Ray Ratto

Patriots put Raiders' hopes in perspective

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Patriots put Raiders' hopes in perspective

This, ladies, gentlemen and undecideds, is why there is a difference between football, and fantasy football.Football is how the New England Patriots controlled the Oakland Raiders from stem to stern, won clinically and were never truly threatened.Fantasy football is how the Raiders played the Patriots nearly even. And the second really is a fantasy.

The Patriots 31-19 victory is only close if you include the Raiders final drive, a 99-yard, 49-second drive in which New England largely gave only the most infinitesimal of damns.Without it, you get: Jason Campbell throwing for 20 more yards, two less touchdowns and two more interceptions than Tom Brady. The Raiders outgaining the Patriots, 409-405, and an extra 40 yards in penalties. The Raiders a mediocre 1-for-4 in the red zone. The Patriots a comfortable three-touchdown winner, which is what you would have figured them to be anyway.But theres more. Darren McFadden broke one play for 41 yards early in the second quarter, and was otherwise 13 for 44 on the ground. Darrius Heyward-Bey caught a 58-yarder on the last drive but would otherwise be 3 for 57. While some folks would still find Richard Seymours rash of first-half misdemeanors vexing, he wouldnt be listed as a reason the Raiders lost.And nobody would be asking Hue Jackson to explain any of his not-even-close-to-the-edge play-calling, especially punting on a fourth-and-three with 6:45 to go down 18. It was the call of a beaten coach, not one who says he lives on the edge, and may well die with that quote every time his nerve fails him.Without that, this game would be viewed as what it was, a cold-blooded performance by the masters of cold-bloodedness, over a team of upstarts who are merely starting to consider up.Were there lowlights? The most obvious one was Campbells hilariously bad interception throw to Patrick Chung, which killed a potential go-ahead touchdown and got the Patriots on their roll -- by the time Oakland touched the ball again, it wasnt 14-10, but 24-10, and over.Seymours two personal fouls on New Englands first possession, a 15-yard score from Brady to Wes Welker, were also crushing, and nearly simultaneous head-butts by Mike Mitchell and Jarvis Moss on the first play of the Patriots second TD drive, plus an illegal contact call on cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, also jumped out.But for the most part, the Raiders showed that they are still learning how to be a more explosive version of the typical Raiders -- error-prone at the worst times against the best teams. They exposed New York the week before by showing what they can do with error-free football, but two picks, nine penalties and one meaningless end-of-game drive showed how much they still have to do.This was not a shameful performance by any means, but it did cool the ardor of those who saw in the win over the Jets a team ready to burst from its shell as a fully-grown pterodactyl. The New York game was a sign of what can be on the best days.This? This was a sign of what will be when their superiors play like they are the superiors.If you really must know what this game means, it means that the Raiders have now been put in proper perspective. A middle-of-the-road-team in a middle-of-the-road league in which the real battle will be played at the back end of the playoff chase. Unlike the NFC, in which the meek are inheriting the earth at a breakneck pace, the power in the AFC remains the power.Well, if you exclude Indianapolis, which has a hall pass this year, that is.Houston has fully matured. Buffalo is making points out of straw. But New England, Baltimore and San Diego have already carved out their piece of ground, and only Miami, Kansas City, Denver and the Colts look like they cannot be saved.In that middle muddle, you find the Raiders -- capable of big things and small ones, on alternate weekends. As you thought they would when the season began. They are, as they say, in the debate.Just not the debate that you thought they were included after the Jets game.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

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USATI

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.

 

U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

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AP

U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

So Bruce Arena resigned as the U.S. National soccer team coach Friday. Big damned deal.

Oh, it is to him. He probably liked the job, and might have wanted to keep getting paid.

But whether he’s there or isn’t doesn’t matter. In fact, whether the people who hired him are there or not doesn’t matter either. U.S. Soccer is the definition of sporadic interest and patriotism-fueled frontrunning, of imbedded self-interest and general indolence, all born of inexcusable arrogance.

Bruce Arena didn’t bring that to the job, nor does he remove it by leaving. He’s just another head on a spike, like Jurgen Klinsmann was before him, and Bob Bradley before him.

But that would also be true if the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, quit or was fired too. Even the people bleating that the U.S. shamed itself by losing to Trinidad and Tobago display the same kind of blinkered ignorance and arrogance that dogs this sport in America.

Being in CONCACAF is a gift from the heavens, and the U.S. has decided as a national collective to replace that with actual achievement. Beating Germany in friendly is proof of long-term worth. The fact is, we don’t know how to evaluate America’s place in the soccer world except as an audience, let alone how much massive structural change is required to change that.

And change must be massive, and can’t be evaluated by the next cheap win or the next galling loss, or television ratings. America is good at watching soccer, good enough to catch on the actual chasm between its national team and development structure.

But that’s where it ends, because knowing what’s bad because you just watched it, or what is actually good (like, say, a UEFA or CONMEBOL qualifier) is light years from knowing how to fix a system built on the flawed concepts of work rate without creativity and money as a solution to crippling organizational problems.

So Bruce Arena does the decent thing given the circumstances, falling on a sword that should actually be a kebab skewer. But it makes no difference. The American soccer structure needs to get what it needs before it can get what it wants, and there are no more shortcuts to take in a short-attention-span world.