Be warned: If you are a fan of Dan Dierdorf, Rajon Rondo, Jack Morris or Jim Corsi, this might not be the mailbag for you. Just being honest.
But that doesn't mean the rest of you shouldn't stick around and, to quote the great Pat Healey, "take a gander." Plenty of Patriots talk this week, of course. Also more Rondo/Chris Paul, I break out the Mute List, someone calls me out for not knowing something (pause for shock), and Andy Pettitte gets his turn on the Hall of Fame candidate wheel (next week, Kevin Romine!)
To the 'bag we go (and of course feel free to keep sending those e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org) ...
I'd take Andre Johnson over [Randy] Moss myself but I know what you're saying, Kirk. But I think one mistake you're making is calling the Carolina game a lock. The Panthers beat Arizona last week and should have won at New Orleans [Sunday]. But I do agree that the AFC East is basically over.
A: Johnson is a terrific receiver, Todd, maybe the best in the league, but there is no way I’d take him over Moss for this team. Why would you mess with what you’ve got? I guess it’s possible that a Johnson/Tom Brady combo would be better than Moss/Brady, but it’s highly unlikely. For the next five years? Sure, it’s Johnson. But for the next year or two it’s almost a no-brainer to me.
(This might give you an idea as to how good Moss has been in his 2-1/2 years with the Pats. This is Andre Johnson’s seventh season in the NFL. He’s made three Pro Bowls and an All-Pro team and has led the league in catches twice. Johnson has played in 95 games during his career. He has 37 touchdowns. Moss has played in 40 games with the Patriots. In those 40 games he has 39 TD catches. That’s more TD catches than Dallas Clark or Jeremy Shockey have in their careers. That’s 13 more than Deion Branch has in his career.)
The Patriots had the Dolphins under control on that Wildcat drive. That 45-yard run could have been a sack, but the defender just ran the wrong way WHILE STANDING right next to [the ball-carrier].
A: That’s not unfair, Mike, I guess. I mean the under-control part. Take the Pat White option plays out of the mix and Miami ran the Wildcat 10 times for a total of seven yards. My point wasn’t that the Wildcat was a killer Sunday, but that one drive had to make you think about last year’s game. To me, the Patriots looked lost during the great majority of that drive, including the Ronnie Brown TD pass.
(And how about Ricky Williams? You could make a pretty good case for him as the best back in the AFC East. He’s averaging 5.4 yards per carry this season — fifth in the NFL — and has six TD rushes on just 85 carries. Unreal. This guy was Jeff Freaking Lebowski two years ago and now he’s an All-Pro. Wow. Maybe Larry Johnson should retire, move to India to study Ayurveda, smoke enough pot to disgust Woody Harrelson and bomb out in the CFL. Seems like a can’t-miss plan if you want to return to NFL success, right? Hey, it’s a copycat league, might be worth a shot.)
A couple of weeks ago you wrote about how you can’t look at the schedule and predict wins and losses. But Monday you did just that. I don’t see Carolina as an easy victory at all. The Panthers are starting to play like the team that went 13-3 last year. I think the Pats will win the division easily, but I bet there is a game in there that will surprise you each way, one they were supposed to win [but] lose and one they were supposed to lose [but] win.
A: What I wrote, Ken, was that you can’t look at a schedule in August and predict what will happen in December. But we’re halfway through the season now and I think the “They are what they are” rule can be applied.
But OK, you and Todd both think Carolina will be a test. I’ll buy that, provided this: The Panthers need to be in the playoff race when they take the field at Gillette on Dec. 13. Right now they are 3-5. The four games for the Panthers before the Pats are Atlanta (home), Miami (home), the Jets (away) and Tampa Bay (home.) At worst, they have to win three of those four to get to 6-6. That would give them at least a few shallow breaths when it comes to a playoff chance when they play the Patriots. If they come in 5-7 and the season is over for them, forget it. Patriots 34, Panthers 10. But if they are fighting for their lives, it could be one of those games. That’s fair.
Denver won't be running the Wildcat? Not to be a prick here but did you watch the Denver/New England game a few weeks ago? The Broncos' version of the Wildcat, wild horses, torn the Pats up. It definitely wasn't as bad as Miami [Sunday], but to completely write it off is quite naive.
A: The Moron File continues to grow, Sean. Total whiff by me on that one. Nantz mentioned “wild horses” so many times during that game I just assumed it was the name of a serial killer hunting down the "CSI: Miami" crew.
(Now that Denver has lost two in a row, does that mean Peter King will stop comparing the Broncos to the 2001 Patriots? We all know that they are, at best, finishing 9-7, right? Everyone agree? I love Pete (has been a weekly read for me since the MMQB started in 2001) but every year he completely overreacts after a couple of weeks and falls in love with a team or a specific player. I’m still trying to recover from his MMQB from early in the 2002 season when he compared Drew Bledsoe to Bruce Springsteen. And I’m saying this as a fan of Drew’s cover of “Atlantic City.”
But God bless Peter King and the MMQB, if only for the “Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of the Week.” Sort of a mix of Andy Rooney and a guy more out of touch and about 40 years older than Andy Rooney. It’s never an enjoyable Travel Note. Always aggravating. He could join the Mile High Club in a threesome with Kate Beckinsale and Ana Ivanovic AND have an IV pumping Starbucks into his veins and still find something wrong.)
Your analysis was on Dierdorf was spot on. I actually muted the TV a couple of times. Your column was great today.
A: I almost felt bad blasting Dierdorf. I think he’s actually improved since he left Monday Night Football about 10 years ago. He doesn’t annoy me, which, in today’s world of announcers, is high praise. He doesn’t make my Mute List, anyway.
I'd love to mute Dierdorf and [Greg] Gumbel but Gil [Santos] and Gino [Cappelletti] aren't exactly throwing fastballs anymore. [Jim] Nantz and [Phil] Simms are good, but that's about it for me.
A: Since I'm just not physically capable of ripping Gil Santos, Andy, I'll just say this: I recognize the thought. That's the best I can do. Not good enough? How about if I give you my Mute List? Deal? Didn't think so, but you're getting it anyway. Two things to remember -- obviously I don't mute the TV every time these guys are on. But everyone on the list has been muted more than once over the years.
The Mute List:
Stephen A. Smith (Though you can still faintly hear him even post-mute.)
Stuart Scott (Maybe the all-time Mute Leader.)
Chris Berman (But only when he does the MLB All-Star Game, U.S. Open golf or NFL Sunday Countdown, fills in on Sunday Night Baseball or does his once-a-year SportsCenter.)
Tony Kornheiser (Just on MNF. It wasn't his fault, really. So out of place. I muted the TV a couple of times to protect him. You know the worst part of the MNF disaster with Tony? It sort of hurts him on PTI now. He's been knocked down a notch.)
Chip Caray (New to the list but rising. I think he's the worst TV play-by-play announcer I've ever heard.)
Dick Vitale (Is there anything left to say?)
Jim Corsi (Watching Corsi do the postgame show on NESN was exactly like watching Luca Brasi practice his speech for Don Corleone. Corsi seems like a nice guy but he always gave off the "I just had a car accident 20 minutes ago and I'm still a little out of it" vibe. Never good for studio work, by the way.)
Tommy Heinsohn (Not just because he once compared Ricky Davis to Jo Jo White. I get a kick out of Tommy, but he can get so caught up with the refs that it kills the telecast.)
Dick Enberg (He's here just because he makes so many mistakes that I actually sometimes wonder if there is something wrong with the feed and we are getting the wrong game. Even the wrong sport. In the last 10 years or so he's made the jump from "Never Mute" to the Mute List. Only person who can claim to have been on both. Wait, do I smell a bonus list?)
The Never Mutes:
Brent Musburger (I know he's on a lot of Mute Lists, but I can't help it. When I heard his voice in the 1980s I knew it was a big game or event. And those were my formative sports years as a fan.)
Pat Summerall (The other Big Game voice of my youth. Wish more announcers would take a page from the Summerall "Let the game tell the story and shut up unless I'm really, really needed" playbook.)
Marv Albert (Still throwing serious heat as he nears 70 years of age (his toupee turned 50 three months ago.) His call of Big Baby's buzzer-beater vs. the Magic was perfect, an all-timer.)
Dick Stockton (Basically, if you are older than 60 and not named Dick Enberg, you are going to land in the Never Mute category. Another guy without an act. Just calls the game.)
Mike Breen (I have no basis for this, but it did seem that he was taking some glee in the Celtics' Game 6 blowout of the Lakers. The Breen/Van Gundy/Jackson team is the best NBA crew I've ever heard. Same goes for Tirico/Jaws/Gruden in the NFL. Why can't baseball find a team like that?)
Sean McDonough (Couldn't a McDonough/Schilling duo be that team? You'd get all the good Schilling, and McDonough wouldn't let him get too out of control on the dopey stuff. Don't forget, Schilling has the two qualities that make a great TV analyst: smart and doesn't care what people think about him. Watch, though, if Schilling ever makes the move to TV he'll be paired up with Chip Caray and just walk all over him.)
Johnny Miller (Seems a little more forced now than in the past, almost like he knows he has to call someone out as a choker because he's Johnny Miller. Charles Barkley is getting to be the same way. Still, the golf world is stuffed with jock-sniffers, and Miller is the lone voice not afraid to suggest that maybe Phil Mickelson should invest in a treadmill.)
Al Michaels (Just for football.)
Take it easy on Rondo. He's the best defensive player AND the best point guard the Celtics have had since Dennis Johnson. He made a mistake with Paul. Not a big deal.
A: No problem, Mike. I'll even agree to both points, though comparing Rajon Rondo at this point of his career to Dennis Johnson (speaking of Hall of Famers, DJ is the best player in any of the four sports not in the Hall of Fame. Randy Savage not being in the WWE Hall of Fame is the only other snub I'll even allow into the debate from another sport) is pushing it. But I'll go with it, if you give me this: If there's a 40 percent chance that Rondo will play with the Celtics for the next decade, play in five or six All-Star games and lead the team to a couple of deep playoff runs, there also is a 40 percent chance that he will be exposed post-Big Three as a good but hugely flawed player, make no All-Star teams, lead the Celtics to a 30-52 record in 2012-13 and demand a trade. Come on, aren't both scenarios almost equally likely to happen?
Like the Rondo stuff last week (especially the "Sudden" Sam Vincent callout. My favorite player in 1987) I think he's overrated and a product of the "Big Three."
A: See, I think Rondo is a very, very good player. Again, let's line up all the players in the NBA that are capable of averaging 14-12-12 over a six-week stretch. That would be Rondo and Rondo alone. My problem with him is not his ability but his "I've accomplished all I've needed to accomplish" attitude. That's pure speculation on my part, but I've watched every NBA game the guy has played and that's how I feel. And maybe if it was Paul Pierce (who can be a little dopey at times) or Kevin Garnett (super emotional, heart on his sleeve) that I kept reading about with this Rondo stuff I wouldn't get too crazy about it. But Ray Allen? Not good.
Rondo had his moments in the 2008 Finals. That series wasn't just about Game 4. Even if they lost all three games in LA they still would have been at home down 3-2. He wasn't the MVP or anything but he was a key contributor.
A: True, Rondo was good in Game 1 (15-5-7) and he did have 16 assists in Game 2. Fair. They probably don't win Game 2 without him. That's it, though. He did NOTHING over the next three games, unless "making you want to throw your remote every time he bricked a wide-open 15-footer" was counted as a stat that season.
Game 3: 8 points, 4 assists
Game 4: 5 points, 2 assists
Game 5: 3 points (1-of-7 shooting), 3 assists; played just 14 minutes
He did bounce back in Game 6 (21-8-7), but the Celtics won that game by 480 points and Jim Nabors could've put up that line against the Lakers (who, let's never forget, quit like dogs that day) in that one.
My point with the Chris Paul stuff is that the 2008 Finals is something that Rondo should look at as a learning experience, something that humbled him. He wasn't on the floor when it mattered most in that series, bottom line. And yet it seems that he holds that series win as some sort of proof of his greatness. Being the sixth-most valuable player for a team in an NBA Finals (The Big Three, James Posey and Eddie House) is not something I'd be taunting Chris Paul with. Oh, and Chris Paul in his 17 career playoff games? 22-11-5. Probably he plays over Eddie House in crunch time in any scenario.
I wrote to you a few weeks ago about [Jorge] Posada and the Hall of Fame. Unlike you, I think he's closer to a "yes" than a borderline candidate, even more so now with the fifth ring. I know you love the Hall of Fame stuff (really enjoyed the Dewey vs. Rice column and the HOF ballot you did for last year) so I was wondering if you think Andy Pettitte has any shot of induction. My case for him is pretty simple:
Most Playoff wins ever
Five World Series
Most wins from 2000-09
I think he has a decent chance.
A: Let's assume for the sake of this argument that we are willing to overlook the fact that Pettitte is an admitted juicer (which I can't, but we'll get to that later.). Just looking at the numbers, I would have to agree that Pettitte is a legit candidate for the Hall of Fame. Look at it this way: Jack Morris got 237 votes last year. He, like Pettitte, led the majors in wins for a decade. Like Pettitte, he has a reputation as a winner and a workhorse. Like Pettitte, Morris was considered one of the seven or eight best pitchers in baseball for a long time but never viewed as the best pitcher in baseball. Career ERA? Morris, 3.90, Pettitte 3.91.
But even a quick glance at the baseball-reference.com page for both guys tells you that Pettitte has had a better career. Sure the ERAs are a wash, but not when you look at the years in which they pitched. Take Morris' 1983 season. His ERA, 3.34, was 10th-best in the American League. The league ERA for the season? 4.08. Pettitte in 1996 had an ERA of 3.87, over half a run higher than Morris' 1983 number. But that 3.87 ERA was eighth in the American League in 1996. The league ERA for that season? An even 5.00. So a wash isn't really a wash (Pettitte's career ERA+ is 116, Morris 106. Not a huge edge, but not an insignificant one, either.)
And give Pettitte the check in the postseason matchup, also. OK, Morris has a slightly better ERA (3.80 to 3.90) but that is in 157 fewer innings. Pettitte now has 249 career playoff innings pitched. A little more than an average regular-season total for him (maybe more than a little more, but not by much. He's averaged about 215 innings pitched in his career.) And what's interesting is how close an average Pettitte regular season matches up with his playoff numbers.
ERA -- regular season 3.91, playoffs: 3.9
WHIP -- regular season 1.36, playoffs 1.33
Hits Per Nine Innings -- regular season 9.4, playoffs 9.4
K/BB Ratio -- regular season 2.3, playoffs 2.3
One of the few players with a large enough sample size, and it turns out that he's exactly what he's always been. Full credit to Pettitte (I just said that in my John Sterling voice) for putting up those numbers against top teams, but maybe guys just are what they are and there is no such thing as "clutch." I don't know if I believe that, though. I think we can agree that there are guys who cannot match their regular season efforts in the playoffs. The image of Joe Nathan vomiting all over the Metrodome comes to mind. Maybe the true definition of clutch is something like "the ability to maintain an already established level when the pressure is highest." And that would be Pettitte (as well as Jeter, by the way. His career regular season line? .317/.388/.459. Playoffs? .313/.383/.479.)
Sorry, we've wandered off a little. If I had a Hall of Fame vote and Andy Pettitte was on the ballot, would I check "yes"? First: The HGH stuff. If he's on the ballot, he's on the ballot. I'm going to vote for him strictly by his numbers. If they want to take every player with a whiff of steroids of the ballot forever, I'm fine with it. But as long as they are on, I'm going to judge them on what they did on the field, not in the back of Brian McNamee's 1986 Monte Carlo.
I think Andy Pettitte is about 10 percent better than Jack Morris. And, for me, that's not enough. Not when Bert Blyleven isn't in. I know this will drive Yankees fans crazy but Mike Mussina is twice the Hall of Fame candidate Pettitte is. Pettitte has been in the top 10 in ERA three times. Mussina? Eleven times. WHIP? Pettitte twice, Mussina 12 times. Top five in Cy Young voting? Pettitte three times, Mussina six times. And history will never look at Mussina as a big-time playoff pitcher, but in 140 career playoff innings he had an ERA of 3.42 and a WHIP of 1.103.
And with all that I still think Pettitte and Mussina will both get about the same amount of support from the HOF voters. My best guess? Both top out somewhere around 55 percent, short of the 75 percent needed. Both will spend all 15 years on the ballot, but neither gets in.
(Sorry, I didn't expect that to be a 1,000-word answer, either. Just be ready for the HOF ballot column in a few months. Could hit the 20,000-word mark. If you play it right it could be good for six or seven dump breaks. The thought of Harold Baines' OPS in 1984 is enough to get you to make sure that printer is working, isn't it?)
It’s tough to keep calling you that if you are going to be spot on. What happened to that ridiculous trash-talker with an affinity for WWF references I had come to shake my head in disbelief at? Yes, I’ll still call it the WWF because the camel clutch is more significant to my life than the freaking arctic hare, but thanks World Wildlife Federation for sticking your beak where it isn’t wanted.
Speaking of totally fraudulent violence ... Patrick Chung’s penalty for illegal contact to the head featured a textbook tackle and a totally contrived neck snap worthy of Shawn Michael’s chin music fame. This is everything that is wrong with protecting the quarterback to the extent that the NFL does it.
He Who Shall Not Be Named? It’s not that the dancing has stopped, it's that repeatedly [Sunday] he had that shoulder dropping burst at the end of the fox trot. No Bob Sanders for the Colts this week means we may be about to find out if this is a flareup of talent or a trend. If HWSNBM is going to be a force in there, then I’m not afraid to say the offense could be more dangerous than 2007. I also tend to think the five-yard repeated gashings might have something to do with [Sebastian] Vollmer doing his best “Kick his ass, Sea Bass” impression.
And one last thing regarding impression: Am I the only one that thinks there is something decidedly Ricky Bobby about Chad Henne? The guy looks like Will Ferrell to me with his head stuffed into a helmet. Which is to say mostly clueless with a strong hint of "You don't know how close you just came to getting nunchucked!"
A: Why doesn't a tag-team match have two refs, Jake? Has that ever been answered? And why no instant replay? I mean, Tito Santana might still be Intercontinental Champion today. I suspect Eddie probably did four hours on this in 1992, but I digress.
Totally agree on HWSNBN. If he runs for 90-100 yards Sunday I might finally be ready to not only name him but call him a legitimate No. 1 back. And this is after months and months of swearing I wouldn't buy into him again. Turns out it might only take three good weeks for me to be lured back in. What a fraud I am.
Is that who Henne kept reminding me of? What was his QB rating last week? 75.5. Not great, but probably as good as you can expect a QB to play against a Belichick defense when you consider he had no circulation going to his brain.
That's it for me. Enjoy what should be a classic on Sunday night. Of course I'm talking about the new episode of "Cold Case," but you should also check in on Pats-Colts if you get the chance.