Monday, January 22, 2007

The Day of Reckoning: Patriots-Colts, postgame thoughts

There is no worse feeling as a sports fan than watching your team collapse and lose a big game. I should know, I'm a Red Sox fan. And no matter how many times it happens, you never get used to it. I never really thought the Patriots of this decade would hurt me like the Sox have time and time again. A comeback story is always fun, unless you were rooting for Ivan Drago or something. In this case, I was. Here are some quick thoughts.

People I'd Like To Blame:

1. Reche Caldwell- two dropped passes in crucial situations. The worst was when the Colts forgot to cover him. The Pats should have scored a touchdown, instead they settled for the field goal. That's a 4-point difference. How many points did they lose by? 4.

2. Bill Belicheck- how is it possible that he had a terrific game plan in the 1st half, but didn't come up with something better in the 2nd? And Corey Dillon getting only 1 carry in the 2nd half? I realize he ain't what he used to be, but that's ridiculous.

3. The refs- sounds cheap, and it is. They really blew the roughing the passer call on Banta Cain, which put Indy on the 12 to win the game. But, in the end, it really doesn't matter, the Pats probably would have lost anyway.

4. The linebackers- can we please cover somebody? Please?

5. Bill Belicheck- wait, I'm not done with him yet. I think it's about time he learns that he can't just plug anybody in a position and expect to win. Eric Alexander playing linebacker on the must crucial stand of the season?!?!?! Are you kidding me?!?!?! Who is he? No, seriously, who is he? You only get so many chances to win Super Bowls, you shouldn't try to squeeze by like the Patriots have done the last 2 years.

Ultimately, though, this game wasn't about the Patriots blowing an 18-point lead, to focus on that is to take away credit from Peyton Manning and the Colts. Manning has always had the reputation of blowing the big game, and it looked like he was well on his way in the 1st half. His interception to Asante Samuel was telegraphed the whole way, and when he took the delay of game penalty on his own 5 it looked like he was completely shell shocked. Then he comes out in the 2nd half, abandons the long ball for the short game and leads his team to victory. The Colts scored on 4 consecutive drives in the 2nd half against the #2 defense in the NFL. He deserves credit for beating the Patriots in an important game, something many thought he'd never do. I hope he goes on to win the Super Bowl against the Bears, then returns to form next year and loses to New England. He deserves it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

another football post: Pats-Colts, this Sunday

Imagine a team with a star quarterback. Now imagine that this team has played the last two games with him playing poorly, and I mean poorly. Now imagine that this team has a defense without many Pro Bowlers, but who have played the last two games with tenacity and grit. This team has won both of those games despite the quarterback because the defense stepped up and played big.

What scares me is that this describes both the Patriots and the Colts, but perhaps the Colts moreso than the Pats. What scares me is that this is the formula the Pats have used over and over again throughout this decade, and they've won 3 Super Bowls. Contrast that with the Peyton Manning-led Colts, who won because their quarterback would feast on inferior defenses and his defense was just good enough to hold on. That formula never works. But for the last two games the Colts have won even though Manning has played poorly; they've won because the defense was able to shut down the opposing team. This has been a hallmark of Patriots football, now the Colts are trying for their version.

It's funny how the human mind works. Last week the Pats were the heavy underdogs, and I convinced myself they would win (and I was right, in case you forgot). This week the Pats might still be underdogs (largely because of the national media's collective mancrush on Peyton Manning), but many give them a good shot at winning. And I find myself finding reasons why this will be the year the Colts finally beat the Pats in a game that matters. I think years of being a Red Sox fan and watching them lose so often has conditioned me to think this way (it's funny how winning a World Series hasn't changed that too much).

But, I've decided to be more brave and actually attempt a real pick. Instead of expecting to lose and celebrating at the joy of winning, I've opted to expect what I think will really happen. I may not be successful, but I'll give it a whirl. So with that in mind, here are some thoughts:

The Colts defense has been playing well, but it's easy to overstate their effort. This past Sunday was against the Baltimore Ravens, who own one of the worst offenses in football. When you're entire offense is built around a way-past-his-prime quarterback, a decent tight end and a decent running back, well, you're in trouble. And their playoff opener was against the Kansas City Chiefs, a team coached by Herm Edwards. We Patriots fans know Herm well from his days with the New York Jets. I'm not sure Herm could have coached a worse game, it was a gift to the Colts, quite frankly. But, you can't hold that against the Colts defense. You can only play the teams you're scheduled to play, and they've beaten them. That's all you can do.

The Colts clearly have an advantage in the kicking game, where they now have Adam Vinatieri, the great former Patriots kicker. He's the greatest clutch kicker in football history, whereas we have a rookie kicker. Let's hope this doesn't come down to field goals.

I find it funny how many people in the national media are claiming that this is "Peyton Manning's time". In fact, a sports show here in Boston got a lot of mileage out of it, and I tend to agree with them. Since when does that pass as in-depth analysis? "Why will the Colts win this game? Because it's Peyton's time." Does that make sense? Does this work in any other realm of life (other than the Oscars)? Does it work on Wall Street? What about in your job? School? What about dating, does it work there? Wait, nevermind.

On the flip side, maybe the fact that Peyton is able to win despite playing poorly is a sign of things changing. Oddly enough, if he had sprung for 5 touchdown passes over the last two games I would be less worried, because it would mean to me that he's just the same old Peyton. But he's taken a page out of Tom Brady's playbook- play crappy football for a while, put together a drive or two when it matters. Brady's won 3 Super Bowls. Doesn't necessarily make much sense, but it scares me a bit.

As for the Patriots, they'll have to run the ball well. Looking back 2 years ago, most thought the Patriots would lose to the Colts in the playoffs, but the Pats introduced them to Clock Killin' Corey Dillon. It would be nice to see Dillon run the ball down their throats like old times.

The front 7 for New England will have to get pressure on Manning and be able to stop the run without help from the secondary. The Colts have great receivers, as well as a good tight end, so the defensive backfield will have their hands full. In fact, I think New the Patriots will have to cheat with a linebacker dropping back, which may mean there are only 6 guys playing up front, especially if Rodney Harrison is out again.

The biggest advantage the Patriots have is the coaching. Belicheck has consistently come up with game plans to confuse Manning. I realize that the Colts have won the last 2 regular season matchups, but there were major injury problems last year and this year the Pats have improved tremendously since they played earlier in the season. Some may call this a cop-out, I call it truth. In football, more than any other sport, coaching counts, advantage New England.

So here is my call for this Sunday, subject to deletion if I'm wrong:

Colts- 24
Patriots- 31

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

where I come from

I hope you don't mind if I interrupt my series of boring football posts to ask you to read something I found absolutely fascinating. I've mentioned Jeremy's blog (and I'm sure you'll remember that Jeremy is my second cousin) a few times, but today he posted something completely different from what I've thrown in your direction before.

If genealogies interest you at all (or even if they don't), take a look at his latest post, entitled Pierce Ancestry, and see a bit of my family background. And by "a bit" I mean a whole lot. We've got Roman Emperors, a Catholic saint, a Shakespearean character, Charlemagne, soldiers, but no baseball players (as far as I know). It's fascinating. Like Jeremy, I don't think it means too much if you've got wonderful people or scoundrels in your bloodline, it doesn't really affect today much. But it is interesting to see how it works out.

Jeremy and I start crossing paths with our great-grandfather, Walter R. Pierce (b. 1876). His son, Walter (b. 1909) was my grandfather, who fathered my father, Donald (b. 1948- yeah, I just told everyone how old my father is, sorry pops). This genealogy is patrilineal, so it doesn't follow the women (though a few of note sneak in), that would be an interesting study as well. But, for now we'll give poor Jeremy a break, he's a busy man.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

postgame thoughts on Pats & Chargers

I found a couple things ironic about this past Sunday's game. One, Marty Schottenheimer, head coach of San Diego, has been blasted for years for being a poor playoff coach. The charge (which is accurate, in my opinion) is that he becomes overly conservative in his offensive play calling- he runs too much and throws too many short passes to his running backs rather than trying to move the ball downfield. I find it ironic that part of the reason he lost this game was that he went away from that very thing. In the 4th quarter, with a lead, he should have been handing the ball off or throwing swing passes and short tosses to Tomlinson on almost every play, at least until New England could prove they could stop him with any sort of consistency (which they probably never would have done). Marty went away from his favorite method of run, run, halfback flare (ad naseum) and it may have cost him the game. With 4:30 left in the game and a tie score, he runs once with Tomlinson and throws twice to an overmatched receiving corps, both incomplete (thanks to mostly incompetent receivers). It wasn't the only thing that lost it for them, but it was part of it. Some will note that Roosevelt Colvin's interception was on a little toss to Tomlinson, but I'll counter with the fact that it was not a designed play, but rather a safety valve (which ultimately proved not so safe).

Two, I find the complaining on the part of the Chargers about the excessive celebration by New England to be comical. Mind you, I think the celebrations of some of the Patriots were stupid, but I can't feel bad for a team with someone known for a certain dance that he does after plays, even those he isn't a part of (I'm talking about the steroid abuser, Shawne Merriman). Listen, if you're going to dance after every stupid play, be prepared for the other team to do the same when they come into your home stadium and upset you. It's as simple as that. Grow up. With that said, I would have prefered the Pats not done anything. I'd rather one of the established veterans (Bruschi, for example) simply point out after the game that the Patriots don't talk trash and celebrate prematurely, rather they save their dancing for the Super Bowl victory parade. Nothing like the old timers pointing out the foolishness of the young punks. That would have been better revenge, in my opinion.

Lastly, I find it interesting that most "experts" said that the Patriots would have to play their best game in order to beat San Diego, when in fact the Patriots played quite poorly and still won. Here's the bottom line: you cannot give Tom Brady a chance to beat you in the 4th quarter. He will beat you, you can bet on it (in fact, many do).

A couple other notes:

Sometime in the 4th quarter a person in my viewing crew pointed out that we hadn't heard Asante Samuel's name all night. Samuel is the best cornerback on the Patriots, he tied for the league lead in interceptions and is considered their biggest (if not only) big play threat on defense. Here's the thing, with cornerbacks it's often better that you don't hear their name. If you do, there's a good chance it's because they're getting beat by the wide receiver. There have only been a handful of great corners who could tie up an entire half of the field on their own (Ty Law and Champ Bailey come to mind). Samuel is not one of those corners. He takes chances, when he succeeds he looks great, when he fails it usually means points for the other team. I'd rather not hear his name sometimes, it means his man isn't getting open and the quarterback won't dare throw it his way. It's a sign of respect.

Brady was downright awful at points on Sunday. Yet, he pulled together a great drive at the end of the 1st half, and pulled himself together after an interception (turned fumble recovery thanks to Troy Brown) to lead the game winning drive. He looked like the Brady of 5 years ago, the one I would call the "best bad quarterback in the league" or the "worst great quarterback in the league" depending on my mood. Back then he would look bad for an extended period of time, but then put together something amazing to win the game. In the Pats 1st Super Bowl win he didn't really play that well (look at his numbers sometime), but he commanded the game winning drive with the clock working against him. I'll take that any day.

I think there is one play that stands out to me as defining these two teams. In the 4th quarter Brady throws an awful pass on 4th down which gets intercepted by Marlon McRee, San Deigo's safety, who then tries to run with it but is stripped by veteran receiver Troy Brown ("veteran" in this case is a euphemism for "ancient"), which is recovered by New England, who go on to score the game winning field goal. Here is why this defines the two teams: McRee showed no game awareness, he should have dropped the ball rather than intercept it, giving his team the ball at the Patriots line of scrimmage rather than downfield. Brown on the other hand showed tremendous awareness and went for the ball, which was carelessly held by McRee. The Pats were a smarter, grittier team than the Chargers, and that's why they won.

I'll check back in with some thoughts before the Pats-Colts game this Sunday. Eventually we'll get back to eternal matters on this blog, until I hope you stick around. Thanks for indulging me.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Is there hope for the Patriots this Sunday?

The Patriots are the team of the decade, and will be until the end of the decade even if they don't win another Super Bowl (the chances of anyone catching their 3 Super Bowls are pretty slim). However, they are not the same Patriots that beat the Rams, Panthers and Eagles. They are older and slower, they've lost some key guys and replaced them with lesser quality players. The Chargers, on the other hand, are the team on the rise. They have an impressive young quarterback (Philip Rivers), a steroid abusing stud linebacker (Shawne Merriman), one of the best tight ends in football (Antonio Gates) and the best player in the game (LaDainian Tomlinson).

Some of the things to worry about for the Patriots:

1- they have a lot of trouble with speed rushers, and Merriman is as fast as he is strong, which is saying a lot considering he's a steroid user (and no, this isn't a baseless accusation, for those who don't know he served a 4-game suspension already this year for failing the drug test);

2- they have no one to cover Gates, unless Harrison comes back but even then he'll be injured;

3- Harrison is hurt, he's their best tackler in the secondary (if not the whole team) and a great leader;

4- I'm worried about the Pats ability to stop the run on the outside, while they have the best defensive line in the league and I think they'll do okay against the run up the middle, their outside linebackers (Colvin and Banta Cain), while very fast, are not exactly the world's best run stoppers, and middle linebacker Bruschi has slowed down a ton;

5- Tomlinson is awesome. Whether he's running or receiving, he cannot be stopped. The Patriots have no one who will be able to keep up with him. He is hands down the best player in football, a player I love to watch, just not when he's playing my team.

Way back on Jan 3, on this very blog, I wrote that the Pats would get bounced in the second round. But I'm going optimistic these days, it's time to find the silver lining in the dark cloud, to note the half-fulledness of the cup, to ignore the dog poop on my shoe and keep walking in the sunshine. Here are some reasons why we Patriots fans can have hope that we'll pull off the upset this Sunday:

1- Belicheck is a proven winner in the post season, while San Diego head coach Marty Shottenheimer has proven himself to be a bust in the playoffs time and time again, big advantage to the Patriots;

2- we have Tom Brady, who stopped doing Gap ads and broke up with his movie star girlfriend for such a time as this;

3- Rivers is playing his first game as starting QB in the playoffs, I figure we'll have about 2 quarters to take advantage of this before he finally settles down;

4- as noted, our defensive line is the best in the league, which means if our corners play up enough to slow down the outside speed of San Diego we might be able to quasi-contain their running game (but not stop it), it'll help if Harrison is back;

5- Merriman is a steroid user who has been given a free pass by the media, but my mom always said "cheaters never prosper" and my mom is never wrong;

6- my playoff beard worked well for us this past Sunday, I'm not afraid to skip shaving or trimming it as long as I feel it'll help, remember, I'm the guy who wore the same shirt through the Red Sox historic run in 2004.

So there you have it, I'm sure your outlook on this game is as rosey as mine now that you've seen my airtight case for Patriots superiority. Am I a homer? Absolutely and unashamedly. If I were to step back into the shoes of a non-Pats fan would I pick them to win? Probably not, though I do think they have a better shot than some think. So here is my prediction, bravely written in stone (or on a blog that can be changed or deleted at any time, whatever):

Chargers- 27
Patriots- 30

Sunday, January 07, 2007

That Better Be Played at My Funeral

Back in my student days I took a class called Pastoral Ministry. It was a class on the ins-and-outs of pastoral ministry, one of the most practical classes I've ever had. One type of assignment given was to plan out various types of services (funerals, weddings, baptisms, etc), complete with music, sermon and so on. That, of course, got me thinking about how I would like for these services to run in my life. Thus was the beginning stages of something I mentioned way back in the early days of the Hymn of the Week posts: my "That Better Be Played at My Funeral" list.

Some may say it's a bit morbid that I have my funeral planned out. Truthfully, I don't have the entire thing worked out, and have no intentions to do so, but I do have most of the music picked out. I guess I'm just trying to make someone else's life a little easier down the road. Plus, I think it's easier than having a "That Better Be Played at My Wedding" list because that'll probably get shot down when that day comes. I can't be selfish at my wedding, but I can at least attempt to have my funeral go my way (though I'll be dead, I'll be watching).

So here are the hymns that I want played at my funeral, subject to change. In no particular order:

It Is Well With My Soul- this is a no-brainer, what a tremendous song and appropriate for dealing with death and grief (in my top 3 hymns, by the way). I actually could have told you I wanted this sung at my funeral back in my teenage years when we sang this at a funeral for a young boy who had died. Powerful.

Jesus, I Come- I love this hymn so much it was the inaugural Hymn of the Week post, check it out here (also in my top 3 hymns).

Great is Thy Faithfulness- God's faithfulness is something I've experienced and learned in my life, I'd like it to be a theme until the end.

Be Thou My Vision- this one has rapidly moved up my favorites list, I wouldn't mind this being sung at my wedding, too.

Doxology- "Praise God from Whom all blessings flow", I'm a big fan of this ending a service of any kind. So simple, so powerful.

How Great Thou Art- my favorite hymn ever. This is the only song to do double duty on my That Better Be Played at My Wedding list (this would be my one request, well, also that the recessional be Take Me Out to the Ballgame, but I don't expect to win that battle). I haven't put this on a Hymn of the Week post yet, but I will, someday.

You'll notice that my top 3 favorite hymns on here, but there are some other that I love that probably wouldn't fit (All Creatures of our God and King, for example). I haven't blogged about all of these, just It Is Well, Jesus I Come and Be Thou My Vision. This might seem like a lot, but let me warn you that I haven't even started to list out Keith Green songs, so if you attend my funeral, expect to do a lot of singing.

So why such an emphasis on singing, especially these hymns? I'll give you three reasons. First is what I like to call the Charles Wesley Corollary, or what my roommate Jonathan calls the Hymns-Spirit Theorem, which made its public debut on my Be Thou My Vision post. Here is what I wrote then:

Actually, this is a good time to unveil something Jonathan and I discovered a while back. We've found that the power of the Spirit evident in any given meeting is proportional to the quality and quantity of hymns that are sung. I stress quality because one How Great Thou Art is worth at least a dozen renditions of When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder. Maybe we should call this the Charles Wesley Corollary. I'll get back to you on that.

I think I have to play a little loose with the definition of "corollary" in order to make this work, but I'll work on that later. I just like the way it sounds.

Two, I choose these hymns based on my thoughts I gave in my post what would you do if I sang out of tune..., which talked about the role of worship through song within the Church. I'll let you read that at your leisure, but I will say that I think it was the best post/discussion we've had on this blog.

Three, many people come to a funeral to honor and celebrate the life of the deceased person. I suppose that's fine, we should honor the saints who've gone before us and learn from their lives. But when I look at my life I see a life riddled with my own sin and pride. There is little to celebrate that has come from me (and I'm not attempting false modesty here). What I do see, however, is the grace of God through and through. I see blessings beyond number, I see forgiveness that has been thrown my way, I see freedom and joy that I do not deserve. At my funeral I don't want to be talked up or praised (nor should I be so presumptuous to think this would happen). I have one simple request: celebrate the goodness of the Lord. Because whatever is good and praiseworthy in my life owes itself to the goodness of our God. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

still yet another 5.5 random things

5.5: This post is dedicated to the unknown and fortunate person who picked up the $20 bill I accidentally left at the supermarket. Lesson learned: don't talk on the phone while doing the self-check out at the grocery store.

5: The BruceandMorgans have a new blog, complete with pictures of their new son, Elijah, who made his blog of danny debut a couple weeks back. It's just getting off the ground, so be sure to check it out when you get a chance.

4: Okay, so this Boise State upset over Oklahoma may be the greatest game ever played (with all due respect to Vince Young and the '05-'06 Texas Longhorns and Doug Flutie and the '84 Boston College Eagles). Unfortunately, I didn't stay up to watch it. After all, I've always disliked Boise State for playing on a blue field. That just isn't right. However, any team that is willing to run a Hook-and-Lateral and a Statue of Liberty in crucial points at the end of the game (the first to tie the game and send it into overtime, the second was a 2-point conversion to win in overtime) is okay in my book. Seriously, you don't even try that stuff in video games, and to pull it off to win a major bowl game (the first major bowl in Boise State history), well, that earns you the right to play on a blue field for a while. You need to watch the highlights of this game, trust me. Check out them here in a format that is broken down by quarters and the overtime period. You owe it to yourself to watch at least the 4th quarter and the overtime.

3: When you get a minute (actually 2 and a half) watch the trailer to the upcoming movie, Amazing Grace, which comes out in February. It's about William Wilberforce, who fought successfully against the slave trade in England. Let's just say I'll be hiding a few kleenex in my pocket. You know, in case I suddenly have heretofore unknown allergies kick in.

2: New Testament scholar Ben Witherington offered some of his thoughts on the passing of former President Gerald Ford. His mentioning of Ford's son, Mike, as a former Gordon-Conwell student reminded me of a story I heard about him in school. As Witherington notes, Mike Ford always had 2 Secret Service agents with him at all times, following him wherever he went. Apparently the other students had nicknamed these 2 agents "Goodness" and "Mercy" after Psalm 23:6.

1: The Patriots begin their playoff run on Sunday against the hated Jets. Honestly, I'm not sure the Pats will get past the second round (not that the first round is a given considering how Mangini outcoached Belichek in their last meeting). The Pats just don't have enough weapons on either side of the ball. Don't get me wrong, they have some great players: Brady is the best QB in the league (even in this off year I'd take him over anyone come playoff time), Seymour is the best defensive lineman in football, and there are a couple other good ones. But they can't score consistently enough, and their defense doesn't create as many scoring opportunities for the offense as they once did. I'm afraid my Pats will get bounced in the second round again this year. Here's hoping I'm wrong.