It was not pretty for the Pats this weekend as the Carolina Panthers, unlike the Oakland Raiders the week before, did not simply fall at the feet of the champions and beg for mercy. Instead, the Panthers, like the Steelers next week, and the Colts, and Bills, and Jets, and Dolphins and others on the schedule, are if anything motivated more than an average regular season game due to the fact the Patriots have whupped them good in the near past and these teams feel the need to exact a measure of revenge.
That said, this team still has a solid core of veteran players and a young crop of talented and inexpensive players ready to take the next step forward in their development. The team is still finding its footing, and a sloppy loss is probably the best thing for them in the long term. This gives Belichick the opportunity to work them hard and drive home his mantra of all the team on one page working for the team and not the individual, the whole is stronger than the individual, blah, blah, blah. The team was overconfident and uninspired. Much like the Steelers game and the second Dolphins game last year, the Redskins game and the first Bills game the year before, the Patriots learned a lot more in those losses and gained long-term strength and cohesiveness after these debacles. I would never root for them to lose, but the loss should do them good over the long-term. December and January are far off in the distance, and the first two games, heck the first four games are hardly a measuring stick.
What the heck is going on with the starting pitching? All of a sudden, Matt Clement and David Wells have turned into Carl Pavano and Jared Wright. OK, maybe not that bad, but still, the staff is looking ragged. It all starts with the starting rotation. Once that is right, the bullpen falls in line. Yes, the team is not hitting, but the bats have been there all year and will likely return soon. No worries on the bats, it is the arms that are in question right now.
Injuries and wear and tear are hurting the Sox now, which is odd considering all the grief Francona has received for giving players days off during the season. How soon the fickle forget. Anyway, with Tony Graffinino, Trot Nixon, Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Bill Mueller, and Kevin Youkilis all banged up in some form or another, and factor in that Jason Varitek and Edgar Renteria are likely hurting but too prideful to make mention of it, this team is in desperate need of some energy and enthusiasm. Alex not Joey Cora looked like a breath of fresh air the other day, as did Adam Hyzdu. The Yankees even took advantage of fresh legs in September, stealing the game from the D-Rays on the power of a Bubba Crosby home run (Bubbba!). Unfortunately, the Sox do not have much else to plug in anywhere on the diamond. I wish Adam Stern had stayed healthy because with Damon out, he could have injected some speed and aggression into the lineup.
The Red Sox Nation is in full panic mode as the lead has shrunk away, but unlike the tight sphincter teams of the past, this group just may be able to ride it out to October. Unlike last season where the Sox were struggling to make it as the wild card, what true baseball fan does not want to come down to the final weekend and beat-up the Yankees to take the division and knock them out of the playoffs? It is too delicious a possibility to pass-up: three free playoff games.
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