Thursday, September 25, 2008

Brown out at the Razor

Troy Brown has officially announced his retirement.

It was hard not to see it coming. He lost last season to injury, and didn't want to play anywhere else.

A pick in a round of the draft that no longer even exists, Troy Brown was as clutch as anyone to ever play for the Patriots - including Tom Brady. He was everything the Patriots needed - receiver, returner, defensive back. He even took pre-season snaps at quarterback. He was the consummate team player. He will never make the Hall of Fame with his numbers, but no one in this era has done what he has done. Not like him.

Often when the team needed a play at a critical juncture, Troy Brown was the man.

During a late season game back in December of 1996 when the Pats trailed the Giants in the Meadowlands, Brown, lying on his back, snared a Bledsoe bullet out of the air for a 13 yard gain on 3rd and 13 to help keep the game winning drive moving.

In the 2001 playoffs Brown came up big against Pittsburgh, contributing to two special teams touchdowns - one on a blocked field goal attempt, the other on a punt return.

In 2004 with the team's defensive backfield decimated by injury, Brown became the team's nickel corner, tied for second on the team with three interceptions while still catching 17 balls for 184 yards. While neither of those numbers are particularly impressive, Brown was pressed into service as a defender again in 2006, virtually shutting down Donald Driver in a late season match-up.

Driver, at the time, was on pace for 1233.2 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Driver finished the season with 1295 yards and 8 touchdowns - in spite of being held to only two receptions for 42 yards (only one of those came while being covered by Brown). Brown effectively shut Driver down.

Speaking as someone who coached kids, Brown was my consummate example - he did everything asked and whatever was needed. He is the Patriots all-time leader in receptions, he was a game-changing kick and punt returner, he was a more than serviceable defensive back, and was listed as the team's fourth quarterback on the depth charts. I suspect he would have played nose tackle had his coach asked him to.

He has always been the sort of player that every team needs to win - the monkey wrench, the guy who grinds it out and gets it done. He's not the most talented guy you'll find. But in his prime, he's one of the first, if not the first guy I would have picked for my team.

Good luck Troy, I already miss watching you on Sundays. You deserve any accolades that come your way.

Panic in Patriot Nation

There are a lot of Patriots fans out there that don't seem to pay close attention to what's going on around the league, or that even know their history. I know that, for the most part, if you're reading this, I'm preaching to the choir, but I still have to get this off my chest.

After the beat down the Pats suffered at the hands of the Dolphins this weekend, a lot of the fans on the message boards, particularly at the Boston Globe and Yahoo, are calling for the Pats to sign Duante Culpepper. Yeah, the same Culpepper that was having trouble playing his way out of a paper bag when he had the Baltimore power running game behind him. The same Culpepper that is failing to generate interest from Kansas City, Detroit, and Cleveland - all winless teams suffering from poor quarterback play as much as from anything else.

Consider since 2001, as a starter, Culpepper has a record of 30 wins and 44 losses, has started 16 games only twice during that time, has averaged 11.1 interceptions per season (but 17 per 16 games), 15.5 touchdowns per season, and has been sacked 3.2 times per start (to put some of that into perspective - Tom Brady has been sacked an average of 1.8 times per start, or an average of 22.4 fewer times over every 16 game season; and 12.5 INT's per 16 games).

Sure, people aren't clamoring for him to replace a struggling Brady - they're clamoring for him to replace what they perceive as a struggling Cassel. Before you go calling for the head of the Pats back-up, think about this -

Culpepper is not the answer - if you think he is, if he was such an answer, why aren't any other team's looking at him? he's done.

As for Cassel -

a) That game wasn't his fault. he didn't give up 38 points. The defense seldom stopped a team that couldn't win more than one game last year. With the Dolphins far out in front, they were able to load up against the running game and basically dare the Patriots to win on the arms of Cassel.

b) A look at Brady's second game? a 30-10 loss to the dolphins in which he passed for a total of 86 yards, no TD's, no INT's and was sacked 4 times for 17 yards of losses. Cassel passed for 131 yards and a TD (1 int), and was sacked 4 times for 19 yards. additionally, the Brady led pats in that 2001 game lost three fumbles. The Patriots lost only one turnover this past Sunday.

Back in '01, after the team got shellacked, Pats fans just saw another losing season ahead of them with a back-up slogging his way through the season in place of his more accomplished predecessor.

No - Cassel is no Tom Brady, but Brady didn't light it up his first two games as a starter either -

Brady's line through his first two NFL starts...

25 for 47 (53.2 percent completion rate), 254 yards, 5 sacks for 26 yards, no TD's, no INT's.

Cassel -

35 for 54 (64.8 percent completions), 296 yards, 7 sacks for 28 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.

If anything, Cassel has had a slightly better first two games than Brady. Be patient.

This and that...

Make no mistake, I want the Red Sox to repeat as World Series champs. However, given Hank Steinbrenner's whining about how divisional play and the wild card give other teams an unfair competitive advantage (yes, the same Steinbrenner whose payroll is roughly $70.4 million higher than the next highest team and $90 million more than the Dodgers that he singled out) I would be perfectly happy seeing the Rays, who carry a payroll roughly a quarter that of the Yanks, walk home with this year's championship.

I would be happy to see the Brewers win, even at the expense of the Sox (not thrilled, mind you), but it would be a nice FU to the way the Steinbrenner family has done business.

Anyone else waiting for the Ford Family to say April Fools, no we really still have Matt Millen as our GM. The fact the man set a new standard for futility as a GM is impressive - particularly in an era that has seen the likes of Carl Peterson of the Chiefs, Jay Zygmunt of the Rams, Bill Bavasi of the Mariners, and, of course, Isiah Thomas of the Knicks. The fact he finagled a contract extension during that stretch is nothing less than puzzling. It never fails to amaze me that Lions fans didn't march on the stadium with torches and pitchforks.

Speaking of puzzling - how did Omar Minaya manage a contract extension in the middle of a second consecutive collapse?

Finally, with all the hits cycling has taken in the last two years, all the suspensions of many of the sport's top talents, am I the only one out there thinking that Lance Armstrong, in spite of his age, should be considered the favorite to win next year's Tour de France? I also suspect, considering he's riding gratis, that this is, more or less, a BIG FU to the French.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


This is post 500. I have been at this for 500 entries.

This one follows a Red Sox and a Patriots loss. C'est la vie.

Let's take a look at some key things from this year...

The Patriots lost a heart breaker in the Super Bowl. Right now everybody is calling it the worst loss in Super Bowl history. While I'm not thrilled the team lost, it's not like they got blown out. They were edged out by a team that came in with a good game plan.

In time, that 2007 season will be remembered in the same way that the Bills four consecutive trips to the Super Bowl are now remembered. Once called the biggest losers in the NFL for going 0-4 in consecutive Super Bowls, the Bills are now talked about as having achieved something no other team did. They're talked about in terms of achievement, not failure. I firmly believe the same will happen for the Patriots, it will just take some time.

Watching the Pats this past weekend, the team has its work cut out for them going into the bye. There were those who talked about how the Bill Belichick probably would like to be getting right back into it next weekend, but I think the bye comes at a good time. This gives the Pats a chance to retool a defense that got virtually no pressure on Chad Pennington in the game against the 'Phins, a chance to retool a defense that had gaping holes in their zone in the secondary, and were brutally bad at tackling.

There will be no extra days off in Foxboro during this bye, and for good reason.

Diamond Dogs...

"Chamberlain had become the most dominant starting pitcher in baseball and Wang has been a 19-game winner every year," Steinbrenner said. "You lose those two guys, it's rough. If the Red Sox lost (Josh) Beckett and (Jon) Lester, the whole national media would be crying about it. We lose two guys better than Beckett and Lester and you don't hear anything." - NY Daily News, August 12, 2008
I won't even get into Hank's delusions regarding the quality of his pitching staff, but I will note that as The Hoodie would say, you play with who's out there, they've got to step up.

With a $200+ million payroll, you damn well better have the depth to deal with injuries, and for all the injuries the Yankees have had, the Red Sox have been just as banged up.

No starts from Curt Schilling.

Missed starts by Beckett, and Daisuke Matsuzaka and an ineffective Clay Buchholz.

David Ortiz missed almost 30 percent of the season and has played with a nagging wrist injury.

Mike Lowell has missed more than 25 percent of the season and played with a nagging hip injury.

JD Drew will have missed close to 30 percent of the season with a bad back.

Manny Ramirez, pretty much half the season due to...well, being an asshole and getting traded.

Julio Lugo missed significant time - about 25 percent of the season, due to injury.

Kevin Youkilis has missed games due to injury as well.

Jason Varitek has flirted with the Mendoza line all season.

That's six of the Sox starting nine and three of the starting five in the rotation missing games due to injury. What do you suppose Hank's reason is for why the Sox stayed near the division lead while the Yankees struggled? Or why the Rays continued to win despite losses of key players for significant stretches?

I know what I saw - the difference was that the Sox, and even the Rays, had youngsters that contributed and their GM's made moves that helped. Paul Byrd instead of Sydney Ponson. Jason Bay instead of Ivan Rodriguez.

The Yankees have six players ranked in the top 25 in payroll, including Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, and Derek Jeter - the top three on the list. When the Sox traded away Manny, they traded away the only top 25 payroll drain on their payroll. That Brian Cashman...helluva GM.

Hank went on to insist that the Yankees will contend next season, but that's not going to happen unless they go out and get some starters and some relievers - because trying to put Joba Chamberlain, a pitcher whose injury issues caused him to drop in the amateur draft, in the starting rotation is still the height of foolishness. Meanwhile, the Sox are well positioned with the first four spots of the rotation set, and guys like Justin Masterson and Manny Delcarmen coming along.

Yes, the Yankees are better in the minors than they have been, but the Red Sox have built up serious depth there as well - the Sox' youngsters have shown the ability to come up big in the majors when called on. The Yanks....well, we saw how well Phil Hughes did helping the team.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Curse of the Big Sey

So...the Patriots' loss was ugly. A special sort of ugly. And, from an on-field perspective, the loss can be laid squarely at the feet of New England's vaunted defense that was a complete no-show for the game.

If the defense continues to play like that, look for a repeat of 2002, not 2001.

Off the field...well, let's talk superstition...

Some background first, I suppose. I have been involved in sports long enough to give in to superstition. When in high school I ran track for seven seasons. Seven seasons of wearing the same sweats to meets, seven seasons of wearing the same green bandanna around my left ankle until it was little more than a frayed green piece of cloth.

Fast forward - I have a handful of Pats jerseys. Two Bledsoes, a Coates, a Brady, and last Christmas my wife got me a Richard Seymour. Through almost every game of last season I wore the Brady.

I have worn the Seymour three times.

The Super Bowl.

The recent Chiefs game.

And this past Sunday's game.

Some of you out there might have noticed a pattern. Every time I have worn the Big Sey jersey, bad things have happened for the Pats. At this point, the jersey is looking at one of three fates - retirement as game-day attire, to be worn only during the week; treatment by the best voodoo experts and witch doctors money can buy; ritual burning.

If that loss wasn't weird enough, just look around the league at what happened yesterday - doormats took contenders to the limit, up was down, east was west, dogs mated with cats - it was anarchy. Currently the kings of the AFC are all upstarts - Denver, Buffalo, Tennessee, and Baltimore, displacing annual powerhouses San Diego, New England, Indianapolis and Pitsburgh respectively.

Over on the diamond the Sox keep inching closer, but they don't seem able to close the deal. With less than ten games left, they can still take the division, but that's going to take a little more consistency than what the team has been showing.

And now for something completely different...

Regardless of the pimp slapping the Pats took, the weekend was not a total loss from a sports stand-point. As many of you out there know, I play Australian football for the Baltimore/Washington Eagles. I started back in 1999 with the Philadelphia Hawks (at the time it was the Philly Crows).

I am wrapping up my tenth season as a human pinball, and we closed out against the Hawks, for whom I played five seasons.

We wrapped up the final by a score of 121 - 22. It allowed us to close out our second straight Eastern Australian Football League undefeated season and championship. It also allows the team to go to Nationals in Colorado Springs likely as the number one seed in Division I.

As I won't be making the trip myself, I'd like to wish my team luck on their Rocky Mountain sojourn.