Life of a Sportsaholic

This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.

Tag: pats

Catching Up with the Busy New England Patriots

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

In the past week, by my count, the Patriots have signed, re-signed, or traded for 8 different players. This has been an unusually active period for the Pats who historically let the first few days of the free agent signing period settle before jumping in looking for deals. This year, Bill Belichick jumped into the trade market on March 8th and when free agency began at 4pm on March 9th, he made a big splash signing a #1 CB to bolster the defense. For those who haven’t been following the Pats moves as closely as I have, here is a recap of the new additions to the roster (in order of acquisition).

TE Dwayne Allen, Traded from the Colts 

Allen was the first domino to fall for the Pats and fills the #2 TE void that was left behind with the departure of Martellus Bennett (signed with the Packers). Allen is an excellent blocker, which is exactly what Bill Belichick looks for in a #2 TE, so he should fit in nicely. Allen has a history of catching passes in the red zone and will likely have a chance to tally some TDs this season opposite Rob Gronkowski.

CB Stephon Gilmore, Signed in Free Agency

The biggest early splash was the 5 year, $65 million deal Gilmore got in free agency from the Pats. The big payday was warranted given that he was one of the top ranking free agents this off-season, it’s just surprising the Pats were the one paying. After 5 years with the Bills and 5 defensive coordinators, Gilmore is ready for some stability. If he works hard and buys into the system (some question there), Gilmore has the size and athleticism to be an excellent #1 CB, especially since he is just 26 years old. The signing did create some issues with CB Malcolm Butler, who will likely be playing somewhere else next season. If not, a Butler/Gilmore secondary could be dominant against the pass next season.

S Duron Harmon, Re-signed

Harmon is a perfect Belichick player. He’s the 3rd safety on the depth chart and plays mostly in nickel and dime packages, but is also an important special teams player. Bill loves guys who get dirty on special teams and can contribute in multiple aspects of the game. Harmon has only missed 1 regular season game in 4 seasons, making him a nice, stable rotational piece.

TE Michael Williams, Re-signed

Many Pats fans won’t even know the name Michael Williams because he didn’t see the field in 2016. Williams is the definition of a depth piece who can be valuable in case of several injuries. In 2015 he appeared in 15 games of the Pats (started 9) and caught 3 passes for 26 yards over that span – he was primarily a blocker. At 26 years old, the Pats like him enough to keep him around, but don’t expect to see his name called unless something catastrophic happens.

WR Brandin Cooks, Traded from the Saints

One could argue this trade was even bigger than the Gilmore signing and may be the best move of the off-season, period. Cooks has been coveted by Belichick and the Pats for years and now he is a Patriot. The 23-year old WR is one of the best receivers in football and the sky is the limit on his potential. The Pats gave up their 1st and 3rd round picks for Cooks, but he has an expiring rookie contract after this season. My guess is that Belichick and Co. hope he signs a longer term deal and stays in New England for the foreseeable future, although he will not come cheap and likely demand top dollar. Cooks had 75+ receptions and 1,000+ yards in his last 2 seasons with New Orleans, which is up there with only Antonio Brown of the Steelers and Odell Beckham Jr. for the Giants in terms of production. Cook adds speed to the Pats receiving options, making them even more potent this upcoming season.

DE Kony Ealy, Traded from the Carolina Panthers

The Pats looked to bolster their defensive line depth by trading for Kony Ealy from the Panthers. Ealy has played in all 32 regular season games the past 2 seasons for the Panthers, but only started 15 of them total. He can get to the QB and is just 25, so could develop into regular starter over time. Ealy is best known for his dominant performance in Super Bowl 50, when he became the only play to force a fumble, get an interception, and record 3 sacks in a game. The potential is there and the risk is pretty low.

DT Lawrence Guy, Signed in Free Agency

Another guy in his mid-20s with potential. Guy is a journeyman defensive lineman who will add depth to the Pats line. He is 6-5, 300lbs and has 67 games under his belt (20 starts). During the past 2 seasons Guy played for the Ravens and started 17 of their 32 games while racking up 5.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble. He’s a big body inside who stays at home and won’t light-up a stat sheet. A Belichick special: depth.

RB Rex Burkhead, Signed in Free Agency

Fitting the same mold, Burkhead is a 26-year old with potential, but little to show for it in his career. He will have to compete with James White and Dion Lewis for a spot in the backfield, but given past injury history at the RB position, it’s a low-risk signing. Burkhead is looking for a chance to play and will likely be motivated to work hard in practice to prove his value. I doubt he will see the field much this year, but could be a safety valve is White and/or Lewis go down for an extended period of time.

***

LB Dont’a Hightower, TBD

As of writing this, Hightower had yet to make a decision on where he was signing, but a return to the Pats seemed likely and a decision was expected Wed. The Jets and Steelers were also reportedly interested in his services, but the needle seemed to be pointing to Foxboro.

CB Malcolm Butler, On roster

One of the bigger stories recently had been the discontent of Butler, the Pats #1 CB and Super Bowl hero. Butler is set to make under $4 million this year if he signs the transitional tag, which is a big raise, but still makes him vastly underpaid (see Gilmore’s deal). The Saints may be interested in his services leading to a potential trade in the near future. Stay tuned.

QB Jimmy Garoppolo, On roster

Will they or won’t they trade Garoppolo? No one really knows, but the Browns remain the most likely landing spot for the Pats back-up. The Pats don’t have a 1st or 2nd round pick this year, so a trade with the Browns could solve the pick deficit for Belichick. My opinion swings daily on if this will actually happen.

Super Bowl LI: One Month Later

Barry Chin/Boston Globe

In the days following Super Bowl LI, my mind was racing with reflections, observations, and questions. I was in shock and still trying to grasp the gravity of what had happened. That moment almost forced me back to writing after my hiatus, but I decided to catch my breath and reflect on the game during the following weeks. Now, one month later, I can finally take a step back and work through my emotions during the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all time.

* * *

Leading up to the game, it felt like destiny and redemption were on the Patriots side. Deflategate had been the top Boston news story for a year and a half and the Pats began the season without their superstar QB Tom Brady thanks to a questionable (I’m being kind) 4-game suspension. The team played well without him (3-1) and when he returned in week 5, he was on a mission. He lit up the league and appeared to have an extra level of motivation (if that’s actually possible). In 12 regular season games, Brady finished with over 3,500 passing yards, 28 TDs (7th best in the NFL), and just 2 interceptions. He had the 5th best completion percentage in football (67.4%) and finished 2nd in the NFL MVP voting (just 4 votes behind his Super Bowl foe, Matt Ryan). Brady led the Pats through the playoffs with relative ease and into the biggest game of the season poised for success.

With Brady at the helm and excitement growing as the game grew near, I felt pretty confident as the ball was teed up for kickoff.  I was ready to finally have deflategate put to bed and watch Roger Goodell painfully smile as Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. All those happy feelings began to drift away when the game started and the dream of a 5th ring appeared to be slipping away in embarrassing blowout fashion.

Because I am a nauseatingly annoyingly optimist, I held a belief (although not strong) that this team could comeback, until the 8:36 mark in the 3rd quarter. After a weak drive to start the 2nd half resulting in a punt, Matt Ryan marched the Falcons down the field and threw a short 6-yard pass to RB Tevin Coleman for a TD, expanding their lead to 28-3. It was over. A 25-point deficit with 23 minutes left in the game is insurmountable. I could see the headlines in the papers the next day “Patriots Hopes Deflated”, “Patriots Embarrassed on the Biggest Stage”, “Patriots Redemption Tour Stopped Short”, and “Falcons Rip Patriots to Shreds” (yes, I know I’m a terrible headline writer…so sue me). Even the obnoxious pain-in-the-ass homer sports fan in me couldn’t see a way to victory and was giving up.

What followed next can only be described as the largest emotional roller coaster a sports fan can ever experience.

From the depths of despair, a tiny glimmer of hope began to emerge later in the 3rd quarter when RB James White caught a 5-yard TD pass from Brady. Some life. A heartbeat. Maybe they can at least make this game competitive. Then, just as quickly as the glimmer arrived, it left when Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point. Was that not the perfect example of how the game had gone for the Pats? If they couldn’t even do the little things right, then there was certainly no chance of a huge comeback. The missed extra point error was compounded by the next play; a botched onside kick that Gostkowski himself ran into before it went 10 yards. No one knew it at the time, but the sequence of events following that botched kick would turn the game around for the Pats.

The Falcons began the drive essentially in field goal range, especially with their kicker, Matt Bryant‘s incredible leg.  So naturally, you would expect Atlanta to shorten the game by running and taking some time off the clock. Right? Wrong. They pass on first down to TE Austin Hooper for a 9-yard gain.  Ok, I’ll give them that one; a nice pass to pick up a solid chunk of yards while catching the defense off balance. Now they could stick to the ground game, waste some clock, and go to Mr. Automatic for a field goal to increase the lead to 22. Thankfully for the Pats, after a 2nd down run that resulted in a holding penalty on T Jake Matthews, the Falcons decided the passing game was the bees knees. After the penalty, 2nd down and long, the Falcons decide to try another pass to Hooper, but this time the result was basically no gain, bringing up 3rd down. Still in long field goal range, offensive coordinate Mike Shanahan dialed up another passing play that ended with Pats LB Kyle Van Noy and DE Trey Flowers planting Matty Ice into the turf for a massive sack that pushed Atlanta out of field goal range.

After that disaster of a possession from the Falcons, the slivers of hope began to grow and gain momentum. With 9:48 left, Gostkowski hit a short field goal to bring the deficit to 16 points (just 2 scores). Despite being frustrated with just a field goal, the optimist in me began to return. “This is just a 2 score game…How the hell is this just a 2 score game?” Just a little over a minute of game time later, my mood shifted from optimistic to legitimate excitement and anxiety. With Matt Ryan once again back to pass, LB Dont’a Hightower came around the edge and got a clean shot on him knocking the ball out, a fumble recovered by DT Alan Branch.  All of a sudden, it seemed like this comeback was a real possibility. All of the stars were beginning to align. Could this really be happening?

I don’t need to narrate the entire game, we all know what happened. The Pats went on to grab 2 scores and 2 2-pt conversions in the final 6 minutes of regulation to force OT in dramatic fashion. Once the game got to OT and the Pats won the coin toss, the game was over. Just like the 2004 Red Sox after they finished the incredible comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS, no one was going to stop them from winning the championship at that point. I saw no way the Pats defense was getting back on the field. There has been no greater QB in football history with the game on the line than Tom Brady. As the Pats drove down field, my anxiety level was sky-high, despite feeling like the game was under control. When Super Bowl hero James White crossed the goal line to win the game, the emotional roller coaster was at it’s peak. From confidence, to sinking feelings of embarrassment, to hope re-emerging, to high-wire anxiety, to child-like joy, this game had it all. Heart attack city. It was so emotional and I was in such shock that it took until this past week, nearly a month later, to fully grasp what I witnessed on February 5th. That was the definition of a game to remember.

* * *

Jim Davis/Boston Globe

In the days following the game, a lot was made of where this sports moment ranks in the landscape of Boston sports lore. Boston fans have no shortage of amazing teams, memories, and comebacks to draw from, but for me, it was an easy choice: #2 behind the 2004 Red Sox. The 2004 Red Sox will likely never be surpassed in my mind. Breaking an 86-year curse and coming back from the brink of elimination in the ALCS against your most bitter rival is sports perfection and invoked an emotional reaction that sticks with me to this day. Besides the 2004 Red Sox, Super Bowl LI is without a doubt #2. As a game, most of it was not a particularly well-played game or entertaining to watch, but from midway in the 3rd quarter to the TD in OT, the mounting comeback is as an intriguing a story as there is in sports. The twists, turns, and big moments were almost too many to count. Add in a little deflategate redemption and the moment gains even more weight.

For some reason, the Patriots and Super Bowl dramatics go together like frosting and a cup cake. You can’t have one without the other.

Trick or Treat: Belichick Pulled a Trick

Winslow Townson/USA Today

Winslow Townson/USA Today

As most people were getting through their Monday work day in anticipation of an evening filled with scary masks and candy, Bill Belichick was hard at work scaring Pats fans by trading away an All-Pro linebacker. Bill sent Jamie Collins packing in exchange for a conditional 3rd round pick from the Cleveland Browns. The move sent shock waves throughout the NFL and sent the Patriots fan base into a tizzy. A Patriots team without Collins is not surprising given he will be a free agent at the end of the season and is reportedly asking for Von Miller money (6 yrs, $114.5 million), but the timing of the trade is very curious.

Going into their bye week, the Pats are 7-1 after having avenged their only loss of the season to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The defense has been under-performing as a group leading to Belichick calling them out to the media saying he was “disappointed” (full quote below). Clearly he felt like a message needed to be sent to the defense that if you don’t work as hard as you can at every practice and during every game, you may be shown the door, regardless of your talent, contract, etc. Collins has had a roller coaster year, looking elite in a few games and disappearing for long periods of time in others.

“I think overall, we had our ups and downs. At times we played well defensively and at other times, not so well. It was good enough to win. It was good at times and then at other times I think we really – I think we’re all disappointed, so we really just need to do a better job. That’s pretty much across the board – the running game, the passing game, everything. I mean there were some things that just, we need to do better.”

In order for Bill to make the move now, there has to be another reason. The more I think about this trade the more I believe there were other factors involved in sending Collins away so early in the season. There had to be. My guess is that Collins was not working as hard as he should and has not given 100% effort in every practice and game. Belichick is not about to tolerate a player half-assing it on the field and I could easily see that scenario resulting in this type of trade. Seeing the emergence of Elandon Roberts as a solid linebacker may also have helped Bill decide that Collins was an expendable piece. Roberts is no Collins, but I, for one, am excited to see him get even more playing time now.

Where I struggle with this trade the most is in the return, not the player. I know Collins is a “rental” player because his contract is up at the end of the season, but there are enough teams in football with enough cap money to sign a player of his caliber longer term. There really wasn’t a sign and trade deal out there that would have given the Pats more than a 3rd round conditional pick? Was Collins that toxic to the team environment that he had to go to any bidder just halfway through the season? Is there another move brewing for Belichick?

In Bill We Trust. In Bill We Trust. In Bill We Trust.

Just keep saying it over and over again, because that’s the only redeeming piece of this deal.

Weekend Sports Recap: Pats, Bruins, UConn, and Revs

weekend-recap-10-24-16

This was a busy weekend for New England sports teams, especially those I am particularly interested in following. Let’s take a look at each game from this weekend.

NFL

Final
New England Patriots 27
Pittsburgh Steelers 16

The New England Patriots overcame some early mistakes to beat Pittsburgh on the road. The Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger, so resorted to starting Landry Jones. Jones wasn’t terrible for the Steelers and took another step in his development, but didn’t have enough in the 4th quarter to hang with New England and even make an attempt at a comeback. The Steelers defense looked good at times, but Brady found ways to use his plethora of weapons throughout the evening. LeGarrette Blount ran for 127 yards and 2 TDs (74 yards after halftime) against his former team and Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for Gronk’s 68th TD. It was all smiles after the game for Gronk who pointed out to those assembled that his next TD will be his 69th. “One more and I got 69 touchdowns. You know what I mean.”

NHL

Final
Montreal Canadiens 4
Boston Bruins 2

After a 3-1 start for the Bruins and a 3-0-1 start for the Canadiens, the two bitter rivals matched up for the first time this season. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the Canadiens looked like the better team throughout. The Bruins again allowed the first goal and found themselves playing from behind the entire night, down 2-0 and 3-1 in the 2nd and 3rd periods. The Bruins made a lot of mistakes and had some sloppy play throughout the game, which tends to happen when teams have younger talent developing under the bright lights. It’s early, but the Canadiens look strong after a blockbuster off-season trade sending PK Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber. The Canadiens have now won 9 straight in Boston against the Bruins.

College Football

Final
UCF Knights 24
UConn Huskies 16

It was homecoming for UConn on Saturday as they hosted the UCF Knights. The Huskies came into the game at 3-4 and needed a W against the Knights, but looked flat and couldn’t muster anything in the 2nd half leading to their 5th loss of the season. UCF moves above .500 to 4-3 with the win, rebounding from a 1-pt loss to Temple a week prior. UConn travels to Greenville, NC for a matchup with East Carolina next week desperately needing a W to keep bowl hopes alive. The 2-5 East Carolina Pirates are coming off a 12-pt loss to Cincinnati on the road this past weekend.

MLS

Final
New England Revolution 3
Montreal Impact 0

Despite a disappointing season overall (11-14-9), the New England Revolution finished it off with a strong 3-0 win over the Impact at Gillette Stadium. The Revs made a late push for the playoffs, but knew prior to Sunday’s match that their season would be over finishing in 7th place, 1 spot out of the playoffs. With nothing to lose, the Revs played a strong match and got goals from Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo, and Kei Kamara. Coach Jay Heaps summed up the season after the game. “It’s disappointing that we waited too long to really find ourselves and express ourselves throughout the last part of the season. Five (wins) out of seven is really good, but we just didn’t do enough.”

Where Has Julian Edelman Gone?

Getty Images

Getty Images

The Patriots picked up their 6th win of the season on Sunday in Pittsburgh and with a Buffalo Bills loss, are in complete control of the AFC East. Despite tremendous success in 2016, one piece of the Pats offense, arguably one of the most important pieces of the last several years, has seen a sharp decline in production. Julian Edelman was previously the #1 target in the passing game, but has been almost invisible during large swaths of games this year and has made only minor contributions. The drop-off in his numbers are significant.

Through 7 games last season, Edelman was the #1 option for Tom Brady and was lighting up defenses across the league. This year, he is a complementary player. Why the drop-off? I have a few thoughts.

Julian Edelman (through 7 games)
2015 2016 Drop-off
Targets 75 54 21
Receptions 52 37 15
Yards 584 321 263
Yards/reception 11.23 8.68 2.55
TD 6 0 6
Catch % 69.3% 68.5% 0.8%

1. Missing his best friend

For the first 4 games of 2016, Edelman was without his best friend, big brother, and idol under center. Edelman is completely and utterly head-over-heals obsessed with Tom Brady, so without him, he is lost. Although it’s somewhat of a joke, there is some serious truth to it as well. In the first 4 games of the season, Edelman was targeted 27 times and in the 3 games since Brady’s return he has been targeted 27 times, a nice increase for JE11. What this doesn’t explain is Edelman’s drop in catch percentage with Brady under center (70.4% with Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo throwing the passes and 66.7% with Brady).

2. Added firepower

The addition of offensive weapons this year has taken opportunities away from Edelman. Any other year, the loss of Rob Gronkowski to injury for any period of time would afford Edelman even more touches, but not in 2016. Martellus Bennett stepped in this year and had 2 100-yard receiving games in the first 4 weeks of the year. Bennett has a 77.1% catch percentage this year and 367 yards and 4 TDs through 7 games. Add the production of James White in the red zone the last few weeks (3 TDs) and that spells trouble for JE11’s stats.

3. Foot injury

Edelman’s foot injury may be hampering his quickness and ability to separate from defenders. Even when he completes the catch, he’s not getting the same type of separation from defenders. Sunday’s game against the Steelers was a great example. Edelman caught 9 of 10 passes, but averaged just 6.67 yards per reception. He would make the catch and then couldn’t create any space to pick up chunks of yards after the catch. He would catch, turn, and go down, rather than make a move and gain at least a few extra yards like he has in the past. If his foot is 100% healthy, then I worry about a loss of quickness, his greatest asset, at age 30.

4. Opposing defenses keying on him

Given how important the quick slant is to the Patriots, many defenses are treating Edelman like a #1 WR hoping to stunt the offense by slowing him down. They are playing more physical with him at the line knowing that the quick patterns are all about timing. Brady loves to get the ball out fast (under 2 seconds as we hear about on every game broadcast) so defenders are keying in on Edelman. That tends to open up opportunities for others, but certainly doesn’t help Edelman break out.


There is a long way to go in the 2016 season and I predict Edelman’s numbers will begin to tick upward after the bye week (week 9). He’ll have a chance for some extra rest and can come into the Pats week 10 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks refreshed. The best news of all for Pats fans: Even with a less-than-ideal Edelman, the team is 6-1 and not showing signs of struggling on offense.