Monday, November 22, 2010

Pats, Jets on crash course for AFC supremecy

What a freakin' day!
What a heart pumping day for Boston sports fans. First, you had the Celtics inexcusably blow a game in Toronto. Then you had the Jets ridiculous up and down come from behind, last second victory. And finally, the Patriots' Big Game James Sanders sealing the Annual Brady-Manning Bowl with a superb interception.

[Quickly let me talk about the Celtics recent struggles. I am not worried. Not one bit. The C's are in a strange transition right now- Delonte West was inserted into the rotation, and virtuoso PG Rajon Rondo strained his hammy and missed the 4th quarter against the Thunder, and all of the Raptors game, forcing Nate "Dogg" Robinson into an unfamiliar starting PG role. The results have been underwhelming. Unfortunately, there is no rest with a game looming against the athletic Atlanta Hawks. Rondo figures to miss that game as well. Unless Rondo is seriously injured, the C's will be back to their dominant selves by the end of the week. No need to panic. EDITOR'S NOTE: CELTICS RAVAGED THE HAWKS TONIGHT, WITH NATE DOGG LEADING THE WAY. TOLD YOU NOT TO PANIC!]

Enough about basketball, lets take a good look at a fun Week 11 in the NFL.

We'll start by discussing the fantastic Pats- Colts rumble at Gillette Stadium. Let me begin by saying that this fourth quarter did NOT have the same feel as the past few Manning-led comebacks.
First of all, this game was in Foxboro, not Indianapolis. Hanging over every opponent when entering Gillette Stadium is the fact that this is Tom Brady's backyard. He's got two streaks in his career of 20+ home winning streaks. He currently has a record tying 25 straight victories at Gillete. Fitting that he will break the record in two weeks against his arch enemy, the New York Jets. Like he said, "I hate the Jets." Don't we all Tom, don't we all.
The second thing that comforted me was the difference in the defense this year from previous years. Despite being ranked an atrocious 32nd on third down defense, this group has made the plays when the going got tough. Think about this season. Our two losses were as much about a lack of offense as it was a lack of defense. I must say though- the defense was especially putrid against Peyton Hillis. That was downright offensive. But think about the wins. Cincinnati scored a bunch of garbage time points, but were smothered in the first three quarters, including a huge pick 6 by Gary Guyton. [Side note: I'm not here to talk about the Buffalo game, the past is the past.] Miami was obviously won by the defense/special teams. Against Baltimore, the defense clamped down in the fourth quarter and overtime (holding Baltimore to a putrid 5-16 on third downs) while the offense struggled mightily. San Diego was definitely scary, and the defense was horrific in the fourth quarter, but at the end of the day, they held San Diego and forced them to try a long field goal. Minnesota was one of the defense's best games, making a few great stops on third and shorts (and fourth and shorts) against superstar Adrien Peterson. Against Pittsburgh, their effectiveness in the first half allowed them enough breathing room to win easily despite 23 fourth quarter points from Big Ben. Finally, this unit has turned it around. Every other year, the Pats probably would have lost the Baltimore and San Diego games. Not this year. This is a young, fast, energetic and motivated group of guys who despite their shortcomings, make the plays when it matters most. And the best thing about it is that it isn't only one guy. It's a group effort. It's Rob Ninkovitch against the Bengals and Dolphins. It's Pat Chung on special teams against Miami. It was Big Game James this week (as well as a nail in the coffin pick 6 last week). Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes were unreal in the Sota' game, TBC and Mike Wright stepped it up in the Pitt game. McCourty and Chung have been spectacular all year. Wilfork is having one of his best years as not only a player, but a leader. There have even been big time plays by complete no names like Dane Fletcher, Myron Pryor, Ron Brace, Gerard Warren, Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Arrington.
The last thing is fairly clear if you have watched Indy at all the past few weeks. This is absolutely not the same offense we are accustomed to seeing out of Peyton Manning. He is amazing. Probably the best pure quarterback ever (No disrespect to Tom or Joe- I would take them over Manning all day. They are winners. But Manning has perfect mechanics, is the best at-the-line playcaller, and runs the scariest 2 minute offense in the history of the NFL.), but you have to have someone to take the pressure off of you, whether it be a running back or receiver. Yea, Reggie Wayne played. He too is great. But there was no one else to be seen. Collie's concussion forced him out of the game after a huge drop (would have been a fifty yard reception), and besides for one or two big runs, the running backs basically were running into a brick wall all game. In the end, the losses of Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai and Anthony Gonzalez have rendered Manning human. Can he still toss 400 yards and 4 TD's? Yes, he did it yesterday. But those three picks would have been avoided if Manning had his full arsenal. This might be the year that Indy has a first round exit in the Playoffs. Obviously with Manning anything is possible, but, especially considering the state of the Indy defense, without healthy bodies, it seems the Colts will have to wait until next year.

Some observations about the game as a whole:

1) Tom Brady is as good as he has ever been. I'm not saying he is gonna put up 50 TD's, I am just saying that these past two weeks are the most accurate and effective he has ever been. He is making throws that are jaw dropping. The near-interception in the fourth quarter by Tyjuan Hagler has been his only bad throw the past two games, and it would have been absolutely killer, but luckily Hagler dropped it. Aside from that, Brady has been almost flawless (120 QB rating, 5-0 TD:INT ratio, 1 rushing TD, 73 % completion percentage). After this game, I believe Tom has solidified his place atop the MVP hopefuls. And don't look now, but his next game is against the lowly Lions.

2) The offensive line was unbelievable. Really, really unbelievable. Brady was sacked once, but was barely even pressured the rest of the night despite speedsters Roger Mathis and Dwight Freeney gunning for his head. Alge Crumpler has been spectacular, along with Sebastian Vollmer and Matt Light. The return of Logan Mankins has really ignited the rest of the guys- they were terrific against Pitt, and again yesterday.

Yea, THAT guy
3) Danny Woodhead. DANNY WOODHEAD! Where do I even begin? Driving at the end of the third quarter, I had a conversation with a friend who was at the game with me.
He started by saying: "That Woodhead, he is a football player. He's small, but he plays the game right."
I quickly agreed and remarked "He is small, but he is strong, he blocks well, he reads defenses well, fast as hell and is great out of the backfield. He really is a younger, faster version of Kevin Faulk."
Literally as I ended my sentence, Woodhead took the handoff, ran into the offensive line, surveyed the field and noticed an opening to the right. He took off, put a nice move on Aaron Francisco, maintained balance, and was off to the races. Aided by some beautiful downfield blocks from Deion Branch and Wes Welker, Woodhead ran into the endzone for an electrifying 36 yard TD run. What a great play. And to show off his versatility, he made a fantastic take-your-knees-out tackle on the ensuing kickoff. Woodchuck had one of his best games of the season, but I'm sure he's saving his best for Week 12 against his former team- the NY Jets. Hey, the Jets have to be good for something, right?

4) Gary Guyton has come into his own. He was terrific against Pittsburgh, and was even better this week. He had a bunch of great tackles, and is the perfect compliment to the bigger, stronger Brandon Spikes. This is why Belichick is so succesful. His players accept their roles, if not, they are off the team. Guyton played very sparingly for most of the season, mainly playing in the dime package, but was relied on heavily the last couple of weeks, and he has produced. There are not many players who can come on after so little playing time and play as well as Guyton has. He will probably be very helpful against Green Bay in a few weeks, and Belichick won't be afraid to call his number.

5) Jerod Mayo just keeps piling up the tackles. At this point, anything less than ten is a disappointment. He had fifteen more yesterday. That gives him 119 on the season, twenty more than the next guy. He also has been sent on a few blitzes recently, and he looks very comfortable adding that aspect to his game. He barely missed Roethlisberger last week, and did the same with Manning this week- eventually the sacks will come. For now, we will settle for the NFL leader in tackles.

6) Kyle Arrington has to make that tackle on Reggie Wayne at the end of the second quarter. The touchdown throw was perfect, so I don't blame him, but that tackle must be made. Darius Butler replaced him, and rightly so. Hopefully Butler will get back to doing the things which made him so intriguing last year, otherwise the Pats are going to have trouble at that second CB spot.

7) Deion Branch is the new key to the passing game. Against Minnesota/Cleveland, an injured Branch limped to 3 catches and 42 yards. In the two games since, which happen to be our two most impressive victories of the season, Branch has lead the team with 14 catches and 141 yards. The difference between Branch and Moss is that Branch doesn't need to score touchdowns to be effective. A game without a TD for Moss was usually a bad one; For Branch, as long as he's getting first downs, he is going to have a big day. In only 6 games, Branch is the number two WR in first downs behind the slippery Wes Welker. When Branch is getting open, usually along the sidelines, the middle of the field is once again opened up for Wes and Aaron Hernandez. With the recent strong play from the running game, and a healthy Deion, this offense is finally fulfilling its full potential.

8) Speaking of the running game, how about the Law Firm! Another hard fought game by him- 21 rushes for 96 and a TD, and yet another reason why Fred Taylor remains on the sideline. Expect Belichick to continue riding BenJarvis until he gives him reason not to. Like I wrote last time, he never fumbles, and is always moving forward- great characteristics for any running back. I love the way he runs, and he is the perfect compliment to the lightning quick Danny Woodhead (who compiled a fantastic 7-69 and a TD on the ground).

9) Obviously, this was a big win for the Pats, especially after the Jets managed to beat the Texans. The Pats are holding steady with the Jets atop the AFC East, and every game from here on out is a must win if they want a chance at a first round bye. Despite the obvious Trap Game potential, I think the Pats will take care of business (especially after taking Cleveland too lightly) in Detroit 37-20, setting up the biggest regular season game since the Pats and Colts faced off for what was dubbed Super Bowl Forty One and a Half back in 2007.
Like the Jets, he will not die.

Speaking of the Jets, what the hell! They are like Jack Bauer! They ALWAYS escape! They will not die! I don't quite understand how they won that game on Sunday. Last I knew, the Texans had picked off a TERRIBLE (and may I add- CLASSIC) Sanchez throw, and returned it to the 10 yard line up 1 with 2 minutes left (and the Jets had only 2 timeouts). Somehow, some way, the Texans blew it. Yea, Sanchez had a great throw to Braylon Edwards. But, lets be real here, are you kidding me?!?! How do you only have one man deep when the other team has NO timeouts at the 50 with 30 seconds left? Play 3 deep safetys, and give up the underneath stuff! How could you possibly call yourself an NFL defense and give up a 40 something yard pass down the sideline (only the most important part of the field when you have no timeouts) with only single coverage? There was a safety (former Patriot, Eugene Wilson- good riddance), but he showed up about half an hour late on the throw. Talking about the Jets is just frustrating. Lets recap the last few weeks of games:

Minnesota: Favre has the ball, down 2, playing his best ball all season. Obviously, he throws a pick 6. Fine, acceptable- only because 90 percent of the world saw that interception coming.
[Anger Level: 6/10]

Denver: The Jets have a fourth and six at the fifty. All hope seems lost, and then Sanchez heaves one downfield to Santonio Holmes. Pass Interference. Game Over. Kill me now.
[Anger Level: 9/10]

Screw you Detroit!
Detroit: Ndamukong Suh misses an extra point which allows the Jets to tie it up in regulation. Stafford goes down with his bajillionth shoulder injury in the 4th quarter. Drew Stanton steps in. Julian Peterson gets a I-Can't-Believe-They-Are-This-Lucky 15 yard Late Hit penalty. Jets win.
[Anger Level: 8/10- only because it is unfair of me to ever expect the Lions to win a big game]

Cleveland: Chansi Stuckey. Nuff' said.
[Anger Level: 9.5/10- I honestly didn't think it could get any worse until...]

[Anger Level: a Billion/10- I hate everyone involved with the New York Jets: fans, players, media, EVERYONE.]

I absolutely CAN NOT wait to crush the Jets in Gillette on Monday Night. It is going to be glorious.

Other random thoughts from around the NFL's week 11:

1) Vince Young. What are you doing? Classic "tons of talent, bad head on his shoulders" player. He was put in a position to succeed- great coach, great running back, great defense- just couldn't put it all together. He's still young though, so maybe a change of scenery will turn his career around. It's too bad, I don't know many real football fans who don't LOVE watching him play. He's tough, and he is a real winner. It was good while it lasted.

2) Brett Favre should be stuffed into a locker never to be seen or heard from again as an NFL player. The Vikings are a disgrace this season, and they finally got rid of the greatest coach of all time Brad CHILDress. (On second thought- he might be the worst coach in the history of the NFL. Have you ever heard of a coach who hates his players so much? He threw one of them under the bus every week!) They have a new interim Head Coach, and they should have a new QB as well. The season is hopeless, and Favre is retiring. Get rid of him. His time is up. Welcome back to the NFL, Tarvaris Jackson.

Add this to his Defensive Player of the Year credentials: he's the strongest man in the world

3) Philadelphia, Green Bay, Atlanta, New Orleans and Chicago seem to be pulling away from the pack in the NFC. I would say Green Bay is probably the best of the group, because Rodgers is the most consistent quarterback, and Clay Mathews is the best defensive player in the NFL right now. No disrespect to the wonderful play of Mike Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, Matt Ryan and the Falcons, Drew Brees and the Defending Champion Saints or the surprising (to say the least) turnaround of the Bears, but I would bet on Green Bay to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl (barring injury).
Take that, Favre.

4) Josh Freeman keeps chugging along. His last 4 games (3-1): 7:2 TD:INT ratio, 112 QB rating, 66 percent passing, 9.3 Yards per Attempt. That my friends (from NY, who root for the Jets) is a franchise quarterback. He has been terrific, and the Buccaneers are making a most unlikely playoff run. Freeman has brought hope back to a fan base struggling with the stink of a 7 year Super Bowl hangover (48-64 record since 2002).

5) Welcome back to Planet Earth Oakland Raiders. We missed you. After a few ridiculous games, the Raiders were 5-4 and had everyone picking them to upset the Steelers IN Pittsburgh. Seriously? Say goodbye to the playoffs. By the way- Richard Seymour, I love you, but what in the hell were you thinking? I mean, if there is any guy who deserves a slap in the face, it's Big Ben, but you may have cost your team a game, and you might get suspended. You are supposed to be a leader, not a distraction. Hopefully this leads to a huge losing streak for the Raiders. I'm still holding out for a top ten pick in next year's NFL Draft!

6) I've been waiting for this from the Chargers. The whooping they put on Denver tonight is just another step towards their billionth improbable second half surge towards the playoffs. They are dangerous. V-Jax is on his way back next week. Look out NFL, the Chargers are back.

And Another Thing:
Dwyane Wade, what happened man? I have never seen anything like this in his whole career. 1-13 FG, 0-4 3PT, 1-5 FT, 5 TO's, 3 Points. Seriously? What the hell? We knew Lebron would affect your offensive numbers, but we didn't expect you to turn into Tony Allen. The Heat are in deep, deep trouble right now. Erik Spolestra, the time is ticking...

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