Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pats need help as playoffs near

The New England Patriots, the walking hospital ward of a team, are halfway through a perfect December, which was recognized as a must-do after the home loss to Pittsburgh, suddenly the NFL's hottest team.

And as the 49-26 thumping of the Oakland Raiders showed, New England is still capable of handing it to a team, including the kind they may have to face come January.

And yet, despite all of that, despite the fact that the Patriots have done nothing but their job since the last day of might not be enough.

Because the Ravens kept winning. And the Dolphins kept winning. And for a stretch, the Jets looked unbeatable.

And those close calls? Those unnecessary roughness calls on final drives, those lost coin tosses, those times spent overwhelmed by a team's throwback scheme? Those actually aren't as forgettable as we tried to convince ourselves when it was happening.

That close loss to Indianapolis? The overtime defeat by the Jets? The fluke loss to Miami? Each time, the thinking was the same. Once we get to the end of the season, it won't matter.

Welcome to the end of the season. And it matters.

The Patriots, Dolphins and Jets have all lost five times. But unlike the Jets, the Patriots lost two of those games in the division. Unlike the Dolphins, the Patriots saved all of their losses for the AFC. So here we are, at the end of the season, where everyone dusts off those tiebreaker rules...and finds out the Patriots don't own any of them.

So the Patriots need to do more than win. They need others to lose.

They need the Ravens to lose this Saturday to the on-again, off-again Cowboys for a wild card. Or they need the Jets to get tripped up by Seattle, or the Dolphins to get toppled by the Chiefs. And if one of those teams should lose, New England needs that team to win when the Jets and Dolphins play each other in the season finale at the Meadowlands.

And of course, above all else, the Patriots need to win. At home against Arizona, on the road against Buffalo. One loss doesn't mathematically nail the coffin, but it makes divine intervention the only other hope.

Hard to imagine an 11-5 team out of the playoffs. But unless other teams get into the Christmas spirit and give the Patriots a few games, that's just what will happen.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bleacher Report: The final project

The Internet has spawned rises in popularity of many fields and interests. Journalism is one of them.

From the massive amounts of blogs to creations as specific as iReport on CNN, the standards have changed. Originally meant to be reported by people with journalism degrees and press passes, the news is now being brought to consumers by anyone, from anywhere, with an enthusiastic interest and some free time.

In sports, it’s the same way. Fans from all over the country are getting a chance to follow their favorite teams, and notify the public of what they see. And they’re doing it on Bleacher Report.

Thought up in the summer of 2005, with a prototype appearing in 2006, Bleacher Report has quickly become what it labels itself on the home page, “the open source sports network.” Anyone can join. Anyone can write. Anyone can participate, evaluate and criticize.

But Bleacher Report isn’t just the home of massive amounts of sports journalism. It’s the home of good writing. Articles cover all ground, ranging from objective and balanced to slanted and opinionated, and include predictions, commentary, running game notes, and even advice for that other growing sports trend, fantasy.

And the site is only growing. Bleacher Report moved into an office in San Francisco shortly after the February 2008 formal launch, pays its staff members, and has its articles appear at the forefront of several hot sports topics. The writers are in the thousands, the funding is in the millions.

“We certainly hoped it would (reach this point),” site creator Dave Nemetz said. “The idea was that there was a gap in the world of sports that wasn’t being put on display, and if we got fans together, there’d be more coverage than anywhere else on the web.”

The beginning (map available here)

The success has come fast for a site that began with such modest expectations. The concept for Bleacher Report originated when Nemetz was a student at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. A Bay Area native and avid sports fan, Nemetz grew tired of the limited coverage he could find of his favorite teams, namely the San Francisco 49ers, San Francisco Giants, San Jose Sharks and Oakland-based Golden State Warriors.

Nemetz noticed his best chance of following his teams was on the internet. Soon after, he found blogs, a sign that sports news existed beyond the pages of the Los Angeles Times.

“What drove me to create the site was that I grew dependent on the internet to get news on my favorite teams,” he said. “I discovered blogs about my favorite teams, and some of them were good. It struck me that there were fans out there capable of good insight.”

He wasn’t alone. Enlisting the help of close friends and fellow Bay Area natives Dave Finocchio, Bryan Goldberg and Zander Freund, the group went to work on a website prototype. Though they had an idea of what they wanted the site to be, and websites to serve as inspirations, the specifics had not yet been worked out.

“When we started out, we didn’t know where we were headed,” Nemetz said. “College Humor was an example, and Wikipedia has been an example of what we try to do. And ESPN has been the golden standard of things.”

According to Freund, now the site's community general manager, in charge of promoting member interaction and building up the site's community, it was clear amongst the four what they didn't want the site to become.

“We didn't try to be a catch-all web 2.0 sports site from the get-go. We created an identity early on and have stuck to that identity for the most part,” he said in an e-mail. “We didn't try to be a sports betting site/fantasy games site/sports chatroom/celebrity sports gossip site all rolled into one. We started out as and continue to be the place where fan-journalists come to publish their opinions on the world of sports and engage in stimulating debate.”

With continued effort from Nemetz in Los Angeles, Finocchio in Chicago, Goldberg in San Francisco and Freund in New London, Conn., the prototype was finished. Soon after, in Menlo Park, Calif., the website was launched. The content, originally, was provided only by the co-founders and focused only on Bay Area teams.

It didn’t last that way for long.

“We always intended to cover a broad range of sports. We didn’t have just the California focus. We never tried to limit it,” Nemetz said. “We’d take writers from wherever we could get them. We started with ourselves, and kept going from there.”

Freund said that the website is now at a point where its content surpasses that of other sports networks, including the one in Bristol, Conn.

“We provide a far greater breadth of coverage than that of any other sports media outlet,” he said. “We publish 500 and counting original editorials per day, compared to sites like ESPN which publish less than 20. On Bleacher Report you can find original editorial analysis on just about anything that matters in the world of sports.”

Maintaining quality

Shortly after launching, the site began to grow. Writers joined from all over the country, enchanted by the idea of writing about their teams and seeing their names attached to their products. Staff positions were created, some of which were aimed at keeping the writing at a consistent quality.

One of those positions, managing editor, went to Ryan Alberti, who turned his eagerness for people to read his writing into an eagerness to improve the writing of others.

“I got started with Bleacher Report just as the site was getting off the ground,” Alberti said. “I was motivated by authorial vanity as much as anything else. There was definitely an ego kick involved in seeing my work published on the web.

“Over time, that thrill yielded to the satisfaction of helping other writers polish their own work.”

Alberti’s position enables him to clean up the content of the site if necessary, and the site is designed to have the higher-quality stories make it to the front of the page. Even with those steps in place, he said that the writers on the site are talented enough to make his job easier. As the site has grown, some of the stories written by Bleacher Report writers have been picked up by other companies.

As its writers are being featured more prominently, Bleacher Report is getting noticed and regarded more and more by the online community. Mark Hendrickson of Tech Crunch is an example of a fan of the Bleacher Report style, saying that the site reminded him "how knowledgeable and opinionated about sports that [sic] ordinary people can be."

Alberti said there are ways that the site makes sure its best writing is the material getting viewed by outsiders.

“Factors like article relevance, user ratings, and writer ranking are weighted most heavily in assigning placement,” Alberti said. “In general, the system does a pretty decent job of letting the cream rise to the top.

“That said, the quality of the work on the site is and always will be determined by the quality of Bleacher Report writers. Bleacher Report is just a platform. It's the writers who provide the content. If the work is good, it’s because the writers are good—nothing more and nothing less.”

“An open platform”

Bleacher Report’s fast start can be attributed to the same fact that makes for a bright future: There are plenty of sports fans, and there are plenty of sports fans that are determined to have their opinions heard.

“I think the site has become not only a community, but an addiction for some people,” said Bleacher Report editor Tim Coughlin, a Northeastern alum, former Patriot Ledger sports co-op and current Brockton Enterprise part-timer. “Some people are totally absorbed. I've seen people admit they started spending three hours a day on the site cold upon discovering it.”

Joe Beare, a journalism major at Northeastern who worked as a sports writer for the Patriot Ledger and is a Bleacher Report contributor, agreed, while echoing Nemetz’s feelings towards spotty coverage of his favorite teams.

“I originally joined Bleacher Report as a San Jose Sharks writer because I felt that the fanbase was being misrepresented in the main stream media by poor, uninformed journalistic coverage,” he said. “Bleacher Report has managed to do so well because its readership and its writers are one in the same, primarily.”

From the disenchanted fan to the writer looking to see his name published, to the up-and-coming journalist looking to get connected to a growing site, Bleacher Report is giving a pen to a nation of sports enthusiasts, eager to show they can write a little bit, too.

“It’s really an open platform,” Nemetz said. “In many cases, it’s the fan looking to get their voice out there, or the aspiring writer looking to enhance their portfolio.

“I’m incredibly proud. It’s been a lot of hard work, with no guarantee it was going to work out. But it continues to grow, and it’s been an amazing experience.”

Monday, December 8, 2008

Stayin' alive

It wasn't pretty. But at this point in the season, it rarely is.

After seemingly waiting three quarters for their game to complete the trip to the west coast, the New England Patriots staged a fourth-quarter rally to defeat the Seattle Seahawks, 24-21.

Entering December, it was clear that the Patriots had to win out to have a reasonable chance at the playoffs. Against the lowly Seahawks, it seemed to be an easy way to kick off the high-pressure month. It was anything but.

The same old problems re-emerged. The defense showed its age in its inability to stop the quicker players on the field (such as quarterback Seneca Wallace and wide receiver Deion Branch - remember him?), and an overmatched secondary was again the reason behind New England's inability to stop Seattle on third down.

Another problem - injuries - again hit the Pats hard. Venerable linebacker Tedy Bruschi left the game with a knee injury, forcing Rosevelt Colvin and Junior Seau, who weren't on the team a week ago, onto a lot sooner and more often than expected.

But unlike the Pittsburgh game a week ago, the same old strengths were there to take control of the game late. The defense, led by Brandon Meriweather and Jerod Mayo, made crucial drive stops late in the game, allowing Wes Welker, who returned from a vicious hit to make 12 catches for 134 yards, and Matt Cassel to march down the field.

The Patriots had to work for the victory, however. Wallace had thrown for three touchdowns, two to former Patriot Branch, by the fourth quarter, and New England was down, 21-13.

With the season in the balance, Cassel responded. He drove the Patriots deep into Seattle territory, resulting in a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Taking over again after a critical New England stop, Cassel's second drive was better than the first. He completed a 13-yard pass to Welker on third down, then hit Welker again with a 25-yard pass that brought New England to the Seattle 6-yard line.

On fourth-and-goal, Sammy Morris scored on a one-yard run for the go-ahead score, with - who else - Welker catching the two-point conversion for the final points.

Though the game was closer than anticipated, the Patriots showed the traits of a playoff team late in the game. The defense, which adjusted to the Bruschi injury admirably and professionally, shut out the Seahawks when it was needed the most, and the offense did the rest to keep the Patriots alive in a suddenly deadlocked AFC East.

The playoffs still aren't a certainty. New England needs help. But at this point, it's good to see that the Patriots are helping themselves.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Good, interesting performance by Adam Gaffin, the founder of, on Wednesday. It's always neat to hear from people who started with simple blogs (like all of us in the class) who then see it develop into something huge and renowned. Sometimes, it's a result of hard work and dedication. Other times, it's just what happens when you get a unique idea.

With Mr. Gaffin and UniversalHub, it appears to be a little of both. He had the unprecedented idea of putting together a roundup of Boston news, rather than having to read each individual source for information. He is also very committed to the blog, as his frequent posts and wide range of stories pulled from around the internet would suggest. And yet, I was surprised by what he gave for the hours he spends at work on the site. He said he works on it in his off time at work, and when he's exercising at home. Unless he has around seven hours of free time at his job (which I doubt), he's packing a lot of hard work into the spare minutes he has.

The advertising aspect to UniversalHub speaks more for the uniqueness of the site. Mr. Gaffin said the site pulls in around $15,000 net a year, and he said himself that he doesn't spend the time on advertising that could be spent on a site of this much recognition. That means that companies are looking for and finding him and his site, and are looking to get connected with UniversalHub.

Mr. Gaffin mentioned his main news interests for the site, which included stories about the T, and anything in towns that blow up. That is another reason for UniversalHub's effectiveness and popularity; you don't have to look far to find interesting subjects. Boston is home to plenty of interesting news, and UniversalHub helps you find it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sackman Returns

Of the multitude of problems stemming from the 33-10 loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday, the pass rush was one of the chief concerns. Belichick and Co. didn't waste any time fixing it, and they didn't have to turn too far for help.

The Patriots re-signed linebacker Rosevelt Colvin Wednesday, filling a roster spot left open when nickelback Jason Webster was placed on IR.

New England's pass rush had deteriorated significantly with the loss of Adalius Thomas (broken forearm) and the drop in sack totals from Mike Vrabel (12 last year to three this year) and Jarvis Green (6.5 to zero). If Colvin is anywhere near his form during his prior Patriots career, this could be a major help, just in time for a playoff push.

Colvin's five-year stint with New England was marred by injury (including a potentially devastating, season-ending broken hip two games into his first season), and ended due to a high salary-cap figure, but it was impossible to deny the outside linebacker's pass-rushing ability when healthy. He had 26.5 sacks in 61 games from 2003-07, and led the team in 2006 and 2005 and was third in 2004, his first year back from the career-threatening injury.

Colvin could defend the pass, he was able to stop then run, he could notch an interception or two. But that wasn't what he was paid to do. His job was to rush the quarterback.

The signing also adds another wrinkle to the playoffs, should New England make it. Adalius Thomas, arguably the team's best all-around linebacker, is out with what has been reported as a season-ending arm injury. Despite the ominous diagnosis, we are three weeks removed from the injury, and Thomas, still, is not on injured reserve. Because there is no sense to keep a player with no hope of returning active (see Rodney Harrison and Tom Brady), it's fair to assume that Belichick is holding out hope that Thomas can return in time for the playoffs.

If that's the case, with Colvin and Thomas, New England could see its pass rush improve drastically. But first, the Patriots have to get there.

With the return of the Sackman, those prospects are looking better.

Twitter feeds

In our class on Monday, we looked at using Twitter as a journalism tool, and at the various news organizations and personalities that have used the site to further their effectiveness. Here are some I noticed on the site:

1. The Boston Globe Patriots feed. Due to the nature of this blog, this would seem to be a good feed to look at. It is pretty complete, with links to all of the Globe's coverage available. Furthermore, it's a fast-updating site. For example, the hot topic of the day was Rosevelt Colvin's resigning with the team, which was made official this morning. There were already four articles published on the subject in four hours, one of which was a locker room interview. That type of attention to updating material is often the sign of a healthy feed, which it appears the Globe's Patriot site is.

2. Barack Obama has a twitter feed as well. Or at least his campaign does. Anybody researching Obama, looking to analyze his approach to the presidency or trying to find an example of his politics can make good use of this feed. You can find a long list of his speeches on the feed, so if you were looking to prove that he is flip-flopping on a particular issue, you could trace down the individual rally that could serve your point. As it may be easy to understand, a Washington reporter could make good use of this feed.

3. The Patriot Ledger is also getting in on Twitter mania. For a newspaper feed, this one isn't great. It appears to just be a glorified RSS, and with hardly enough updates (sometimes going 10-12 days without one), it can't be confused for being the most up-to-date news source in the world. It does have links to the stories, however, so it qualifies as functional.

4. And would you look at that. Darth Vader has a feed. The journalistic merit may not quite be up to snuff, but the feed is essentially a Darth Vader blog. We've talked in class about how the line between blogging and journalism can be blurred or, in some cases, gotten rid of. If you're looking for humorous Star Wars material for a multiple-years-old movie review, this is your site.

All in all, I see the good that Twitter can do, but most sites seem to simply turn their feeds into RSS knockoffs. I'm not sure whether that's a fault of the individual members or the makeup of the site, however, I'm not convinced that Twitter is the same revolutionary tool that sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Google Reader have been.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rain pain

Just when you think they're back among the AFC elite, the 2008 New England Patriots consistently return your expectations to Earth.

Riding high after a high-energy victory in Miami, the Patriots returned home to face frigid, drenching rain and the NFL's best defense, factors that didn't bode well in a 33-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After a game in South Florida in which seemingly everything went right, nothing did in Foxboro. In the second half, anyway. In the first half, New England, despite key drops from the ultra-reliable Randy Moss (one for a sure touchdown with seconds remaining until halftime) and a botched chip shot field goal from the even-more-reliable Stephen Gostkowski, was tied with the Steelers, 10-10. Furthermore, they were generating more offensive chances than Pittsburgh and had the ball to start the second half.

It didn't matter, as the Pats regressed at an alarming rate. Fumble on the kickoff. Pittsburgh field goal. Fumble by Cassel. Pittsburgh touchdown. Another fumble by Cassel. Pittsburgh field goal. Interception by Cassel. Suddenly, a game that New England was verging on putting away before halftime was a laugher in all the wrong ways.

New England resembled a heavyweight contender keeping pace through eight tough rounds in the heavyweight championship, then getting floored on the first punch of the ninth. New England was a drop by Moss away from making a statement. They ended up three scores behind the opportunistic Steelers, and a lot further from being a realistic AFC playoff contender.

It's a mistake to count the Patriots out of the playoffs. They have four winnable games coming up, while Baltimore (in possession of the second wild card spot) has to play this same scary Steelers team again, as well as the Redskins and Cowboys. If the Patriots win out, they'll finish 11-5. That should be good enough to play in January.

But who knows how well? On Sunday, Patriots fans saw an offense that compiled over 1,000 yards the past two games fail to catch and hold on to the football, and a defense playing against an O.K. Steelers offense in drenching rain somehow allow 33 points. These factors can't be ignored. For the Patriots to make an impression in the playoffs, they'll have to live with them.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Patriots finish off the Fins

Tom Brady may be out for the season, but the 2007 Patriots appear to be back in swing.

Led again by a scorching Matt Cassel, New England defeated Miami in a rematch, 48-28, putting them back atop the list of top AFC playoff contenders.

Furthermore, the victory kept the Patriots in contention in the competitive AFC East, while a loss meant a 6-5 record, another conference defeat and sinking to the near bottom of the division.

Cassel didn't let that happen, and this time, he used the services of one Randy Moss early and often. The first-year starter gunned for 415 yards, 125 to Moss, and three touchdowns, all to No. 81. Cassel also ran for a score, was sacked only twice (one of which he negated by throwing a first-down strike to Jabar Gaffney on the next play) and threw only one interception. Cassel even shined on the pick, throwing the ball right to the hands of Moss, who couldn't haul it in and allowed Jason Allen to come away with the interception.

But despite the prowess of the offense, which amassed 500 yards for the second straight game, the game didn't get comfortable until the very end, due to a defense that seemed determined to let the Dolphins stay close. The Patriots stopped the dreaded Wildcat offense, but fired blanks on everything else, allowing quarterback Chad Pennington to march down the field effortlessly and finish with four touchdowns - three throwing, one rushing.

The bad defense didn't rain on the Cassel parade. On the same field where Brady torched the Dolphins for six touchdown passes and a perfect 158.3 QB rating a year ago, Cassel looked every bit a worthy substitute, hitting Moss on a variety of patterns (catch and run, fade route and streak down the left side), helping two receivers (Moss and Wes Welker) reach 100 yards, and spreading the ball to six different receivers.

Most importantly, however, Cassel showed the leadership that has been the hallmark of Brady's career, following up all Miami touchdowns with scoring drives of his own, including two 80-plus-yard drives in the third and fourth quarters that resulted in the winning points.

The defense still has question marks - lots of them. But with Cassel playing as well as he is, Randy Moss finally involved and the team showing it still has the same old ability to buckle down and win a crucial game, it looks a lot better that the Patriots will continue to play meaningful games come January.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The value of NewsTrust

Quality journalism has an online ally in NewsTrust, and for good reason. The site is very effective at bringing well-written and researched articles to the forefront of hot-topic political issues, and it's easy to leave NewsTrust having read articles that provide valuable insight and, in some cases, opinion and analysis.

The way the site works is that users find articles online, critique them and submit them, therefore (theoretically) bringing the better articles to the forefront of a topic and letting the readers know what to watch out for. I got to partake in this exercise, reviewing an effective Associated Press story about APEC, a decent AFP story about Obama's economic team, and an outstanding Reuters analysis of Lawrence Summers. In addition to the fact that it just makes you feel smart to point out the flaws in a work of professional journalism, I enjoyed the experience. You get a chance to help advance the awareness of quality journalism, while making your own footprint in the reviewer's community. Like reviewing a movie or a song, it's fun to feel like an expert, and the fact that you're doing good at the same time makes it even better.

The strengths of NewsTrust are obvious. You filter out the bad stories, and the better reviewers get higher marks. Therefore, the better reviewers are more prominent, and the stories that they like most become more prominent. When you log on to NewsTrust and see that a highly-rated reviewer is calling a story "excellent, and well-written", you want to read the story, therefore increasing the exposure of articles that deserve it.

However, as much good as NewsTrust does, there are flaws. As was mentioned in class, a bad reviewer who is marked down by a good reviewer could spitefully mark down the good reviewer, therefore hurting the reviewer for a reason that wasn't his fault. Also, the reviewing process could be hindered by something simple. A reviewer could read a story and be pleased with the article, yet rate it a 3 out of 5, because he or she feels no stories are good enough to rate 4's and 5's. However, these issues seem to be acknowledged and taken care of, and NewsTrust continues to run smoothly as an efficient critique forum of journalism.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Week 12 picks

Here we go into week 12, and here are your winners (Apologies for missing week 11). Picks in bold:

Philadelphia at Baltimore: Philadelphia needs a win to stay relevant in the NFC East race. Go with the Eagles.

Houston at Cleveland: The Texans have shown an ability to play teams tough, and I'm not sold on Brady Quinn just yet.

San Francisco at Dallas: Remember when this used to be a rivalry? Steve Young vs. Troy Aikman? Jerry Rice vs. Michael Irvin? Ricky Watters vs. Emmitt Smith? The good ol' days. Cowboys win it going away.

Tampa Bay at Detroit: Despite a good point by Bill Simmons that an undefeated Lions team at Thanksgiving is hard to fathom, it'll happen. Bucs win it and stay close to the Panthers in the NFC South race.

Minnesota at Jacksonville: The Jags have to have a pulse in there somewhere. Maybe this is the week we see it.

Buffalo at Kansas City: The Bills have been slipping, but they get a win at woeful Kansas City.

New England at Miami: The Dolphins have been one of the better teams in the AFC this year, and few have given them that credit. A victory in Miami will show the critics.

Chicago at St. Louis: After a brief revival, the Rams are back to being one of the league's most putrid teams. The Bears take advantage.

N.Y. Jets at Tennessee: I was tough on Tennessee for a while, but they're legit, and Kerry Collins is showing he can win games. The Titans improve to 11-0.

Oakland at Denver: Against the horrible Raiders, the Broncos move a step closer to winning the division.

Carolina at Atlanta: The Panthers beat a tough Falcons team on the road.

N.Y. Giants at Arizona: The Cardinals are at home, and have been looking good. They take down the NFC's powerhouse.

Washington at Seattle: The Redskins get back in the win column and remain at the forefront of the NFC playoff picture.

Indianapolis at San Diego (Sunday night): The Colts are back, and are looking just as good as they have the last few years. This does not bode well for the rest of the AFC.

Green Bay at New Orleans (Monday night): Facing a Saints team without Reggie Bush, the Packers get a road victory.

Last week: 11-2. Overall: 20-6

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cassel just getting better and better

Some football experts will say it takes years to build a quarterback. Bill Belichick has shown it only takes about two months.

There are few other ways to describe the progress of Matt Cassel, which has been the storyline of the season as the Patriots are somehow still alive and well in the AFC playoff picture. It has been meteoric and complete, the transformation of a quarterback who was, really, at a glorified high school expertise, into a field general throwing for 400 yards and three touchdowns in the biggest game of his career.

Two months. That's it. In late August, Cassel was looking at a release. In late September and mid October, he was looking at the bench. Now here we are, in late November, and Cassel is currently the MVP of a team thought to be dead in the water after a blowout loss to San Diego on Oct. 12.

The difficult-to-imagine blossoming has happened because Cassel has made it look easy. He's utilized his above-average speed and agility into an ability to run and keep drives alive, and he's sharpened his effectiveness at finding receivers for 10-yard gains. That's all. If the man 10 yards downfield is free, hit him. If not, run through the hole for eight yards. First down. And while he was at it, he learned how to lead last-minute drives and throw perfect touchdown passes with a second remaining.

Now, Cassel is no longer a quarterback that's starting. He's a starting quarterback. He can start in the NFL, and he can win in the NFL. By mastering the simple throws and simple plays, he's improved at the difficult ones. Now, as the Jets found out, putting the ball in Cassel's hands with the game on the line is a pretty good idea.

Sounds a lot like a certain #12. But then again, why shouldn't it? Cassel spent years sitting behind Brady. Now, he's showing he can play like him.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The AFC East race continues

No Patriots fan likes to play the Jets.

It's the fundamental truth of being a New England fan. No encounter with New York's second team gets looked at with anything but dread and hatred for the thought that the Patriots could somehow, feasibly, lose to these guys. They are our mortal enemies, our archrivals, our nemeses. No matter how good or bad the teams are, most matchups seem to result in struggles that could find themselves going either way at the end.

In other words, every matchup seems to result in the same dead-even tension we had Thursday night. The drama and spectacle of that game? That was new. But the three-point edging, leading to a demoralizing feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction? The constant stream of what-ifs going through your mind the rest of the night? That's all-too-familiar. When the Patriots win, Jets fans feel it. When the Jets fans, Patriots fans feel it. And it stings.

And guess what? Another team like that is up next.

That would be the Miami Dolphins, the same Miami Dolphins that entered Foxboro in week 3 without a prayer for victory, and proceeded to annihilate the Patriots, 38-13. To add insult to injury, the Fins apparently changed the game of football in the process with the "Wildcat" offense.

The result? The end of a long Patriot winning streak, a shakeup in the AFC East and the creation of a W-word in the New England dictionary of vulgarities.

This time, the Patriots travel to Miami, trying to crack a code that few have solved while the Dolphins have won six of their past eight games. But a lot has changed since September. Nobody takes the Dolphins lightly anymore. And the Patriots have started to look more and more like a team that expects to play in October. Matt Cassel's blossomed into a legitimate NFL starter (more on that later). The defense and offensive line have solidified. And, though 6-4 and coming off of two losses in three games, New England is a personal foul and coin toss away from being 8-2.

But as Sunday approaches, the importance of the past dissolves. When the Patriots and Dolphins play, it'll be about right now. Both teams are a hair from the top of the division, and a misstep away from the cellar. The winner will likely control its destiny as December arrives, the loser will likely need help.

Just as is always the case with AFC East opponents. I've just gotten over that sick feeling in the stomach. Here's hoping it doesn't return.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sports on the web

As journalism has progressed into the 21st century, blogging has become more and more of a part of its rising popularity. And as blogs have grown, sports blogs have grown in number, sophistication and range. Just like a column in a newspaper, sports blogs have turned into websites where you can find information and opinion that you wouldn't get anywhere else.

Some of the blogs have turned into sources of honest, credible, straight sports information. The "worldwide leader in sports", ESPN, is an example of both the recognition of the importance of blogs (seeing as every sport ESPN covers has its own separate blog), and the sports blog that seeks to inform instead of offer opinion and controversy. With ESPN's blogs, you get straight journalism: reporting and stories from those qualified to be the top sportswriting minds around.

A similar blog is the Bleacher Report. A comparison can be made between BR and Wikipedia. Like Wikipedia, anyone can write for Bleacher Report, and anyone can join to write comments on stories (similar to edits). Also like Wikipedia, the open-source nature does not contrast with the site's mission to present the reader with quality sports news. As BR develops, it turns into a leading sports journalism website, and becomes more of model for sports blogs. Sure, some of BR's articles are on the lighter side, but that hasn't taken away from the site's becoming an internet power among sports blogs.

However, as was said earlier, the spread of blogging means the inclusion of a wider variety of blogging objectives. Some blogs go straight for the attitude and entertainment of blogging, decency and fairness be damned. Deadspin is a prime example; a blog that will take real sports news and issues, and present it with its own special seasoning.

Take for example, Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel. An issue that is growing in major football discussion groups is how much money the blossoming QB might make elsewhere next year. So Deadspin reports on this, without forgetting to remind the viewer what he or she is viewing:

I can think of about ten thousand better ways to piss away ten million dollars (one of them involves power tools, thirty pounds of cocaine, and Michael Irvin), and I can't imagine any team is going to pony that up. First of all, Cassel has been able to overcome his lack of pro experience with his familiarity of Belichick's system, which he's been learning since 2005. He won't enjoy that benefit with a new team.
Secondly, those shitty teams that need a QB (San Francisco, Kansas City, Detroit) won't be shelling out that kind of money. They're shitty for a reason...okay, a handful of reasons, but one of those is their total absence in the free agent market. Look, Matt. There's nothing wrong with re-upping with the Pats for the minimum and riding Brady's jock for two or three more rings.
You can be America's Favorite Backup Quarterback, or get pummeled in Detroit. Easy choice, really.
Another example of the professional wrestling of sports blogs is Not for the kids, Bad Jocks is an R-rated look at the world of crime and sports. And because the website ("Where Cops meets SportsCenter", it brands itself) is so focused on broken laws by athletes that alcohol, sex or sometimes shocking combinations of the two rule the page.

A popular question centers on the value of Bad Jocks/Deadspin-type blogs. And while the writers on those blogs may not be professional journalists per se, it has become increasingly clear that their work has journalistic value. Bad Jocks, for example, fulfilled the role of an investigative reporter when its publishing of hazing pictures by the Catholic University of America women's lacrosse team led to the school suspending the team for three games.

Print journalists have had their say as well, a particularly ardent example being Buzz Bissenger, a former writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer whose book "Friday Night Lights" is among the finer examples of sports writing. In an argument with Deadspin creator Will Leitch on HBO, Bissenger launched into an anti-blogging tirade, saying that blogs allow any person to write the opinions that sports writers work hard to acquire the opportunity to give for a newspaper. Leitch held his ground, saying that if a professional writes a good story and an amateur writes a good story, why is the amateur not as well-considered?

The more time that goes by, the more it becomes apparent that Leitch was right. Blogs are becoming more popular, and more people are starting their own up. They may be all over the sports spectrum, but their points are being absorbed like never before.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Starbucks summary

Imagine a machine, well-oiled and well-equipped to handle numerous tasks at once with remarkable proficiency.

Now take that machine and give it a benevolent personality. That, essentially, is Starbucks.

Walking into a Starbucks shop, especially one placed in a hustling environment like Boston's Huntington Avenue, is like stepping on an island. The moment the doors close, the noise outside drops off completely, replaced by the smooth jazz that invites customers to relax, drink a coffee and spend a few hours with the free Wi-fi.

As I made my way up to order a medium old-school hot chocolate, I was greeted at the counter by a young barista that, despite looking like a seamless stand-in for Dr. Gregory House, appeared happy to help me out.

The exchange that followed:

House: "Hello, sir!"
Me: "Hi, could I have a medium hot chocolate please?"
House: "Sure, for here or to go?"
Me: "For here."
House: "And do you want our new signature recipe, or the old school one?"
Me: "Uh, old school. By the way, what would the price of a medium regular coffee to go be?" (A mandatory question from my 'Reinventing the News' class)
House: "$1.94. Do you want that as well?"
Me: "No, it's just for a class."

After that, I remembered that I needed to take photos from inside the Starbucks. When I asked the barista for permission, his face seemed to fall as he apologetically told me that "those have to go through corporate." Bummer.

After the order was placed, I observed the mechanical aspect to it. Cups started cycling back and forth and different levers were pulled to pour different liquids, I heard a machine whirr in the background, and my hot chocolate was ready. Starbucks isn't renowned for its quickness, but they were on their game that day.

After that, you get to enjoy yourself and your coffee (or hot chocolate, in my case). The music is soothing, and the atmosphere is relaxing. You're there as long as you please, and there isn't a rush.

All in all, a good experience. I'd offer you proof, but then I'd have to go through corporate.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thomas hurt

What's a Patriots game without an injury to a key player?

This week's winner is Adalius Thomas, who is out for the season with a broken forearm. After a relatively injury-free 2007, the injury bug appears to be working double in 2008. Thomas is the fourth starter to be lost for the season, joining Tom Brady, Laurence Maroney and Rodney Harrison. Granted, Thomas was only the third of those players that served any real value to the team, but hey, a starter's a starter.

This time, it appears that, unlike the Brady and Harrison injuries, there won't be speculation on whether the Patriots will pursue free agent replacements. Belichick has made it clear that they prefer to promote from within the team, and that more injuries means more minutes for starters and backups.

The injury is a big one, especially to a starter as prominent as Thomas, on a unit that was at its strongest all season. Belichick has shown his ability to make up for personnel losses, however, and this season has demonstrated that ability more than any other so far.

Grindout victory

Between Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan, injuries at the halfback position have been all-too-frequent for the New England Patriots.

But with undrafted rookies with compound names are picking up the slack, they never seem to notice.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for a career-high 105 yards and a touchdown, Matt Cassel ran for another and the defense looked stout again in a 20-10 victory over the division rival Buffalo Bills.

Despite two 1,000-yard rushing seasons at Mississippi, Green-Ellis didn't get the attention of any teams on draft day. On Sunday, he got the attention of the Bills' defense, pounding out consistent yardage and chewing up clock, keeping the Patriots' offense on the field for nearly 40 minutes, and the Bills' offense off it.

Even in the rare occasions that the Bills had the ball, they couldn't move it. The Patriots allowed only 60 rushing yards on 18 carries, and Trent Edwards's attempts to pass downfield, as interceptions by Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O'Neal showed, ended in failure.

The result was a victory in a true grind-out game: New England didn't score many points but allowed fewer, and did just enough on both sides of the ball to come away with the victory. It's a cliche, but after watching Sunday's game, it's the only way to describe it.

As guard Logan Mankins and fullback Heath Evans said, the Patriots are not against playing this way. And why should they? In the Super Bowl-winning seasons of 2003 and 2004, New England didn't have Randy Moss racing to catch 60-yard touchdowns, and Tom Brady wasn't using a glorified spread offense to put six points on the board in one minute or less. Instead, the Pats lengthened the drives and shortened the games. They played close, physical games, and in the end, did all it took to win.

It's another cliche, but as long as the Patriots are dusting off a familar style of play, it may be appropriate to do the same to the phrases used to describe them.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Emily Sweeney's presentation

Good presentation by Boston Globe reporter Emily Sweeney in class Wednesday on video reporting, a subject that is becoming more and more familiar with every week. Emily was both informative and entertaining, and she had plenty of points to make on what it is like to make videos regularly for a major newspaper consistently.

One of the ones I liked the most was her point that length and complexity are not always the key to a good video. Often, video reporting or video blogging seems intimidating, because it creates fears of having to basically put a documentary together for every story. As Emily said, that's not the case. She pointed out that newspapers encourage their reporters to assemble short clips, videos that are to the point and not a physical burden to put together. And of course, they can be fun. Her Bingo film was a great example. She films herself and her interview subjects, and splices b-roll and music in between. The result is a video that serves as a great compliment to her article, and one that you don't need to be Quentin Tarantino to make.

Speaking of telling stories, Emily also spoke about how videos can not only compliment a story, but be a story as well. She demonstrated this in a video on tractor pulling, using the footage of driving tractors (one of which was driven by her), interviews with people and subtitles to express the story. There is no article with it, and there's no need for one. It shows the value of video in reporting, which was the point of her presentation to the class on Wednesday.

Finally, Emily expressed that, while it is hard to doubt the importance of video to journalism now, writing is still at the heart of the craft. Her story on Simply 2 Impress Auto Club shows the union of journalism with video well. She has the story, an in-depth portrayal of the auto club, and the video at the bottom does not try to tell the story, but provide another dimension to it. Emily said that being web-savvy went from being a recommendation to a requirement, and this is why. Journalists aim to present the story from all angles, a goal made even more possible with video at your disposal.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Week 10 picks

Picks in bold

New Orleans at Atlanta: Two quarterbacks looking for major honors - New Orleans's Drew Brees for MVP, Atlanta's Matt Ryan for Rookie of the Year - clash in what could be a shootout. The Saints are desperate, and Brees (shown) pulls it out in the end.

Tennessee at Chicago: First the Bears lost Kyle Orton. Then they barely held on against woeful Detroit. Now they take on the undefeated Titans? It'll be close, but Rex Grossman won't beat Tennessee.

Jacksonville at Detroit: What's happened to the Jaguars? An emerging powerhouse last year, they've sunk to 3-5 and are going to need a huge turnaround to get back to the postseason. They'll beat Detroit, but have major questions going forward.

Seattle at Miami: Tony Sparano should be a prime candidate for Coach of the Year. His Wildcat formation is tearing up the league, and affecting other teams' gameplans as well. And of course, he has the Dolphins, 1-15 last year, thinking playoffs. Those aspirations continue as Miami surges above .500.

Green Bay at Minnesota: An intense rivalry gets kicked up a notch, as both teams need wins to keep division and title hopes alive. But Adrian Peterson runs well at home, and the Vikings will benefit.

Buffalo at New England: Last week, the Colts were the team that needed a victory to keep its season alive. This week, the Patriots are the desperate ones, as a loss could drop them from a tie for first place to the AFC East cellar. Randy Moss exposes a suspect Buffalo secondary, and the Patriots march on.

St. Louis at New York Jets: Bad teams (and the Rams are one) have given the Jets problems, as a loss to the Raiders and slim victory over the Bengals showed. New York plays ugly, but wins.

Baltimore at Houston: The Matt Ryan of the AFC, Joe Flacco has emerged to give the Ravens a legitimate passing game. Baltimore wins its fourth straight.

Carolina at Oakland: The Raiders aren't the least talented team in the NFL, but what they lack in bad players, they more than make up for in bad management. Cutting DeAngelo Hall convinces the players that there's no hope of winning this year, so the Panthers do instead.

Indianapolis at Pittsburgh: The Steelers looked impressive Monday night against the Redskins, but that was against a Jason Campbell-led offense that felt no need to try any plays over five yards. Peyton Manning and Co. won't settle like that, they'll make the Steelers work on defense, and the Colts will get the win.

Kansas City at San Diego: The pitiful Chiefs are no match in a division game at San Diego. The Chargers roll.

New York Giants at Philadelphia: The NFC East was supposed to be football's ultra-competitive division. So far, the Giants have been the clear-cut favorite, and their dominance has been astounding. That being said, the Eagles need a win badly to keep pace, and get it in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.

San Francisco at Arizona: There was a time when this would have been a 49er blowout. It still won't be close, but it'll be league MVP-hopeful Kurt Warner and the Cardinals putting up the points.

Last week: 9-5. Season: 9-5

Friday, November 7, 2008

Missed chance

The Patriots missed out on an opportunity to add a significant infusion of talent into their depleted secondary.

DeAngelo Hall, the Pro Bowl cornerback cut by the Raiders for some mysterious reason, ended his brief unemployment by signing with the Redskins on Friday. During his two days on the market, the 24-year-old was recruited heavily by teams including the New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers and Patriots.

It's very possible that Hall was unattainable from the start. He's a Virginia product, and enjoyed a successful college career at Virginia Tech. Hearing the call from Washington, the team closest to his home state, may have been all he wanted to hear. Throw in the fact that the Redskins are a legitimate playoff threat, and the deal may have been done.

But assuming that wasn't the case, and Hall was weighing his options, the Patriots dropped a golden opportunity. At this point, New England is looking for bodies to put into red, white, blue and silver and stick in the secondary. Between Super Bowl XLII and the start of the season, the Patriots saw Asante Samuel, Randall Gay, Eugene Wilson, Tank Williams, Jason Webster and John Lynch depart via free agency, release or injury. During the season, that list has grown to include Rodney Harrison, for the season, and Terrence Wheatley.

Along came a chance to get a mega-talented corner, at the peak of his game, who still managed 43 tackles and three interceptions playing half-heartedly for an embarrassment. In New England's secondary, Hall would have brought his ball-hawk skills and blazing speed to a cornerback position that, joined with Deltha O'Neal, Ellis Hobbs and Jason Webster (resigned), would have become one of the fastest units in the league.

Remember those long bombs that tore apart the Patriots at San Diego? And those slot passes to Anthony Gonzalez that resulted in both touchdowns for Indianapolis? Those passes are a lot riskier with Hall out there, who, while not a physical presence, often is an interception waiting to happen.

Of course, with Hall, there is the attitude problem to account for. But according to his Raider teammates, he couldn't have been too hard to stand. Besides, many of the Patriots' biggest acquisitions (Corey Dillon and Randy Moss spring to mind) were branded chemistry cancers also, before turning it around to post Pro Bowl-caliber seasons.

The common denominator? Players come to play for Bill Belichick. When players join the Patriots, they convert to the Patriot way. Shut your mouth, do your job and play.

DeAngelo Hall won't be doing that for the Patriots this season. It might have made life easier for Belichick and Co. if he were.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Hopkinton at the Polls

Here are photos from the Hopkinton High School gym as it was set up for Election Day on November 4. The day was a breeze; no wait to register, no wait to vote, and plenty of volunteers eager to give you a hand and answer any questions you had.

Patriots sign Webster

On Wednesday, the Patriots announced they re-signed cornerback Jason Webster, who was released at the end of training camp before the season.

Despite the second part of that sentence, this seems to be a very safe move for New England. Webster, 31, is an eight-year veteran who has been an effective starter in the NFL. Furthermore, there is far less pressure on him now than there was when he was signed March 4. Before, he was being expected to help fill the void left by Pro-Bowler Asante Samuel's departure. Now, he is being asked to simply add depth to a depleted secondary, one that had major question marks after starters Deltha O'Neal and Ellis Hobbs. Webster is not a shutdown corner by any means, but he is a smart, solid player that should be a reliable option for Belichick.

The secondary, which has been bombarded with injuries since the start of the season, took another shot when Terrence Wheatley, who played his best game of the season against Indianapolis, hurt his wrist that game and was kept out of practice Wednesday.

Another rookie, linebacker Shawn Crable, was put on injured reserve Wednesday, clearing a roster spot for Webster.

Video project

Here's a video I made where I asked a few Northeastern University students who they thought was going to win the Super Bowl in February. As for the local interest in the story, I asked if they felt the Patriots had a chance at a title.

The answers, as you can see, are diverse

Monday, November 3, 2008

Penalty flag derails Patriot comeback

Maybe he was getting a little rough. Maybe he was just finishing his block. It didn't matter.

Whatever the case, a Dave Thomas personal foul, worthy of a 15-yard penalty, turned a potential winning drive for the New England Patriots into a fruitless ending in an 18-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

"I thought overall we played a good football game but came up a couple plays short," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "I thought we played very well in all areas and just came up a few plays short."

It's unfortunate to put the blame on Thomas, whose three catches for 29 yards often helped keep drives alive. And it's hard to say Thomas cost the Patriots more statistically than, say, a wide-open Jabar Gaffney, who let a go-ahead touchdown pass from Matt Cassel slip through his hands.

But the NFL is a hard, unfortunate league, and watching the game, there's no doubt that Thomas's penalty took more wind out of the Patriots sails than any play during it.

To set the scene, the Patriots were driving down the field, trailing by three in the final minutes, but in excellent position to at least tie the game with a field goal, especially after a BenJarvis Green-Ellis run made it 3rd-and-1 at the Indianapolis 31.

But a yellow flag flew. Thomas was caught making a late hit after the whistles had blown, pushing the ball back to a 3rd-and-16 from the Colt 46. The drive stalled, Indy wore down the clock, game over.

Thomas gave a mea culpa after the game, albeit saying he thought the play was still going on, but the damage had been done. Scoring position had never melted into fourth-down desperation so fast.

Thomas made a mistake, but it wasn't the only mistake of the game. Gaffney dropped the touchdown pass. Cassel, a solid 25-of-34 for 204 yards with a last-chance interception, missed an opportunity for another touchdown when he didn't see Randy Moss streaking down the sideline, arm raised, in single coverage.

Then there was the coach. Some of Belichick's decisions backfired, the biggest of which was a lost challenge where he thought Indianapolis had too many men on the field. Even a win wouldn't have helped the Patriots out too much. As it was, the loss deprived New England of a timeout, a timeout the Pats could have used in the last minute trying desperately to get into field goal range.

Plenty of positives emerged from the game. The often-criticized defense kept the vaunted Colts offense limited with the exception of two major drives, even while continuing to work with a revolving door at the cornerback position (This week's victim was rookie Terrence Wheatley, who appeared to hurt his wrist making a lunging pass deflection). The offense was in position to tie, or even win the game in the final minutes. And it's important to remember that even now, New England is tied for first in the AFC East.

But the facts are the facts. The Patriots had a chance to KO their biggest rival, knocking it out of the game and, possibly, season as well. The chance slipped right through their hands.

At 4-4, the Colts are still alive. That's a scary thought for the rest of the AFC.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Week 9 picks

Predictions for the slate of games for week 9. Picks in bold


N.Y. Jets at Buffalo: After his six-touchdown effort against Arizona, Brett Favre has looked a little shaky. Coming off a loss to Miami, Buffalo bounces back in front of a frenzied crowd.

Detroit at Chicago: Anyone picking Detroit would be doing so out of sympathy. Kyle Orton has revitalized the Bears' offense, suddenly dangerous through the air, and the Lions are just awful.

Jacksonville at Cincinnati: As bad as the Lions are, they continue to play hard. The Bengals don't. The Jags come out and punish Cincy, and begin a streak of well-played games that should carry them to the playoffs.

Baltimore at Cleveland: The Browns' offense is in disarray, and it won't get easier against a still-vaunted Baltimore D. Pick the visiting Ravens.

Green Bay at Tennessee: Aaron Rodgers is finally healthy, and out to prove he deserves his new extension. Tennessee is the best team in football, but they're not the Patriots from last year. Undefeated isn't happening, and the Packers end the chase.

Tampa Bay at Kansas City: The Buccaneers fell to a desperate opponent in Dallas last week. The Chiefs shouldn't be a problem.

Arizona at St. Louis: I feel bad for the Rams. They wasted an entire fourth of their schedule with an incompetent coach, and though they look like a solid team in that division, they're simply too far back. The Cardinals are the class of the division now, and Kurt Warner (shown) and Co. will prove it.

Houston at Minnesota: The Met is a tough place for any team to play in, but the Texans have been on a roll, and are better than their record shows.

Miami at Denver: I don't know why NFL defensive coordinators can't figure this "Wildcat" thing out, but the point is, they can't. Maybe it just means the Dolphins are onto something truly ingenious.

Atlanta at Oakland: Turner and Ryan have turned the Falcons into one of the NFC's most explosive teams. The Raiders, however, appear fully content being a doormat.

Dallas at N.Y. Giants: This looks like a perfect storm in favor of Dallas. The Giants only lose when everyone believes in them (as they do now), the Cowboys owned New York in the regular season last year, and they still have a chip on their shoulder to prove wrong all the naysayers taking them apart now that were picking them for the Super Bowl at the start of the season. Follow the signs, take Dallas.

Philadelphia at Seattle:
The Seahawks are a mess. The Eagles have Brian Westbrook back healthy, as last week showed, and are on a roll. The winning continues in Philly.

New England at Indianapolis (Sunday night): The Patriots have been better than expected since Week 6, but the fact remains that they haven't faced a challenge like Peyton Manning and the Colts will bring. Plus, they have Joseph Addai and Bob Sanders coming back. Indy wins, but in a closer game than would have been imagined weeks earlier.


Pittsburgh at Washington (Monday night): I like the Redskins a lot, but with no Santana Moss, against a Steeler team that is getting Willie Parker back and that is angry after last week's loss to the Giants, I can't pick them. The Steelers get a big road victory.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Morris injury shrouded in mystery

So Sammy Morris's knee injury is not season-ending. As is often the case with medical updates from the Patriots, there are few conclusions to accurately draw from that.

The update is good news/bad news. The good is obvious. Sammy Morris will at some point be back, and the running game that looked so good against the anemic Denver Broncos will, at some point, have its main cog back. At some point, the Patriots won't be relying on undrafted players to shoulder the running load.

The bad news? See all the "at some points"? That's the bad news.

Immediately after the Denver game, Morris was seen walking without a limp. But his status quickly worsened. Throughout the week, he didn't practice. On Sunday, he didn't play.

What appeared to be a little ding-up moments after the game ended last Monday night has turned into the source of endless wonder for Patriots fans. Is "at some point" Week 17? Week 12? Next week? Against the archrival Indianapolis Colts, that would be nice.

As we have seen, whatever the case, Bill will figure out a solution. Will that solution involve Sammy Morris? Until Sunday, we're left to wait and see.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Moss proving doubters wrong...again

For being one of six active players with 800 career catches, Randy Moss always seems to have something to prove.

Last year, he was called the volatile teammate, who wasn't happy unless he was scoring, dancing and winning, and who couldn't go a season without complaining. Wrong. Thanks in large part to Randy, the Patriots won 18 straight, and he scored and daced more than any player in NFL history.

This year, the naysayers were out again, calling for Randy to explain his lack of production and apparent lack of interest after New England suffered key injuries and a pair of tough losses.

Moss has passed that challenge too. Just as convincingly.

In the past two games, Moss has been every bit the weapon a quarterback like Matt Cassel needs to survive in the NFL. The most impressive part is how he's become it.

Moss, designated a captain before the year, has changed his game entirely, a huge reason the once-inept Patriot offense has posted 64 points the past two games. A deep threat whose job was to run in a straight line down the field for much of last year, Moss has seamlessly switched to doing the dirty work. Against Denver, No. 81 caught screens (one for a touchdown) and passes over the middle, and scored his other touchdown on a jump ball when New England made it down to the goal line.

Against St. Louis, Moss again did everything it took to win. He was out blocking for Wes Welker on several passes, and took shots on slants over the middle in order to catch the 10-yard passes for first downs that he never would have tried last year. The same 10-yard passes that allows a quarterback like Cassel, essentially a rookie despite four years in the league, to feel he can lead an NFL offense.

Consider the naysayers silenced. When the times were roughest, Moss transitioned into a weapon the struggling Cassel could use. Just like a captain should.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ram tough

Players keep dropping for the New England Patriots, but Bill Belichick and company keep finding ways to meet the challenges.

A true team effort, led by yet another improved outing from Matt Cassel, got the Patriots their second straight victory, a 23-16 decision over the St. Louis Rams.
The stats don't show it, but Cassel played his best game of the season on Sunday. While the fourth-year player seemed to benefit from playing a simply inept Denver team on Monday, Cassel was forced by the Rams to make plays himself. He responded by showing Brady-esque pocket presence, sliding around and away from would-be tacklers to find playmaking receivers Randy Moss (seven catches, 102 yards) and Wes Welker (seven catches, 79 yards) downfield.

What does this mean? Belichick tempered a growing storm by insisting that Cassel gave the Patriots the best chance to win. On Sunday, Cassel proved his coach was right.

And while Cassel continues to prove why he belongs in the NFL, Belichick continues to prove why he is the best head coach in the league. After his injury-depleted squad defeated Denver, it was struck by the injury bug again when leading rushers Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan were inactive against the Rams, and starting cornerback Deltha O'Neal was hurt in game.

No running back, no problem. Belichick guided his team to a smooth, penalty-free and mistake-free effort. Now, the Patriots are thinking as a team, playing as a team, and have a 5-2 record and first place in the AFC East to show for it.

"Like I told the team after the game, this is a good example of having to play 60 minutes like we always have to do in this league," Belichick said. "Those guys really stepped up and made some big plays in the fourth quarter. I am really proud of them."

As Patriots fans, so are we.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Video blogging

Steve Garfield's presentation on Wednesday was certainly an impressive one. As prospective journalists, we are bombarded consistently by the progress journalism is making in video on the internet, on TV, or other mediums. While Garfield's subject wasn't revolutionary, the developments he showed us were very interesting, most notably the Qik site. I've known videos are becoming easier and easier to make and quicker and quicker to produce, but it was alarming to see how quick it can be. As the video is being shot, it can be online for people to see. I'm familiar with and watch live streaming video, but to see it happening in front of me was different.

1. I liked his video clips, and the technique he used in filming them. Taking the Jamaica Pond one as an example, he interviews John Tobin extensively, but does not keep the camera on him. Rather, he shows Tobin as he's introducing him to the segment, then shows the pond and the children running excitedly to it. By doing that, Garfield is using the advantages of video. He's not showing Tobin talk about something, he's allowing Tobin to be heard while showing the viewer what the City Councilor is referring to. In class, Garfield mentioned another way he does this, by placing b-roll photos in the shot while the subject is talking, to let the viewer understand what the subject is talking about.

2. I also caught Steve's streaming from the New Media expo. The people he interviewed seemed to be excited with the concept of live streaming, and you can see why. It's a "fresher" look at a news event, and it allows the subjects of the video to be caught in their natural moods and behavior. Sure, they took the opportunity to sell their websites or companies (aka "Women of Warcraft"), but it still allows the viewer to get a better sense of what these people are like.

3. I liked the point Steve made with the "Steve and Carol Show". He showed in his presentation how complex video and live streaming can be, but also used the show to demonstrate how the demand for video is so great, that something far simpler can easily suffice. Garfield is obviously well-rehearsed in the different forms of video media and blogging, yet one of the sources of his success was, as he put it, as simple as filming himself and Carol talking about the debate in their room. The show, especially juxtaposed with his Qik demonstration, showed a wide spectrum of results that can come out of experimenting with video journalism and blogging.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Belichick: Nothing, so far

In the wake of the Rodney Harrison injury, plenty of names have been thrown around as free agent replacements, most notably safety John Lynch and cornerback - and former Patriot - Ty Law.

According to Bill Belichick, those rumors have no substance to them. For now.

In his press conference on Wednesday, the head coach was his normal, obscure self when asked the chances of bringing in John Lynch, either now or down the road:
Our roster is full. We announced those move so right now our roster is full...Well anybody would be an option that is not with another team. But that would mean we would have to make room on our roster to accommodate someone else. So potentially everyone is an option but we would have to do something.
The essence of Bill's answer: Our roster is full, and to add a player, we would need to release a player. Genius.

Belichick has never been a fountain of information with the press, but going by the words alone, it appears the Patriots have not brought in a player yet, but haven't closed the door to the idea. The trade window has been slammed shut by the deadline, but free agency is still a viable option. Time will tell if New England makes the move.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Johnny on the spot?

The bad news: The Patriots lost a veteran, Super Bowl-winning, hard-hitting, emotional leader of a safety when Rodney Harrison tore his right quad Monday night.

The good news: New England could be getting one back.

According to "Fanhouse" via AOL Sports, rumors abound that veteran safety John Lynch could be returning to Foxboro, where he spent the preseason.

Lynch's presence would be as seamless an adjustment to the Harrison loss that a team could find. Lynch is a smart player that leads by example and punishes ballcarriers with sure tackles and bone-rattling hits. The downside is that Lynch has lost a step or two in the speed department, but so has the man he'd be replacing. In fact, the Patriots were beginning to show a successful safety combination of Harrison, the smart run- and intermediate-pass stopper, and Brandon Meriweather, the young, speedy, ball-hawking back that is far better at stopping the deep pass. If Lynch were signed, he would likely fit into the first mold.

Rumors, obviously, are rumors, but in looking for a replacement to a future Hall of Famer, a nine-time Pro Bowler isn't a bad place to start.

Harrison done for the season

If Monday's victory over Denver brought joy and relief to Patriots fans, Tuesday brought them right back down.

After Rodney Harrison wrenched his knee late in the 41-7 victory, the news came out that the safety tore a quad muscle, and is out for the season.

The news gets worse. Harrison is 35 years old with an extensive history of injuries already. Due to the severity of the injury and his age, it is very likely that the future Hall of Famer has played the last game of both his Patriot and NFL careers.

The physical loss of Harrison, a hard hitter albeit with steadily decreasing range, quickness and speed, will not be as felt as the emotional loss. Harrison has been a fiery leader for the team since coming over in 2003, and he was the spokesman for the secondary, answering questions and defending his teammates whenever they were criticized.

Harrison's value to the team was evident immediately after the training crew gathered around the ailing safety. Tedy Bruschi came over and crouched down next to Harrison, offering comforting words that the linebacker didn't tell the public afterward.

"I'm going to keep that to myself," Bruschi said. "Rodney's been one of my favorite teammates of all time."

For six years, he was one of our favorites to watch. It appears those days are over too soon.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pats buck the Broncos

Corey Dillon and Tom Brady returned to the Patriots on Monday night.

This time, however, Dillon was wearing No. 34 and going by Sammy Morris, and Brady was donning No. 16 and masquerading as Matt Cassel. Randy Moss and Bill Belichick, on the other hand, were fully content being themselves.

The Patriots used a page from their old playbooks, as Morris chewed up the clock and the Broncos defense for 138 yards, all in the first half, Cassel hit Moss for two of three touchdown passes and Belichick's defense stifled a dynamic offense in a 41-7 obliteration of the playoff hopeful Denver Broncos in the primetime spotlight of Monday Night Football.

To make a mathematical analogy, while the Chargers game was a complete and utter disaster, the Broncos game was its inverse. The Patriots hit Cutler hard, early and often (resulting in lingering finger and thigh injuries), the defense stifled the run and, most impressively, the deep passes, and the offense ran and passed through the porous Denver defense.

True, the Patriots didn't shred a potent defensive unit, as the Broncos defenders have all the strength of a wet Kleenex. But this game wasn't about the matchup, it was about making a statement, showing you can beat a team that can expect to win itself. Mission accomplished. Marked for dead twice this season, the Patriots showed in a resounding 60 minutes that, Brady or no Brady, you can't count out the defending AFC champions.

Credit belongs everywhere. Already facing questions as to whether he can win without Tom Brady, Belichick silenced the naysayers with a shutdown defense that got physical with Jay Cutler and minimized his outstanding receiving arsenal, a sudden, remarkable improvement considering that Charger QB Philip Rivers was essentially unchallenged while launching deep pass after deep pass merely eight days ago.

And as for the crew ardently calling for Cassel's head? After getting the vote of confidence from Belichick, the first-year starter did a spot-on impression of Tommy Franchise, from using screens to maximize passing opportunities, to utilizing Randy Moss in the endzone. True, Cassel has trouble avoiding the rush, as six sacks will show, but he proved that he can throw the ball, and run the vaunted Patriot offense.

Denver doesn't beat teams with defense, but the Broncos do beat teams, especially the Chargers (we know how tough they are) and the NFC South-leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Broncos have shown that they expect to be in the AFC elite, and the Patriots showed that it may be a bit too early to rule them out of that group just yet.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fenway prepares for Game 5 (Flickr assignment)

The rain clouds held up for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park, and so did the cloud of gloom hanging over Red Sox Nation.

Hours before the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays prepared to take the field for a 8:07 p.m. showdown, fans began to pack Yawkey Way and Landsdowne Street at Fenway Park. While the smell of hot dogs and sound of opportunistic ticket scalpers have been common properties of every game, the most notable presence was a sense of optimism, belying the Red Sox's dire 3-1 deficit.

"I think, tonight, we're going to do it," said Katie Michaelson, a student at Northeastern University in the waiting line. "We have Daisuke (Matsuzaka) back in, the guy we won with, so I think he'll bring it back. If we win tonight, we'll have the momentum with us. They'll continue that. It's nothing they haven't done before."

Though the Red Sox stand on the verge of seeing their season end, in the eyes of their fans, a round too soon, the fans are not giving up, and continue to have faith in their team's ability to upend a young Tampa Bay team, still new to the idea of postseason success.

"I think if Daisuke can win tonight, then (Josh) Beckett might be able to turn it around," said Brian Michaelson, Katie's brother. "Then, who knows what can happen with (Jon) Lester on the mound, and pressure back on the Rays. If you're loose and you don't have experience, you don't know what kind of pressure to have on yourself."

Bryan Williams, a fan attending the game, also felt the team's history in these situations would help.

"It'd be nice to have a couple more wins than that, but, you look at 2007, 2004, '86, we're used to being three games to one down," he said. "It's happened. No one likes to do it. I think everybody's going to hit, the city's going to get everybody going. They'll get it tonight."

Just like the fans, the park began prepping for the big game early too. Venders were serving crowds before 5 p.m. (more than three hours before game time), while security and news network vans reminded everyone around the park of the spectacle and magnitude of the game.

Williams, a Boston native who's been living in Kansas City, said the sudden attention and growth of interest in Red Sox baseball has been a pleasant development.

"It's fun. To see what the city's become and see what baseball in this city's become is awesome," he said. "It's just so cool. It wasn't like this when I was a kid."

NOTE: Photos to be uploaded soon

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Highs and lows

As most New Englanders will freely admit, last Sunday was pretty demoralizing. But time heals all things. Supposedly. And after a Monday spent watching two League Championship games (one of which saw the Red Sox do their best Sunday Night Patriots impression) and two other teams play a night football game, I came to grips with a simple fact.

Time had healed nothing. The game was no less frustrating, no less ominous, no less revealing of team flaws. Yet, in spite of the downpour of negatives over the past two days, it's important to look at the good, while not letting the bad slip out of focus.

The good:

1. The run defense: Thirty points is nothing to feel proud of, but it'd be harsh to throw any of the blame onto the broad shoulders of Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren and company. After all, up against one of the most prolific running backs in NFL history, the front line keyed a unit that limited LaDainian Tomlinson to 74 yards on 20 carries, and no touchdowns. True, it was all for naught as Philip Rivers gashed the secondary, but it was a good effort nonetheless.

2. The run offense: The Patriots were without half of their running game, as de jurre starting running back Laurence Maroney and de facto starter LaMont Jordan both watched in street clothes. With the running game reduced, the Chargers defense was free to blitz Matt Cassel relentlessly and make it impossible for him to complete a pass. Right? Maybe not, but at least it's an excuse.

3. This isn't a bad football team: The Patriots still have the personnel and coaching staff to make a turnaround. Instead of being stuck in a rebuilding mode, New England appears to be a team capable of hanging with the class of the AFC, that just needs to get in sync.

The bad:

1. The pass defense: The highlights for this group were few and far between. Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O'Neal took turns looking like Owen Wilson during the touch football scene in "Wedding Crashers." Rodney Harrison and Brandon Meriweather didn't provide much help from the safety positions. With the pass-happy Denver Broncos coming up on Monday Night, it's not about to get easier for the secondary.

2. The pass game: As a whole, it was a tough effort. Cassel regressed, therefore allowing Randy Moss to disappear again. Wes Welker, open often as always, caught 9 passes, but for only 73 yards. A unit that finally looked fluid while pinning 30 points on the 49ers went back to square one in San Diego.

3. Coaching: Bill Belichick may not have been the one getting sacked on 4th-and-goal, or the one getting beat on 40-yard pass plays, but he hardly did anything to help his troops Sunday night. One of the staples of a Belichick team is its ability to be prepared for every thing thrown at it, but New England clearly was not ready for several San Diego play choices from the first play on. Also, on the Patriots' best chance to score a meaningful touchdown, Belichick and offensive coordinator McDaniels faced a 1st-and-goal from the 1, and opted to place the score in Cassel's hand three times, resulting in three failures to gain any yardage. By ignoring the run game, New England lost an opportunity to tighten the score, and wouldn't get close again.