College Football

Random thoughts on a Patriots-less Sunday


Random thoughts on a Patriots-less Sunday

By Rich Levine

The Pats weren't playing on Sunday, so here are three random thoughts that occupied my brain instead:


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 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.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: No. 2 Clemson pulls away in 4th quarter to beat Boston College, 34-7


COLLEGE FOOTBALL: No. 2 Clemson pulls away in 4th quarter to beat Boston College, 34-7

CLEMSON, S.C. - Adam Choice had a 6-yard tiebreaking touchdown in the fourth quarter and Travis Etienne had two scoring runs in the final six minutes as No. 2 Clemson wore down Boston College in a 34-7 victory Saturday.

The Tigers, who came in off top-15 wins over Auburn and Louisville the last two weeks, were five-touchdown favorites over the Eagles (1-3, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference). But Boston College quieted the large Death Valley crowd on AJ Dillon's 1-yard TD late in the third quarter to tie the game at 7-all.

Clemson finally got going in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Kelly Bryant led the Tigers on a 76-yard drive, capped by Choice's go-ahead score. The next series, they were at it once more on a 90-yard series and the speedy freshman Etienne burst through the weary Eagles to finally give the Tigers some breathing room. Bryant added a 4-yard TD before Etienne closed the scoring with a 10-yard run.

Clemson (4-0, 2-0) won its seventh straight over the Eagles and opened 4-0 for a third consecutive season.

Bryant ended with 106 yards rushing and two touchdowns on the ground. It was the second straight game Etienne, a Louisiana recruited wooed heavily by LSU, broke off a long touchdown run after his 81-yard score against Louisville last week.

Boston College's defense and punter Mike Knoll kept it in the game longer than most figured. Clemson had only 38 yards in the third quarter and Knoll had pinned the Tigers inside the 10 five times.

The effort clearly wore down the Eagles, who were outgained in the final period 213-37.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Pass rush helps sluggish Tennessee outlast UMass, 17-13


COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Pass rush helps sluggish Tennessee outlast UMass, 17-13

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee coach Butch Jones often follows closer-than-expected victories by saying that he never will apologize for a win.

This time, he had a different postgame approach.

"At the end of the day, it's all about getting the victory, but (that was) just flat-out unacceptable," Jones said Saturday after Tennessee staggered to a 17-13 victory over 27 1/2-point underdog Massachusetts. "The performance is unacceptable. We'll get back to work tonight and correct it and correct our deficiencies."

Tennessee (3-1) was trying to bounce back from a 26-20 loss at No. 20 Florida in which the Vols allowed a tiebreaking 63-yard touchdown pass as time expired. Jones' staff was roasted all week for everything from Tennessee's red-zone play calling to its defensive strategy on the game's final play.

The Vols' performance against UMass (0-5) won't quiet that criticism. Tennessee struggled to put away a winless team that played the entire game without star tight end Adam Breneman and most of the second half without starting quarterback Andrew Ford due to injuries.

"There's no excuse to come out here and play the way we did," Tennessee offensive tackle Brett Kendrick said.

Tennessee was held scoreless for the game's first 25 minutes and final 22 minutes. The sluggish performance amid summer-like conditions resulted in a sterile Neyland Stadium atmosphere. Although the announced attendance was 95,324, there appeared to be approximately 30,000 or so fewer fans than that in the fourth quarter as UMass attempted to rally.

The Vols survived thanks to a pass rush that recorded seven sacks, their highest single-game total since 2008. Tennessee's John Kelly rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Johnson added seven catches for 123 yards for career highs in both categories.

"We played better than them," UMass linebacker Bryton Barr said. "They're a heck of a team, obviously, but just eliminate a couple of mistakes and we're winning that game."

Tennessee overcame two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, including one on Jones that gave UMass first-and-goal on its lone touchdown drive.

"I'll take full responsibility," Jones said of the penalty. "That's on me. I also think it was a byproduct of huddling our sideline and talking to our team. The official thinks I'm talking to him and then did talk to him and, you know, that's on me. (I was) trying to give our team a spark as well."

UMass threatened to take the lead with less than 10 minutes left when Andy Isabella's 42-yard run put the Minutemen at the Tennessee 38. But the Minutemen went backward from there - thanks in part to a Jonathan Kongbo sack - and punted on fourth-and-16 at the 44.

The Minutemen's next drive stalled after UMass got as far as Tennessee's 45. Tennessee clinched the victory when UMass lost the ball on downs at its own 17 with 22 seconds left.

"I'm proud of the way they played," UMass coach Mark Whipple said. "We wanted to get it to a one-possession game in the fourth quarter, and we did. We just couldn't make the play that we needed to, to get us over the top."

Both teams used backup quarterbacks for part of the second half. UMass' Ross Comis took over for the injured Ford late in the third quarter. Tennessee's Jarrett Guarantano replaced Quinten Dormady late in the third quarter, but Dormady returned after the Vols failed to move the ball on Guarantano's three series.