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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Patriots Get Run Over In Kansas City, Suffer Second Worst Loss Ever Under Belichick (41-14)

There is not much to say when you watch one of your favorite teams get absolutely embarrassed on national television. New England (2-2) went into Arrowhead Stadium tonight for Monday Night Football and just laid down in a soul-crushing 41-14 loss to Kansas City (2-2). It was the second worst loss (by margin of defeat) under Bill Belichick, trumped only by the 31-0 loss at Buffalo in the 2003 season opener.

It was never remotely competitive after the first quarter as the Chiefs led 17-0 at halftime (and it should have been more) then 27-7 after three quarters. Alex Smith (20 of 26 for 248 yards, 3 TDs) had a nearly perfect quarterback rating of 144.4 while Jamaal Charles (92 yards rushing, TD; 2 TD catches) looked like the best all-around running back in the NFL. His backup Knile Davis (107 yards rushing) and tight end Travis Kelce (8 catches, 93 yards, TD) were also unstoppable.

Things got so bad that Tom Brady (14 of 24 for 159 yards, TD, 2 INTs) was benched in the fourth quarter (to make sure he wasn't maimed). Rookie Jimmy Garoppolo made his NFL debut and threw a meaningless 13-yard touchdown to Rob Gronkowski which is sure to set off reactionary idiots across New England for the next week ("he should start!").

The scary part is that Kansas City by all indications before tonight is nothing more than an average to fringe playoff team in the AFC. What happens when New England plays legitimate contenders like say Cincinnati (3-0) which just happens to be their next game on Sunday night (8:30, NBC) at Gillette Stadium?

I can't ever remember the Pats having so many critical deficiencies at one time: their offensive line is maybe the worst in the NFL, Brady isn't himself (understandably), they can't run the ball consistently and outside of Julian Edelman and the ghost of Gronk, who can he throw to? Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins were inactive again tonight which makes zero sense unless there was some internal punishment that we'll never know about.

The defense seemed promising through the first three games but then this evening they imploded in spectacular fashion: missing millions of tackles, slipping constantly and above all, looking slow and lethargic.

Other than Matthew Slater on special teams (seriously, he's a beast), there was only one other guy on the Patriots that showed some signs of life: Brandon LaFell. He had six catches for a game-high 119 yards including a 44-yard catch and run for a score. After four catches last week vs. Oakland, he appears to be getting on the same page with Brady. My advice to Josh McDaniels: keep feeding him the ball, what's the worst that can happen?

The AFC East is still the worst division in football and you know at some point, New England will get better. However, nobody expected a catastrophic loss like this. The Patriots used to hand out beatings in similar fashion, not absorb them in front of the entire world. This will be the most critical week (in terms of negativity) surrounding the team since Belichick took over (minus Spygate of course).

Monday, September 29, 2014

Torey Krug & Reilly Smith Both End the Most Peaceful Holdouts in Sports History

At least in my mind, there are a million good reasons to prefer hockey over any of the other major sports in the U.S. and today we added another check mark to the NHL's ledger. Bruins defenseman Torey Krug & forward Reilly Smith both ended their holdouts for the meager sum of one-year deals worth $1.4 million. If you weren't paying close attention, you might not have even known that either were holding out in the first place. It says something about hockey players' lack of ego that this didn't become a big topic at all like it always seems to be in the NBA, NFL and MLB.

It looked like Boston would have no choice but to trade some guys away, probably defensemen, in order to accommodate two of their better young players. No worries, now all they have to do is put Marc Savard on the long-term injured list (not sure why he's not there already?) and they'll recoup roughly $4 million. It is both refreshing but also kind of stunning how simple this seems (at least on the surface). Krug and Smith missed training camp and four preseason games but with nine days left before the season opener next Wednesday vs. Philadelphia and three preseason games remaining, they might have just enough time to get back in proper shape.

You can't assume that either will magically jump back in right away like they never missed a day but at the same time, with how smoothly the holdout went, you half expect that to be a breeze too. Krug is 23, last season (his first full one in the NHL) he had 14 goals (6 on the power play), 26 assists and he was +18. Smith is also 23 and he had 20 goals (6 on the power play), 31 assists and he was +28 in his rookie season.

Assuming that each performs to a similar type of level this season, they should be in line for raises next offseason when perhaps Boston's salary cap is less of a quagmire. Boston hosts the Islanders tomorrow night and then they play the Islanders on Friday in Bridgeport, CT on Friday and they wrap up the preseason on Saturday vs. Detroit. It'll be interesting to see when Krug & Smith see their first action and also how rusty them appear to be.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Can Anything Go Right For the Celtics These Days?

When the sobering news came out on Friday night that Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo had broken his left hand, it felt like a cruel joke to a team that currently has no good luck whatsoever. It was dutifully reported by Celtics reporters that he slipped in the shower at his house, haha yeah OK. Regardless of how it happened (as long as it wasn't a domestic issue, who cares?), it casts an even deeper depression over what already promised to be another Lottery-bound season for the Green and White.

Training camp opens on Monday with their first preseason game scheduled for a week after that vs. Philadelphia. PS did you know there are eight preseason games, why exactly? Their regular season opener is October 29 vs. Brooklyn (who no longer has Paul Pierce) at TD Garden.

The ripple effects of this injury to Boston's best player are large: Rondo had surgery today but he's expected to miss between six and eight weeks so he could be out until Thanksgiving. Can the Celtics just skip this sure-to-be miserable campaign? Ugh, what a mess. I'm sure plenty of know-it-alls will fault the C's for not trading him last season (or earlier) when they had a chance. They stubbornly stuck by him as they try to rebuild one of the NBA's marquee franchises that has become completely irrelevant the last few years.

Rondo was misleadingly durable his first few seasons but I guess it makes sense that injuries are starting to pile up now (elbow, ACL, hand) since he's tiny by the NBA's cartoonish standards. He missed 95 games in the past two seasons so that total will only increase. This also means that Phil Pressey and rookie Marcus Smart (Rondo's understudy) will get much more playing time from day one which is slightly horrifying especially if your name is Brad Stevens and you'd like to win in the NBA at some point.

There just is no positive way to spin this for the Celtics. To make matters worse for all parties involved, Rondo is an unrestricted free agent after 2014-15 so his value will be even lower and I doubt there would be a real market for him. So neither he nor the team can really cash in on his unique talents. As if it hadn't already begun, I guess it's officially time to start the countdown for Tankapalooza Part 2. Haha Boston is bound to win the draft lottery at some point, right? Actually, don't answer that.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Patriots Hang On 16-9 In Home Opener, Raiders Self-Destruct In Most Raiders Way Possible

It's only Week 3 of the 2014 NFL regular season but I am already going weary of describing a Patriots win as ugly and unfortunately, I think that will be a habit all season long. Of course, what's most important is that New England (2-1) came out on top of Oakland (0-3) 16-9 this afternoon at Gillette Stadium in their home opener. Still, we all know all that matters around here is the postseason and bad habits that creep up now will be nearly impossible to eradicate by then against quality opponents.

The good news is that I think that the Patriots' defense could be the best that they've had in years. For the second game in a row, they held their opponent to a single-digit point total and this time, they spiced it up but not allowing the hapless Raiders to get into the end zone. Clearly, Minnesota and Oakland's offenses are two of the worst in the NFL but we have to be positive about something, right?

New England's offense is the most worrisome aspect of their team, by far. Where to begin with their myriad problems? The offensive line stinks, they only allowed two sacks today but Tom Brady (24 of 37 for 234 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs) was hurried and knocked down numerous other times. The lack of weapons is also downright scary.

Julian Edelman (10 catches, 84 yards) is Brady's only trusted receiver with Rob Gronkowski (3 catches, 44 yards, TD) still working his way back into form and Brandon LaFell/Danny Amendola/Aaron Dobson (inactive again) nowhere to be seen. The running game carried the Pats last Sunday in Minnesota but today, they combined for just 83 yards on 29 carries. Yuck.

Against almost any other club, this would have gone to overtime. Luckily, it was the Raiders so when rookie Derek Carr (21 of 34 for 174 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT) drove them near the goal-line, they had a touchdown run by Darren McFadden called back for a holding penalty on a lineman. Naturally, on the next play his pass was deflected and intercepted by Vince Wilfork (his 3rd career interception, 2nd vs. Oakland).

The only points in the first quarter came from a 49-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski. The Pats went up 10-3 in the second quarter with a 6-yard touchdown catch by Gronk and Stephen Gostkowski's 21-yard field goal to end the half after they couldn't punch it in from near the goal-line.

Janikowski's two field goals in the third quarter (37, 47) helped rack up the fantasy points for fans. Gostkowski hit two more field goals (20, 36) in the dull fourth quarter as New England continued to falter in the red zone (another main issue).

This contest set football back about 20 years so be thankful that it didn't drag on any longer. New England gets an extra day to prepare for their first nationally broadcast game of the season: next Monday (8:30, ESPN) at Kansas City (1-2). The Chiefs looked terrible in Week 1 (26-10 loss to Titans), almost rallied vs. Denver in Week 2 (24-17) before finally putting it together this afternoon with a 34-15 win over the Dolphins (1-2). Predictably, Miami has played poorly since that big Week 1 win over New England.

If Jamaal Charles misses another game, I like New England's chances to go into Arrowhead Stadium and pick up what would be a nice road win. Kansas City's defense is depleted and Alex Smith is the type of game manager that will put up good numbers vs. New England but probably won't beat them especially now that they have Darrelle Revis.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Week 3: Patriots vs. Raiders Injury Report

The traveling freak show that is the Oakland Raiders (0-2) makes a rare stop at Gillette Stadium on Sunday (1, CBS) to face the Patriots (1-1). In their 2014 home opener, New England is by far the biggest favorite in the NFL this weekend and with good reason, as usual the past decade the Raiders are a complete disaster. Oh and that joker with the bowl cut up above is the late Al Davis' mysterious son Mark that hit the genetic lottery (well kind of) and he's now the current owner of these losers.

The injury report was released this afternoon with six Patriots listed as questionable, one Raider already out and seven others questionable. Defensive lineman Michael Buchanan (ankle), Jamie Collins (thigh), Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder), safety Don Jones (hamstring), Shane Vereen (shoulder) and center Ryan Wendell (knee) are the guys on New England who could be out for what should be the easiest win of the season. Collins, Dennard and Vereen are the most notable; the first two were out last week in Minnesota while Vereen is a new addition.

UConn safety Tyvon Branch returns to New England with Oakland as a starter but his fellow Husky alum linebacker Sio Moore (ankle) has already been ruled out. The Raiders who are most in danger of missing out on this beating are cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (knee), Maurice Jones-Drew (hand), offensive tackle Matt McCants (knee), linebacker Nick Roach (concussion), cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee), defensive lineman Antonio Smith (back) and wide receiver Rod Streater (hip). Jones-Drew, Rogers and Smith are all former stars that might be washed up (why else would they come to Oakland?).

Sunday could be the last summer like day of the year in these parts so enjoy it but check in for my update before kickoff regarding the inactives.

UPDATE 9/21: The Patriots inactives are Dennard, Jones, Wendell, DL Zach Moore, WR Aaron Dobson, OL Josh Kline and RB James White. The Raiders inactives are Chekwa, Jones-Drew, Moore, Roach, QB Matt Schaub, OL Matt McCants and OL Tony Bergstrom.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Chandler Jones Named AFC Defensive Player of the Week

Coming off their 30-7 win over Minnesota on Sunday, this afternoon Patriots (1-1) defensive end Chandler Jones was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. His signature play-the blocked field goal and 58-yard return for a score-didn't even count towards this most coveted award but he still had the resume with six solo tackles, two assists, two sacks and one run stuff.

It was fitting that Jones picked up the first honor of the 2014 regular season for the Pats since other than cornerback Darrelle Revis, Jones is arguably their most important player on defense. It's too simplistic to say that New England lost to Miami (33-20) because Jones didn't play well (4 solo tackles) but you have to note that moving him from inside (in a 3-4) to his more natural position on the outside as a pass rusher allowed him to succeed.

Still only 24 years old in his third pro season, Jones had six sacks his rookie season and 11.5 last season; he also has four forced fumbles and one recovered fumble in his brief career. I don't think he's a Hall of Famer by any means but he has the ability to be a Pro Bowler that gets double digit sacks every season and those guys don't grow on trees, particularly if the defense is anything close to what it was against the overmatched Vikings.

The offense hasn't looked good for the most part through the first two games but this is definitely the week for Tom Brady and Co. to wake up: vs. Oakland (0-2) at Gillette Stadium in their 2014 home opener. If the Pats struggle at all vs. the Raiders, you'll know that something is seriously wrong with their offense. It's nearly impossible to predict NFL games but Vegas clearly knows something as they've installed the Pats as a 15-point favorite (highest in the league).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Patriots Get Back On Track With 30-7 Win At Minnesota

In case you haven't noticed, the Patriots don't lose many games (particularly in the regular season) so naturally when they do lose, we all collectively overreact like you read about. New England (1-1) went to TCF Bank Stadium this afternoon and blew out Minnesota (1-1) 30-7 in a contest that didn't feel nearly that competitive. It marked the seventh instance in a row where the Pats bounced back from a loss with a win the following week.

This also served as a perfect reminder not to read too much into early results, especially after Week 1. The Pats had lost 33-20 at Miami while Minnesota rolled 34-6 at St. Louis. You simply can't (or at least you shouldn't make any grand statements about teams after only a few games) but this served notice of what each team's reasonable expectations are for this season.

Of course, not having Adrian Peterson certainly might have been the biggest factor in this one and he wasn't even in the stadium. Without the NFL's best running back, the Vikings had to rely on Matt Cassel (19 of 36 for 202 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs, sacked 6 times) and you can tell by his numbers how that worked out for them.

The most intriguing part of the beatdown for the Patriots is that their offense didn't even do that much, meaning that they could execute at a much higher level than that. This felt like a throwback to the good old days that we always talk about (2001-2005) where New England got contributions from all three phases of the team and a host of different players.

Stevan Ridley (25 carries, 101 yards, TD) was the Patriots' top offensive weapon along with the ever versatile Julian Edelman (6 catches, 81 yards, TD; 4 punt returns, 66 yards) who has become Wes Welker without the Adderall problem. The weird part about this game was that Minnesota took the opening drive 80 yards in just seven plays capped off by Cassel hitting fullback Matt Asiata (AP's replacement) for an easy 25-yard touchdown.

It was all downhill from there though for Minnesota as the Pats reeled off 30 straight points to end it. Devin McCourty's interception return for the Vikings' 1-yard line set up Ridley for a 1-yard plunge. Stephen Gostkowski's 48-yard field goal on New England's next possession gave them a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter that they would never relinquish.

Tom Brady (15 of 22 for 149 yards) really didn't have to do anything besides a pretty 9-yard touchdown pass to Edelman in the corner of the end zone which gave the Pats a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Unquestionably, the turning point of the game and a play that we'll be seeing for years was Chandler Jones' (6 tackles, 2 sacks) blocked field goal then 58-yard return for a TD with eight seconds left in the first half. The Vikings were about to cut it to seven points, instead they headed to the locker room at halftime completely demoralized.

Darrelle Revis had his first interception as a Patriot, likewise for rookie Dominique Easley. Logan Ryan notched the other interception for New England who won the turnover margin 4-0. If you passed out in the second half or left to do something else, you didn't miss anything besides two more Gostkowski field goals (47. 27). I wondered if Cassel would be pulled in favor of rookie Teddy Bridgewater but I guess head coach Mike Zimmer didn't want to sacrifice Teddy like that.

New England finally gets their 2014 home opener-next Sunday (1, CBS) vs. Oakland (0-2), who is still one of the worst teams in the NFL so I pity the poor suckers that pay for tickets to that stinker. The best you can hope for is good tailgating weather since I don't expect the Raiders to be very competitive. Then again, it's the NFL so it'll probably go to overtime.