Saturday, November 10, 2007

* Asterisk, and I'm not talking the European comic book character

"The Spygate thing has diminished what they've accomplished. You would hate to have that attached to your accomplishments. They've got it.
"I guess it will be noted that the Patriots were fined and a No. 1 draft choice was taken away during that year of accomplishment...
"That tells you the seriousness or significance of what they found. I guess you got the same thing as putting an asterisk by Barry Bonds' home run record."

-Don Shula, New York Daily News, November 11, 2007

Welcome to the NFL's version of Grumpy Old Men.

Sure, Shula doesn't directly say that the Patriots accomplishments should have an asterisk next to them - but he comes as close as possible to saying it. Sure, the intention was there to cheat - but the camera man was nailed pretty much in the first quarter of the first game of the season, giving them no opportunity to cheat.

Yes, he backed off that statement later in the week, but still referred to the theoretical undefeated season that the Patriots are possibly on their way to as "tainted."

Let's really consider the implication of Shula's statement - he implies that a team caught violating NFL rules in order to gain a competitive edge should, in essence, come with a footnote in the record books.

Herein lies the questions that creates -

Does that mean that the 1972 Dolphins deserve an asterisk? After all, the Dolphins were penalized a first round draft pick only a year earlier for tampering by a much more lenient commissioner than the current for hiring Shula away from the Colts. In Shula's words, that tells you the seriousness of the offense.

This doesn't consider the fact that the '72 'Phins played the weakest schedule of any champion during the Super Bowl era (opponent winning percentage of .365), and had an average margin of victory around 15 points. Patriots opponents through the bye have had a winning percentage around .480, and the average margin of victory has been in the neighborhood of 23 points. Maybe one, or both of the above deserve to be noted in the record books.

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Steve Courson, a key member of the team opening holes for Franco Harris and protecting Terry Bradshaw, admitted in 2000 to steroid use on a team where rumors of use were wide spread. Courson noted certain players that would not touch them, like Jack Lambert, but he in no way absolved everyone. Without knowing how long, or how pervasive the steroid culture was in the Steelers locker-room, then don't we as fans, have to assume - like some have suggested about the Patriots - that all of the Steelers titles were tainted?

Former Raiders coach John Madden famously said, "Everybody says the Raiders cheat...OK, we cheat. So, what are you going to do about it?" Does that mean that there should be an asterisk next to everything that the Raiders accomplished under Madden? Not only is it an admission that the team cheated, but he dared anyone to do anything about the fact that his team cheated.

Nobody brings up the fact that the Denver Broncos were in violation of the salary cap both years they won the Super Bowl (last time checked, spending more money than the other teams that are staying under the cap would create an unfair competitive advantage). In addition to that - Mike Shanahan had the gall to send someone to San Diego to tape practices from a hill adjacent to the Chargers practice facility. This isn't like some sideline taping, this is paying extra for a hotel and airfare to illegally scout an opponent's practice.

The Colts? Nobody outside of Indianapolis is buying the CBS glitch excuse. Bettors point out that the network would benefit from closer spreads in the final score by keeping ratings higher throughout the game. Sites from other teams have questioned the validity of the NFL's findings. This doesn't even take into account the fact that Bill Polian, the Colts general manager, pretty much had the way the rules of the game were enforced, because the teams he put together were unable to get over the hump in the playoffs without the extra help? Does that deserve an asterisk?

Under current rules, the Cowboys dynasty of the mid-1990's would never have been able to maintain any sort of continuity in regards to winning because players like Michael Irvin, and Nate Newton, just to name a few, would have constantly been suspended for their criminal activities - and this doesn't even take into account the coach (Barry Switzer) getting nailed trying to bring a hand-gun on a plane. Should that be a footnote?

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what has happened over the last 40+ years in the NFL. I haven't even touched on things like the Detroit Lions gambling scandal in the 1960's, rumors of steroid and amphetimine use with the Cowboys of the 1970's, and countless other little and big scandals throughout the history of the NFL.

Where do the footnotes end? Why doesn't camera-gate go away like all the previous scandals?

One simple reason.

We live in the information age. Like me, everyone has an opinion, and anyone with access to the Internet has the ability to keep any story alive.

Ten years ago, this story would have been dead already. For those of you who don't believe it would have been, once again, check out the Broncos issues and how long those were a big deal. Now, we have news 24-7, and producers that pander to what they think sells.

And let's face it - scandal sells. Even one that was put to rest months ago.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Running it up...

Through out this season there has been a lot of the Patriots running up the scores on teams. Let's really look at this, game by game. One quick note before breaking down the games - Through the Redskins game 20 of Brady's 30 TD passes have come in the first half. The first half! Almost 70 percent of the team's aerial damage was done long before the fourth quarter even started. As a matter of fact, only six of those td passes came in the fourth quarter and five of those were with more than eight minutes on the clock. Only once (the sixth game) was the touchdown thrown with less than 8 min - v the then highly regarded offensive machine in the Bengals (a 14 point lead became 21 with 3:18 on the clock when Brady completed to Moss in the end zone). It wasn't until more recently that everyone realized the Bengals just aren't that good on offense this year. -

Jets, 38-14

With two minutes left on the clock, the Patriots were up by 17 points. A quick touchdown followed by an on-sides kick could put the ball back in the Jets hands with well over a minute left and down only by ten. So, was Heath Evans running the ball in with two minutes remaining running thee score up, or was it icing the game?

However, in this case, with two minutes left, I will grant that this can be considered running up the score.

San Diego, 38-14

The Patriots have been knocked for passing late in games when the contest is out of reach. In this game the team played the highly regarded, then "most talented" team in the league. With 3:18 left, the Patriots ran the ball in from three yards out with career back up Sammy Morris. Like the Colts and the Bengals, the Chargers were expected to have a high octane offense coming into this game. With close to three and a half minutes left, and weapons like Antonio Gates and LaDanian Tomlinson on the other sideline, no coach would consider a two score game out of reach.

Running it up? No. Sealing the deal? Yes.

Buffalo, 38-7

Yeah, they ran it up in this game. There was no reason to throw the deep pass into the end zone to Moss in the fourth quarter already up 31-7 against a team that showed no signs of life after the first quarter. The Pats certainly could have just started handing the ball off and have Matt Cassel in by the start of Q4.

Cincinnati, 34-13

See the introductory paragraph. Against an offense initially considered to be potent, making the game a three score game with more than three minutes left was just prudent. I seem to remember the Colts engineering a 24-point comeback on a Monday night not long ago with only a little more time than 3:18 left on the clock.

Running up the score? I think not.

Cleveland, 34-17

Running it up? Not even close. With a minute left and the Browns in possession of the ball, the Pats had a ten point lead. One big play and an on-side kick and the Browns could be one touchdown, or one field goal away from a tie game - or even one score from winning with possession of the ball. Instead, the Pats D forces the turnover and Randall Gay runs it into the end zone to open an insurmountable lead with about 40 seconds left.

Dallas, 48-27

Outside of the Redskins, these guys have been some of the biggest whiners about the Pats running up the score. Of course going into the fourth quarter Dallas trailed by only a touchdown. Brady lofted his final touchdown pass with more than 12 minutes to go. With ten to go, Dallas kicked a field goal to make it a two score game again. Sure, with four minutes to go, Gostkowski kicked a field goal, increasing the lead to 14 points.

What everyone seems to get upset about is that the Patriots rushed for a touchdown with 19 seconds left. What nobody mentions is that Dallas could have let the clock run out, but Wade Phillips called a time out in hopes of getting the ball back. What nobody mentions is that the vaunted Dallas defense couldn't keep a running back signed off the Patriots practice squad just days earlier out of the end-zone.

Running it up? Borderline at best. When a coach is trying to get the ball back for one final score, you don't just take a knee and give it to his team, you make the team earn it. Dallas couldn't earn it. So, no, I don't put this in the "running it up" category.

Miami, 49-28

After what happened to the Patriots in the playoffs last year, I don't buy this as running it up either. Think about it - you go into the locker room with a 35 point lead. You call off the dogs in the fourth quarter only to see your lead shrink by 14 points in less than five minutes in the stadium that has been your team's personal house of horrors since you took the job. Suddenly that 21 point lead with more than ten minutes left looks kind of tenuous.

What do you do? You slot your A-team back into the game and put one final nail in the coffin - which happened with more than eight minutes left.

Washington, 52-7

In fairness to the pundits, Belichick ran the score up in this one. After this game there was a lot of speculation about payback. Of course no one mentioned that this score probably was payback - the only other time that Belichick faced Gibbs as head coaches was back in 1991, Belichick's first year coaching the Browns. Gibbs' Redskins put a 42-17 thrashing on big bad Bill's Browns.

The pundits are right, coaches should beware of payback. Just ask Joe Gibbs.

Running the score up? Yeah...yeah they did it in this one. Somehow, I don't feel too bad about it.

Indianapolis 24-20

If not for 13 points gifted to the Colts by the refs on imaginary pass interference calls, there would potentially be talk of the Patriots late scores as running it up. Yet, against an explosive offense like Indy's, shouldn't a team try to score as much as possible?

The bottom line - as football fans we might be witnessing something historic with the Patriots. The team might be on the way to an undefeated season, along the way they might set all sorts of offensive records - points scored in a season, touchdowns by a quarterback, yardage by a quarterback, most consecutive games throwing three touchdowns by a qb, average margin of victory, and those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

If the team does so, they will prove to be the most dominant team of all time. The 1972Dolphins can put any spin they want on it, but on their way to their Super Bowl, they faced only one winning team during the regular season and their opponents had a combined winning percentage well below .400, and an average margin of victory of 15.3 points. The Patriots have faced four teams with winning records including likely playoff contenders Dallas and Indianapolis. The Pats have faced teams with a winning percentage of .479 - close to .100 points higher than the foes of the Dolphins, and the Patriots are beating that higher quality competition by close to a 23.1 point margin.

Somehow, this team has become the bad guys of the NFL. Excellence is a sin. Nobody vilified the high scoring Vikings or the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams. We live in a society in which all participants in youth sports are given trophies, actual competition with a goal of winning is avoided because it might be psychologically damaging to our children. Is it any surprise now that when a team excels, that it gets bashed for trying to be the best?

Ultimately, these guys are paid to play at the highest level. If they themselves have a problem with teams scoring on them, then stop them. It's what they're paid to do.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Weekend musings...

Welcome to the Animal Shelter...

Peter King had it right - the Patriots won yesterday in the fourth quarter on 13 key plays, twelve of them came from the Animal Shelter - Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, and Randy Moss - the other was a great catch-and-I-won't-be-denied-run by scatback Kevin Faulk.

Welker, Stallworth and Moss all made big plays, with Stallworth and Moss catching deep balls to set up touchdowns from Welker and Faulk. Why the "Animal Shelter?"

Stallworth generated almost no interest in the free-agent market, Moss was had for a fourth round draft pick, and Welker, Miami's leading receiver last year and an undrafted free-agent, was tendered the minimum offer from the 'Phins. Like the dogs at an animal shelter, these were the unwanted, and now they're the best receiving corps in football and an integral part of why the Pats are heading into their bye week at 9-0.

Those top three receivers are likely to account for more than 3,600 yards combined at the end of the season. Moss already has 924, Welker is at 651, and Stallworth is at 453. That translates into a season long pace of 1643 for Moss, Welker projects at 1157 and Stallworth at 805 (a total of 3605). That doesn't include another estimated 1300, to 1400 yards in receiving from the rest of the team.

While it's likely that the aerial show will experience some drop-off as the team begins to fight the elements in Foxboro, the idea of a 5,000 yard passing season is not completely out of the realm of possibility. With struggling teams like the Jets, 'Phins, and Eagles still on the schedule, don't be surprised to see a whole bunch of dismantlings a la the first eight games of the season.

What should bother the Colts when they watch film this week, after handed a loss by the Animal Shelter, is that this is what is going to show up on the film - Brady had an off day, throwing at times away from the open man and into coverage. They will see a game in which at least one of their touchdowns was aided and abetted by a phantom call by the referees. They will see a game in which they had to carry their "more physical" defenders off the field twice in the final minutes. They will see a Peyton Manning, circa 2004 instead of circa 2006.

Anyone else hearing strains of that classic "Welcome Back" by John Sebastion.

See you boys in the Razor in January.

Double Standards...

Isn't it time to drop the modifier "fighting" from the now 1-8 Fighting Irish?

Right about now I would like to hear about Ty Willingham filing a lawsuit against the Irish for his dismissal. To wit - in Willingham's three seasons, the Washington alum was fired with an aggregate record of 21-15, with only one losing record (5-7 in 2003). Willingham was dismissed after a 6-5 regular season. Currently, Charlie Weiss is presiding over a 1-8 regular season, putting his current record at 20-12 with three more losses likely on the schedule.

If they fired Willingham after a winning season just for missing a bowl game, not giving him an opportunity to develop the talent he recruited (does the name Brady Quinn mean anything to anybody?), why should Weiss get the same benefit of the doubt as he guides the team to what is likely to be a one win season?

As much as I hate seeing anyone play the card, personally, I have to believe that race played a part in this with Willingham being the only African-American head coach in the history of Notre Dame.