Friday, December 17, 2010

We're Back! The New York Knicks are Making Noise

Last night the big apple hosted high-energy, percussive symphony coupled with dance, and played entirely on unconventional instruments. I am not talking about the show Stomp which played last night in New York city, but the Boston Celtics came to town to play the sizzling Knicks, winners of eight in a row at Madison Square Garden. December basketball is usually monotonous and somewhat mundane, but from tip-off to Paul's piercing jumper that gave the Celtics a thrilling 118-116 victory, the arena was electric. For a rarity this decade, the most famous basketball arena in the world had a game that lived up to it.

Even though the Knicks eventually lost the battle, they might have won the war, the war of landing superstar Carmelo Anthony to their island. Anthony has been quoted as saying he will sign a three year extension that the Denver Nuggets have on the table if he's traded to the Knicks, or possibly the New Jersey Nets. If Carmelo had been wavering between going to the Nets or the Knicks, his questions should have been put to rest last night. The Nets might have a billionaire owner, but that doesn't make up for passionate fans, celebrities in the seats, and the world's most popular hardwood that MSG has to offer.

"Today America is the Roman
empire. New York is Rome itself."- John Lennon

As great as the Yankees have been over the past decade, if the Knicks are winning then New York is a basketball town. The fans inside the arena last night were a microcosm of the city itself, lively, energetic, bustling, accelerated, and active.

Last night, the Knicks triumphantly shouted to the basketball world that they are relevant again. The last meaningful season the Knicks had was in 2000 (Justin Bieber was six) when they beat the Miami Heat in seven games, but eventually lost in six to Reggie Miller's Indiana Pacers. The Knicks stars then consisted of Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, and Latrell Sprewell, all of whom have since retired.

Like a Pfizer salesman pitching Zoloft, the Knicks pitched their team on the floor last night for 48 straight minutes. They proved to their perspective client Carmelo Anthony that they can play with the beasts of the eastern conference. Their new core of stars, Amare Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, and Wilson Chandler have propelled the Knicks to a 16-10 record, sitting fifth in the east. The fact that they lost the way the did, battling until the final horn, almost makes them more attractive as they went toe-to-toe with the defending eastern conference champions to the end. They played until the final whistle and went the distance like Rocky Balboa did against Apollo Creed. This was a heavy-weight fight, when a year ago the Knicks could not even compete in the feather-weight division.  

Act 1- Enter Stage Right

The three main characters for the Celtics, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett each scored at least 20 points, while the teams director Rajon Rondo had 14 assists. The heavy lifting off the bench was orchestrated by Glen "big baby" Davis. Similar to a stage crew, his play is sometimes behind the scenes and under appreciated, but is essential for the performance to go off without a hitch. The hometown heroes played by the Knicks had three stars of their own shine bright, but none brighter than first-year New- Yorker Amare Stoudemire scoring 39 points and snagging 10 rebounds. He now has nine consecutive games scoring at least 30 points and shooting 50 percent from the field, just two shy of Shaquille O'Neal's eleven. The Knicks led 58-51 at half and by seven at the end of three quarters. The protagonist Knicks looked like they had the win, but the antagonist Celtics battled back and Pierce won the game with an icy-cold jumper with .4 seconds remaining. Fittingly after nailing the game winner, he turned to the crowd and took a bow. You have to love the drama and theatre that is New York.

Tonight, King James returns to the garden for the first time since "The Decision". There's always room for a second act.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ten Things I learned about you

 1. Run Baby Run: The Philadelphia Eagles can play smash-mouth football!

It wasn't Desean Jackson's four catches for 210 yards with a sprained ankle. It wasn't even that Vick got smashed into the turf regularly and was able to rally his troops from 20-14 in the third quarter in Dallas. The Eagles ran the ball consistently in the final four minutes of the game! I couldn't believe my own eyes. If there was always one flaw with the Eagles and Andy Reid's play-calling, it was their pass happy nature at the end of games. With 4 minutes 22 seconds left in the game, Jason Witten scored for Dallas making it a three point game at 30-27. The Eagles went on offense and were able to finish the Cowboys off by not letting their offense back on the field. They ran the ball until the clock showed zeroes on the overstated scoreboard at Big D's stadium. This used to be the Eagles achilles heel, but Sunday was their strength. The Cowboys defense knew it was coming, but were unable to neutralize this surprising ground game. No tricks, no reverses, just hard-nosed uphill running that was the difference in the game. If the Eagles can add this to their resume the rest of the way, its going to be nearly impossible to defend them. Remember, they still have Jackson, Maclin, and of course Vick if the running game stalls.

2. They're only kings if they have Cassel

Matt Cassel for MVP. Matt Cassel for MVP. I don't believe this, but you better believe Kansas City Chief fans do. Without Cassel, the Chiefs offense doesn't move. His backup Croyle completed 7 of 17 passes for 40 yards and was sacked four times in his first start since the 2009 opener. The MVP debate right now doesn't include Cassel but maybe he should be on the shortlist. The Chiefs with him are a legitimate playoff contender, but without him judging from Sundays beat down would be a three win club right now at best. Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, third in the NFL with 1,137 yards rushing coming in, was held to 40 yards on 10 carries. Dwayne Bowe who became the franchise leader in receiving touchdowns for the chiefs and having an MVP type season of his own, had one reception for 3 yards. Three yards actually makes sense I suppose when your quarterback throws for 40 yards total. An MVP is a player that elevates an entire team when he takes the field. Cassel has done that this season. Cassel proved that he is the difference between the chiefs being a contender, or the bottom-feeder of the AFC they have been over the last few years. Inside the numbers: 23 Touchdowns 4 interceptions. 98 QB Rating.

3. If Aaron Rogers sits, Greenbay should just Pack(er) it in.

What do the Falcons and the Patriots have in common besides (11-2) records?

Healthy players. The NFL is a coaching league and a league plagued with injuries. A talented team that has more injuries than an Emergency room is going to falter especially if injuries are to key play-makers. A big reason some teams that had high expectations end up falling short are injuries. Before the season started, the Greenbay Packers were the favorites to come out of the NFC. Then, players went down week after week and they started (4-3). Now, key pieces started coming back and they started winning again. Last week, people were talking about them like they did before the season started. The Packers lost Sunday 7-3 (not a typo) to division opponent Detroit. Worse than losing the game was losing Rogers to his second concussion this season. Once he was out, similarly with the chiefs backup, the Greenbay offense was dead. The Packers have to travel next week to Foxboro to face the red hot Patriots and a healthy Tom Brady. Is backup Matt Flynn going to break Brady's 26 game home winning streak in New England weather? Health is key.

4. Don't sleep on Mardi Gras, and don't sleep on the Saints.

The only (10-3) team people aren't talking about is the New Orleans Saints. Perhaps it was because they just won the Superbowl or because they came out of the gate slow. Either way, the Saints are once again marching along one of the most dangerous teams in the NFC. More eye-opening than their resurgence offensively was that their defense started making game-changing plays. Corner back Micheal Jenkins intercepted Rams quarterback Sam Braford twice returning one back to the house. As prolific as their offense was for their Superbowl run last year, their defense was equally explosive making big plays in key moments. They beat up on a Rams team that has played very well at times, but the Saints made them look like the Rams of the Pre-Sam Bradford era. Pierre Thomas returned for the saints and didn't have monster rush yards, but his presence was felt in blocking and catching out of the backfield. If he can get back to 100% and the defense continues to make big plays, the Saints could find themselves playing at Dallas in February.

5. M-J-D has a huge H-E-A-R-T

Maybe I always knew Maurice Jones Drew played bigger than his 5'7 stature, but it was definitely re-affirmed Sunday as he rushed his team to victory over the Raiders. MOJO gave a emotional speech at halftime to inspire his team and put his words into action with a 30 yard touchdown run to ice it with 1:34 left. Jacksonville is a game ahead of the Colts and can clinch the division next week with a victory and a loss by Houston. Jones-Drew ran 23 times for 101 yards and this was his sixth consecutive 100 yard rushing game. Many teams need their quarterback to win games, but Jacksonville is unique in that its MVP is MJD. The offense runs through him even when he doesn't touch the rock. Defenses have to account for Jones-Drew in the running game, blocking, and passing game. He has been a class-act on the field and off for the Jags and emerged as a locker-room leader which is important since the jags will need composure as they have a chance to clinch a playoff berth against the Colts next week. You go MoJo.

6. You can take the quarterback out of California, but you can't take the California out of the quarterback

I thought the Jets, feeling embarrassed and motivated after last Mondays beat down by the pats were going to come out and knock the dolphins teeth out. If I was a betting advisor in Vegas, I would have got laughed out of the desert. The Jets were flatter than Coke when shaken. The Jets for the second straight week seemed allergic to offense. You can point to Santonio Holmes dropping a touchdown pass in the end zone or Jeremy Cotchery dropping a first down pass in the 4th quarter. I saw an alarming trend that if you are a Jets fans should have you worried.
Mark Sanchez's production goes drastically down when he plays in cold weather. Sanchez grew up in so-cal, played high school quarterback in southern Cali, and went on to play college ball at USC. He has a pattern of being much less effective when the weather outside is frightful with a large increase in turnovers and a decrease in touchdowns and overall offensive production. A fear if you are a Jets fan is that this isn't just a coincidence, but a trend that hasn't gotten addressed or corrected. If the jets coaching staff doesn't help Sanchez fix his mechanics in the cold weather, this could be the chink in the Jets armor for years to come.

7. The Chargers will win the AFC west. That's it.

8. The Vikings should sail west

The Giants/Vikings game will be played tonight at Ford Field in downtown Detroit. The roof of the Metrodome has collapsed for the fourth time in its history. A Fox news camera got everything. I know I would never take my family to a game at that stadium. I'm sure engineers are pretty smart, but the picture I get in my head is engineers for the stadium sitting in a circle saying "If the roof can withstand 18 inches of snow it will be fine. It doesn't really snow in Minnesota". Minnesota is like as Norwegian colony of the USA. It snows all the time. The stadium itself is like a very cold refrigerator with plastic seats. Its ashame because the franchise has a rich history and loyal fans, but its time for a change. Los Angeles wants a team and it seems the roof collapse is a sign to do it and do it soon. The roof might not be ready for next weeks game either. Los Angeles is warm, loves football and Magic Johnson could be part owner. I don't see a downside. Brett Favre would like it. Maybe he wont retire and he can play in L.A. where women wont be bundled up in scarfs and parkas. It will be a kid in a candy store for Favre.

9. Pete Carroll: You should have stayed in melo red and yellow.

Coach Carroll is leading the most inconsistent team in the NFL this season. The Seattle sea chickens are 6-7 (still could win the dreadful NFC west) and they come out of the tunnels as a different team each week. Ive said before that coaching wins at the NFL level and Carroll seems to be a bit too "laid-back Cali bro" to get the job done in the NFL.

10. Jon Kitna isn't that bad!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Believe the Hype 

Last night we witnessed artistry at its finest. Instead of a painter wielding his brush on a canvas, it was a quarterback carving up a Jet's defense for sixty minutes and further sculpting his legacy in the process.

Arguably the two "coolest" quarterbacks faced off last night with heavy-weight fight expectations that proved to be a knockout from Brady's first nine yard pass to Wes Welker. The Jets defense reminded me of when I used to play mortal combat with my friend Oren. He would usually win. Right before his victory, Oren would play with me as my character stood there head spinning, waiting and hoping to be finished off. Last night was a flawless victory as the Patriots beat the Jets in every aspect of the game.

Many teams go through blowout losses like this and are able to rebound and come out strong the next week. I think the Jets are still a good team, but not a Superbowl team. I don't know if I learned anything new about the Jets as much as my feelings were re-affirmed and validated. Mark Sanchez is not Broadway Joe. Sanchez is a second year player and last night it showed. The bright lights of Gillette stadium and the best quarterback in the game were too much. Sanchez will grow and learn from this, but as soon as the game got out of hand early he pressed. The three interceptions were out of panic, not lack of his ability to find his own players. His face stayed calm, but his play was frantic and flustered. He quickly realized that playing the Patriots at their house is very different.

The biggest advantage the Patriots had was their ten days to prepare. In another article I went into why the NFL is a coaching league. Coach Bill Belichick, the best in the business showed why he is a genius last night. Belichick is king of the details and the NFL is a game of inches and minute details that mean the difference between winning and losing. Brady said he sat with Belichick for two hours during their time off and learned the jets defense through his eyes.

After last nights win, Brady and Belichick have won 107 games together trailing only Dan Marino and Coach Don Shula. What's their secret to success? They are cerebrally on the same wavelength. In football, they are the same person. Brady is the absolute extension of his coach on and off the field. This was most evident to me during each of their press conferences yesterday. Brady: "They're a good team. We made some plays, but we may see them again". Belichick: "The Jets are a good football team. I'm sure we haven't heard the last from them."

It's like the best friends that finish each other's sentences. No duo is the NFL is better and they bring the best out in one another.

The Patriots are a different kind of team with a different breed of players. They treat their team as an army and their playbook as a top secret mission guarded at Fort Knox. If you are a Patriot, you become an extension of the coach, a solider to the captain.

Danny Woodhead, cut by the Jets is now a big part of the Patriots offense and showed up much bigger then his 5'8 frame last night. He could have played the "I told you so card and trash-talked the jets for letting him go". Instead, he put on the hard hat and went to work. His play did the talking with 4 receptions and 104 yards. After, he was continuously asked by Steve Young if it was nice to stick it to the team that cut him. His answer over and over was he's just doing his job and going to work everyday. These are the Patriots. Last night we saw that trash talking and comical press conferences don't win and don't get you prepared. Talk less, study more and with the extra time off the Patriots showed what they do with it. With extra time to prepare this season the Jets are 0-3, and the Patriots are 3-0. It's that simple.

It's time to talk Tom

We live in a society where greatness is always appreciated more after the fact. We can't see greatness as it unfolds before our eyes, but looking back we can't believe we had the honor to witness it. This is how I feel about whats happening with Tom Brady right now. When we look back thirty years from now, I have no doubt that the sports community with acknowledge Brady as one of the best quarterbacks of all time.

Most fans of the game and analysts still put him behind Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Johnny Unitas, John Elway, and of course Joe Montana. At this point, I understand why he's still behind Joe Montana. But, if Brady gets Superbowl ring number four this season and another Superbowl MVP award and he's having an MVP season, doesn't he has to go in the discussion?

I know there a lot of haters out there: he's too good looking, he's married to the super model of super models, he wears uggs. Numbers don't lie. Three Superbowl victories, two Superbowl MVP's. The patriots are (10-2) and Brady is playing lights out with two rookie tight ends, no Randy Moss, past-his-prime Deion Branch, and Danny Woodhead. Are you kidding me? Woodhead was released from the Jets like yesterday!

Brady maximizes the talent around him. Randy Moss as great as he is was elevated by Tom Brady. Now he's rooting somewhere in Tennessee. Brady doesn't need a star receiver to be successful. He won those three Superbowl's without Moss and virtually no running game. Peyton Manning has had pro-bowlers and hall of famers on offense, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne. Tom Brady won three Superbowl's throwing to Troy Brown and Deion Branch. There's no comparison. Peyton Manning has always been a much better player and winner in the regular season than the playoffs. Brady has been the winner in the big moments: playoff time.

Manning is 9-9 in the playoffs, Brady is 14-4. The best part about Brady are his intangibles. Yelling at players on the sideline for missing an offensive opportunity up 24-3 last night and always playing as if he has something to prove. Brady being the 199th pick in the NFL draft has stuck with him. He uses that fire to attack all the teams that doubted him. It's that chip on his shoulder that never leaves him which makes him great.