The blame game

197881.jpg

The blame game

By Michael Felger

A few pearls of wisdom to brighten up your Tuesday morning:

The real shame of this Red Sox season hasn't been the injuries. It's been the play of Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon (left) and John Lackey. Had those three not crapped out, the Sox would probably be neck-and-neck with the Yankees and Rays injuries and all.

The Red Sox are just 8-5 in games started by Beckett (3-2, 6.51 ERA) this season. They are only 12-12 in games started by Lackey (10-7, 4.54). Papelbon has six blown saves and has five losses (theres some overlap there, obviously). Those three are combining for 40 million in salary in 2010.

Not exactly what you would call great value.

But whatever the price, the fact remains: Those are the guys who are going to keep the Sox out of the postseason.

The more you hear and read about how officials went out of their way to inform golfers of the local rules at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin last weekend, the worse it looks for Dustin Johnson.

Heres the most damning item, in my opinion:

In an interview with ESPN.com on Monday, David Price, the rules official walking with the final pairing of Johnson and Nick Watney, said Johnson and his caddie asked him for trap-related rulings on the 14th and 16th holes, just minutes before they neglected to do the same on the crucial 18th. The first question was related to practice swings and the second had to do with removing stones from near his ball. On both occasions, Price offered rulings before Johnson or his caddy did something that violated the rules. Price said he would have done the same on 18 had someone spoken up.

"All he had to do was ask," Price said. "He'd asked me before that. He'd been in a bunch of bunkers. You don't remind a player on every hole that you can't ground your club."

Why didn't Johnson ask? Simple. He lost his head. He choked. Same with his caddy.

If you're looking for a real villain from the Jets' Hard Knocks show on HBO, dont focus on Rex Ryan (right). He's been fun.

General manager Mike Tannenbaum has been a different story.

At one point, the cameras show receiver Santonio Holmes making a terrific catch along the end line. Tannenbaum responds by beating his chest.

"Number 10? Number 10? Man, who trades for him?" asks Tannenbaum, who acquired Holmes from Pittsburgh in the offseason. "Smart . . . that guy is.''

Tannenbaum did the same thing with corner Antonio Cromartie.

"How he could have been available . . . a guy with those attributes?" he says. "They are so hard to find.''

You just know those clips have been saved down in Foxboro. Tannenbaum had better hope those players work out.

Finally, here's hoping the Pats do all they can to get Julien Edelman and Wes Welker (left) on the field at the same time this season. Forget size, speed or any other measurable. These guys get open and catch the ball, which in the glory years (i.e, the Deion Branch era) was the only thing required of Pats receivers.

I would certainly prefer to see the Pats go small and work the possession game with the little guys from the slot as opposed to continually butt their heads against the wall with tight ends. That hasnt worked in New England since the Ben Coates era.

Since Belichick got here in 2000, hes drafted 11 players at the tight-end position and signed countless more in free agency. He's taken them high and low. He's gotten them after trading up and trading down. And he has yet to find the guy who can consistently exploit matchups against linebackers and safeties. I don't know if hes even come close. The most prolific season any Pats tight end has had under Belichick came in 2006, when Ben Watson had 49 catches. Thats been the only 40-plus catch season by a Pats tight end since Coates left.

In the preseason opener last Thursday, the Pats targeted tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Alge Crumpler seven times. They completed only three of those attempts.

Sounds and awful lot like the Dan GrahamBen Watson era to me.

E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursday. Listen to Felger weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.