"Not for him, he'd be on fire."
Well you don't see this very often...in fact, it's been 22 years since the Angels beat the Sox in the postseason. After an improbable three-run single by Jacoby Ellsbury (after which I kept thinking that we only got two runs...but after about two innings I caught on...I was a little slow yesterday, back off), it appeared like the Sox were in prime position to add yet another notch to the seemingly endless winning streak we had against the Halos, no matter how good they have been. With Beckett on the mound and a two-run lead, things were looking good. However, the Angels actually decided to be...the Angels, mounting a comeback to get the game into extra innings, then winning it in the twelvth. Mike Napoli, who was out for a majority of the season, came through with two homers off of Beckett, and Jered Weaver came in at the end of the game, and was able to keep the Sox off the board in the extra frames. The Sox' bullpen did an admirable job going blow to blow with the Angels' bullpen for six innings. In the end though, it seemed like our luck finally ran out (let's face it, Ellsbury's hit was complete B.S...although I enjoyed it throughly). So now, it's back to where we started...kind of. Well, in this installment of Lester-Lackey, the Sox still have a lead in the series, and they are at home, where Lester has been absolutely tremendous this year (11-1, 2.49 ERA). However, it would seem that a lot of the momentum the Sox had built up in Anaheim has been slowed, or even worse, halted. Did you see it last night? It just felt like an inevitability that the Halos were going to walk away with that game purely because the Sox simply could not get anything done against the Angel bullpen, which brings me to my point: If the Sox are going to win either of the next two games, they have to do it against the starters and cannot rely on hitting off of their bullpen to win games. It sounds easy enough, but the fact remains that if the Sox are able to jump out to a big lead (at least two runs) early, they have an infinitely better chance of winning these games than if they let the Angels stay in these games. As shown in the last two games, Anaheim does not go down without a fight, but considering Lester's dominance at home this year, and his equally dominant performance in Game 1, it is going to be tough for the Angels to send this series back to the west coast. In other news...Go White Sox! Regardless of what happens, I really don't want the Rays to even sniff the World Series. They appear to be incredibly dangerous to our attempt to repeat as champions (this is, of course, if we get by the Angels...one game at a time). I agree with Lil' Wayne on this (by the way, his blog on ESPN.com is remarkably good...the man is a Sox and a Bruins fan...you have to respect that) in that if Tampa gets to the ALCS, it doesn't appear like anyone, including the Sox, will stop them. I hope I'm wrong, and also, if we, God forbid, lose the next two games, it will be very interesting to see how well the Rays do when they do not have home-field advantage (decidely the best home-field this year). But, I'm not going to think about that anymore. Thinking positive from here on in for Game 4 tonight.
The Pats pulled down an absolutely huge win over the Niners yesterday, and despite basically the entire world writing us off after the Miami loss, the Pats are 3-1, tying Buffalo in the loss column atop the division. I realize that we have a new QB, but if you saw any of yesterday's game, you had to see some improvements out of Cassel. For one, he threw the deep ball to Moss, something I had been calling for the last three games. The way the offense works is that you spread the defense and make the safeties play center field, opening up the running game, and some room for a certain #83 to go over the middle. What I did not like was when Cassel could not make his reads fast enough and continued to get ambushed by the Niner defense (a much-impoved unit than we're used to seeing). The right side of the O-Line is weak...everyone knows that...people who don't even watch football that watched the Super Bowl last year know that. So, Cassel needs to get the ball out of his hand quicker, and they need to continue to spread the field with Moss, because as shown on Sunday, against one of the better cover-corners in the league (Nate Clements), no one can stop Randy Moss...no one. The defense was able to turn things around after a very shaky first quarter in which they allowed journeyman J.T. O'Sullivan to pass all over them. This D really makes me nervous, which is something I haven't said or thought about in like a decade. The thing that continues to baffle me is the seeming unwillingness to let Adalius Thomas run wild. If they allow A.T. free reign, he will be an absolute beast and an unstoppable force, like he was in Baltimore during his Pro Bowl season two years ago. Next on the dockett for the Pats is the Chargers. I expect a whole bunch of Darren Sproiles, Antonio Gates, and Chris Chambers, and not a whole lot from L.T. (see the last two times these teams have met in Foxboro in primetime). Sproiles really scares me. He's small and explosive...I'm getting nervous just typing this. Gates is going to be a problem because, most likely, either Jerod Mayo or Tedy Bruschi will draw him in coverage. One is a rookie, and one has shown some wear this season. Chambers poses matchup problems because of his size (he's not especially tall (5', 11"), but he is a load at 210 lbs.). Look for Deltha O'Neal (5', 11") to take Chambers as opposed to Ellis Hobbs (5', 9"). In any event, great win on the road yesterday (first time the Pats have ever won in San Fran), but there are still a lot of things this team needs to improve on as the season progresses.
In a small shout-out section, I first want to say how impressed I am with the Redskins, winning another road division game yesterday at Philly. J-Cam has been a mark of consistency this year, and through five games, they still have yet to yield an offensive turnover. Clinton Portis, who I have been saying all along is a top-5 back in this league, came through with another huge game, and now sits only behind Michael Turner for the top spot in rushing in the NFL. Also, thanks for finally getting Chris Cooley in the end zone (fantasy implications of course...now we need to get Wes Welker there!).
Matt Ryan guided the Falcons to a huge victory up in Green Bay. I still don't like his game translating to the pros, but so far, he's looked decent, and he hasn't made a ton of mistakes (4 TDs to 3 INTs, about as good as you can expect from a rookie).
I am officially off the Ben Roethlisberger hate-wagon, and in another official move, have put him on the list of players I really respect. He showed a ton of heart last night in leading the Steelers to a comeback win at Jacksonville, a team that has been a thorn in Pittsburgh's side, especially the last two meetings.
The two best games going into yesterday outside of the Steelers/Jags (which everyone knew would be a big-time matchup) was the Broncos/Bucs and the Titans/Ravens. Both games lived up to that billing, with Denver and Tennessee (the undefeated Tennessee Titans mind you) winning by a field goal. Tennessee...apparently for real. Jay Cutler...likewise. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a better QB this year than Cutler.
What to watch for this week (besides the playoffs...you should already know about that):
- Clemson at #21 Wake Forest (7:30, ESPN)
- #1 Oklahoma vs. #5 Texas from the Cotton Bowl (12:00, ABC)
- Tennessee at #10 Georgia (3:00, CBS)
- Notre Dame at #22 North Carolina (3:30, ABC)
- #23 Michigan St. at Northwestern (3:30, ESPN2)
- #17 Oklahoma St. at #3 Missouri (8:00, ESPN2)
- #4 LSU at #11 Florida (8:00, CBS)
- #6 Penn St. at Wisconsin (8:00, ESPN)
- Baltimore at Indianapolis (1:00, CBS)
- Carolina at Tampa Bay (1:00. FOX)
- Dallas at Arizona (4:15, FOX)
- San Diego at New England (8:15, NBC)