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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Week 3: Patriots vs. Raiders Injury Report

The traveling freak show that is the Oakland Raiders (0-2) makes a rare stop at Gillette Stadium on Sunday (1, CBS) to face the Patriots (1-1). In their 2014 home opener, New England is by far the biggest favorite in the NFL this weekend and with good reason, as usual the past decade the Raiders are a complete disaster. Oh and that joker with the bowl cut up above is the late Al Davis' mysterious son Mark that hit the genetic lottery (well kind of) and he's now the current owner of these losers.

The injury report was released this afternoon with six Patriots listed as questionable, one Raider already out and seven others questionable. Defensive lineman Michael Buchanan (ankle), Jamie Collins (thigh), Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder), safety Don Jones (hamstring), Shane Vereen (shoulder) and center Ryan Wendell (knee) are the guys on New England who could be out for what should be the easiest win of the season. Collins, Dennard and Vereen are the most notable; the first two were out last week in Minnesota while Vereen is a new addition.

UConn safety Tyvon Branch returns to New England with Oakland as a starter but his fellow Husky alum linebacker Sio Moore (ankle) has already been ruled out. The Raiders who are most in danger of missing out on this beating are cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (knee), Maurice Jones-Drew (hand), offensive tackle Matt McCants (knee), linebacker Nick Roach (concussion), cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee), defensive lineman Antonio Smith (back) and wide receiver Rod Streater (hip). Jones-Drew, Rogers and Smith are all former stars that might be washed up (why else would they come to Oakland?).

Sunday could be the last summer like day of the year in these parts so enjoy it but check in for my update before kickoff regarding the inactives.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Chandler Jones Named AFC Defensive Player of the Week

Coming off their 30-7 win over Minnesota on Sunday, this afternoon Patriots (1-1) defensive end Chandler Jones was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. His signature play-the blocked field goal and 58-yard return for a score-didn't even count towards this most coveted award but he still had the resume with six solo tackles, two assists, two sacks and one run stuff.

It was fitting that Jones picked up the first honor of the 2014 regular season for the Pats since other than cornerback Darrelle Revis, Jones is arguably their most important player on defense. It's too simplistic to say that New England lost to Miami (33-20) because Jones didn't play well (4 solo tackles) but you have to note that moving him from inside (in a 3-4) to his more natural position on the outside as a pass rusher allowed him to succeed.

Still only 24 years old in his third pro season, Jones had six sacks his rookie season and 11.5 last season; he also has four forced fumbles and one recovered fumble in his brief career. I don't think he's a Hall of Famer by any means but he has the ability to be a Pro Bowler that gets double digit sacks every season and those guys don't grow on trees, particularly if the defense is anything close to what it was against the overmatched Vikings.

The offense hasn't looked good for the most part through the first two games but this is definitely the week for Tom Brady and Co. to wake up: vs. Oakland (0-2) at Gillette Stadium in their 2014 home opener. If the Pats struggle at all vs. the Raiders, you'll know that something is seriously wrong with their offense. It's nearly impossible to predict NFL games but Vegas clearly knows something as they've installed the Pats as a 15-point favorite (highest in the league).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Patriots Get Back On Track With 30-7 Win At Minnesota

In case you haven't noticed, the Patriots don't lose many games (particularly in the regular season) so naturally when they do lose, we all collectively overreact like you read about. New England (1-1) went to TCF Bank Stadium this afternoon and blew out Minnesota (1-1) 30-7 in a contest that didn't feel nearly that competitive. It marked the seventh instance in a row where the Pats bounced back from a loss with a win the following week.

This also served as a perfect reminder not to read too much into early results, especially after Week 1. The Pats had lost 33-20 at Miami while Minnesota rolled 34-6 at St. Louis. You simply can't (or at least you shouldn't make any grand statements about teams after only a few games) but this served notice of what each team's reasonable expectations are for this season.

Of course, not having Adrian Peterson certainly might have been the biggest factor in this one and he wasn't even in the stadium. Without the NFL's best running back, the Vikings had to rely on Matt Cassel (19 of 36 for 202 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs, sacked 6 times) and you can tell by his numbers how that worked out for them.

The most intriguing part of the beatdown for the Patriots is that their offense didn't even do that much, meaning that they could execute at a much higher level than that. This felt like a throwback to the good old days that we always talk about (2001-2005) where New England got contributions from all three phases of the team and a host of different players.

Stevan Ridley (25 carries, 101 yards, TD) was the Patriots' top offensive weapon along with the ever versatile Julian Edelman (6 catches, 81 yards, TD; 4 punt returns, 66 yards) who has become Wes Welker without the Adderall problem. The weird part about this game was that Minnesota took the opening drive 80 yards in just seven plays capped off by Cassel hitting fullback Matt Asiata (AP's replacement) for an easy 25-yard touchdown.

It was all downhill from there though for Minnesota as the Pats reeled off 30 straight points to end it. Devin McCourty's interception return for the Vikings' 1-yard line set up Ridley for a 1-yard plunge. Stephen Gostkowski's 48-yard field goal on New England's next possession gave them a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter that they would never relinquish.

Tom Brady (15 of 22 for 149 yards) really didn't have to do anything besides a pretty 9-yard touchdown pass to Edelman in the corner of the end zone which gave the Pats a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Unquestionably, the turning point of the game and a play that we'll be seeing for years was Chandler Jones' (6 tackles, 2 sacks) blocked field goal then 58-yard return for a TD with eight seconds left in the first half. The Vikings were about to cut it to seven points, instead they headed to the locker room at halftime completely demoralized.

Darrelle Revis had his first interception as a Patriot, likewise for rookie Dominique Easley. Logan Ryan notched the other interception for New England who won the turnover margin 4-0. If you passed out in the second half or left to do something else, you didn't miss anything besides two more Gostkowski field goals (47. 27). I wondered if Cassel would be pulled in favor of rookie Teddy Bridgewater but I guess head coach Mike Zimmer didn't want to sacrifice Teddy like that.

New England finally gets their 2014 home opener-next Sunday (1, CBS) vs. Oakland (0-2), who is still one of the worst teams in the NFL so I pity the poor suckers that pay for tickets to that stinker. The best you can hope for is good tailgating weather since I don't expect the Raiders to be very competitive. Then again, it's the NFL so it'll probably go to overtime.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dustin Pedroia Slated For Hand Surgery, Ending His 2014 Season

In some ways, it's probably good that the Red Sox (63-83) only have 16 games left in the ultra-forgettable 2014 season. Dustin Pedroia has played through numerous injuries seemingly every season in MLB but at this point, even he had to swallow his pride and realize that it was best to get a jump on hand surgery (for soreness his left hand and wrist) rather than aggravate it any further.

Bigger picture: it is pretty scary that this marks the third straight year that Pedroia (who just turned 31) will have some type of procedure on his hands (thumb, pinkie and now this). With his contract extension, Boston still owes him $96.5 million over the next seven seasons. We all love basically everything about Pedroia: his attitude and outstanding leadership ability, the care-free way that he plays, his confidence and above all-world-class skill. I'm not a doctor but it feels like his small body just can't really hold up for a full season given the way that he goes all out on virtually every play.

I just hope that all these injuries don't take too much of a toll on him physically. He claimed this happened during the home opening series against Milwaukee which would explain his down year at the plate: .278/.337/.376, seven homers, 53 RBIs and six stolen bases. He still played Gold Glove caliber defense at second base but the lack of pop in his bat was noticeable especially coming off a great year in 2013: .301/.372/.415, nine homers, 84 RBIs & 17 stolen bases.

This will give him a headstart on 2015 and if the last four seasons are any indication, expect a bounce back year at least in terms of games played. He played 159 in 2011, 141 in 2012, 160 (+16 playoff games) last season and 2014 ends with 135 (he also missed five games with a concussion earlier in September). Similarly for the Red Sox as a team to recover from this disaster of a season, they'll need Pedroia to be healthy and playing like himself.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dolphins Outscore Patriots 23-0 In The Second Half to Take 2014 Season-Opener, 33-20

I don't want to have to resort to using it already in the opener of the 2014 season but how else can you explain the Patriots-Dolphins game other than saying it was a tale of two halves? After allowing a blocked punt and subsequent TD following their opening drive, New England (0-1) recovered to outscore Miami (1-0) 20-3 for the rest of the first half. It was similar to a basketball game in the second half as the Dolphins gained all the momentum and ran away with it by outscoring the Pats 23-0 for a 33-20 win at Sun Life Stadium.

If it feels like a while since New England dropped their first contest of the regular season, it has been. 2003 in Buffalo (right after they released Lawyer Milloy) was the last time it had happened. Apropos of nothing, the Patriots bounced back quickly from that drubbing to go 14-2 and win their second of three Super Bowl titles in three years. Besides the obvious disappointment of a loss to a division rival, who look like their biggest threat, the most frustrating aspect of this for the Patriots had to be how their supposedly improved defense wilted in the swampy Miami weather.

Ryan Tannehill (18 of 32 for 178 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) was OK while Knowshon Moreno (24 carries, 134 yards, 1 TD) tore New England to shreds for the second time in a row (he also did that with Denver last season). Tom Brady (29 of 56, 249 yards, 1 TD) couldn't do it by himself and he wasn't perfect either missing a couple throws that he normally makes in his sleep. The easy way to diagnose the loss was that the Patriots' offensive line was a mess with the Logan Mankins trade looking awful at least for the near future.

A few plays later after the blocked punt set them up in great field position, Miami punched it in the end zone on a four-yard touchdown run by Lamar Miller. You couldn't script a much worst start for the Pats or dream scenario for the Dolphins but it didn't last long as New England scored on their next drive (13 plays, 80 yards, 6:36) thanks to a 2-yard run by Shane Vereen.

Miami started to turn the ball over like it was going out of style, allowing New England to convert on three straight possessions. Miller and Mike Wallace (7 catches, 81 yards) both fumbled while Tannehill was picked off on an errant deep ball by Alfonzo Dennard. Stephen Gostkowski gave the Patriots their first lead at 10-7 with a 47-yard field goal late in the first quarter.

As expected, Rob Gronkowski wasn't on the field for a ton of snaps (4 catches on 11 targets, 40 yards) but he made it count with a 6-yard touchdown catch midway through the second quarter. Miami cut it to 17-10 with 1:59 left in the half on a 38-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis but New England answered with a 45-yard kick by Gostkowski with six seconds left.

It's not an excuse since they both had to play in it, plus New England has practiced in the heat and humidity for a while, but just stating a fact that they usually struggle in Miami (they fell to 15-35 all-time there). I don't think being there for Week 1 helped them either. The third quarter was all Dolphins as they scored 13 points to take a 23-20 lead. Two Sturgis field goals (24, 22) were sandwiched around a 14-yard touchdown catch by stone hands Wallace.

Back to New England's offensive line, they really struggled since they allowed Brady to get sacked four times (and pressured numerous times) while the running game only produced a paltry 89 total yards. Cameron Wake as usual was a force with two sacks and two forced fumbles (Miami recovered both). Moreno iced it with a four-yard touchdown run with 3:29 left and Strugis' 27-yard field goal closed it out.

It's only one game but still I'm bracing myself for a week of complaining and second-guessing which should at least make for some good talk radio. Julian Edelman (6 catches, 95 yards; 2 carries, 21 yards) was unstoppable in the first half but he got completely bottled up in the second half. Darrelle Revis' much-anticipated Patriots debut wasn't particularly memorable: he was beaten by Wallace for the TD (well sort of) but he deflected two passes away and recovered a fumble. Jerod Mayo (10 tackles, sack, fumble recovery) played well in his return from the pectoral injury from last season.

0-1 is not the end of the world but 0-2 looks more realistic for the Patriots because the Vikings (1-0) drubbed the Rams 34-3 in their opener this afternoon in Minnesota. New England will travel to new TCF Bank Stadium next Sunday (1, CBS) to play Brady's former backup Matt Cassel who at least for now is the Vikings' starting quarterback. Fixing the rushing defense I'm sure will be the main focus this week with Adrian Peterson, still the best running back in the NFL, awaiting New England next weekend.

Miami will try to go to 2-0 on Sunday (1) when they travel to Orchard Park, NY to face the 1-0 Bills. The Dolphins make their annual pilgrimage to Gillette Stadium on December 14 (Week 15) when you know it will be cold and miserable (advantage New England as always). Along with Buffalo's surprising 23-20 overtime win at Chicago, the Jets took care of the Raiders 19-14 meaning that the Patriots are at the bottom of the AFC East for once.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Week 1 Injury Report: Patriots at Dolphins

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick would like to welcome you to the 2014 NFL regular season! In case you are a new fan (yeah right) or maybe you just forgot how New England operated, Tom Brady (calf) was one of three Pats that are listed as questionable on the Week 1 injury report.

Cue the fake hysteria on the local Friday night newscasts! Rob Gronkowski (knee) and defensive tackle Sealver Siliga (hand) were the others that are 50/50 for Sunday afternoon (1, CBS) in steamy Miami.

Not that anyone besides Patriots fanboys like yours truly and their families know who they are but defensive end Michael Buchanan (ankle) and defensive lineman Chris Jones (ankle) have both already been ruled out for New England so they'll have more time to enjoy that famous Miami nightlife.

For the host Dolphins, linebacker Phillip Wheeler (thumb), defensive end Terrence Fede (knee) and center Mike Pouncey (hip) are all out. Guard William Turner (foot) is listed as doubtful so don't expect to see him on Miami's new-look offensive line.

Get plenty of rest and make sure to hydrate on Saturday in order to be prepared for a full day of the NFL on Sunday. I'll update this before kickoff when the rest of the inactive players are announced.

UPDATE 9/7: Patriots inactives are Buchanan, Jones, LB Darius Fleming, OL Bryan Stork, WR Aaron Dobson (ugh), RB James White and OL Josh Kline. The Dolphins inactives are Wheeler, Fede, Pouncey, Turner, LB Jordan Tripp, OL Jason Fox & DT Bruce Gaston.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

David Krejci Isn't Going Anywhere For A While

With training camp only a few weeks away and players already returning to Boston for informal sessions, the Bruins have plenty of business to attend to before the regular season starts in a month. First up was re-signing top-line center David Krejci since his current deal expired after 2014-15. Boston signed him to a six-year extension worth $43.5 million which makes him the highest paid player on the team. It includes a no-movement clause through 2018-19 and a limited no-trade clause in the final two years.

Krejci is 28 and coming off maybe his best season (out of 7) with the B's: 19 goals, 50 assists (most points on the B's) and a league-leading +39. He struggled in the postseason with only four assists in 12 games with no goals and a plus/minus of -3. Take a number though as most Bruins didn't play up to their capabilities when they got bounced in the second round by Montreal.

The knock on him was that he coasts through the regular season and then turns it on the playoffs. He led the NHL with 26 points (9 goals, 17 assists) in 2013 as the B's reached the Stanley Cup Final and lost to the Blackhawks in six games. Also, he paced the Bruins with 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) when they won the Cup in 2010-11 after beating Vancouver in seven games.

You can argue about if he should be the highest paid guy over Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask or Zdeno Chara but just remember: it's not our money. Krejci is a very solid player that every other club in the league would love to have. He was a perfect fit with Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla on Boston's top line last season. We'll see if he and Lucic can develop that same chemistry with whomever gets the promotion to the first line this season (please not Loui Eriksson).

Not many people say it but I think it's a legitimate concern with Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli that he gets a little too attached to his own players thus overpaying them both in terms of years and money on a given contract. Again, I don't think that's the case here though since Krejci is a special player.

Now all that's really left to do is re-sign restricted free agents Torey Krug and Reilly Smith. Boston has all the leverage with those young guys so that shouldn't be an issue getting them to come back. Looking ahead to 2014-15 (I know, I know) Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, Carl Soderberg, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski are all unrestricted free agents. Then Dougie Hamilton is a restricted free agent as well so don't be surprised if one or more of them is moved at some point this season.

UPDATE 9/5: Forward Matt Fraser agreed to a one-year, two-way deal for this season. Right now, there are two open forward spots on the Bruins' roster so don't be shocked if he makes the roster on the third or fourth line. Additionally, veteran forward Ville Leino got a training camp invite where he will battle Simon Gagne to see who is more washed up.