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 BadJocks.com. 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.