December 11, 2010
Spikes Suspension Bursts Patriot Balloon
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
CHICAGO -- Apparently, we weren't done with character issues concerning Brandon Spikes.
The doting public had just put Spikes' John Holmes wannabe video into their subconscious, and now Spikes is front and center again in the adverse spotlight. A few days before the Patriots have to play their second straight Game Of The Year, the rookie Patriot linebacker has been suspended by the NFL for four games for violating their substance abuse policy. Spikes has stated publicly through a statement that he will not appeal the ruling and begin his suspension immediately, making him eligible for any and all playoff games the Patriots might play.
Spikes offered up an apology for his transgressions, saying that, to paraphrase, he should have sought more guidance in whatever contraband he ingested, and insisted that he did not take any steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs. The reaction to this was predictable: Spikes is either being stupid or disingenuous or both.
It now appears that it is more stupid than disingenuous. Most experts and observers were outraged that Spikes would come out and lie about whether the drugs he took were steroid-related. It now appears that Spikes was on the level, at least for the most part. But the stupid element still hangs out there.
CSNNE reported late Saturday afternoon that the banned substance Spikes ingested was part of a medication he was taking to counteract attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Most patients who suffer from this disorder are given Ritalin or something similar, which helps slow their brains down and focus better. But Ritalin and other related ADHD drugs contain amphetamines, which in the eyes of the NFL are PEDs, in that it technically makes you more alert and energetic, and thus puts you in an unfair position of a competitive advantage.
So Spikes wasn't trying to become the next Lyle Alzado or the next Tony Mandarich. That's a comfort.
But Spikes is still a scratch for this Sunday's game at Chicago, and the final four games total. Never mind that Spikes was simply taking medication for a common disorder that many people suffer from. The fact is that Spikes had the opportunity to clear this medication with the league, and failed to do so.
Thus the stupidity angle. As Ron White is given to say, you can't fix stupid.
The NFL has a mechanism in place where Spikes could have gotten medical clearance to use this medication, and thus avoid this suspension which could potentially curtail the Patriots' ability to lock up the one seed in the AFC. For something like treating ADHD, the league could perhaps have given Spikes special permission to use this drug, as it is primarily a focus issue involved here rather than a strengthening issue. Spikes could have used his own doctor who prescribed the medication to offer up assistance even if the league had balked at approving Spikes for usage of the medication.
Fortunately, Bill Belichick is good at fixing stupid, contrary to what the redneck comedian might think.
But the reality is that Spikes won't be there at Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon, with weather conditions befitting Santa Claus being predicted for the game. The Bears will in all likelihood make Patrick Forte the focal point of their offensive attack. If nothing else, it will be a way for head coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Martz to take away the responsibility of quarterback Jay Cutler to win the game all by himself.
Smith and Martz, who were the Rams coordinators when they lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI, know that Cutler is mistake prone, and that Belichick can exploit any weakness their quarterback has. When he is on, Cutler is a very good but not astounding quarterback, capable of putting up good numbers despite playing in an offense that has not been known for lots of big numbers in recent years. But when he is not on, he will throw damaging picks with more regularity than Mark Sanchez did last Monday night at Foxborough.
Given the bad weather forecasts, Martz will almost certainly try and pound the ball up the middle against Gary Guyton and Dane Fletcher. If conditions are so bad that neither team can get a passing attack going, this edge in the running game could decide the game for the Bears. Without Spikes to help clog up the middle and assist Jerod Mayo in run stoppage, the Patriots could be very vulnerable in this area.
Of course, there's always a chance that Martz will coach badly like he did in the aforementioned Super Bowl.
Martz foolishly stayed away from Marshall Faulk, who was being shadowed all game long by Willie McGinest and Tedy Bruschi, and tried to beat the Patriots with his aerial assault. If Martz gets this same feeling again and tries to win the game with a passing bombardment by Cutler, the Patriots will be the better for it. Martz is more in his element as offensive coordinator rather than head coach, but his ill-advised hubris in Super Bowl XXXVI ultimately cost his team the game. Martz may think that he can beat the suspect Patriot secondary, but odds are that Martz will recognize the weakened middle the Patriots will have and act accordingly.
Spikes, whose cousin Takeo is also an NFL linebacker, has played well for the Patriots in mostly situational use. Spikes isn't an every-down linebacker, but neither are Guyton or Fletcher. Still, Spikes has been a welcome addition to the team and looks to be, along with Mayo, a nice inside linebacker tandem for the Patriots for some time to come. They are somewhat akin to Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox, a nice top-of-the-order duo who are both young and mesh well together.
But this is now the second time Spikes has been in the news for some reason that calls his character in question. Spikes needs to grow up right now and take better account of himself. The porn video is acceptable in that it happened in college, and it really was more of an embarrassment than something which bodes poorly as to his projected NFL career. But failing a drug test automatically sounds all sorts of warning bells and sirens and puts Spikes on the league's radar screen. Even if what Spikes took was mostly innocent, it was still in violation of league policy, and he needs to be more alert to these things in the future.
Belichick has proven to be a good leader of men over the years. Long before anything gets untenable, Belichick will straighten Spikes out and pound into his head what he needs to do and what not to do. Not every adult acts like an adult all the time, and this is a case where Belichick simply needs remind Spikes who his football daddy is and make him behave. It sounds simple and condescending, but this is pretty much what needs to be done.
As for the last four games of the season, the Patriots will have to man up and deal with this, like they have done so many times in past years. They will have to find another way to win the game. If the Patriots play the Bears like they have every team since the Cleveland loss, they probably will.
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