Sunday, December 27, 2009

McGrady Couldn't Grasp The Secret

About two months ago I purchased sportswriter Bill Simmons's recent book The Book of Basketball. The book details every issue of NBA basketball that you can imagine. In short, the book is a terrific read.

One part of the book I enjoyed dealt with what Simmons described at "The Secret." Basically, The Secret is that in order for a team to be successful, individual players have to focus more on the team and not on the individual. When a player understands the team is more important than the individual, they understand the secret. The Secret is a vital part of all sports, but all too often it's ignored.

I bring this topic up because of the recent events dealing with the Houston Rockets. The Rockets have been without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady for much of the season. Despite the team's lack of a real superstar, the unit still continues to play tremendous team basketball each night. Remarkably the team is the West's seventh seed.

Recently Tracy McGrady returned to the lineup. After being upset with his diminished role the Rockets cut him loose. Some people out there might be confused Houston let go of one of the league's best scorers but at the end of the day it comes down to one thing:

Tracy McGrady did not know The Secret.

Look at the Houston Rockets now. They play TEAM basketball. This is an extremely important concept to grasp. Yes, they are not the most talented group of guys out there, but they play as a unit. They have a plethora of guys (Aaron Brooks, Chuck Hayes, Trevor Ariza, Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, and Shane Battier) who are willing to adjust their playing time to better the TEAM. When McGrady came back into the lineup that important chemistry is lost. Losing team chemistry is detrimental to a team's successes. The instant one man (McGrady) put himself above the team was the instant he lost his job with the Rockets. Houston reminds me in some ways of the Detroit Pistons from a couple teams ago. McGrady's lack of an ability to grasp this concept is what is wrong with the NBA. Far too often the man who puts up 30 points a night is glorified over the guy who sacrifices minutes and shots because he knows it will better the team.

I admire Coach Rick Adelman and how he got rid of McGrady before the problem progressed.

New Orleans Saints: Back to Normal

There are many things in a person's life that are purely fantasies. There are things out there each person holds as an absolute dream. It varies for each person, but the general guideline is the same - it's a fantasy, and despite the impossible nature of it, you still desire it.

Exhibit A: The New Orleans Saints

For much of the franchise's existence the team has been, well, lousy. For years the team has continuously disappointed the fanbase and has miraculously found ways to lose in the most incredible of scenarios. Sure the franchise had some good years, but they were short lived...and then 2009 came. The year we, the fans, someone started to put Saints with Super Bowl.

For thirteen straight games the New Orleans Saints dazzled fans across the country. In an unbelievable course of events the Saints were 13-0. When victory seemed impossible the Saints won. They found a way every week. It did not matter what the deficit was, the team would rally together and overcome the obstacle.

Last Saturday this fantasy world burst. In the Superdome the Saints lost to the Dallas Cowboys 24-17. The team made a late rally, but at the end of the day the Saints had their first loss of the season. It stung, but we, the fans, convinced ourselves it was good. In fact it was great because now the undefeated talks could be sweep up under the rug. Is that not how the conversation went?

Then it happened. The fantasy world exploded. With a thud the Saints, in classic Saint manner, lost to the 2-12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-17 in overtime. In every imaginable way the Saints found a way to lose. First, they gave the fans the perception they were going to win easily when they built up a 17-0 lead in the first half. Next, the team installed a lousy style of defense that again let the opposition's running back run for 1.2 miles. Then, in the biggest moment of the game the Saints did not convert a 3rd and 7. Next, they gave up a punt return for a touchdown in a classic Saints manner. (Wait, we are not done yet!) After that the Saints' kicker Garrett Hartley shanked a potential game winning 37 yard field goal. (Thanks Garrett! You managed to lose all credibility with one swing of the leg!) And finally, but most importantly, the defense allowed Tampa Bay to drive right down the field and kick a field goal to win in overtime.

Wow. What a list! At moments like these you have to admire how this team managed to convince a fan base and a country that these Saints were different than past teams. We were lead to believe they would stop working so hard to lose a game. We were wrong.

I am a fool for falling under the spell of the 2009 New Orleans Saints. Please do not think I am rooting against them, rather I know what to expect for future games. I understand they are 13-2, but the thing is they showed their colors today. They showed that classic find-a-way-to-lose Saints attitude that fans have grown to hate over the years. And now it's back at the worst part of the season.

I wrote this article with one thing in mind - warning the masses. The ingredients seem to be coming together for a meltdown in the Big Easy. Again, I have watched this team my entire life. When they find ways to lose like they did today the season melts away.

I am not a negative person, I am a realist.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Week 15 NFL Wrap Up

How's this for a change? College football, always synonymous with chaos (cough - BCS), was a bit more predictable this year. And even more ironic is the NFL and how recent events has turned everything upside down.

Bottom line - the NFL has been more chaotic this year than college football. (There's a first.)

Without further ado here's a look back at the biggest story lines to come out of Week 15.

Cowboys hand New Orleans their first loss of the season

Someone forgot to tell Dallas they do not win December games and that no one wins in the Superdome other than the Saints. Outside of a late fourth quarter rally, Dallas dominated the vast majority of their 24-17 victory. I was most impressed by Tony Romo's maturity. Romo, who has been subject to his fair share of criticism, did an awfully good job on shutting up the doubters. He went 22 of 34 for 312 yards and a touchdown. Outside of a great game Romo also had ZERO turnovers. In Dallas's first three losses this year, Romo averaged over two turnovers a game.

One week after being carted off the field, DeMarcus Ware made a Willis Reed-like appearance that included two tackles and two huge sacks on Drew Brees.

Honestly, if there any reason to think that Dallas can't beat anyone if that play at that level again? Simply put, no. The Cowboys showcased on Saturday night that when they play their best they can beat anyone.

On other side the New Orleans Saints looked out of sorts for most of the game. Suffering from some key injuries on defense was apparent throughout the game, but even with those injuries I am still shocked how inept the offense was most of the game. Dallas did their homework.

Oakland Beats a Playoff Team...Again

This is getting awfully strange. The Oakland Raiders were swept by the Kansas Chiefs this year, but they still have somehow beaten four playoff teams. Each victory, believe it or not, makes people start to think that maybe Tom Cable is building a team for the future. Oakland has taken down Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and as of yesterday, Denver. The thing that's worth noting is the last two (Pittsburgh, Denver) where away games. And how about some redemption for JaMarcus Russell? A couple weeks after having been benched, the former No. 1 quarterback came into the game to lead the Raiders to a game winning touchdown. Sure it was only a measly 58 yard drive against a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde Broncos team, but rest assured the 20-19 victory by the Raiders speaks volumes about Russell. Basically, do not throw the towel in on him yet. The game was on the line and he delivered. That means something no matter how you cut it.

Carolina's Defense Cripples Minnesota

Everything was falling into place for the Vikings. The Saints lost meaning they could grab a game in the race for home field advantage and the Packers lost meaning the team had won it's second straight division title. But for some reason for the second time in three weeks the Vikings came out flat, and worse they never recovered. Carolina came into the game 5-8 and officially eliminated from playoff contention, yet John Fox's crew still played their best football of the year. In only his third start, Matt Moore outplayed Brett Favre by throwing for 299 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Even with DeAngelo Williams leaving the game with an ankle injury in the first half, the offense was still able to muster points against a stiff Minnesota defense. After three quarters the score stood 7-6 Minnesota, and the end of the fourth it read 26-7.

A couple thing really stood out. First, when Minnesota's running game struggles (only 41 yards)the rest of the offense struggles. Brett Favre is not capable of carrying the team to victory with just his passing. Adrian Peterson feeds off Brett Favre, and Brett Favre feeds off Adrian Peterson. Second, I know it's too early, but Matt Moore is getting better each game. Here's a list of how he has done in his three starts.

Game 1: Tampa Bay (16-6 W) 14/20 161 yards 0 TD 1 INT

Game 2: @ New England (20-10 L) 15/30 197 yards 1 TD 0 INT

Game 3: Minnesota (26-7 W) 21/33 299 yards 3 TD 0 INT

Are we looking at Carolina's QB of the future?

Also worth noting, if Minnesota wants to get home field advantage they will have to go 2-0 (@ CHI, NYG) and New Orleans will have to go 0-2 (TB, @ CAR). It's not entirely out of the question, but it will be difficult.

Rejuvenated Cleveland Browns

It's very difficult to find anything positive about a franchise that is currently 3-11, but I think for the Browns we can make an exception. Since the team's bye week in Week 9 the squad has been playing a lot better to say the least. Sure they are only 2-4 since the bye week, but unlike their first eight games the Browns are in all the games. In their four losses they are only losing by an average score of 25-17. Even better the team has reeled off a two game winning streak after 41-34 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. I really do not care if they beat a lowly Chiefs team, all that matter is the team is still playing with heart.

Lackluster Pats Win

The Patriots' defense was Belichikian in yesterday's 17-10 victory over the Bills, it's the offense that worries me. Yes, I know Buffalo has a solid defense, but still only 17 points? Even crazier is how Buffalo would of gotten the onsides kick back with just over three minutes left had it not been for an atrocious penalty on Buffalo. New England got the victory and that's all that matters. Still, as the playoffs approach I wonder how this team will respond against the likes of the Bengals, Ravens or Broncos. With all that taken into consideration these are the New England Patriots and when they enter the playoffs they always seem to play better.

Last Second Steeler Heroics

It may have only moved their record to 7-7, but regardless it was a much needed 37-36 victory over the Packers. With three seconds left, Big Ben finalized an amazing drive by throwing a laser to Mike Wallace from 19 yards out. Wow. What a play. Even crazier is the fact that Pittsburgh can STILL make the playoffs! Right now in the AFC six teams have the record of 7-7. I understand a lot has to go right for Pitt to get into the playoffs, but crazier things have happened. All that matters is that they are still in the hunt.

A couple things that caught my attention. This is not the first time the Packers have lost because their defense could not make a play in the games final moments. It happened against the Buccaneers earlier in the year and it happened Sunday. My point? This is an area of concern. What's to say Green Bay does not find themselves winning in the playoffs only to lose because their defense is invisible in the game's waning moments? Second, what happened to this Pittsburgh defense?! Big Ben threw for 503 yards and they still only won by one point because of an incredible play. Remember that Steelers' defense? They would shutdown high octane offenses and Big Ben would take care of the rest. That's not the case this year. In the offseason things are going to change.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Evaluating the Saints Loss

Losing sucks. There's no way around it. And tonight's Saints game was no different, if anything it was more painful. Yet despite the outcome there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Yes, I know I wanted it too. The New Orleans Saints for crying out loud where 13-0 and the thought of going 16-0, even 19-0 was still a possibility. After the miraculous win against Washington, people started to believe that it was, gasp, destiny. Then in one evening it all came crashing down.

It is so simple when you look back on the Saints 24-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. For once the Saints got jumped on in the first quarter and for once Drew Brees was getting knocked around all night. Sure the Saints had close calls this year, but no one got pressure on Drew Brees the way Dallas did. After tonight I would put the Dallas Cowboy defensive line between Batman and Superman. It looked that good.

All night it was the same thing. Dallas played flawless, New Orleans looked flat. So many things went wrong for New Orleans. Where do you start? Is it the poor tackling or the lousy run defense that made Tony Romo look like Barry Saunders? Better yet was it the fact that Devery Henderson dropped a touchdown or how the team scored zero points after Courtney Roby took the kickoff back to the Dallas 30? Doesn't matter who you cut it up they lost and that little magical dream so many had is gone.

So what. Move on.

In all honesty this is the most important thing to take into consideration. After having played lousy for three quarters and going into the fourth quarter down 24-3 the Saints refused to fall over. They kept fighting.

For three quarters I watched the Saints defense (yet again) get embarrassed on third down. When the fourth quarter started hope was nearly gone. It seemed the Saints where going to go down easy and lose pathetically 31-6 on their own turf.

But they didn't. They fought. They regrouped and somehow got things rolling. Brees got back into the zone and helped get one touchdown. 24-10. And then for the first time all game the defense made a huge third down stop. Again Brees brought the team down and again he showed the resolve of the Saints. Lance Moore caught a screen and it was 24-17. And finally when all hope seemed lost, when it seemed the game was over Dallas kicker Nick Folk shanked a 24 yard chip shot. It was epic. The Saints were yet again bailed out by an NFL kicker missing an extra point-esque kick. There was still hope. Slowly, but surely the Saints marched down the field, only this time luck run out.

In a fitting manner the Dallas defensive line put the stamp on an embarrassing humiliation of the Saints' offensive line. The loss stings no doubt, but I take pride in knowing that down by 21 in the fourth quarter was still not enough of a reason for the Saints to throw the towel in.

Think of it this way - the Cowboys played a perfect game and the Saints made every mistake they could make, yet New Orleans still had a shot at winning in the end. Believe it or not, that says something.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Looking Back on My College Football Predictions

Making predictions has never been my best asset, but still it remains something I hope to get better at. With that said, I would like to look back at the predictions I made at the beginning of this 2009 college football season.

Then: Florida WILL go undefeated and they WILL win the National Championship.
(I keep looking and when I really evaluate this team I do not see them tripping up once.)

Now: It really is strange when you think about how the Tebow Show is over. I was confident the Gators would prevail over the Crimson Tide. All summer and year there was so much certainty that the Gators were going to win the title. I bought into it. Sure the offense was stagnant in some games, but the team kept winning. Tebow would not fall. And then it happened. Alabama hit Florida in the mouth like no one has ever done against Tebow. In 60 minutes of football it was all over.

Then: By the end of October the California Bears WILL no longer be in the dark horse National Championship talk.
(I have been hearing all summer how this Cal team is going to make some noise. I do not see this year being any different from the other years we, the fans, were lead to believe this.)

Now: I could not have been more right about this prediction. I saw this coming from 10 miles away. At 3-0 the Golden Bears traveled to Oregon only to lose 42-3. The next week the team lost their homecoming to USC 30-3. Poof! Two games, two losses, National Title talk dead. After all the hype California finished the season with 4 losses and an invite to the Poinsetta Bowl to play Utah. Ouch.

Then: Ohio State WILL beat USC on September 12th.
(Matt Barkley is 18 years old. He turns 19 on September 8th. He has never started a college game. I do not think in his second game of the year he will be able to pull out a victory in front of 100,000+ screaming fans. I do not care how good he was in high school and I'm sure he will have a fine college career. But at the end of the day I do not think with such little experience he will be able to beat the Buckeyes.)

Now: They had them! Ohio State had USC! The crowd was there, the team was there, but the Buckeyes could not stop freshman Matt Barkley from driving down the field and pulling out an 18-15 victory. Even worse, Terrelle Pryor, the proclaimed savior, turned the ball over on downs with a minute left. Wasn't Pryor brought in to win games like these?

Then: Baylor behind the nation's best kept secret, quarterback Robert Griffin, will pull off a big upset this year, but Baylor will not going bowling this year.

Now: Poor Baylor. Had Griffin not torn his ACL in week three against Northwestern State this team would of gone bowling. Griffin was already putting up some ridiculous numbers. Baylor was 2-1 when Griffin was playing, when he was not they were 1-7. Let's hope Griffin comes back strong in 2010.

Then: Miami Florida's head coach Randy Shannon will be fired at the end of the year as his team will again under perform. The Hurricanes will finish with 5 losses.

Now: What do I really know? Geez I never thought Miami would start the season the way they did. So what if the Hurricanes got screwed out of a quality bowl game, Shannon's crew still finished 9-3. More importantly The U is on the rise behind Jacory Harris.

Then: Michigan will not lose more than 4 games.

Now: Another "great" call by me. I thought I was on track when Michigan started 4-0, including a win over a "good" Notre Dame team. In the team's final 8 games the Wolverines went 1-7. RichRod has one more season to right the ship or he will be unemployed. It's still appalling to think that UM is 8-16 in the past two years! Despite that awful record, freshman QB Tate Forcier does look like the real deal.

Then: Once again Texas will just sneak by Oklahoma State. Much like the Fiesta Bowl, Colt McCoy will lead Texas for a late score at the end of the game to beat the Cowboys.

Now: How am I so bad at predicting? This game was never close. Texas destroyed the Cowboys 41-14. My only salvation is knowing it was only 3-0 Texas after the first quarter. That's not bad, right?

Then: Oklahoma beats Texas. Oklahoma loses two games. Texas goes to the Big 12 Championship and then the National Championship.

Now: This was about a half and half. I was right about Texas winning the Big 12 and heading to the National Championship, but on the other side I was completely wrong. Oklahoma lost five games (not two) and the Sooners did not beat Texas (it was close, but they lost 16-13). Keep in mind there's no telling how this Oklahoma team does if Sam Bradford doesn't get injured the first week.

Then: Notre Dame will be getting a BCS bowl after they finish the season with only 2 losses. And yes they will lose to USC again.

Now: You know when a bad car crash happens you tell yourself not to look, but you still do? That's EXACTLY what these predictions are like. They are so off, but at the same time I can not stop reading them. Short and sweet - I was right about ND falling to USC yet again, but the whole BCS talk is disturbing to think about it. After the USC loss the wheels really started coming off the wagon. The four game losing streak to end the season (Navy, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Stanford) was pathetic. But because of the team's lousy play they were "rewarded" with the hidden gem of the college football world - Brian Kelly.

Then: Alabama will lose at the most 2 games during the regular season. Ole Miss will lose only one when the Bengals come into town. Ole Miss will go to the SEC Championship Game.

Now: FAIL! Alabama never lost a game and the LSU did not beat Ole Miss. Even better Ole Miss never went to the SEC Championship Game. Wow these predictions only get worse. Also I am guilty, I did start to believe Ole Miss was legit.

Then: LSU will have their swagger back this year, but a very hard schedule will keep them out of the SEC Championship Game.

Now: Meh. A tough schedule was a big reason LSU did not qualify for the SEC Championship along with a number of other things such as erratic playcalling, an erroneous missed interception against Alabama, and the ultimate brain fart against Ole Miss. But with all that said LSU could of found itself in a BCS bowl had Les Miles not gone brain dead in the waning seconds against Ole Miss. Okay new subject that still gets me mad.

Then: Rutgers will not win the Big East. Pittsburgh will take the conference and the coveted BCS bowl bid.

Now: I was so close! Rutgers never lived up to expectations so that whole "BCS berth" talk was flushed down the toilet early on. As far as Pittsburgh goes they had a 21 point lead at home on an undefeated Cincinnati team. Even worse they had a six point lead with a minute half left. The one time the defense needed to step up they failed.

Then: West Virginia will have 5 losses this year. Speculation will begin about whether Bill Stewart is the right guy for the job.

Now: This one surprised me. Really thought WV would take a step back with Pat White gone. The team only has three losses going into a Gator Bowl match up with Florida State. If the Mountineers can pull out a victory a 10 win season will silence some critics...for now.

Then: Alabama will beat Virginia Tech 31-14. Tech has a defense, but the offense will not be able to do anything against Alabama's defense.

Now: This game was a lot closer than I expected. It was not until the 4th quarter that the Tide pulled away. Once again Alabama used the first game of the season to send a message.

Then: Texas A&M has another losing season and surprisingly gives Mike Sherman one more year.

Now: A&M finished with a 6-6 record meaning they barely missed out on having another losing season. The Aggies showed great potential against the Longhorns when they nearly pulled off the upset of the year. Having QB Jerrod Johnson back along with freshman running back Christine Michael will give some fans a reason to give A&M a sleeper label for 2010.

Then: Dan LeFevour. He's what some would call the "poor man's Tim Tebow." He will lead Central Michigan to the MAC Title and to go along with that Houston will win the Conference-USA.

Now: Just when I thought I had no hope I pull this one out! LeFevour continued to set records his entire senior year. To cement a great career LeFevour led CMU to a MAC Title over Ohio. On the other hand I was awfully close with Houston, but East Carolina beat them in the CUSA Title game 38-32. So close!

Then: Sorry Archie Griffin, but you no longer have the record by yourself. Tim Tebow will win the Heisman trophy.

Now: At the beginning of the year it seemed destined for the trophy to go to either Sam Bradford or Tim Tebow, instead Alabama's Mark Ingram stole the show. Ingram won the closest race ever by beating Stanford's Toby Gerhart by only 28 points.

Then: Oregon looked pretty impressive in their bowl victory against Oklahoma State so I will have to take the Ducks. Look for Oregon to end Boise State's 49-game regular-season home winning streak. It will be decided by one score.

Now: You know what would of been funny? Had I predicted a fight at the end of the game. Sadly I didn't. Even worse I was dead wrong about this prediction. Boise State dominated Oregon 19-8.

Enjoy the bowl season, and yes, I too am very excited for the San Diego County Credit Union Bowl. And by the way how far away are we from having a very awkward bowl name? For instance, the Viagara Bowl, the Good Housekeeping Magazine Bowl, the Playtex Bowl, or (drum roll)the Beggin' Strips Bowl.

Trust me we are not that far away!