Cabin Fever Setting In

After finally finding my way out of the snowdrifts and to the keyboard, I’m back to offer a few frostbite-influenced thoughts on the latest happenings:

It’s amazing how much has changed in ten years. When the Patriots won the Super Bowl in February of 2005, there was no Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram. There was no FOX Sports 1 or NBC Sports Network. We had ESPN and a young NFL Network to get the recaps, and reviews from. Locally we had WEEI and whatever minor league competitor was on the air at the time.

The growth of social networks as well as increased competition on the television and radio side, both locally and nationally has led to a constant saturation of highlights, views, reviews and punditry.

The difference between 2005 and 2015 is amazing, and for me, its another reason I’m glad the Patriots were able to get that Super Bowl win in this new era – in many ways we got to experience it in a whole new way.

But, it’s already onto next season, as we talk combine and franchise tags.

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Can the Red Sox do another worst-to-first turnaround? Amazingly so, it seems that it’s not only possible, but many of the analysts out there are picking them to come out of somewhat weakened AL East. They’re also popular in Vegas and even in the UK where it looks like a tightly-contested season ahead with the Nationals and the Dodgers leading the MLB baseball betting markets at a price 13/2 respectively, with the Tigers next in-line at 7/1 from UK bookies Betbright.

Ben Cherington, after seemingly not  doing too much in the aftermath of the surprise 2013 World Series win got back on the horse this offseason and signing free agent bats and trading for starting pitching, while missing out on bringing back Jon Lester.

While there are still many questions around the team – young players, lack of an “ace”, the closing situation – the Red Sox figure to be much more competitive this season. Spring Training coverage should be announced shortly for NESN and CSNNE, and for once perhaps, the green fields and reporters having faux debates poolside at a Florida resort might actually be a welcome sight for the rest of us.

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The NBA trade deadline is this week. Coach Brad Stevens has said he’d like to keep the group he has now somewhat intact so that they can develop some cohesion. That is completely understandable from a coaches perspective, but I suspect if Danny Ainge can get more assets for his rebuild, he’s going to make deals. It still doesn’t look like it’s time to begin adding the “keeper” pieces, but we’ve been surprised before.

This team has been pretty fun to watch in recent games, especially their west coast swing, and that game against the East leading Hawks. While wins might not be the best thing for draft pick positioning at this point, they’re nice to be able to enjoy.

Congratulations to CSNNE’s Tom Heinsohn who will be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame for his coaching career with the Celtics. Already in the Hall for this playing career, Tommy should be also considered for the broadcasting wing as well.

Younger viewers might scoff at that notion, but Heinsohn pioneered much of how basketball is produced for television. He’s a lot more worthy than many of the names that have been honored by that wing of the Hall.

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Are these the 2015 Bruins or the 2009 Patriots? Is Claude Julien standing next to Zdeno Chara saying “I just can’t get this team to play the way it needs to play.”

A 4-3 OT loss to the Flames last night was the Bruins latest poor performance, and it sure looks like some major changes need to be made to this roster.

Round-By-Round Review, Pats Draft 2015

As of right now, Coach Bill Belichick has nine picks in the 2015 draft, including a potential third-round compensatory pick from letting free agent Aquib Talib walk: First, Second, two Thirds, two Fourths, Sixth, and two Sevenths.

Last year’s draft had some ups and downs. Early yet to see what first-rounder Dominique Easley can add to the defense, or what second round pick Jimmy Garoppolo can bring at quarterback (either at Gillette or as trade bait – not sure even William Hill has odds on which it will be). That said, any 2014 pick still on the roster will be treated as a success until further notice.

First Round –

2000: None (pick went to NYJ for BB)

2001: Richard Seymour, DL, Georgia

2002: Dan Graham, TE, Colorado

2003: Ty Warren, DL, Texas A&M

2004: Vince Wilfork, DL, Miami; Benjamin Watson, TE, Georgia

2005: Logan Mankins, OL, Fresno State

2006: Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota

2007: Brandon Meriweather, DB, Miami

2008: Jerod Mayo, LB, Tennessee

2009: (No Pick – traded down)

2010: Devin McCourty, DB, Rutgers

2011: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

2012: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse; Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama

2013: (No Pick – traded down)

2014: Dominique Easley, DL, Florida

Total Picks: 14

Successful Picks: 12 (sans Maroney, Meriweather)

Most Successful Pick: Seymour

Percentage: 86

Every Patriots First-Round pick has started for the Patriots; though neither Maroney nor Meriweather could be considered a true bust, each went by the wayside too quickly for us to deem a success. The noteworthy impact that Jones and Hightower have had in Foxboro has helped improve the defense to their championship level.

If you take out 2005-2007 (Mankins, Maroney, and Meriweather – again, all starters), every other pick has at least one Super Bowl win. New England’s top picks tend to a) stick around, and b) play.

Second Round –

2000: Adrian Klemm, OT, Hawaii

2001: Matt Light, OT, Purdue

2002: Deion Branch, WR, Louisville

2003: Eugene Wilson, DB, Illinois; Bethel Johnson, WR, Texas A&M

2004: Marquise Hill, DE, LSU

2005: (No pick)

2006: Chad Jackson, WR, Florida

2007: (No pick – traded for Wes Welker)

2008: Terrence Wheatley, DB, Colorado

2009: Patrick Chung, DB, Oregon; Ron Brace, DT, BC; Darius Butler, DB, UConn; Sebastian Vollmer, OT, Houston

2010: Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona; Jermaine Cunningham, DE, Florida; Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida.

2011: Ras-I Dowling, DB, Virginia; Shane Vereen, RB, California

2012: Tavon Wilson, DB, Illinois

2013: Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Miss; Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall

2014: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois

Total Picks: 20

Successful Picks: 11 (Light, Branch, E. Wilson, Vollmer, Gronkowski, Spikes, Vereen, T. Wilson, Collins, Garoppolo, Chung*)

Most Successful Pick: Light

Percentage: 55

*Chung returns to the successful list after getting left off last year. Dobson stays off for now, but he could find himself back on the list if he contributes to the 2015 squad.

When you start out grading at a B-plus, it’s tough to get down to what your teacher would considered an F. But this is statistics class, and the professor grades on a curve. The Patriots tend to take some chances here (i.e., ignore common knowledge) in terms of rankings, resulting in lesser-known players sometimes failing to reach Round Two expectations (Tavon Wilson) or exceeding them (Vollmer). They look past college injuries, which got them Dowling and Wheatley, but it also got them Gronk. So maybe that ends that debate right there.

The best argument for bucking convention? On the one hand, you have Jamie Collins, a college defensive end from a winless Southern Miss squad; on the other hand, trading up to get the consensus best receiver of the 2006 draft resulted in Chad Jackson.

And the Pats don’t win this year without Collins, Vereen, and Gronk.

Third Round –

2000: J. R. Redmond, RB, Arizona State

2001: Brock Williams, DB, Notre Dame

2002: (No pick)

2003: (No pick)

2004: Guss Scott, DB, Florida

2005: Ellis Hobbs III, CB, Iowa State; Nick Kaczur, OL, Toledo

2006: David Thomas, TE, Texas

2007: (No pick)

2008: Shawn Crable, OLB, Michigan; Kevin O’Connell, QB, San Diego State

2009: Brandon Tate, WR, North Carolina; Tyrone McKenzie, LB, South Florida

2010: Taylor Price, WR, Ohio

2011: Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU; Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas

2012: Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas

2013: Logan Ryan, DB, Rutgers; Duron Harmon, DB, Rutgers

2014: (No pick)

Total Picks: 16

Successful Picks: 6 (Hobbs, Kaczur, Ridley, Mallett, Ryan, Harmon)

Most Successful Pick: Ridley

Percentage: 38

Ryan and Harmon help keep this round respectable after some expectedly inconsistent picks. (We still think keeping Brandon Tate in favor of Chad Ochocinco in 2011 would have worked out better for the team.) Price didn’t work out, adding to the idea of playing Roulette Receiver in Foxboro: some guys get it, some don’t.

Quick Third Round snapshot? Defensive back and running back, sure. Wide receiver? If you’re feeling lucky, Bill Belichick.

Fourth Round –

2000: Greg Robinson-Randall, OT, Michigan State

2001: Kenyatta Jones, OT, South Florida; Jabari Holloway, TE, Notre Dame

2002: Rohan Davey, QB, LSU; Jarvis Green, DE, LSU

2003: Dan Klecko, DL, Temple; Asante Samuel, CB, Central Florida

2004: Dexter Reid, DB, North Carolina; Cedric Cobbs, RB, Arkansas

2005: James Sanders, DB, Fresno State

2006: Garrett Mills, FB, Tulsa; Stephen Gostkowski, K, Memphis

2007: Kareem Brown, DL, Miami

2008: Jonathan Wilhite, DB, Auburn

2009: Rich Ohrnberger, OL, Penn State

2010: The Tight End Who Shan’t Be Named, Florida

2011: (No Pick)

2012: (No Pick)

2013: Josh Boyce, WR, TCU

2014: Bryan Stork, OL, Florida State; James White, RB, Wisconsin; Cameron Fleming, OL, Stanford

Total Picks: 20

Successful Picks: 8 (Green, Samuel, Sanders, Gostkowski, Boyce, Stork, White, Fleming)

Most Successful Pick: Gostkowski

Percentage: 40

Gostkowski took Samuel’s place last year, but we’re going with Stork now. Worth an argument, but Stork’s ability to settle down the O-line on one of the Patriots’ most versatile squads puts him on top.

After trading away picks for two straight years, then Boyce, the Pats crushed it in 2014, bringing their Round Four percentage up from 29 percent to 40. We’re keeping Boyce on the list due to lesser expectations that those on Dobson (second-rounder); plus, Boyce’s athleticism could still get him a spot. Interesting to see what White can do next year.

Fifth Round – 

2000: Dave Stachelski, TE, Boise State; Jeff Marriott, DT, Missouri

2001: Hakim Akbar, DB, Washington

2002: (No pick)

2003: Dan Koppen, OL, Boston College

2004: P. K. Sam, WR, Florida State

2005: Ryan Claridge, OLB, UNLV

2006: Ryan O’Callaghan, OL, California

2007: Clint Oldenburg, OL, Colorado State

2008: Matthew Slater, WR, UCLA

2009: George Bussey, OL, Louisville

2010: Zoltan Mesko, P, Michigan

2011: Marcus Cannon, OL, TCU; Lee Smith, TE, Marshall

2012: (No pick)

2013: (No pick)

2014: (No pick)

Total Picks: 13

Successful Picks: 4 (Koppen, Slater, Mesko, Cannon)

Most Successful Pick: Koppen

Percentage: 31

As we say every year: We used to call Round Five “Koppen or Bust.” Now, with Slater and Mesko, we can name it “The Special Teams Round.” Cannon ended a rough streak of failed O-linemen. A middling success rate for a middling round; however, hard to overlook the impact of the solid selections.

Once again, the Patriots have no fifth-rounder this year (traded away for Jonathan “Confetti Man” Casillas). Considering how well they’ve done recently in other rounds, they may want to maintain their status and avoid the Fifth.

Sixth Round –

2000: Antwan Harris, CB, Virginia; Tom Brady, QB, Michigan; David Nugent, DT, Purdue.

2001: Arther Love, TE, South Carolina State; Leonard Myers, DB, Miami

2002: (No pick)

2003: Kliff Kingsbury, QB, Texas Tech

2004: (No pick)

2005: (No pick)

2006: Jeremy Mincey, OLB, Florida; Dan Stevenson, OL, Notre Dame; LeKevin Smith, DL, Nebraska

2007: Justin Rogers, OLB, SMU; Justise Hairston, RB, Central Connecticut; Corey Hilliard, OL, Oklahoma State

2008: Bo Ruud, OLB, Nebraska

2009: Jake Ingram, LS, Hawaii; Myron Pryor, DT, Kentucky

2010: Ted Larsen, C, NC State

2011: Markell Carter, DE, Central Arkansas

2012: Nate Ebner, DB, Ohio State

2013: (No Pick)

2014: John Halapio, OL, Florida; Zach Moore, DE, Concordia

Total Picks: 20

Successful Picks: 4 (Brady, Pryor, Ebner, Moore)

Most Successful Pick: One guess

Percentage: 20

Ladies and Gentlemen: The Brady Round. (Do you hear harps and angels? I think I hear harps and angels.)

Ebner continues to contribute on special teams, while Moore showed some promise as a pass-rusher. After several years of consistent meh, New England has hit on two out of three, with a pair of sixth-rounders this year. Can’t ask for much more from this late in the draft.

I mean, Tom Freaking Brady, for God’s sake.

Seventh Round – 

2000: Casey Tisdale, OLB, New Mexico; Patrick Pass, RB, Georgia

2001: Owen Pochman, K, BYU; T. J. Turner, LB, Michigan State

2002: Antwoine Womack, RB, Virginia; David Givens, WR, Notre Dame

2003: Spencer Nead, TE, BYU; Tully Banta-Cain, LB, California; Ethan Kelley, NT, Baylor

2004: Christian Morton, CB, Florida State

2005: Matt Cassel, QB, Southern California; Andy Stokes, TE, William Penn

2006: Willie Andrews, DB, Baylor

2007: Oscar Lua, LB, Southern California; Mike Elgin, OL, Iowa

2008: (No pick)

2009: Julian Edelman, WR, Kent State; Darryl Richardson, DT, Georgia Tech

2010: Thomas Welch, OT, Vanderbilt; Brandon Deaderick, DL, Alabama; Kade Weston, DL, Georgia; Zac Robinson, QB, Oklahoma State

2011: Malcolm Williams, CB, TCU

2012: Alfonso Dennard, DB, Nebraska; Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern

2013: Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois; Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers

2014: Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan

Total Picks: 27 (or almost two per year)

Successful Picks: 9 (Pass, Givens, Banta-Cain, Cassel, Edelman, Deaderick, Williams, Dennard, Buchanan)

Most Successful Pick: Edelman

Percentage: 33

I remember when New England drafted Julian Edelman. I had never heard of him. Ever since then, I scour NFLDraftScout.com for college QBs who could convert to wide receiver. Haven’t found one quite like him yet.

Hey now: 27 picks in 15 years? Why not? It’s a low-risk pick with potential, where some players who failed to rate as successes here still contributed in the short term (Beauharnais, Richardson, Andrews).

UDFAs

The Patriots seem to have a knack for finding roster-worthy prospects after the last name gets called on draft weekend. Some past undrafted free agents who contributed: Stephen Neal, OL; Tom Ashworth, OL; Eric Alexander, LB; Randall Gay, DB; Wesley Britt, OL; Antwain Spann, CB; Kyle Eckel, RB; Santonio Thomas, DL: Mike Wright, DL; Corey Mays, LB; Pierre Woods, OLB; BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB; Vince Redd, OLB, Tyson Devree, TE; Gary Guyton, LB; Brian Hoyer, QB; Ray Ventrone, DB.

Some UDFAs on the roster now: Ryan Allen, P, Louisiana Tech; Brandon Bolden, RB, Ole Miss; Josh Kline, OL, Kent State; Joe Vellano, DL, Maryland; some guy named Malcolm Butler, CB, West Alabama.

Our advice on watching the Patriot’s draft? Skip Round One the evening of April 30 (or tune in at the very end to potentially watch the Patriots trade down), check out the beginning of Day Two (Round Two), then wait until Saturday evening to see whom they select with their seventh-round pick. And by all means, keep track of undrafted free agents. There might be a Butler somewhere among them.

Chris Warner wastes time on Twitter @cwarn89

New Marc Bertrand/Scott Zolak Show Starts Tuesday

98.5 The Sportshub made it official this afternoon, announcing the latest worst-kept secret in Boston sports media, that Andy Gresh is being replaced on the midday show by Marc Bertrand.

Gresh will be staying on at 98.5, in “a variety of roles.”

Bertrand will also take over co-host duties of Patriots pre and post game programming.

From the release:

“I’m beyond thrilled to be moving to middays to work with Scott Zolak,” said Bertrand. “Being able to say I’ve been at The Sports Hub since day one is an incredibly proud moment for me. As someone who was born and raised in Boston, I know it is the best sports town in America with the very best fans. The loyalty of our listeners has driven the success of our station, and I can’t wait to interact with them on a daily basis.”

 

 

Super Bowl MVP Had Impact On The Field, Even When Off It

After multiple viewings of “Sound FX” and “NFL Replay” on the NFL Network, as well as “Turning Point” on NBC Sports, we’re putting a different focus on Seattle’s final offensive play.

As everyone reading this knows, the Seahawks passed the ball from the one-yard line with 26 seconds left and one timeout. Patriots rookie Malcolm Butler intercepted the pass, reversing the fortunes of two sports regions.

So, the question remains, why? Why, when you have Marshawn Lynch, the most brutish runner in the game, one yard away from glory, would you try anything else?

Tom Brady, that’s why. Brady did amazing things on the field, but he also did something remarkable off the field: he scared the bejeezus out of Seattle.

Take what Seahawks offensive coordinator Darell Bevell said to QB Russell Wilson before the penultimate play (on both “Turning Point” and “Sound FX”): “We still have a timeout. We’ll use every minute of this clock here.” Coach Pete Carroll, pacing the sideline, says, “Take your time. We have plenty of time to do this.”

You have to believe that – despite what Carroll would say later about matching up with New England’s goal-line defense – the coaches (along with everyone else) figured running Lynch would result in a touchdown. If Seattle had faced a fourth-and-goal at the one, then no question, Lynch would have gotten that football in his hands.

In the “Turing Point” broadcast, Carroll said during his post-game interview that maybe they should have run the ball, “But we had plenty of time to win the game, and we were playing for third and fourth down.”

We were playing for third and fourth down.

Now, back to the opposing QB: Brady had just accomplished what no other Super Bowl passer ever had: overcome a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. His offense had scored 14 points against the defense that had not allowed such a thing in years. No wonder Pats fans got depressed in the third quarter.

But Brady hit five of seven passes on one drive, then eight of eight on the next, leading his offense to two TDs in ten minutes.

Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column offered a thorough breakdown of those final two drives from interviews with Brady and OC Josh McDaniels, seen here.

Remember also: in the NFC Championship, Seattle had come back to take a 3-point lead with 1:25 showing on the clock, only to watch Aaron Rodgers complete two 15-yard passes and limp-scramble for 12 more, getting into field goal range with 19 seconds left. And, efficient as Rodgers was, he had two incompletions on that possession. Brady had two incompletions on two successive TD drives. (For a play-by-play rundown, see this link to NFL.com. Even more impressive to see it in writing.)

Carroll had that in mind when he didn’t call timeout. He had that in mind when the clock wound down. He definitely had it on the brain when he said he did not want to “waste a run play” at the one.

So, again, why not run the ball there? As Brady said in his post-game interview, “I’m glad they didn’t.”

Chris Warner tweets things at people on a regular basis. Follow him at @cwarn89

Patriots 2015 Draft Preview (Bare Bones Edition)

Note: With Bruce down and out with the flu, as well as buried under 6 feet of snow, Chris Warner is stepping in today.

By Chris Warner

This week, I’ve resolved to start restricting my views of Super Bowl highlights, though I reserve the right to occasionally blurt out, “Intercepted!” in my best Al Michaels voice.

After watching (and re-watching) New England’s final defensive play, the involvement of certain players sticks out to me.

Cornerback Malcolm Butler picks off the pass, jumps forward, and falls to the ground. Cornerback Brandon Browner, whose aggressive jam of Jermaine Kearse freed up Butler, raises his hand in the air and sprints toward the Patriots’ bench. Dont’a Hightower, who tackled Lynch the play before, rushes to Butler as defensive lineman Sealver Siliga envelops the cornerback in a protective, appreciative bear hug.

As we approach the 2015 draft, remember that each of these players came to New England in a different way. Butler answered the call as an undrafted rookie. Browner arrived as a free agent in March. Hightower came to Foxboro after getting selected in the first round of 2012. Siliga was signed to New England’s practice squad after getting released by Seattle in 2013.

So, as much emphasis as we place on the draft every year, we need to remember that teams get built in myriad ways.

For now, though, a look at this year’s picks. (Plenty of solid sources online, with NEPatriotsDraft.com as one of our current go-to’s):

Round One (32nd overall)

Round Two (64)

Round Three (96)

Round Three (Projected compensatory pick)

Round Four (from Tampa Bay via Logan Mankins trade)

Round Four (128)

Round Six (From Tampa Bay w/ Jonathan Casillas trade)

Round Seven (From Tennessee, w/ Akeem Ayers trade)

Round Seven (From Houston via Ryan Mallett trade)

That makes nine picks, which seems like an awful lot of rookies to add to a championship roster. For now, though, we’ll take a round-by-round look at the types of players the Patriots need and players they’ve selected for that position in previous drafts.

Round One: Lineman (Either Side Of The Line)

With depth issues nibbling at their heels (and knees, and ankles) on the offensive line this year, the Pats will want to add some talent on the interior OL. Securing depth on the DL should help, too.

Past First-Round Picks: Richard Seymour, 2001; Ty Warren, 2003; Vince Wilfork, 2004; Logan Mankins, 2005; Nate Solder, 2011; Chandler Jones, 2012; Dominique Easley, 2014.

Easley has battled injuries, but the Pats’ overall record with first-round linemen shows that they’ll get a contributor at least or a potential starter here.

Round Two: Backup Quarterback (Ha! Just kidding.)

Round Two: Lineman (The Other Side Of The Line)

If they get offense in the first, they get defense in the second, and vice-versa.

Past Second-Round Picks: Adrian Klemm, 2000; Matt Light, 2001; Marquise Hill, 2004; Ron Brace, Sebastian Vollmer, 2009; Jermaine Cunningham, 2010.

Remember that Vollmer pick? I recall having seen his name in some draft magazine ranked as a late-rounder/undrafted free agent who might be worth a look. New England tends to take chances here, and doing so on a lineman seems worth it.

Round Three: Pass Rusher

Yes, it was part of the game plan, and – save for The Juggle Catch and Some Guy Named Chris Matthews – the plan worked, but rushing four defenders made it seem as though Russell Wilson had enough time in the pocket to scan the field, make a chicken salad sandwich, eat it, and complete a pass.

As for the current roster, Rob Ninkovich celebrated his 31st birthday on Super Bowl Sunday (and what a way to celebrate). Chandler Jones wore down a bit and could use a young, dynamic bookend.

Past Third-Round Picks: Shawn Crable, 2008; Jake Bequette, 2012.

Not a perfect record here, but 2015 promises a great deal of rookie depth at this position, making it the right spot to find a solid pick.

Round Three: Defensive Back

Every team would have a drop off after Darrelle Revis, but Logan Ryan and, at times, Kyle Arrington helped raise the region’s consumption of booze and/or Lipitor on opponents’ long passes. Malcolm Butler paid off, big time, and the team should be able to find more talent on Day Two.

Past Third-Round Picks: Brock Williams, 2001; Guss Scott, 2004; Ellis Hobbs, 2005; Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, 2013.

Ryan showed up in spurts this season, while Harmon got the interception that sealed the divisional win vs. Baltimore. He has shown solid range and awareness.

Round Four: Linebacker

As athletic as Jamie Collins is, watching Marshawn Lynch haul in the same wheel route pass that helped doom Green Bay was a difficult way to go into the two-minute warning. New England could look for another speedy, quick linebacker here.

Past Fourth-Round Picks: None.

If Jerod Mayo comes back, and if Casillas continues to contribute on defense, the Pats might look at other positions; however, this seems like a sweet spot to seek out linebacker help.

Round Four: Offensive Lineman

So many injuries at this position. Soo many.

Past Fourth-Round Picks: Greg Robinson-Randall, 2000; Kenyatta Jones, 2001; Rich Ohrnberger, 2009; Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming, 2014.

New England’s riding a bit of a hot streak with last year’s selections. Stork starting at center settled down the offense and Fleming filling in as an extra lineman haunted the Colts rushing defense. The club will look to repeat this type of feat on Day Two.

Round Six: Special Teamer

In recent years, the Patriots have picked players in this area of the draft specifically as special teamers. In 2014, New England’s special teams made a serious impact (just ask the Jets’ field goal unit).

Past Sixth-Round Picks: Jake Ingram, 2009; Nate Ebner, 2012.

Ingram couldn’t stick around as a long snapper, but it shows the seriousness with which Belichick takes the position. The team could consider another receiver/returner type like Matthew Slater (a Round Five selection). Or they could wait until Round Seven…

Round Seven: Wide Receiver

Remember back in October when Tom Brady lacked weapons? Four touchdown passes to four different receivers? Sure. I guess we’ll take it.

Past Seventh-Round Picks: David Givens, 2002; Julian Edelman, 2009, Jeremy Ebert, 2012, Jeremy Gallon, 2014.

Not too shabby, considering the contributions of Givens and Edelman to New England’s Super Bowl runs. While the Pats look set at the position, it seems like a good idea to bring in competition for younger receivers like Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. The latter’s greatest contribution to New England’s cause may have been catching a slant pass in front of Malcolm Butler during practice.

Round Seven: Running Back

Pats look loaded here. It remains to be seen if they hang on to Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. They’ll have trouble trying to duplicate the latter.

Past Seventh-Round Picks: Patrick Pass, 2000; Antwoine Womack, 2002.

Pass, much like Brandon Bolden now, played a little bit of everything during his time in Foxboro, from special teamer to pass-catcher to blocking fullback for Corey Dillon (no mean feat at 215 pounds). If New England can find a versatile back here – say, a Bolden with better receiving ability – they should jump on him.

Any thoughts on what position the Pats should look to draft where, let us know below.

You can follow Chris Warner on Twitter at @cwarn89 

Why Sport Journalism Is Ailing (And How I Helped Make It Sick)

By Chris Warner

Before I prattle on about sports writing, please go online and buy Touching All The Bases, a collection of columns by the late, great Ray Fitzgerald. It’s four bucks. Go now.

Did you go? Good. Now, a few thoughts while my DVR plays back the last minute of the Super Bowl, again …

Sports are about the possible. Coaches, teammates, mentors, and (we hope) our own brains tell us, You can do this. You can make this happen. Rudy can get the sack. Team USA can beat the Soviet Union. New England can score 14 in the fourth quarter against the league’s best defense, then stop Seattle on the one-yard line.

You. Can. Do. This.

On the other hand, sports discussion is about the impossible: What if the 2007 Patriots played the 2003 Patriots? Could the winner of that game beat 2014’s team? Could Jimmy Foxx hit Pedro? What about Satchel Paige? Could a young Satchel Paige, drunk, shut down the 1975 Red Sox? 

What if the 2006 Patriots had paid Deion Branch?

See? Every single one: impossible to answer. When you have that kind of conflict: a medium of the possible described in terms of unattainable scenarios, you’re bound to get conflict. And conflict, as we know, sells.

(Speaking of conflict – and impossible to answer – what do you think the national reaction would have been if the Patriots had lost on a heartbreaking play and started a brawl in the final 20 seconds? Maybe some negativity there, one would think.)

But let’s back up a bit. Here are the main sticking points with journalism today, and my various levels of participation in them:

Be First

Back in November of 2009, I reported that NFL free agent quarterback Jeff Garcia was flying to Boston.  At the time, New England had only one backup QB on the roster (Brian Hoyer), and it made sense that they would try out a veteran.

Here’s the story behind that piece: A college friend of mine took a business flight to Boston and ended up next to Garcia. As I wrote in the story, Garcia said he was visiting friends. When my “source” (funny to call him that) asked Garcia if those friends were in Foxboro, he said “Yeah.” He didn’t elaborate, but the connection seemed obvious.

Within hours of posting that piece, two separate sources said the Patriots had not tried out – nor were they trying out – Garcia. The story got shot down before getting a chance to get any traction.

I still wonder what the heck happened. I could not have had a more believable source: I trust this friend with my life. Garcia implied he was headed to Foxboro. Was he messing with my buddy? Did the Pats get a whiff of the story that evening and put the kibosh on the tryout?

Maybe I should have waited, but then what? The Pats bring in Garcia for a tryout, and the next day I write something like, “I totally knew it!” Should I have written a coy piece instead, something about New England bringing in a veteran player for a look-see – details to come? I don’t know. I’d still like to find out what went on there.

Now, think about the consequences of posting greater gossip fodder. Commenting on a potential tryout pales in comparison to bringing up locker-room grumbling, or impending firings, or a league-wide investigation into whether or not rudimentary physics of air pressure apply to footballs.

That’s the trick of the Internet. Someone tells you something. You know you’re among the first to have the information. Do you wait for a second source, or do you go with it and, if you’re wrong, work out the details later? I hate to say it, but I understand the tendency for the latter. After all, if you’re info’s incorrect, you can move on to the next thing. A story can stop; the business of sports never does.

Besides, we all know we can’t believe everything we read on the Internet. Sometimes we who write count on that, because submitting stories online can resemble trying to paint a landscape on a Shrinky Dink: The final product often lacks the initial necessary detail.

Speaking of which…

Don’t Believe Everything You Read On The Internet. Unless You Want To

On the premiere of “The Colbert Report” several years ago, Stephen Colbert introduced us to the word “truthiness,” which he defined as “truth that comes from the gut, not books.” Since then, Mirriam-Webster has come to define truthiness (yup, it’s in the dictionary now) as “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.”

Did Bill Belichick order the deflation of footballs? Of course he did. Or, wait: no, he didn’t.

The correct answer? Even if we throw common sense aside, even if we want to believe the story, it seems highly implausible. Early reports on the topic used the terms “deflate” and/or “under-inflated,” both pointing to human activity and not weather effects on pressure. Also, 11 of 12 footballs were allegedly “as much as” two pounds under pressure. That term obfuscated specific numbers and downplayed a huge variance. Coffee can cost “as much as” 10 bucks in some fancy restaurants, but no one’s shelling out big clams for a medium hazelnut at DD.

That’s where the web becomes a light-speed version of telephone. Writers go with the “Be First” rule but can’t confirm; they send out teasers (tweets, posts, etc.) on upcoming reports in order to maintain their position at the “front” of the story while allowing time to suss it out. People believe what they want to believe. “As much as two pounds” becomes “two pounds each.” Our own Bruce Allen called out one tweeting nitwit who confused pounds per square inch (psi) with pounds (lbs). This Bumbling Bernoulli questioned the believability of Tom Brady being unable to tell if a football weighed two pounds under regulation, as if the air inside a ball actually had that much gravitational pull.

A well-put, insulting-yet-pointed piece on medium.com called “Deflategate And The Softness Of The American Mind” focuses on how the story got out of hand partly due to our ignorance regarding the science of air pressure. Worth a read. Combine a dearth of knowledge with a specific bias, and you get a rumor-based scandal. Easy.

The Patriots cheated? Pats fans (and science) say no; many others say yes. That has become an aspect of sports, or, better said, it has become the sports aspect. Most items of interest possess a sports aspect. Whether a defendant on trial should be found guilty or not, whether a singer in a contest should win or not: those are the conflicts. Those get attention.

As readers, we need to look for question marks, literally. If I’d posted “Garcia To New England?” then I would have gotten more hits. Seems like more people would’ve believed it more quickly. But as a journalist, why am I asking that question? Shouldn’t I confirm it and take the role as one telling you?

Last week I posted a piece on Bill Belichick, and I called him a cheater. Though I did so with a sense of admiration and even loyalty, I didn’t word it right, and my voice just melted in with the cacophony of those calling him out. I apologize for that. I have always admired Coach Belichick’s attention to detail, and much to my regret, I put football air pressure into the same category as scouting, personnel, and planning.

I believed initial reports. I believed what I wrote when I wrote it without waiting for more information. Bad call. But, these days, believing is not all that important.

You Don’t Have To Believe It To Write It

I have a hard time admitting this, but here goes: I used to write for Bleacher Report. This was before that site found its current format, when they’re going for legitimacy with experienced writers. This was when hits meant everything.

So here’s my most-read article. Ready?

Christ, this is embarrassing.

NFL Predictions 2011: Why the New England Patriots Won’t Make The Playoffs. 

Hoo, boy. In my defense, my first two reasons are Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth, but after that it devolves into the hit-seeking missal it really is. Not sure if it still works the same, but BR made it easy for writers to set up slideshows. First, think up your headline (e.g., “Is Tom Brady Unhappy In New England?”). Next, pick out photos from their extensive library. Last, write a few sentences for each caption.

From the aforementioned article:

Sure, Haynesworth has shown flashes of greatness, but only flashes. The big man might do some good things, but if he fails to bring any consistency, the Patriots defense will fail to live up to expectations.

Ugh. Again, I apologize.

Now, compare that “effort” with one of my most difficult pieces, “NFL Draft Predictions 2011: One Prospect Each Team Should Target on Day 3.” For this, I had to come up with a potential late-round draft pick for all 32 teams. There I sat on Day Two, clacking away on the computer as the ESPN draft ticker rushed along the bottom of the TV, hoping my candidates wouldn’t get picked by some other team that night. It felt like trying to build a card table on a Lazy Susan: if one fell, many others would follow. The fun I’d had leisurely picking out photos for the previous slideshow had devolved into scrambling to find any likeness of the candidates that could accompany two or three relevant factoids.

And after all that effort? Fewer than half as many readers as the “Pats Won’t Make The Playoffs” bumblefart. Plus, the draft piece got zero comments, as opposed to 73 for the negative take.

So, if you had a choice between toiling away with fact-based, well-thought-out pieces or doubling your audience with a quick, irreverent, possibly offensive sportstake, what would you do?

You might appeal to a broader audience.

People Aren’t Dumb; They Just Don’t Pay Attention 

Let’s look at this game review I wrote after the Pats beat the Raiders back in 2008. Due to injuries, Bill Belichick had coaxed Junior Seau and Rosevelt Colvin out of retirement, prompting this comment from me:

This is hard to say, but someone must: the Patriots as currently constructed would have a hard time beating Boston University’s football team, much less a bunch of professionals. (For those of you who don’t know much about B. U. football, here’s some history. You see my point.)

The joke here is that Boston University had cancelled their football program over 10 years before. Get it? Hilarious. In any case, here are a couple of reader comments:

“…it is extreme hyperbole that has no bearing on reality.”

“It’s a lot more than Boston U could manage, (were) they to play in the NFL.”

Now, most of the readers got the gist of what I was saying, but it’s difficult to discount the two comments above. I use hyperbole to make a point; it’s just some ha-ha-jokey-fun to elucidate their lack of depth on defense. But the joke gets lost, people take offense, and you end up admitting (for lack of a better word) that, yeah, the Patriots could definitely beat a non-existent college football team.

People don’t pay attention, and they believe what they want to believe, evidence be damned. It’s a pick-and-choose Internet. Ignore that piece from the “established” media. I read the real story elsewhere!

Think of that mindset as the so-called news broke about flat footballs. Think of the leaps in the minds of millions of fans who dislike the Patriots.

Think of the temptation for reporters to get in on that action. That, as much as anything, is hurting journalism.

Reporting has been a business for a long time. Papers – the so-called established ones – used to get readers because they told the whole story, and quickly. Now, with speed-of-light exchanges of information, accuracy and clarity might not provide the catalysts for proper business models. Besides, it’s football: we’ve really only got so-called news once a week, summarized in one game story and a webpage of stats. With fans hungry for material, something has to get put out there.

I could write a column with the headline “The 2014 Patriots Are The Best Ever And Are Destined To Repeat,” or I could write “The 2014 Patriots: Overrated,” and have that lede read something like, “I don’t mean to deflate your mood right now.”

We all know which one would get more hits.

Chris Warner’s on Twitter: @cwarn89

The Worst Call in the History of History

By Dan Snapp

REPORTER: “What do you think of the execution of your team?”
JOHN MCKAY: “I’m in favor of it.”

Nobody can predict the past quite like the sports punditry.

Somehow, be it by tea leaves, phrenology or maybe even sorcery, they all have the breathtaking ability to foresee that a play that failed yesterday isn’t going to work. It’s uncanny.

Second-guessing sports decisions has long been a cottage industry. It makes up the bulk of the morning programming on ESPN, where today they battled over who can best hyperbolize Seattle’s decision to call a pass play on second down from the one.

It’s the worst play call in Super Bowl history!
No, it’s the worst play call in the history of the NFL!!
You’re all wrong. It’s the WORST PLAY CALL IN THE HISTORY OF SPORTS!!!

That’s about where I change the channel, before somebody brings Neville Chamberlain into the discussion.

Columnists added their two cents. Here’s Peter King, once again wagging his finger at participants of a sport he himself never played:

To coaches: Don’t out-think yourselves. Marshawn Lynch, even against a line led by Vince Wilfork, is your safest bet to win a yard—and have either two or three plays, probably three, in which to do it.

To players: I will quote a certain coach the players in Seattle will not want to hear from this morning, a fellow named Bill Belichick. Do your job. Pick the corner. Fight for the ball. Don’t make a throwing mistake down near the goal line.

Exactly. Did you get that, NFL coaches and players? If you make a mistake, something will probably go wrong. So don’t make mistakes. Ever.

However, we’re sad to note King’s suggestion that the Seahawks had “probably three” plays to run the ball. This is a mistake. Get your house in order, Pete!

The stat gurus entered the fray as well, with fivethirtyeight.com and others applying win probability calculators, comparative tendencies (Pats D 32nd  in power situations + Sea O 2nd in power situations = BEAST MODE!) and your requisite narrative framing to point in the direction their guts were already heading, which is that Pete Carroll’s decision probably wasn’t all that bad.

Fivethirtyeight did, however, take issue with Belichick’s decision not to call a timeout with a minute left, right after Lynch’s first-down run to the one-yard line. More on that later.

The foregone conclusion is that Lynch running the ball on second down would result in a touchdown. But what if he didn’t? What then? He was 1-for-5 from the one this season, and went 2-for-4 in “and-one” situations in that very game. And had Lynch failed to get in on second down, you already know what the collective reaction would have been: Why run it there?!!! That’s what they were EXPECTING you to do!!!

Coaches are paid to consider all outcomes and to prep their teams for as many possible scenarios as they can.  Carroll’s dilemma in this particular scenario – second-and-goal at the one-yard line, with 26 seconds left, and one timeout remaining – was time. He expressed later his goals: score the touchdown, leave the Patriots no time, and have all four downs available to him. The last one may have been his undoing.

Remember that after Lynch’s first-down run, Belichick didn’t call timeout. Fivethirtyeight.com called this a mistake:

So, when the Patriots had to decide whether to call a timeout, there were essentially three paths to victory for them:

  • Seattle turns the ball over on either second or third down. Letting the clock run slightly increases the chances of this, assuming the odds of a turnover are higher on a pass than a run (we’ll take it as about 2.5 percent combined instead of 2 percent).
  • Seattle fails to score on all three plays. Again, leaving the Seahawks a little less time probably increases the chances of this happening because it forces them to pass at least once. And we’ve seen how that worked out.
  • Seattle scores. New England gets the ball back and then goes on to win the game (most likely by kicking a field goal and then winning in overtime).

But the smaller amount of time the Patriots would have under scenario No. 3 easily dwarfs the other considerations. Belichick should have called a timeout.

That all sounds reasonable, but there’s one factor missing: Belichick’s decision to not use a timeout helped dictate Seattle’s decision-making. Had he called timeout with 62 seconds remaining, Seattle would face no time constraints, and could comfortably call a pass or a run on all three plays. By letting the clock roll, Belichick put the pressure on Carroll and his play-calling, not to mention the Seahawk players, whose confusion had already led to two wasted timeouts earlier in the drive.

Moreover, calling the timeout wouldn’t assure that the Seahawks couldn’t still run out the clock. Then Belichick loses the timeouts, the time, and the game.

If Carroll had confidence they could get a rushing touchdown in two tries, he would have run on second, and say screw fourth down. But he went the conventional route, going with the only play call that left all his options open. Basically, he wanted three bites at the apple, not two.

Carroll figured the pass would either be a score or an incompletion, and nine times out of ten, he’d be right. Then he’d have third down with 20 seconds left and a timeout, and he could do whatever he wanted on both downs.

If a Lynch run on second down failed, then Seattle takes the timeout, and it’s almost a sure thing that they pass on third down. So the only way for Carroll to preserve all downs and preserve his playcalling options would be to pass on second down.

Belichick’s decision to forego the timeout turned the game into a 60-second battle of wills and nerve. The people second-guessing him and Carroll today have the benefit of never having played such a high-stakes poker game, where a decision one way or the other determines the fate of an entire season.

No play call has been this criticized since Belichick’s 4th-and-2 call in 2009. After that play failed, he was excoriated in the press, where they said his “arrogance” and “hubris” prompted the unheard-of play decision.* The media also said the call proved Belichick didn’t trust his defense. Perhaps that was true. On Sunday, though, he was the one trusting his defense, while Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were suggesting maybe the Patriots should just let Lynch score to preserve time, since it seemed such a foregone conclusion.

* Oddly, similar “risky” decisions by other coaches were hailed as “brave” or “daring”. Jeff Fisher, in particular, has been lionized for throwing caution to the wind with his frequent fake punts. Then again, he’s a natural beneficiary of the Jeff Fisher Corollary.**
** The Jeff Fisher Corollary: The amount of praise you receive rises in direct proportion to the number of column inches you fill.

All of this, though, misses the larger point: the players still need to execute. No arguments, no run/pass scenarios, no statistical analysis, no timeout decisions and no play call decisions can override that reality. In the end, the players still have to make plays. Execution is the key.

Malcolm Butler described how the Patriots had worked on that very same slant play in practice, and how Jimmy Garoppolo (playing Russell Wilson) and Josh Boyce had beaten him for a touchdown, because he wasn’t in position. Belichick stopped practice and told Butler, “You’ve got to be on that.”

When Butler saw the same formation in the game, he knew what he had to do, but he still had to execute it. Brandon Browner similarly diagnosed the play and executed his role.

Belichick’s decision possibly helped dictate Carroll’s decision, which then created the scenario. But the play worked because of the hard work before – seeing the play in Seattle game films, practicing it and correcting it – and the recognition and execution after, once the scenario presented itself again.

That’s foresight.

The Ultimate Answer

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on? It’s been awfully quiet on the national scene since about 10pm Sunday night.

It really is hard to believe just how many media-created storylines have to be scrapped following Sunday night’s Super Bowl win by the New England Patriots.

You will never again hear that the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl since Spygate. (On the other hand, you can continue to point out that the Denver Broncos haven’t won a Super Bowl since they cheated the salary cap.)

You’ll never again hear that Bill Belichick could only win with Bill Parcells’ players. (A ridiculous notion to begin with. Bill Parcells couldn’t win with Bill Parcells’ players.)

You’ll never hear that Belichick didn’t win without Romeo Crennel or Charlie Weis.

You’ll never again hear that Tom Brady doesn’t have as many Super Bowl wins as Joe Montana or Terry Bradshaw.

You won’t hear about what a colossal mistake it was to let Wes Welker go and have Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola instead.

You won’t hear that the team made a fatal mistake trading Logan Mankins. (By the way, weird coincidence – Mankins was drafted three months after the Patriots won the Super Bowl in February 2005, and was traded away five months before the Patriots won the Super Bowl in February 2015. His Patriots career exactly spanned the gap between titles.)

No more “Gisele jinx” if that was such a thing. (From the above, it would seem more like Mankins was the jinx.)

That’s not even counting the endless stupid storylines that were generated just this season by no-nothing columnists and sports radio hosts. Brady’s finished! Rift between Brady/Belichick! Revis is disinterested! LaFell is a bust! Gronk can’t stay healthy for a full year! Browner is below average! Jimmy G! Broncos are ALL IN! WEAPONZ! Etc etc etc.

This was the Super Bowl that handled all family business. From the very start of the season this team was under siege. In intensified tenfold during the two weeks leading up to the game, thanks to whiny Ryan Grigson of the Colts.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Grigson was a scout with the Rams when they lost to the Patriots in 2001, and with the Eagles when they lost to the Patriots in 2004.

All Grigson has accomplished is making his team a target for the foreseeable future.

It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying win. Even the manner in which victory was sealed – snatching victory from what appeared to be heartbreaking defeat – was perfect. The rest of the country looking on, rooting hard against the Patriots, thinking they’re done, especially after the third unbelievable last-minute catch by the opponent in three Super Bowls, and an undrafted rookie intercepts the ball, crushing millions. The videos circulating of various Super Bowl parties are hilarious.

Coming into the game, I was glad it was going to be Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth doing the game. I’ve had issues with Collinsworth in the past, but I thought the duo was more than fair in the Patriots games they did this season, including the Cincinnati game when they spend a good chunk of the broadcast mocking those in the media who were calling Tom Brady finished.

It was disappointing then, for me to hear them throughout the night placing such a focus on the underinflated footballs, even as the Patriots took the lead late in the fourth quarter. Earlier in the day, Ian Rapoport of the NFL had provided the most details yet on the case, which pointed even more towards this whole thing being a witchhunt, yet it wasn’t mentioned at all.

It still wasn’t enough to put any sort of true damper on the night.

It was truly a game for the ages, in which a new generation of NFL fans got to see Belichick and Brady ascend to the top of the game once again.

I’m still trying to process it all.

With A Little Bit Of Luck (2015 Edition)

(Editor’s Note: In December of 2013, BSMW presented this column on the role of luck in the NFL, and how all championship teams need it at some point. We thought it timely enough to run it again, with some parenthetical updates in the intro and a nice little addendum at the end. By the way, was anyone else hoping for Bill Belichick to “squeeze” the football atop the Lombardi Trophy and say, “Yup. That feels about right.”? Would have been fun.) [Read more…]

Video: What Just Happened?

My one caveat on this video, is that the one “fact” isn’t even fully confirmed. The original Chris Mortensen report looks shakier every day.