshod, Belichick had to bring a safety forward, because as good as Flacco is, Belichick knows Rice is much better.
Despite little success on the ground, Belichick continued running the ball, only throwing the ball about 53 percent of the time. Had the Patriots abandoned the running game, Brady likely would’ve taken far more than two sacks and six hits. The Patriots might have lost, but at least they left Baltimore relatively healthy (though the jury’s still out on Edelman and Arrington).
Belichick for the most part coached well, but his team just couldn’t maintain the level of execution necessary to win.
Troy Brown‘s statistics will probably keep him out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Other than a few special teams accomplishments, Brown just never did enough to be considered among the best in the NFL. Still, some honor is definitely due to the Pro Bowler who played in five Super Bowls and retired as the Patriots’ career leader in receptions.
Sports writers may never recognize Brown’s greatness, but Patriots fans have, voting Brown into the Patriots Hall of Fame Monday, according to Boston.com writer Steve Silva. Brown will be inducted as the 18th player and 19th overall member of the Hall on Saturday, Sept. 15, one day before the Patriots’ home opener,
Brown’s Punt Return Heroics
Brown played all 15 years of his career with the Patriots, starting in 1993. Though always a competent receiver – he caught a career-best seven receiving touchdowns, including one in the playoffs, in 1997 – his best work often came on special teams. Specifically, punt returns: he led the team in punt-return yardage eight times, including his first two seasons on the team and six straight years from 1998 to 2003.
Brown only scored four touchdowns on returns, but one broke a scoreless tie in the 2001-01 AFC Championship against the Steelers. Considering the Celtics won that game 24-17, one could argue Brown’s special teams contribution made the difference.
Many movie moments could symbolize Wes Welker‘s decision to sign his $9.5 million franchise tender Tuesday and return to the Patriots for the 2012-13 season. Perhaps the Hulk destroying enemy ships in The Avengers. Or Dean Portman showing up at halftime of the JV-Varsity game at the end of Mighty Ducks 3. Really, any clip of someone returning from somewhere and then going on a rampage would do.
But none could do it better than Randy Quaid in Independence Day:
Just pretend the spaceship is an opposing defense and the metaphor works perfectly. Kinda like Welker and Tom Brady.
When the 2012 New England Patriots kick off their season in a few months, many of the faces will look familiar. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker will still be there, picking apart defenses. Jerod Mayo will still blow up any receiver foolhardy enough to run across the middle of the field. Stephen Gostkowski will still split the uprights with computer-like proficiency.
But one familiar face won’t be there: Matt Light, who retired from the NFL Monday. Light played for the Patriots for 11 years, starting 153 of 155 total regular season games, plus 16 playoff games. He started all 16 games in seven different seasons, playing a key role in the Patriots’ transformation into the premier NFL franchise of the 21st century.
Light Anchored Competent Offensive Line
In the five years before Light arrived, the Patriots’ offensive line averaged just under 41 sacks per season, with an average rank smack in the middle of the NFL (16). With Light anchoring the team starting in 2001, average sacks dropped down to 30.5, and average ranking improved to 11.1.
The San Diego County medical officer ruled Junior Seau’s death a suicide Thursday. Though many questions surrounding his death remain, Seau’s gunshot wound to the chest bears ominous similarity to that of former Bears safety Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest in 2011 so that his brain might be preserved for scientific study.
As if the drug addiction, dementia, mental illness and violent behavioral changes common to people suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy weren’t enough, Seau’s and Duerson’s decisions add another layer of horror to the reality of former football players. They don’t just suffer through CTE’s degeneration – they’re completely aware of it as it happens.
It seems NFL players know full well that something’s gone wrong, and that they can’t do anything about it. No person deserves that fate.
It’s only a matter of time before scientists conclusively link CTE with playing in the NFL. With every new former NFL player’s brain studied, the inevitable lawsuit against the NFL looms a little closer. Lawyers don’t want to blow an opportunity to take a bite out of the NFL’s $9 billion revenue machine, so they’ll hold off the lawsuit until the verdict becomes all-but-guaranteed.
When that day comes, the NFL will change drastically. Diminished salaries, smaller rosters, league-wide contractions – anything’s possible depending on the scope of the verdict.
For the NFL to survive, Roger Goodell needs to take charge of this problem now. The penalties instituted for dirty hits last year were a start, but they need to be ramped up a step further, and they should be cumulative: every helmet-to-helmet hit, every hit on a defenseless receiver or hands to the face needs to be tallied, and each subsequent violation must result in a harsher penalty.
NBA players can only receive 15 technical fouls in a season before they start receiving automatic suspensions. The NFL should institute a similar policy, but the accumulation should cover a player’s career, as is the case with positive steroid tests in baseball. After all, dirty hits are a form of cheating, just like steroids.
As punishment for his complicity in the New Orleans Saints’ “bounty program,” Saints coach Sean Payton received a one-year ban from the NFL Wednesday. Roger Goodell also banned St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams – the Saints’ defensive coordinator from 2009-2011 – indefinitely, Saints GM Mickey Loomis for eight games and assistant coach Joe Vitt for six. The NFL also fined the Saints $500,000 and stripped them of their next two draft picks.
A harsh penalty, to be sure, but what did the Saints expect? They not only violated league rules by encouraging players to injure opponents – they violated the image the NFL tries to sell the public.
And that’s a crime the NFL couldn’t let go under-punished.
The National Family-Friendly League
The NFL has convinced us all that football, more than any other sport, is a game that speaks to our “values” as Americans. Sunday afternoon and Monday Night Football have become ritualized viewing experiences involving everyone from the very young to the very old.
The NFL wants us to think that not only can we be entertained by football, we can also identify with football. And that loose mental association between our own identities and this televised sport helps the NFL snatch up billions of the fans’ dollars. Marketing, not quality of product, has made the NFL the most profitable league in the world. The NFL understands that to get our wallets they need to go through our “souls,” and they’ve done it.
Of course, this is all a farce. And the only way to preserve a farce is to never do anything that portrays the NFL as anything other than the family-friendly, “American values” ritual Goodell needs to keep everyone rich.
Well… that kinda sucked. But reporters don’t only get to cover the good stuff, so despite my disappointment, I still had to write a 52 Games column on the Super Bowl. And it actually turned out decent!
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.
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.