Of Tom Brady's 41 attempts in the Super Bowl last Sunday, seven were sent to "outside" receivers. Four were completed - three to Deion Branch and one to Chad Ochocinco. In the AFC Championship game, six of Brady's 36 passes went to outside receivers (as opposed to tight ends, slot receivers or running backs). The Patriots' offense worked pretty well in 2011 even though Brady wasn't afforded a classic "field-stretcher" who works on the outside. But that fact shouldn't detract from the reality that the Patriots did seek a viable outside threat in 2011. They spent 4.5 million in salary on Ochocinco and another 1.5 million in bonus money. That wasn't a simple donation to the Ocho Fund, they wanted a player who would contribute and were willing to pay for it. They just picked the wrong player. So it's natural to assume that the Patriots - after missing on guys like Ocho and, via the draft, on Taylor Price and Brandon Tate - will be back to take another swing at getting that position filled with a productive player. Especially since Ocho and Julian Edelman are the only wide receivers currently under contract to the Patriots in 2012. Wes Welker is a free agent but is a strong candidate for the franchise tag. The list of veteran wideouts the Patriots have tried to wring production from is long and the results are decidedly mixed. Charles Johnson, Bert Emanuel, Torry Holt, Joey Galloway, Donte Stallworth, Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, Randy Moss, Ochocinco, Jabar Gaffney, Andre Davis, Tim Dwight and Donald Hayes all have been brought aboard at different points during the Bill Belichick Regime. Stallworth, Moss, Gaffney, Caldwelland Dwight were the best fits. The list of viable targets this offseason is long. Reggie Wayne is a prominent name and Willie McGinest said he asked Wayne if he'd be interested in joining the Patriots and Wayne reportedly said, "Who wouldn't."In related news, Wayne also likes warm sunshine. Of course he'd like to play for the Patriots. His current employer in Indiana is in disarray and the Patriots are an annual threat to win a championship. Over the next few weeks, soon-to-be-available targets like Wayne, Vincent Jackson, Brandon Lloyd, Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Mario Manningham, DeSean Jackson, Stevie Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and Marques Colston can expect to be asked what their interest level in playing for the Patriots would be. (Ever notice nobody asks these guys how much they'd like to play for the Jaguars?)Any player not answering in the affirmative would be doing himself a disservice because A) they want every other team to believe they are ready to move and B) a player saying he wouldn't want to play with Tom Brady wouldn't be viewed as intelligent. Wayne, Lloyd, Colston and Bowe would figure to be logical targets for the Patriots. This doesn't mean the other top players won't be, just that the others make the most sense. Wayne turns 34 in November and he had his five season run of Pro Bowl appearances snapped in 2011 when he caught 75 balls for 960 yards and four touchdowns. But he did that with Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky throwing to him on an awful Colts team. Wayne is precise, glue-fingered and smart. He would be, as McGinest said, a tremendous fit. Lloyd turns 30 in July. After seven uneventful seasons to start his career, he exploded in 2010 for the Broncos with 77 catches for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. He credited then-Broncos coach Josh McDaniels for his success and - after being traded to St. Louis during the 2011 season - he finished the season with 70 catches for 966 yards with McDaniels as offensive coordinator. Lloyd said at the end of the 2011 season, "I'm tied to McDaniels. He uses me differently than other offensive coordinators used me in my entire career. He uses me as an every-play receiver. The short game, mid-range game, gimmick passes, deep balls. I do everything in this offense as opposed to other coordinators who would just run me off as the deep guy; run me off into double coverage and then say I'm not open. So I really like how Josh uses me within the offense. I'm extremely comfortable in the offense."That would seem to give the Pats an inside track. Colston, the Saints best wideout, could be the odd-star out in New Orleans. The Saints have to keep the franchise tag available in case they need to use it on Drew Brees. If not Brees, then perhaps guard Carl Nicks. Colston may become free. If he does, his 6-3, 225-pound frame would be enticing to New England. So would the fact he's just 29 and is an 80-catch, 1,200 yard per season guy who's played in an intricate offense for the Saints. Bowe - like Lloyd - can be mercurial. But he had success in Kansas City in a Patriots-style offense and - at 28 - still has several productive seasons ahead of him. Free agency begins March 13. As another still-available wideout once said, "Getcha popcorn ready."
BOSTON -- With the first month of the season at coming to a close, Boston finds itself half a game behind Baltimore for first place and 2.5 games ahead of the third place Rays.
With the question marks surrounding the pitching staff behind David Price entering the season, among other issues, the Red Sox are in a much better position than initially expected.
John Farrell credits much of the early success to his potent offense.
“[We] finished better than we started I think the biggest thing is that guys in our lineup have developed that trust in one another,” he said. “There [are] some elements to our offense that’ve been very encouraging. The all-field approach and the way we’ve run the bases [have] been very consistent.”
It’s undeniable that the newfound consistency to the pitching staff has been a huge help -- although Farrell did note Clay Buchholz needs to get the ball rolling.
“The last two turns through the rotation has been more consistent. We’ve been able to give our guys in the bullpen a little bit more regular rest,” Farrell said. “I like the fact that we’ve added to the depth of power arms in our bullpen. We still have room for improvement we know that.
Entering the final game of the opening series against New York, the Red Sox and the Orioles are the only AL East teams with winning records against their inter-division rivals.
Even though they’ve performed better than anticipated, a case can be made that the Red Sox should sit in first place.
Tampa Bay shut them out in the opener, and won the final game of the series that was powered by a rare David Price implosion.
Toronto won the final two games of the second season series by the skin of its teeth, narrowly avoiding Red Sox comebacks in the ninth inning of each game.
Baltimore won the first game of its opening series in Boston thanks to a ninth inning home run.
New York has one game left before both teams leave town and, weather permitting, Boston has a chance to start May off properly -- by disposing of the only team in the AL East stuck with single digit wins.
With the ups and downs for the five AL East teams, Farrell doesn’t expect there will be disparity in the division.
“Every team has got their strengths,” he said. “We don’t expect this to be a huge separation among any of the five teams here. We’re all probably searching to sure up areas that we’re in need of. That first starts with making the necessary adjustments with the guys that are on our roster right now. Not that we’re going to make wholesale changes.”
Reliever Carson Smith is set to be activated for the start of the upcoming road trip Tuesday in Chicago, and his arrival will be welcomed by the Red Sox.
Smith, a big off-season acquisition from Seattle last December, has missed the first month after suffering a strained flexor muscle in his forearm late in March.
His return can only boost a bullpen that has performed better in recent weeks.
But his return could force the Sox into a tough roster decision. It had been assumed that Smith would return at the expense of two other young relievers on the staff -- Matt Barnes or Heath Hembree -- but manager John Farrell hinted otherwise Sunday.
"Because we've leaned on our bullpen so much,'' said Farrell, "I think we've got to be careful that we don't fall back into a similar situation that we've just been able to survive and come out of, where we've given some ample rest. To prioritize an extra pitcher versus a bench player, that's an internal discussion that's ongoing right now.
"And we've got to be mindful that Carson comes back to us with a limited rehab so we've got to be careful on his frequency of use, so it's not being ruled out that we might go with an extra pitcher for the short-term.''
That would suggest that the Sox could send out Marco Hernandez, who returned to the team Saturday to once again give them four bench players.
Barnes has appeared in 10 games and compiled a 2.92 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings while Hembree is unscored upon in four appearances, covering nine innings.
Both players have options remaining that would allow the Sox to send them to Triple A without first exposing them to waivers.
But for the time being, it would seem that the two will remain, giving the Red Sox 13 pitchers and eight-man bullpen.
Sean McAdam and Trenni Kusnierek discuss John Farrell’s comments that seems to call out Clay Buchholz’ performance this season.