By Rich Levine
The Pats weren't playing on Sunday, so here are three random thoughts that occupied my brain instead:
MORE ON V-MART
There are still 2 12 months before pitchers and catchers report to the geographical paradise that is Fort Myers, Florida, but if you're a Red Sox fan there's already reason to feel a little jaded.
It's not that Victor Martinez is the first big free agent to ever bolt town. It's just that on most other occasions, there was a decent enough excuse as to why. Pedro was on the downside of his career. Damon got a sizable offer from the Yankees. Jason Bay from the big-market Mets. But with Martinez, the Sox just let him get away for a reasonable price to the Detroit Tigers. Boston's not used to losing guys like that. But in this case, that's the reality.
Many say that the deeper reality is that the Sox never wanted Martinez to begin with. That concerns over his age, defense and durability were so pressing that the organization didn't deem him worthy of a long-term deal. And maybe they had a point. But theres no denying that five years ago, the Sox would have re-signed Martinez in a second. At any other point in the reign of this ownership group, they would have brought him back.
The potential problems, and concerns over how the deal could affect the team four years down the road still would have existed, but all that would have mattered is that Martinez makes them better now; that without him there's a huge hole in the lineup. Money wouldn't have been an issue. Years three and four on that contract would have been a small price to pay for all that he gave them in years one and two.
You want to list all the reasons why V-Mart is a risky signing? Where was that logic back in 2006? You dont think the Sox could have poked a few holes in their own decision to give J.D. Drew 14 million a year until hes 35? Or Julio Lugo 9 million a year until hes 34? Where were the excuses then?
They were buried under the ownership's insatiable desire to bring a winner to Boston. To win at all costs. And turn the Sox into the powerhouse brand that they are today. Back then, the excuses and drawbacks were just a necessary casualty of success. But obviously, that's not the case anymore.
Maybe Drew and Lugo are the reason. Maybe some of the big-time busts of the last few years caused the front office to pull back a little; not be quite as reckless with their spending. Or maybe cash that used to be fair game for the Sox is now wrapped up in other New England Sports Ventures . . . um, ventures. On Wednesday afternoon, Tom Werner will officially take over as chairman of the Liverpool soccer club the little 480 million investment the NESV made last month. How can that not affect what the Red Sox spend on free agents?
I'm not saying ownership doesn't care about the Sox anymore. When you have a second kid, it doesnt mean that you love your first one any less. But the second kid does limit how much time, energy and money you can spend on No. 1. And I don't see how that won't be the case with NESV, the Sox and Liverpool.
Of course, it's still early in the offseason, and there's plenty that the Sox could do over the next two months to spin this negative vibe out of town. Next week they could sign Carl Crawford, trade for Adrian Gonzalez and make every one who doubts them look sillier than the Wayans Bros.
But there's something about the way that VMart departed thats left a stain on the franchise. Even if they did hypothetically get Crawford and Gonzalez, why not keep Martinez, too? It's 12.5 million a year, and you're the Sox! That's supposed to be a sure thing.
But, whatever the reason, its not like that anymore, it and might take some time for the Nation to adjust.
DELONTE GOES DOWN
Delonte West's broken wrist is disappointing on so many levels. It's disappointing because of what it means for the Celtics on the court, and Delonte off the court. It's disappointing because you know how important it was for him to be out there, and how hard he worked and how much he went through for his dream of playing again to become a reality. Anytime you see one of the Celtics lying flat on the parquet, clutching his wrist and screaming like he just sat on a nail, you're going to feel for him. But with Delonte, it was worse. It's almost been a week, but I still can't think about it without instinctively shaking my head. It's a just a shame that it had to happen.
But at the same time, I'm not surprised that it did.
One of the Wests greatest qualities is his competitiveness; how hard he plays; how badly he wants to win pretty fantastic qualities for an athlete to have, regardless of the sport. But if there's a drawback to West's ultra-competitive nature, it sometimes translates into him acting recklessly on the court. It translates into plays like the one from last Wednesday, where West left the floor and soared towards the hoop with little control of his body or concern over what would happen when he hit the floor. The way West throws himself at the hoop, it's like he half-expects the court to turn into a pool of Sprite upon landing. Or more likely, he just doesnt think about what will happen next because hes too focused on scoring the hoop and helping the team.
Im not sure how you can ever really criticize someone for thinking or acting that way. Its every ownercoachfan's dream to have a guy like that. But at some point, Delonte needs to understand that self-conservation isnt a sign of weaknesses. That taking the intensity down a couple notches in certain situations is more beneficial to the team than playing every possession like it's in the last two minutes of Game 7.
At this point, most people have bought into the Patriots' hype. It's pretty obvious that their 9-2 record is far from a fluke. The Pats are a legitimately good team, and given the current state of the NFL, there's no reason why they cant win another Super Bowl. Who ever imagined we'd be saying that two months ago? It happened so quickly, but it most definitely happened. The Pats have turned the corner.
But as they turn that corner, they'll come face-to-face with the longest and roughest stretch of their season. Four games that will let us know, for sure, how much faith to place in possibility of Ring No. 4.
December football isn't supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be the biggest test of the season, and a month that helps us determine which contenders are for real. But after the events of Week 12, the Pats' December slate looks more taxing than ever.
We already knew they'd have their hands full at home down the stretch. They host the Jets next Monday, and then the Packers two weeks later on the 19th. Both are top three teams in their conference. Both have dangerous, explosive and game-changing defenses. The Jets have one of the league's most powerful rushing attacks. The Packers are one of the most prolific passing games. Both teams know what it's like to play in the cold, as well. The New England winter's not intimidating anyone over there. Those two home games were already circled as two of the season's most significant. But after Sunday's games, the Pats' two road games have taken on new meaning.
December 12 at Chicago
Well, I'm officially impressed. How about you? For the longest time I thought about this game, and the Bears' inconsistent season, and the idea of Bill Belichick vs. Jay Cutler, and never really worried. I figured it would be a tough game, but that the Pats would find a way to win. And while that's certainly not out of the question, the Bears proved in their win over the red hot Eagles that theyre for real. Especially at home.
Right now, Chicago has the second-best record in the NFC. Better than the Giants, Eagles and Packers. And thats the caliber team the Pats need to expect now. They can still win, and I wouldn't be surprised if they did. It was just a little less stressful when you could count on Cutler throwing seven interceptions, being sacked five times . . . and then playing even worse in the second half.
December 26 at Buffalo
Steve Johnson blamed God for the Bills losing on Sunday, but not even He is that cruel. The Bills had three or four different fantastic chances to close out their upset of the Steelers. But it just wasnt meant to be. Literally, Johnson thinks.
But despite Johnson's big drop, and the Bills Big 'L', you can see that they've figured something out in Buffalo. In Ryan Fitzpatrick they have a quarterback who will make plays and keep them in games, and their defense is just tough enough to hold their ground against the more physical teams in the league.
They're still the Bills, but a few weeks ago you would've looked at that last game in December as more as a piece-of-cake postseason tuneup. But after Buffalos two straight wins and one "impressive" loss nothings easy.
Definitely not in December.