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As The Ball Bounces: Week 2

He remains the last surviving active Oakland Raider still with the team who played in the Snow Bowl in 2001 at Foxborough Stadium.  To look at Sebastian Janikowski, he doesn’t look like your prototypical kicker.  But his standing the test of time speaks well for the former Florida State Seminole.  He has a 63-yard field goal to his credit, no longer tied for the longest, but still a nice feather in his cap.  He is far and away the leading scorer in Raider history, and at age 36, has many more years left in him.  He booms one out of the end zone and makes it look completely effortless.  He could have done the same in a raging blizzard, a fact we all know in these parts.

Different focus this week.  We will devote the entire article to all that is currently going wrong with the NFL off the field.

Charles Barkley reiterated his “I am not a role model” stance on the CBS pregame show this past Sunday morning.  He said parents are the role models, not the athletes.  Good place to begin.

So, what did Ray Rice’s parents do to turn him into a wifebeater?  Or what didn’t they do?

And what of Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy?  How in the world did they turn into alleged child abusers?

And you cannot forget a former Patriot who allegedly committed three murders last year.  How was his upbringing?

Now, what about the NFL?  Is this a case of the league trying to protect its star players?

It is beyond execrable as to how the NFL has handled the Rice case.  The damage control is out of bounds.  The interviews, the explanations, everything, just plain sickening.

Which leads us to the…

Geek of the week:  It’s bad enough that Roger Goodell has come out of this whole affair with egg on his face and his commissionership in jeopardy.  But if Rice gets reinstated because it is proved that he cannot be punished twice for the same crime, this is the ultimate indignity to both the league and to Rice’s wife, even though she continues to defend him with all her might.

Let’s get back to Barkley’s assertion of who kids should look up to.

This author is a full time teacher.  I have seen 31 years of many children.  They represent the entire spectrum of a child’s talents, emotions, strong points and weaknesses.

Some kids are easy to work with, some are high maintenance.  Some kids are respectful, some are not.  Some kids are boy/girl scouts, some are unavoidably headed for prison some day.

Here is one thing that binds all of them together:  the quality of the family unit.  If a student has any adverse issue, odds are that you will find the root of the problem at home.

There is not enough, if any, education out there about parenting skills.  You have plenty of advisories on staying celibate until marriage and the prevention of STDs, though teen pregnancies happen anyway.  Even if you wait until you’re married, then decide to begin a family, that’s only half the battle.  Knowing what to do with that bundle in your lap is another story.

Barkley is right.  Parents need to step up and show kids the right way.  What you do as a parent influences your child more than you realize.

And athletes aren’t the only high profile people out there.  Actors and actresses.  Musicians.  Politicians.  Anyone with any kind of celebrity.  Why just single out athletes?

Parents have to do everything in their power to make sure their children are seen after properly.  Whether they stay together or divorce, the kids come first.  Love the kids with your heart and always show them the right way.

Back to school:  How well did you know your school counselor?  Oops, did your school have a counselor?

Here’s a big shout out to perhaps the most valuable person in any school.  The job a school counselor does is vastly underrated and so vitally important to schools in general and students in need of help in particular.

Counselors have stated on numerous occasions that troubled children can tell stories about their life at home that would make you sick to your stomach.  In many cases, the school counselor is all that the child has to come and talk to.

So, this begs this rhetorical question:  Was any counseling available to students who might one day go on to beat up a woman?  Or a kid?

There are lots of other problems in addition to spousal/child battery, of course.  All these kids need help, someone to talk to.

Schools cannot do enough to provide these services to students who need it.  The schools I teach at have always had expert and wonderful counselors, and I have spared no expense in letting them know how important they are.  My only gripe is that in our district, they are also responsible for scheduling.  It’s too bad that there isn’t someone else who can do that so they can concentrate all their energies on what they are really there to do.

Remember them:  My mother and my late father.  Other relatives.  Teachers.  Professors.  Counselors.  Everyone who has helped me become the teacher, husband and father I am.  I don’t have the words to thank you.  I’m not perfect, but thanks to you all, I am proud of what I became.

It’s not like Rice, Peterson and Hardy are the only miscreants the NFL has produced.  It’s just that these guys are dominating the news and sports headlines so much that everyone’s awareness of troubled athletes is at its highest right now.

Let’s begin at home.  Enlighten parents, young and old, to what really makes a good parent and make ways to learn parenting skills more accessible.

Let’s have schools step up and identify problematic children better, and get them the help they need if they require it.  No child should ever be made to feel that they have no means towards inner peace and happiness.  My school district is a great model for all to follow.

There may be some people out there who do receive great parenting and a nice home life and still cannot handle adulthood properly.  Nothing is foolproof.  You won’t prevent everything bad that can happen.  But good parenting is the place to start no matter what.

When celebrities are outed as criminals, the issues involved and the inherent problems become magnified.  If you have never been a celebrity, you cannot imagine what causes some of them to snap, commit crimes, or simply turn into people whom you would never want as your best friend.  Being a celeb engenders pressure and expectations that ordinary people will never know.

Rich or famous?  I choose rich any day.

Let’s get to them when they’re young.  If that doesn’t happen, let’s get them help when they get grown up and they can’t handle life as well as they think they can.

And instead of being just pariahs, let’s let Rice, Peterson and Hardy be agents of change in our society.  Then maybe some good will finally come of all this.

Back to football next week, folks.  As always, thanks for your time.

 

Defense Gets Patriots Back On Winning Track

MINNEAPOLIS – In the fourth quarter, the fans at TCF Bank Stadium started chanting “Teddy!  Teddy!  Teddy!”  Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer wouldn’t bite.

One of these days, Zimmer might have to.  Matt Cassel, very familiar around these parts as Tom Brady’s long time former understudy, threw four picks and made Viking Nation pine for Teddy Bridgewater, their top draft pick from Louisville.  The Patriot defense bedeviled Cassel all game long after recovering from a bad first series, and the Patriots coasted to a 30-7 win on Sunday to even their 2014 record at 1-1.

The Patriots so dominated Cassel and the Viking offense that it didn’t matter that other phases of the game sputtered at times, and that most of the Patriot points came off of Viking turnovers.  The Patriots incurred 15 penalties, the most in the Bill Belichick era.  Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect three for three in field goals, but that was more about unfinished drives rather than clutch kicking.  Julian Edelman had a nice day, but no other Patriot receiver was of any consequence and Stevan Ridley turned out to be the big offensive juggernaut.

The defense rendered any “problems”, if you want to refer to that as such, pretty much moot.  Cassel didn’t look much like the quarterback he was when he led the Patriots to an 11-5 record in 2008.  Matt Asiata, the replacement for the sidelined Adrian Peterson, who was arrested in Texas last week on child abuse charges, was nothing at all like his All-Pro teammate after the first offensive series for the Vikings.

Wipe out that first series for Minnesota.  Three long gains, which were later reduced to fluke status thanks to terrific adjustments, got the Vikings an early 7-0 lead.  Kyle Rudolph beat Deontae Skinner, a practice squad linebacker, on a crossing pattern for 16 yards.  Another tight end, Rhett Ellison, beat Jerod Mayo on a 24-yard pass play in the left flat.  On the next play, the Patriot defense, particularly Patrick Chung, bit on a fake end around to Cordarelle Patterson, leaving Asiata wide open in the right flat.  Cassel hit him and he took it in for a 25-yard touchdown.

That would be it for the Vikings offensively.  On the next series, facing second down and 16 at his own 15, Cassel tried to lob a deep ball to Jarius Wright into double coverage.  Devin McCourty made the pick and nearly returned it to the house, turning out of bounds at the pylon where he might have run it in the end zone.  Two plays later, Ridley pounded it in from the one to tie the score at 7.

Two drives later, a holding penalty on Darrelle Revis negated a sack of Cassel.  Revis made up for it five plays later by picking off perhaps the worst throw on the afternoon for Cassel.  Cassel was trying to hit Greg Jennings in the right flat, but the pass went right to Revis for his first pick as a Patriot. Brady cashed in that pick with a seven-play, 61-yard drive punctuated with a nine-yard fade pass to Edelman, who beat Captain Munnerlyn in the corner of the end zone to give the Patriots a 17-7 lead.


Chandler Jones blocked a field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown Sunday at Minneapolis.
(USA TODAY Images)

The last drive of the half saw Cassel lead the Vikings from the Minnesota 18 to the Patriot 31.  Patterson beat Logan Ryan for 26 yards on a crossing route, but an offensive interference penalty on Jennings put the ball on the Patriot 31.  Blair Walsh lined up for a 47-yard field goal attempt, but Chandler Jones burst through a weak block and smothered the kick.  Jones picked up the loose ball and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown and it was 24-7 Patriots at the half.

The second half was again underwhelming for the Patriot offense, but it didn’t matter at all.  On their first offensive possession of the second half, Cassel drove the Vikings 22 yards in six plays.  He then tried to hit Patterson over the middle, but Logan Ryan undercut the pattern and made the pick at the Vikings 45.  The Patriots only went four and out, but Gostkowski drilled a 47-yard field goal to make it 27-7 Patriots. On their next offensive possession, the Patriots enjoyed a ten-play drive which was marred with penalties, including three on two plays by Nate Solder, and a 27-yard field goal by Gostkowski completed the scoring as the game went into the fourth quarter.

There was one more pick, as Cassel tried to drill Asiata with a right flat pass.  The pass deflected off his helmet and the ball fell into the arms of rookie Dominique Easley.  Fans at this time were booing Cassel and calling for Bridgewater to come into the game, which he never did.

Brady was downcast in his postgame press conference.  He commented that “we have a lot of work to do”, and that “I wish that we could go out there and play like we are capable of.”  Despite finishing with a decent passer rating of 102.3, you came away with the impression that this game could have and should have been far worse than 30-7.  Rob Gronkowski did have four catches for 32 yards, but that is still far below what Gronk is capable of.

The Patriots used the run to control the clock and the game offensively.  Ridley finished with 101 yards rushing, and Shane Vereen averaged over six yards per carry.  Again, Brady didn’t need to have a spectacular day.  He was downcast because he believes the offense can do better, he is right.  But in a game like this, the defense was terrific and Cassel was lousy.

Without Peterson in the backfield for the Vikings, the Minnesota rushing attack was a non-factor.  They rushed for 54 yards and a 2.8 average as a team.  Cassel finished with only a 39.1 passer rating thanks mainly to the four interceptions.

With the win, Belichick earned his 200th victory as a head coach.  He spent a great deal of time in his postgame press conference giving praise to his former players who helped him reach that coaching milestone.  It was a sharp departure from the usual laconic style Belichick is famous for.  The Patriots have now won 12 straight games versus the NFC North, and this was their second straight win in a college stadium (the Patriots beat the Bears in 2002 at the University of Illinois while Soldier Field was being renovated).

The Patriots will play their home opener next week against Oakland.  The defense will get to test their newfound confidence against rookie quarterback Derek Carr.  Belichick usually does well against rookie quarterbacks, and the Raiders have a lot of rebuilding left to do alongside trying to find the quarterback of their dreams.

Meanwhile, the Vikings are left with some time to deal with Peterson.  Baltimore seemed unaffected by the Ray Rice situation on Thursday night.  Maybe Zimmer should give John Harbaugh a call.

As The Ball Bounces: Week 1

Fred Cox is one of eleven Minnesota Vikings to have played in all four Super Bowls in their history, all of them losses.  Cox was one of the last straight-on kickers, from an era where soccer-style hadn’t yet come into vogue.  He is the Vikings’ all-time leader in points scored and field goals made, remarkable since he retired in 1977.  He steps into one and it comes down at about the six-yard line.

Nice to see the long time cable TV show Inside The NFL come to the NFL Network.  It is the longest running show in cable history.

So, speaking for all of us who don’t do movie channels, it will be nice to finally see what gives this show such staying power.

How long ago was the merger?  You mean to tell me that this past Sunday was the first win ever by Buffalo at Chicago?

NFL officials told defenders to adapt to tighter calls in the preseason.  Looks like the adapting process is going well if not stunningly well.

Looks like the loss of Dante Scarnecchia may turn out to be worse than the loss of Logan Mankins.

By the way, the latter messed up his knee pretty bad in his Tampa Bay debut.

You can scream all you want for Johnny Manziel in Cleveland.  If I were a Jacksonville fan, I’d be screaming louder for Blake Bortles.

Geek of the week:  Rob Gronkowski can’t be that big a doofus.  Coach says if you play or not, big guy, not you.

Derek Carr left a high octane offense in Fresno for Oakland.  Hope he realizes that he only throws the ball and that he doesn’t play defense.

Let’s just hope that he gets better blocking than his older brother got.

Andy Dalton won his first game ever in Baltimore.  Good job, but talk to me when that sort of thing happens in January, too.

The Hall of Fame roster in Canton lists one punter and one placekicker.  Ray Guy just got in this year, Jan Stenerud about 20 years ago.

Stenerud won’t be alone as the only kicker for long.  Sooner or later this guy who is the leading scorer in Patriot history and second in Colts history will join him.

CBS’s The NFL Today got a fresh makeover.  Shannon Sharpe is gone, which now makes the show watchable.

Despite this, two facts still remain.  CBS still wishes it had the NFC.  And Fox still does it way better.

Andrew Luck.  Colin Kaepernick.  These guys have great upside.  But quit putting them into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks until they actually do something real special.

Job one for Bill Belichick this week:  Bury the game ball from Sunday like 2001.  Job two:  Find out quick who this Cordarrelle Patterson guy is.

Back to school:  Oh, goody.  A playoff system finally for the FBS.  No more BCS anymore.  Will it stop the arguments?  Heck, no.  They argue like crazy over March Madness.  But at least it’s a start.

CHN.  You’ll see those three letters on Steeler uniforms this year.  You see this sort of thing all the time.  The C is for Chuck and the N is for Noll.  This one’s pretty clear and very appropriate.  The guy won four Super Bowls in six years.  Only some guy named Lombardi did better.

The World Champion Red Sox are in last place.  Whew, thank goodness the Patriots are finally back on for real.

Except that the Pats are 0-1 and the rest of the AFC East is 1-0.  No. Please.  Them too?  So, when does hockey start?

CBS is finally countering Fox and their Mike Pereira act.  They brought in recently retired referee Mike Carey.  When he settles in and is more comfortable on the air, he will be fine.

And he, not Ed Hochuli, was actually the most eloquent referee in the league.

Also new for CBS this year is their taking over on Thursday nights.  You’ll still see the games on the NFL’s eponymous network.  But CBS will produce it and toss Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in the broadcast booth.

Okay.  Fine. Were Brad Nessler and Mike “Ryan Mallett is awesome!!!” Mayock that bad?

You want the Washington Redskins to change their name?  We need more than just a handful of enraged Native Americans to complain.

By the way, the Redskins were based in Boston when they acquired that name.

Remember him:  Former Steeler running back Rocky Bleier was a teammate of Alan Page when the two were at Notre Dame in the mid-1960s.  Page was part of that terrific Fighting Irish defense back then, but Bleier noticed back then how scholarly and well learned Page was.  After his Hall of Fame career as a defensive lineman for mostly the Vikings, along the way being selected NFL MVP in 1971, he eventually wound up as an Associate Justice on the Minnesota State Supreme Court.  He has been in that position since 1993.  Some ex-NFL players wound up in Congress (Jack Kemp, Steve Largent, Heath Shuler).  But Justice Page’s accomplishments perhaps stands a bit taller.  Hall of Fame plus State Supreme Court equals something to be mighty proud of.

Did you know that the Phoenix Cardinals are older than the Boston Red Sox?  Yes, by three years.

The Chargers have the best uniforms (as selected by NFL Network) and the worst touchdown music in the league.

I love my wife.  We just hit 25 years of marriage in August.  On occasion, we have had disagreements, as do most couples.

But I have never, ever, ever, come anywhere near striking her or hitting her.

The NFL will do what it has to do, we think.  Keep Ray Rice out of the NFL forever, terminate Roger Goodell, whatever.

Nothing of which will lessen the impact of that horrific scene in the elevator.  That is how Rice will be judged for the rest of his life.  Playing football or not is the least of his worries.

And his wife needs to be aware of two gripping facts.  We’ve seen battered women blame themselves and defend their men all too often.  And chances are he’ll do it again.

 

 

 

 

Patriots Open Season With Another Miami Stinker

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – It began with a blocked punt, and it ended with something that hadn’t happened in 11 years.

True to form, the Patriots completely wilted in the heat and humidity of Miami.  The Dolphins dominated the game in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and powered their way to a 33-20 victory over the Patriots on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.  The Dolphins overcame turnovers on three consecutive drives in the first half to completely dominate the AFC East favorites, and the Patriots would up losing their first season opener since the Lawyer Milloy game against Buffalo in 2003.

At one point, the Patriots had a 20-10 lead, the Dolphins were giving the ball away on offense with regularity, and Tom Brady and the offense was in mid-season form.  But the Dolphins turned things around in the second quarter following the third turnover, and the rest of the way it was complete and total Dolphin domination.

All sorts of things contributed to this Patriot loss, which is even more deplorable given the 3-0 turnover advantage for the Patriots in the first half.  Knowshon Moreno, who gashed the Patriots for 224 rushing yards last year as a Bronco, was again problematic for the Patriot defense.  Cameron Wake was again a dominant force on defense, like he was in the Miami win in south Florida last year.  Key penalties, including an illegal pick on Brandon LaFell and two roughing the passer calls on Chandler Jones, hurt the Patriots in inopportune moments.  The Patriots had their first punt blocked in two years.  The offensive line, which could have badly used Logan Mankins and Dante Scarnecchia, was a shambles in the second half.

Right off the bat, things looked ominous for the Patriots.  On their opening drive, the Dolphin defense forced a three-and-out.  Chris McCain blew in from the right side and smothered Ryan Allen’s ensuing punt.  Ryan Tannehill took the Dolphins in on a four-play, 15-yard drive, finishing with a four-yard dump pass to Lamar Miller with Rob Ninkovich five yards away in futile pursuit.

But the Patriots roared back and took control of the game for a time.  Brady led the Patriots on a 13-play, 74-yard drive, featuring a lot of runs to the left side, where Mankins would have been in the past.  The biggest run was a 17-yarder on an end around by Julian Edelman, and Shane Vereen finished it with a two-yard touchdown run to tie the game.

Miami’s next possession lasted only three plays.  Mike Wallace caught a four-yard dump pass in the right flat and was clobbered by Jamie Collins.  Jerod Mayo picked up the fumble and the Patriots cashed it in with a Stephen Gostkowski 47-yard field goal.

The next exchange seemed to portend a dominating afternoon for the Patriots.  Tannehill drove Miami from the 26 to the Patriot 37, then threw an ill-advised bomb over the middle.  Alfonzo Dennard picked off the pass at the Patriot 6, then Brady took the Patriots on an 11-play, 94-yard drive.  Brady found Edelman for 45 yards while being illegally contacted, then Rob Gronkowski finished it off by catching a 6-yard touchdown pass on a crossing route mismatch.  It was 17-7 Patriots, and when Miller coughed the ball up on the following drive on a nice stick by Logan Ryan, the Patriots had the ball at their own 34 and a chance to put the Dolphins away in the first half.


Tom Brady suffered another disappointing loss at Miami on Sunday.
(USA TODAY Images)

The game turned here.  Over the next eight offensive possessions for the Patriots, the Patriots were held to five plays or less seven times.  Brady was able to manufacture one more scoring drive late in the first half which resulted in a 45-yard field goal by Gostkowski.

The key to the turnaround was the shift in domination from the Patriot front lines to the Dolphins’.  Suddenly, Brady no longer had time to throw the ball and establish a sustained passing rhythm.  Tannehill now had more time to throw and stopped making mistakes, helped greatly with the establishing of a running game from Moreno and Miller.  Both running backs averaged five yards or better for the game, and the two of them gashed the Patriot defense so badly that Tannehill was able to get completely comfortable and settle in in the second half.

The Dolphins scored on six of their last eight possessions which did not result in a half ending.  Opening the second half, the Dolphins struck quick on a screen toss to Charles Clay which went for 24 yards thanks to several missed tackles.  Jones was called for the first of two roughing the passer penalties, then three runs of 26 yards total by Moreno led to a 24-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis to make it 20-13 Patriots.

Wake strip-sacked Brady to give the ball back to Miami four plays later, and Wallace beat Darrelle Revis in the end zone four plays after that with a leaping 15-yard touchdown catch to tie the game at 20.  Two hurries, one by Wake, ended the next Patriot drive quickly and Sturgis capped the next drive with a 22-yard field goal to give Miami the lead at 23-20.

The next Patriot drive seemed to be working well until a 20-yard Steven Ridley right end run was wiped out on a holding call on Michael Hoomanawanui at the point of attack.  A McCain sack ended that drive, but the teams exchanged punts over the next three possessions.  The first Patriot drive was done in by a sack of Brady by Olivier Vernon.  The next drive was killed by an illegal pick penalty on LaFell which injured Dolphin safety Jimmy Wilson.  The third drive was simply three misfires by Brady with an overmatched offensive line in no position to give him time to throw.

Moreno finished with 134 yards rushing and a 5.6 yards per carry average.  Miller had 59 yards rushing and a lost fumble, but averaged 5.4 yards per carry.  This turned out to be perhaps the key in the game, as it allowed Miami to take full control of the game.  Moreno has always done well against the Patriots, but this was a case where giving up the run didn’t work like it did last fall at home against Denver.

Wake had two of the four Miami sacks of Brady, and led a defense which was dominant despite losing top linebackers (Dannell Ellerbe, Koa Misi) to injury in the first half.  The Patriots will obviously be scrutinized for trading Mankins last week, but it is hard to imagine that they would have done much better with an aging Mankins than without.  This was the first Patriot game since 1980 without Scarnecchia on the sidelines, so a huge adjustment period is in order for the offensive line.  Still, Wake is a matchup problem for the Patriots no matter what.

Brady finished 29 of 56 passing for 249 yards, a touchdown, and a 69.7 passer rating.  Tannehill was 18 of 32 for 178 passing yards and a 79.9 rating despite the interception.

The nice omen is that despite the opening day loss in 2003 at Buffalo, the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that year.  If the Patriots have to get over the loss of Mankins this year like they did in 2003 with Milloy, then the Patriots should be much better next week at Minnesota.

Once again, the Patriots show that they usually don’t play well in south Florida.  A lot of season is left, but thank goodness this one is now in the rear view mirror.

South Florida Problematic For Patriots

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Honk if you’re old enough to remember The Jinx.

It’s never fun for the Patriots to head to Miami.  Be it the old Orange Bowl or the stadium now currently known as Sun Life Stadium, when the Patriots come down to sunny, hot and humid south Florida, the Dolphins usually come away with a win.  It was here in 2013 where it was determined that the Patriots would play the AFC Championship Game in Denver and not Foxborough, and that’s only one game in a long line of disappointments for the Patriots.

This isn’t as bad as Denver, but it’s definitely not a gimme win for the 2014 Patriots in their season opener on Sunday.  Bill Belichick elected to bring the team down here a day earlier than normal so the team can adjust to the heat and humidity of the area.  It’s too bad that the Patriots don’t take the high altitude in Denver that seriously and head there early when they have to play there.

Expectations for the 2014 Patriots are perhaps the highest they have been since their last Super Bowl win a decade ago.  The defense is bolstered with newcomers like Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner (who won’t play until Week 5 thanks to a suspension), and the return of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.  Tom Brady has a rich arsenal of receivers to throw to, none the least of which is Rob Gronkowski, assuming he is really cleared to play.

But the schedule maker put the Patriots here for the opener.  On paper, the Patriots should have their way with the Dolphins.  But this is at Miami, and it’s during the hottest and most humid time of the year.  It’s bad enough that Brady has had some of his worst games here in Miami.  Now here, you have the euphoria of opening day and the promise this season brings, and the Patriots could very well be looking at 0-1 come Sunday night.

Naturally, no one wants to hear about this.  So, we’ll let the record plead our case.


Tom Brady has had his share of frustration in Miami over his great career.
(USA TODAY Images)

2001:  This was Brady’s first road start and second overall of his career.  But this was also the “bury the football” game, as Miami steamrolled over New England, 30-10 to drop the Patriots to 1-3.  Brady threw for only 86 yards passing.  Belichick was so disgusted over this game that at the first practice the following week, he took the game ball and buried it, a symbol of putting the game behind them.

2002:  Dolphins overpower the Patriots, 26-13, the game played in early October.  Brady was 17 of 31 for 240 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

2003:  This was a struggle for the eventual Super Bowl champs.  The Patriots won thanks to lousy field goal kicking by Olindo Mare and Brady hitting Troy Brown with an 82-yard touchdown bomb in overtime.

2004:  This game was to Brady the equivalent of Koji Uehara Thursday night against the Yankees.  This game didn’t cost the eventual Super Bowl champs home field throughout the playoffs, but it did spare the Patriots from being the first 15-1 team to play a road playoff game in league history.  Up 28-23 with 1:52 left, Brady threw a lousy interception to Brendon Ayanbadejo, which led to a touchdown pass from A.J. Feeley to Derrius Thompson to give the Dolphins the lead.  Brady had 1:17 to get in position for a game-winning field goal, but on consecutive plays he is sacked by David Bowens and picked by Arturo Freeman to clinch the win for Miami.  To this day it remains one of the more shocking losses of the Brady era.

2006:  Ugh.  This game was in December.  When it’s balmy.  Yet the Dolphins shut out the eventual AFC runner-up Patriots, 21-0.  The Miami defense was stifling, not the weather.  Brady was 12 of 25 for 78 yards and was outdueled by (gulp) Joey Harrington.

2009:  This game is not included in the NFL Network’s A Football Life profile of Belichick.  Good thing, the Patriots went down to Miami, again in December when it’s nice out, and lost 22-21.  Brady threw for 352 yards and two touchdowns, but also suffered two picks.

2011:  We’ll take this result.  2007 would be nice also.  Brady goes completely nuts, throws for 517 yards and four touchdowns on opening night.  Wes Welker caught two of the touchdown passes, one of which went for as long as it can go, the only 99-yard touchdown pass in team history.  With all this offensive dominance, the Patriots still won by only two touchdowns.

2013:  Denver had given the Patriots an early Christmas present.  A Thursday night loss at San Diego put the top playoff seed for the AFC in the hands of the Patriots, who would win a tiebreaker with Denver based on head-to-head.  Win out and the road to the Super Bowl goes through Foxborough.  Instead, the Patriots stumble and bumble their way to a 24-20 loss at Miami three days later, and Denver would wind up the conference champs by beating the Patriots at home.  This game was the most damaging loss at Miami in the Brady era.

For those of you who don’t know about The Jinx, it really has no bearing on Sunday, but it is worth mentioning for the sake of how hard it is for the Patriots to win in Miami.  In their first ever meeting, in 1966 at the Orange Bowl, the Boston Patriots beat Miami 20-14.   The Patriots would not win again in Miami until the 1985 AFC Championship Game, beating the Dolphins 31-14 on their way to Super Bowl XX (The Patriots did win at the Dolphins in 1969, but that game was played in Tampa).  The Patriots lost 18 straight at Miami, including postseason.  Following the AFC Championship Game win, the Patriots came back the next year and clinched the 1986 AFC East title with a 34-27 win in the last game the Patriots would play at the Orange Bowl.  The Patriots did indeed pick a good time to finally end that darned jinx.

The Patriots overall are 15-34 at Miami in their history.  They are 11-16 at Sun Life Stadium.  They are 46-51 all-time against Miami.  On the plus side, Belichick is 18-10 versus Miami as Patriots head coach.  And yes, despite all this negative history in Miami, the Patriots can dial it up on occasion down south.  From 2007 to 2011, the Patriots were 4-1 in Miami and scoring 176 points in the four wins, an average of 44 points per game.

But with expectations so high for 2014, this is a crummy place to begin the season, especially when you recall 2013.  You could do worse, just ask a Packers fan.  Or the Patriots could be opening up in Denver.

It’s really quite simple.  If the Patriots don’t wilt in the heat and play like they did against Carolina two weeks ago, they should win.  If they play like last year, well, it might not ruin this season like last year, but it won’t help.

At least it’s time for football, Patriots style.  One world champ is about to be put to sleep up yonder in Boston.  It’s time for another one to arise and begin its season on a winning note.

Patriots Drop Bomb, Deal Mankins

We’ve seen this before.  Lawyer Milloy was traded around this time to Buffalo in 2003.  The Patriot clubhouse turned into instant turmoil, and Tom Jackson foolishly declared that the Patriots “hate their coach”.

So wha hoppen?  Jackson was outed as an outspoken dolt, and the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that season.

So far, Jackson has said nothing regarding the events of Tuesday, when the Patriots dealt longtime guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay for tight end Tim Wright and a 2015 fourth round pick.  The former first round selection out of Fresno State was a six-time All-Pro guard, but the Patriots shipped Mankins for a pass receiving tight end who has everyone in New England saying collectively, “Who?” when the name Tim Wright comes up.

For those folks with more than a casual knowledge of the Buccaneers, Wright projects as a poor man’s Aaron Hernandez.  The thinking is that his skill set will replicate the former Patriot tight end and give Rob Gronkowski back his compliment at tight end.  Wright is a pass catcher first and blocker third or fourth.  As a rookie in 2013, Wright had 54 catches for 571 yards and five touchdowns.  It figures that Wright is also from Rutgers, as the Scarlet Knights are as much a Patriot factory as are the Bucs.

Mankins had a $10 million cap hit for 2014, and was the highest paid guard in NFL history when he signed his current deal after the 2010 season.  The Patriots will get $5 million in cap relief this season because of this deal, and will save over $13 million in cash over the next two seasons.

But why deal Mankins?  In this year where you have a new position coach for the first time since 1980, and a bit of flux and transition this training camp on the o-line, the Patriots instead elect to trade their best offensive lineman.  Bill Belichick heaped a lot of praise on Mankins on his way out the door, saying that he was “one of the all-time great Patriots and the best guard I ever coached.”  Still, the deal is not sitting well with many corners of Patriot Nation, and one wonders now if the offense will wind up suffering despite Tom Brady finding a rhythm with his receivers in the preseason.

One can only guess.  So, let’s go for it.

It’s not nice to hold out


Long time Patriot All-Pro guard Logan Mankins was traded to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
(USA TODAY Images)

Belichick can hold a grudge, and he can turn on players as quickly as he can express loyalty in them.  Players like Milloy, Richard Seymour and Wes Welker are terrific examples.  The Patriots foolishly let Mankins suffer through his rookie deal and never bothered to do the morally right thing and renegotiate.  Mankins was incensed with the Patriots and held out through the 2010 season until he absolutely had to play to accrue a season played in the NFL.  The Patriots responded by signing Mankins to the largest contract for a guard in league history.

Belichick doesn’t forget incidents like this.  And neither do the players when they feel slighted.  To their credit, Belichick and Seymour coexisted for six years before the latter was traded in 2009 to Oakland.  This is a situation where Belichick got rid of Mankins at the exact right time, in his opinion, and thus will deny Mankins the honor and distinction to play his entire career only in New England.  And the holdout four years ago likely was on Belichick’s mind when he did the deal with Tampa Bay.

Mankins good, but not “Super”

For someone of Mankins’ pedigree, his postseason record is a little checkered.  He had a key missed block in last year’s AFC Championship Game loss to Denver.  But arguably his two worst games as a pro were the two Super Bowl losses to the Giants, where in both cases he was manhandled by the Giant defensive line.

In trying to figure out how the 18-0 Patriots could have lost to an inferior Giants team in Super Bowl XLII, one of the focal points of how the Giants dominated the line of scrimmage was the matchups between Mankins and Justin Tuck and Osi Umeniyora.  Brady was under siege all game long, and didn’t establish a rhythm until late in the fourth quarter when the Giant defense actually became tired.  This matchup deficit for the Patriots was cited as one of the main reasons the Patriots lost the Super Bowl and their undefeated season.

We owed Tampa Bay, perhaps

Tampa Bay has been generous to the Patriots over the last few years, as there are some people down there with former ties with the Patriots, including Bucs GM Jason Licht.  From Tampa Bay the Patriots have been the proud recipients of LeGarrette Blount (now with Pittsburgh) and Darrelle Revis.  It could be that Licht offered Belichick the best deal possible for Mankins, who despite his All-Pro status is 32 years old and no longer a spring chicken.  It might have been a way for both men to say thanks to each other, and it is clear that relations between these two teams are pretty good to speak of.

In the end, it’s just business and nothing else

Maybe it was just time to cut ties with the aging and expensive lineman.  Guards are the least expensive of all offensive linemen, and Mankins was due to make $10 million for the Patriots this year.  Belichick has been given to say over the years that guards are very easy to find and develop.  Find them on the street, coach them up, and voila.  Russ Hochstein, Stephen Neal and Joe Andruzzi are good examples of such players.

But Mankins was a first round pick.  He was also an All-Pro several times over.  The Patriots are fortunate to have had the best guard ever (John Hannah) and the most expensive ever (Mankins).  His body of work did warrant more than just chump change, but the Patriots mismanaged Mankins a long time ago while still under his rookie deal.

This was a case where the Patriot Way jumped up and bit them on the ankle.  Mankins should never have been allowed to play out his rookie deal, then play hardball with the team and force them to sign him for big money.  The team was able to wait out Vince Wilfork and sign him to a team-friendly deal, but Mankins was a rare player who was able to stay with the team on his terms.

Now he is gone to Tampa Bay, and the Patriot offensive line goes into more confusion with nothing but question marks and speculation.  Dealing Milloy in 2003 did work out well in the end.  But there is no Rodney Harrison equivalent at guard ready and waiting to take over.

Garoppolo Pushing Hard For Brady Backup Job

FOXBOROUGH – Tom Brady still needs to be the guy.  Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking anything otherwise.

But if the Patriots suffer a repeat of the 2008 season, perhaps the most compelling positional battle of the 2014 Patriots training camp is the battle for Brady’s backup.  You have Ryan Mallett, the former Michigan and Arkansas quarterback, in the battle of his life against second round draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo.  While Mallett had the slightly better numbers on Friday night at Gillette Stadium in a 42-35 Patriot preseason win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Garoppolo gets the nod as the man of the match because he played mostly against the Eagles’ varsity while Mallett played against mostly third stringers and future cuts.

All things considered, Garoppolo did well, albeit not astounding, but showed some good stuff at times while playing for all but two offensive series of the first half.  Garoppolo was at times pressed into tough decisions and had to move around in the pocket on occasion.  But he threw some nice balls, demonstrated his quick release, and didn’t throw any bad balls nor suffer any interceptions.

The same cannot be said for his heralded skipper.  Brady suffered a pick-six on the first Eagle offensive drive of the game, and was the only one out of six quarterbacks in the game for both sides to not break the 100-point mark in quarterback rating.  On a night where defense was mostly absent and quarterback numbers were quite good, Garoppolo showed that, given the chance to play mostly against the best Eagle defenders, he held his own and showed good poise in the process.

Brady opened the game playing the first two series.  On the first possession, he drove the Patriots to the Philadelphia 30 yard line, then tried to hit newly signed tight end Steve Maneri in the left flat about ten yards downfield.  Maneri curled in when he should have curled out, and Cary Williams had a clean interception at the Patriot 21.  He took the pick and returned it 79 yards to put the Eagles on the board first.  This pick was on Maneri, as he clearly ran the wrong route and Brady threw the ball to where he should have been.

Brady had a much better second drive.  He took advantage of four Eagles penalties and fired a 15-yard scoring toss to Kenbrell Thompkins at the left pylon to tie the game at 7-7.  Referee John Parry visited the Patriots-Eagles joint practices this week, met with the players to go over the new rules, and even officiated one of the practices.  Bill Belichick implored Parry to throw lots of flags in Friday night’s game, and Parry’s crew responded with 21 total penalties on the night.  On this drive, a 26-yard pass interference call on Julian Edelman which would have put the Patriots at the Eagle 11 yard line was pushed back to the 26 when Belichick protested the spot of the foul and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.  Brady was able to overcome Belichick’s excessive complaining nonetheless.


Jimmy Garoppolo played a steady game against first-string competition against Philadelphia on Friday night at Gillette Stadium. (USA TODAY Images)

Garoppolo had the rest of the first half, and led the Patriots to touchdowns on his first two drives.  After the first Eagle offensive play resulted in a fumble recovery by Tommy Kelly, Garoppolo led the Patriots on a four-play, 33-yard drive.  Two of his passes went to reserve fullback James Develin.  He ran a nice naked bootleg and hit Develin in the right flat for 12 yards to put the ball at the Eagle 9.  Following a holding penalty on Chris Barker, Garoppolo dropped a nice flat pass to Develin, who was wide open in the left side of the formation, and he ran it in untouched from 15 yards out to give the Patriots their first lead.

The next drive featured Brandon LaFell and Brandon Bolden.  Garoppolo threw his nicest pass of the night when he floated a nice 25-yard touch pass to LaFell to put the Patriots at the Philadelphia 37 yard line.  On the next play, Bolden blasted around left end for 18 more yards.  Six plays later, Garoppolo found LaFell in the back of the end zone for a six-yard touchdown pass, a nice throw on a crossing route into heavy traffic.

The Eagles were able to hold down Garoppolo for the rest of the first half, but in doing so, the rookie never threw a bad pass or made a bad decision.  He did overthrow Brian Tyms on a sideline pattern to thwart the next drive, but two costly penalties on Marcus Cannon took care of the following drive.

Garoppolo’s final numbers were 6 of 12 passing for 72 yards and two touchdowns.  He was confident in leading the Patriots on the two touchdown drives.  His passer rating was 108.3.

Mallett did play the entire second half, and looked much better than he did in the preseason opener at Washington last week.  Mallett was 7 of 11 for 92 yards and a nice 17-yard touchdown pass to Tyms, though Tyms had to make a great leaping catch and pass a replay review in doing so.  Mallett also had a six-yard rushing touchdown, and Roy Finch chipped in with a ten-yard touchdown run in the third quarter as well. Mallett’s passer rating was 120.3.

Mallett also made no bad throws or decisions, though he was the only Patriot quarterback to be sacked (twice for 19 total yards).  His competition was against mostly Eagle players who won’t be with the team when the games get real, so gauging his performance is a bit difficult.  Another element which helped Mallett was the rushing performance of Jonas Gray, who carried 12 times for 98 yards.

The Patriots are still about Brady, and will be until the future Hall of Famer hangs up his spikes for the last time.  Garoppolo is merely playing well, at least better than his first few practices, and pushing Mallett for the backup job.  The smart thinking is that the Patriots keep all three quarterbacks, and let the competition for who backs up Brady play out as long and best it can.

The next game, at home against Carolina, will be the proverbial “dress rehearsal” game, where Brady will draw most of the snaps, at least in the first half.  The backup battle will be secondary in this game.

But the battle will, and must, continue.  Sooner or later, Brady will leave the Patriots.  Who takes his place will be the most scrutinized athlete in this area in maybe the last 50 years.

Law To Canton? Let’s Get Gino There First

Ty Law is a Patriot Hall of Famer.  Well done, well deserved.

Every corner of Patriot Nation should stand up and cheer for the former cornerback from Michigan who is tied for the franchise lead in career interceptions (with Raymond Clayborn).  Law is best remembered for his pick-six in Super Bowl XXXVI which was the linchpin for the eventual 20-17 upset win over the St. Louis Rams, but his entire Patriot career was most exceptional.  His penchant for picking off Peyton Manning in the postseason was especially pleasing to all Patriot fans.

The Patriots have not yet replaced Law in the Patriot secondary, that is, until perhaps now.  With Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner now in the fold, they are pretty much the talk of the town at Patriots training camp.  Much was made, for example, of Browner mixing it up with Kenbrell Thompkins during practice.  Every day you get reports of how many times Revis picked off Tom Brady in practice.  There is no question that this is the most excited Patriot Nation has been regarding the Patriot secondary since Law last played for the Patriots in 2004, which, coincidentally, was the last season to date that the Patriots became world champs.

There has also been a great deal of sentiment to put Law in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.  On this enshrinement weekend, which features the first punter in NFL history to be so honored (Ray Guy of the Oakland/LA Raiders), many Patriot fans want Law borne off to Canton sometime soon.  Law’s 36 career picks are far away from the most ever (81 by Paul Krause of Washington and Minnesota), so justifying Law’s induction would be largely on sentiment and non-material analysis.  Law is regarded as the best Patriot cornerback not in the Hall of Fame, as opposed to Mike Haynes, who is enshrined in Canton.

Does Law belong in Canton?  Perhaps.  At least not right now, or not just yet.

First things first.  When you talk about former Patriots who should be enshrined at Canton, you have to put Gino Cappelletti at the top of the list.  Get Gino in first, then we’ll worry about everyone else, like Law.

Gil Santos, the recently retired iconic Patriot radio announcer and longtime partner of Cappelletti, can rattle off all the reasons Gino should be in the Hall of Fame better than you or I or anyone else.  Cappelletti played his entire career in the old American Football League, and his entire career spanned the existence of the league exactly (1960-69).  He is one of 20 players to have played in every game in AFL history and one of only three players who played in every AFL game for one team (thanks, Wikipedia).  He remains one of the greatest players in AFL history, playing for a Patriot team that made the playoffs only once (1963).

Cappelletti is the all-time leading scorer in AFL history, largely because he was both a wide receiver and a field goal kicker.  According to Wikipedia, he has two of the five top scoring seasons in pro football history, with 155 points in 1964 and 147 points in 1961.  He was the all time leading Patriots scorer until Adam Vinatieri passed him in 2005.  He was the AFL MVP in 1964 and a five-time AFL all-star.

Yet for reasons no one in these parts can fathom, Cappelletti is still not enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Kickers who played other positions in Gino’s day were much more prevalent than today.  George Blanda is a legendary quarterback who also did placekicking.  Steve Myhra, who tied the famous 1958 NFL Championship Game with a field goal just before the end of regulation time, was a guard and a linebacker.  Kickers didn’t become specialists until much later, perhaps with the advent of Pete Gogolak as the first soccer-style kicker in the mid-1960s.  It made what Cappelletti did much more admirable years later.

To put what Cappelletti did in perspective, try and imagine Vinatieri being among the top pass receivers in the NFL.  Vinatieri does have one career touchdown pass, but that was on a fake field goal.  Otherwise, he was paid to do one thing.

Troy Brown goes one better than Vinatieri.  In 2004, Brown played both ways and wound up with three interceptions (his first off former teammate Drew Bledsoe).  But that was just one season, not his entire career.

Cappelletti did both receiving and placekicking his entire career.  It is a lost art today, but to excel like he did back in the 1960s at both positions was remarkable even then.  If for no other reason, the fact that he was both a standout wide receiver and placekicker for as long as he was deserves consideration for the Hall of Fame.  And it wasn’t just what he did as a Patriot; his accomplishments were among the best in the history of the AFL.  And compared alongside the NFL, which Cappelletti never played in, his records hold up as well.

If Cappelletti is being denied the Hall of Fame because he played only in the AFL and never in the NFL, that is simply wrong and unfair.  It took nine seasons, but the Jets and Chiefs eventually proved that the AFL was indeed major league.  In 1963 the Chargers, who had beaten the Patriots 51-10 in the AFL Championship Game and were considered by many to be the best team in pro football, challenged the NFL Champion Chicago Bears to an all-pro football championship game.  The Bolts said that the Bears could pick the time and place and could even use NFL balls.  Da Bears declined the challenge.

Legendary Packers head coach Vince Lombardi did indeed win the first two Super Bowls over AFL teams.  But he nearly drove himself to rack and ruin with all the pressure heaped on him to win the games, especially the first one against Kansas City.  He would die of cancer two years after winning Super Bowl II.

The Colts are still disgraced to this day for losing Super Bowl III to the Jets.  Many of the Colt players who did win Super Bowl V were still ashamed over losing two years before rather than winning that Super Bowl, which is more known for eleven turnovers than a Colt win.  It is amazing that Don Shula overcame that titanic loss to go on to become the winningest head coach in NFL history and the only coach to preside over a perfect team (17-0 in 1972).  But Super Bowl III was a convincing win by the Jets, a “leave no doubt” statement by the AFL that it was indeed a major league.

The AFL was one hundred percent legit, and if this is why Cappelletti is not in the Hall of Fame, it is a huge wrong that must be righted, and it must be done while Cappelletti is still alive.

Once Gino gets in, then we’ll get around to guys like Law.  Brady doesn’t have to worry about his eventual trip to Canton.  But until Gino is finally honored, Patriot Nation needs to keep an eye on perspective and temper its enthusiasm for the best of the best.

Patriots Win Super Bowl XLIX If…

FOXBOROUGH – Let the real dog days of August begin.

Some folks out there still hold out hope that the Red Sox will be playing deep into October.  The Celtics are stockpiling guards like Bill Belichick used to stockpile tight ends.  The Bruins are in hibernation with nothing yet to show that they’ll bring the Stanley Cup back to Boston next spring.  There is a friendly match Wednesday night at Fenway Park involving John Henry’s team, Liverpool FC, that is generating far more interest than the Revolution and their losing streak.

Thank goodness for training camp.  It’s on.  They’re training down in Foxborough.  The most wonderful time of the year has finally begun.  Football is back.

The 2014 edition of your New England Patriots is garnering a ton of interest this year, to the point where anything short of a Super Bowl appearance will result in a failed season.  To some, the Patriots need to win the Super Bowl for the season to be successful.  Nothing like putting undue pressure on the local boys to make good.

On defense, you have the addition of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the secondary, and the return of injured stars like Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork.  On offense, you have the return of Rob Gronkowski and the addition of Brandon LaFell to the receiver corps.  It would seem that the Patriots have the weapons in place to make a deep run in the playoffs, perhaps as deep as February.

But the players out there won’t guarantee the Patriots a spot in Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona early next year.  Things still have to break right for the Patriots to fulfill their destiny and actually win the big game they haven’t been able to win in ten years.

So, if the Patriots truly are destined to win the big one, here is basically what has to happen.

You still can’t complain, but injuries do matter

Too many key Patriots are coming off injuries.  One of them happens to be the new guy at cornerback.

Gronkowski, Wilfork, Revis and Mayo are at the top of the list of injured Patriots to keep your eye on.  Of these three gents, the most debilitating loss due to injury would probably be Revis.  His arrival in Foxborough is right up there as being one of the most highly anticipated in recent memory.  Just Revis alone back there defending passes kicks the Patriot defense up a few notches.

Granted, these guys have won an aggregate total of one Super Bowl between them (Wilfork).  Their presence will go a long way towards how well the 2014 Patriots do.  But what if one or more of these guys blows out their knee or aggravates their previous injuries?  Or, what if someone else pulls up lame and heads for the IR list?  To be completely morbid, what if the Jimmy Garoppolo experiment has to begin this year because Bernard Pollard (or some reasonable facsimile thereof) still can’t be blocked?

Nobody in the NFL is allowed to complain about injuries or make excuses because all teams get them.  The Patriots generally do well in replacing injured players.  But it may only get them in the playoffs without getting them to that big game in February.

The two most important words of the season:  Third down

If you have the ball, convert.  If you don’t, get off the field.


Tom Brady needs his whole team to come through in 2014 for him to win his fourth Super Bowl.
(USA TODAY Images)

Tom Brady needs more than Gronkowski and Julian Edelman to get those tough yards to keep drives going.  This is where Shane Vereen needs to step up and become what Kevin Faulk used to be.  Vereen is the best receiving running back, taking the place of Danny Woodhead last year as the latter headed to San Diego as a free agent.  Danny Amendola, who should be classified as addenda to the section on injured key players, should also dig deep help Brady out on third down situations where a quick slant pass is the way to go, especially if defenses overplay Edelman.

Defensively, this was more of a problem last year than offensively.  The Patriots were 26th in the NFL in both total first downs surrendered on defense and percent of first downs made on third down.  If Revis and Browner (who is on suspension until after Week 4) can put the clamps on the receivers, this will help the Patriots greatly.  Either incomplete passes or coverage sacks will replace clutch third downs from opposing offenses.  The Patriots do need to upgrade their pass rush in any case, but tighter coverage in the secondary is essential if the Patriots want to get off the field better than they did last year.

Don’t settle for two, go for one

By that, we mean playoff seeds.  If it does once again come down to New England and Denver for the AFC Championship, the Patriots cannot be made to travel to Denver.  The Patriots always play poorly there and rarely win there.  To ensure their easiest path to Glendale, Arizona, the Patriots need home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  Winning at Pittsburgh and winning at Denver are two different things.  The Patriots need to be home.

Circle this date on your calendar:  Sunday, November 2.  Denver at New England.  It will be a 4:25 PM game on CBS, so they don’t have to mess with NBC.  And it will be at Gillette Stadium, just like last year.  It would be nice if the Patriots don’t make like last year and spot Denver a huge lead only to have to rely on a freak play to win the game in overtime.

And even this wasn’t enough.  The Patriots won the game, but later wound up coughing up home field advantage thanks to a shameful loss at Miami.  At the very least, the Patriots have to win this November 2 matchup.  Then they need to match Denver win for win and get the playoff game at home.  Having to go to Santa Clara through Denver is too much to ask.

Then when you do get the one seed, take full advantage

Patriot Nation might sometimes forget that Brady won his first ten playoff games.  His first postseason loss was, naturally, in Denver.  The Patriots are 9-8 in playoff games since their win in Super Bowl XXXIX.

Brady needs to regain his playoff touch from ten years ago.  If an aging John Elway can win his only two Super Bowls in his final two years, Brady can win a couple more Vinces.  Brady is at a comparable age as Elway was when he ended his career with two straight championships.

But what Brady needs is what Elway finally got:  the ability to win without him being the main reason why.  Elway could not do it himself, and when a few more component parts were added (read:  Terrell Davis), he finally got his titles.  Brady cannot be relied on to win championships all by himself, great as he is.

All eleven players on offense, starting with the offensive line, have to play their best football in January and beyond.  Defensively, the Patriots literally have to hold opponents to 20 points or less to have a chance.  The deeper you go in January, the harder the defenses are that Brady will oppose.  He needs more than just merely being immortal.

It all begins today with training camp.  It’s finally here.  Football arrives just in time to wake up the moribund sports fans around here.  Now it’s no longer important if the Red Sox are buyers or sellers.  The real boys are back in town, and life is once again good in these parts.

Ed. note — Venue of Super Bowl XLIX corrected to Glendale, Ariz., instead of Santa Clara, Calif., as previously stated.

NFL In London? Here’s A Premier Compromise


Patriots owner Robert Kraft. (USA TODAY Images)

How many billions does one or more human beings need before they can be completely satisfied financially?

Raise your hand if you’d be okay with one.  A half.  A quarter.  A tenth.  A hundredth.  A thousandth is still a million bucks.

But if you are an NFL owner, just one billion simply won’t do.  If you own Fort Knox and discover that there are ten other Fort Knoxes in the country, you’ll break your neck to try and acquire them all.  Why have more money than only Davy Crockett?  I mean, let’s lop Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and a few maharajas into the mix too.

Such is the case with this outrageous idea of the NFL trying to get a franchise in London by the end of the decade.  In hopes of making much more money, the NFL owners believe that expanding the NFL globally is a wonderful idea and an untapped gold mine.  And the idea of going to London is incredibly appealing to the owners, particularly your favorite owner, Robert Kraft.

The NFL has had several regular season games at Wembley Stadium over the years.  Your Patriots went over there in 2009 and smacked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 35-7.  The games have been well attended, and the Britons seem to like the product a lot, even in mismatches like this game was.

But putting a team over there for keeps?  Eight games a year instead of one?  Would that lead to a team in Paris, Berlin, Rome and Barcelona also?

First of all, wasn’t the old WLAF supposed to be the measuring rod for the viability of the NFL in Europe?  The league came into being in 1991 and hung around in various formats until 2007.  The league played in the spring and was used primarily as a developmental league.  Americans had almost no interest in the league, especially when the league went all-Euro.  Interest in the league was somewhat good in Europe, but again, it wasn’t the mainstream best players in the world.  So trying to glean how well the real NFL would go over in Europe based on the WLAF might be a little bit of a stretch.

So, okay.  We put a team in London.  Then what?

First of all, how come nobody ever says anything about the 2005 regular season game in Mexico City between the Cardinals and the 49ers?  Arizona beat San Francisco 31-14 at Aztec Stadium before a then-NFL record crowd of 103,467.  That’s a crowd that you usually see in Pasadena or Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Mexico City is a whole lot closer to NFL cities than London is.  The only major problem there is altitude, but you deal with that when you go to Denver.  It could also be that the NFL views the UK’s economy as more potentially lucrative than that of Mexico (to be fair, the second richest person in the world is Mexican), and issues like quality of life could come into play in the minds of the players and staff who would have to live there during the season.

The biggest problem with a team in London, other than sustaining interest in the UK beyond just one game, is travel logistics.  San Diego is the most distant NFL city at 5,400 miles.  San Francisco is 5,350 miles away, while Seattle is just under 4,800 miles.  The closest airport to London is Logan International at 3,200 miles, while it is 3,400 miles to JFK in New York.  In any case, you would have to put the London team in the Eastern Division of whichever conference it winds up in, and it’s still a long flight for division road games.

To make it salable for the players and staff, you would literally have to cluster home and away games together to suit the London team.  For instance, don’t send them out to Denver for Week 1, then home for Week 2, then to Washington for Week 3, and so on.  Their home games should be in groups of three, three and two game sets.  The same should be for their road games.  While on the road, they should stay in the USA and move from city to city, and make their road schedule as travel-friendly as possible.  When it is time to play the NFC West, make the two road games on consecutive weeks, and ditto for the AFC West.  Try to make it so that they play on the road in Seattle and San Francisco in the same year, ditto for Oakland and San Diego.

Bye weeks should be as beneficial as possible to the London team, as well as visiting teams that have to travel to Wembley.  London’s bye week should perhaps be set at between Weeks 8 and 9 unless absolutely necessary.  It should be between a road trip and a homestand.

Of course, even if these logistical concerns are adequately met, there is still no guarantee that this idea will be good for the NFL.  Here is a nice litmus test to consider, if London and the UK are truly interested in an NFL team.

Kraft isn’t the only Boston-based owner with his foot in the door in the UK.  John Henry is actually inside the parlor, as co-owner of an EPL team based in Liverpool.  Liverpool is once again going to play on the Fenway Park pitch this summer.  Soccer games have traditionally drawn well at Fenway.

With the 2014 World Cup now over, there has been sentiment to try and bring an English Premier League team to the United States.  MLS continues to exist and grow as a second-tier professional soccer league.  But NBC has been televising EPL games, including the ever-popular Manchester United, with reasonably good ratings.  Forbes Magazine lists the top 50 most valuable sports franchises in the world, and the top three are soccer teams:  Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Man-U.  The Yankees are fourth.  (The Patriots are eighth, the Red Sox eleventh.)  Bringing soccer at the level of the EPL to the USA is not that bad an idea, at least from the point of view of the USA.

The NFL should talk to the EPL and see if they have a mutual interest in such a venture.  The EPL should pick an east coast city and put a team there and see what shakes.  New York has the most people, Boston has perhaps the best soccer fans in the USA.  Pick either Gillette Stadium or MetLife Stadium.  If Kraft makes enough of a fuss to own an EPL team to make this experiment work, even if he were made to divest himself and his family of the Revolution, the EPL team would land in Foxborough.  Otherwise it would be in the Meadowlands.

If the EPL should succeed in the USA, the NFL might have a better idea as to the viability of an NFL team in London.  Of course, you’d have to convince the EPL that this would be good for them also, and as yet, that fact is not clear.  Until then, the NFL would be wise to think this over carefully before they gamble on a market that may be okay for one game a year but not okay for a permanent resident.

One parting thought.  Let’s say Kraft did get an EPL team.  Sporting Foxborough versus Liverpool on the pitch at Gillette Stadium.  Kraft versus Henry.  Boston sports’ Civil War.  Too good to be true.