Sox can't shake losing feeling

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Sox can't shake losing feeling

The weather was spectacular. The ceremony for the 100th anniversary of the ballpark was glorious.

Then came the game.

Ugh.

"A downer,'' said Bobby Valentine succinctly.

"Tough,'' agreed outfielder Cody Ross. "After such a great celebration, to come out and lose the first one this year against these guys....it's tough.''

And yet, not much different than the Red Sox have shown through the first 13 games.

If the presence of the Yankees, their archrivals, was supposed to lift the Red Sox out of their early-season lethargy, the plan backfired. The Sox seemed flat and overmatched.

Sometimes, they haven't hit. Sometimes they haven't pitched. And Friday, it was a little -- or neither -- of both.

Clay Buchholz became the second Red Sox starter this year to allow five homers in a game, though he had at least had the good sense to give all of them up with the bases empty.

Even that proved too much of an obstacle for a feeble offense which has now scored three runs or fewer in eight of the 13 games played.

After scoring 31 runs in the first three game of the homestand -- all wins -- the Sox have now scored just eight runs in the last four -- all defeats.

That's either the sign of a bad team, or at the very least, one with serious issues.

Buchholz's performance was particularly troublesome. In three starts, he's allowed 18 earned runs, including six homers.

His absence in the second half of last season croaked the Red Sox, particularly in the final month when they got two wins combined from their top two starters, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett.

Valentine preached patient for Buchholz after Friday's implosion, noting that the righthander "is still getting his feet underneath him,'' following his lower back stress fracture last season.

But if Buchholz can't provide quality starts as the bridge between an established front of the rotation and an unproved duo (Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront), the Red Sox are in deep trouble.

Any scenario that had the Sox remaining in contention was built around the notion that their third starter would consistently keep them in games. But in all three of his starts so far, Buchholz has put the Red Sox in an early hole. Only once did his teammates hit enough to overcome the early deficit.

The bottom third of the order is punchless, and with injuries robbing the Sox of two-thirds of their starting outfield, the replacements off the bench aren't contributing.

(Contrast this with the Yankees, whose depth is such that Joe Girardi could give Alex Rodriguez the day off from third base while getting two homers from his fill-in, Eric Chavez).

Without Jacoby Ellsbury to ignite the top of the batting order, Bobby Valentine is left to utilize Mike Aviles, who lacks the on-base ability to hit there with success.

Add it up and the losing streak is at four straight with two more games remaining with Yankees. The homestand that was supposed to energize them has instead resulted in a downward spiral.

"We're going out and we're playing hard,'' said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "It's just not clicking. When it does, it's going to be the same as last year.''

Saltalamacchia was making reference to the team's four-month run that saw them post the best record in the American League from the beginning of May until the end of August.

But on a day after a dispiriting loss, it's as if he's referring to last September when the bottom fell out of the Red Sox' season. For now, this season more closely resembles a continuation of the team's 7-20 fade rather than a fresh start.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.