Dec 102012
 

Roger Goodell is out of touch.

While Goodell has been one of the key people responsible for the NFL’s explosive popularity and thus made the league a multi-billion dollar business, the man’s decision-making process seems to be rather confusing. For our first piece of evidence I submit Goodell’s mishandling of the NFL referee’s lockout. I won’t get into which side was “right” or “wrong” but will simply focus on the fact that Goodell knew well in advance of the lockout that there was trouble brewing, and he did nothing to insure that the NFL had a qualified group of officials waiting in the wings in the event of such a lockout. The result? A travesty of officiating that still may impact the playoff landscape for the 2012 season.

As a second piece of evidence, I point you to the bounty scandal involving the New Orleans Saints. Did the Saints use a system that violated league rules? Absolutely. Should coaches and players have been suspended and/or fined? Absolutely. So why is the league in a position where its case against the players involved is melting? It is chiefly due to the fact the Goodell thought that he could act by proclamation and without challenge, failed to present a compelling case, and acted without regard for due process. Information has only been provided after the fact, and generally is incomplete.

Finally, we have the most recent piece of Goodell’s bone-headedness. In an interview with Time magazine, Goodell proposed eliminating kick-offs and replacing them with giving the “kicking” team the ball at their own 30 yard line with an automatic fourth and fifteen, thus giving the team the choice to go for it or to punt. What?

My immediate reactions to this puzzler are best articulated by former NFL VP for officiating Mike Pereira, who called the proposal “ridiculous”. Pereira looked at the impact that kickoff returners have had on the game historically, noting Gale Sayers, Brian Mitchell, and Devin Hester, as well as David Wilson’s monster return performance yesterday that sparked the Giants in their rout of the Saints. I will add to this the impact of the onside kick; think back to the Saints’ onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV, which stunned the Colts and turned the momentum in favor of the Saints. It was one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history.

And Roger Goodell wants to eliminate it.

Yes. kickoffs are one of the most dangerous aspects of a dangerous sport. So where does it end? Rob Gronkowski broke his arm on an extra point play, so I guess those should go as well. Just make teams get the ball in the end zone from the two and a half yard line for the extra point. And we know that quarterbacks and receivers have had the rules skewed in their favor in the past few years in order to protect those players who are at most risk, so it just makes sense, in the interest of player safety, to eliminate the forward pass from the game entirely. No more roughing the passer, and no more illegal hits on defenseless receivers. The number of concussions should come down dramatically. Just run the ball, play after play. But we also want to be careful about illegal blocks and head shots, so hitting can only take place in the baseball “strike zone” from above the knees to the armpits. There… now the game should be much safer. And just to make it easier, targets will be painted on the front and back of each jersey. This not only makes it much easier for the defensive player to know where they can hit, but also provides a natural marketing opportunity for Target stores. Roger should be very happy with that.

Seriously.

I am not normally one of the Bud-drinking (I prefer imports, unless it’s a Sam Adams seasonal) crowd who bemoans that we should just put skirts on the players and turn it into flag football. Frankly, that crowd is populated with people who think that professional wrestling is real and to whom the show “Cops” is a family documentary. But the guise of player safety seems to be making some of these folks seem pretty reasonable compared to Goodell.

What do I mean by the guise of player safety?

I am absolutely convinced that Goodell is far more concerned about lawsuits than he is the actual safety of the player. If Goodell had such conscience about player safety and long-term player health, then why are former players being forced to sue the NFL to get the league to accept culpability for player injuries and assist with medical care? And why would the NFL protect quarterbacks and receivers while allowing cut blocks that jeopardize the careers of defensive players? As Jared Allen said, “My knee is just as valuable as Tom Brady’s”, and he is right.

Football will always be a dangerous sport, and I am all in favor of rules that mitigate the risk involved for players, but that maintain the integrity of the game. Eliminating the kickoff, to me, is a horrible idea that unnecessarily alters the substance of the game itself, and it takes away an exciting play that can often change momentum and even the outcome. The league’s rule changes have already reduced the number of kickoff returns, making an effort like the one we saw from Wilson yesterday even more special. Concussions and injuries are down on kickoffs, and will continue to go down with additional tweaks to the rules. Add to that improvements in equipment and penalizing, fining, and suspending players for illegal hits, and we will see injuries minimized in what is by nature a violent contact sport.

If the NFL Competition Committee knows what’s good for the game, they will pass on Goodell’s proposal, and focus on more serious ways to improve the game.

Sep 242012
 

Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do….

In the end, the Ne England Patriots cannot blame this loss on utterly horrific officiating. Not when their run defense got lit up by Ray Rice and their secondary got torched by Joe Flacco, the result of an inability to apply meaningful quarterback pressure throughout the game. And not when, instead of running the ball at the end of the game, the Patriots went to the air and provided the Ravens with additional timeouts, nor when Josh McDaniels outguessed himself instead of placing his trust in the game plan that placed the Patriots comfortably in front of the Ravens midway through the fourth quarter. No, these things were on the Patriots, not on the officials.

But the officials sure didn’t help.

There were no fewer than four phantom calls*** on the Patriots, all of which led to Ravens points; the worst of which was a defensive holding call on linebacker Brandon Spikes when it was clear that Spikes was the one being held. That call led not only to Ravens points, but also to the best line of the night, when Spikes let the officials know after the game (in most unflattering terms) that Foot Locker was calling and it was time to get back to work.

(*** Update: Here is a great analysis of all the penalties called in the game. This doesn’t get into the ones not called, much to the relief of Michael Oher.)

Other than Ed Reed’s two vicious head shots (as noted by a reader… since when does Reed turn dirty?), the worst behavior of the night however belonged to Patriots Head Coach, who physically grabbed one of the officials after the game, seemingly to get an explanation as to why the winning field goal (which clearly went over the crossbar and was good)*** was not reviewed. In truth it was not a reviewable play. Of course, Belichick could have been grabbing the official to demand an explanation about a thousand different things, but he made the mistake of making physical contact. While Belichick stated after the game that he didn’t expect to be fined, the fact is that he should be, and he should be fined heavily.

(*** Update: According to former NFL Vice President for Officiating Mike Pereira,”The entire ball must pass inside the outside edge of the upright… A FG that goes over the top of an upright is not reviewable because you cannot determine when exactly the ball is directly over the pole” Judging by that interpretation, and this photo (or the video here), the Patriots may well be right that the field goal was in fact wide right. Pereira guessed that it was good, and I would say that replay would not have been able to establish otherwise. In any event, the announcers got the rule wrong.)

While I can appreciate Belichick’s frustration, he acted no better than John Fox on Monday night, or than the Ravens did in their post-game interviews after they fell to the Eagles last week. It’s not the officials fault that they suck; they just do. It is the fault of the NFL that the replacement officials are on the field to begin with, and the fault goes specifically to Commissioner Roger Goodell. But in his post-game interview, Belicjhick got far more conciliatory and wouldn’t go there, at least not as strongly as he did on the field.

“It’s our job to just go out there and control what we can control,” said Belichick following the game. That’s what we’re going to try to work on. You can’t control anything else. You’d have to talk to those guys. Go talk to the officials about the way they called the game. Go talk to the league about the way they called it. I don’t know, but we’ve got to go out and control it the best we can.”

That’s a wise statement from a head coach following a loss (are you listening, John Harbaugh?), but a coach who can keep that cool under media scrutiny, and who is as accomplished as Belichick, should have kept his head on the field as well. Frankly, I will be shocked if he isn’t fined at least $50,000 for the incident.

Back to the game… yes, there was a game last night… the Patriots will look back on this as a wasted opportunity. They dominated the first quarter to get out to an early 13-0 lead. The Ravens struck back in the second quarter to grab a 14-13 lead, only to have the Patriots drive to field right before the half to take a 20-14 lead into the half. And the third quarter and the first half of the fourth belonged to the Patriots, who struck back after an early Ravens touchdown to stake a 9 point lead, possess the ball, and seemed to be driving home the final nail in the coffin after John Harbaugh got called for Unsportsmanlike Conduct when he went on the field to intimidate an official. No John… no one (not even you) believes that you were calling a time out. The Patriots had the game locked up, and then could not convert first downs to put the game on ice. Coupled with red zone opportunities in which the Patriots were forced by the Ravens defense to settle for field goals, and you had a recipe for Joe Flacco to carve up the Patriots secondary and score 10 points in the closing minutes and pull out the one point win.

And it never should have happened. Josh McDaniels devised a game plan that took advantage of the Patriots strengths, and had an aging Ravens defense looking every bit of old and tired. And then McDaniels, for the second straight week, got in his own way and infused unneeded trickery, too much Woodhead instead of Ridley, and too many tight formations without Aaron Hernandez***. Maybe McDaniels thought he was back in Denver with the likes of Kyle Orton. Whatever it was, McDaniels’ play-calling helped the Patriots miss opportunities, and the Ravens were more than capable of taking advantage. Joe Flacco may not be the best quarterback in football, but he was good enough on this night to out-duel Brady and win the game when the Patriots failed to cash in.

(*** Update: A great raised on Patriots Life: why did the Patriots never go for two? They were up by “two scores”, meaning nine points. A two-point conversion would have given the Patriots a 10 point lead and the field goal would have only tied the game. Had the conversion failed, it would have made no difference in the outcome. Bad coaching call?)

With respect to the defense, elder statesman Vince Wilfork summed it up:”We really couldn’t get off the field,” Wilfork said after the game. “Offense played their tails off and we just left them out to dry. We can’t do that.”

How the game broke down:

When the Patriots ran:

The Patriots did not run the ball effectively, as Ridley and Danny Woodhead combined for just 71 yards on 28 carries.  Edelman had a huge loss on an ill-conceived end-around. Advantage: Ravens

When the Patriots passed:

This is where the game was “won” by the Patriots, as Brady went 28 – 41 for 338 yards, but only one touchdown. Wes Welker had 8 catches for 142 yards, while the acrobatic Brandon Lloyd caught 9 passes for 108 yards. Julian Edelman was effective until he was injured just before halftime, catching four passes, including a touchdown strike. Rob Gronkowski only caught two passes on the night. Advantage: Patriots

When the Ravens ran:

Ray Rice ran for 101 yards on 20 carries and was hard to bring down most of the night. His effectiveness, coupled with the lack of a Patriots pass rush, had the Patriots’ defense off balance. Advantage: Ravens

When the Ravens passed:

Flacco overcame a rough start to throw for 382 yards and three touchdowns, slicing through the Patriots’ secondary after the first quarter. Wide receiver Torrey Smith caught 6 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns on the same day that his younger brother died in a motorcycle accident. The Patriots’ secondary did a decent job in coverage, but Flacco had way too much time to throw and the receivers eventually got open. Advantage: Ravens

Special Teams:

Both teams had good nights here, with no major gaffes. The Patriots were able to pin the Ravens deep a couple of times, but the Ravens’ offense responded. Advantage: Even

Game Log –  

FIRST QUARTER

Patriots possession:

Patriots open in hurry up. After a quick first down to Brandon Lloyd, a botched snap and a sack defuse Patriot series. Solid punt return has Ravens set up near midfield.

Ravens possession:

Ravens open with Ray Rice carrying twice, then quick pass to Boldin comes up short.  Ravens punt and Patriots start at their own 10.

Patriots possession:

Brady to Edelman for a quick 8. Woodhead for only one, then squeezes out first down on next carry. Brady to Welker for big 59 yard gain to the Ravens 20. Ridley for no gain. Ridley for one, and the Ravens defensive players getting frisky after end of play. Referees need to keep control.  Edelman has TD in hands but Reed makes big play to force field goal attempt. Patriots connect to take early 3-0 lead.

Ravens possession:

First play is a Flacco pass picked off by Steve Gregory.

Patriots possession:

Brandon Boldin takes third down carry into the end zone. Patriots up 10-0.

Ravens possession:

Three plays and the Ravens again come up a yard short as Patriots secondary not giving Flacco receivers to throw to.

Patriots possession:

Patriots start backed up at own 8 after penalty on punt return. After an incompletion, Ridley runs for four. Brady converts to Lloyd.  Two plays later, a nice catch by Lloyd for another first down. Timeout by Ravens. Personal foul after cheap  head shot on Brady scramble. Patriots stalled by two awful officiating calls on Gronk and Edelman, settle for field goal and 13-0 lead.

Ravens possession:

Incomplete pass and short Rice run close the quarter.

SECOND QUARTER

Ravens possession:

Quick incomplete pass should have ended drive but PI call extends drive.Rice run for first down called back by Boldin hold. Passes to Pierce nets first down. Pierce again for 7! Then first down to Leach. Short run by Rice and incomplete bring up third down. Boldin comes up a yard short. Officials botch and give a measurement to the Ravens when the ball is a yard short. Then officials reverse call and grants first down. Two Rice runs for a first down before Flacco hits Torrey Smith for a touchdown pass. Patriots 13-7.

Patriots possession:

Gronk and Edelman net Patriots first down, then Brady to Edelman for another.  Woodhead into Ravens territory, then Edelman for huge loss on end around. Patriots punt and force fair catch inside the Ravens’ 10 yard line.

Ravens possession:

Flacco squeezes out first down on short scramble under pressure. Then a big pass play to Jacoby Jones to Patriots’ 36 yard line. Rice carries to 26 for another first down. A few plays later, Flacco to Pitta for a touchdown due to pathetic tackling attempts by Gregory and McCourty. Ravens 14 Patriots 13.

Patriots possession:

On second play, pass to Gronk for first down. Then defensive holding call for 5 yards. Patriots able to squeeze out a first down before a defensive contact penalty against the Ravens. Then Deion Branch gets his first grab for a first down. Then Welker for  a grab to get it inside the 10 with 13 seconds left. Incomplete pass on the next play before a touchdown strike to Edelman. Patriots go into locker room up 20-14. Brady has now thrown at least one touchdown pass in 35 straight games.

THIRD QUARTER

Ravens possession:

Rice out of the gate for a 15 yard gain. Then a bad defensive holding call against Kyle Arrington; phantom call. Two short gains to bring up 3rd and 2 which is converted by Torrey Smith. A few plays later, 32 yard reception to Smith for first and goal. rice runs it in on the next play. Ravens 21 Patriots 20.

Patriots possession:

Quick first down strike to Lloyd. Then Ridley for about four followed by an incomplete to Winslow before a first down completion to Welker. Woodhead to midfield for three and then for one. First down pass to Lloyd. Then a personal foul against Pollard to get the Patriots to the 21. Woodhead for 3. Another first down to Lloyd. First and goal. Woodhead to the 5. Woodhead in for the score. Patriots 27 Ravens 21.

Ravens possession:

Two plays in Flacco hits Smith for 37 yards. Holding call against the Ravens wipes out a fist down. Patriots struggling to pressure Flacco. Long incomplete brings up Ravens punt.

Patriots possession:

First pass is a first down strike to Winslow. Ridley loses a yard. Brandon Lloyd for 10 to bring up third and one. Ridley converts. Lloyd for another ten. Defensive holding for five yards. Pass to Welker beings up third and three. Pass to Branch… results in 15 yards with blow to the head by Ed Reed. Ridley carries it to the 4.

FOURTH QUARTER

Patriots possession:

Welker gets it to the two, but Patriots forced to settle for field goal. Patriots lead 30-21.

Ravens possession:

Pitta for four yards, then Rice for a first down. McCourty drops a pick on the next play and then a 24 yard gain to Boldin. Two Rice  runs bring up a third down on the Patriots 35. Rice stopped short on third down, and Ravens get stuffed by Chung on fourth down. Bad coaching call by John Harbaugh, given that the Ravens could have gotten the game to a one score difference.

Patriots possession:

Quick strike to Lloyd for first down. Two plays later, another first down to Welker. On third and long, Brady is incomplete to Woodhead, forcing a punt.

Ravens possession:

Backed up snide own ten, quick strike to Rice brings the ball to the 20. Holding on next play brings it back to the 10. Rice runs to the 15. Defensive holding on McCourty bails the Ravens out; another phantom call. Flacco to Jones for 21 yards, then Smith to the Patriots 42. Flacco hits Rice on a short pass and he brings it to the Patriots 10 yard line. Flacco sacked,Pena wiped out by defensive holding. Flacco hits  Smith in he end zone for a touchdown. Patriots 30 Ravens 28.

Patriots possession:

On second play, big first down catch and run by Welker. Three plays later, interception wiped out by illegal contact and automatic first down. Unsportsmanlike conduct against John Harbaugh nets 15 and another first down.Ridley for one yard and a Baltimore time-out. Patriots then take their first time-out. The crowd is pissed, but they have little room to complain; the Ravens have benefited from phantom calls all night long. Brady sacked to bring up third down. Ravens calls second time-out. Brady passes incomplete to bring up fourth down at 2:01.

Ravens possession:

Flacco to Jones for 24 yards. Pitta for short gain. Big pass to Pitta to get it to Patriots 35. Nothing for Rice inside, then an incomplete pass. Jones draws a PI call inside the 10 against McCourty… Very clear call on Devin.  Ravens kick field goal to win the game, 31-30.

FINAL SCORE: Baltimore 31 New England 30

Key Moment: Phantom defensive holding call against Patriots’ linebacker Brandon Spikes, which negated a Patriots sack of Joe Flacco by Chandler Jones and Kyle Love, and gave the Ravens a first and goal instead of a 3rd and 22 while the Ravens were still down by 9.

What should have been the key moment: John Harbaugh’s decision to go for it on fourth down despite needing to get within one score with 10:56 to go in the game. The Patriots stopped Bernard Pierce for a one yard loss, and seemingly had complete control of the game.

Game Ball: Torrey Smith, who played extremely well despite a heavy heart from losing his brother in the early morning hours prior to the game. It was a brave and gutsy performance by Smith and my heart goes out to him, despite Ray Lewis’ incomprehensible post-game comments that somehow compared the two events.

Sep 172012
 

The Baltimore Ravens were just full of quotes after their painful 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The target of their crowing was the poor officiating throughout the game.

According to Joe Flacco:

“I think those guys were on us tight like that the whole game and there was a lot of holding and grabbing going on … for them to make that (offensive pass interference) call was kind of crazy,” said Flacco. “He didn’t even throw a flag. He threw a blue beanie and then put his hands in the air like offensive pass interference…I mean, come on.” According to the New York Post, Flacco said after the game that the replacement refs are “affecting the integrity of the game.” Flacco said he hates complaining because he doesn’t want to “sound like a baby,” but that it needed to be said.

And this from Ray Lewis:

“The game is played the way the game is played, but there’s some serious calls the refs missed,” Lewis said after the game. “And that’s just the way it is, man, all around the league. And that, for our league to be what it is, we have to correct that. Because these games are critical. And guys are giving everything they got all across the league, but there are calls that the regular refs, if they were here, we know the way calls would be made. For the conversations to be had the way they had on the sidelines saying ‘If the real refs were here, that could would have been made.’ That shouldn’t happen. That shouldn’t be the case around the league. But it is. And we have to deal with it.”

Ray Lewis on NFL Officiating

I have two reactions to the Ravens’ crowing. First, both Flacco and Lewis are right; the officiating on Sunday sucked all across the NFL. This is a problem that really does impact the integrity of the game, and the NFL is very close to sabotaging its own product on the field. Lewis made that point far more eloquently than Flacco did, but that leads to my second point.

Both men must realize that sounding off as they did following a Ravens’ loss, was simply not that bright. Flacco said he didn’t want to “sound like a baby”, yet that’s exactly what Flacco sounded like. What seems lost on Flacco is that the officials made poor calls both ways, and the officials were not the ones responsible for Flacco’s fumble that set up an Eagles’ touchdown, nor were they responsible for his interception that also led to an Eagles’ touchdown. Flacco was a mere 22 for 42 on the day, so coming out and blasting the refs for doing a crap job is a little like the pot calling the kettle black. Take responsibility for yourself, Joe.

Lewis was more on point by noting that all payers across the league were dealing with poor officiating, and that it impacted everyone. However, he made the mistake of isolating one play (and his interpretation of it) as a specific cause of concern. That was not wise, given the play may not have been what Lewis thought it was. Lewis would have been better off to decline comment on the topic, given the fact that the Ravens’ could gain nothing by complaining about the officiating after a loss.

And while John Harbaugh referred to the officiating in the game as “chaotic” (a much more benign term than Flacco used), he at least had the good sense to accept criticism for some questionable play-calling on the part of the Ravens’ offense. And at the end of the day, no matter how bad the officiating, the Raven’s had more control over whether or not they won the game than the officials did.

The best comment on the day over officiating came from the NFL’s former Vice President for Officiating Mike Pereira, when he tweeted “I’m officially over it. The regular refs need to get back on the field. Enough is enough.”

Amen, Mike. And at least you didn’t say it after a loss.

Sep 102012
 

It was really nice to have football back on my television this weekend after a seven month wait. Football season has taken on a new meaning for me with the invention of Gridiron Rats, as I live blogged the Patriots game while doing my best to stay on top of the other action (thank you, DirecTV). Here are some of my early take-aways from Week One, with Monday night games still on the way.

1. The officiating was not good. There were many blunders in the 49ers-Packers game, and in the Broncos-Steelers contest last night. Some were benign, like misplacing the two minute warning in the Broncos’ game, while others were rather impactful. Tennessee fans in particular might be upset today that Jake Locker got hurt on a play that should have been blown dead and likely would have been with regular officials. Peyton Manning also got burned by the officials on a play that was vintage Peyton and should have worked to his advantage. He quick-snapped the Steelers, who had players still rotating off of the field. With regular officials that would have resulted in a free play and a penalty, but the replacement officials didn’t see it. I guess Peyton has to dumb his game down until the replacement officials can catch up. And there was a particularly bad call over a fourth timeout in the Seattle-Arizona game that was not only wrong, but then explained incorrectly. In any event, Mike Pereira can make a living off of criticizing the new officials, and anyone with the NFL who says that the replacement officials are adequate should probably be drug tested.

2. The Jets shocked everyone yesterday by scoring 20 points in the second quarter on their way to a 48-28 blowout win over the Bills. this tells us two things; that the Jets offense isn’t as bad as it looked in the pre-season, and that the Bills’ defense isn’t nearly as good as advertised. Clearly, Mark Sanchez needed a game like this to keep the boo-birds at bay and the cries for Tebow at a minimum. Yet in every silver lining, the Jets manage to find (or create) a dark cloud. After the game, linebacker Bart Scott teed off on the media, calling for a “media mutiny”.  When approached by a reporter, Scott opened up.

“You guys treat us like we’re a (bleeping) joke,” Scott said. “You all want us to feed your papers, but then you all talk (bleep) about us. So why would I want to give you all quotes to sell papers with if you all treat us like (bleep)? That doesn’t make sense. You all talk stuff about us, and then when we win you flip the story. You all win either way. I’m just going to be quiet.”

Where do I begin with Scott? First off, genius, I am pretty sure you mean “boycott” and not “mutiny”. I will refrain from commenting on his Southern Illinois University education, as someone very close to me holds a degree from that school, and I do happen to believe that it offers an outstanding education. Perhaps Scott slept through any classes in high school or college that might have included any vocabulary terms. And his frustration about the Jets’ being treated like a circus rings hollow with me. Why? The Jets act like a circus, which is ultimately what led to them being treated like one by the media.  This is the dark side of life with Rex Ryan, and Scott just doesn’t seem to comprehend that the New York Jets ARE a circus, even by New York media standards. Finally, on Scott’s final point that he will just keep quiet… from his mouth to God’s ears, my friend… can’t wait!

3. It’s going to be a long season and we have only seen Week One, but after yesterday I am absolutely convinced (as I was throughout the pre-season) that the Patriots’ defense is far more improved than that of the Packers. I realize that Jones and Hightower are only one game in, and that teams will learn to scheme against them, but with players like Wilfork, Mayo, Cunningham, Spikes, and McCourty on the field, there are plenty of players to make big plays. The Patriots suffocated Chris Johnson and look to have one of the league’s best run defenses. They might still give up a lot of yards, but I suspect there will be a lot of garbage time passing yards once again as the Patriots establish early leads and force teams to  throw, throw, and throw. The Packers were the fashionable Super Bowl pick this year with the rationale that an improved defense would be enough to vault them to another crown, but it’s the Patriots defense that looks far more improved, at least at this point of the year…. there’s a long way to go.

4. Speaking of the Patriots, I am of the opinion that Wes Welker is on his way out of Foxboro, and sooner rather than later. I noted yesterday that he was a non-factor in the game, catching only three passes for 14 yards. What I didn’t realize yesterday was that he was schemed out of the game, splitting his snaps with Julian Edelman, who caught one pass for seven yards. But it is the addition of the promising young slot receiver Greg Salas likely means that the Patriots are probably sitting by the telephone, waiting for a good offer to unload an amazing player who made the mistake of making his contract dispute public, a major no-no in Bill Belichick’s world. It’s entirely possible that this is a one game anomaly as a result of a scheme developed for the Titans,  but I’ve seen the Patriots make enough surprising moves over the years to know that when you fall out of favor in New England. you find yourself wearing new laundry in short order. We’ll see what happens as the season progresses and the trade deadline gets closer.

5. Speaking of sitting by the telephone, I suspect the Patriots and Brian Waters will want to work out their contract differences this week. While the Pats’ offensive line had an outstanding game yesterday, depth looks to be an issue, as Connolly got hurt during the course of the game. Waters’ return would help shore up the front five.

6. Because I live-blogged the Patriots-Titans game yesterday, I actually found myself far more focused on collecting data about the game rather than on cheering for my team. Don’t get me wrong, I still cheered, but did so with a far more objective lens than I normally would. I think that was reflected in what I recorded yesterday, but I’ll leave that up to the reader to decide. By the way, thanks to my three readers yesterday! For everyone else, check out the blog and see if you’ll visit me when I do it again.

7. Finally, maybe it’s just his change of laundry, but why do I suddenly like Peyton Manning a whole lot more than I used to? I couldn’t stand the man when he was with the Colts, and when the Colts they were certainly a much tougher rival than the Jets. Part of it is that he came off (to me) as an oaf who could put up stats but couldn’t win the big game, especially not against Tom Brady and the Patriots. That changed the year the Colts won the Super Bowl, but even that was due to a monumental collapse on the part of the Patriots’ defense in the AFC Championship Game. Part of my disdain also goes to his father Archie, who I despise for acting like the ultimate helicopter parent in forcing Eli’s trade from San Diego to New York. Yet strangely I have never disliked Eli, even though his Giants have twice beaten us in the Super Bowl. But last night I admired his performance in returning from a year off of football to lead the Broncos to a dramatic win over the Steelers. Part of it is my disdain for the Steelers and for their quarterback, who I suspect is devoid of character. But a large part of it was the perspective that Manning portrayed in the post-game interview, where he seemed to be far more mature than the Manning I used to loathe, and who had a greater humility than I have ever seen him display. I made the comment to Rat’s Widow as we watched, and I suddenly found myself liking the guy after all of these years. I’m sure I’ll feel differently in Week Five when the Broncos visit Foxboro, and I am not sure if this says more about me or more about Peyton, but it was nice to appreciate his work last night and not root for him to lose.

See you next time!