Boston Red Sox

When smoke clears, Woodhead's game will be appreciated

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When smoke clears, Woodhead's game will be appreciated

INDIANAPOLIS -- Among the wreckage of New England's 21-17 Super Bowl XLVI loss, there's at least one piece that should be salvaged and savored.

Danny Woodhead played one of his best NFL games this season.

The undersized running back caught four passes for 42 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed seven times for another 18 yards.

Big-game pressure doesn't get any more oppressive than on Super Sunday. Woodhead embraced it. The touchdown -- New England's first of the game -- was just his second of 2011, his first since Week 15's score in Denver. The receiving yardage was the most he's managed this year; his 19-yard run was the longest he's ripped off.

Unfortunately, the numbers are no consolation to the man.

"I try, no matter the game, to be prepared, to go out there and play a good game," he reflected. "But we ended up losing so it's tough. It's really tough."

"The individual statistical touchdown isn't going to make me that happy'; it's about the score at the end of the game. This is a team game, it's not an individual game. I really haven't thought about it."

Perspective will have to come later. When interviewed, Woodhead was still too close to the loss to glean anything but pain.

"It's the last game of the year, it's the chance to play be world champions. So it's a great experience and it will last forever. Right now, it's tough to look at that. It was a tough game."
Woodhead should find some solace when he's finally able to zoom out.

Once the pride of North Platte High School, he's now a darling of the New England Patriots' rabid fan base. And he's easily the best thing out of Nebraska's Chadron State since Buffalo's Don Beebe (two career Super Bowl touchdowns during the team's three-year span of Big Show heartbreak).

Not bad for an undrafted free agent the Jets couldn't do anything with.

"I approach every week the same," Woodhead said in Monday's first hour. "And that is to be ready for whatever can be thrown at me. No matter how many carries or receptions I may get, I just feel like I need to stay ready all thetime."

It's true this season's totals -- 351 yards rushing, 157 yards receiving -- don't match those of 2010 (547 and 379, respectively). But the drop-off might have more to do with the October ankle injury he suffered in Oakland than a loss in standing with the Patriots.

Woodhead missed New England's game against the Jets; when he returned one week later, he didn't appear the same. Gone was the explosive ability to weave through the narrowest of gaps. The bravado he once flexed when pin-balling off larger defenders was replaced by reticence.

But Woodhead progressed each week. By the time Super Bowl XLVI rolled around, the Patriots asked a lot and he gave everything.

Quarterback Tom Brady went to Woodhead six times -- four consecutive -- on New England's first touchdown drive.

"It's as tough of a loss as I think I've ever had," Woodhead said after the game. "You get so close, and it doesn't end up the way you'd like it. It's a tough pill toswallow."

His signing by the Patriots has been a win and he reinforced his presence Sunday night.

Something to remember once the smoke clears.

Drellich: Dave Dombrowski, at last, built an excellent bullpen

Drellich: Dave Dombrowski, at last, built an excellent bullpen

BOSTON — Congratulations, Dave Dombrowski. It’s September, and you built a certified, top-notch bullpen. 

Credit goes all around. The pitchers themselves receive the most, with the front office, John Farrell and the rest of the staff taking their slices as well.

But the success is particularly notable for an executive who perennially had terrible bullpens in Detroit. Dombrowski knows the reputation he garnered, too.

Maybe now he’ll start to shed it.

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The trouble in his old job wasn’t for lack of trying. Joe Nathan didn’t work out. Many folks didn’t.

“I think that there’s a few factors there,” Dombrowski said in 2016 of his bullpens in Detroit. “At one time we had (Jose) Valverde (from 2010-13 who) was the best closer for a couple years. (Joaquin) Benoit pitched very well as a set-up guy. We had a very solid bullpen at that point.

“We were unlucky a little bit in, for example, a guy like Joel Zumaya — who was a dominant guy, young — hurts his arm. Somebody you’re counting on. . . . Really (Bruce) Rondon never lived up to the early expectations. I know he’s still young, he’s doing better. So we got a little unlucky on those things. He got hurt too.”

So it goes. Per FanGraphs’ measurement of WAR, the Tigers had the worst bullpen in the majors from 2003-15, Dombrowski’s tenure.

The Sox’ bullpen is fifth in WAR this year, and second in ERA. Last year’s group was good, but not this good. 

One of Dombrowski’s premier pick-ups in Boston, Addison Reed, has a common refrain when asked about his own pitching: he doesn’t change a thing. 

When Reed got rocked in one of his early outings with the Red Sox, against the Yankees, he said he didn’t change. When he got in and out of trouble in the eighth inning Monday night in another extra-inning win for the Red Sox, 10-8 over the Orioles in 11, he said he didn’t change.

Same for Dombrowski, it would seem. 

He continued to go after established relievers. There was the huge trade for Craig Kimbrel. Carson Smith took a while to contribute because of arm injuries, but he had the 11th-inning save Monday, and his velocity appeared to be creeping up. 

The Tyler Thornburg situation was troubling, so Dombrowski went out and got Reed from the Mets.

Could Dombrowski have had success sooner if he had changed his approach? Well, maybe, but that’s a different argument.

It’s worked. He didn’t change a thing. 

How cliche. But cliches, we should point out, have become a central theme in all these extra-inning wins for the Sox (they're 14-3). Grit, resiliency, determination — you run the risk of drowning on those words, even if they’re well deserved.

Those relievers, though. Both throughout the season and in these marathon games the Sox too often seek, the ‘pen has been unexpectedly excellent, with a rotating cast of characters.

“It’d be nice if we started winning those games in nine and not going extras,” Reed joked, with a presumed kernel of truth. “If it takes 19, 20 innings to get that win, we’ll take it.”

The roles for the postseason are still up in the air, which is strange for a ‘pen that’s been so successful. But at the same time, it suggest an equal distribution of success (and at times, challenges).

The bottom line: Dombo did it, with his relievers making him look smart.

CSNNE SCHEDULE

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Injuries piling up for Patriots

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Injuries piling up for Patriots

0:41 - Tom Curran, Michael Holley, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith give their main takeaways from the Patriots win over the Saints and discuss the injuries sustained during the game, specifically Rob Gronkowski's.

6:23 - Holley, Giles, and Smith talk about David Price pitching his first innings out of the bullpen for the Red Sox, but Holley thinks it is a mistake that he is not starting.

11:21 - Abby Chins joins BST for a discussion about Kyrie Irving's appearance on First Take.

14:43 - We go around the NFL for week 2 of the season and talk about the most surprising and best teams in the league.