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: tom brady (page 1 of 2)

RIP 2018 Patriots Season

Photo from Orlando Sentinel

It’s an unfamiliar word for football fans in New England: failure. After losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, an already mediocre season (by Patriots standards) got worse and the playoff picture became even more concerning. The yearly expectation of Super Bowl or bust puts the stakes at almost impossible heights in New England, but year in and year out the Patriots defy the odds and find a way to make a serious run at a title. We, the fans, are conditioned to expect miraculous comebacks and never count the team out regardless of scenario. I would be willing to bet most of Patriot nation was watching the final drive of the Steelers game on Sunday expecting Brady to take the team down the field in less than 3 mins and score a TD to tie the game. I know I was. Unfortunately, this year is different for the Pats, and we should adjust our expectations now to avoid (more) disappointment later.

There is a laundry list of things that separate this year’s team from previous incarnations of Belichick’s squad, but the underlying theme is the same in all of them: focus and discipline.

The one thing that has always separated Bill Belichick-run teams from everyone else in football has been fundamentally sound, error-free football. Belichick’s teams rarely shoot themselves in the foot and often avoid damaging penalties at inopportune times. Enter the 2018 Patriots who don’t follow any of the usual markers of the Belichick reign. Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh is the freshest and most glaring example of change in 2018. The officials were (admittedly) calling the game tighter than normal, leading to more penalties, yet the worst yellow flags for the Pats were self-inflicted and mostly pre-snap. The Pats had a total of 14 penalties costing them 106 yards, 5 were pre-snap (4 false starts and 1 delay of game). Give Pittsburgh fans credit, the stadium was rocking in the 4th quarter, but rarely do you see a Belichick coached team have 2 terrible false start penalties in a close game in the 4th quarter, even on the road. It’s all about mental focus.

One of the more telling stats about focus and discipline is the team’s 3-5 road record. Mentally fragile or weak teams let road environments get in their heads and force them off their game. Belichick prides himself in preparation, but this year the team seems wholly unprepared on the road (see false starts in yesterday’s 4th quarter and the Miami miracle – hell, the entire Miami game). When the going gets tough and the game gets tight on the road, the Pats seem to tighten-up and make the type of mistakes we expect to see from a Hue Jackson coached team.

On the offensive-side of the ball, the Pats have been wildly inconsistent. It comes down to the receivers. One of the most talked about stories this season has been the apparent rapid decline of Rob Gronkowski, whether because his body has been worn down over the years or because he is currently injured. He’s made a nice catch here and there, but mostly has been an invisible piece of the offense. Another piece for me appears to be effort from the other receivers. On paper, Edelman is having a normal season by his standards, but the last few weeks he’s failed the eye-test at times with some critical dropped passes that he would normally catch. Josh Gordon gets a lot of attention for a big, spectacular catch here and there, but overall he has a catch percentage of 58.8%, which is not what you want to see out of one of your top receivers who has Brady as his QB. I think all three receivers are suffering from a lack of focus at times during games.

When analyzing the team, the QB needs to get some attention. Brady overall is having an fairly normal year by his standards, but has been picked off 9 times already, tied for the most in a season for him since 2013 with 2 games remaining. One major piece to consider is that Brady is being put in a position to force more throws this year because the defense can’t keep the opponent off the scoreboard. It doesn’t excuse all the mistakes, like the awful INT in Sunday’s Pittsburgh game (100% on Brady), but does account for the uptick of risk in his game.

The defense has also been horribly inconsistent this year. Holding the high-powered Steeler offense to 17 points on Sunday was one of their better performances of the year. The weapons in the passing game for Pittsburgh are legit, so allowing more rushing yards to limit the passing game is a smart game plan. Previous games have resulted in an unusually high amount of blown coverages and missed tackles leading to massive days for their opponents. Stopping the run, a Belichick (Patricia) staple, has been beyond a struggle in 2018. In 8 of their 14 games this season the Pats have allowed 100+ rushing yards, including 5 games allowing 150+ yards on the ground. For perspective, the Pats allowed 3 games with 150+ rushing yards in 2017, 1 in 2016, and 2 in 2015 (regular season only). In fact, you have to go back to 2013 for the last time the Pats gave up 5 or more games of 150+ rushing yards and there are still 2 games remaining in 2018.


Historically, Belichick-coached teams turn it on in the 2nd half of the season, peaking in December leading into the playoffs. We have come to expect early season sloppiness trusting that things turn around later in the season. So far in December 2018 the Pats are 1-2, with two crucial, ugly losses. These two losses you might expect in September, not in the stretch run when the playoffs and a bye are at stake. They moved from fighting for the #1 seed to hanging on to the #3.

The struggles are clear, but why? Did the Patriots not bring in enough talent to compete? Are players not performing up to expectation? Is the loss of Matt Patricia more important than previously thought? I think the answer is yes to all, at least in part. The Pats have talent on both sides of the ball, but it isn’t enough. Their defense is easy to exploit by opposing offenses and their offense is forced to come-from-behind and play well outside their comfort zone most weeks.  Now slipping to the #3 playoff spot forces the Pats to play on Wild Card weekend and likely go on the road for the Divisional round if they are lucky enough to get a win at all. 

There’s always a chance for a strong run in the postseason with Brady and Belichick, we’re conditioned to always believe, but at this point, a deep run in 2018 would take a true miracle.

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.

Brady Kills in Foot Locker Commercial

Mr. Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. folks. Flawless.

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.

Don’t Poke The Bear (i.e. Patriots)

AP/Elise Amendola

AP/Elise Amendola

Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler spoke to the media in advance of their matchup with the Patriots this Sunday. These press conferences happen every week and not much is usually said and not many headlines are made, but this week was a little different. Butler said the Pats do things “on the edge of being legal” and the offense doesn’t “do anything special”. That’s bulletin board material for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Either the comments were a mistake and taken out of context or Butler is an idiot. If you are an opponent of the Patriots, why the hell would you poke the bear?

If there is one thing we know about the Patriots, it is that Belichick and Brady are supremely motivated and passionate people (inwardly in Bill’s case). They are driven each week in the impossible pursuit of perfection and are tough to beat, even with major pieces not on their field. The last thing an opponent of the Patriots can afford is a mad and motivated Belichick and Brady. By making stupid comments about the Pats offense and the way the team plays the game not only won’t unnerve the Pats, it will give them extra motivation to beat the living crap out of the Steelers. Why hand the Pats an extra layer of motivation? It just makes no sense at all.

I don’t know anything about Butler except what I have read this week, so can’t speak to the man’s character, but his tactics are idiotic. If we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his comments were strategic, I imagine he was trying to call the refs attention to the Pats play with the first comment and their play being on the edge, maybe trying to grab an extra call or two Sunday. The second comment, I assume he thinks it will force Belichick and Josh McDaniels to react by changing up their offensive plan and getting them to play outside their comfort zone. If that’s the strategy, then he is completely oblivious to how the Patriots organization works. All the comments did were encourage the Pats to run up the score and show no mercy if the situation arises.

Despite having a great roster of very talented players, the Steelers are in trouble without QB Ben Roethlisberger. They have enough weapons to keep the game close, but a W would likely mean the Pats made some critical mistakes and gave the Steelers some key opportunities. With these comments Butler made the likelihood of a Steelers upset even more difficult and unlikely. When will people learn not to poke the bear?

Patriots with 3rd Quarter Magic Against Bengals

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

The first half of Sunday’s Patriots vs Bengals game was dominated by the Bengals in almost every aspect of the game except the scoreboard. The Patriots were up 10-7 going into the break thanks to some timely defense (4th and 1 stop on the goal line) and a late 9 play, 50 yard drive that ended with a 1-yard TD run by LeGarrette Blount with just 57 seconds left on the clock. It was a slow start in Tom Brady‘s return to Foxboro, but they more than made up for it in the 2nd half.

The turning point of the game was a 4 min stretch in the 3rd quarter that saw the Patriots put up 15 unanswered points. After the Bengals took the lead 14-10, the Patriots were forced to punt the ball to back to Cincy. It all got started for the Pats with a Dont’a Hightower sack on Andy Dalton in the end zone for a safety, bringing the score to 14-12. The ensuing drive was 5 plays, 68 yards in just 2 minutes and ended with the first Gronk spike of the season (19-14 Pats). The defense then stepped up, forcing a 3 and out for the Bengals in just 27 seconds of game clock. In typical Brady fashion, he then shut the door with a 4 play, 53 yard TD drive to give the Pats a two-possession lead (25-14).

Overall, Brady was as impressive as ever. He went 29 for 36 (83%) with 376 yards and 3 TDs, despite his offensive line struggling to protect him, especially in the first half. Rob Gronkowski finally looked fully healthy and had a monster day hauling in 7 passes for 162 yards and a TD. Defensively, the Pats were without Jamie Collins, but in his place, rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts was all over the field early. Frankly, he was one of the only bright spots in the first half on defense. He came up big in the run game and made some great plays over the middle. Roberts spent a little time on the sideline with an injury, but recorded 7 tackles (6 solo) and looked like the spotlight was not too bright, even at the young age of 22.

A good 35-17 W for the Pats who head to Pittsburgh next weekend for a showdown with the Steelers. Luckily for New England, Ben Roethlisberger tore his meniscus yesterday against the Dolphins and needs surgery. He’ll miss next weeks game, so the Pats will be facing off against Landry Jones and not Big Ben as they look to move to 6-1. Not to look too far ahead, but two weeks from now Sexy Rexy and the suddenly-playing-well Buffalo Bills come to town for a rematch of the 16-0 Pats loss in week 4.

NFL is Shooting Itself in the Foot

Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Allison Joyce/Getty Images

It’s not breaking news to many that the NFL ratings are down this season through 5 weeks. They are down around 10%, depending on exactly how you choose to segment/compare, a direction that has Goodell and Co. scrambling for answers. I don’t believe there is one clear reason for the decline, but it is likely a variety of factors, including the most polarizing election likely in history (and the debates), some big market struggles (New York and Chicago), some self-inflicted issues (*cough* *cough* suspensions), and, the biggest of all, ‘NFL fatigue’.

Let’s put the election aside, understanding it definitely plays a factor in lower viewership opposite the debates, but it is certainly not the sole cause. The first main cause in my mind revolves around large market teams. The New York Giants and New York Jets are a combined 3-7 this year. Both have lost 3 straight games and are in last place in their respective divisions (the Jets are tied for last in the AFC East and the Giants are alone at the bottom of the NFC East). Although there are plenty of devoted fans of both the Giants and Jets who will always watch, regardless of their records, when big market teams suck, bandwagon fans jump off and casual fan ratings suffer. When a market like New York or Chicago (Bears are 1-4) has teams struggling to win, that hurts ratings for the entire NFL.

Then there is the 2,000 lb elephant in the room: the suspension of Tom Brady. Thanks to Goodell’s ridiculous decision, the league was without Brady for the first 4 weeks of the season, limiting the number of casual fans who tune in. During the first Sunday night game against the Arizona Cardinals, NBC did a 14.8 rating, which out of context is excellent, but a more than 10% drop over the 2015 Sunday Night opener (16.7). Guess what? Stars drive ratings. No Brady, lower ratings. Who’s fault is that? It’s the definition of self-inflicted.

Finally, it is still amazing to me that after domestic violence cases, child abuse cases, sexual assault cases, and every other crime/stupid move in the book tarnishing the NFL’s reputation, that ratings still remained strong and even grew last season. My newly developed theory? The NFL ratings drop is, at least partially, due to a delayed reaction to the NFL’s mishandling of dozens of player situations combined with the endless deflategate talk. I believe it has developed into ‘NFL fatigue’ that has grown to a point of driving the more peripheral viewers away from the game. Fans who like football, but aren’t seriously invested in a team (or fantasy football) are opting to spend their Sundays (and Thursdays and Mondays) watching or doing other things. They have reached a breaking point and are no longer going to go out of their way to watch football.

In a hailmary effort to turn the tides, the NFL issued a ban on team twitter accounts posting highlight videos during the time-frame when the live game is airing on TV. The NFL thinks that fans who are on twitter watching highlights are less likely to watch the game live and that is a cause of the decreased ratings. That doesn’t just waft of desperation, it’s a giant diaper filled with desperation.

Given all these factors, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a little rebound before the season is over, but I’m not convinced the damage hasn’t already been done. I’m not convinced casual fans drifting away from the NFL won’t just stay away for good, causing a deeper ratings crisis for Goodell.

Brady’s Back, Back Again

Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY Sports

Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY Sports

Some of you may have heard, the New England Patriots have been without their starting QB Thomas Brady for the first 4 weeks of the season due to a suspension. It’s arguably the most under-talked about news story of all time because Thomas “Tom” Brady is just not that popular, especially in New England. I’m not going to go into the entire story, but in summary, the wicked-witch of the east, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, decided to lay his wrath on Brady and the Patriots because there was slightly less air in some footballs during a Patriots game. I know, I know, not enough hot air? Shocking.

The story is now over and completely behind us never to be mentioned again. After reports and counter-reports and counter-counter reports and counter-counter-counter reports followed by lawsuits and court hearings and more ink spilled than the Merriam Webster Dictionary, it’s over. The words deflate, deflated, and deflategate will not be spoken on Sunday during the Patriots vs. Browns game, nor will it come up in any game broadcast from now until February.  Plainly said, it’s behind us and we are on to Cleveland.

Or not. This is just the next chapter in the nauseating talk about a dictator and his all powerful role in the NFL. If Brady goes out on Sunday and lights up the Cleveland Browns, which would not be a surprising outcome, the talk will get louder and more annoying with each passing day. Look, I can just see the headlines now: Tom Brady is Sticking His Shrunken Balls in the NFL’s Face, Brady’s Revenge Tour to Deflate Roger Goodell in Full Force, Brady Sucking the Air Out of Goodell’s Lungs, Roger Goodell is a Dick. Ok, ok, the last one is just my commentary on the unstable psychopath running the league, but I think you get the point.

I, for one, believe that Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. will be on a revenge tour to screw the league and win the Super Bowl. I believe that he will look like a younger version of himself and guide this Patriots team deep into the postseason with a sole mission of ripping that Super Bowl trophy out of the cold, dead hands of Goodell on the stage in February. If this suspension motivates him, that’s fantastic and I’m all for extra motivation, but for everyone’s sake, can we just let Brady play some freaking football. It’s the thing he was born to do and the thing he will do until he’s dead and buried. Game on.

Who Deserves the Most Credit for the 3-0 Patriots?

AP Photo

AP Photo

After what can only be described as an ass-kicking on Thursday night against the Houston Texans, the New England Patriots are 3-0 on the young season. They were without their QB1 and franchise guy Tom Brady and their QB2 and heir-apparent (maybe) Jimmy Garoppolo, so they relied on QB3 and rookie Jacoby Brissett. Even obsessive Pats fans would give the team some leeway if things didn’t go perfectly on a short week, but instead, the Patriots showed the NFL who’s really boss with a 27-0 victory. After 3 weeks, who deserves the most credit for this team’s success? Let’s explore.

First things first, let’s put aside the F U Roger Goodell revenge element of this 3-0 run. It’s absolutely a factor and if you think it’s not, you’re an idiot. Nothing drives Bill Belichick more than being slighted or insulted, so that certainly plays a role, but this argument is about performance, regardless of motivation. Let’s look at and grade the performance of key people on the Patriots roster/coaching staff and perhaps come to a conclusion around who is most responsible for the 3-0 start.

Bill Belichick – A

The buck begins and ends with Bill. He is responsible for all aspects of the play on the field and personnel decisions, so he’s the easiest person to give credit. He has obviously worked hard to build a winning culture in Foxboro and created the “Patriot Way” and “next man up” which is clearly a factor this season. I’m sure he has had a role in both the offensive and defensive gameplans, which is where it gets hard to distinguish how much of the credit is this versus Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia. I have a feeling he gave some direction on an overall feel/approach, but some of the creativity around specific plays and reads is a credit to McDaniels and Patricia.

Josh McDaniels – A

Gameplanning, gameplanning, gameplanning. Adjust to the players on the field and play to their strengths. In that regard, Josh McDaniels has been outstanding in 2016. With Jimmy Garoppolo he adjusted the playbook down a bit from Tom Brady and simplified some of the reads, making it easier for Jimmy G to make the right throws and get the ball out quickly. With Jacoby Brissett, McDaniels cut the playbook back even further, but didn’t get dull and predictable. He was still able to add in some new twists (wildcat, Julian Edelman lining up in the backfield) to keep the defense honest and protect his young QB. He put his offense in a position to succeed, which is the key element of a good gameplan.

Matt Patricia – B

The Patriots defense was good in weeks 1 and 2, but stellar in week 3, bringing Matt Patricia up to a B. The Texans game was a perfect example of adjusting to what the other team is doing. Early on the Patriots secondary was strong and Brock Osweiler kept opting to throw to his check-down options and not deep, so the defense adjusted covering the short throws knowing Osweiler was keen to check down to the short route. Now to be honest, I think it’s as much of a terrible offensive gameplan for the Texans as a good plan for the Patriots (which is why he’s only a B), but give Patricia credit for understanding the situation and putting his guys in the right places to make big plays.

Jimmy Garoppolo/Jacoby Brissett – A-

If you had told me before the season that the combination of Jimmy G and Jacoby B would be 59 for 87 for 691 yards with 4 TDs and 0 interceptions through 3 weeks I would have been more than happy. Well guess what…I’m more than happy. The 2-headed QB monster for the Pats has performed better than even expected. Not because their stats are off the charts, but rather because their stats aren’t off the charts. They have both been great game managers, making smart decisions (for the most part) and not taking too many unnecessary risks. For young QBs, that’s usually the hardest thing to learn. Jimmy G put up better numbers and is clearly closer to being ready to start in the NFL, but the combination of both of them has been excellent.

LeGarrette Blount – A

Who expected LeGarrette Blount to be on this list in the pre-season? Not me. Blount has been more than just a stable force, he has been a strong contributor to the Pats success. By having a balanced offense that is a bit more run-heavy than in the past, it has opened up the passing game and taken significant pressure off the young QBs. For that reason, he belongs on this list and in the conversation for most impactful person. He has carried the ball 75 times for a 298 yards (league leader in both categories) so far in 2016, averaging 4 yards per carry. Those numbers surely won’t continue all season, but for now, he’s an incredibly powerful offensive weapon.

Jamie Collins/Rest of the Defense – B

I think Jamie Collins is actually the best of the defensive group so far. He has 2 interceptions already this year and has been a force all over the field. Collins has just 1 sack, which I was hoping would be a touch higher by this point (nit-picky, I know), but has collected 23 tackles (17 solo) to lead the team. As a team, the defensive line hasn’t gotten a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing QBs, just 5 sacks, but have been good enough to hold opponents down. They have been very good, but could be better, especially with their pass-rush.

Conclusion

It’s a cop-out, but I think it’s a three-way tie. The obvious answers are Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels and their masterful gameplans, emphasis on their gameplans. The reason I can’t separate them on this list is that I have no idea how much say Bill has in the gameplan details on a weekly basis. If he is mostly hands off, then McDaniels has had the biggest impact and is alone atop this analysis, but if Bill is involved more heavily as I suspect he is, than it’s a shared accomplishment.

The third person in this mix is the under-appreciated LeGarrette Blount. He has been the best running back in football through 3 weeks. Let me repeat that: LeGarrette Blount has been statistically the best running back in the NFL through 3 weeks. That statement may be the most shocking of all and one of the best storylines to this point. McDaniels and Belichick can create the most amazing gameplan, but ultimately the players need to execute. If it weren’t for Blount and a strong running game (with some offensive line help as well), the passing game would significantly suffer and we likely would be talking about more mistakes at the QB position and less offensive productivity overall. For that, Blount deserves more credit than he has been given.

Ultimately, I think the duo of Bill and Josh is a special match that doesn’t come around often in football. McDaniels is expected to take another stab at head coaching next year, but I suspect will struggle once again. He thrives in Belichick’s system and calling offensive plays, but when it comes to managing the entire team, I’m not sure the 2nd time around will go any better than his first in Denver (3-9 before being fired in 2010). My wish would be to have McDaniels stick around under Belichick under Brady retires to try and capture the remaining magic of the Belichick/Brady tenure. That would certainly give the Pats a great chance at another super bowl title or two.

A shout-out to my father-in-law Michael for prompting me to think about this. I gave him a gut reaction of Belichick, but then thought a lot more about it and changed my thinking a little.

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