Tuesday, January 02, 2007

I Thought We Were Suppose To Have Moving Sidewalks And Flying Cars By Now?

“For all the quaintness we forgot, and dah, da-dah, dah, dahhhh…..”

Welcome to 2007 boys and girls. Hope you and yours had a very nice new year’s celebration. I didn’t actually see the ball drop last night, but video evidence confirms that it actually did happen, so those who were in NYC seemed to have a good time as they always do. Also, I know many people reading this were in Boston last night, which is also a good time for sure. I still like the fact we use a barge for our fireworks. It’s nice you know? Very old fashioned. You may not be aware, but I am very much a fan of traditional things…old-school. So it’s nice when something of that magnitude is done the same way it has since people can remember.

Alright, down to the nitty gritty. The Pats are in, which is awesome of course. What’s even better is that they get that punk Mangini and the rest of his Jets team at home in the first round. As I mentioned before, I don’t see the Jets doing much, but again, I’m biased, and also, if you play Belichick three times in one year, you’re not gonna have too much of a shot at beating him, especially on the home “turf.” By the way, did anyone notice the conditions of the field at Tennessee? Eerily familiar to what the Pats played the Jets on in their last meeting at the Razor, where the Pats lost by a field goal in a game in which they both outran and out-passed the Jets. Does this mean the NFL is going to suggest to Tennessee that they change their playing field over to “field-turf?” If so, will they fold over like New England did? See, I don’t think because of one game being played in the slop makes it so that the team is forced into changing field surfaces. Look at Arrowhead Stadium and Lambeau Field. Am I really supposed to believe that these two stadiums will change their field conditions any time soon? Absolutely not, and why? Because these fields provide an incredible advantage for the home team, and it definitely shows, especially for KC, who are basically invincible when they play at home late in the year. I think the Pats should have stuck with their original surface. If you play eight games a year on it, you can get used to how the field reacts to the different weather and you force your opponents to gameplan that, giving them another thing to think about which could possibly take them off of their game. All I’m saying is that if the Patriots wanted to change their surface, they should have waited until after the season so they could have training camp and preseason to accustom themselves to the new track, and should not have “changed horses in midstream” per say, and not done it in the middle of the season.

I really like how Belichick gameplanned Vince Young. Basically, he used a slew of different linebackers and secondary personnel so that the defense on the field was fresh and ready for the possibility of Young getting out of the pocket, where he has proved to be highly dangerous, and either dumping the ball off to an “under” receiver, or scramble for large amounts of yards. Young only was able to run two times, and yes, one of those runs went for a score, but all and all, he was kept in check. He only went for 28 yards rushing, and as far as his ability in the passing game, it was severely impaired. Young threw for 227 yards on 15 of 36 passes. That’s 41.7%, which is well below Young’s season average of 52%. Also, the Pats forced him into two Asante Samuel interceptions, giving him 10 for the season (*cough* snub). Considering this guy was the hottest thing alive, the Pats were able to contain him in a game the Titans desperately needed, and a game the Pats only needed to show that this team was back on the right foot.

However, during the game, I really took exception to the way Rodney Harrison was injured. Bobby Wade clearly dove right at Harrison’s injured knee, giving me the notion that he was out to incapacitate and not simply out to make a hole for the runner. A simple block using his hands would have been plenty enough on Harrison, who was ten yards away from Travis Henry who was running down the sideline. Now, Harrison is going to be forced to sit out in the playoff opener on Sunday with a strained MCL. If you don’t think this is a huge loss, consider how well the Pats just played the Jags and the Titans on the road with Harrison in the lineup. Even if he is overall ineffective as far as statistics go, this guy is a presence on the field, a true warrior. He will stop at nothing to win a football game, and losing him leaves such a giant hole in the secondary. Look for the Jets to try and exploit Harrison’s absence, passing to the strong side of the field where Jerricho Cotchery is lined up. In their first meeting in Foxboro, Harrison was not in the lineup, and Cotchery caught a huge touchdown, giving the Jets a lead they would not relent the rest of the game. I do think that Bobby Wade should be fined around $5,000 for the hit on Harrison, however, it will be interesting to see what kind of punishment, if any, will be handed down from the Commissioner’s office. Will Harrison’s prior play have any influence on their decision? I think there probably won’t be any kind of fine levied against Wade, considering Harrison’s past, and also the fact that the Titans’ coach, Jeff Fisher, is one of the heads of the competition committee, and stated after the game that “DBs get cut all the time” and “receivers will block low at times, especially if they’re asked to block a talented safety.” So, if Harrison was, say, a more untalented individual, he would not have been treated with the same amount of “force” that was used on a perennial all-pro? Basically, you’re moon-lighting Harrison, and that if you see him coming toward a play, you have to try and “wipe him out?” This is disgraceful and sick. Trying to make further efforts in order to take a guy out of a play should never be tolerated. At that moment, Wade should not only have received a clipping penalty, but should have been warned that any such play like that done again by Wade should result in his ejection from the game.

Unfortunately, the Pats stooped down to the Titans level in the aftermath of the situation, leading to three personal foul penalties in one drive, making it a real short field for the Titans, who promptly put up a field goal to make it a six point game. Now we’re in the playoffs, and as much as I hate Mangini, he is still a very crafty coach. He will find a way to exploit any situation that could potentially alter the gameplan Belichick had engineered against him, and if the Pats do divert from the simple strategy of playing smart football, that’s when they are at their weakest.

There will be a lot of mind games being played from both sides. Watch for the longest injury list in the history of the league to be released on Wednesday. Plus, the Jets will come out with a ton of trick plays, many of which will probably look familiar since they will all be lifted from Bill’s repertoire. See, Mangini knows that, win or lose, his job security is not in question. And considering that the Jets were not expected to do much of anything this year (what, maybe six, seven, eight wins at the maximum?), Mangini will play this game with reckless abandon, leading his troops up the interstate, hell-bent on again proving that the pupil can teach the master a thing or two and pull off one of the biggest shockers in the playoffs in recent memory. Again, I gotta say…I just don’t see much of that scenario being played out.

Today was “Black Monday” in the NFL, and two coaches received their pink slips, Dennis Green in Arizona and Jim Mora, Jr. in Atlanta. Now the first one is not very surprising. Even before the season started, it was understood that Green was on the hottest of all “hot seats.” He had the best combination of receivers in the league (Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald), a lot of good, young pieces on defense (Bertrum Berry, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett, Antrell Rolle, and Adrian Wilson, who is one of the most underrated secondary players in the league, the guy can flat out play), and one of the best backs in the league (Edgerrin James). In the end though, they could never find an offensive line that could protect their offensive assets, including James, who had his worst yards per carry at season’s end in his career, and Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart, two quarterbacks who were being constantly rushed into mistakes (17 TDs, 17 INTs combined). Green basically knew the jig was up when Arizona lost to the Bears in an epic meltdown that just so happened to be on national TV on Monday Night Football, followed by Green dropping the sound bite of the year (see “Best Quote” from “Awards” column). Green could not get over the fact that his line was terrible. I mean even if they had something that resembled anything decent, this team has potential to win seven or eight games a year, and hey, in the NFC, that’s almost good enough to make the playoffs. But with his make-shift line, the Cards underachieved for basically his entire tenure (only 14 wins in three years) and Green was sent packing today. Mora was someone who most believed was not in too much trouble coming into the season. That is until a few weeks ago, where he made it clear that the head coaching gig at the University of Washington was his dream job. Also, when his dad, a former coach (Playoffs!?) and presently, a radio commentator for Fox Sports, said that the Falcons’ franchise quarterback, Michael Vick, was a “coach killer.” Now, given all of that, when you add in a season where the Falcons could have, and should have, easily made the playoffs given how weak the NFC South, not to mention, the entire NFC, was this year, and Mora is now out of a job. Unlike Green, I think that Mora will end up coordinating again in the NFL, as he already had a stint of being a defensive coordinator at San Francisco. Then, he will wait out the contract of Tyrone Willingham in Washington, and try his best to land there.

Now is the time when coordinators that are in the playoffs will be auditioning for one of the two jobs available (believe me, there will probably be more, like that Art Shell guy everyone keeps talking about). If teams start to look impressive, watch for their coordinators to start getting job offers. Perfect examples are Sean Payton and Eric Mangini. Payton was the offensive coordinator of the Cowboys last season, and his use of a two-back system, coupled with the resurgence of a Dallas passing game that had been lost since the Aikman era earned Payton the head coaching job at New Orleans, a team he’s guided to a 10-6 record and a first round bye in the playoffs, an impressive turnaround considering this team only won two games last year. Mangini was the defensive coordinator for your New England Patriots for just one short year after Charlie Weis bolted to Notre Dame. Along with his prior specialty coaching with different positions and his one year as D-Coordinator landed Mangini the Jets job, where he turned the team around, providing a six game boost from four to ten wins in just one year. Both of these guys will be 1-2 in the Coach of the Year voting, which makes it especially important for teams like Arizona and Atlanta to scout out these gurus in the booth and try to lure them to their sidelines.

Now I have to mention a bit of sad news that happened yesterday, as rising star Darrent Williams, who played cornerback for the Broncos, was shot and killed in an apparent drive-by shooting in the early hours of this morning. Williams was only 24 years old. Williams had shown a tremendous upside in his two years of play with the Broncos, as Denver utilized his speed to not only play opposite perennial all-pro Champ Bailey at starting cornerback, but also was used to return punts and kicks on occasion. There has been no explanation for any kind of motive in this case, and it’s really sad to see someone who is just inexplicably gunned down. This truly is a sad state of affairs.

Ok, I know I brought the mood down already, but I am forced to bring it down a little but more and talk about my beloved Celtics. Fellas, what happened? Seriously, I mean, ok, Pierce is out, I understand this, but maybe I was expecting a little too much out of these guys. I mean this was the time for this team of potential to show that they were worth all the value we put on them. So far, it’s been a real mixed bag. After going on a five-game winning streak with Pierce, the Celts have now lost six in a row without him. They just look flat gang. They seem to have no plan about how to conduct their offense. Personally, I cannot believe Doc is not running this team more. The average age on the court is like 22! Wouldn’t being a running team kind of cancel out the whole “no size” factor? Anyway, I just had to mention this because I thought the Celts would be scoring 110 a night, with all those young guys finally getting minutes. But they look very hesitant with the ball, and they have been struggling in the half-court defense against the size of the west-coast teams so far. Tonight, they draw the Trailblazers, who have been struggling this year. Let’s hope the C’s are able to turn it around. Run the ball Doc! Give it to Big Al in the post! Hustle for those Tommy points!

Ok, so one final thought. Has anyone noticed that Fox Sports Net, in conjunction with the “Best Damn Sports Show Period,” is coming out with all these top 50 lists, like “the 50 best buzzer beaters ever,” or, the one I just saw, “the 50 hardest hits ever?” Ok, here’s my reaction to this: a.) This could arguably be the coolest thing ever. Despite their list being completely out of whack and having the order of significance all wrong, how great is it to watch all this great sports footage on one show. I mean there was a lot of stuff I had forgotten about, like on the “biggest hits,” do you remember when Sami Kapanen, then playing for the Flyers, got hit so hard that when he tried to get up several times, he could not maintain his balance, and they eventually had to stop play to get him off the ice? I mean that’s just so classic, and it took this show to bring it back. Granted, it was like #18 when it should have at least cracked the top-10. And b.) Why did it take until 2006 to start broadcasting this? I mean correct me if I’m wrong, but sports fans have been itching for countdowns like this for years. I remember ESPN had a brief run at it, when their 25th anniversary came around, and they presented ESPN’s top 25 “Game 7’s” and “Best Games.” Only those were in the last 25 years and did not go back far enough to have any relevance. Now, however, ESPN Classic runs a similar show, called “Who’s Number 1?” This show does a better job of going back and including the years they originally had left out. However, these shows are just too tacky for my tastes. When you get down to the substance part, it actually makes for some entertaining television, but having to listen to a bunch of people, most of them having nothing to do with the event itself, but were merely writers at the time or historians, babble on and on about how great each thing was makes the show tiring to watch. When “Best Damn’s” list came on, it would supply you with the number, a cute little description to be a teaser to what the play would be, and then the play itself, including the original call from the game, and that’s it. All the average sports fan wants to see on shows like those are the actions of the moments, and not old guys rambling about how great it was. All ESPN should do is have Trey Wingo do his usual speech about what occurred during the moment, and leave it at that. If someone wants to find out more, look it up! Go to the library and read a book! Stop wasting time with historians. Make it a half an hour long and it will make for much better programming. Also, ESPN does not have the right to air any NFL highlights on these shows, so you’re basically left with pictures. Why even bother? If you can’t produce video of the game, it’s basically like reading about it in Sports Illustrated. Can you imagine someone talking to you about the last drive of the game when the Pats beat the Rams for their first Super Bowl? Do you honestly think you would get goose bumps from listening to someone talk about what happened and showing you pictures of the plays? No way! So, ESPN should stay away from any countdown that would involve the NFL. I do have to say that I enjoyed the “Greatest Game 7’s” a lot because of all the great Celtic and old-time baseball highlights (By the way, I officially submit the Twins-Braves ’91 World Series Game 7 as my favorite…go ahead, look it up.)

Alright, well, that’s it for now. I hope to have my bowl wrap-up from the past week and my playoff previews and predictions up soon. Thanks for reading. God bless. Peace.


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