Mesko couldn't see blocked punt coming


Mesko couldn't see blocked punt coming

FOXBORO -- The blocked punt surprised Zoltan Mesko, too.
"Really what I see is the ball; I concentrate on the ball. There's things that I can control, there's the punting part, and there's things that I can't. But I felt like the operation, the rhythm went alright. Maybe just the protection -- I believe on the left side -- broke down."
That is exactly what happened.
Third quarter. New England is up on Arizona, 9-6. Mesko prepares to punt from the Patriots end zone. The ball is snapped, but ask Mesko is preparing for his drop, Cardinals linebacker Quentin Groves springs up out of his stance and brushes off New England rookie Nate Ebner like lint on a lapel.
Mesko's punt was blocked -- the first time in his three-year career.
It's clear, when watching replays of Groves diving between Mesko's hurdling legs, he didn't even see it coming.
"It's kind of a peripheral thing where you have to have trust in your teammates to get him out of the way," he explained in the post game. "Just like Tom Brady has to wait until the last second sometimes, and then they'll wash him out. It just happened that way.
"It happened so fast. The double tap? (Mesko's foot hitting the ball and the ball hitting Groves) It sounded like one. I didn't know it was blocked. I thought I was going to get another roughing penalty. up until I saw the ball out of the corner of my left eye."
The Cardinals are pesky that way. They've lead the NFL in blocked field goal attempts in each of the last three seasons. Last week against Seattle, Calais Campbell blocked a 50-yard FGA on the Seahawks' first offensive possession of the game.
During last week's preparation, Bill Belichick devoted several sentences to praising Arizona's kick and punt coverage groups, saying "They're a very good special teams unit that we have to worry about every time they're on the field."
Little did he know.
It took the Cardinals 49 seconds after Mesko's blocked punt to cover the two yards needed for a touchdown -- and the lead.
But not unlike teammate Stephen Gostkowski, who missed the 42-yard game-winning kick in the final five seconds, Mesko isn't planning to dwell on what went wrong.
No specialist can afford that luxury.
"Steve put it best: We wouldn't be out there if we didn't know that we risk failure every time. It's on us and how to bounce back, and how we handle it, and that's our job."

Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason


Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

BOSTON — As has been well-documented, the Red Sox have tried any number of solutions at third base this season, with eight different players getting starts at the position.

Travis Shaw has the most starts of anyone, with 99. But with three games left in the season, it's become apparent that Brock Holt is being viewed as the likely starter in the post-season.

Holt started all three games in the recent series in New York and was the starter Friday night against Toronto, too.

"You look at the consistent quality to the at-bats," said John Farrell, "and they've been there for him. That's not to say the other guys aren't important to us. But this is the time of year where you're looking to put the best, current lineup on the field and his versatility has shown up a number of ways. He's a confident defender at third base and his skill set is a little bit different from the other guys.

"So against righthanded pitching, that could be the guy we're going with."

Holt came into Friday hitting .319 (22-for-69) in the last 24 games.

Shaw, meanwhile, has been streaky to a fault. In the second half of the season, Shaw has posted a slash line of .195/.260/.362.

"We've seen (the streakiness both ways) in short spurts," Farrell said. "He does have the ability to carry us. But we're trying to get there and we're at a point in the year where every game is meaningful. That's not to say you turn your back on what he did earlier in the season. But we're looking for sparks somewhere."

What's more, Farrell had Holt hitting second in the lineup, in an effort to produce more offense. The Sox were limited to just eight runs in the three-game series at Yankee Stadium, and over the last 11 games, scored more than five runs just once.

Holt hit second, with Xander Bogaerts dropped to sixth.

"This is to create a little bit of a spark for us offensively," explained Farrell. "We've been grinding a little bit. And also, (we want) to create a little more (left-right) balance up and down the lineup."


As the final few regular season games of his career wind down, David Ortiz acknowledged that it's becoming increasing difficult to focus on the games with all the tributes and ceremonies going on.

In the final 11 days of the season, Ortiz will have had five pre-game ceremonies held in his honor -- and it would have been six had not Ortiz asked the Tampa Bay Rays to cancel the ceremony they had planned in the aftermath of the death that morning of pitcher Jose Fernandez.

On Thursday night, Ortiz has his family on the field for a pre-game celebration hosted by the New York Yankees.

Minutes later, he had to step in to the batter's box against CC Sabathia. Sometimes, it's hard to flip that switch and be emotionally ready to compete.

"I'm not going to lie to you -- it has (gotten harder)," said Ortiz. "We're already in the playoffs, so for the next three days, I don't really have to worry about it. But the best thing about it is that once we get into the playoffs, there's not going to be all these distractions.

"I like to mentally focus when we play, especially when I'm playing for a reason. We work extremely hard during the regular season to get into the playoffs and once we get there, I don't want to blow that off. It's not easy to (do all the ceremonies) and play baseball at the same time. It can be a distraction."