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.

The trade deadline

On Tuesday, Oct. 14, the NFL trade deadline passed, with no news from the Patriots' front.

While inaction from teams around the deadline is common, this does mean that the boatload of issues that were painfully evident during the Charger game will be dealt internally by Belichick, McDaniels and Co. It's a tall task, certainly, but we've seen that if anyone can do it, it's Friar Bill.

Radio on the web

Good presentation by Robin Lubbock, the director of New Media at WBUR, showing how putting radio on the internet is helping the radio networks take off. Lubbock's presentation focused specifically on how the internet is helping WBUR, but his point was universal: By using computers as radios, and adopting the unimedia approach, radio content can be expanded beyond what you hear in the car. You can choose what you want to hear, whenever you want to hear it. The internet is making radio bigger.

An example of this is the Worldwide Leader in Sports. ESPN has a prominent radio network, used to broadcast sports events and sports talk shows, such as "The Herd with Colin Cowherd" and the "Mike and Mike in the Morning" shows. ESPN has a prominent website, with content on essentially every sport worth watching and following. Just as Lubbock was saying, the two have formed a symbiotic relationship. Fans of The Herd and Mike and Mike can become internet fans of The Herd and Mike and Mike. The relationship has paid immediate dividends; "The Herd" is one of the leading sports shows on the airwaves, while "Mike and Mike", a show hosted by TV and radio host Mike Greenberg and former NFL player Mike Golic, is a widely-followed radio and TV program.

CBS has also showed an interesting way to go about the radio and internet merger. CBS Radio has undoubtedly become a leader on the airwaves, and its website proclaims it to be "one of the largest major-market operators in the United States." And yet, while CBS has had so much success both in radio and television, it has gone the extra distance to create an impressive website that includes broadcast, HD streaming and not only includes its own content, but merges with AOL Radio to present an even wider selection of radio genres and topics. Unlike ESPN, however, CBS doesn't put access to the online radio on its site as easily, forcing an interested user to have to look for CBS Radio separately. Searching on Google is obviously an easy step to take, but if the overall goal is to get users used to going to the radio, it's a step that CBS might be interested in eliminating.

These two companies show the use of internet to help publicize its radio content. Relatively smaller companies, like WBUR, use radio to remain prominent, while larger companies like CBS and ESPN use the internet to widen their reach. Lubbock said that unimedia is becoming the next big thing for the radio, and it appears he's right.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A giant step backwards

So this is where all that momentum went?

One week after an inspiring, well-played effort over the San Francisco 49ers, the Patriots traveled to San Diego full of confidence and swagger, ready to show the world that the injured knee of Tom Brady was a temporary setback, rather than a dibilitating loss.

With that new found enthusiasm, New England proceeded to get smoked by the Chargers, 30-10, failing to throw the ball, run the ball, defend the pass or really do something, anything right.

Remember that feeling in the pit of your stomach, that sinking feeling, after New England got roughed up against Miami? That's what you're feeling now. That feeling that despite the presence of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, an All-Pro offensive line, a defense of veteran playmakers and Bill Belichick on the sidelines...this just is not a good football team right now.

Where to start? You can look at the aimless play of Matt Cassel, who seemed to be figuring things out after a 260-yard effort against the 49ers. Instead, Cassel reverted back to the quarterback we saw against Miami, and while he looked poised, the results indicated otherwise. He relied too much on short dump-offs to running back Sammy Morris and Wes Welker, and again failed to connect with Randy Moss while choosing too often to make plays with his feet. If there is a positive to be found in Cassel's effort, it's that he at least tried to hit Moss, rather than forget about him like he did versus the Dolphins. But there's no question that, for this offense to work, Moss has to be involved early and often.

While Cassel looked lost at times, it was the Patriot defense that was sounding alarms. From the first play, a 47-yard pass to Vincent Jackson over an embarassingly-burnt Deltha O'Neal, on, the Chargers consistently pounded New England with deep passes, out routes and throws over the middle. The run defense, which held all-world running back LaDainian Tomlinson to only 74 yards and no touchdowns, was stout. The secondary, notably cornerbacks Ellis Hobbs and O'Neal, was not, and Charger quarterback Philip Rivers converted on nearly every opportunity to exploit them.

Experts declared New England's season D.O.A. after Brady's injury, and while Cassel has not starred as the franchise player's replacement, Sunday's primetime debacle reminded us that Cassel isn't all that's wrong. The defense is in critical condition, and unless something is fixed, so is the Patriots' season.

Where to start?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Memorable Bolt moments

So, here we go again...the Patriots head to San Diego to take on the Chargers, who are quickly gaining ground on the Colts as the Patriots chief rivals. While the New England-Indianapolis rivalry is dominated by the Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning debate and breathtakingly close games, the Chargers-Patriots clashes are often characterized by player rivalries and players crying foul.

Some of the classic games in the bad-blood series:

Jan. 20, 2008: The Patriots improve to 18-0 with a 21-12 victory over San Diego. While New England came in looking to keep its perfect season alive, the Chargers entered with revenge for the 2006 AFC Divisional Playoff matchup (more on that later) on their minds. San Diego's upset plans were dampened by injuries to running back LaDainian Tomlinson and quarterback Philip Rivers, and thanks to 122 rushing yards from Laurence "The Pony" Maroney, the Patriots made it two playoff victories over "America's Finest City" in as many years.

Sept. 16, 2007: In the first game after "Spygate", New England improves to 2-0 with a 38-14 drubbing of the Chargers. Tom Brady threw three touchdowns, two to Randy Moss, on his way to a record-breaking season.

Jan. 14, 2007: The game that made the rivalry what it is today. Overwhelming underdogs in the '06 AFC Divisional Playoffs against a 14-2 Chargers team that didn't lose once at home, the Patriots nonetheless stunned San Diego, 24-21, to advance to the AFC Championship. Notable moments include Troy Brown's stripping Marlon McCree, who had just made what would have been a game-ending interception, and the post-game incident that saw Ellis Hobbs leading a group of Patriots who danced tauntingly on San Diego's logo, infuriating Tomlinson in a moment many maintain he still hasn't gotten over.

Oct. 2, 2005: The defending champion Patriots are rocked at home, 41-17, to fall to 2-2. This time, it's Tom Brady making the the controversial comments. After Charger coach Marty Schottenheimer defended the injury-ravaged Patriots, who were going for a third straight title, Brady misinterpreted and figured the coach was trash-talking, saying:
I just assumed you talk about your own team. You don't talk about our team. He has no business talking about our team. He's not our coach. We'll let our coach talk about our team. We'll let our players talk about our team. The only thing we ever do is give respect to the other teams because that's what they deserve. They played a good game. They beat us. That's what it is - no more, no less - it's one game.
The first shots in what has become a war of words were fired.

Oct. 14, 2001: Trailing 26-16 in the fourth quarter, unknown quarterback Tom Brady leads the Patriots into overtime and then, after an Adam Vinatieri field goal, to victory. It's the first miracle work of Brady's career, and was the first hallmark game of what became a Super Bowl-winning season.

Dec. 1, 1996 and Aug. 31, 1997: The Patriots beat the Chargers a combined 86-14. Drew Bledsoe throws for eight touchdowns over the two games, and the Patriot defense knocks starting Charger quarterback Stan Humphries out in the second game.

Nov. 20, 1994: The 1994 Chargers may have gone to the Super Bowl, but the Patriots got the best of them in Foxboro, earning a 23-17 victory.

As for Oct. 12, 2008? We'll see...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Tough blow

According to the Boston Herald, LaMont Jordan has a calf injury, and had to sit out practice on Tuesday.

This is tough news for the Patriots. Jordan was starting to emerge as a punishing alternative to the quickness and speed of Kevin Faulk and Laurence Maroney. Hopefully, the injury will be as minor as it looked (Jordan wasn't hit hard, but fell to the ground with nothing bending awkwardly). Nonetheless, should he sit out Sunday, his absence will weaken the running game and force Matt Cassel to carry the team more with his arm.

The long road back

After the harrowing events of Sept. 7, Tom Brady has taken his first step in his recovery, undergoing surgery on Monday in Los Angeles.

According to sources in the sports medicine field, recovery time ranges from 6-8 months. This is great news for Patriots fans, as it means Brady should be in fine condition come the start of training camp in mid-July.

Of course, it's not as good as him being back on the field, but at least he's back on schedule.

The Clothesline Project

Clotheslines filled the Centennial Quad at Northeastern University on Wednesday afternoon. On all sides of the quad, at the Ryder Hall, West Village, Shillman Hall and Egan Science Center directions, t-shirts waved as part of the "Clothesline Project", held to honor those who have spoken out on sexual and domestic crimes.

But the t-shirts were more than a tribute. They were designed and painted by women who had suffered crimes such as rape, sexual harrassment and domestic violence. The t-shirts formed a powerful picture, as a quad most commonly seen with thousands of students walking to class was transformed, momentarily, into what looked like a large laundry area with testimonial t-shirts. The effect of the tribute was twofold; it reminded one both how prevelent these crimes are, but also, how brave the victims are for letting people know what happened.

The Clothesline Project is not new, nor is it limited to Northeastern. It began in 1990 in Cape Cod, and has made its way onto campuses of such schools as St. John's University, the University of North Dakota, the University of Northern Colorado and James Madison University, among others.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Where's the Pony?

During the Patriots' methodical victory over San Francisco on Sunday, we saw plenty of things from the comfort of our homes, an entire country away.

We saw the incomparable Kevin Faulk catch screen after screen and turn them into first down after first down, while adding two big touchdowns to his effort.

We saw LaMont Jordan resume his weekly ritual of stomping over defenders before leaving with an apparent leg injury.

We saw Sammy Morris come up big with several first down runs en route to 63 yards on 16 attempts.

What didn't we see? Laurence Maroney.

Oh sure, Maroney the Pony (a nickname I can't take credit for, sadly. My dad came up with it in 2006) was there. He ran the ball 10 times, for a hardly robust 26 yards. He was just a non-factor, whose dances behind the line of scrimmage went nowhere, and whose frequent stops at the line of scrimmage threatened to single-handedly derail Patriot drives.

Maroney was there. He just didn't show up.

Even Maroney's best carry, a five-yard rush, was perplexing. The third-year player ran left, neared the first-down marker, and inexplicably continued out of bounds, rather than turning upfield for the crucial additional yard that would have awarded a new set of downs.

Is this the type of production we should expect from a first-round draft pick? Considering the success Maroney has had in the past, the answer is a resounding "no". This is, after all, the same guy who struggled through nagging injuries for most of last year also, though it went largely unnoticed with the Patriots experiencing unprecedented success through the air.

In the playoffs, though, the Pony, out of nowhere, showed up. He ran for 100 yards in both the divisional and conference championship rounds, and scored one of the team's two Super Bowl touchdowns.

Which brings us to this year, his supposed break out year. But we haven't seen it. The Patriots' coaching staff hasn't seen it. And unless he figures out how to get back on track, we won't be seeing the Pony too much in the future.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A few apologies

Well, the Patriots are back in the win column after a nice victory over San Francisco. Granted, the 49ers aren't exactly an NFC powerhouse, but as the Dolphins showed last week, no team in the NFL can be taken for granted, and marked down for a defeat before you actually play the game.

It'd be great to go into the heroes for the Patriots on Sunday. But first, it's important to apologize for a few things.

1. Apologies to...the Patriots defense. So maligned after the Week 3 drubbing against Miami, the group of old guys proved they can still play football. After the 49ers scored easily twice in the opening quarter, the New England defense stiffened and allowed no points until San Francisco finally got back in sync late in the fourth quarter. The Patriots tackled, grouped up on the ball carrier and, as evidenced by interceptions from Brandon Meriweather and Rodney Harrison, made the big play. Plus, for the fourth straight game, the secondary didn't allow the big 40-yard play that kills momentum.

2. Apologies to...the Patriots offensive line. True, five sacks showed that the concerns aired during the bye week have some substance to them, but Matt Light, Dan Koppen, Russ Hochstein, Nick Kaczur and Logan Mankins had several huge blocks during scoring drives and when the Patriots were trying to run out the clock. And on the decisive fourth-down direct snap to Kevin Faulk for the touchdown, he had a hole to run through that was carved out by Light, Mankins and Koppen on the left side.

3. Apologies to...Randy Moss. Last week (according to the ever generous Boston media), he was the brooding Randy Moss, the Randy Moss who was incapable of putting up big numbers again. The new co-captain of the New England Patriots set the record straight, both before Sunday's game, and during. No. 81 showed that he still has the tools that have made him the game's most dangerous receiver. With five catches for 111 yards and a touchdown, Randy showed that he's not just back. He never left.

4. Apologies to...Matt Cassel. New England was able to take a deep breath with the latest outing from No. 16. Against Miami, Cassel looked lost, confused, timid and slow. Against the 49ers, Cassel looked terrific. After two mistakes to start the game, Matt recovered. He sent shockwaves throughout Candlestick Park with a 66-yard lightning strike to Moss for a touchdown, began finding Wes Welker, Moss and Ben Watson for 10-yard gains to put points on the board, and helped set up the running game which kept the Patriots' offense on the field and gave J.T. O'Sullivan and Co. very few chances to work miracles late in the game.

But more important than what Cassel did was how he looked. Early on, he looked like the awkward quarterback we saw against Miami. As the game progressed, he settled, and began to look like the man he replaced. He found the open receivers. He stood in the pocket as the offensive line held around him. On one play, he took a shot from 49er linebacker Patrick Willis, but not before hitting Kevin Faulk with a short pass that went to the San Francisco two-yard line.

A few plays later, Cassel performed his magnum opus. On 4th-and-goal from the two-yard line, the Patriots called a direct snap, one of the hallmarks of the Brady-run offenses. Cassel sold it perfectly. He jumped out of the way, threw up his hands to fake the lost snap, and caught the 49er defense off guard as Faulk scampered in for the touchdown. Vintage Brady, and vintage Patriot result.

If nothing else, Cassel showed he can handle the job. He can hit Moss deep, he can find Wes Welker for eight to 10 catches, and he can read the defenses and move the ball. The Patriots don't need him to be Brady. After what we saw Sunday, this should be good enough.

Words from the local blogs

A major chapter in the 2008 election occurred Thursday with the vice-presidential debate between Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin. The debate, and the candidates, have sparked plenty of interest around several Boston blogs.

1. Boston Herald blogs: Boston Herald blogger Dave Wedge had an interesting point heading into the debates. As he wrote, the interest before, and heading into, the debate centered not just on who would be better, but who would be worse. Who would show their ineptitude more. Who would look more clueless on the national stage. There was plenty of skepticism floating around both of these candidates, whether it be based on Palin's perceived inexperience or Biden's statements that he might not even be the best man for the job. With that in mind, it can be easy to see why viewers were anticipating a meltdown on primetime TV.

2. WCVB TV: This site commented not on how the candidates looked, spoke, or presented themselves, but on what Biden and Palin said. In particular, it highlighted the factual missteps both took, from Palin criticizing Biden's voting record concerning taxes, to Biden's crying foul about McCain's plan to lower taxes on oil companies, and pointed out how they're wrong. While many viewers judge a debate on how the sides looked, it's important to look at the substance as well, which "The Boston Channel" did.

3. And just like there were sites pointing out the factual flaws for both candidates, there were some Boston blogs pointing out the mistakes for one side, as the Ace of Spades HQ did for Joe Biden. It goes to show that some Boston blogs are focusing on one candidate, while others (like the one in #2, above) weigh both sides to the showdown. Or maybe Joe Biden was just the only one who made a mistake.

4. Michael Paulson's "Articles of Faith" blog put the emphasis on, well, faith. As in how often it was mentioned during the debate, and as he wrote, it was mentioned notably not by quantity, but by quality. He argues that faith worked itself into several key topics that Biden and Palin debated on, including the conflict in Israel, Shia extremists and the religious question surrounding same-sex marriages. Paulson's point is interesting, and it seems fitting that we have a national debate containing religious issues after a presidency that was apparently arranged by the man upstairs.

5. This site provided interesting information about how big the debate was from a television angle. According to the blog article, the debate drew more than 70 million viewers, a larger figure than the turnout for the McCain-Obama clash from Sept. 26. There are many reasons there would be such an interest in the vice-presidential debate, one of which being Palin's recent unflattering involvement in news and culture, as the blog post said:
When John McCain and Barack Obama met in their first debate on Sept. 26, Nielsen recorded 52.4 million viewers. They will have two more debates, the first of them next Tuesday. Palin has been a television star since joining the GOP ticket a month ago. The curiosity factor undoubtedly brought in viewers this week after Palin raised doubts about her readiness for the job with some wobbly TV interviews.

The country's interest in the vice-presidential candidates has grown, but just showed by exactly how much it has.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Good presentation by the Boston Globe's Matt Carroll about databases Monday. His message was clear: Databases can be simple to learn, and yet, can be so helpful towards reporting a story. Figures at face value mean one thing. Figures presented in a certain way can make for a story.

One database I'm going to highlight comes from the Globe's website, and is a list of teacher salaries as of the 2006-07 year. The figures in this study are interesting, and many of them correlate to the wealth and/or size of the towns. Boston, the capital and largest city, tops the list at $71,123, while the state's richest town, Weston, is third at $70,617. The trend holds true on the other end, as Florida, a one-school town of 676 people, is the only town giving its teachers less than $40,000 a year ($34,748). That trend alone interests me, though eight months at the Patriot Ledger has introduced me to towns in the South Shore, and it's interesting to see the various figures for other towns in the South Shore.

Another database of note is one we mentioned in class. I was really impressed with the Congress Votes Database at, to the point that it would be my go-to-source for any story I was doing centered around Congress. Voting records tell you everything, and can reveal a politician's stance on issues more than what they say in a speech. Whether the aim of the article is to inform, praise a Congressman or tear one down, what they do in office is not just helpful to the story; it often is the story. This site should be memorized by every Washington reporter, and not just those with the Post.

The final database is one by the Boston Police Department comparing crime figures from January to July in 2007 and 2008. The department breaks the figures down by district and by crime, including offenses such as homicide, rape, assault, theft and robbery. I picked this database due to an interest I have in crime and crime stories, and due to the usefulness of this site in reporting. If a reporter were doing a story on city crime, this is the site he or she would consult. The statistics are legitimate, from a legitimate source, and can be the foundation for a thorough, investigative crime story.

A story idea comes to mind. In all districts, for all crimes mentioned in the survey, totals went down between 2007 and 2008. Why is this? Were new measures put in to improve safety and crime awareness? Were there more police officers on staff. Plus, less crime means more unharmed citizens. Do they feel safer? Do these numbers ease any tension they could have about more dangerous parts of the city?