Red Sox

Pro Bowl bids are a team honor for Patriots

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Pro Bowl bids are a team honor for Patriots

FOXBORO -- Vince Wilfork was voted into his fifth Pro Bowl, the NFL announced last night, and it's an honor that never gets old.

"Just appreciate everybody who voted," Wilfork said. "It's always an honor to get acknowledged for being in the Pro Bowl. That's always ver exciting for the wife and the kids. A lot of hard work so I'm very appreciative for everything, being a Pro Bowler and everything."

The defensive lineman was voted to the Pro Bowl in part because of his impressive numbers this season. He already has a career-high in passes defensed with six. He also has a career-high three forced fumbles and a career-high four fumble recoveries to go with 27 tackles and two sacks.

He insisted that the honor said more about the team than his own play, and he hinted at the fact that there were even more Patriots who deserved the honor than the seven named on Wednesday.

"All these guys, these guys work very, very hard," Wilfork explained. "There's probably some guys who got snubbed around the league. I know there's a couple guys out here who feel like they were snubbed. But you know what, just keep working hard, it'll pay off. We got a lot of guys in this locker room that was well deserving of being an All Pro and Pro Bowler so I was just lucky to get picked by my peers and everything, people I play against. It just shows a lot of guys respect what we do so I'm very happy with it."

Wes Welker, who set a record last week by recording the fifth 100-catch season of his career and was named to his fifth straight Pro Bowl, felt similarly. It's a nod that is a testament to the team, not just the honored player.

"It's definitely an honor," Welker said. "I think it's a reflection of how well the team has done this year. Hopefully we can just keep it going.

"I think it's a good reflection of our whole team and everybody coming out and trying to execute their job to the best of their ability. It's more of a team thing really than an individual thing I think around here."

And as nice as it is to be named to the Pro Bowl, none of the Patriots are really hoping to see Hawaii for the game. It would mean they didn't reach the Super Bowl, which will be played in New Orleans the following week.

"Team success is more important than any of this," said special teamer Matthew Slater, who was named to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year. "I'd rather be eating gumbo in New Orleans than pineapple in Hawaii. I think that the team has had a good year, and that shows by us getting individual awards. But really they're not individual awards. They're team awards and team honors and I feel like my honor goes to the rest of the core guys are out there with me."

Tom Brady (eight Pro Bowls), Logan Mankins (five), Rob Gronkowski (two) and Jerod Mayo (two) were also named to the Pro Bowl for their play this season.

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.