Brady's Pats look just like Niners of 80s and 90s

Brady's Pats look just like Niners of 80s and 90s

FOXBORO Before getting swamped by the Patriots Monday night, the Houston Texans described their game with New England as the biggest in franchise history.
 
After the game, Patriots guard Logan Mankins said, I know the team we play next week. Its not the biggest game in their franchise history.
 
Not by a long shot. Next up for the Patriots? The San Francisco 49ers.
 
While this years model of the Niners is still making strides to be an elite team, the storied history of the franchise remains fresh and nowhere does that history reverberate more strongly than in New England.
 
When owner Robert Kraft bought the Patriots in 1993, he made it clear the franchise he would emulate was the 49ers, the NFLs gold standard of the 80s and 90s.
 
If it isnt mission accomplished, its pretty close.
 
The Patriots are the most successful franchise of the 2000s with five Super Bowl appearances in 12 seasons, three Super Bowl titles, a perfect regular season in 2007 and a Hall of Fame quarterbackhead coach combination in Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.  
 
The Niners, with their 5-0 Super Bowl record and 16 consecutive seasons of 10-or-more wins from 1983 to 1998 are the only team New England is chasing when it comes to sustained, unstinting excellence over more than a decade. The win over Houston brought the Patriots to 10 consecutive 10-win seasons.
 
In the Super Bowl Era, not even the Steelers were able to sustain the same level season after season for as long as the Niners did and the Patriots have.
 
Throw in the personal.
 
Tom Brady, grew up in San Mateo, California, went to the 1981 NFC Championship game where Dwight Clark made The Catch, idolized Joe Montana and is now mentioned in the same breath as Montana as perhaps the greatest ever.
 
Bill Belichicks coaching idol, Paul Brown, was the man under whom Bill Walsh learned what became the West Coast offense. And Belichicks Giant defenses banged helmets for NFC supremacy with Walshs Niners for a decade in the 80s.
 
Contemporary linkage? The 2012 Niners executed a quarterback switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick that hearkens back just a little to the switch Belichick made from Drew Bledsoe to Tom Brady in 2001. There are some differences Bledsoe was the Patriots franchise hood ornament while the Niners have been gearing up to replace Smith for years; Brady proved over several games to be better than Bledsoe, while Kaepernick made his bones in practice and cameos. But the comparison mostly stands.
 
Yet all that is window dressing to a game that could be could be a prelude to another meeting in New Orleans in early February.
 
The Patriots are in the midst of their annual December crescendo. Theyve won seven straight games and the three blemishes on their 10-3 record came by a total of four points.
 
The Niners are 5-1-1 over their last seven and are in the midst of a crushing late-season schedule that has them on the road for four out of five games.
 
Both teams are the No. 2 seed in their respective conferences. Both have designs on getting home field for the playoffs. Neither can afford to stub their toe down the stretch and miss out on a first-round bye.
 
Its a short week for us; we dont know them very well, Belichick said Wednesday. We havent played them in quite awhile and theyve made a lot of changes since the last time we did play them. We really have to do a good job of trying to catch up preparation-wise this week. Hopefully we can do that, but these guys do a lot of things well.
 
Having Brady, whos in the midst of an MVP-caliber season, helps New England make up the stagger a little bit.
 
Brady said Wednesday he began working on San Francisco on Thanksgiving night after a 49-19 prime-time win over the Jets.
 
Harbaugh was asked how hed slow Brady down.
 
Well, we'd sure like to find the answer to that and then implement it, he confessed. But it is really difficult. They're tough to do that against. They have a really good scheme, really good play calling, and then great individual effort at each position. The great ability that they have to play as a team. We could talk for hours about how good they are."
 
The Niners, meanwhile, remain an impressive work in progress. Kaepernicks been the anointed starter for four games. He brings a dimension to their offense that former starter Alex Smith didnt the ability to threaten a defense in multiple ways and create but hes an NFL embryo compared to someone like Brady.
 
Context? Kaepernicks thrown 134 passes in the NFL. Bradys thrown 6,609. Including playoffs.
 
So on Sunday night, the former gold standard will face the current gold standard. And it may not be for the last time.

First impressions: Red Sox lose to Yankees, still clinch AL East

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First impressions: Red Sox lose to Yankees, still clinch AL East

NEW YORK -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 5-3 loss to the Yankees:

 

* The Red Sox couldn't have asked any more from Clay Buchholz.

Buchholz turned in what was likely his best start of the season, tossing six shutout innings while yielding just one hit -- an infield hit at that.

Brett Gardner was the only New York hitter to solve him. The leadoff hitter walked twice and reached on a slow roller to third, the only hit Buchholz allowed.

Twice, Buchholz retired eight Yankees in a row. He consistently pitched ahead in the count and showed a good rhythm on the mound.

Only a few months ago, the notion of Buchholz being part of the Red Sox' postseason rotation was laughable. Now, the Red Sox view him as a dependable, consistent starter.

And why not? Over his last seven starts, Buchholz is 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA.

Funny how quickly things can change in baseball.

 

* Don't invite Craig Kimbrel to your celebration.

Kimbrel came on for the bottom of the ninth, with a 3-0 lead and needing just three outs.

He barely threw a strike, allowing a leadoff single and three straight walks, the latter of which forced in a run.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, Toronto had already lost, clinching the division title for the Sox before the bottom half of the inning began.

Still, it was troubling to watch Kimbrel. This was, after all, a save situation, even if some of the adrenaline was taken away by the Blue Jays' loss.

Kimbrel seemed completely incapable of throwing a strike. At all.

Hardly the way you want your closer to be a week before your first post-season game.

 

* The Red Sox lineup poses all sorts of problems for opposing managers.

In the eighth, Joe Girardi had a choice to make -- pitch to David Ortiz with two on and first base open. Or walk Ortiz and pitch to Mookie Betts, with Hanley Ramirez waiting on deck.

Pick your poison.

Girardi picked incorrectly, though there might not have been a correct one.

That's what happens when you face three hitters in a row with 110 RBI or more.

 

Red Sox clinch AL East with Orioles victory over Blue Jays

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Red Sox clinch AL East with Orioles victory over Blue Jays

NEW YORK -- The Boston Red Sox have won the AL East, clinching the division championship when the Toronto Blue Jays lost to Baltimore.

David Ortiz and the Red Sox, who had already secured at least a wild-card spot in the playoffs, will open their postseason schedule Oct. 6 seeking a second World Series crown in four years. The team's first opponent has not been determined yet.

Boston's game against the New York Yankees in the middle of the ninth inning Wednesday night when the Orioles finished off their 3-2 victory at second-place Toronto. The Red Sox began the night needing a win or a Toronto loss to wrap up their eighth AL East title.