On Felger and Mazz this past Friday, Wyc Grousbeck joined the certified basketball geniuses at F&M to talk Celtics. The chief topics of the discussion were the roster changes that lie ahead for the C’s, and Grousbeck was extremely candid. He made it sound like it was unlikely that the Celtics would make a transformative move at the deadline, but far more unlikely that they wouldn’t make any move at all.
In this town, we’ve been blessed with great owners since the turn of the century. I wish Bob Kraft had fought the NFL on the loss of a 1st round draft pick, but overall he’s been the best owner that we could have asked for. He made the ultimate decision of picking the best coach and GM of all time to run his team, and that in and of itself makes him an incredible success. The Red Sox owners are a little aloof sometimes, but they spent a ton of money for 3 World Series titles and kept Fenway open, and it would be foolish to not be grateful that they took over the team a decade and a half ago, especially when Frank McCourt was another possibility. And since the 2005 NHL Lockout, even Jeremy Jacobs has been a good owner for the Bruins. The hard cap helped drive down the cost of player salaries for everyone else as well, but Jacobs has spent up to the salary cap and dished out extra dollars for Marc Savard’s LTIR contract the past few years. It sucks that he was the main driver of that dumb 2012 NHL lockout, but from a Bruins perspective, he’s been all that we could ask for.
Wyc Grousbeck has been right there with those guys. He originally didn’t want to spend past the luxury tax line when he took over in 2002, but he changed course when the Celtics got KG, which activated his trade kicker and necessitated a 3 year, $55 million extension for Garnett. Since then, he’s spent every penny that Danny Ainge needed to build a winner, and the Celtics now have a well-deserved reputation for being a well structured organization.
Moreover, how often are owners this transparent with the fans? It’s impressive that Grousbeck would take calls and direct questions from fans on a radio show that isn’t exactly known for its basketball acumen. Celtics fans, myself absolutely included, have been talking about when the Celtics are gonna make a transformative trade and who those trade targets could be, so how cool is it that the team’s owner engages those discussion?
A product of Worcester, Wyc Grousbeck deserves full appreciation from Celtics fans, and I don’t think that enough of us realize that. Few things devastate a fan base more than a horrible owner, and at the other end of the spectrum, it only makes sense to praise one of the best in the NBA.
You’ve all seen the clip of Dennis Wideman checking a lineman from behind and then claiming that he didn’t see the lineman there until the last moment and had to react in order to not get his own self decked… which is obviously complete horseshit. If what he did was anything close to an accident, he wouldn’t have skated to the bench and sat down and hid like a bitch — he would have checked that the lineman was ok.
The underrated aspect of the Boston Bruins cup run of 2011 and their general run of contention from 2009-2014 was the team’s locker room culture. They got players who bought into what the team was about and the team’s identity, and it may have been the difference in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals against the Vancouver
Mental Midgets Canucks. While the Tyler Seguin trade was obviously a mistake, it’s a little more understandable when you realize that even team captain Zdeno Chara stated that the team tried to address issues with Seguin and Kessel, but ultimately those guys wouldn’t buy into what the rest of the team was selling. Those Bruins teams were founded on a certain mentality that all their players needed to have.
Peter Chiarelli made some horrible moves throughout his tenure, and it’s fair for Bruins fans to have those mistakes at the forefront of their memories of the Chiarelli reign, given that he was fired only 8 months ago. But Bruins fans often forget some of his awesome, unsung transactions that built the Cup contending teams. Zdeno Chara was probably the best free agent signing of all time, and one of his first moves was trading Andrew Raycroft for Tuukka Rask (HAHAHAHA TORONTO!!!!).
Trading Dennis Wideman was a spectacular deal, and you shouldn’t forget about it no matter how much your blood boils over Chiarelli’s moves like Boychuk, Seguin, and the Seidenberg extension. Chiarelli traded Dennis Wideman, who was fresh off of a horrible 2010 regular season but surprisingly good 2010 playoffs, and the Bruins 2010 1st round pick for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell.
No, I didn’t leave anything out of that trade. There was no other 1st round pick or another European prospect whose name you didn’t know at the time. After his horrendous 2010 regular season which made every Bruins fan and their mother question whether or not Wideman was regularly throwing Bruins games, Chiarelli flipped him and a 1st for their best sniper and their best penalty killing forward in a Stanley Cup season — two types of players that they needed badly.
Dennis wideman was a headcase who couldn’t be counted on from night to night, and he didn’t stop being that guy after leaving Boston. He played on the Capitals in 2012, and I remember hearing at some point in the middle or later part of the Caps-Bruins 1st round series that Wideman was a -7 and no other defenseman on the Caps was worse than -1 or -2. Plus/minus might be overrated and flawed, but there’s no denying that Wideman sucked at an embarrassing level at that time. Good thing Peter Chiarelli dumped the guy who was such a headcase right before their cup run, because they might not have gone that far without him.
In my opinion, Dennis Wideman should get the 20 game suspension that the rule stipulates for hitting a referee, and I would have no issue with him getting suspended the final 34 games of Calgary’s season. In fact, I’d definitely do the 34 game suspension, with 20 being for the rule violation itself and 14 for being a lying weasel with his postgame explanation and for not checking if the ref was alright on the ice. But from my perspective as a Bruins fan specifically, I’m gonna watch this YouTube video on repeat with a huge smile on my face.
What a trade.
No, this is not lazy clickbait. I’ll never do that. And no, this isn’t to say that Blake Griffin — Celtics rumors are even a thing. But since last year, all Celtics fans have been conditioned to have ultra-sensitive radar for any superstars who are available via trade. DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t like George Karl? BOOGIE TO BOSTON!!!! The Bucks might have too many puzzle pieces that don’t fit quite right? TRADE THE BROOKLYN PICK AND OTHER STUFF FOR JABARI PARKER!!!! And the Clippers are playing better without Blake Griffin who just threw a wrench into the organization’s chemistry by punching a dude? You can’t deny that the thought of Blake in Boston didn’t cross your mind.
But is it even feasible? Griffin fits the mold of the type of superstar that the Celtics need, but that doesn’t mean that trading for him would make sense for the Celtics, much less the Clippers. The Celtics should and probably be willing to trade some of their plentiful draft picks for Griffin, but the Clips couldn’t give up Blake without getting something back for this season. The Celtics have pieces on the roster that would attract anybody, such as Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Kelly Olynyk, but would those guys really have as much value to a team like the Clips as they do the Celtics? Let’s say that LAC asked for Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk (who would be awesome next to DeAndre Jordan) and a non-Nets 1st round pick? There’s no way I’d do that. Crowder is an animal, wingmen are a commodity in today’s NBA, and he makes $7 million this year and the next 4. Griffin makes almost 3 times that much for this year and next, and then becomes a free agentin the Summer of 2017 after just having turned 28. Olynyk and Crowder will be huge pieces for the future, and Blake simply isn’t worth that price. The Clips might like Marcus Smart or Avery Bradley considering that they’ve gotten nothing out of Lance Stephenson’s roster spot, but the package involving them (especially the young and still improving Smart) would not have the same value to the Clips for this season. Isaiah Thomas could help a contender for this season as a 6th man, but Chris Paul won’t leave the floor in the playoffs for enough time to make Isaiah worthwhile.
What’s more is that the Clippers are run by Doc Rivers. I think there’s still too much bad blood between Doc and the Celtics for Doc to give the Celtics guy that every Clippers fan thought would be their franchise player for 15 years (and still could be). The Celtics would have to be the obvious choice as a trade partner for the Clippers, and if they’re not, Doc will pass. Blake may not even want to play in Boston, and his desires would be a huge deal, because the Celtics wouldn’t give up some of their coveted assets for a guy who could leave 15 months later and really only offer them a single year of championship contention in 2017.
In short, the Celtics would have to beat the offers of other teams for Blake Griffin for Doc to make a deal with them, and I can’t see the Celtics choosing to offer significantly more than any other team. I’m not sure I’d want Blake at such a price, either. If the C’s traded Olynyk, Zeller, Rozier, the Memphis pick from the Jeff Green trade, and the C’s own 1st round pick this year, then I’d make the move for a soon to be 27 year old who has a 22-23 PER every year. But the Clippers won’t make that deal, and I don’t want the Celtics to offer much more than that. Good thing that they won’t.
The Celtics won’t get Blake Griffin this season. But there’s another superstar by the name of DeMarcus Cousins that the Celtics should get, and I suggest you join me on the “Danny Ainge should trade the farm for Boogie Cousins” bandwagon.
This is not a column to bury the Pats, suggest that they weren’t that good after all, or incite and anger you in any way. That’s why about 75% of the Boston media (or so it seems) exists. This is coming from the perspective of a diehard fan who Tom Brady’s failed 2 point conversion pass with as much heartbreak as you did, and this is coming from the perspective of a writer who casually interrupts the 2nd paragraph of his best and most important piece on his website to call Bill Belichick a genius for no reason.
Bill Belichick screwed up on Sunday. He chose one of the worst times to have one of hte worst games of his career, and denying it won’t do you any good. He erred by going for it with 6 minutes to go deep in Denver territory. The mistake especially surprised me because Belichick usually has an incredible 6th sense for how well the opponent is playing in the exact moment. Before the final Patriots touchdown drive of Super Bowl 49, Belichick talked to Brady and instructed him that the Seahawks were dead tired and that Brady wouldn’t have to worry about the pass rush, especially from Michael Bennett, that had plagued the offense for the first 3.5 quarters. He should have realized that the Denver offense on Sunday was in the exact same spot. They were flat, and there was no way that they were getting a 1st down against the Pats defense when the Pats could gear up against the run.
I have no issue with BB going for the 4th down with a little over 2 minutes ago, although I probably would have kicked as well. Both options probably presented about equal expected value for the outcomes. But going for it with 6 minutes to go was a clear mistake, because, if the Pats were down by 8, then they would need a 2 point conversion to tie. It sounds like 20/20 hindsight as I write it, but did you really feel confident about the Pats getting that 2 point conversion? They faced 4 fourth downs on their final 3 drive combined, and they needed Gronk to be an animal to even get the final TD. Even before all that happened, would you really have bet on the Pats getting 2 yards on a single play when there was no threat of a deep route to keep the defense honest?
The other area where Belichick made a mistake, which didn’t get enough attention during the game and hasn’t gotten enough scrutiny after the game, was with the offensive line. Sure, the Pats O-line was missing Nate Solder, which is the one injury that everyone in New England seemed to forget all season for some unexplained reason. Sure, the O-line wasn’t coached that well, as evidenced by the firing of Dave DeGuglielmo yesterday. But why have Michael Williams on the roster if you’re not gonna put him on Von Miller’s side at least a few times? I get that the Broncos have an incredible secondary to go along with their pass rush and you don’t wanna take away an extra receiver, but Brady simply can’t do anything if he’s on the ground. Again, why have Michael Williams on the team at all if you’re not gonna use him against Von Miller, the number 1 pass rusher who you’d worry about ending the Pats season? Marcus Cannon could have used some help on the right side.
Most importantly, Belichick screwed up by laying down in Weeks 16 and 17. He should have seen that Mile High is a huge problem for the Patriots, and he should have gone for 2 at the end of the Jets game and not coached the ugliest game of all time against the Dolphins. I laid out all my reasons awhile ago for why the Pats need to avoid Mile High, and this is probably the only time in my life that I was smarter than Bill Belichick about football.
As much as the loss to the Broncos will bother all of us for a long time, it’s important to keep a big picture perspective here. Bill Belichick is the greatest coach of all time, and anyone who argues that is probably an idiot who hates Belichick for no reason. Like this guy. With all the success that Boston sports have had for the past 15 years, we have to take our lumps when they do come.
I’m not trying to pretend that everything is rainbows and sunshine. Nope, the Pats just lost to Brady’s biggest rival — even though Brady outplayed him given the circumstances — and the season is over. Part of being a Boston sports fan is going full throttle with your emotions and no half-assing it, as well as not saying “Good job, good effort!” like these clowns:
But we do have to remember that it’s a blessing that it’s such a big deal and such a humongous deviation from the norm for our team’s head coach to screw up a little bit in a big game. We could be Eagles or Chiefs fans, where they lose their chances at a Super Bowl because of Andy Reid’s clock management.
Even the greats have their off days, and the greatest ever just had his worst off day. You have every right to be sad, annoyed, and even pissed off about it. But do yourself a favor and remember why you’re so dumbfounded that Belichick screwed up in a big moment. Remember that he didn’t call a timeout on February 1, 2015, with a minute to go in the Super Bowl. He made the call that nobody else would have had either the awareness or the balls to make, and he stole the Super Bowl that we needed for our sanity. Bill Belichick always takes all factors into consideration when he makes a judgment, and you should in this case, too.
It’s finally here. Now you can stop pretending that you put in a full, honest week at work and that you weren’t distracted all week because of Brady-Manning XVII.
Even with most playoff games, the unbridled joy that a win elicits and the sheer devastation that a loss brings are not equivalent. Last week, a loss against the Chiefs would have felt much worse than a win would have felt amazing, because it was the Chiefs in a Divisional Round game. In the 2013 AFC Championship Game when the injury-ravaged Pats went up against the Broncos at the heights of Peyton Manning’s powers, the loss didn’t feel as bad as much as the win would have felt spectacular. Lemme ask you, does that loss 2 years ago still haunt you at all? Maybe it would have a little bit if the Seahawks didn’t crush the Broncos by a score of 587 to -21 (all numbers approximate), but it doesn’t bother anyone around here 2 years later. The Pats were lucky to make it to the AFCCG, and they would have needed a miracle to win the Super Bowl that year.
Today, though, is a different story. It reminds me of how I felt on Super Bowl Sunday last February. The Pats were either going to win a Super Bowl against one of the best defenses of all time, or they were gonna fall to 3-3 in Super Bowls in the Belichick era, possibly close the book on ring #4, and likely lose Darrelle Revis and maybe Devin McCourty in free agency. The heartbreak that a SB49 loss would have brought would have felt like a stake driving right through our hearts as sports fans — which is why the Malcolm Butler interception was so exhilarating. We were on the brink of a gut-wrenching sequence of events, and we were bailed out by a 5th string, rookie, free agent corner making the most important play in football history. The jubilation was that much better because the devastation would have been so great. After reading these past 3 paragraphs, try not to get chills when you watch this play for the 5,000,000th time.
That’s what we feel today. The happiness and the sadness that a win or loss would bring are similar, because we either watch Brady end Manning’s career in the stadium that doubles as Peyton’s new home and a source of pain for the Pats. The Pats then would then play for the privilege of Roger Goodell presenting Brady, Belichick, and Kraft the Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara, a few miles from where Brady grew up.
Or, Peyton beats Brady, as we have to live with the fact that Manning will have beaten TB12 in the playoffs more than TB12 beat Number 18. We’ll have to live with the fact that a clearly inferior Broncos team — if for no other reason than Manning now throws like an injured war veteran, thereby giving the Pats a distinct advantage both at QB and overall, and we’ll have to live with the fact that Belichick and co. would have made the wrong move (with the benefit of hindsight, of course) by laying down vs. the Jets and Dolphins in Weeks 16 and 17, giving the Broncos home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Now, onto the game.
The Pats will be without LaAdrian Waddle and Tre Jackson, which isn’t as much of a problem on the surface as Pats fans think. Vollmer, Kline, Stork, Mason, and Cannon are definitely capable of giving Brady enough time to throw quick passes now that he has all of his receivers. Problems will arise, however, if one of the O-linemen goes down. If the Pats are down to 2nd-stringers on the O-line (beyond the 2nd stringers that are already on the line now), DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller could have a field day. Ware missed the last game, and he’ll be a big addition today, but if Brady can quickly get the ball to his receivers, he’ll be neutralized today.
The Broncos defensive backs are more important today because of 2 key injuries. First, Omar Bolden, starting safety, will miss the rest of the season. Bolden can return punts, and his absence will be instrumental because everyone on the Pats not named Matthew Slater has forgotten how to cover punts.
Even more importantly, Chris Harris Jr. is playing with an injured shoulder, and his ability to play press coverage for 4 quarters will be significantly hindered. That is HUGE. Edelman and Amendola can get off the line and run their horizontal routes quickly, and if you saw the Week 12 game between these teams, you know that Brady had nowhere to throw the ball if the Broncos were able to get through the offensive line easily.
On the other side of the ball, the Pats (finally) have Hightower, Collins, Jones, and Freeny healthy. Jerod Mayo is out for the year, but he wouldn’t have been much of an asset today, anyway. A big reason the Pats lost the game was that he couldn’t handle the Broncos running game because of his age and the thin air in Denver, and Jonathan Freeny can provide 80-90% of what Mayo can. Mayo won’t be able to take some snaps and keep the Pats LBs fresh, which is too bad, but having all the other guys healthy is 10 times more important than Mayo being out.
Lastly, Peyton Manning simply isn’t the best quarterback for the Broncos in this game. When Bill Belichick can focus on taking away a certain aspect of an offense and give up something else, he’s a beast. The Pats D can be beaten deep, but Manning can’t throw the ball deep without having a drone deliver it to a receiver. Brock Osweiler would have been the better call, and we should all be grateful that seniority is a thing and that “Manning has earned the right to play this game.”
I would be very nervous about the game if Osweiler was playing, and if he has to come in at halftime after Manning basically dies on the field in the 1st half, then I’ll be very nervous if the game is within about 10 points. I’ve been saying for awhile now that Mile High stadium is a horrible place for the Pats to play, and today we’ll know for sure whether Belichick was right to rest everybody in the final weeks of the season.
Prediction: These games always come down to health far more than we realize, and today will be no different. Having Amendola, Edelman, Hightower, and Gronk back will be huge, and Edelman and Amendola will capitalize on Chris Harris’ injury. Peyton Manning simply can’t beat Tom Brady in the playoffs at this point in their careers unless the thin air plays a huge role and the rest of the Broncos are much better than the rest of the Patriots. The Pats should be able to overcome the thin air, and the Pats and Broncos minus the quarterbacks are similar enough that the difference between Brady and Manning will decide the game.
Yesterday, Josh Gordon applied for reinstatement to the NFL after his lengthy suspension from the NFL for multiple violations of the substance abuse policy — in colloquial terms, the dude consistently had more smoke in his lungs than Wiz Khalifa in a chimney. Gordon was a tremendous talent in 2013, amassing 1646 yards in just 14 games. Gordon is under contract with the Browns for the 2016 season
Hue Jackson recently signed on as the Cleveland head coach, and Jackson reportedly didn’t want Johnny Manziel on the team if he were to agree to come to Cleveland. What that says to me is that Jackson wants to go Todd Bowles on the Browns, which is to make sure that the team is the exact opposite of the circus that they were under the previous regime. That’s the smart call, but it means that Jackson might have to make tough decisions that another team wouldn’t have to make.
That’s where Gordon comes in. Even though Gordon is a much better talent than Manziel and has only shown one consistent issue that he needs to knock out whereas Manziel has about 17, it’ll be hard to preach that the team organization has turned a corner if a guy like Gordon returns. If I were Jackson, I’d let Gordon ride the season out and hopefully restore his value, and then you have a diamond in the rough in the form of an amazing wide receiver. If Jackson still doesn’t trust Gordon enough for the organization to give him a long term contract, then they could pull a Pats/Matt Cassel and franchise and then trade him.
However, my guess is that Jackson wants to move on from the troubled wide receiver. And the Patriots should be first in line among the suitors. There are a few bulletpoints of criteria that a team needs to take on Gordon. First, they have to have a strong locker room with an unwavering sense of professionalism. (That eliminates the Dolphins right off the bat.) Second, they need to have a reputation for not bowing down to a player when the player and team butt heads, and the Pats fit that profile perfectly. Third, they need to have a great chance of getting good bang for their buck, because the Browns won’t offer up Gordon for just peanuts on the dollar. If they trade him, they’ll hold out for a high price, because, after all, he does have incredible potential.
If Gordon gets his act together, there is no chance in hell that the Pats won’t get a good return on their investment. The Raiders traded a 30 year old Randy Moss for a 4th round pick, and while he was a headcase, he wasn’t coming off a year long suspension, and he had more than just a single season of elite production on his resume. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the Pats would have to trade a 4th rounder for Gordon as well. If the Pats traded a 4th rounder and Gordon was a good soldier for 2016, the Pats could re-sign Gordon and have a long term threat at WR, although that’s highly unlikely because Gordon would command a ton of money and the Pats will see a lot of their rookie contracts expire after next season. They could also pull the Matt Cassel and franchise and trade Gordon. Most likely, however, is that the Pats would simply let Gordon go and get a 3rd or 4th round pick in compensation for his departure. Such a move would be another example of Bill Belichick’s genius, similar to how he maneuvered the year that Darrelle Revis was in New England. Trade a 4th round pick, get Brady the best downfield target he’s had since Moss, and then get a 4th rounder back once he leaves.
If Belichick can trade a pair of 5th rounders for Chad Ochocinco and another 5th rounder for Albert Haynesworth, then they can take a shot on Josh Gordon, a guy who isn’t over the hill of his athletic prime and still has way more potential. There’s no other team who could afford the risk and reap the benefits as well as the Pats could, and we should all hope for the reincarnation of the Patriots trading for Randy Moss.
Yesterday, we learned that Jerod Mayo was out. That sucks, but it wasn’t nearly as important as the news that we were expecting today about Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins. Chandler Jones left the Chiefs game late in the 4th quarter with a knee injury, and Hightower and Collins have both been battling consistent knee and back injuries, respectively. Today, we got the news that the trio avoided the injury report and participated in practice.
While Mayo’s absence is a clear detriment because he’s really good for a team’s 3rd linebacker, it doesn’t significantly hurt the Pats’ chances this weekend in Denver. Mayo has lost a step and a half from his heyday several years back, and he’ll wind up ending 2013, 2014, and 2015 on season-ending IR. Jones, Hightower, and Collins are all in another class, and their presence on the field is instrumental to the Pats’ success. The biggest reason they lost in late November was a porous run defense, and the 3 of them are way better equipped to stop CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. The thin air of Denver is a huge home field advantage against opposing defenses, and Mayo was sucking wind by the end of the Week 12 game. The young lungs of Jones, Hightower, and Collins should be able to handle it better.
The Broncos’ best advantage against the Pats this weekend, other than Mile High, would have been the Pats’ injuries. The ailments loomed large in late November, and they could have been the reason for a Broncos victory on Sunday. Alas, the Pats have everybody they really need. Jonathan Freeny almost played this past Saturday and will likelybe there for Sunday, and he’ll be 80-90% of Mayo anyway. The Broncos are screwed.
First of all, let me say that I apologize for the title that makes you think I’m one of the many blowhard members of the media (many of them in this market, New York, or Indianapolis) who write complete crap in hopes of you clicking on it and destroying a few of your brain cells. I swear that this isn’t that type of column, and nothing that I ever write on this site will be of that sort.
I honestly do think that the Broncos might already be done for. By now, you’ve seen that the Broncos are calling Tom Brady a crybaby and aiming for Rob Gronkowski’s knees. That’s all fine and dandy, but those stories aren’t the main reasons that I’m making the point that the Broncos are likely dead. They add to the real evidence.
After the Broncos put on an embarrassing show in the 2nd half of their game vs. the Colts in the Divisional Round last year, Demaryius Thomas candidly admitted that the Broncos were scared to play the Patriots. He said that the Patriots pretty much owned beachfront property in the brains of the Broncos players, which led Denver to overlook Indianapolis and play like they didn’t want to be in the playoffs — which was apparently the truth.
Cut ahead to this year. The Broncos are trying to talk themselves into a newfound sense of confidence. They’re still afraid of a healthy New England, still worried of what can happen when the Pats can match up with the amazing cornerback tandem of Talib and Harris with Gronk, Edelman, Amendola, LaFell, and Martin, instead of just 3.5 quarters of Gronk, LaFell, and Martin. They know that a trade of Jerod Mayo for Dont’a Hightower (Mayo will miss the AFCCG, and Hightower missed the Week 12 game) is a trade that unequivocally favors the Patriots.
The Patriots will treat their trip to Denver like a business trip. Sure, they’ll be amped out of their minds, but they’re there to do their jobs and nothing else, and they know that they can. The Broncos hope that they can beat the Patriots, and they’re convincing themselves that they will beat a clearly better football team with a quarterback whose arm reminds you of a crippled war veteran. In reality, they’re only demonstrating that the Pats are in their heads, which probably spells defeat before the opening coin toss.
Malcolm Butler had an awesome season. His 2015 campaign was better than we could have hoped for, given his place on the team last year and his jump from the 5th to the 1st cornerback. Sure, there were signs that Bill Belichick trusted him to make a leap, like letting Revis, Browner, Arrington, and Dennard go and having him sit out large chunks of preseason games with the rest of the surefire starters, but we didn’t expect this. Nobody foresaw him shutting down the 2nd or 3rd best receiver in the league (Odell Beckham Jr.) during the final 3.5 quarters of the game with 1-on-1 coverage.
You know what Butler’s only bad game was? Opening night vs. Pittsburgh. Matched up against Antonio Brown, the definitive best receiver in football, Butler gave up 9 receptions to Brown on 10 targets for 133 yards and a touchdown. Butler was no match for the best receiver in the game, but it’s not like anyone else is, either. Here is Brown’s incredible 2015 game log that added up to 136 receptions for 1834 yards and 10 TD.
Brown missed yesterday’s game against the Denver Broncos with a concussion that he suffered on an attempted decapitation from Vontaze Burfict. The loss of Brown might have actually been worth it for the Steelers, because the 15 yard flag (and then the subsequent one when Pacman Jones acted like 2006 Pacman Jones on the field) may have been the difference between the Steelers having enough yardage to kick a game winning field goal. By this past Sunday, though, Brown’s brain hadn’t recovered from violently shaking only 8 days before (When you think about how a concussion is the brain shaking inside someone’s skull and see those words in writing, doesn’t it make you cringe?), and he didn’t travel to Denver for the game.
Let me be honest. I’ve rooted for injuries before. If you’re as much of a diehard fan as I am, then you have, too. I won’t openly celebrate a player going down, because there is a level of outward respect that you have to show to a guy who makes a living entertaining you at the risk of injuries. But I’ve rooted for injuries, and I’ve especially rooted for players to not recover from injuries in time to face one of my teams. I was thrilled that DeMarcus Ware couldn’t suit up against the Pats in their late November game, and I still look to the heavens and thank Bill Belichick (God) for the fact that Jeremy Lane suffered an injury in Super Bowl 49 and the Seahawks had to put Tharold Simon into the game as a replacement. Tom Brady lit up Simon like a Christmas tree, and the Lane injury — on his interception, no less — was the most underrated reason why the Patriots won the Super Bowl.
There are two boundaries that I try not to cross when rooting for injuries, though. The first is a serious, life-altering or career-damaging injury. I don’t root for ACL tears or chronic back problems, because a man shouldn’t lose his livelihood at any point. I’ll root for broken fingers and pulled hamstrings and even “fatigued groins” all day long, but I try not to root for something that could seriously affect a grown man’s ability to play the game that he’s worked all his life to play.
The second boundary is concussions, and I shouldn’t have to tell you why. Good thing the NFL started caring about them in 2010.
Here’s the thing, though. If the Steelers had upset the Broncos on Sunday, it would have been a major advantage for Belichick & Co. if Antonio Brown wasn’t playing. Think about this: The Steelers would have just gone into Mile High, one of the toughest stadiums in the league to play in, and beaten the best defensive team in the league without their top wide receiver, without their top 2 running backs, and with a quarterback whose shoulder is hanging together by dental floss. If Brown (and maybe running back DeAngelo Williams) returned for the Conference Championship in Foxboro, wouldn’t that be terrifying?
But maybe Antonio Brown wouldn’t have recovered from his concussion. Such a situation would have been a tremendous advantage for the Pats, because they could have put Butler and Logan Ryan on Matravius Bryant and Markus Wheaton instead of letting one of those guys go to Justin Coleman, who is a huge dropoff from Ryan. Would you have been rooting for Brown to miss the game? Truthfully, I probably would have. I would have rationalized it by saying something ridiculous like “Well, I want his concussion to no longer plague him starting Sunday morning, right after he’s already been declared out for the game and wouldn’t have made the trip to Foxboro.” But the point still stands that I would have been rooting for a player to have a more significant concussion than was originally hoped.
If you’re a diehard Patriots fan and you feel differently, then I respect you for not feeling the same way that I do. If you’re unsure how you would have felt, then be grateful that you didn’t have to ponder a serious moral dilemma in your head. And as much as that quandary would have been a problem in your head, at least your dome is doing better than Antonio Brown’s right now.
Don’t have a girlfriend during a 3 day weekend of playoff football. She’ll schedule a trip and tons of tours the whole weekend (except during the Pats game, because she knows what she signed up for when dating me). So I don’t have time for a full preview page, sorry about that. Here are the picks.
Carolina to win and cover spread of -2.5.
Denver to win and cover any spread of less than 7. But more lines I’ve seen show Steelers getting at least 7, and I’ll take them to cover that number because the Broncos don’t blow teams out. Hopefully I’m wrong with my pick that the Broncos win overall.