North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘New England Patriots

Feet Puns of the World Unite – Divisional Playoff Weekend

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Some loose, disconnected thoughts on each of the weekend’s NFL playoff games.

Pittsburgh Steelers over Baltimore Ravens

I’m glad I got home late on Saturday and missed the first half of this one, since it looked ugly. The main clip I saw of the first half was this bizzare fumble where everybody thought the ball was dead until somebody picked it up and ran it into the end zone. Shades of that Monday night game from a few years ago, where somebody (A Packer, I think) made a similar play – he was down, but nobody touched him, so he got up and ran the ball for a score or something and now, in every practice, coaches drill touching into players head with a variety of hot irons, backwards messages and a lot of screaming.

And when I tuned in, the Steelers were down big. It wasn’t a total surprise (thank god for The Score’s mobile phone app, which kept me somewhat in touch with the game). On the whole, it seemed like the Steelers brought both sides of their game to the table: their offensive line was not good early on, and while they did improve later, I still feel iffy about them and especially in their protection of Roethlisberger, who was getting nailed harder than even he’d find appropriate on a first date.

It wasn’t an especially convincing win, I thought, but the Steelers came out in the end. Yes, there was a tremendous comeback by the Steelers, but there was a big collapse by the Ravens offence. Their lead was built on turnovers and making the most of what they were given and they blew it by playing  just okay. Flacco is taking, and will continue to take, a lot of grief, but I’m not completely holding him to blame – he was under a lot of defensive pressure on  Saturday and did deliver some tight passes: one to TJ Houshmandzadeh and another to Anquan Boldin, both of which were dropped – Boldin’s cost them a touchdown and Housh’s killed a fourth-quarter rally. There was a punt-return touchdown, called back on a penalty and eventually turned into a field goal.

You know how in Techmo Bowl, turnovers seem to even out? If you get a fumble early, it’s almost certain you’ll fumble or get picked off later? I know it sounds Simmons-y, but that’s what I was thinking when Flacco fumbled in the third. I think that example held up throughout the game. The Steelers played odd in the first half and the Ravens looked odder in the second. Part of me wonders if it was the ball – the Ravens had a hard time hanging onto it – or if it had something to do with a blood-thirsty crowd, but I can’t find any real answers so I want to fall back on cliche: Pittsburgh wanted it more or something. I guess it comes down to something like this: Baltimore played better than they were in the first, worse than they are in the second and, combined, finished as the team everybody thought they were – defensively talented but with question marks on offence. The Steelers were the same; the first half went all wrong, the second all right and they look great for the comeback win, even if it wasn’t really all their fault.

Green Bay Packers over Atlanta Falcons

The must crushing thing about this game came right before halftime, when Tramon Williams ran an interception all the way for a score as the clock expired – and, most interestingly to me, right before the Packers would get the ball back on a kickoff. When that happens to me in Madden or Techmo or whatever, it’s always a huge boost – it’s all the psychological gain of a safety and more points on the board, too. I don’t think I called the game right then and there, but I started seeing it on Twitter and, looking back, they were right.

I’m not sure what this loss means to Matt “Ice” Ryan. In two playoff games, he’s underwhelmed, but that’s way too small a sample size to judge him as a heir apparent to Dan Marino or whatever. Marino was a singular talent who was saddled on some poor teams (and had the misfortune to play at the same time as Joe Montana, who had much better teams around him) for the bulk of his career; Ryan seems like an above-average QB who’s still young enough to make mistakes. It’s fun and it’s easy to draw a line connecting him to other QBs throughout history who never won much, but it’s disingenuous: he’s barely been in the league long enough to make playoff appearances.

As for the Packers, they looked amazing. Both their offence and defence were clicking as they rolled through the Falcons. I’ve been saying for a while they’re a lot better than people give them credit for – they lead the NFC in SRS, as I recall. I was thinking about that this morning when listening to a Simmons podcast, where him and noted NFL expert Adam Carolla used how close the Packers/Eagles game was to boost the Falcons – their logic was something like “Well, Green Bay nearly lost to Philadelphia and the Eagles are out of the playoffs, so that means the Packers are nearly out of the playoffs also,” which is fine except for the parts which don’t make sense (most of it). Green Bay is good, Philadelphia was nearly as good and both, I’d wager, were better than the Falcons.

Chicago Bears over Seattle Seahawks

A long while ago, I wrote a really long story on the Arizona Cardinals and the dangerous effects of hype. It was right before that Super Bowl where they came out of nowhere and put together a great run to the Super Bowl, mostly thanks to Kurt Warner lobbing touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald (which indirectly led to my favorite Slate article of all time).Essentially, it was about how everybody was buying into the team because it was a feel-good story and they possessed that rare sports element – momentum. They demolished teams in the playoffs, especially Carolina, and then tested the Steelers in the Super Bowl, but fell short of actually winning.

Anyway, the Seahawks began reminding me of them on Friday, when hype surrounding them began to hit critical mass – I think it was when Ron Jaworski said the Bears lead the NFL in negative-yardage-plays – and I started feeling iffy about picking them. It’s nice to call an upset, sure, but to ride that bandwagon? Yeah, I got ahead of myself.

The Seahawks played like they have all season on Sunday, which is to say not especially good. Their defence was lackluster, their offence sputtered like my first car and I don’t think anybody should have been surprised a 7-9 team lost to a team good enough to get a bye week. Chicago did look impressive, but I still don’t trust them – they’ve improved throughout the season, but I still feel like they haven’t been tested by a really good team yet. The Packers will be that test, but I’ll save that breakdown for another day…

NY Jets over New England Patriots

Forget Seattle over New Orleans, this is the upset of the playoffs. The Patriots were good this year and, if I’m remembering my advanced stats right, went into the postseason more highly rated than any of their previous seasons – including that one which finished 16-0. Brady was lights out, throwing everywhere to everybody (especially Branch, but also Welker) and they steamrolled teams.

But their defence? Well, it had problems. Third-most passing yards allowed, for one. It’s let teams hang in this season – Buffalo stands out in my mind – but was just good enough for their offence to make a few big plays here and there and push the game out of reach. So, on one side of the ball – Jets offence/Pats defence – I can’t profess to be totally surprised. But the other end – where the Jets stymied the Patriots offence – that was really cool.

Brady finished with a decent game – two scored and nearly 300 yards – but he had to throw the ball 45 times to get those numbers. Their running game was held to about 100 yards and neither running back really stood out, I thought. The Jets kept pressure on Brady and while he threw a lot, and had time to throw, just the idea of throwing that many passes makes me nervous. Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Roethlisberger all threw less times, but threw more efficiently: more yards, more scores and wins in all the games. Hasselbeck threw as much as Brady in his loss, too.

I don’t know if there’s an exact number I can point to, but I think there’s gotta be some kind of margin where it’s dangerous. First off, there’s the whole incomplete-passes-stop-the-clock angle, but there’s also the idea that it’s taxing on the entire team to run routes all day. For each of those passes Brady threw, he had two (at least) recievers running full tilt into the backfield. That’s gotta add up over time, doesn’t it?

Anyway, based on how well the Jets looked, they’ve gotta be seriously looked at to get past the Steelers. They’ve shown they can shut down explosive offenses (two thus far), but haven’t done much against a tremendous defence – but the Steelers defence looked shaky, too.  I’ll probably address this in further detail when I do my picks in a couple days.

One final thought: Enough with the Rex Ryan feet jokes already. They’re played out and really, isn’t it kind of cute that he likes his wife that much? I’d much rather have to deal with him than a player who sexually assaults women.

These NFL WIld Card Weekend Picks are Superbad

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I had a discussion the other day with a friend on the best movies of the decade. We threw around a lot of titles but didn’t really come to any conclusions: was it No Country for Old Men? Almost Famous? Inglorious Basterds?

Anyway, a couple nights later, I caught Superbad on Showcase. I hadn’t seen that movie since it came out a few years ago and frankly didn’t want to; I got really tired of people making McLovin jokes.

But as I watched it, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Two years later, it still felt fresh. It felt fresh the next day when I watched it again. And it felt fresh yesterday when I shelled out five bucks for a used copy.

Is it the best movie of the decade? Maybe. But without a doubt, it’s the most quotable. And with a nod to Bill Simmons, it inspired me and my buddy Bernard to hand out quotes for my NFL Playoff picks.

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Maybe I’m crazy but… NFL Week Four Picks

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To paraphrase the great Rakim, it’s been a long time and I shouldn’t have left you without strong picks to look to.

It has been a while since I made any NFL picks or watched a complete game even. Life kind of gets in the way and etc and so forth, so I’ll skip the details and just confess that it’s already week four and I still haven’t watched a full NFL game on Sunday yet.

And so, I didn’t make any picks. I felt that jumping in with reckless abandon was an awful idea (I’m pretty sure it was covered in a Worst Case Scenario book). But things have changed.

I’ve done some homework, I’ve looked at some stats and I even read an entire Gregg Easterbrook column. I’m ready to make more fearless picks – after the jump.

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Why Michael Vick will still work in the NFL

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The reinstatement of Michael Vick couldn’t come at a better for him. Late July, with training camp set to open not too far from now and the only conditions on his play is that he will miss a few games.

Which is really a blessing in disguise for Vick; that suspension will give him time to practice himself back into form. After all, he hasn’t thrown a pass in a game since 2006. Likely, it will take some time before Vick is anything close to what he was then.

But it’s a low-risk, high-reward signing for whichever team picks him up. Surely Vick can be had fairly cheaply, meaning that if he doesn’t work out, then it’s not a huge loss – and if he does, he can be a huge asset to the offence.

Remember, in his prime Vick was a genuine two-sided threat, a QB that could throw the ball or run with it. He wasn’t overwhelming, but he still managed to throw for over 2,300 yards in each of his full seasons while rushing for about seven yards a carry.

In 2006, his last season in the NFL, Vick gave signs of entering his prime. He threw for almost 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns (and 13 interceptions) while rushing for over 1000 yards (an average of 8.4 a carry) and two majors, nearly matching the numbers put up by Warrick Dunn.

However, the lingering question is if Vick still has anything left in his tank. Picking up where he left off is unlikely and playing in a similar role is questionable. Other rushing QB’s – Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, etc – either have a short shelf life or transition their game towards passing, something that has never been Vick’s strong suit.

But in the right setting, Vick could still pose a threat.

With the emergence of the Wildcat/Single Wing offence used by Miami last season, teams looking to install a similar scheme could use a player with Vick’s skill set. He’s got the speed to run around the outside on a sweep yet also has enough skill throwing the ball that he could play regular snaps too.

And while Vick is a pubic relations nightmare, there will surely be teams looking his way for that reason:

–       Oakland: They tried the Wildcat last season (with limited success) and have a history of signing people with troubled history. Plus, as one of the worst teams in the NFL last season, what do they have to lose?

–       Pittsburgh: Would the Steelers take a flyer on Vick? BetUS seems to think so, giving the team 4-1 odds of signing him. Vick could work on the Steelers and help to take some of the spotlight off of Ben Roethlisberger’s recent legal trouble.

– New England: BetUS also gives the Patriots 4-1 odds to bring in Vick. The Patriots have had some success recently with troubled players (Randy Moss, for example). Here Vick would only play a small role in the offense, but I wouldn’t put it past Belichick to get the most out of him.

Written by M.

July 28, 2009 at 3:25 pm

2008 recap, part one – Tyree’s catch

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In a year most likely to be remembered for losses – on the stock market, of a home, etc – sports were not immune. And if anything, this year will be remembered for one big one, when the New England Patriots lost the Super Bowl after a 16-0 regular season.

There were favourites going into the game, and early talk of a New York upset was taken lightly. The Giants had just squeaked into the playoffs and won close games against Dallas and Green Bay – the latter in overtime. Then Giants wideout Plaxico Burress predicted not only a Giants win, but a low scoring game (24-17), it was treated as joke. Tom Brady, for one, wondered why the Patriots weren’t spotted more points.

Vegas was spotting them more than a few points. On February first, the Patriots were 12 point favourites in some quarters. The money line on the Giants was a huge +325. And the over/under was 54 points. All indications were for a high scoring game – Tom Brady and Randy Moss had set scoring records throughout the season, as Brady finally had an elite receiver to throw to.

And through the playoffs – even the season itself – the Patriots were a juggernaut. They had not lost a game all season and only four of their wins were by less than a touchdown. They outscored everybody in the NFL by over 100 points and had the second best defence in the AFC (Indianapolis narrowly edged them out).

But Plaxico wasn’t that far off. The Giants won the game, 17 – 14, in what was one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. Overlooked, perhaps, was the week 17 game between the two teams, when the Patriots roared back from a 12 point deficit to win 38-35. There, the Giants showed that the Patriots were not an invincible team, one that could be beaten.

Using their defence to keep Moss and the Patriots running game at bay, the Giants were able to score early and led by a field goal after one. The Patriots answered back in the second and took the lead on a major early in the second quarter. The Giants had a chance to score later in the frame – a 3rd and four at New England’s 25 yard line – but nothing came of it.

After a scoreless third, the Giants had the ball on their own 20 yard line. Eli Manning, playing the game of his life, led an 80 yard drive that was capped with a short touchdown pass to David Tryee. 10-7 Giants.

But the Patriots weren’t out yet. Two series later, New England started a drive from their own 20 yard line. Making short, quick passes, Brady moved the Patriots downfield and wound down the clock. When the Patriots made it 14-10, there was just under three minutes to play. It was a script seemingly pulled from the other Patriot Super Bowl wins, when a late drive was what won.

And it was a late drive that won it. Starting at their 17, Eli Manning did almost nothing but throw the ball, challenging the Patriots secondary. It was halfway through this, on a third and five, that the most memorable moment of the game – and in retrospect, the year – happened.

Dropping back and under pressure, Manning was scrambling. Hands grabbed at him, pulling his jersey. A sack here, at midfield, this late in the game would be disastrous. But he dodged them and threw the ball up the middle, to a well-covered David Tyree.

The pass, given the circumstances (defence in his face, clock ticking down, the Super Bowl on the line), was well aimed; Tyree didn’t have to dive at it. But it was overthrown, sailing around Tyree’s head. Which was where he caught it. With one hand. While jumping.

Catching the ball and holding it against his helmet, pressing it there while he landed, Tyree moved the ball up, deep into Patriot territory, inside the 25 yard line. One of the best catches in football history, and perhaps the biggest since Jeffrey Mayer’s, this was the moment that’s engrained into memories about this Super Bowl.

But it was not a score, and the Giants would not score until later. Not until after Steve Smith made an 11 yard catch to keep the drive alive. Not until Plaxico Buress scored the game winner with :39 to play.

Three incomplete passes and one sack later, the game was over. 17-14 Giants. The upset was complete – and the Patriots dynasty looked in doubt. In the first game of the next season, Brady went down with an ACL injury and was gone for the year. Under backup QB Matt Cassell, the Patriots finished 11-5 but lost the division to Miami and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Written by M.

December 30, 2008 at 11:59 pm

Wherein the AFC East gets a clearer, but only by a little – NFL Notebook

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With their backs against the wall, the Patriots played dynamite, sharp and looked as good as ever – but it could all be for naught.

The AFC East is crowded and good, maybe the best division of the decade, and 11 wins could not even be enough now. Three of it’s four teams played for their seasons today, all three tied with identical records – and the fourth had a chance to play spoiler, facing a team with the same record; the AFC West leading Denver Broncos.

At home, the Patriots took on the NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals. On paper, a good match for New England – the Cards were good, but not that good. They clinched their division with games to spare – but their division looked like this:

Arizona: 8 wins, 6 losses
San Fransisco: 5 wins, 9 losses
Seattle: 3 wins, 11 losses
St. Louis: 2 wins, 12 losses

The Patriots have a better, a more dynamic offence. A better defence, too: they allowed a little over 300 points so far this season, nearly 100 less then the Cardinals. They played better, too, putting on a clinic for the Cards.

In poor weather, Don DeLillo once wrote, always take the underdog. Poor weather neutralizes advantages. But during a snowstorm, the kind of weather that has always been an asset for them, the Patriots demolished the Cardinals. I can’t stress this enough – it looked like a junior varsity team taking on a state champion at times. Not just big plays, either (although there was their share), but little ones, things that added up.

Item. Last drive of the first half. Less then two minutes left, the Patriots get the ball on their own 29 and lead 28 to nothing. Cassel passes quickly out to his left, a 14 yarder to Gaffney. Three plays later, another one up the left to Gaffney for 16. Both times, Gaffney was in single coverage and ran a quick route – a medium hook, with him turning around to meet the ball – and a step out of bounds. Simple, fast, smart football. Two after that, 20 yards to Welker, same idea on the right side. In about a minute, the Patriots have moved from their 29 to the Cardinals 20 – without using a timeout. They kick a field goal and go ahead 31-0 as the clock expires.

That was a perfect two minute drill, ran against a division champion. And the Patriots made it look easy, like it was an inter-squad game. It didn’t even mean anything, really. The outcome wasn’t in doubt by this point. It was practice for the playoffs. By a team that could miss them, against a team bound for them.

But getting there isn’t just in their hands. If the Patriots are to sneak in, they’ll need some help. All throughout this blowout, the ticker keeps flashing updates from the Kansas City/Miami game, which by all indications, appears to be a shootout. Tied as they go into the fourth at 31, this game is a surprise: have the Dolphins fallen back to Earth? They were six-point favourites over the Chiefs, a two-win team. And they’re tied? At 31? The Dolphins would score a major about halfway through, though, and held on to win, keeping the deadlock on top of the AFC East alive.

So, as the Jets took the field in a snow-blown Seattle, they dropped to third, just a half-game back; the Dolphins surged to first, as they held the tiebreaker over the Patriots.

And it couldn’t have looked good for the Jets. A cold, windy day is not ideal by any means, but for a quarterback like Brett Farve, it’s even worse: inaccurate at the best of times, these conditions have to be be hell for the aging QB. Still, a win over a two-win Seattle would set up one final game for the season, played between the Jets and the Dolphins, a game that would almost be a title game in all but name, with the winner going into the playoffs.

But as the game – a mostly dull, defencive affair, dominated by the weather – winds down, I have only one question: does he have it in him? Does Brett Farve, who all but defined clutch quarterbacking in his career, have another comeback left in him?

Down by a major and at their own 12, the Jets get the ball back. They need a win, just to keep pace, just to keep their season alive. Herein follows the drive:

– Farve sacked. The pocket collapses up the middle.
– A quick reception up the middle to Coles, in a pass from the Jets own end zone
– Farve drops back in the shotgun, pumps, waits, moves, pumps again, has all kinds of time but can’t get anything going and throws an incomplete pass
– 4th and four, on their own 20, the Jets go for it. Farve drops back, waits, dodges a hit, pump fakes, throws downfield, a long bomb into double coverage, Gus Johnson yells and… the pass hits Coles in the numbers, a perfectly thrown pass, but he can’t hang on and it falls to the ground, incomplete

There goes the game, right? This is where it falls apart, isn’t it?

Or was it earlier? When the Jets kicked a 45 yard FG that was called back on a false start, and instead of going for the kick, five yards longer but with a kicker who just nailed a kick up the middle, punts it away. Was it there, when the Jets could have made the game 10-6 but didn’t, that the game ended? Perhaps not officially… but in an abstract sense? Well…

Maybe it was just a typical trap game. Holmgrin’s last home game as a head coach. Held in a stadium where the Seahawks are said to have an advantage (the crowd’s noise). With the weather in the Seahawks favor.

Remember DeLillo’s advice on games held in poor weather.

Other notes: The season can sometimes be cyclical – the Chargers host the Broncos next week, a rematch of the week two game that the Broncos just barely won on a blown whistle… The Cowboys are in complete free fall after a loss to the Ravens on Saturday night – a game they should have won. They can still sneak in (a win over Philly is all they need) but at this point, can they do it? If I had to bet, they get in and lose in the Wild Card game… Atlanta soundly wins a pivotal one against Minnesota. They’ve clinched a spot – and if Chicago loses on Monday, so do the Vikings.