Sunday, December 21, 2014

Abu Ghraib Confession Proving To Be A Lie

The NY Times op-ed "confession" to torture of Islamo-Arab savages is falling apart while the Senate report ripping the CIA for torture is also worthless.

NFL Top 10: Brady-Manning Games

The 2014 AFC playoffs are almost here and we may yet again see Tom Brady and Peyton Manning square off.   Given how much energy this rivalry has generated it ranks as something the league really has never seen before - a rivalry driven exclusively by the showdown of the two quarterbacks.   Team rivalries and coaching rivalries have been many a chapter in NFL history but this rivalry may top them all.   

In the format of NFL NETWORK'S series NFL Top 10, we look back at the top ten games of the Brady-Manning rivalry -


#10: THE 2001 DEBUT - Tom Brady had been a low-round draft pick who'd risen up the New England Patriots depth chart almost entirely unnoticed; in Week 3 of 2001 he took over as starter after the near-fatal chest injury absorbed by Drew Bledsoe.   The Indianapolis Colts were division rivals of the Patriots and Peyton Manning was in his fourth season; he had already won 28 games and made two ill-fated playoff trips; Manning's Colts had already crushed the New York Jets and Buffalo by a combined score of 87-50 entering this game.

It didn't matter.   Bryan Cox's savage hit on receiver Jerome Pathon surged throughout the Colts lineup and suddenly they were playing scared.   Otis Smith and Ty Law ran back Manning interceptions for touchdowns; trailing 23-7 the floor collapsed on the Colts in the fourth quarter as the Patriots nailed down 21 points for the ultimate 44-13 win.  Brady put up 168 passing yards in a modest start while five Patriots players combined for 177 rushing yards. 

A month later at the RCA Dome Brady unleashed a more aggressive quarterbacking attack; he threw three touchdowns while receiver David Patten threw a 60-yard bomb, caught a 91-score, and ran in a touchdown as the Patriots absorbed nearly 500 Indianapolis yards to win 38-17.   Peyton Manning managed only one touchdown as Colts GM Bill Polian was overheard in the press box demanding his players break bones of Patriots players.

It was just the beginning.


#9: THE GOALLINE STAND, 2003 -  Entering Week 13 of the 2003 season the Colts had become a superpower in the race for the playoffs after exploding to a history-making comeback win over the Tampa Bay Bucs in Week 5; the Patriots were also in the race after a slugfest of a win over the Tennessee Titans in Week 5 (the Titans for their part were neck-and-neck with both at 9-2) and at the RCA Dome at the end of November the Patriots and Colts met for the first time since divisional realignment put the Colts into the now-second-year AFC South.  

It began as another Patriots rout; Tom Brady led three drives putting up 17 points.   The Colts scored 10 points before Bethel Johnson ran back a 92-yard kick at the end of the first half.   The game then changed after Brady led another touchdown drive for a 31-10 lead; two interceptions and three Manning touchdowns put the game 31-31; another monster Johnson kick return led to a Brady touchdown to Deion Branch; a Kevin Faulk fumble led to a Colts field goal, then in the final minutes a bad shank of a punt by Ken Walter put the ball around the 50 and Manning whipped the Colts to the Patriots 2, but there two runs and a forlorn toss led to a 4th and 1 run by Edgerrin James blown up for a loss of two yards and a 38-34 Patriots win.   Willie McGinest played a key role; "I saw (Manning) tap his butt" thus signalling a run play he helped blow up.  


- The NFL inaugurated Thursday Night Football in 2004 by scheduling the Colts at Foxboro in Week 1.   Manning led the Colts to a 17-13 halftime lead, but then Brady erupted to put the Patriots up 27-17; a late Colts touchdown was followed by a final drive, but on 3rd down McGinest sacked Manning, setting up a 48-yard field goal try by Mike Vanderjagt, who hadn't missed in over 40 consecutive tries and taunted the Patriots sideline by rubbing his fingers in a "money" gesture - except he wasn't money, shanking the kick for the 27-24 Patriots win.


#7: THE PLAYOFFS, 2003 AND 2004 - The Colts won the AFC South title in 2003 and 2004 and faced the Patriots in snowy Foxboro both times.   In 2003 the Patriots edged the Titans 17-14 as Steve McNair, co-MVP with Manning that year, barely came short on a pass to Drew Bennett.   Manning meanwhile had exploded to his first two playoff wins, but in the AFC Championship Game he was not in McNair's playoff class as he was intercepted four times.   The Patriots for their part didn't play particularly well, forced into five Adam Vinatieri field goals and eventually grinding out a 24-14 win and path to Superbowl XXXVIII against the upstart Carolina Panthers.

In 2004 Manning was back, but this time the Patriots unleashed a powerful run game led by Corey Dillon, the former Bengal.   Dillon and Kevin Faulk combined for 200 rushing yards and ate up so much clock it gave Manning indigestion; his endzone interception on the final play capped off a hideous playoff failure, 20-3, as Brady was on his way to another Superbowl.  


#6: PEYTON'S BREAKTHROUGH, 2005 - 2005 was mainly a forgettable season for the Patriots as they limped into November 7's Monday Night Football match at 4-3 with the Colts at 7-0.   Brady managed three touchdowns but Manning was unstoppable rolling to 40 points and his first win over the Patriots since 2000, and first ever win at Foxboro.   This win signalled a permanent change in the rivalry, as Manning would never again be New England's patsy.


-  Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker, and Adalius Thomas were the key free agent pickups as the Patriots made the most determined run to a Superbowl ever seen, exploding to put up over 34 points per game.  The Patriots were 8-0 and the Colts 7-0 as they entered November at the RCA Dome.   The game became one of the highest-rated broadcasts in CBS history as Randy Moss caught a short touchdown but the Colts clawed to a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter.   Down by two scores, Brady finally got his offense going on a 60-yard bomb to Moss to the Colts 3, and a third-down touchdown to Welker.   After forcing a Colts punt the Patriots raced to the go-ahead touchdown, on a pass to Moss, a 40-yard strike to Stallworth, and the touchdown to Kevin Faulk.   Manning was then strip-sacked by former RCA Dome popcorn vendor Roosevelt Colvin, a longtime nemesis of Manning from his Chicago Bears days.   Brady converted the needed first down and the Patriots had broken the Colts' unbeaten streak, 24-20.


#4: FOURTH AND TWO, 2009
- The Colts were unbeaten on November 15, 2009 when they hosted the Patriots, and the game started as a Patriots runaway as Brady and Manning combined for four touchdowns and a 24-14 Patriots lead; a goalline fumble by embattled running back Laurence Maroney wiped out a third-quarter Patriots touchdown, and Moss' catch put the Pats up 31-14 entering the fourth quarter.   But Manning connected with Pierre Garcon and in the final three minutes the Patriots led 34-28 but were pinned at their own 28 needing two more yards; Bill Belichick went for the fourth down conversion and a pass to Kevin Faulk appeared to break the first down plane but was ruled short by referee Scott Green.   When Manning tossed the winning touchdown in the final seconds the media storm against Belichick was enormous like the league hadn't seen since 1995's fourth down failure by the Cowboys against the Eagles.  


- In 2010 the Colts traveled to Foxboro for the first time since 2006 and were 6-3 with the Patriots 7-2.   The Patriots had changed their offense with Randy Moss traded after Week 4 and Deion Branch returned after four seasons in Seattle; they had also drafted two boffo tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.   The game on November 21 began with the pattern that had developed from 2003 - once again the Patriots raced to a big lead, taking a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter.   And once again Manning roared back, this time with two touchdowns to Blair White in the fourth.   Once again the Patriots couldn't put Manning away and Peyton had the ball in the final minutes driving remorselessly.

But this time a pass to the Patriots 6-yard line was intercepted by James Sanders, and the Patriots won 31-28.   The game began a three-game losing streak for the Colts, and amid a 38-35 overtime loss to the Cowboys radioman Bob Lamey was heard to blast Peyton's declining play.   Following a wildcard round bow-out to the NY Jets, neck surgery for Manning wound up ending his career at the Colts.  


BEST OF THE REST: - After Manning left the Colts, Tom Brady faced heralded youngster Andrew Luck in 2012 and again in the 2013 playoffs; the results were disturbingly reminiscent of days of yore for the Colts; in 2012 two interceptions were turned into Patriots touchdowns and New England won 59-24.   In the 2013 playoffs LeGarrette Blount led an unprecedented Patriots rushing attack while Luck was intercepted four times in a 43-22 Patriots win.

Before Manning faced Brady, he squared off against Drew Bledsoe for three seasons.   In September 1999 at Foxboro Manning exploded to three touchdowns and an Edgerrin James rushing score, but Bledsoe erased Manning's 28-7 lead on three unanswered touchdowns (including the final two career scoring catches for tight end Ben Coates).   James' late fumble set up the winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri and the 31-28 Patriots win.  

Blowing a 21-point lead in Foxboro was a harbinger of another Manning disaster fourteen years later.......

- Manning was signed by the Denver Broncos in 2012 and led Denver to a 13-3 season.   In 2013 on Sunday Night Football the Patriots hosted the Broncos a year after defeating Manning 31-21 and now fresh off a controversial loss to the Carolina Panthers.   The first half was a disaster for the Patriots, as three fumbles and a failed fourth-down attempt led to a Von Miller touchdown, a Manning score, and a 24-0 Broncos lead.  

But facing cold winds Tom Brady put on a history-making performance, exploding to three touchdowns, a fourth touchdown drive, and a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, all aided as the Patriots defense bullied the Broncos into three fumbles and a Manning interception.   The Patriots led 31-24 before a late Manning touchdown tied the game.  In overtime the Patriots elected to defend the endzone where the winds were blowing toward the Broncos instead of take the initial possession, a decision that puzzled observors, but after an exchange of three punts the Patriots at the very least didn't look foolish; instead on their second punt former Patriot Wes Welker hesitated on the kick and the ball bounced off a teammate and was grabbed by the Patriots at the Broncos 12-yard line.   The Broncos called two timeouts and the two-minute warning for overtime passed before Gostkowski drilled the winning field goal, 34-31.   It was the largest comeback win in Patriots history, surpassing 1984's comeback win over the Seahawks down 23-0 to win 38-23.   It also cemented Brady's repuation as a superior cold-weather quarterback.  


BEST OF THE REST: In 2014 Manning and Brady met for the sixteenth time and the Patriots authored their most lopsided win over Manning (43-21) since 2001. Brady threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns while Manning was intercepted twice and stopped on fourth down four times, three of them in the fourth quarter. 


The Number One Brady-Manning Game Of All - THE 2006 AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME - It will almost certainly be cited as the greatest by all retrospectives on their careers.   The showdown for Superbowl XLI was a shocker that still permeates both New England and Indianapolis.   The Colts had shot down the Chiefs and Ravens while the Patriots upended the Jets and Chargers for this meeting at the RCA Dome, and the Patriots once again raced to a big lead; when Asante Samuel intercepted Manning and scored, the Patriots led 21-3, but Manning exploded the Colts to tie the game.   After swapping touchdowns and field goals the Patriots led 34-31 but needing a goalline stand in the final minute, they didn't get it; after Joseph Addai's touchdown Brady was intercepted and the Colts had won 38-34, on their way to only the second Superbowl win in their history and first as an Indianapolis team.  

2013's AFC Championship Game turned out to be another Manning triumph, his eighth in 22 career games against the Patriots, and fifth in fifteen meetings with Tom Brady.   It was anything but an end.   It was merely a new chapter, and the newest chapter of the Brady-Manning rivalry awaits either the 2014 playoffs or the 2015 season at Mile High.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Week Nine's Annual Epic

Here were go again.   As we approach Brady Manning number sixteen, we look at this week's other games as well -

Panthers over Saints - Last week's New Orleans win was a needed win for the beleaguered Saints, but this week they go on the road to a more-desperate Panthers team that is still smarting to a bitter loss to the Seahawks.

Browns over Buccaneers - There seems no way the Bucs can seize any kind of momentum this season as they travel to a Browns team that has a lot of momentum going for it.

Bengals over Jaguars - The Bengals got back on track by sweeping the Ravens and now get a Jaguars team that's shown some fight but isn't in anyone's league.

Cardinals over Cowboys - The illusion of the almighty Cowboys got stomped, and a former NFC East opponent comes in with a bearing on the conference's #1 seed.

Eagles over Texans - The Texans have been playing better this year but face an Eagles squad smarting from a tough loss.

Chiefs over NY Jets - The Chiefs are in better shape that I thought they'd be at this point of the season and the Jets are in even worse shape than anyone could have imagined.

Chargers over Dolphins
- Miami has shown real improvement this year, but San Diego saw one get away from them and want to get back into the race.

Redskins over Vikings - Minnesota pulled off a shocker last week, but Washington's shocker carries more meaning entering this contest.

49ers over Rams - This is no lay-up pick, for the Niners have real internal issues and the Rams are starting to pick up some fight.

Patriots over Broncos - Amid all the varied analyses, one angle overlooked is that Denver has struggled to close out games - they outlasted Indianapolis, barely escaped Kansas City, barely escaped a very bad Jets squad, and even in scoring 35 against San Diego never looked in complete control of that game.   Moreover their vaunted defensive improvement has been a mere four points per game from 2013.  Meanwhile the Patriots are surging in scoring and in stopping opposing offenses - of 177 points allowed, 74 came in two games.   The issues of O-line and receivers have been rectified and the Patriots' revamped O-line has taken over the line of scrimmage.   The Patriots run defense has been bad (over 1,000 yards, 4.6 yards per carry allowed), but Denver has allowed more touchdowns on the ground (five) than the Patriots (four).   The Broncos on the ground have not been better either - 710 rushing yards to 845 for the Patriots.  

Seahawks over Raiders - The Seahawks enjoy for themselves the closest thing to a second bye week - a free shooting match against the hapless Raiders.

Ravens over Steelers
- The Steelers showcased a level of firepower we can't remember them ever showing before in the win over Indianapolis.   The Ravens, though, can match that firepower and need this win to keep pace in an increasingly torrid AFC North race.

Colts over NY Giants - The Colts come in smarting from the loss in Pittsburgh and get a mediocre Giants team to turn it around against.

We thus await the annual Brady Manning slugfest.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Talladega As Libertarian Metaphor

The GEICO 500 spared us footage of the lizard speaking in Cockney accent by British actor Jake Wood, and we saw some excellent racing, perhaps the best since the Firecracker 400 - hardly shocking given the two plate tracks produce the best racing in NASCAR.   But the Talladega weekend also showcased yet again the absurdity of the rules packages designed specifically for those tracks, and in so doing showcased anew the Libertarian metaphor.

Government meddling is the arch-enemy in the Libertarian analysis, and certainly the history of the world and mythologies constructed in favor of such failures as the New Deal consistently prove correct the mistrust of government that has made the Libertarian movement more popular.   What is witnessed year after year at Talladega and its sister track Daytona in the special rules packages NASCAR has imposed over the last decade and a half merely showcase the Libertarian metaphor at work in a racing context.  

Push-drafting is an old custom in NASCAR, and Richard Petty in the 1970s Dodge Charger days was the art's master.  It went away when the cars changed to "all that plastic" after running chrome bumpers, then NASCAR witnessed the return of push-drafting in the 2000-8 period, then saw the rise of outright two-car superdrafting in 2009 and 2010 - cars now pushed each other literally all the way around, and were passing entire fields of cars in one lap.   It then escalated to an entirely new level in 2011.   Brian France took a personal hatred of the pattern that year, especially after the finish of the 500-miler that October, and his subsequent rules packages were designed to quash it.    That it looked bizarre at first was obvious to all; that there were aspects of it to dislike was also true - specifically that the second-place car would push the leader out into the clear and just stay there instead of pass the leader - but the net result of quashing it cannot by any stretch be considered a better alternative to it.   For the big strength of the superdrafts remains it is the strongest power to pass racing has ever seen.  

Watching the 2014 running of the Diehard 500 and the 250-miler for the Trucks merely illustrated again how the racing at Talladega is very good but where meddling from up top has needlessly suppressed what makes the racing better.   Joe Nemechek and Matt Crafton got blackflagged for push-drafting in the Talladega Truck 250, this after NASCAR got egg on its face over not policing push-drafting in the Busch Series 250 at Daytona in July.   Nemechek salvaged a tenth place in that race and between the penalty and the grossly uneven level of passing in both races, it all showcased the fundamental pitfalls of NASCAR's ideology.

NASCAR for the last two-plus decades has added to its rulebook and the emphasis has had one overriding theme - giving the officiating tower or the inspection station (sometimes both) more control of the racing.   Having tight regulations that make sense is not a negative, the problem is more and more of these regulations don't make sense.   If NASCAR allowed push-drafting then the 38 lead changes in the Diehard 500 would have perhaps doubled, and allowed more drivers to storm back to the lead instead of be trapped out back; incentivizing going for the lead is the ultimate good in sports and the meddlesome nature of the sanctioning body needlessly suppresses that virtue. 

Would Brad Keselowski have still won the Diehard 500 even if push-drafting was not policed?   Perhaps - Keselowski's 2014 season has been strikingly uneven but his competitive fight is legitimate.   The racing as it was was very exciting - yet it should have been substantially more competitive.  


Another striking blow to the race's competitive ferocity was the points-racing strategy used by several drivers, notably Jeff Gordon, who never contended and finished 26th.   While Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kasey Kahne needed to win and overall raced like it, Keselowski was the only other contender who did so.   Talladega being Talladega the points racing ethos was not as prevalent as it is at other tracks, but it existed nonetheless and shows that NASCAR's Chase format, regardless of changes made to ostensibly make winning more important, still cannot work - a points format that artificially eliminates drivers and does not provide the incentive to win that is advertised is a points format that fundamentally doesn't work.

NASCAR's next elimination round begins at Martinsville next week.   Racing being racing, it is competitively enjoyable, yet still needs a lesson in Libertarianism for NASCAR so that it can be a lot better.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Postscript on Patriots Thursday Night Grinder

The New England Patriots escaped the trap and put up their third straight win, edging the New York Jets 27-25 on a blocked field goal kick on the final play.   The Jets used to be known as the NY Titans, worth mentioning as this game resembled last week's Tennessee Titans win - also on a blocked field goal at the end - over the Jaguars.  

Some takeaways on this Patriots win over the Jets -


Some are bitterly disappointed the Patriots could not rout the now 1-5 Jets the way San Diego did two weeks back, especially when Brady whipped the Patriots to the first touchdown with seemingly absurd ease.   The reality, though, is that the 49-19 Buttfumble win in 2012 has been the anomaly; the Patriots' last four home games against the Jets were wins by an average of just four points, and the point differential in the last three overall Patriot-Jet games - the season split last year plus this game -  is just plus-2 for the Patriots.  

Shoddy third down defense has been a curious commonality for Bill Belichick defenses throughout his tenure as Patriots coach - the Patriots' Superbowl successes came by overcoming shoddy third down defense.   Being beaten at the line on defense was a disturbing pattern during this game.  

Normally I'm not a fan of establishing the run because I've seen too much football where too many downs are wasted by teams trying to run when it's not working.   The Jets were able to run surprisingly well, and I thought the Patriots might have tried running more than they did.

We're now seeing more and more teams attack Darrelle Revis differently - Revis' game is about locking onto a number-one receiver, yet in the first month of the season no opponent had a #1 receiver - and the Jets clearly had none here.   In the Bengals game Revis struggled when AJ Green stopped running routes - reading the routes beforehand is Revis' greatest strength, and it seemed to me Jets pass-catchers had their best success in similar fashion.  

Injury to Dan Connolly and rookie Bryan Stork shuffled the Patriots' offensive line again.   Rookie Jordan Devey has come under fire for poor plays this season.   Overall, though, the line played well, though mistakes still need to be cleaned up.

Danny Amendola has long been under fire for injuries and for Brady not throwing to him - but the fact is Amendola is a genuinely tough player who can take over drives.   His spectacular bail-out-Brady of a touchdown showed this again.  
It also showed that Brady will play poorly but he'll still play clutch.

The Jets players rallied to embattled coach Rex Ryan and much controversy has been expressed this week attacking Jets GM John Idzik and defending Ryan.   The problem, though, remains that Ryan is not a competent coach, and disciplinary issues on-field and poor overall coaching could be spotted here again.   The fact Ryan has failed to develop a good quarterback - while Bill Belichick helped unlock Brady's innate superstar talent, developed Matt Cassel into a capable quarterback, and may well have his star of the future in Jimmy Garoppolo - has been overlooked in the defenses offered of him.

Aaron Dobson was a healthy scratch again and some scuttlebutt I'm hearing is that Belichick is rifling shots across his bow via these benchings and Dobson has refused to notice - suggesting to me he may have an entitlement approach to his job in contrast to the hunger shown by Brian Tyms.  

After several weeks of one-sided football Thursday Night Football has now seen two suspenseful games in a row, an indication that time and patience will produce the kind of quality football people want out of these games.

The end result thus is New England's third win in a row as the rest of Week Seven awaits kickoff.