Haggerty: Sunday's win a sign of what might have been

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Haggerty: Sunday's win a sign of what might have been

CLEVELAND When the Red Sox season is over and every last statistic has been recorded, parsed and analyzed in the big book of MLB numbers, most may remember Sundays wipeout 14-1 win over the Indians as the last wide smile of the season.

No matter how good that Sunday afternoon drubbing felt,the Sox are still a far sight away from the playoffs and simply treading water.
Despite urgency being the name of the game, the Sox havent gained a single game in the Wild Card playoff standings since the July 31 trade deadline, and they sit 5 games back in the middle of August. They're going nowhere fast with David Ortiz still missing in action with a balky Achilles, and the wonderfully energetic rookie Will Middlebrooks is likely gone for the season.

In a way, a blowout win like Sunday's can be disappointing for the Sox because it is a reminder of how talented this ballclub really is. Its also a harsh reminder of how much theyve truly underachieved.
Sure there are injuries. The Sox have had the most disabled players (25) and DL stints (29) in franchise history since the 1971 season.But theres still oodles of talent on a 180 million payroll thats second only to the Yankees in MLB this season. They should have been better despite all the adversity.
Watching Jon Lester dominate Tribe hitters to the tune of 12 strikeouts in six innings showed that nothing is wrong with the 28-year-olds stuff. He should have been that guy all season for the Sox rather than a mega-talented hurler trying to recover from a bloated 5.20 ERA that will probably look like an aberration when his career is over.

The numbers are so bad that Lester admits hes had to stop paying attention to his stats in a sport where every player knows every one of their own back-of-the-baseball-card breakdowns backwards and forwards.Things could have been much different for this Sox team if Lester had pulled it together before August, but he didn't.

Watching Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia singe a Cleveland rookie hurler is similarly maddening. Ellsbury and Crawford were both MIA for long stretches of the first half, while both Gonzalez and Pedroia never played up to their potential.

Sure, the Sox lead the league in runs scored. But thats like being the prettiest girl at a beer goggle dance contest. Those stats were inflated by a handful of blowout wins in the first few months of the year. Gonzalez was a gloried singles hitter masquerading as a cleanup guy and Pedroia was essentially a .260 hitting second baseman with a good glove when the Sox were at their worst. Now that the season is beyond salvage, Gonzalez has turned back into a home run hitting monster, and Pedroia has pumped his batting average up to .278 for the first time since early June.

Watching the Red Sox lineup do the rumba around the base paths while wearing out the gap in right-center field at Progressive Field was impressive on its face. But it was also a stark reminder that Boston should have been doing this all year, and they should be a team pushing the New York Yankees near the top of the AL East.

Its a season full of coulda, woulda and shoulda and theyll now be four years removed from their last playoff game win, and three years away from even qualifying for the postseason.

Instead theyre sending out feelers to deal veterans like Mike Aviles and Kelly Shoppach before the waiver trade deadline at the end of August. Maybe they're figuring which of John Lackey and Josh Beckett if not both has to find the door this winter. Perhaps theyre even thinking of mercifully shutting down Crawford, who needs elbow surgery and is now starting to feel soreness in his surgically repaired left wrist.

Call it trending downward.

Call it moving in the wrong direction.

But call it also a team that's serving out the final months of its hardball death sentence. Each and every efficient or eye-popping victory moving forward is an example of what this team might have been under different circumstances.

It was feel-good win on Sunday for the Sox, but that just makes it all a bit worse today as the Sox get ready for six games against the Orioles and Yankees.

Curran: Impact of Brady's suspension already being felt on field

Curran: Impact of Brady's suspension already being felt on field

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It’s an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth that can’t just be blissfully ignored.

The pound of flesh Roger Goodell extracted from the Patriots in the form of Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension is starting to hurt.

Friday night, we watched the less-than-ideal quarterback rotation between Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo unfold. 

Garoppolo completed a 17-yard dart to Aaron Dobson on his first throw of the night. He completed eight of his next 14 for 40 yards – an ugly yards per attempt average of 3 – took a sack, threw a would-be pick and had a fumble. He looked skittish, indecisive and a thousand miles away from being in total command.

The Brady suspension was designed to punish the Patriots and it is.

Garoppolo played three ineffective series at the start of the game. He got the hook after that and the predictable power surge that came when Brady was on the field instead of the guy who – on this night – couldn’t get anything done was almost tangible.

Garoppolo’s first pass went to Dobson went for 17? Brady dialed up the same player and the play went for 37. Three of Brady’s six incompletions were drops (one was a near pick) and his 33-yard touchdown throw would have given every quarterback in the league except maybe Aaron Rodgers inadequacy issues.

I asked Garoppolo earlier in the week about trying to take command of the team while still remaining deferential to Brady’s status as TFB, future Hall of Famer. Garoppolo admitted it was tough.

How can it not be when the reminders are everywhere, including the pregame exit from the locker room and the trot onto the field. 

Brady is the leader. Jimmy is the long-term substitute. Substitutes don’t have it easy.

There is no solution for what’s going on. It is the ultimate, “Is what it is…” scenario. Can’t do anything about it, so everyone’s got to deal with it.

For Brady on Friday night, that meant staying apart from pretty much everyone for most of the first quarter.

When the Patriots offense was on the bench, he stood with arms folded and jaw set staring onto the field with the occasional glance up at the replay board or over at the area where Garoppolo, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and rookie Jacoby Brissett were going over plans.

When the Patriots offense took the field, Brady retreated to the bench and sat alone. There were two interactions during the first three series came when strength coach Moses Cabrera went to Brady and clapped him on the shoulder pads then rubbed his head as Brady sat on the bench. The other came when Brady sidled up to Brissett and asked him to play catch.

This is not open hostility. This is not Brady trying to undermine Garoppolo. But anyone expecting to see Brady putting an arm around Garoppolo every time he came off the field and publicly lend an ear to Jimmy isn’t getting that. Who knows, maybe Garoppolo doesn’t want that, maybe Brady thinks it’d be counter-productive, maybe McDaniels wants there to be one voice in Garoppolo’s ear during games. The fact is, it’s not cozy.

And you shouldn’t expect it to be. Brady is a quarterback who – while still at the height of his powers – is being forever reminded that the party for him is almost over.

Belichick himself did it the day he drafted Garoppolo. Consider again what was said: 

“The situation we have at quarterback, I think that we felt as an organization that we needed to address that to some degree in the future, so we’ll see how all that works out,” Belichick said during the 2014 draft when Garoppolo was taken in the second round. “I think we’re better off being early than being late at that position. We know what Ryan [Mallett’s] contract situation is. We know what Tom’s age and contract situation is. I don’t think you want to have one quarterback on your team. I don’t think that’s responsible to the entire team or the organization."

Age? Contract? Rather be early at that position than late?

Brady’s best method for combating speculation about when he’d be put out to pasture has been to own his position with peerless play and turn in – in my opinion – the best Super Bowl performance a quarterback’s ever had.

Not only is Brady miles away from being ripe for the picking, the only reason Garoppolo’s playing at all is because of a BS investigation and punishment that turned Brady’s life upside down and besmirched his name.

Garoppolo taking Brady’s reps, taking Brady’s team for a month is the punishment for Deflategate. Watching Jimmy G. play is the punishment Brady was handed. No wonder he’s standing with arms folded and jaw set.

If you simply look at the dynamics between players of Brady’s ilk and their would-be successors you realize that expecting Brady to go merrily along and show no signs of agitation is absurd. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, Joe Montana and Steve Young, Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. In each, the incumbent wasn’t real keen on wet-nursing the new guy.

Garoppolo’s case is a little different, though. He has no illusions about being better than Brady (that little 25-for-25 day from Brady in the intrasquad scrimmage earlier this month probably helped put that to bed). 

Garoppolo just wants to come in, play well, do his job and not step on any toes. He’s not looking to create a quarterback controversy. But he can’t afford to be deferential anymore or concerned about how the legend in his shadow feels or how he feels about the legend in his shadow.

He just has to go play. Something that Brady – very soon – won’t be able to do.
 

Rookie Cyrus Jones sets up Patriots well with 60-yard punt return

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Rookie Cyrus Jones sets up Patriots well with 60-yard punt return

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – We can say “it’s only preseason” as much as we want, but the truth is that – at least for the Patriots – the preference is to win these games.

That was made clear by Bill Belichick when talking about rookie Cyrus Jones’ 60-yard punt return late in the third quarter.

“In the end, that was probably one of the key plays in the game,” said Belichick. “The field position gave us a chance to tack on that extra touchdown which, as it turned out, we needed.”

Jones first credited his teammates for getting him room to operate. “It was definitely great blocking and a deep punt so they were pretty separated and not really in cohesion with their coverage,” he explauned. I was able to make one cut and get upfield and play off my blocks.”

Jones eventually broke away from his cadre of blockers near midfield and looked to make a few Panthers miss late in the return. It didn’t work out. But the end result of the drive was a Jacoby Brissett touchdown pass to DeAndre Carter.  

“You always wanna score but anytime you can make a big play and get the offense down there and in good field position in a great spot it feels good.,” he said. “The touchdowns will come. I’m just gonna focus on fielding the ball and try to make a play and get upfield.”

Jones has worked hard to fine-tune his punt-fielding skills in camp. A flurry of muffs early in practices seems behind him and it’s clear the Patriots would like to see him seize return duties from Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, who probably don’t need the collisions at this stage of their careers.

Belichick is high on Jones’ ability.

“If you can just get them started, most guys can make some yards on their own with the run skills and Cyrus certainly shows the ability to do that,” Belichick explained. “He’s done it and he did it tonight. In the other games as well, he’s always made a couple guys miss and he just couldn’t get enough space to get started so I thought the vice guys [the outside blockers on the punting teams’ blockers] did a good job of keeping them off him all day and letting him get a chance to get started. It was a good run but really good blocking by the return team as well.”

Belichick also slipped in some praise for the punt coverage work Friday night. That facet of special teams was not good in the preseason opener against the Saints.

“I thought we covered kicks well,” he pointed out. 'This is probably the best coverage game we’ve had, again, against a good team, a physical hold-up team and [Ted] Ginn is obviously a good quality returner so that was a good test for us.”

Jones, meanwhile, continues to play quite a bit in the regular defense as the third corner.  

How has it gone so far?

“I’m still gaining comfort,” Jones said. “That will come more and more as I get acclimated to the speed of the game and the precision of these offenses and trusting my coaching and be as prepared as I can. It’s just like anything. The more experience, the more you see, the more you’re out there, the more comfortable you’ll become.”

Jones has seen some good quarterbacks in three preseason games – Drew Brees, Jay Cutler and now Cam Newton.

“They’re so smart and so precise and they make split-second decisions and know where they want to go with the ball, you gotta be technically sound at all times and play the responsibilities so you’re in position,” Jones said. “Just go out there and do your job because you never know when it will be time to step up and make a play.”
 

Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

This felt like a step backward for Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The preseason had been shaping up so nicely for him, too. He'd be able to ride the wave of momentum following his strong performance last week against the Bears, and carry that into Carolina, where he would take on a very good defense on the road. What better way to simulate what he'll see in Week 1 of the regular season in Arizona?

Then something happened. Garoppolo, who looked cool last week at Gillette Stadium, seemed rattled by the Panthers defense. The quarterback who hadn't turned the ball over all preseason very nearly gave it away twice. Whereas he made calculated risks in the red zone last week, this week there were head-scratchers in the same area. 

"Ups and downs," said Garoppolo, who beat the Panthers, 19-17, and finished the game 9-for-15 for 57 yards. "Just little things here and there we need to get corrected. We’ll take care of it."

Garoppolo's first third-down throw foreshadowed what was to come for the Patriots on third down Friday night. He threw what should have been an easy interception for linebacker Luke Kuechly when there was a miscommunication between him and receiver Julian Edelman. 

Edelman stopped and turned for a pass a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo targeted him as though he was still moving, hitting Kuechly between the numbers at the Carolina 12-yard line.

The team started the night 0-for-7 on third down.

"It’s my fault. I can’t put it in the linebacker’s hands like that," said Garoppolo, who insisted splitting reps in practice wasn't to his detriment. "It’s just bottom line. Just got to be smart. It’s tight windows, tight throws. Just got to finish with touchdowns."

Later in the game, Garoppolo didn't recognize a Panthers pressure, he took a glancing blow from a defender and escaped the pocket. Rather than throw the football away, he tried to make a positive play and was stripped from behind by linebacker Thomas Davis. 

Patriots running back James White was there to pounce on the ball, and Garoppolo was fortunate to escape with his turnover column clean.  

Still, Garoppolo knows there are adjustments to make. In order to give the Patriots a chance to beat the Cardinals in Week 1, he'll probably have to play better than he did on Friday. 

“We’ll do our best to get in there,” Garoppolo said. “We have two weeks until then and we’ll work. There’s little things here and there. Overall, there’s some good things that we did tonight. 

"We just have to get the little things corrected or they’re going to bite us in the butt. We’re going to work our tails off to get to that point. We’ll get there.”