Ramble On Sports

Where sports, pop culture and everything else collide.

Belichick proves his genius yet again

Posted by Bill Koch on October 12, 2010

Can we all take a step back and realize that Bill Belichick is still playing chess while the rest of the NFL plays checkers?

He sent a wide receiver who wasn’t going to get his big contract, who was going to walk away at the end of the season no matter what and who was shut out in his last game with the New England Patriots out of town and got something valuable in return. He also just traded Laurence Maroney for Deion Branch, replacing that disgruntled wide receiver and keeping his star quarterback happy in the process.

Don’t believe me? Let’s break this down in excruciating detail for those of you who refuse to see the big picture.

Randy Moss had nine catches in four games with New England this year. He had zero catches while the Patriots rolled up 41 points on the Miami Dolphins and Tom Brady was still excellent in that game, going 19-for-24. Moss is well on the wrong side of 30, and you don’t get faster with age unless you play Major League Baseball and can use performance-enhancing drugs. He wants one final big contract to ride off into the sunset. He wasn’t going to get that contract in New England after he turned down Belichick’s offer to talk in training camp. He had one foot out the door, no matter how physically talented everyone thinks he still might be.

Let’s dismiss the talk about how much defensive attention that Moss draws, because it’s overstated at this point in his career. Perception becomes reality after a while, but that doesn’t mean it’s the truth. Darrelle Revis shut him down 1-on-1 last season, and he did it twice. Brady threw one of his worst passes of this season in Moss’ direction during that Week 2 embarrassment somewhere in the Swamps of Jersey, an interception disguised as a jump ball that gave the New York Jets all the momentum. It wasn’t the first time that Brady, Daunte Culpepper, Randall Cunningham or any of Moss’ other former quarterbacks have made a poor decision with him in the lineup. It wasn’t going to be the last.

Turnovers kill teams in the NFL, and Brady turned it over a lot less when he was winning championships by using his tight ends, hitting receivers on quick passes to move the chains and avoiding the rush by delivering the ball efficiently. Now that Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Branch and Brandon Tate are in place and ready to roll, look for Brady’s former self to emerge. That’s a guy that we want quarterbacking our favorite team. Moss was never a part of that mix. He was a luxury item who had stopped going over the middle and had become a decoy. You can pay Tate a lot less money to have him run down the sideline and be a decoy.

We all know that Brady threw a hissy fit behind the scenes when he found out that Moss was gone. That’s what every quarterback does when it looks like his weaponry is being reduced. It’s not a coincidence that the first name out of Brady’s mouth was that of a former teammate, or that said former teammate – Branch – ended up in Foxboro less than 24 hours later.

Belichick knows that if Brady isn’t happy, he won’t be happy. His team won’t be happy. His fans and his owner won’t be happy. He decided to keep everybody happy, and all it cost him was the same fourth round pick that he just acquired for Maroney. Did Maroney ever make anybody happy in Foxboro? He has now, and he has Belichick to thank for it. That’s about as close to doing the impossible as you can get. Oh yeah – the Patriots still have their own fourth round pick in 2011 along with six other picks in the first three rounds.

Check mate.

Advertisements

Posted in Football | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cox calls it a career

Posted by Bill Koch on October 12, 2010

We would be slacking on our responsibilities here at Ramble On if we let tonight pass without a word about Bobby Cox, the Atlanta Braves’ manager who walked off the diamond for the final time after his club was dropped out of the National League Division Series by the San Francisco Giants in four games.

It’s oddly fitting that San Francisco is the team that ended Cox’s storied career, because he is one of the true modern giants of the game. We won’t see many men who last two uninterrupted decades with any baseball team in any capacity ever again. Free agency and durability questions make it virtually impossible as a player while the crushing demand to win and the impatience of ownership makes it virtually impossible as a manager or general manager.

Cox has survived the test of time thanks to brilliant pitching (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz chief among them), clutch performances from a handful of terrific position players (Terry Pendleton, Ron Gant, David Justice, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Brian McCann come to mind) and steady, understanding ownership (working for Ted Turner is much less complex than trying to last under the late George Steinbrenner, for example). It was a perfect storm of circumstances that brought Cox to the moment when he tipped his cap to the Turner Field crowd one last time after Monday’s 3-2 loss to San Francisco. It was all of the above that helped Cox lead his teams to 16 postseasons, a Major League Baseball record that should stand for a long while.

Want some local perspective? Let’s turn to the Boston Red Sox for some examples. Theo Epstein, the man who built the team that broke The Curse, can’t do it – he skipped town in a gorilla suit once before and won’t have the stomach to last under this spotlight forever. Terry Francona, the man who managed that Red Sox team and still currently fills out the lineup card, can’t do it – his health has been in decline since the day he took the job due to the incomparable stress of dealing with 162 one-game seasons per year. None of their players will be able to do it – pitchers both young (Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard) and old (Tim Wakefield) won’t last that long, the position players who were the cornerstones are gone (Manny Ramirez, Trot Nixon, Johnny Damon) or almost gone (David Ortiz, Jason Varitek), the veterans (Kevin Millar, Dave Roberts) have retired and moved on with their lives. None of those men who made history of their own can do what Cox has done. Very few in the game that we love the most can say that they have.

Posted in Baseball | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Patriots Branch out, acquire former wide receiver

Posted by bdowd625 on October 11, 2010

ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news tonight that Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Deion Branch is heading back to New England for his second tour of duty with the Patriots. (Those of you who follow us here at Ramble On know we trust Schefter as much as our own mothers. Maybe even more so. Sorry, Mom.) In exchange for Branch, the Seahawks will receive a fourth-round draft choice, and since the Pats stockpile draft picks like I hoarded pogs back in sixth grade, they’re really not losing much.

We applaud the Patriots for getting back to their roots and re-acquiring a solid citizen like Branch. It doesn’t hurt that he’s still got some talent – Branch was the Super Bowl MVP back when the Pats edged Carolina during the 2003-04 season – and is, by all accounts, extremely close with quarterback Tom Brady. But let’s not get carried away here, people. This isn’t seven years ago. Branch – and Brady, for that matter – aren’t getting any younger. Branch, 31, has battled injury problems since heading to Seattle before the start of the 2006 campaign, playing in only 51 of a possible 68 regular-season games. He’s on pace for 52 catches this season, though, and he hasn’t hauled in that many passes since his first season with the Seahawks. (If you’re curious, Branch had 78 receptions and five TDs in his last season with Brady and the Pats.)

Don’t get us wrong – we welcome Branch back with open arms and hope this trade returns New England to its real glory days. We’re just not overly optimistic at this point. I guess we’ll get our first taste when New England returns to action following a bye during Week 5. First up for the new-look Pats? Baltimore. Bring. It. On.

Posted in Football | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Bruins bounce back in style

Posted by Bill Koch on October 10, 2010

This certainly was more of what we were expecting out of the Boston Bruins when they opened their 2010-11 season on Saturday afternoon in Prague.

The Bruins bounced back from a lame performance to shut out the Phoenix Coyotes, 3-0, and salvaged two points to bring back across the pond. Boston looked like a completely different team on Sunday morning, a team that we actually have fun watching. The Bruins were skating hard, finishing their checks, generating chances and playing responsibly in the defensive zone. This is the sort of performance that allows us to believe everything will be okay after last year’s postseason implosion. Let’s move to our five points from Sunday’s matchup to break this one down.

— Very nice Bruins debut for Nathan Horton. He added another goal and an assist on Sunday to make it four points in two games and looks like the perfect fit as the power forward that this team desperately needs. Boston is going to welcome this guy with open arms if he keeps lighting the lamp on a regular basis.

— We couldn’t help but feel like Milan Lucic is this team’s barometer after watching both games this weekend. Lucic didn’t do all that much on Saturday and we don’t think it was a coincidence that Boston was flat. He was much more aggressive on Sunday, got on the board with his first goal of the season and teamed with Horton and center David Krejci to form the best line either team rolled over the boards. The Bruins clearly responded with a complete, 60-minute effort and need an invested Lucic going forward.

— Tyler Seguin, welcome to the NHL. Congratulations on your first goal with the Bruins and we hope that there are many, many more in your Boston future. Seguin finished off a breakaway with a nifty backhand that put the game out of reach in the third period, a well-timed goal considering that Phoenix had put together a couple of good shifts and looked like it was about to threaten the Bruins’ two-goal lead. It was the kind of scorer’s finish that we’d expect out of the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft.

— Did anybody else notice that Daniel Paille was scratched on Sunday? Jordan Caron was an instant upgrade on the wing, giving the Bruins some youthful energy and playing with the desperation that we would expect out of someone fighting for a spot in the first 20. We’d rather see a young player get his feet wet and grow into a spot with the team than watch a veteran who has already had his chance and done very little with it any day of the week, and we hope to see much more of Caron going forward.

— Tim Thomas showed no ill effects from offseason hip surgery while pitching a shutout against the Coyotes in his first start of the year. This was the perfect example of why many NHL insiders consider Boston’s goaltending depth to be the best in the league. Thomas and Tuukka Rask will never have to play back-to-back nights during the regular season, can take a rest at the end of a long road trip and can allow any little injuries that they pick up during the grind of the 82-game season heal completely before taking the ice again. That said, let’s not turn this into a controversy. Rask’s team didn’t show up in front of him on Saturday – it could have been 10-2 instead of 5-2 if he didn’t play as well as he did – and Thomas benefited from a solid performance by the Bruins on Sunday. Consider these two men No. 1 and No. 1a for right now.

Posted in Hockey | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Umpiring controversy strikes MLB playoffs — again

Posted by Bill Koch on October 9, 2010

Another night, more umpiring fiascos and an addition to the list of ejected managers have stolen the attention away from the action on the field.

Welcome to the 2010 Major League Baseball postseason.

Bobby Cox and the Atlanta Braves were the victims again as they locked horns with the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series. The call in question had very little to do with Game 2’s outcome – no runs were scored and Atlanta’s late comeback was far more entertaining – but it brought more attention to a problem that is threatening the credibility of these games.

Alex Gonzalez was called out on a grounder to deep short, a mistake made by first base umpire Paul Emmel after he missed Aubrey Huff’s foot slipping off the bag. It was the second time in as many nights that Emmel had screwed the Braves, and Cox added to his all-time lead in ejections by getting sent to the showers early. Television replays showed that Emmel was wrong and Cox was ejected for arguing something that he never should have had to contest, the same type of injustice that has already happened twice previously in these playoffs.

Cox joined Joe Maddon (Game 2 of the Tampa Bay-Texas series) and Ron Gardenhire (Game 2 of the Minnesota-New York series) in the group of managers who have been ejected since the postseason began. The cause of all three ejections, upon video review, was a blown call. Michael Young’s three-run homer (which followed a disputed check swing that should have been strike three on a slider in the dirt) and Lance Berkman’s RBI double (which followed a 1-2 fastball from Carl Pavano that clearly caught the inside corner and should have been strike three) never should have been allowed to happen. It was a call that Cox didn’t argue that hurt even more in Game 1 – Buster Posey was out at second on a stolen base attempt and Emmel missed it, allowing Cody Ross to knock in Posey with the game’s only run in a 1-0 Giants’ victory.

Defending the umpires is easy enough. You can insist that their respective calls alone didn’t decide the respective outcomes of the games, and you’d be right. Not many teams are going to win games striking out 14 times and scratching out just two hits like the Braves did in Game 1. Chad Qualls shouldn’t have thrown a fastball down the middle to Young on his next pitch. Pavano should have buried his changeup in the dirt instead of leaving it ankle-high to a low-ball hitter like Berkman. I’ll concede all of those points.

But it shouldn’t come to that. We shouldn’t know Emmel’s name. Video replay is so accurate and could be implemented so easily that Major League Baseball has to act sooner rather than later. As usual, Bud Selig and the rest of his cronies are dragging their feet and will be forced to kick and scream before they do anything proactive. They sat back and watched when steroids and performance enhancing drugs shredded the record book and while the gap between rich teams and poor teams grew to the point where baseball has become irrelevant in places like Kansas City and Pittsburgh.

Selig should have learned his lesson when Jim Joyce was thrust into the national spotlight after he blew a call at first base on what should have been the final out of Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. The Detroit Tigers’ righthander had history and the crowning moment of his career taken away when Joyce ruled that Jason Donald beat out a grounder to first on what should have been the 27th and final out. Replays showed that Joyce was wrong and pressure was put on Selig and the rest of MLB’s executives to reward Galarraga after the fact in the record books. Selig chose not to do that (and we agreed with him, because that would open Pandora’s Box), but he didn’t take any steps to make sure it would never happen again.

The umpires themselves, a historically stubborn group, also share the blame. They insist that nobody hurts more than they do when a call is missed. If that was truly the case, they’d be pressuring MLB just as hard as the fan base to reform the current system and take advantage of all that technology has to offer. It took forever for umpires to agree to conference on the field in the name of getting calls right – they’re extremely reluctant to overrule a colleague. You think they’d take kindly to replay? No shot. What’s left unsaid is that the umpires want to get it right – on their terms. They don’t have the true best interests of the game at heart, and we’ve never thought that Selig has been the man to protect baseball during his time as puppet commissioner. This postseason is proving those points for us yet again, and it’s a shame.

Posted in Baseball | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Random YouTube Video of the Day: A trip down memory lane

Posted by bdowd625 on October 7, 2010

As you all know by now, Randy Moss is no longer a member of the New England Patriots. Still, we felt the need to post this old video of one of Moss’ touchdown grabs against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The whole clip is good, but the real fun doesn’t start until about the 2:10 mark. I can’t do it justice by trying to explain it, so please just watch. We’ll certainly move on from Moss as Patriots fans, but moments like this one won’t soon be forgotten.

Posted in Football, Random | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ramble On’s 2010 MLB postseason guide

Posted by Bill Koch on October 6, 2010

It feels a little strange to be starting postseason baseball without the Boston Red Sox involved, but that doesn’t mean that Ramble On is going to be any less interested in what goes on. We’ll be watching night after night as Tim McCarver continues to make a jackass of himself on FOX and new heroes are born on the way to the 2010 World Series. Here’s a brief breakdown of each of the Division Series matchups.

Tampa Bay Rays-Texas Rangers
We wish that Josh Hamilton, our American League MVP choice this season, had never jumped into that wall at Target Field and cracked his ribs. He won’t be anywhere close to the absolute force he was during the regular season and the Rangers will suffer because of it. Elvis Andrus ended the season in a terrible slump, Vladimir Guerrero’s resurgence will end now that it’s the postseason (just two home runs in 29 career playoff games) and the Texas pitching staff is largely untested on the big stage. Cliff Lee can’t win all three games for the Rangers in this best-of-5 series.

The Rays are simply tough to beat. David Price is in our top-3 for the AL Cy Young Award, fronting a young rotation loaded with power arms. Tampa’s lineup is pesky enough to give the Rangers fits and the Rays are so athletic that they’ll run wild on the bases and play great defense. Even with a gutless fan base that has no idea how to appreciate what it’s seeing right now, we like Tampa to advance.
Prediction: Rays in 4 games

Philadelphia Phillies-Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are one of the feel-good stories of the 2010 season. They were picked anywhere from fourth to dead last in the National League Central and surged to win the division behind an MVP effort from first baseman Joey Votto, a rare healthy season from third baseman Scott Rolen and a pitching staff that has one of the brightest futures in all of baseball. The problem for Cincinnati is that manager Dusty Baker has a way of making sure that any young arms – think Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, Cubs fans – have a habit of not making it to old age. Edinson Volquez has already had Tommy John surgery, Mike Leake is shut down for the playoffs and Aroldis Chapman is a couple of 40-pitch appearances from exploding in the center of the diamond.

The Phillies will likely be our pick to win the World Series when the time comes. They have the best 1-2-3 punch in recent memory with Cy Young winner Roy Halladay and rejuvenated studs Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Philadelphia’s lineup also seems to be getting healthy at exactly the right time, with Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez and Ryan Howard all coming off the DL late in the season to give the Phillies their trademark punch. There might be no stopping these guys on their way to late October.
Prediction: Phillies in 3 games

New York Yankees-Minnesota Twins
Is this finally going to be the year that the Twins get past the Yankees? Minnesota seems to run into New York every year in the postseason and comes up short, and the Yankees usually don’t need the help that bogus umpires like Phil Cuzzi tend to provide in key spots. The Twins are celebrating the opening of Target Field with a postseason berth, a reborn Francisco Liriano, an emerging ace in lefty Brian Duensing and maybe one last chance at a ring for aging slugger Jim Thome.

We’re not sure if Minnesota will have enough offense without first baseman Justin Morneau (concussion), but this series will be all about pitching – or a lack of it. The Twins have the deeper bullpen and New York’s starting rotation is in shambles after C.C. Sabathia. How many more postseason bullets does Andy Pettitte have in that shoulder? His achy groin might be the bigger question mark this time around. Phil Hughes hit the wall sometime in July (11-2, 3.65 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.1 Ks/9, 3.14 K/BB ratio before the All-Star break; 7-6, 4.90 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 6.6 Ks/9, 1.9 K/BB ratio after the All-Star break) and seems like a guy begging to be lit up. A.J. Burnett and his $82.5-million deal didn’t even make the rotation.
Prediction: Twins in 5 games

San Francisco Giants-Atlanta Braves
We’re glad to see Bobby Cox back in the postseason in what’s set to be his final season in Atlanta’s dugout. The Braves’ longtime manager is making his 16th postseason appearance, a Major League record that is just about impossible to duplicate while staying with one franchise the entire time. This season marks one of one of his best managerial jobs and he will be missed.

The problem for Cox is that he might have more energy left than his players. The Braves had to sell out in the season’s final week just to qualify for the postseason, using Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe on three days rest and trying to force some runs out a lineup that is missing NL MVP dark horse Martin Prado due to an oblique injury. The Giants seem to be coming on at the right time behind trade Tampa Bay bust Pat Burrell, electric rookie catcher Buster Posey and a young rotation that is as good as any in baseball. Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner will be a tough out for any club, especially one with the Braves’ limited offensive firepower.
Prediction: Giants in 4 games

Posted in Baseball | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Straight gone, homey?

Posted by Bill Koch on October 5, 2010

There won’t be anything boring about the New England Patriots’ bye week after the news that broke on Tuesday night.

Multiple reports indicate that the Patriots are working on a trade that would send Randy Moss back to where he started his career, as the wide receiver looks bound for Minnesota provided that he can work out a contract extension with the Vikings.

Moss’ contract is up at the end of this season and talks with the Patriots about an extension have either stalled or didn’t exist in the first place. He wasted no time addressing the situation this season with some ill-timed statements after New England’s season-opening 38-30 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Moss didn’t publicly demand a trade, dog it on the field or get into trouble anywhere, but he did make it clear that he understood the business decision the Patriots were prepared to make. As such, Moss was ready to make his own business decision and leave the team after fulfilling his contract obligations in 2010.

Spare us the outrage over this deal or the crying about New England being reluctant to spend any money. The Patriots have the league’s richest quarterback in Tom Brady, one of its best paid defensive linemen in Vince Wilfork and depth at virtually every position built through their old recipe of drafting and development. Moss was held without a catch for the first time in his New England career on Monday night, and the Patriots have rarely looked better than they did during their 41-14 thrashing of the Miami Dolphins.

Think the offense will suffer with Moss gone? Think again. This team won three Super Bowls with David Givens, Deion Branch, Troy Brown and David Patten as its primary receivers – none of those guys are within sniffing distance of the NFL Hall of Fame. New England is currently reloading with young studs like Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Tate. Wes Welker will still be here and remains the best slot receiver in all of football. That gives Brady plenty of targets, and he was excellent Monday in a 19-for-24 performance.

In addition, Moss is well on the wrong side of 30 and certainly won’t be worth the salary demand that he’ll make, even if there is no cap when the NFL returns after its suspected 2011 lockout. This Patriots regime under Bill Belichick is all about value, as evidenced by the fourth round pick that they just received for the human bust that is Laurence Maroney. Think they can con the Vikings into a second rounder in 2011? That would give New England two first round picks (its own and Oakland’s, which was stolen in the Richard Seymour deal and is getting better by the week) and three second round picks (its own, Minnesota’s for Moss and Carolina’s for the pick that turned into former Appalachian State quarterback and current wide receiver bust Armanti Edwards).

This is how the Patriots operate. Nobody is untouchable, not even Moss for all he’s done with the franchise since 2007. If he does leave, we’ll give you something to remember him by – Minnesota fans should know this clip quite well. They might be about to see it again live and in person.

Posted in Football | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »