Time Out for Sports Talk – No Bye Week Here
Todd: So the Red Sox win the World Series, hold a parade and the next day it gets dark at 5:00pm. Seems appropriate, I guess. At least New England’s baseball team managed to postpone the start of the hot stove season for a few extra weeks, and for that we’re all grateful.
Still have a few more thoughts on the champs (it’s even more fun to type that a week later), but lest I forget to commend my blogging partner Mike on how perfectly succinct he summed up the 2013 Red Sox in last week’s column. He wrote a lot of what I was thinking but was unable to convey into words as a result of my sleep deprivation.
In particular, Mike mentioned the importance of the Red Sox to the city of Boston in the aftermath of last spring’s Marathon bombings. That was proven once again at last weekend’s Rolling Rally, when Jonny Gomes and Jarrod Saltalamacchia got out of their duck boat on Boylston Street and not only placed the World Series championship trophy on the Marathon’s finish line, but draped the 617 Boston Strong baseball jersey the team carried with them all season on top of the trophy. It was a wonderfully symbolic gesture.
Further proof of the team’s connection to April’s tragic event can be seen on this week’s cover of Sports Illustrated featuring David Ortiz and some of the first responders. I strongly encourage all Sox fans to pick up a copy while they last.
Last week I gave props to many of the players that helped the Sox win this highly improbable championship. But it was more than just the guys on the field that contributed to the success of this club, starting with manager John Farrell. Talk about an absolute perfect fit between manager and team, Farrell earned the respect of the players from the very first day of spring training with his strong, selfless personality. Even while the champagne corks were flying during the postgame interviews, Farrell continued to give all the credit to the players and none to himself, the total antithesis of the man who preceded him and need not be named. Perhaps Mike Aviles would have been a nice fit on this year’s Sox, but there’s little doubt that trading him for John Farrell might go down as one of the all-time greatest deals in franchise history.
Of course, the man who deserves credit for bringing Farrell back to Boston and for batting nearly a thousand on all his other offseason moves is general manager Ben Cherington. Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Koji Uehara, David Ross, Mike Carp and Ryan Dempster hardly registered a blip on the pulse on Red Sox nation when Cherington signed them as free agents last winter, but without them there’s no way the 2013 Sox would have been playing baseball deep into October. Like Farrell, Cherington also refrains from heaping any praise on himself, but not many MLB executives can say they've ever had an offseason like Ben did last year.
Finally, the reason Farrell found immediate success and Cherington had (almost) immediate success is that the Sox ownership troika of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino got out of the way and let the baseball guys do what they do best. Aside from providing the occasional comic relief for sports radio talk hosts, the executive trio were hardly seen nor heard from and deserve credit for learning from their previous foibles.
Something I’ve said before over the last decade are my feelings about the Red Sox, which is a contrast to what Mike said about himself last week. Unlike my co-writer, I no longer possess any of the pre-2004 Sox fan angst. I watched the championship-clinching game with friends--at least one of them just as stressed as Mike was during those final innings--yet found myself fairly relaxed after they jumped out to the early lead. While I never assumed that a championship was an automatic slam dunk for these guys, I generally felt confident during their postseason run they would handle adversity just as well as they did throughout the season.
Another team that traditionally deals well with adversity is the New England Patriots, and despite a recent slew of injuries on defense, the Pats head into their bye week with an impressive 7-2 record. Last week’s 55-31 blowout of the surprisingly soft Steelers set a couple records, as the 55 points allowed by Pittsburgh’s poor excuse for a defense was the most they ever allowed in franchise history.
The Pats also became the first team to ever have three 100-yard receivers in the same game that also each caught at least one touchdown pass. As Tom Brady gets back more of his offensive weapons (and finds some new ones—hello, Aaron Dobson) his demise as a quarterback appears to be greatly exaggerated. Great to Rob Gronkowski making big contributions again, although I was a bit surprised to hear that his nine catches last week were the most he’s ever had in a game (could’ve sworn he had at least that many once or twice in his first season or two).
The question going forward, which I’ll discuss more next week, is can the defense—which had just started coming into its own—suddenly reinvent themselves in light of all the injuries? While it was good seeing the offense bail out the defense for once this season, this team will need to strike more of a balance between the two if it is going to make a legitimate playoff run come January.
How about some bye week picks to make up for starting our season a week late? I’ll take the Titans over the Jaguars, the Eagles over the now Seneca Wallace-led Packers and the Giants over the Raiders (so much for boldly predicting an actual Raiders win streak last week).
Mike: I think I've finally recovered from the Red Sox' run. But I still find myself looking for a baseball game on TV (on those nights that football isn't on), so I guess I need to wean myself off of it slowly.
Like Todd, I thought one of the highlights of the Red Sox parade last weekend was the ceremony at the Marathon finish line. It was simple, almost understated, and a perfect tribute to everyone that had suffered there. It was the healing that Boston needed.
Now turning to the Patriots, I'm glad there is a bye week this week, because I think we all need to step back and asses what this team actually is. Are they the offensive juggernaut that we saw against Pittsburgh? Or are they a young work-in-progress that will continue to struggle, as they did against the Bengals and the Jets?
The truth is, as it often is, somewhere in the middle. I think the Pats looked much better then they actually are last week because Pittsburgh is just a flat-out bad team this season. But I also think that teams step up their games when New England comes to town (or they come to Foxborough), and you occasionally get games like the Cincinnati and the Jet games.
I am taking solace in the fact that it looks like Brady and his receivers seem to be on the same page of the playbook, and the frustrating drops that plagued them in the early season are a thing of the past.
I was also surprised to learn that 9 catches was a career high for Gronk, like Todd, I thought that he had some higher totals early on in his career, but I guess I was wrong.
Anyway, I'll be anxious to see what the second half of the season brings!
As for picks this week, I'll take Tampa Bay over Miami, Indy over the Rams and Chicago over Detroit.