FIRST/SECOND QUARTER: What to like and dislike about that last-second victory over the Saints

Todd: Had to love that final drive—for our G-rated audience, talk about pulling out a win out of that area below your waist!  But seriously, Brady had three separate chances to win that game in the final four minutes, and only received so many because the defense held Drew Brees and the Saints to one net yard and a field goal with the game hanging in the balance.  The third time finally proved to be the charm for the receiving quartet of Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, newcomer Austin Collie and especially Kenbrell Thompkins.

The beautiful throw-and-catch on the game-winning touchdown seemed improbable and yet at the same time was old hat for Brady, who orchestrated the 38th fourth-quarter comeback win of his career, not to mention #12 moved up both the NFL’s all-time passing yardage and touchdown pass lists on that final drive.  I have to think that for Brady, this particular comeback might rank among one of his most satisfying.

Those last four minutes pretty much summed up the good and bad from this game, as Dobson had dropped a very catchable pass on fourth-and-six from the Pats' own 24-yard line and then Brady threw a hideous interception on the next possession.  Both miscues should have kept the Pats from having any chance at victory, but the defense clamped down and kept giving the offense chances.  Mad props to Aqib Talib who spent most of the day holding all-pro tight end Jimmy Graham to a doughnut’s worth of receptions.  I say ‘most’ of the day because unfortunately Talib suffered a hip injury in the third quarter, and for a guy who’s had chronic hip issues throughout his career, this did not look good.  For as well as Talib has played so far this year, losing him for a long stretch (or maybe the season) would be an absolutely huge loss for the defense.  Yet incredibly enough, Talib’s injury woes got overshadowed by Jerod Mayo, who tore his pectoral in the fourth quarter and was placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier this week.  The sixth-year inside linebacker has led the Pats in tackles every season and was also responsible for leading the defensive team huddle, making this a tough loss for a D that was improving week by week.

There’s barely any space left for me to mention the likely concussion suffered by Danny Amendola, which sadly ranks fairly low on last week’s injury report.  All I can say is that I think I’m almost starting to feel sorry for Amendola and his inability to stay on the field.

Mike: In a nutshell, for me the obvious thing to like was the fact that the Patriots overcame their bad game last week and pulled out a pretty thrilling win over a very good team in the Saints. I really liked the fact that even though Brady threw a pick late in the game, they didn't let that kill them, they came back like the Patriots of old and drove right down the field and got a huge touchdown to win the game.

My what's not to like is simple as well, injuries continue to plague this team, and they lost some big pieces in the game against the Saints, and it will be interesting to see how they fill those gaps.

THIRD/FOURTH QUARTER: Patriots-Jets preview and other games we like this week

Todd (2-1 last week, 7-8 season): The Pats’ injuries are piling up at a tremendous rate, but thankfully the next best help to a bye appears on this week’s schedule.  Ok, the Jets aren’t that pathetic, but maybe the Falcons are after they blew a late lead at home and lost to Geno Smith and Co. a couple of Monday nights ago.

Hard to tell who of the ‘questionable’ status group will actually suit up for the Pats this Sunday at Met Life Stadium.  But the biggest question I have is how much different this defense is going to look without its two captains (and possibly Talib as well).  If Vince Wilfork was like the giant support beam in the middle of a house that held up the Pats D, Mayo was the nails and glue that kept it all together.  I think it’s asking a lot of guys like Dont’a Hightower and rookie Jamie Collins to suddenly step in to relay the plays from the sideline and not have that unit miss a single beat.  I think the defense struggles this week trying to adjust to the different faces, so hopefully Brady and the offense can build upon that final drive from last week and for once this season help pick up the other side of the team.  I think the Pats will pull out a win, but similar to the first Pats-Jets tilt it won’t be easy.  Patriots 23, Jets 16.

As for the weekly picks, Mike’s streak has now reached molten lava level hotness, as he's gone three straight weeks without a loss and even correctly predicted Jacksonville's cover in Denver (if I were you Mike, I’d play powerball this week).  Meanwhile I managed to win as many games last week as I had the prior three weeks, so I’ll try to build on my recent string of better luck.  Let’s go with the Falcons over the Buccaneers, the Chargers over the Jaguars and in a pick that is actually appropriate both in and out of football, the Lions over the Bengals.

Mike (3-0 last week, 12-3 season): As hard as it was for me last week, I picked against the Patriots, and I was never more happier to be proven wrong! This week won't be as much of a challenge for me as even with all the injuries, I can't see the Pats losing to Rexy and the Jets. Pats win this one 28-13.

As for my other picks, nothing like putting some pressure on me to keep things going strong. Here I go...Cowboys over the Eagles, Miami over Buffalo and Denver over Indy.

BOTTOM OF THE NINTH: Thoughts on Red Sox-Tigers ALCS so far and what’s ahead

Todd: Speaking of the Sox Mike, Sunday I was at Fenway watching Ortiz provide the big eighth inning heroics, while a few miles down the road at Gillette, Brady led the Patriots to another come-from-behind win.

Everything I just wrote is 100 percent true, but the remarkable part is I was actually referencing October 5, 2003.  If you don’t believe me, the Sox rallied to beat Oakland 5-4 in Game 4 of the ALDS while the Pats also came back and beat the Tennessee Titans 38-30.  I bring all this up because I doubt there is another city anywhere in the world where two iconic sports figures each led their respective teams to memorable comeback wins on the same day on two separate occasions ten years apart!  That alone should sum up just how special Big Papi and TB12 are and what they have meant to the New England sports scene for an entire decade.

Back to the present, and Sunday night’s Game 2 game-tying grand slam by Ortiz is what we’ll all look back to as the turning point of this ALCS should the Red Sox advance to the World Series.  Prior to that moment, the Sox were staring at a 5-1 deficit in the bottom of the eighth inning with the offense on life support, an 0-2 series deficit and Justin Verlander starting Game 3 in Detroit.  Methinks at that instant the Vegas sports books might have posted some ridiculous odds for our home-town team winning the AL pennant, yet now the Sox stand just one win away from reaching that goal.

So how have they done it?  I thought going into this series the Sox would need to exploit their speed advantage, but that’s been difficult through the first five games while they've hit just .206 as a team and have posted an equally-as-putrid .268 team on-base percentage.  I didn’t expect John Lackey could out-duel Justin Verlander in Game 3, but somehow he did.  I didn’t expect Junichi Tazawa to twice retire Miguel Cabrera with men on base to thwart Tiger rallies, but somehow he did.  And I certainly didn’t expect Mike Napoli to drop his pants!  Ok, maybe I ought to explain that last one.  In the middle of Game 3, after beginning the series 0-for-6 with six strikeouts, Napoli decided to lower his pant legs and hide his red stockings.  His first at-bat with the lowered pants was the game-deciding home run off of Verlander, a hit that began a 6-for-10 tear for the notoriously streaky Napoli with two HR, two doubles, two RBI and four runs scored.

Generally speaking, great defense wins championships in football and great pitching wins them in baseball.  Remove Jake Peavy’s rough three-inning Game 4 start, and Sox pitchers have compiled a 1.98 earned run average in this ALCS (even including Peavy’s numbers it’s still a respectable 3.27 ERA).  The bullpen has been even more impressive, allowing just one earned run over 17 innings (0.53 ERA).  Even if you subtract Koji Uehara’s stats (5 scoreless innings, 7 K) the rest of the relief corps has posted a 0.75 ERA.  Once again I can’t help but make the comparison to how many questions the 2003 Sox pen had heading into that postseason and how well they performed on the biggest stage.

But if you want to instead compare this year’s Sox to the 2004 World Champs, John Farrell has acquitted himself quite well in his first year managing the club, both in his decisions handling the batting order and especially how he has utilized the bullpen—asking Tazawa, Breslow and Uehara to get eleven outs in Game 5 seemed like a Spinal Tap request, but it worked.  By pushing most of the right buttons so far this postseason, Farrell’s success feels similar to Terry Francona’s first year in the Sox dugout nine years ago, and will hopefully produce a similar ending.

I’m standing by my Sox-in-six prediction as the Sox and Tigers head back to Fenway, with Papi giving Koji another hoist onto his shoulder in celebration Saturday.  Mike, I gotta ask if seeing those two and their new playoff ritual remind you a little of the camaraderie between Pedro Cerrano and Isuro Tanaka in Major League II?  Do you think Shaquille O’Neal could have caught Napoli’s blast last night?

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Also, could the St. Louis Cardinals become the first team in professional sports history to blow a 3-1 series lead in back-to-back years?  They might if Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez have anything to say about it!

Mike: Yes, this has been a good series, and no, Todd I didn't think that Papi and Koji's ritual reminded me of Major League 2, but now that you mention it, I can see the resemblance. And no, Shaq couldn't have caught that blast, even with a rocket.

As for the series, it has been exciting to watch, though frustrating at times as the Sox went inning after inning without even sniffing a hit (and full disclosure, for the first time in my life I fell asleep during a Sox playoff game and MISSED Ortiz's grand slam-I'm still getting over it!).

But I was heartened to see the Sox get two out of three in Detroit, grabbing the home-field advantage back from the Tigers. But they still have a lot of work to do, and I really think they need to wrap this up in six, because while I think they are the stronger team in Fenway, I don't want to take my chances with Verlander in a seventh game!

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