From Comcast SportsNetNEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Quarterback Joe Flacco put off contract talks with the Baltimore Ravens until after the season was done.Seems like a terrific decision now, huh?Capping a perfect postseason, the unassuming and unheralded Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three first-half touchdowns Sunday, earning Super Bowl MVP honors for leading the Ravens to a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.It was a back-and-forth game oddly interrupted more than a half-hour by a power outage."We gave the country a pretty good game to watch," Flacco said.Sure did his part, especially at the outset.Flacco set aside any questions about just how good he is and whether he belongs in the conversation about the league's best quarterbacks, becoming only the sixth in 47 Super Bowls to throw for three scores in a first half. He connected with Anquan Boldin for 13 yards, Dennis Pitta for 1, and Jacoby Jones for 56."Now they're gonna have to talk about Joe Flacco," center Matt Birk said. "Joe's a stud. He showed it tonight."Not just Sunday, actually.The admittedly mild-mannered guy, who played his college football far from the spotlight at Delaware, wrapped up Baltimore's four-game run to the title with a record-equaling 11 TD passes and zero interceptions, going 73 of 126 for 1,140 yards. It was an impressive streak that included road victories against two of the game's most respected QBs, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and a first-round home win against No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck."I'm a Joe Flacco fan. I've been a Joe Flacco fan," said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who ended his 17-year career with a second championship. "To do what he did today, that's what we always see."Flacco's job in the second half Sunday was more about being safe than spectacular. He had helped Baltimore take a 21-6 halftime lead, and it grew to 28-6 when Jones returned the second-half kickoff a Super Bowl-record 108 yards.That is when things got strange.First, the lights inside the Superdome cut out, delaying action for more than a half-hour. And when play resumed, San Francisco quickly scored 17 consecutive points to make things interesting.The Ravens held on down the stretch though, with two short field goals by rookie Justin Tucker padding the lead, and the Lewis-led defense stopping the 49ers on a fourth-and-goal at the 5."I was sitting there thinking, There's no way. There's no way we stop them here,'" Flacco said. "But we did."Neither Flacco nor his team appeared to be ready to take on all comers as the regular season concluded.After all, the Ravens lost four of their final five games in the regular season to stumble into the playoffs.And Flacco, a fifth-year pro, finished only 12th in the 32-team NFL in passer rating at a merely passable 87.7 -- way behind league leader Aaron Rodgers' 108.0 -- while compiling 22 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.Middle-of-the-pack, to say the least.But he and his team definitely did shine when the results mattered most."I tell you what: We don't make it easy," Flacco said. "But that's the way the city of Baltimore is. That's the way we are."He simply becomes a different player in the playoffs. He set an NFL record for quarterbacks by leading his team to playoff wins in each of his first five seasons. He is 9-4 overall in the postseason.His contract is up now. And he could wind up with one of the biggest deals in NFL history, perhaps commanding somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million a year.There would have been an opportunity to sign something last offseason, but Flacco's agent and the Ravens could not agree on how much he was worth.The rest of the world wasn't really certain, either.Flacco delivered quite an answer Sunday."He's taken a lot of criticism over his career, for whatever reason," Pitta said. "But we've always believed in him. We've known the kind of player that he is. He's showed up on the biggest stage and performed."
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:
Cora not happy with clubhouse laughter after another #Mets loss. Yells out, "A little respect please. They stuck it up our ---!"— David Lennon (@DPLennon) July 21, 2010
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.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE
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.