Jerry Ballgame gives us his thoughts on the happenings in Boston sports from this past weekend.
I am choosing to believe that I wasn’t the only Boston area sports fan that was at least “mildly” blindsided (assuming that there are degrees of “blindsideness”) by two events in our world over this past weekend. The first was the long speculated departure of Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon for Philadelphia, and the second was the surprisingly decisive beating of the New York Jets by our New England Patriots. The former happened with almost dizzying speed, the latter with shocking ease.
Surprise Number One
I suppose it a bit silly of me to have been taken off guard by “Pap” signing with another team as he’s been planning on testing free agency since he got here seven years ago. You have to tip your hat to him, he gambled on the big payday versus the security of a prematurely signed team friendly contract, and won in a very big way. In what was a classic example of a team outbidding itself, Philadelphia threw over $50 million at him, for an absurdly long period of time. I thought Papelbon looked a bit stunned at his Phillies’ press conference, and I don’t blame him. He must have been thinking, I better sign this contract before these fools have time to think about it!
Pap was a family favorite, so it was tough in many ways to see him go; but in other ways, not so much. If you watched the montage of all the swings-and-misses-for third-outs he’d ever thrown, on TV of late, you’d think his pitches never struck wood, or missed a strike zone. I realize that his 2011 stats, and 31 saves, were impressive; however I can’t help but feel that they hide how many “dirty” finishes he had. It was if he could not make it easy. A walk or two, maybe a hit, not enough to score a run, just enough to build up his pitch count and make him questionable for the next day.
Anyway, I hope he realizes two very important things. First of all, I expect he’ll find Citizen Bank Park just enough cozier than Fenway that it’ll lead to a few more heartbreaking 9th innings. More importantly, he cannot take “I’m Shipping Up to Boston”, with him to use as his entrance music. Doubt it’ll play well in Philly, and without it, neither will he.
Surprise Number Two
Surprise number two occurred Sunday night, on national television, and took me almost totally by surprise. I suppose it’s why they play the games, but I truly thought that there was very little chance of the Patriots winning this game. I would not have guaranteed a Jets’ victory; however, you have to believe going in, they had all the cards lined up in their favor.
Over the past few weeks, it seemed that offensively the Pats had become rather predictable, and a little too stoppable. In the Jets’ Rex Ryan, they were going up against the very creator of the “blueprint” of how to stop them, and it seemed that defensively, he had them hitting their stride at just the right time. But in football almost more than any other sport, it’s about match-ups, and for tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Jets, apparently had no match up. Eventually they got desperate enough to put Darrelle Revis on him.
On the other side of the ball, it was Andre Carter that posed the match up problem for the Jets, ironically enough proving too much for their tight end, and leading to a record four and a half sacks. The pressure proved to be the undoing of Mark Sanchez and gave the “no name” secondary and linebacking corps a chance to step up, and even contribute an important score. Throw in a fumbled punt return by New York, and the game that the Jets had to have, had gotten away.
To add insult to injury, someone in the NFL scheduling department must hate the Green and White, as they have to turn around almost immediately and head out to Denver for a Thursday night game. If they can’t regroup in time, not only will they lose their swagger, but likely the post season as well.
Although no one in New England should be booking hotel room for February in Indianapolis, this was still a very satisfying win. It’s become the norm of late for Bill Belichick coached teams to have very successful seasons only to stumble badly in the first round of the playoffs. (Home field has been no advantage.) So despite a theoretically “easy” remainder of the season, no one in these parts is taking anything for granted.
If there was one thing that did not surprise me, it was the relative “prickliness” of Rex’s post-game press conference. I think Rex is finding out that the only guarantee there is in football is that everyone loves you when you win, not so much when you don’t.
Branch image courtesy of: Jason Szenes for The New York Times
Papelbon image courtesy of: AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek
Gronkowski image courtesy of: Nick Laham/Getty Images
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