Patriots

Curran: Goodell in it up to his eyes thanks to his guys

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Curran: Goodell in it up to his eyes thanks to his guys

If Roger Goodell knew his ankle-biting minions were hunting minnows with a speargun on Jan. 18, he may have appreciated their zeal. But he would have told them their time would be better spent on bigger things.

Right now, the NFL Commissioner’s face is the one on the dartboard. Even people who loathe the Patriots reserve next-level disgust for the poopshow that Goodell is presiding over. But even if this is the iceberg that sinks Goodell, it’s his crew that put him in peril.

This has to have struck Goodell at some point. He is in for the fight of his Commissionership trying to make a four-game suspension stick to Tom Brady. All because a $5M, 103-day investigation stated two guys probably let a hiss of air out of footballs before the AFC Championship Game.

Think about the preceding paragraph and forget all the other happy horsecrap we’ve been flinging for five months. That’s what it is. The reigning Super Bowl MVP, the best quarterback of his generation is currently banished for a quarter of the season some footballs – not all – were a fraction underinflated according to some widely disparate measurements which nobody in the league ever paid attention to previously.

Processing the reality of this today, I thought to myself that this must be what old people felt in 1969 when they saw on TV men playing golf on the moon. Fantasy.

But here we are. And the funniest, most ironic thing is that the Ginger Hammer didn’t even know he was being set up Jan. 18 by his overzealous men in the field.

He probably had no idea that an accusatory email was sent by the Colts equipment manager the week of the AFC title game that basically stated, “You guys, everyone knows the Patriots let air out of the footballs...”

Nor did Goodell likely know his Game Operations people – Mike Kensil and David Gardi – mobilized upon receipt of the email, looped in the officials and started rubbing their palms together with anticipation.

By Monday morning, Kensil, Gardi and Troy Vincent – all among the suits who’d been in Foxboro – were able to proudly showed Rog what they’d landed and the progress they’d made in their investigation. Goodell must have been horrified.

But it was already too late to cut the thing loose.

The Colts equipment guys – who made the initial accusation – had run a sideline test and found the ball was under 12.5 PSI (page 7 of Wells Report). Kensil had stormed around the Patriots sideline at halftime telling Pats employees they were in “big f****** trouble." Gardi was firing off accusatory emails to Robert Kraft. Kensil had told Colts GM Ryan Grigson the Patriots were caught. Grigson told Colts owner Jim Irsay. Somebody told Indy media guy Bob Kravitz. It was “out there.”

Nobody among Goodell’s lieutenants seemed to realize that they were running around with handfuls of pure uranium and – by dint of their actions – pushing an unaware Goodell out on a plank.

Nobody said, “Fellas...ummmm, Ideal Gas Law…?” so the 11.3 and 10.9 PSIs were chalked up to a systematic plot to deflate footballs by the Patriots, not – as it turned out – Mother Nature.

Nobody seemed to spend a lot of time saying, “Hey, we might have them here We better make sure we dot our i’s and cross our t’s.”

Gardi’s email to Kraft on Monday announcing the league was launching an investigation demonstrated the early stupidity of the Game Operations people. One Patriots ball measured at halftime was at 10.1, stated Gardi. None of the Colts balls measured at halftime was under 12.5, stated Gardi.

In fact, three of four balls were under 12.5 PSI at halftime on one of the gauges. If Gardi, Kensil and Vincent had slowed down and not immediately turned into a pack of overaged Encyclopedia Browns, they could have saved the NFL a lot of humiliation.

But now, Goodell is forced to defend to the hilt a trumped-up, barely believable charge, an eye-rolling investigation and a draconian punishment.

He’s going to hear the Tom Brady appeal. He can’t back down now or he’ll undercut the $5M investigation he commissioned, Vincent’s authority and the progress he made convincing people he’s not Robert Kraft’s stooge.

So, he’s going to uphold the suspension (most likely) and then get his face pushed in by Jeffrey Kessler and the NFLPA when they start going to town on Ted Wells report.

They’ll start with the fact that literally hundreds of games have been contested with footballs that were certainly under 12.5 PSI thanks to slow deflation caused by cold air and you have an absolutely laughable penalty of four games for Brady.

Then they’ll get into the measurements and inconsistencies, the biases and presumptions, the plausibles and not plausibles.

After that, they’ll point out that the tenor of the investigation from halftime on put the Patriots on the defensive and, really, how could you blame them? Look at how these guys conducted themselves? Why would someone want to cough up a cell phone or submit to a fifth round of questioning when it was clear this fishing expedition was trying to catch something – ANYTHING!

And Goodell is anchored to this mess. Thanks to his guys.

We all take turns hammering Goodell, but he’s really just a receptacle for bile we’d spew at whoever was in charge of the NFL.

Football is played by incredible athletes and tactically managed by coaches who can be truly brilliant in the way they manage people and the games.

The NFL is a coalition of billionaire businessmen that own the players, coaches and teams and pushes the sport as a product. Its commissioner is the person hired to make sure the product keeps growing and the money keeps flowing.

If the behemoth is forced to address morality, integrity, sportsmanship, health or social issues, it will do so but only insofar as getting the consumer (and we in the media) thinking they’re really doing the right thing. The commissioner is charged with being the face of social responsibility as well.

He sucks at it. Anyone would. It’s like herding cats. If it’s not an owner like Irsay doing something embarrassing, it’s a dozen players doing stupid things because they’re young dumb and rich. Meanwhile, every team is eye-gouging and hair-pulling to get to the top and all the bean-counters are trying to make sure the beans keep piling up.

The owners chose Roger Goodell to be the face of their coalition and told him that, when the poop hits the fan, he is to wipe it off his face with dignity and keep on speaking like nothing happened.

It was up to the people under Goodell to manage the poopstorms. Make sure the little ones are handled well and that he’d take care of the big ones.

This was a little poopstorm. Or should have been. Goodell couldn’t find a way to stop it from turning into a giant one. And he just may drown in it.

 

Patriots searching for answers after season of road disappointments

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Patriots searching for answers after season of road disappointments

PITTSBURGH -- What makes it all so strange is that this Patriots team isn't all that different from last year's, or even 2016's, when it comes to the personnel. 

Those were both Super Bowl teams. One was the last team standing after the single greatest comeback in the history of the sport. The mental toughness of those teams was not questioned.

This one? 

After losing to the Steelers on Sunday, 17-10, they fell to 3-5 on the road for the season. They were called for season-high 14 penalties. They had a season-high three drops. The offense stalled in critical spots, going 3-for-10 on third down. They went 0-for-3 in the red zone. 

All of those issues -- situations that they began practicing back in OTAs -- could be filed away in the "mental toughness" folio. 

"Every year is different," Matthew Slater said. "This year is a little bit different. Obviously we've had some tough games on the road and that's the way football is sometimes. We really can't feel sorry for ourselves. There's still a lot for us to play for, but we certainly need to figure out who we are on the road as opposed to who we are at home."

STEELERS 17, PATRIOTS 10

The Patriots locker room, while dejected after a bad game, did express confidence that it can turn things around. The problem is, they're running out of time. The next time they'll be on the road, if they end up there, will be in the postseason. 

"I wouldn't say concerned," Duron Harmon said when asked about the team's road issues, "because . . . I know the type of group that we have. We all come ready to work. We are going to fix it. We are going to fix it for sure. We are going to be better next week and when we get another opportunity to play on the road, we will be better and do everything we can to get a win."

"We're still forming as one," Julian Edelman said. "We're still going. Still trying to improve. Lot of football left. Whether you win or lose, you gotta have a short memory and just get back on the train and go out and prepare next week and have a good week of practice."

Some of the things that the Patriots have been working on since the spring, though, are what's still ailing them. And as confident as players are that they'll get fixed, it's worth wondering if they ever will. It's Week 15.

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The Patriots are who we hoped they weren't

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The Patriots are who we hoped they weren't

They are who we hoped they weren’t.

After last week’s self-immolation in South Florida, you figured that this was a perfect time for the 2018 Patriots to prove they were part of the lineage.

A winter Sunday evening in Pittsburgh.

How many statements have the Patriots made in the past two decades on that chewed-up field in front of hate-filled fans? The 2001 AFC Championship, the 2004 AFC Championship, the 2010, 2016 and 2017 regular seasons games.

All the times the Patriots walked onto that field and proved over three hours that they were smarter, more disciplined, better constructed, immune to the frenzied towel-waving, poised and tougher than Pittsburgh. Proved that there was something in their DNA strands the Steelers didn’t have.

Only this time, not only did the Steelers play like the Steelers … the Patriots did too.

The traits of the past have skipped this generation. The resemblance this team has to the 2013-to-2017 teams ends with the uniforms.

STEELERS 17, PATRIOTS 10

The Patriots lost 17-10. Their only touchdown came when three Steelers decided to cover Josh Gordon and none decided to cover Chris Hogan.

The Patriots committed 14 penalties. You can quibble with a couple (the pass interference on Jonathan Jones being a prime one) but the unforced pre-snap penalties they committed are a by-product of not being all there mentally. At least that’s what we’ve always said when other teams do that.

They allowed the Steelers -- owners of the 28th rushing offense in the 32-team league with a couple of spare-part running backs -- to run for 168 yards on 22 running back carries. That came a week after the Dolphins ran for 189 on New England on 21 carries. Which was a week after the Vikings ran for 95 yards on 13 carries.

Aside from Trey Flowers, it’s expansion-level talent in their front-seven. And the Patriots secondary – while smart and capable in coverage – are not what they were even a year ago in run-support.

They either can’t defend the run, as in, they aren’t physically capable; or they won’t stop the run, as in, they don’t have the belly for it. I’m not sure which would be worse.

STEELERS 17, PATRIOTS 10

One of the saddest exchanges of the game when the Patriots executed an amazing punt-downing at the Steelers 1 in the first half. It went Jonathan Jones to Rex Burkhead, through the legs of Matthew Slater and into the hands of Ramon Humber. The Steelers had to take over at their 1.

Three plays later – one of them a 12-yard run by Stevan Ridley, who I figured would be working in a vape shop by now – the Steelers were at the Patriots 46.

Silver-lining seekers may point to the fact Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster didn’t ruin the Patriots day. Or that Pittsburgh scored merely a field goal over the final 42 minutes.

The Steelers lost to the Raaaaaaiiiiiddddderrrrrrs last week. Pittsburgh got to the Patriots 4-yard line in the third quarter and somehow came away without points. Ben Roethlisberger threw two picks. They aren’t that good either.

But really, the most distressing aspect of all of it isn’t the run defense or the penalties. It’s Tom Brady.

STEELERS 17, PATRIOTS 10

He’s played fine/good/OK for most of the season. He can very easily perform the physical tasks of playing NFL quarterback at a level that will win games.

It feels like heresy but that’s the facts. Playing “good” is such an amazing comedown from where’s he’s been since 2014 when he strung together four seasons that cemented his legend as the best to ever play his position.

He’s disconcerted by the buzzing pass rush.

His fundamentals sometimes come undone when there’s no threat at all.

Roll back the final play of the game and watch how he bails out to his left and curls away from presumed contact.

Look at the throw last week in the second half to Cordarelle Patterson that sailed toward the cheerleaders. Or the rushed throw to Chris Hogan against Miami. Or the decision to throw to the end zone on third-and-15 during the final drive with what looked like the Steelers holiday party surrounding Gronk when James White was pretty much alone on the left side and ready to pick up a few to set up fourth-and-manageable with the clock running.

What Brady’s 2018 performance underscores is just how necessary his round-the-clock, round-the-calendar, drag-everyone-with-him-to-the-mountains, football-is-life approach really was to ensuring he was without peer.

Because without that, he’s got a lot of peers this year.

STEELERS 17, PATRIOTS 10

So do the Patriots. They are 9-6 since the Super Bowl. They went 3-5 on the road this season. They scored 10 points in Detroit, 10 points in Tennessee and now 10 in Pittsburgh. It took a garbage-time touchdown against Jacksonville to get them to 20 points.  

When everything’s right, they can be a handful. Ask Minnesota. Or the Chiefs. But when it isn’t going right, they don’t have the (select one: talent, toughness, maturity, confidence, good sense, will) to change it.

They have five losses right now, the most they’ve had since the Nadir of ’09. In some ways, this team is like that one, it just has a better collective personality. This one, like that one, was born under a bad sign with a fractious offseason leading into a less-than-focused regular season.

But there was still a sense this year that they’d come to their senses.

A glass of water to the face like they took last week in Miami should have done the trick. The hated Steelers across from them on Sunday should have brought them fully awake.

It didn’t. And we’re left to conclude that what they’ve shown us is what they are.

Fine. OK. Good. A lot like a lot of teams. But nothing like they’ve been.

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