With A Little Bit Of Luck: Super Bowl Bounces

Due to today’s parity in the NFL, every team needs a certain amount of good fortune to win the Super Bowl.

For examples of what luck can bring, look no further than this current Patriots season. Down in Carolina, the Patriots lost a game where the home team got the benefit of the doubt on what appeared to be pass interference on Rob Gronkowski in the end zone. This past week in Foxboro, the home team got a pass interference call in their favor in the end zone (a touch foul on Josh Boyce), setting up the game-winning TD vs. the Browns.

With season-ending injuries to defensive stalwarts Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, plus Sunday’s terrible knee injury to Gronk, the Patriots will need a run of good luck to get to the podium.

For a look at how every team – no matter how deserving or how talented overall – needs the ball to bounce its way, see below, starting with the Patriots’ first Super Bowl run in early 2002.
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Forethoughts On Four Games: Fourth Quarter 2013

Just imagine how good the Patriots would look if they played a full sixty minutes.

A quick review of the previous four: In Game Nine, New England ran away from Pittsburgh, 55-31, after allowing the Steelers to tie it at 24 in the third quarter. Down in Carolina, Luke Kuechly and the Panthers held on for a 24-20 win (you know what we’re saying). The number 24 came up again vs. Denver, as New England proved overly hospitable in spotting the Broncos a 24-0 lead at halftime, then scored 31 unanswered points to squeeze out a 34-31 heart-stopper in overtime.

(I have a dear college friend named Chuck. He’s a Colorado native and lifelong Broncos fan. Let’s just say the tenor of our game-time tweets took a drastic turn midway through the third quarter, so much so that one would think Tom Brady’s first name was an expletive.) [Read more...]

Patriots Media Prediction Panel, Bye Week 2013

What with the bye week finally here, New England at 7-2, and myriad Patriots taking their leave of Foxboro (note to Kenbrell Thompkins: next time you’re in Miami, take me with you), we at Boston Sports Media Watch figured we’d ask some local pundits their thoughts on what to expect for the next several games. Thanks to all of them for contributing.

What improvements do the Patriots need to make to stay competitive in the second half? Do you think they can make those improvements?

Shalise Manza Young, The Boston Globe: I think they’ll be competitive in the second half even if they stay just as they are right now, but it isn’t the regular season they need to improve for, in my opinion. I think the offense needs to find more consistency, particularly in red zone and on third down, which we are starting to see now that Gronk is healthy, and the defense needs to find a way to fix its problem against the run (we know why that problem has cropped up, but it can’t continue). Sopoaga will help; stopping the run is his speciality, and it isn’t for Chris Jones.

Chris Price, WEEI.com: They need to improve their offensive consistency – that third-quarter dip (with the exception of the game against the Dolphins) is an odd statistical quirk that I can never remember a New England team having. Weird thing is that for the most part, it’s on both sides of the ball – offense and defense have both stumbled in the third quarter. Most of the time they have been able to right the ship in the fourth and it doesn’t come back to haunt them, but it undoubtedly cost them that Jets game. They can get by if they’re playing a lesser team, but they can’t afford not to be able to play four quarters of football against teams like the Broncos and into the postseason if they want to go deep into January. Not sure how you go about fixing that – they have to make a point of bringing energy on a consistent basis for all 60 minutes maybe. But it needs to be remedied.

They also have to find some way to cobble together a more sustainable run defense. Not saying it’s going to ultimately be its Achilles’ heel, especially in a pass-first league, but good teams are still going to be able to run the ball down the stretch and into the playoffs, and the Patriots have to find a way to cobble together some sort of defensive package that can at least slow down some of that against some of the better offensive teams in the league that aren’t one dimensional. I believe they have quality parts, but it’s just a matter of finding the proper rotation, personnel and scheme. Whether or not Isaac Sopoaga is a big part of that, I’m not sure. (He certainly looked impressive in his first outing against the Steelers, but it remains to be seen if he can hold up at that spot over the rest of the season.) Maybe you find an expanded role for Brandon Spikes. And Chris Jones and Joe Vellano will continue to be key parts of the defensive front, along with Andre Carter, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones.

Mike Reiss, ESPN Patriots blog: More consistency on offense, run defense and tightening up penalties (7 over the last 3 games) and coverage units on special teams are the three things that come to mind. I think they’ll be fine on offense, as the return of running back Shane Vereen will be a boost, and wouldn’t expect the struggles to continue on special teams. I’m a little less confident on the run defense, but perhaps the trade-deadline acquisition of Isaac Sopoaga is the difference for them.

Chad Finn, Boston.com: Losing Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo has affected the run defense just as tangibly as anyone who respected their abilities would have expected. The Patriots now have the fourth-worst run defense in the league in terms of yardage allowed (128.2 ypg). Only Pittsburgh (131.2) and Jacksonville (161.8) are worse, and the Jaguars are so brutal Roger Goodell is trying to relegate them to the Canadian Football League. (True story.) Isaac Sopoaga should help as he gets more acclimated, and we know what Brandon Spikes can do. It would help if Dont’a Hightower became more instinctive and consistent. Otherwise, there’s not much to worry about other than overall health and the continued progress of the young receivers.

Chris Warner, BSMW: The returns of Gronk and Danny Amendola accentuated the importance of a healthy roster. As more players come back (Vereen, Aqib Talib, now Steve Gregory) and new players get experience in lieu of those on IR (Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly, Vince Wilfork), this team might end up more balanced than they have yet this season. On defense, I’d look for more aggressive schemes and fewer one-on-one battles where the newbies might falter. On offense, keep in mind that, in Game One at Buffalo this year, Vereen caught seven passes for 58 yards. In eight games since, Stevan Ridley (9 for 50) and Brandon Bolden (17 for 107) have combined for 26 catches for 157 yards. Bringing Vereen into the picture will provide an option that the Patriots have lacked since his injury.

How do you see the next seven games panning out? 

Shalise Manza Young: As things are right now, December looks a lot easier for the Patriots than it did in the preseason. Baltimore is a mess, Houston is having problems – heading into the season, those looked like pivotal road games and would likely impact AFC playoff seeding. Now? Not so much. I predicted an 11-5 record for them in our season preview, but it could be 12-4. Again – and I know I’ve gotten grief for this in the past – as nice as 12-4 is, it doesn’t mean a thing if they’re one-and-done in the postseason. Of course you need to have a good enough regular season to get into the playoffs, but after that, it doesn’t really matter. That’s why I say they need to tighten up the run defense and get that offensive consistency for the postseason, because that’s when they’ll need it most.

Chris Price: I think they lose two or three more games, which would put them at 12-4 at best and 11-5 at worst, and likely have them in the conversation for either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. There are some potential potholes over the final seven games, including the Broncos (I think that has the potential to be a fantastic contest), as well as the Panthers (that’s a sneaky good team where Carolina could take advantage of New England if the Patriots pull that third-quarter check-out). The other two that could be a problem are the road games in Baltimore and Houston. These two teams are nowhere near where they last season, but potential for danger is still there.

(For what it’s worth, I think the return of Shane Vereen is not being discussed enough – he’s a dynamic offensive presence with an ability to put pressure on opposing defense in a way that no other skill position player on the roster can. I know that Sunday represented the first time that Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Stevan Ridley were all on the field as close to 100 percent healthwise as possible, but I’m really interested to see what they can do as a group when Vereen gets back on the field.)

Mike Reiss: It’s easy to appreciate the mental toughness and resiliency this team has shown. I think the thing I look forward to over the final seven games is seeing how the return of cornerback Aqib Talib impacts the defense, and how the coaches strategize specifically with him in mind. The first five-and-a-half games he played were as impressive as I’ve seen a Patriots cornerback play. Steve Smith … Wes Welker … Andre Johnson … the first three games coming off the bye feature some big-time receivers. Can Talib do the same thing he did against Jimmy Graham? They’ll be in most every game and I expect them to be in the championship hunt.

Chad Finn: I think most Patriots fans are of the same mind-set right now. They’re looking ahead to the Denver game – it’s impossible not to, for all of the story lines that need no rehash (pre-hash?) here, while also being aware that Carolina is playing too well to look past coming out of the bye. Overall, though, it looks like a pretty tolerable schedule. It would be nice if they had the Texans or Ravens at home – neither team is what it was last year, obviously. The Browns are improving, but they’re not beating a Patriots offense that even faintly resembles the one we saw against the Steelers. The Dolphins franchise may have folded by the time they meet again. The Bills will be the 12th win and the final warmup before the Patriots host a game in the Divisional Round.

Chris Warner: Denver scares me, though the way their defense is playing I feel like certain teams have a shot against them. I can see Carolina ending up as rude hosts, especially given the efficacy of their running game – plus, the Pats have had their issues with running QBs, and Cam Newton fits that bill all too well. The thing is, as long as the Patriots make the playoffs, I’m not all that concerned about their regular-season record. If they can get into the post-season with good health and enough experience amongst the youngsters to instill some confidence and consistency, then who cares if they’re 14-2 or 11-5? I said it before and I’ll repeat: I think they go 2-2 over their next four games, then finish the season strong.

Any wacky predictions for the second half?

Chris Price: I think that with the amount of injuries this team has suffered, we could be headed for one of those goofy switches before the end of the season, like when Julian Edelman or Troy Brown shows up as a defensive back. I also believe that LeGarrette Blount is going to break off a great kick return before the end of the season. Not saying he’s going to take it all the way back, but it’s going to be one of those “Holy crap” moments we recall a few years from now.

Mike Reiss: Maybe a deja vu of this? LOL.

Chad Finn: Besides the upcoming trade for Richie Incognito AND Jonathan Martin, you mean? The weirdest thing – or at least unexpected – has already happened: Belichick absolved Stevan Ridley of a fumble. I think he got a mulligan from the coach on that one because Belichick was surprised Troy Polamalu was within 20 yards of the ball, and assumed Ridley was equally stunned.

Chris Warner: After reading the list of 83 receivers he has thrown to in his career, Brady starts to hassle Coach Josh McDaniels to put in trick plays in an attempt to reach 90 by the end of the season. So look out, Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Isaac Sopoaga (as Mike alluded to above), and Nate Solder (a previous, unsuccessful target this season); keep your eyes and ears open, LaQuan Williams, Mark Harrison and Cierre Wood: your number might get called.

Predictions for November, December and beyond? Let us know in the comments section below.

Forethoughts On Four Games: Third Quarter 2013

Bruce is out today. Check RedSoxLinks.com for all the coverage of the Red Sox 3-1 win in game five of the World Series last night. The Sox  now have a chance to close out the Series tomorrow night at Fenway Park. 

Well, the past month sure has had its interesting moments.

After a punch-in-the-head experience at Cincinnati resulting in their first loss, the Pats rebounded with a full 60-minute effort vs. New Orleans, scoring the winning touchdown with only five seconds on the clock. A painful, car-crash-in-slow-motion overtime loss at New York brought the Jets within one game in the standings. After spotting Miami a 17-3 lead at home, the Patriots rode a second-half resurgence to go 2-2 this month and 6-2 on the year, good enough for a two-game lead within the division after the Jets’ loss to the Bengals.

Despite the .750 record, fans have cited many reasons for trepidation. One, injuries: New England currently has as many Hurts as a 1980s film festival. With Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo on season-ending IR, the Patriots’ front seven has looked more like a front 5.5. Two, offense: or lack of it. Quarterback Tom Brady has worked hard just to look mediocre in the first half of this season. [Read more...]

Looking Back To Fill The Patriots Roster

It’s hard to tell how well this particular New England team will perform this season. Is the defense good enough? Will the offense improve all that much?

Maybe. But we know for sure that the roster the Patriots had in September will change with the frequency of the cast of “Breaking Bad.” It’s a tough business; people get hurt.

(Yup. Just compared professional football to meth dealing. Hello, Pulitzer!)

New England’s championship teams have a few things in common, one of them being the ability of lesser-known players to step up when needed. Guys like Patrick Pass, Larry Centers and J. R. Redmond don’t enter fans’ minds every day, but each contributed to championships. With recent knee issues plaguing Stevan Ridley, long-term pains for Shane Vereen, and various injuries to Leon Washington, the Patriots might keep an eye out for some running back help.

We were thinking about these guys.

Maybe Not Great Scott, But Decent Scott: Third-year Maryland alum Da’Rel Scott was released by the Giants last week after a rough performance at Kansas City with a muffed handoff and a dropped pass. (New York just re-signed him in the wake of injuries to their RB corps, but the Pats should keep an eye on his status) In 2011, he had an impressive combine, running a 4.31-second 40-yard dash and benching 225 pounds 19 times. Thus far this season he is averaging 3.5 yards per carry (16 for 56) in a non-starting role. The 5-11, 210-pounder could add depth to a depleted ball-carrier corps (hey, he already is).

High School Fun Fact: Scott lettered in football, basketball and track at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High in Pennsylvania. As a junior, he won the state title in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.56 seconds.

A Ray Of Hope: During this spring’s pro day at Pittsburgh, the Patriots were reportedly one of the teams to send a scout to see Ray Graham in action. The mighty mite (5-9, 199) had a slow 40 (4.7 seconds) and only a decent 3-cone drill (7.03 seconds), but he seems to play faster than those times. Graham made First Team All-Big East his last two years at Pitt, rushing for 1,042 yards and 11 TDs as a senior. Currently on the Texans’ practice squad, Graham had seven rushes for 29 yards and one touchdown in the preseason.

High School Fun Fact: At Elizabeth High in New Jersey, Graham rushed for 1,592 yards, averaging nine per carry as a senior. Eight of his 24 touchdowns came on plays of 60 yards or more. Also named an All-County point guard.

A Winn In Oakland? Summertime Patriot George Winn – now on the Oakland practice squad – averaged 3.9 yards per carry vs. the Giants in New England’s final preseason game (14 carries for 54 yards) and scored one touchdown. He registers as a bigger back (5-11, 218) from a Cincinnati program that has some credibility given the success of undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins. Winn rushed for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Bearcats in 2012.

High School Fun Fact: Winn averaged almost eight yards per carry and rushed for over 3,000 yards in his career at University of Detroit Jesuit High.

Hey Mr. D. J.: If New England’s looking for a smaller, pass-catching back, Arkansas alum Dennis Jonnson has a Danny Woodhead-ish look to him at 5-7, 195 pounds. He did a little of everything for the Razorbacks, totaling 5,330 yards rushing (2,036), receiving (510), and returning kicks (2,784). This summer, he had 28 carries for 98 yards and four catches for 25 yards for the Texans. The Browns picked him up but waived him by early September.

High School Fun Fact: At Arkansas High in Texarkana, Johnson rushed for 1,529 yards and 20 TDs and scored four times on punt returns his senior year.

“Hard” Plus “Travesty” Equals “Hardesty”: Former Browns second-rounder (and now just former Brown) Montario Hardesty (6-0, 225) has constantly dealt with knee issues and was waived by Cleveland last month after getting placed on injured reserve in August following arthroscopic surgery. Hardesty played in only 23 games in three seasons and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry.

Hey, we’re not being picky, here. We’re just looking for someone who can take on a few carries and spell the horses in the stable.

High School Fun Fact: In his senior season at New Bern High in North Carolina, Hardesty rushed for 2,002 yards. Also ran a 10.36-second 100-meter dash for the track team.

Where There’s A Williams, There’s A Waive: For a speedier option, the Pats could check out rookie Kerwynn Williams, a seventh-round pick from Utah State who has been off and on the Colts practice squad since early September. Williams fits the prototypical third-down back profile, measuring 5-8, 195 and exhibiting a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine this past spring. At Utah State, he totaled 1,583 yards rushing (6.9 yards per carry) for 15 touchdowns and 697 yards receiving (48 catches, 15.2 yards per) for five scores.

High School Fun Fact: Williams played receiver and running back as a junior at Valley High in Las Vegas before switching to quarterback his senior year. At QB, he averaged 10.7 yards per run (182 per game), totaling 2,002 yards and 31 TDs on the year. He also threw for 707 yards and added 700 total return yards for good measure.

Seawolf. Seawolf Run. Run, Seawolf, Run: Rookie Miguel Maysonet (5-9, 209) did a little bit of everything for Stony Brook, rushing for 1,964 yards and 21 touchdowns and averaging almost 26 yards per kickoff return. Maysonet became a Seawolf after transferring from Hofstra, which disbanded its football program. He has spent time in Philly, Indy and Cleveland. The Eagles picked him up as an undrafted free agent in April; the Chargers just signed him to their practice squad.

High School Fun Fact: In his career at Riverhead High in New York, Maysonet totaled 5,963 rushing yards and 74 TDs. So, that’s pretty good.

All We Are Saying, Is Give Pease A Chance: Rookie Angelo Pease out of Kansas State (5-10, 211) possesses decent speed (4.50 40), quickness (7.08-second 3-cone drill) and strength (25 strength lifts). At KSU, Pease averaged 5.6 yards per carry and 4.6 yards per reception in a limited role, yet still had the third-most yards rushing with 333.

High School Fun Fact: As a senior at Cairo High in Georgia (Go Syrupmakers!), Pease was named the Atlanta Journal-Constitution All-State Offensive Player of the Year in 2008, running for 882 yards and passing for 19 TDs.

Surely, Temple: After getting dismissed from Boston College due to unspecified team issues, running back Montel Harris concluded his career at Temple, where the 5-8, 208-pound bulldog rushed for 1,054 yards and 12 touchdowns. Though not a speedster (4.56 40), Harris does seem to have the requisite quickness required of a smaller back (6.84 3-cone). He had brief stints with the Eagles, Buccaneers and even the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the CFL, but has yet to find a professional home.

Choo, choo! Redemption train, coming through!

High School Fun Fact: In Jacksonville, Florida, Harris led the Trinity Christian High Conquerors (let’s not mince words, there) in rushing, receiving and scoring for three straight years.

Any backs you think might add depth to New England’s roster, let us know below.

Chris Warner enjoys watching NFL games on DVR 30 minutes after they start so he can zip through the commercials and catch up by the fourth quarter. You can email him at [email protected] or tweet @cwarn89

Forethoughts On Four Games: Second Quarter 2013

Well, Patriots fans, while you were watching the “Breaking Bad” finale – and by “you” I mean “we” and by “we” I mean “I” – your New England neophytes made their way to 4-0 by securing a win at Atlanta that ended up only slightly less nerve-wracking than a visit to a myopic acupuncturist.

A comeback win at Buffalo, a monkfish-ugly standoff vs. the New York Jets and a heartening tilt over Tampa have made for an interesting journey. Despite myriad injuries and adjustments, there they sit atop the AFC East.

These upcoming four games may end up as the toughest haul for New England, with an away game at Cincinnati (Oct 6), a homer with the Saints (Oct. 13), travel to the Jets (Oct. 20) and hosting the Dolphins (Oct. 27). All Sunday games, by the way, all at 1 p.m. except the 4:25 p.m. Saints contest.

If you want predictions, consult your local meteorologist. (We might as well throw a dart and repeat our previous guess at 3-1.) [Read more...]

Receivers Who Could Fit In Foxboro

Over the past couple of weeks (in our shadow roster piece and quarterly report) we’ve discussed various wide receivers who might provide some depth to the position while Danny Amendola gets brought back slowly from his groin injury.

Or, as they would say on TV, “gets brought back slowly from his groin.” Still annoyed that the word “injury” has become superfluous.

To put it nicely, rookies Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce still need work. The Pats brought in Austin Collie last Thursday. More on that below.

Anyway, here’s a look at some potential Patriots pass-catchers. We’re also including our world-famous (not really) High School Fun Facts!

Borderline Collie: We liked Collie out of BYU in 2009. He’s got decent size (6-1, 200) and what he lacks in speed (4.56-second 40-yard dash) he makes up for in quickness (6.78-second 3-cone drill). Still, after sitting this past Sunday, the question remains: can he play? Not just for the Patriots: for anybody. He had at least three concussions from 2010 to 2011 and – after 172 receptions in three seasons – stepped away from football in 2012. Certainly something that will have to be monitored.

High School Fun Fact: The Sacramento Bee named Oak Ridge High’s Collie Northern California’s Most Valuable Player. Had 1,654 all-purpose yards and 24 TDs as a senior along with 53 tackles and two interceptions.

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Patriots Shadow Roster (We Think)

The term “shadow roster” sounds ominous, but it just refers to New England managing the back end of their active 53 players. Every team has a call list of available free agents, it just seems like Coach Bill Belichick and Co. get on the horn with more frequency than other teams do.

Due to injuries and some depth issues at certain positions, over the past week the Patriots have been active with tryouts and personnel moves between the active roster and practice squad. With some of those transactions and players in mind, we’ve compiled a list of potential Pats who may see the revolving door in Gillette this season (as well as a few who already have).

We decided to focus on younger athletes, only because most fans are familiar with the likes of veteran Leon Washington and a certain third-string QB. In other words: move along, folks, nothing to Tebow. [Read more...]

Forethoughts On Four Games: First Quarter 2013

After a preseason that featured a contrast between early positive signs and a harrowing experience in Detroit (maybe not the first time that phrase has surfaced), New England starts the 2013 season with an intriguing mix of concern and potential.

No matter what happens this year, we don’t expect boredom.

The Patriots travel to Buffalo to take on the Jeff Tuell- and/or E. J. Manuel-led Bills on September 8 and host AFC East foes the Jets on Sunday, September 12. (We can talk about the useless, kill-the-golden-egg-laying-goose aspect of Thursday night games in some future column.)

Tampa Bay returns to Foxboro Sunday, September 22, followed by a trip to Hotlanta to take on the Falcons for the evening of September 29.

One loss during this stretch seems understandable. A special teams slip-up against an energized Bills squad; defensive backfield issues under the dome at the Falcons. Still, anything less than 3-1 looks like a disappointment.

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Forethoughts On Four Games

This season on BSMW, we’ll provide some thoughts going into each quarter of New England’s 2013 campaign. We begin with one of our favorite months of the year, August, due to the preseason.

No pressure. Low stress. Solid entertainment.

The Patriots play at Philadelphia August 9, host Tampa Bay August 16, travel to what’s left of Detroit August 22, and wrap up at home vs. the Giants August 29.

They might win. They’ll probably lose a few. That doesn’t really matter.

Here’s what we think does matter…

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