Some sports notes while waiting on an ice storm to arrive.
So the Super Bowl is Chiefs vs Buccaneers, just like we all thought.
Seriously, I’m questioning a lot of what I’ve thought about football the last 20 years this morning. I was not alone when I believed, back when the regular season began, that Tom Brady would struggle in Tampa while the Patriots would continue to win with Cam Newton at quarterback. Then the exact opposite happened…
Obviously the outcomes aren’t solely tied to how Brady and Newton performed. And quarterbacks always get too much credit and/or blame for their team’s success. But the seamlessness with which Brady took over in Tampa and the struggles that Newton had in a very mediocre season for the Pats shakes me deep down.
What if the Pats’ success the past 20 years was primarily because of Brady and not because of some Bill Belichick magic? What if Tom Brady is legitimately a witch or sold his soul to the devil or holds some other mystic power over the NFL and that traveled with him from Boston to Tampa last summer? What if Belichick is just an average coach who got lucky with the greatest quarterback of all time who glossed over some fortunate personnel choices?
Yeah, I know that’s not a realistic take. But it is in my head this morning.
It sure felt like this was finally Green Bay’s year again, and Brady just destroyed that. He didn’t even have to play super great – he threw three picks for crying out loud! Yet it was the Packers who made a couple terrible decisions, both by the players and coaches, that led them to coming up short.
If the Bucs pull off the upset in the Super Bowl, I might start re-evaluating some of Brady’s nutrition choices that I’ve made fun of in the past.
I’m not sure how you pick against the Chiefs. I don’t watch them enough to know how well they are playing, but they look pretty much unstoppable to my eyes. Tampa has a very good defense, one that can bring a lot of pressure. But with both of their safeties injured as of last night, can they pressure Patrick Mahomes and still cover the Chiefs receivers well enough to take away his escape valves? I’m guessing not, and I would say Chiefs –8 right now. In the midst of the pandemic I reserve the right to adjust that line before kickoff.
Aaron Rodgers dropped a little bit of a bomb last night when he suggested there was a chance he would not be the Packers quarterback next year. I think that was just the frustration of another NFL title game loss and his issues with some of the play calls talking. But, still, it’s out there, and in a year when the quarterback market could be as hot as it has ever been, it has the potential to be a neutron bomb of a development if it does not get resolved soon.
Reports also surfaced over the weekend that the Detroit Lions and Matthew Stafford have agreed to part ways. The Colts immediately because one of the most likely landing places for him. As I wrote last week, he is probably the best case scenario for the Colts. With him apparently available, I think the Colts have to go hard after him.
But, what if Aaron Rodgers actually does force an exit from Green Bay? The Colts, Saints, and any other team close to winning that needs a quarterback will have to do everything they can do to get him, right?
There is a part of me that wonders if that would, in fact, not be a great move. Rodgers has become notably more prickly has he has gotten deeper into his career. He often plays with a joyless scowl and glares at anyone who does not perform to his expectations. Would he be willing and able to go to a new team with a new system and new teammates and be patient enough to work through the inevitable growing pains that come with a transition? Tom Brady’s easy adjustment to Tampa makes me think this is probably a dumb area of concern and Rodgers is still option A1 if the unthinkable happens and he becomes available.
The realistic odds of Rodgers leaving Green Bay this offseason are very, very low. If you think Stafford is the answer, you go get him now rather than waiting to see what happens with Rodgers and risking losing Stafford to another suitor.
A quick note about coaching decisions. I know I’ve made this point many times in the nearly 18 years I’ve been writing here, but coaches, at any level and in every sport, are inherently conservative. It’s easier to answer questions about losing when you played the game by the book and made cautious choices than when you are super aggressive and go against conventional wisdom. It doesn’t matter that conventional wisdom might be crap; if you decide to go counter to it, the howling will always be louder than if you ran power sweep right or whatever 27 times and lost a dull, boring game. That’s why almost every fall college basketball coaches make comments like “I think we’re going to try to press more this year,” and after they give up three layups to a crap team in November they scrap it. They’d rather lose with bad half court defense that at least makes the opponent work than by giving up open layups when no one is back to stop them.
I still do not understand how coaches refuse to adjust their mindset based on time, score, and opponent. If you’re playing the Chiefs, in Kansas City, in the playoffs, you have to be super aggressive the entire 60 minutes. You can’t pick your spots here and there, balancing aggression with caution. Unless you’re playing in the midst of an ice storm, you are not going to beat Patrick Mahomes with field goals and an effective punt game. Likewise, you can not give Tom Brady the ball back with 2:00 left needing a touchdown to win.
Yes, sometimes being aggressive backfires, and can backfire big time. But does it really matter if you lose by 28 instead of 14?
Finally, the worst play of the weekend had to be the touchdown Tampa scored just before halftime. For someone who wanted to see Rodgers get back to the Super Bowl and keep Brady from doing the same, that was an absolute gut punch moment. I’m sure it was 1000 times worse for actual Packers fans. There was pretty much no doubt what the final outcome would be after that play. Green Bay played far from a clean game, but that moment…that moment was pretty awful.
Narrative is always a weird thing in sports. A week ago KU had a game against Iowa State cancelled because of Covid issues within the ISU program. The Cyclones are not good this year, and KU would have likely been a big favorite. Let’s assume KU wins that game. Suddenly instead of a three-game losing streak, they have only lost three of four. That is not a huge difference. But a three-game losing streak sure sounds worse, especially since you can throw up stats like “this hasn’t happened in eight years.”
Saturday just highlighted the issues that have plagued KU all year. They actually played decent on the offensive end, getting tons of good looks both at the rim and beyond the arc. They just shot like shit. They missed at least five, totally open 3-point attempts, all by their best shooters. They missed so many shots near the rim, including a wide-open dunk. While things broke down in the closing minutes, when KU was frantically trying to score, overall their offense looked decent. Some tweaks can be made, for sure, but I don’t think they look at the film and get super disappointed about what created those shots.
On defense, though, yeesh. They just are not good on defense. They remind me of L’s team: lots of guys playing straight up instead of getting into a defensive stance, not moving their feet, lunging for steals and leaving open driving lanes. Everyone thought this would be a good defensive team, and the guys on TV who are paid to know these things keep repeating that line. But over halfway through the season I think we know who they are, and that is a team filled with guys with poor defensive instincts who struggle to play team defense, and which lacks a shot blocker to make up for mistakes on the perimeter. I’m not sure that’s something that you can fix within a season.
The good news is that the back half of the Big 12 schedule is a little easier. Even if KU can take advantage of that, they’re likely looking at 11–7 as a best case record. Which is only “bad” if you are a spoiled KU fan who can’t accept results that don’t match those of the past 20 years.
A tough damn game this week for L’s team.
While we were waiting for it to start we watched a game on the next court and laughed that it was 9–9 late in the second half. A huge cheer went up when a girl hit a free throw to give her team a 10–9 win.
We should have kept our mouths shut.
Our game was a sloppy, defense-dominated contest. When I say defense-dominated I mean there were a lot of horrible passes, dribbling the ball out of bounds, kicking the ball around, etc. There was plenty of frenetic pressure forcing these errors, but it’s not like either team was playing good, fundamental D.
We got lucky and had a little 4–0 run early in the second half to go up 8–2. L hit a nice jumper deep in the second half to put us up 10–6. But then we had to hang on for our lives to pull out a 12–10 win. The girls all looked like they were in third grade again, with no idea how to play. At the end of the game parents from both teams were looking at each other laughing at how ugly the game was.
L’s other highlight came on an inbounds play under our own basket. She broke away and started making strange noises like she was possessed. The defenders all looked at her and froze, our big broke to the bucket, got a pass, and laid it in. Our girls laughed all the way up the court on D. She kept doing it on every inbound play but it never worked again. I guess it’s a once a game thing.