Monday, December 19, 2016

Patriots Get Rare Win In Denver, 16-3

The Patriots beat the hated Broncos 16-3 yesterday, in a game that was closer than the final score indicated. The win runs their record to 12-2, and it gives the Patriots the AFC East title and a first-round by in the playoffs! Next up are the woeful Jets on Saturday, with a chance to cement the overall #1 AFC seed.

All credit to the defense for this win. Four sacks of Denver QB Trevor Siemian, 58 yards rushing allowed, held the Broncos to 2-of-12 (17%) on third-down conversions, and got two turnovers. They hit hard, controlled the line of scrimmage, and shut down dangerous receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Note: the Patriots have given up the fewest points in the NFL this season.

The secondary had the best day of any unit. Corner Logan Ryan led the team with seven tackles, and added a pass defended, another QB pressure, and a huge interception (returned 46 yards). Malcolm Butler shut down Sanders, and safety Devin McCourty had five tackles, a massive hit that forced an important incompletion, and he recovered a fumble. Even Eric Rowe had a decent game, as did Patrick Chung. Overall, the secondary's best game since the Houston rout in week 2.

The defensive line was next on the hit parade. Malcom Brown and Alan Branch controlled the middle of the line, forcing Denver to run outside exclusively, which they don't like to do. The Broncos love cut-back runs, but there weren't any lanes available with those two monsters inside.

Trey Flowers extended his team lead in sacks with two more. He has seven for the year, and has only started six games! His speed is rare for a Patriots inside-lineman, and compares favorably with Chris Long on the outside. Speaking of Long, he disrupted multiple timing throws by forcing the QB to move in the pocket. And Jabaal Sheard looked like his old self, powering through blockers to get a sack and two QB hits.

On the stat line, Kyle Van Noy won the day among linebackers. He had six tackles, including one for a loss, and he forced a fumble. Dont'a Hightower didn't make many plays, but that might have indicated the Broncos running and passing away from him. He didn't appear gimpy or out of position, but his teammates just made more plays than he did.

On offense, the running backs did most of the damage. For the first time this season, LeGarrette Blount wasn't the Patriots leading rusher. That honor went to Dion Lewis, who juked his way to 95 yards on 18 carries (5.3 ypc). He showed the same burst and shiftiness from last season, and his style was the change-up needed to beat the Broncos defensive speed. Fullback James Develin deserves special mention, as he was the lead blocker most of the game for a running attack that kept the Broncos off-balance.

And the Patriots needed the running game, because quarterback Tom Brady started the game 0-6 and had trouble finding open receivers all day. Brady ended up with his lamest stat line of the season, completing only 50% of his passes for 188 yards, zero touchdowns, and a QB rating of just 68.2. But perhaps most important was that he threw no interceptions, protecting the ball to help win the turnover battle. He also used play-action fakes to excellent effect, though offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should have used that even more.

The receivers had trouble getting open, and the team became much too dependent on wideout Julian Edelman. He was targeted 12 times, catching six passes for 75 yards. Brady and James White failed to connect on the first three passes thrown his way, twice it was Brady's fault, and once it was White's. But all of this probably owes to the Broncos insisting the Patriots beat them on the ground, which they were all too happy to do.

The offensive line blocked well on both run and pass plays. In this game, the Broncos had two sacks and five QB hits; in the AFC Championship Game in January, they had four and 20, respectively. Yesterday, tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon contained the outside rush, with chipping help from the tight ends and running backs.

Marcus Cannon did a great job slowing down Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, who registered no sacks or QB hits in the game. The commentators pointed out that Cannon played with his hands down until Miller engaged him, then he'd use his superior strength to push him back or angle him away from Brady. This runs counter to most games, where O-linemen try to hit the defenders first. But it took away Miller's hand-fighting advantage, so it was a great plan and execution by the coaching staff and Cannon.

Special teams earned their name this week. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski continued his improved run with three field goals and angled kickoffs. The coverage unit downed three punts inside the Broncos 20 yard-line, and even came up with a turnover on a muffed fair catch.

So where does that leave us? 12-2 and in the driver's seat for the #1 overall seed in the AFC. Not bad for a team whose starting quarterback was suspended four games to start the season. The Jets game should be another win, but even if the Patriots do win that game, they need a loss or tie by the Raiders to secure the #1 seed.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: Logan Ryan turned the tide with his interception and led the team in tackles.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Brady is 5-3 in games when he posts a sub-70 QB rating without throwing an interception, and all three losses have come against the Miami Dolphins.

Bonus Statistical Oddity: Broncos fans should not despair; the last three years in which the Patriots won in Denver, the Broncos made the playoffs. (Trivia question: can you name all three years? Answer below...)

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "It's the defense that's stepping up now. Giving up just three points on the road against any NFL team is an accomplishment."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 12-2!

PPS. Trivia Answer:
The Broncos made the playoffs in the 2000, 2003, and 2011 seasons, after losing to the Patriots at home each of those years.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Patriots Hold On For 30-23 Win Over Ravens

The Patriots dominated Baltimore most of the night, and overcame two special teams turnovers to hold on for a 30-23 win. The victory keeps them a game ahead of Kansas City and Oakland for the #1 overall AFC seed in the playoffs. It also has them three games ahead of second-place Miami in the AFC East, with three games to go. Next week it's a road trip to Denver to face the Broncos.

The game looked like a blowout early in the third quarter, as the Patriots took a 23-3 lead. But Cyrus Jones muffed a punt for a turnover that the Ravens quickly turned into a touchdown. And on the ensuing kickoff, special teams captain Matthew Slater fumbled, giving Baltimore the ball at the Pats 22 yard line, and an easy path to a 23-17 score.

A Ravens field goal made it a three-point affair. And then Brady took the snap at his 21 yard-line, faked a handoff to LeGarrette Blount, and threw a perfect pass deep down the middle to Chris Hogan, who took it the distance and effectively ended the game. Sure, there were more than six minutes left, but Baltimore’s offense was not going to travel the length of the field twice in that little time. Not last night.

The Pats offense looked as sharp as they did against the woeful Rams the week before. They produced over 500 yards of offense, converted 8-of-16 third downs, averaged 10.3 yards per pass attempt, had 20 first downs, and the running game went 22 yards over the average against the Ravens.

Quarterback Tom Brady inserted himself into the MVP race again with a resilient game and a stellar stat line: 25 of 38 (65.8%), 406 yards, three touchdowns, and a 116.8 QB rating. His 406 yards were the most against the Ravens this year, and his QB rating was 30 points higher than what Baltimore gives up on average. Brady’s only mistake was a bad one: a red-zone interception that cost the Patriots valuable points before the half.

The receivers were led by Hogan’s five catches for 129 yards and that long touchdown. But more important for the stretch run — for the second consecutive week there were at least five players with 3+ receptions each. This week it was Hogan, Julian Edelman (7), Martellus Bennett (4), Malcolm Mitchell (4), and James White (3). The passing offense has adjusted to the loss of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola by going multiple, and in the past, this multi-pronged style has paid dividends in the post-season.

Running back LeGarrette Blount was his usual workman self: 18 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown. He broke 1,000 yards for the season, and his 14 touchdowns tie the Patriots franchise record for rushing touchdowns in a season. With three games left, he will surely break Curtis Martin’s 20 year-old record.

The defense made timely plays all night long.

Defensive lineman Trey Flowers’ team-leading sixth sack came on a third-down and forced a punt. And the team’s second-leading sack artist, Rob Ninkovich, got one on another third-down, and the Ravens had to settle for a field goal. Safety Devin McCourty intercepted an errant Joe Flacco pass, and knocked away a potential big gain on third down to force yet another punt.

But perhaps the biggest play of them all was made by the biggest Patriots defender of them all, 6′ 2″, 315-pound defensive lineman Malcom Brown. He pushed his blocker into the backfield and tackled Ravens back Kenneth Dixon in his own end zone for a safety and an early 2-0 lead. Brown is perhaps the Pats most-improved defender this season, and this play set the defensive tone early.

There were other big plays; the team knocked down four total passes, the new linebacker rotation of Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Rob Ninkovich, and Kyle Van Noy made 23 tackles, and safety Patrick Chung flew all over the field, topping his teammates with nine tackles of his own.

And then there was special teams. No doubt you’ll read just about everywhere that the kicking team almost cost the Patriots the game. If this was college football, these guys would be running the stadium steps all week as punishment. But believe it or not, the special teams helped the Patriots win the game before they nearly gave it away.

Punter Ryan Allen played an MVP-type role, having two of his punts downed inside the two-yard line, one of which was cashed in for the aforementioned safety. Additionally, McClellin hurdled over the Ravens snapper to block a field goal. And the importance of those three points was magnified in a game with a score of 23-20 going into the fourth quarter. Special teams also contained all-time return man Devin Hester, who ended up with 52 total yards.

As for the bad, Jones’ play was awful. He was too busy waving other players away from the short punt get away himself. And whether he thought the ball hit him or not he should have grabbed it when it was sitting at the three yard-line. If he thought it hit him, he needed to get it to retain possession. If he didn't, then he should have picked it up after the Ravens touched it -- it's a basic special teams play that everyone knows, because there is no potential downside if the other team touches it first.

So in either case, Jones screwed up twice on the same play. An all-around horrific play by Jones, who should not return kicks for the rest of the season.

Slater’s mistake was forgetting the game situation. He caught the kickoff at the one yard-line, so he had to return it. But there was no reason to plow into a pile at the 20 yard-line, trying to get a few more yards. Slater should have known that with a 13-point lead and the game in control, those extra yards were meaningless compared with possession of the ball. It’s at least his third special teams mistake this season, and it’s time for him to button up these problems before they cost the team a game down the stretch, or worse, in the playoffs.

Without these two mistakes, pundits would have praised the Patriots special teams. They might have even given them credit for the win. But the mistakes happened, and given that they nearly did lose the game, it’s important for the the coaches to re-emphasize good decision-making going forward.

Two thoughts on the coaching this year. First, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has done an amazing job of rebuilding the linebacker corps with the loss of 2015 starters Jamie Collins and Jonathan Freeney. He's coached-up and integrated cast-offs from the NFC North (McClellin and Van Noy), a rookie (Elandon Roberts), and a converted defensive end (Ninkovich). It's still not perfect, but it looked like a disaster three weeks ago.

Secondly, there isn't enough praise in the world for offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. The line continues to excel at run blocking, despite losing one of the best run-blocking tight ends in Rob Gronkowski. I didn't think they'd be able to run the ball effectively without Gronk, and I was wrong. The Ravens run D is the real deal, and the running backs averaged 4.7 yards per carry.

So where does that leave us? The Patriots 11-2 record has them a game ahead of Kansas City and Oakland for the #1 overall playoff seed in the AFC. They also hold a three-game division lead over Miami with three games to go, and appear all but certain to get at least one home playoff game once the division is sewn up.

The offense is playing as well as they did before Gronk’s injury, and the front seven on defense has settled on a rotation that works pretty well. Ravens offensive mistakes helped out a bit last night, but overall the Pats defense has played as well as could be expected with all the turnover and shifting of players. Or perhaps you didn’t notice they’ve given up the fewest points in the AFC :)

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: The entire offensive line, and O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia. 95 yards rushing, 4.7 yards per carry for the running backs, and just one sack of Brady against one of the best front sevens in the league.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Despite the press clippings, the Ravens are now 1-8 versus the Patriots in the regular season.

Bonus Statistical Oddity: It’s not Patriots related, but Jeff Fisher tied Dan Reeves for the most losses by a head coach in NFL history with 165. The oddity: both men were fired after their 165th loss, and those firings both took place with three games left in their respective seasons.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "I guess this is why Belichick stresses playing well in all three phases of the game.

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 11-2!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Patriots Cruise to 26-10 Win Over Rams

The Patriots took apart the Rams yesterday, beating them 26-10, though it wasn't really that close. The Pats 10-2 record is good enough to lead the AFC and gives them a three-game lead in the division over the 7-5 Dolphins. The Ravens come to town next Monday for a battle of division leaders in Foxaboro.

The Rams offense is pretty bad, and they compounded their problems with key dropped passes and a ton of penalties. And that also meant giving the ball back to the Patriots offense, which was efficient and deadly, even without tight end Rob Gronkowski (out for the year).

Honestly the Rams put up so little fight, there wasn't as much to analyze or learn from this game. But here are a few things to know.

The Patriots ground game remains solid, even without #87 blocking on the line. Running backs LeGarrette Blount (18 carries for 88 yards), Dion Lewis (5 for 27), and James White (3 for 17) got extra yards by using outside seal blocks by tight ends and receivers. Their 133 yards dwarfed the Rams' 36, and they seemed to be able to run at will.

The offensive line obviously had a great game, blocking for the run and keeping the quarterback pretty clean. Brady was hit four times but never sacked. One concerning statistic is Brady's 5.8 yards per attempt, which is the second-worst of the season, after last week versus the Jets. Obviously it hurts to lose the Gronkowski deep threat.

However, Tom was plenty good enough to earn the 201st victory of his stellar career.  It's quite an achievement; one that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago. In fact, Belichick and Brady have been so good, the Patriots have more wins than any other original AFC franchise. Let *that* sink in for a moment!

As for yesterday, the receivers were outstanding. Julian Edelman always came through on third-down (8 catches for 101 yards), and Malcolm Mitchell was a revelation: 8 catches for 82 yards, including outs, slants, and back-shoulder catches. The Pats replaced Gronk by having seven receivers make at least four catches -- and they are always more dangerous when they spread the ball around.

The defensive coordinator finally called some exotic blitzes, sending linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks at rookie QB Jared Goff And the Patriots players showed they could make that work. The results were impressive: 1 of 12 on third-down conversions, 162 total yards, 3.5 yards per pass attempt, 4 sacks (35 yards), and two interceptions.

There is some interesting stuff going on at linebacker. The Patriots appeared to play DE Jabaal Sheard at 'backer a few times, to great effect. He knocked away three passes and somehow was more effective when he rushed the passer. This also allowed Rob Ninkovich to play more at DE, and he delivered, with a sack, a tackle for a loss, two QB hits, and multiple QB pressures.

The team still hasn't settled on a rotation at linebacker, but it appears Shea McClellin (six tackles and a sack) and Kyle Van Noy (interception) will work with Dont'a Hightower for the time being. Early fave Elandon Roberts seems to have fallen out of favor.

The secondary had a great game. Logan Ryan blitzed twice, getting a sack and a QB hit. Malcolm Butler knocked down three passes and had an athletic interception. And safety Devin McCourty knocked down two passes.

Even kicker Stephen Gostkowski shook off his recent woes and put four field goals right down the middle, along with two extra points.

Quick Hits:
  • Martellus Bennett limped around most of the day. Given that the game was in hand by the half, and he's their last tight end, he probably should have sat after intermission.
  • Great overall play led to the Patriots dominating time of possession: 37:57 to 22:03.
  • Cyrus Jones had another fumble on special teams; you might have seen the last of him in the kicking game for a while.
  • The Patriots more than doubled-up the Rams in first downs (4 to 1), total yards (402 to 162), and sacks (4 to 0). But in fairness, the Rams doubled-up the Patriots in one area -- penalties committed (8 to 4).
So where does that leave us? The Pats cruised in this one; next Monday against the Ravens will be a better test. Their 10-2 record gives them a three-game lead in the division with four games to play, so it appears they'll be at least one playoff game in Foxboro this year.

Non-Brady MVP of the game: Malcolm Mitchell snags this award for the first time in his young career. Very impressed with his grasp of the offense and his precise route-running.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: To underscore how dominant the Patriots were, their defense had to make just 40 tackles. The Rams made 72.

Bonus Statistical Oddity: Aggregate score of last three times these two head coaches faced each other: Belichick 130, Fisher 17.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Now that the warmup is over, it's on the the real thing next Monday!"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 10-2!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Patriots Defense Steps Up In 22-17 Win Over Jets

The Patriots defense stepped up several times in a tense 22-17 win over the Jets in New Jersey yesterday. The victory kept the 9-2 Patriots two games ahead of Miami in the AFC East and helped them stay with the 9-2 Raiders for playoff positioning. Next week the LA Rams come to Foxboro.

The defense should take a bow for this win. They caused two turnovers, made the Jets attempt a long field goal (which was blocked), and forced punts on four other possessions. They opened the game in a 3-3-5 alignment and mixed coverages while holding the Jets to 2.8 yards per rush (they average 4.3ypc), even with extra DBs on the field.

Cornerback Malcolm Butler knocked down two passes and had the aforementioned forced fumble (which he recovered). The fumble killed the Jets momentum and the Pats scored their first touchdown on that drive. Logan Ryan tied for the team lead with 7 tackles and he played decent coverage when matched up with the Jets Brandon Marshall. Eric Rowe made five tackles and even had a pass defensed.

The linebackers looked better with Dont'a Hightower not rushing the passer every down and Kyle Van Noy promoted to starter. There were still some holes in the short zones, but receivers were tackled faster this week. Elandon Roberts even made a tackle for a loss this week. And although all the linebackers combined had just ten tackles, that was mostly testament of the excellent play of the...

The defensive line didn't get great pressure on the QB, but they did everything else well. Malcolm Brown had 7 tackles, Alan Branch had 6, Trey Flowers had 4, Jabaal Sheard had 3, Vincent Valentine had 1, and Chris Long has 1 (a big one). Trust me, 22 tackles is a huge number from the defensive line in a Bill Belichick defense.

Long's lone tackle was a strip-sack that effectively ended the game when Flowers recovered. And Branch and Brown plugged gaps in the middle that gave the Jets running backs little room. Sheard looked good in his return, although no one on that line seems to understand how to hold the edge against the run.

The offense went as quarterback Tom Brady went, and it wasn't always perfect. Brady's right knee injury appeared to cause some accuracy issues, which is to be expected when the QB can't push off the normal way. He still completed 60% of his passes but his 89.2 QB rating was his lowest this season. Still, he threw two touchdowns to Malcolm Mitchell, so it wasn't all bad.

Speaking of Mitchell, his two TDs were both excellent catches, and he nearly had a third (just off his fingertips in the end zone). He has Brady's trust, and the coaching staff loves his blocking and route-running, so he could be in for a long ride with the team. As for the rest of the receivers, Chris Hogan was the long man (17.5 yards per catch), and Julian Edelman was back to being Mr. Reliable (8 catches for 83 yards).

Tight end Rob Gronkowski had no catches and left the game early with a back injury. Then Martellus Bennet injured his ankle, so the team had to use tackle Cameron Fleming at tight end for a while. The health of Gronk and Bennett is becoming a real concern as the team heads toward what will hopefully be a playoff run.

The other receivers were the running backs: James White caught four passes for 22 yards, while Dion Lewis had four of his own for 34 yards. White became much more reliable in Lewis' absence, so having both at the same time is quite the 1-2 pass-catching punch from the RB position.

Lewis also ran for 24 yards, but as usual the bulk of the running was done by LeGarrette Blount (67 yards). The Pats didn't stick with the run as long as they did against San Francisco, but it was effective when they ran (4.3 ypc in the game).

The offensive line allowed too many big hits on Brady, even though he wasn't sacked in the game. They were decent in run-blocking, and the pass pressure subsided when the offensive rhythm allowed quick enough passes. But they still have a lot of room for improvement, and it's up to coach Dante Scarnecchia to get that done.

As for special teams, I'll start with the good and go to the bad. Punter Ryan Allen did a great job pinning the Jets back multiple times. And Alan Branch powered through the center to block a field goal attempt late in the second quarter. However, kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed another makable field goals (39 yards), and it appeared the coaches went for it on fourth-down at least once because they were afraid Gostkowski might miss another.

He officially has the yips, and it's probably time to bring in another kicker, just for a tryout to see if you can light a fire under Gostkowski's ass. If the Pats make the playoffs, they can't be guessing whether their kicker will shank a 39-yarder. They just can't.

So where does that leave us? 9-2 and still sixth in points allowed on the season; not half bad. They have to get the kicking game shored up, and the O-line is a time bomb waiting to happen if they can't improve pass protection. Next week it's the Rams, and rookie Jared Goff could fare better than you think, if history is any indication.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: has to be Mitchell.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The Patriots have only four total possessions in the third quarters of the last three games combined.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Division games can be tough, but this one shouldn't have been *that* tough."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 9-2!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Patriots Cruise to 30-17 Win Over 49ers

As they often do, the Patriots played down to their competition for a half and then turned up the intensity to pull away for a 30-17 victory in Santa Clara over the 49ers.  The win temporarily gives the 8-2 Patriots the best record in the AFC, as Kansas City lost and the Raiders play tomorrow night. Next week it's off to New York to play the hapless Jets, although it's dangerous to overlook division games.

Don't let the final score or the stats fool you; this game was much closer than it should have been for the first three quarters. In slick conditions, the Pats defense allowed 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to complete 8 of 9 passes and notch a 155.8 QB rating for the first half. They simply couldn't cover the short zones, and even though they had five sacks at the half, they were lucky the 49ers shot themselves in the foot to stall several drives.

Meanwhile, the offense was a strange tale of two halves, but not in the usual way. In the first and fourth quarters (including the first play of the second quarter), the Pats ran 45 plays for 336 yards, one punt, and all 30 points. In between, they ran 27 plays for 108 yards, four punts, and zero points. That was one vast canyon of lousy offense in the middle of the game.

The Pats best linebacker, Dont'a Hightower spent most to the game rushing the passer, and he got a sack and forced a fumble. However, this left the short zones undermanned, and Kaepernick freely attacked them with crossing and out patterns that kept the chains moving.

Elandon Roberts was out of position too often and had just one assisted tackle yesterday, and Rob Ninkovich just isn't working that well at linebacker -- he should be moved back to defensive end ASAP. Shea McClellin got four tackles and newcomer Kyle Van Noy made his debut, and actually looked okay in limited action. However, as the defensive lapses pile up, the Jamie Collins trade looks worse by the week. 

Safeties were the top three tacklers for the Patriots: Patrick Chung had eight (plus a sack), Duron Harmon and Devin McCourty had six apiece. You know the linebackers stunk up the joint when three safeties lead the team in tackles, because they were stuck cleaning up the mess the LBs left.

And even with the 49ers gaudy passing stats, I thought the cornerbacks played pretty well. Logan Ryan got beaten at least twice when he had tight coverage, and he still knocked away two passes. And Malcolm Butler wasn't targeted much, and the one pass he gave up was a bad decision by Kaepernick that somehow inched over Butler's hand to the receiver. All in all, I even thought Eric Rowe looked decent.

Jabaal Sheard was a healthy scratch from the defensive line, a unit that was inconsistent against San Francisco. Trey Flowers got four tackles, which is impressive from a Pats D-lineman. But interior linemen Alan Branch Malcom Brown didn't do enough to slow down the run, although they did a decent job pushing the pocket back. Just not one of their best games, overall. Oh, and Chris Long just can't seem to figure out how to set the edge against the run; just isn't in his game.

On offense, the final stat sheet looks amazing. Quarterback Tom Brady grew up 25 miles from SanFran, and he enjoyed his return: 24 of 40 (60%) for 280 yards, 4 touchdowns, and a 114.6 QB rating. He wasn't as consistent as usual, but twice he scrambled around in the pocket to buy time and then made amazing throws for touchdowns.

His TD pass to receiver Malcolm Mitchell was incredible, just high enough to get over the defender's outstretched hands, and in stride so Mitchell could run for a 56-yard touchdown. A thing of beauty.

With tight end Rob Gronkowski out, the bulk of the receiving chores went to Julian Edelman, who was targeted 17 times, but hauled in just 8 for 77 yards (1 TD). Mitchell ended up with 4 catches for 98 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. But aside from that, the best receivers seemed to be...

The running backs.  James White caught all six passes thrown his way (63 yards and a TD), and the returning Dion Lewis caught three of five targets (26 yards). So the completion percentage to running backs was 82%, to everyone else it was 52%. Note to Josh McDaniels, put in more swing passes and wheel routes to your running backs.

As for the running game itself, the Patriots dominated when they did run: 171 yards and an average of 5.7 yards per carry. LeGarrette Blount did the heavy lifting, as usual: 19 carries for 124 yards (no touchdowns this week). Lewis was his usual shifty self, gaining 4.6 yards a carry in limited action.

The offensive line opened gaping holes in the running game. I only wish the team stuck with it more; they could have physically dominated and worn down the 49ers defense. There were a few penalties on the O-line (I'm looking at you, Nate Solder), but for the most part, the pass protection was good enough, giving Brady time to work through all his reads. Although sometimes no receiver was open, but that's not on the O-line.

On special teams, rookie Cyrus Jones had some nice kickoff returns, and Danny Amendola returned the first punt of the game 30 yards to set up great field position. However, kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed another extra point, pushing his first attempt wide-right. After that miss, they moved to the left hashmark for subsequent attempts, and he was perfect. Maybe the field was bad on that spot, but something has to be done before Gostkowski costs the team a game.

The coaches didn't make adjustments as quickly as usual. Perhaps in trying to replace Collins they have to run more experimentation and/or give players more latitude than usual. But in the past, they would usually have done a better job shoring up the short defensive zones and would have stayed committed to the run longer.

So where does that leave us? 8-2 isn't a bad place to be, but letting a bad 49ers team hang around for three quarters wasn't great. The Jets are always dangerous in NY, so the Patriots will have to play better for 60 minutes, not just for 30, if they expect to get to 9-2.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: A close call, but James White gets the nod; for his production in the passing game and nice job picking up the blitz. Could have gone to Blount, but the long runs didn't make up for his 11 plays of two yards or less.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: For the second time in three games, there were no turnovers by either team. (Trivia question: name the last year the Patriots had two such games in one season... Answer below.)

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "It was good enough to beat San Fran, but they gotta figure out the linebackers or that defense will get 'em killed in the playoffs."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 8-2!

PPS. Trivia answer:
This will make you happy, the last time was the 2014, season, when the won the Super Bowl!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Seahawks Top Patriots, 31-24

The Patriots suffered their second home loss of 2016, falling to the Seattle Seahawks 31-24 last night. The loss dropped the Patriots into a three-way tie for best record in the AFC (Raiders and Chiefs) and cut their lead in the AFC East to two games over the Miami Dolphins. Next week is a semi-bye week, when the team flies out to San Francisco to take on the 1-8 49ers.

Sunday's game was hard-fought and competitive to the end. But the Patriots made a few uncharacteristic mistakes, losing the turnover battle 2-0 and letting the Seahawks close the first half with a 59-second touchdown drive. And even with those problems, they nearly came back to tie the game, coming up just short on a fourth-and-goal at the one yard-line with 14-seconds left.

It was a tough day for the New England defense, as Seattle marched the ball up and down the field all night. Russell Wilson's three touchdowns and 124.6 QB rating tell part of the story, but the Seahawks had at least five dropped passes that could well have made the game a runaway.

Most of the evening, the Seattle strategy seemed to be "target the receiver covered by Leonard Coleman or Logan Ryan." Coleman was burned repeatedly and received a (bogus) pass interference call. He was eventually rotated out of the lineup or into a zone coverage. Ryan fared slightly better, and Malcolm Butler slightly better than that, but overall the secondary struggled to keep up with Seattle's four-receiver sets.

Also noteworthy was the failure to cover running backs out of the backfield. Seahawks backs caught eight passes on eight targets, notching five first downs in the process. They beat linebacker Dont'a Hightower to the edge, or sliced through the line uncovered for easy pitch-and-catch plays.

The Patriots linebackers overall were a mess, playing out of position on many plays and allowing blockers to keep them engaged far too long on running plays. Elandon Roberts looked overmatched against the run and Rob Ninkovich really did appear out of place three yards off the ball.

The defensive line got carved up on running plays the entire first half (5.2 yards per carry), but rallied in the second half (2.2 ypc). They were a half-tick late shedding blockers the first thirty minutes, and that allowed backs to sneak through to the second level untouched. One bright spot on the D-line was Trey Flowers, who had two sacks and caused another incompletion with pressure on Wilson.

The Patriots offense started the game with a 75-yard touchdown drive on the first possession. On that drive, they looked poised and in control, mixing run and pass perfectly. But after that, they went three-and-out twice, and Tom Brady threw his first interception of the year (a terrible decision and throw) to kill another drive.

Some of Brady's numbers were decent: 72% completions and 316 yards against an excellent defense. But he missed several connections with Chris Hogan that could have changed the game: one on a back-shoulder throw where Hogan kept running, and the other on a long pass where Hogan stopped running.  Brady also failed to throw a touchdown, and there was that bad INT. (Trivia question: name the last time Brady played an entire game and did not throw a touchdown. Answer below.)

Hogan's problems notwithstanding, the receivers played very well overall. Martellus Bennett (7 catches for 102 yards) and Julian Edelman (7 for 99) led the team, while Rob Gronkowski (3 for 56) and Danny Amendola (1 for 14) had crucial third-down catches to keep drives alive.

However, Edelman had a crucial fumble, killing a drive that started with great field position. And the Seahawks cashed that turnover in for what turned out to be the winning touchdown. His two fumbles lost for the season are already a career high, and not what the team is looking for from the so-called Mister Reliable.

LeGarrette Blount was basically the Patriots running attack. He took a while to get started, but ended up with 69 yards on 21 carries and 3 touchdowns. James White had more impact in the passing game (4 catches for 32 yards) than the running game (5 carries for 7 yards). And we are all still waiting for the return of Dion Lewis, who was a threat in both aspects of the offense.

The offensive line improved over the previous game for the second consecutive outing. It wasn't always pretty, but Brady was sacked just twice and hit four other times, which is less than could be expected against a stout Seahawks front four.

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski cleaned up his field goal and extra point issues, but booted a kickoff out of bounds, which gave the Seahawks a short field for their first scoring drive. Additionally, rookie Cyrus Jones almost ruined his 43-yard kickoff return by fumbling on the play. Luckily it was recovered by Nate Ebner, or Jones, who just escaped the doghouse for poor special teams play, might have found himself inactive the rest of the season.

So where does that leave us? 7-2 is decent, and in fact, exactly where I thought they'd be at this point. Unfortunately, those AFC West teams haven't beaten each other up enough yet: both Oakland and Kansas City are tied with the Patriot atop the AFC. Next up is a road trip to San Fran, and probably a win over the 49ers.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Russell Wilson has played the Patriots three times, once in Seattle, once in Foxboro, and once on a neutral field. In all three games, one team scored exactly 24 points.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: Martellus Bennett caught sideline throws, slants, and in-cuts, and he blocked very well on running plays.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "A tough loss to swallow, but Seattle just outplayed the Pats. Simple as that."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 7-2!

PPS. Trivia answer: On January 11, 2014, Brady didn't throw a touchdown pass as LeGarrette Blount ran all over the Indianapolis Colts in a 43-22 playoff route.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Patriots Handle Bills With Ease, 41-25

The Patriots took care of business yesterday, topping the Bills 41-25. With the win, they are three games up in the AFC East with eight games to go, and even blustery Bills head coach Rex Ryan conceded the division crown to the Pats. Next week is a bye, so relax and enjoy an extra long victory lap.

The Pats basically won this game by not making mistakes while the Bills made enough for two games. Overthrown passes, dropped passes, ill-timed penalties, a multiple blown assignments in the defensive secondary. All this would be enough to lose to an average team -- but the Patriots are the class of the league, so the errors were lethal.

Quarterback Tom Brady dominated this game. He completed 22 passes on 33 attempts (66.7%) for 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a 137.0 QB rating. Even with pressure in his face or coming around the outside, Brady stayed cool in the pocket and delivered multiple long-strike passes, two of them 53-yard touchdowns. He completed multiple passes to six different receivers, and the Patriots were an efficient 9-of-13 (69%) on third down.

Brady even shut the door when fate seemed to swing things toward Buffalo. On the Bills first possession of the second half, they turned a botched punt play into an accidental first down and scored a touchdown to draw within two scores. On the next drive, Brady went only 3-of-5 for 26 yards, but he ran 15 yards for a first down, and caught the Bills with 12 men on the field for a free five yards -- effectively ending the division race on that touchdown drive.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski (5 receptions for 109 yards) and receiver Chris Hogan (4 for 91) both caught 53-yard touchdowns, both on blown coverages by the Buffalo safeties that Brady recognized immediately.  Julian Edelman had four catches and his first touchdown of the season, and Danny Amendola also added a touchdown, along with excellent blocking downfield and an important special teams play (more on that later).

Running back LeGarrette Blount gained 43 yards on 18 carries, but he wasn't as good as usual in pass protection. James White was actually the superior blocker in pass protection, making a key block on the Gronkowski touchdown.

Along the offensive line, Nate Solder and David Andrews struggled. In fairness, the strength of Buffalo's defense is their front four, but Solder whiffed multiple times, and hobbled Bills DT Marcell Dareus pushed around Andrews like he was a rag doll. The line had fewer penalties this week, and appears to be gelling more in the running game; so here's hoping that translates to better pass protection by the end of November.

The defense really misses the old Jamie Collins. The linebacker is fighting a hip injury, so he plays limited snaps and isn't as effective in those plays. LB Dont'a Hightower led the team with six tackles and added a QB hit. And Elandon Roberts (5 tackles) got a quick introduction to bigger players who will run him over; which happened once or twice.

Collins' injury also forced the team to move defensive end Rob Ninkovich to linebacker, and that hurts the pass rush and outside contain against the run. On the first series, Buffalo ran outside at will, pinching in defensive linemen Jabaal Sheard and Chris Jones to make it around end and down the sideline. Later in the game, Ninkovich returned to DE and held the edge brilliantly as the inside players stuffed one running play after another.

But Trey Flowers emerged as the biggest star along the defensive line. He made five tackles, several of them running down backs from behind. He also had the only two sacks for the team (for nine yards in losses), and hit the QB two additional times. In all, the defensive line got enough pressure on the Bills QB to make him throw flat-footed (no room to step into the throws), which forced many of his passes to go high.

In the secondary, cornerback Malcolm Butler continues to be the class of the group. He had four tackles (including two bone-shakers), and his competitive play on every ball made it nearly impossible for receivers to catch the wet football on a rainy day. Eric Rowe got more playing time, and it was a mixed bag. He got two penalties (although one was bogus), one a pass interference call that gave the Bills the ball at the one yard-line. The second corner is the biggest worry on defense; and until either Rowe or Logan Ryan claims it as his own, there will be continued concern.

Safety Patrick Chung had a great game. Among he five tackles were two that saved first downs, and one that saved a long gain when Chung got a guy by the ankle. Devin McCourty had some big hits, and knocked away a pass, and the Bills had very few big plays, so he did his job.

Special teams provided a spark when Amendola returned the second-half kickoff 73 yards to give the Pats a short field and an easy touchdown. They did give up a 35-yard kickoff return, but the Bills turned that one over on downs, so no harm no foul. No missed field goals for Stephen Gostkowski, which is good news. And among punters with at least 25 kicks, Ryan Allen is in the top 5 in fewest returned punts and fewest return yards given up.

The coaching yesterday was excellent, especially the defensive game plan. Knowing the Bills were short on good receivers, defenders hit every receiver hard on every play, sending a few of them to the sidelines. And the replacements were not as good as the people leaving the game, who were already not as good as the best on the Buffalo roster.

On offense, they played the Bills D like a fiddle. Brady didn't need to manipulate the safeties to make completions; he broke them down by formation and motion. Most of the long passes, Brady almost certainly knew what he was going to do before the snap. It was beautiful to watch.

So where does that leave us? 7-1 and atop the AFC (and the entire league) is not a bad place to take a week off. The team should work on pass protection schemes and skills during the bye, and hopefully, Collins will come back fully healthy. That is the one injury that will really hurt if it lingers.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: It has to be Gronkowski. Lead the team in receptions, receiving yards, had the long touchdown, and as usual did a great job blocking.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The Patriots had more penalty yards than the Bills in both games this year. Trivia question: How many times have the the Patriots had as many, or more, penalty yards as the Bills in both games in a season (answer below)?

Non-Statistical Oddity of the Week: Someone threw a dildo on the field during the game yesterday. When I mentioned it on Facebook, my friend Rick had the best line: "Are you referring to Rex Ryan or that pink thing [pictured]?"

And here I thought Ryan was into feet...

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "For once I'm with Rex Ryan: the Patriots will win the division."

Keep the faith, and enjoy the bye,

- Scott

PS. 7-1!

PPS. Trivia Answer:
Including yesterday, it's happened four times: 2016, 2003, 2001, and 2000. Interestingly, two of the previous three times the Patriots won the Super Bowl the same year.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Patriots Beat Beaten-Up Steelers, 27-16

The Patriots continued their recent dominance over Pittsburgh yesterday, outlasting the Roethlisberger-less Steelers, 27-16. The win, coupled with Buffalo's loss to Miami, gives the Pats a two-game lead in the AFC East, and a one-game lead over the Oakland Raiders for the top spot in the AFC. Next week is a chance to avenge their only loss of the year, when they travel to Buffalo to take on the Bills -- this time with Tom Brady.

Yesterday's contest came down to the Patriots ability to cash in their opportunities for touchdowns and their ability to make the Steelers take field goals instead. Both teams scored four times, but the final wasn't all that close because New England scored three touchdowns on three trips to the red zone and Pittsburgh was 1-of-4 in similar circumstances.

The Patriots offense was hot-and-cold. Quarterback Tom Brady completed his first 11 of his first 12 passes, then cooled off until midway through the third quarter, when he heated up on two consecutive touchdown drives. He finished the day 19 of 26 (73%) for 222 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a 124.2 QB rating.

Brady also also finished as the highest rated quarterback in the league for the season, with a 132.6 rating. (Trivia question #1: name the second-rated QB in the league; answer below.) What Brady is doing is astonishing, almost as amazing as the team going nearly half a season without throwing a single interception yet.

Helping out Brady was a dominant running game, which was all LeGarrette Blount. Blount ran, pushed, bullied, and fought his way to 127 yards on 24 carries and 2 touchdowns. Brady had the other 13 yards on the ground. Blount ran under control and found some gaping holes, thanks to...

The offensive line is getting a lot of good pub online for their performance yesterday. They did open huge holes in the running game, aided by the double-threat tight ends (more on them later). However, the Steelers rarely blitzed but seemed to get to Brady whenever he had to go past his first read. This was acceptable given the game result, but they'll have to play much better when they face the blitzing Bills next week.

On the line, Nate Solder and Joe Thuney blocked very well on the run. Even center David Andrews did some damage at the second level. However, the holding calls went thusly: Solder had two, Shaq Mason had one, and Andrews had one. Thuney pitched in with a false start penalty -- all of which is to say it wasn't all roses for the O-line.

The tight ends and receivers provided some extra help in the running game. Martellus Bennett did more damage run blocking than in the passing game, and as always, Rob Gronkowski was a mismatch whomever he blocked. Gronkowski did a great job sealing the edge, and to mix it up, several of the runs had the two blocking away from each other and Blount running through the vacated hole. Also, Julian Edelman has some key blocks at the edge, both downfield and near the line of scrimmage.

As for actually catching the ball, it started as the Edelman show (9 catches for 60 yards), then morphed into the Gronkowski show (4 for 93 and 1 touchdown). James White contributed another TD catch, making some nifty moves and getting great blocking down near the goal line. The only big disappointment was Chris Hogan's fumble on the first offensive play of the game.

If you check the stat sheet, it looks like the defensive secondary got burned a lot. But the reality was much different; with excellent play from corners Malcolm Butler and Eric Rowe, and outstanding play from safety Patrick Chung. There were some long completions that hurt. But Butler undercut a route perfectly on the interception, and then covered a hobbling Antonio Brown one-on-one most of the second half.

Rowe had six tackles and one pass defended. In fact, the Pats got deflected passes from Butler, Rowe, Logan Ryan, and even Leonard Coleman. A total team effort -- although in the spirit of competition, Rowe might be ready to challenge Ryan for the second starting spot.

Chung was everywhere. He led the team with ten tackles, including some for very short gains. He also knocked down two passes of his own, and was a force in slowing down the short passing game of Pittsburgh.

Rob Ninkovich and Elandon Roberts pitched in at linebacker this week, and starter Jamie Collins returned with a vengeance. Collins missed a few plays by inches, and still totaled eight tackles. Roberts saw less time than Ninkovich, though it's tough to tell sometimes, because Nink moves from defensive end to linebacker with ease.

Along the defensive line, they miss Ninkovich's ability to hold the edge. Jabaal Sheard was decent at it last year, but not in this game. And newcomer Chris Long hasn't been good at it yet. In fact, I'll make the blanket statement that all the outside linemen got pinched inside at least once in this game, all of them allowing Steelers running plays to get outside of them.

But the D-line wasn't a total disaster. Inside lineman Malcom Brown still crushed it, and Alan Branch came up with three tackles and a forced fumble. But the team will need more consistency from the defensive ends if they hope to hold up against balanced offenses moving forward.

Special teams continues to be a source of worry. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski pushed an extra point wide right, a line that seems to be a weekly staple of this column. Edelman fumbled a punt return, and even old reliable, punter Ryan Allen, shanked one at a very inopportune time.

One other gaffe was a punt that Brandon Bolden should have touched out of bounds at the six yard-line was reviewed by replay and it was determined to be a touchback instead (and placed at the 20 yard-line).

Also, their strategy of kicking to the one yard-line to force a kickoff return backfired thrice yesterday. Of the five kickoffs, Pittsburgh returned four of them, and three times they got past the 25 yard-line (the benchmark for a good return).

Eventually the Pats had Gostkowski kick it out of the end zone on the last kick, but it appears teams have figured out this strategy and they are ready to make the Patriots pay with good returns. Might be time to do this more sparingly, just to give them the element of surprise.

In the end, none of these things killed the Patriots. But in close games against good teams with their starting quarterbacks, all of them could make the difference between a W and an L. As Pete Carroll used to say, "Gotta clean it up!"

The coaching plan was excellent. The Steelers defense played to stop the pass with drops into deep zones, so the Patriots emphasis on the running attack exploited that perfectly. And the Pats defense played to make Pittsburgh drive a long field with a backup quarterback. So when he couldn't go all the way for the touchdown, the Steelers settled for field goals.

So where does that leave us? 6-1 ain't half bad, especially when it has you sitting pretty atop the AFC heap. Buffalo will be a significant challenge next week. Bills head coach Rex Ryan knows a loss here puts the division title out of reach, so he'll pull out all the stops to stay in the race. But bear in mind, the Pats actually play better against the Bills in Buffalo than at home in Foxboro.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: Malcolm Butler with the INT, three passes defended, and six tackles. (Note: it was going to be Edelman, until he fumbled a punt. Then it was going to be Chung, but Butler had impact plays down the stretch.)

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Yesterday's broadcast joined the game late, so for the first time since 1994, I missed a play in a Patriots game. But the oddity isn't that I missed a play, it's that the first play I missed yesterday was a kickoff, and the last play I missed in 1994 was also a kickoff -- in fact it was a kickoff returned for a touchdown against the Bill Parcels coached Patriots.

(Trivia question #2: can you name the team that scored that touchdown against the Pats in 1994? Answer below... and yes, you can use the Internet if you like.)

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "When you give up 15 points a game, it's pretty easy to win against a backup QB."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 6-1!

PPS. Trivia Answers:
(1) Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo is the second-rated quarterback in the league, with a 117.1.
(2) The Pats gave up a kickoff return touchdown to the San Diego Chargers; but they still won the game, 23-17 -- November 20, 1994.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Patriots School Bengals, 35-17

The Patriots outdistanced the Bengals in the second half yesterday, claiming a 35-17 win in Foxboro. The victory keeps the Pats a game ahead of the surging Bills. Next week they face an ailing Steelers team in Pittsburgh, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger undergoing surgery that will keep him off the field.

The Pats started slowly against the Cincy, scoring just before the half for a 10-7 lead at the break. But in the second half, it was all New England: 25-10 and not even that close. The Bengals that offense could do no wrong in the first half-hour couldn't do much right for the last 30 minutes, and I credit the Patriots defense more than failures by the Bengals offense.

And that defense was led by linebacker Dont'a Hightower. For the second consecutive week, Hightower pressured the quarterback into a safety; this time with a sack of Andy Dalton in the third quarter. That play turned momentum in the Patriots favor, and started a string of 15 straight points scored by the Patriots.

Hightower also led the team with 13 tackles, almost double the second-best total. With starter Jamie Collins out with an injury, rookie Elandon Roberts stepped up with seven tackles of his own, and he was a factor in forcing running backs to change direction in the backfield. These two used delayed-blitzes up the A-gap to great effect against both the run and pass game. And if Roberts have broken through more under control, he would have had at least two additional tackles for a loss.

Malcom Brown and Alan Branch performed the best among defensive linemen. Branch made six tackles and Brown 5, but Brown's run-stuffing was more impactful. The rest of the line was decent, but Brown and Branch stood out.

It appeared to be a mixed bag in the secondary. Safety Devin McCourty was late on a few throws but made big hits after the catch. And though he wasn't perfect, corner Malcolm Butler ended up with three tackles and three passes defended. Logan Ryan got beaten a few times and did not have a great game, before being replaced by newcomer Eric Rowe (who played pretty well).

The offense was all about the passing game. Quarterback Tom Brady made his Gillette Stadium debut count: 29 of 35 (83%) for 376 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a 140.0 QB rating. And those numbers are even more impressive when you consider that he had a slow start: four of his six incompletions, and only 36% of his yards came in the first half.

Brady's most devastating receiver was tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had 7 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown. His tight end partner in crime, Martellus Bennett had 5 for 48, and the other receivers had pretty pedestrian numbers.

The other receiving weapon was running back James White, who had one of his best games as a professional. White had 8 receptions on 9 targets, for just 47 yards but two touchdowns out of the backfield. In the AFC Championship Game last year, Brady and White just missed on two similar passes. So it's good to see progress on that front.

LeGarrette Blount had a trick-or-treat game. He led the team with 50 yards on the ground and scored a late touchdown. But he lost his temper with the Cincinnati thugs, and got a 15-yard penalty. Gronkowski also lost his cool, being flagged for taunting after getting into it with the Cincy linebackers and secondary. Neither penalty cost the team in the end, but Gronk was right after the game: you never know when it will cost the team, so both players have to clean that up.

The offensive line had a bad first half and a slightly better second half. They still have trouble when the other defense has a front-four that can pressure the QB without blitzing. And Brady was under constant pressure in the first half. Their run-blocking is better, but I'd hoped to see more progress in pass protection.

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed again, this time an extra point in the third quarter. And this is about the fourth consecutive update where I wrote that the special teams coach needs to earn his money on this. Missing a field goal now could cost you the game, but eventually, it could cost you the season.

On the plus side, Ryan Allen's punting and Gostkowski's kickoffs have been excellent. And Brandon King is making as many special teams tackles as long-time captain Matthew Slater.

As for coaching, the defense did a great job stopping the run, but seemed a little slow to adjust to the Bengals' passing attack. And at some point, you have to pull back Gronkowski; once his behavior starts hurting the team.

So where does that leave us? 5-1 sounds good, and with a wounded Pittsburgh team up next. The Bills are now 4-2, and the Pats play them the following week in Buffalo. So winning the next two games could go a long way toward a division title and playoff positioning.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: It's Hightower; his safety turned the tide in the Pats favor and his overall outstanding play was central to the defensive effort. (Narrow win over Gronkowski.)

Statistical Oddity of the Week: There are two active cornerbacks in the NFL with the last name Butler (Darius with the Colts, and Malcolm with the Pats) -- and both started their careers in New England.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Not bad when a sloppy effort gets you an 18-point win."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 5-1!