Red Sox

Belichick: Cunningham suspension 'unfortunate'

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Belichick: Cunningham suspension 'unfortunate'

Patriots coach Bill Belichick gave the expected answer when asked about his latest suspended player.

"It's a league matter," he said on Tuesday's conference call. "It's really out of our hands."

Belichick's reaction to the ban of defensive lineman Jermaine Cunningham is nearly identical to the one he had less than three weeks ago, when running back Brandon Bolden was suspended.

Both players broke the same NFL rule by violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances.

Both players received the same punishment: Four games off without pay.

If Belichick fears a trend, he wouldn't say. Though that doesn't mean the coach hid his displeasure entirely.

"Unfortunately, sometimes on these things people make mistakes," Belichick said. "But everybody's accountable for them. I think those situations are unfortunate. Neither one of them needed to happen, they weren't that important. But they were violations, so they are what they are."

As the league is dealing with Cunningham, Belichick has the rest of his roster to manage. New England travels to Miami this weekend for its first of two divisional battles with the Dolphins. The Patriots can not only improve to nine wins this Sunday, but in doing so, clinch the AFC East's top spot.

The defensive line needs to be patched up in a hurry.

"We'll have to take a look at our options here," Belichick said of replacing Cunningham's presence. "Basically, there's two options: We could bring somebody in from outside and sign them to the roster, or we could do something with a player on the practice squad. We'll see. We'll take a look at our options, talk to Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio, get his thoughts and input on it relative to the personnel that's available like the way we usually do."

Cunningham's loss could mean gains for Trevor Scott.

Scott, a fifth-year defensive end, has played on the line sparingly this season, spending more time on special teams instead. But when starter Chandler Jones injured his ankle two weeks ago against Indianapolis, Scott stepped up. Against the Colts and Jets, he's added 51 snaps on the 'D'-line in addition to the usual duties on kickoff, punt coverage, and punt return.

Belichick lauded Scott's versatility Tuesday.

"Trevor's smart. He works hard," Belichick said. "He's in very good condition and he's a good athlete. He can run, he's quick, and he's long, he's got good length at the end of the line of scrimmage. He can handle some of those bigger tackles and tight ends, the 6-5, 6-6 tight ends with long arms. I think he's done a solid job when he's had the opportunity. We've had a lot of competition at those positions with Rob Ninkovich, and Chandler of course, Jermaine, Justin Francis . . .

"It's been a very competitive position, but he's done well when he's had the opportunity and he's contributed well for us in the kicking game."

Jones, seen Monday without a walking boot or limp, could come back this weekend. Cunningham, however, isn't eligible to return to the active roster until Monday, December 24. Someone -- Scott, or some rotation of players -- will need to make up for the 48-percent of snaps the latter defensive end played through New England's first eight games. And the coaching staff has to figure it out quietly, efficiently.

Belichick won't abide anything but business as usual.

"We'll handle it the same way we usually handle those types of situations," he said. "We'll try to make the best decision for the team we can for this week, for the remaining five games."

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

BOSTON -- Just as a batter can subconsciously play to avoid losing, rather than to win, a manager can operate with a fear of failure. Such an unwitting approach may have contributed John Farrell’s downfall, and is an area where Alex Cora can set himself apart.

A lot has been written about the value of authenticity in leadership. It’s one thing to have the charisma and conviction needed to land a position of power. It’s another to take over a pressure-cooker job, like manager of the Red Sox, and carry the fortitude to stay true to yourself, continue to let those qualities shine.

Cora did not appear to pull any punches in his days with ESPN. The 42-year-old engaged in Twitter debates with media members and fans. And throughout his baseball life, he showed his colors.

Via Newsday’s Dave Lennon, here’s a scene from 2010 when Cora was with the Mets: 

Last year, Cora spoke out against the league office's rule requiring minorities always be interviewed.

Perhaps most interesting of all, when Chris Sale cut up White Sox jerseys, Cora was Dennis Eckersley-like in his assessment:

“What he did is not acceptable,” Cora said of Sale. “If I’m a veteran guy, I’m going to take exception. if I’m a young guy, I’m going to take exception. Because as a young guy on a team that is actually struggling right now, somebody has to show me the ropes of how to act as a big leaguer. And this is not the way you act as a big leaguer. Forget the trades, forget who you are.

“What you do in that clubhouse, you got to act like a professional. And that’s one thing my agent, Scott Boras, used to tell me when I got to the big leagues: act like a professional. Chris Sale didn’t do it. He’s not showing the veterans that you respect the game. He’s not showing the rookies how to be a big leaguer, and that’s what I take exception to.”

Take out Chris Sale’s name from the above quotation and insert David Price’s. Describes Price's incident with Eckersley perfectly, doesn't it? 

Now, no manager can say what they’re really thinking all the time. Cora’s not in the media anymore. His new job description is different. 

But when you consider the great success of Terry Francona -- and why he succeeded in this market beyond simply winning -- what stands out is how comfortable Francona appears in his own skin. How genuine he seems. 

There is a way to acknowledge, as a manager, when something is off. A way to do so gently but genuinely. A way to say what you feel -- and a way to say what you feel must be said -- while operating without fear of the players you manage. 

Ultimately, most every comment Francona makes is intended to shield his players. But Francona shows his personality as he goes (or if you want to be a bit cynical, he sells his personality marvelously). Those little self-deprecating jokes -- he charms the hell out of everyone. The media, the fans. The Cult of Tito has a real following, because he feels real. Because he is real. 

Farrell was not fake. But he did have a hard time letting his personality come across consistently, to his detriment. He was reserved, in part because that just appeared to be his nature. But the job must have, with time, forced him to withdraw even further. As everything Farrell said (and did) was picked apart in the market, it likely became easiest just to play it safe in every facet -- speaking to the media, speaking to players.

The Sox’ biggest undertaking in 2017 seemed to be a nothing-to-see-here campaign. It was all fine. No David Ortiz, no home runs, no problem. Manny Machado was loved. The media was the problem, not any attitude or attitudes inside the clubhouse. Base running was a net positive -- you name it, none of it was ever tabbed as a problem publicly by the manager, or anyone else.

A perpetually defensive stance was the public image. Issues were never addressed or poorly defused, so questions always lingered.

Maybe Cora cannot admonish Sale as he did a year ago now that he’s managing Sale. Not publicly, anyway. But even as a quote-unquote player's manager, the job still requires authority, which should be doled out just as it was earned: through authentic comments and actions.

"My job as the manager is to set the culture, the expectations, the standards, the baseball," Cora’s present boss, Astros manager A.J. Hinch, said the night the Astros clinched the pennant. "It's the players' job to develop the chemistry.

“And obviously good teams always say that, we want chemistry, and what comes first, the chemistry or the winning. But when you have it, you want to hold on to it as much as possible . . . We've got a good thing going because we have one common goal, we have one common standard, and that's to be your best every day."

Cora has to remain true to his best, too -- not what he thinks, and hears, and reads, people want his best to be.

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EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

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EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

On this episode of The Ex-Pats Podcast...

0:10 - Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen give their takeaways from the Patriots win over the Falcons including the defense coming up strong against Atlanta but New England still taking too many penalties.

2:00 - Why it felt like this game meant more to the Patriots, their sense of excitement after the win, and building chemistry off a good victory.

6:20 - Falcons losing their identity without Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and their bad play calling and decisions on 4th downs.

10:00 -  A discussion about Matt Ryan not making the throws he needed against the Patriots and if he has falling off the MVP caliber-type player he was last season.

14:00 - How and why the Patriots secondary seems to be playing better without Stephon Gilmore and why Malcolm Butler has been able to turn up his play as of late.