Hell of a busy Sunday in the sports world, so how about I do us all a favor and not waste much time on the intro? Cool? Cool. Here goes…
The Pats still have the Texans’ number.
Well, at least it went better than last time for the Texans. A month after a 42-14 blowout loss at Gillette Stadium took the wind out of their season and kicked off a 1-3 finish, the Texans visited the same stadium to face that same Pats team for a spot in the AFC championship game. And just like last time, the Pats were too good, coming away with a 41-28 win and earning a second straight showdown with the Ravens for a spot in the Super Bowl. Unlike last time, though, the Texans made a game of it. Danieal Manning took the opening kickoff back 94 yards, and while he was caught from behind and the Texans had to settle for a field goal, it served as an early warning that this was going to be different from last time.
The Pats still led almost all the way through, and a coupe different times looked on the verge of another blowout (especially when they scored early in the fourth quarter to make it 38-13), but this time, the Texans had answers. When the Pats went up 17-3 in the second quarter, the Texans scored 10 unanswered to make it 17-13 at halftime. When the Pats then scored three unanswered touchdowns of their own for the aforementioned 38-13 lead, the Texans clawed back into it with two more scores and a two-point conversion to make it 38-28. They made the Pats earn it.
But what ultimately matters is that the Pats did earn it, because like they’ve usually been with Brady and Belichick leading the way, they were the better team. Yeah, the Texans fought, but the Pats always fought back. Brady, who finished 25-for-40 for 344 yards and three touchdowns (no interceptions), had all the answers. His offensive line once again prevented J.J. Watt from wreaking total havoc, limiting him to a half sack. The run game was effective, with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen combining for 123 yards. And the defense? Well, it did enough, forcing a turnover and getting a key stop here and there (like that field goal on the opening drive after Manning’s huge kick return). And hey, leaning on your offense to put up enough points when Tom Brady’s at the helm is a pretty sound strategy.
Now all that’s left is to see if the Pats can finally win that fourth Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick era, one of the NFL’s all-time best regardless of whether they do or not. They’ll certainly be favored in the AFC title game against the Ravens – and probably in the Super Bowl, too, if they manage to get there. Obviously we’ll have to see how the games play out and anything can happen, but I have to say I’m salivating at the prospect of a Pats-Niners rematch after that wild game in New England last month. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, look at the teams in the conference title games: three out of four are the same as last year, and the Falcons were in last year’s playoffs. For all the justifiable talk about the NFL’s parity… score one for sustained dominance. See you on Championship Sunday.
The Lakers were good, finally.
Remember that game a week ago when the Nuggets beat the Lakers because they were able to attempt 101 shots to the Lakers’ 82? Well, apparently the Cavs were watching, because last night, they tried to see if they couldn’t replicate the Nuggets’ success, taking 95 shots to the Lakers’ 69, as eye-popping a shot differential as we can remember. The problem: the Nuggets are good, and the Cavs are not. Therefore, whereas Denver took advantage of that shot differential and came away with a 112-105 win, Cleveland wound up with a 113-93 loss.
How’d it happen? Well, the shot disparity happened thanks in part to the Lakers turning it over 22 times and the Cavs grabbing 17 offensive rebounds (granted, getting that many boards is easier when you miss 56 shots). But the point disparity happened because the Cavs missed all those shots (41 percent shooting overall, and 4-for-21 from three), and the Lakers hardly missed anything. L.A. was deadly efficient, shooting 58 percent overall, 13-of-25 from three, and getting to the line 27 times (making 20) to the Cavs’ 12. And while they coughed up the ball a lot, they also moved it well, notching assists on 32 of their 40 made field goals.
This is the Laker team we imagined we might see before the year began – running opponents into the ground with star power (even with no Pau Gasol, who’s still out), easing the load on Kobe (who scored 23 in 28 minutes), and generally making life hell for the other team even when they give them gifts like 22 turnovers. This was more like a Mike D’Antoni team is expected to play, with the added bonus of defense.
BUT: let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. The Lakers were dominant, but they dominated the Cavs, a team that is now 9-30 on the year. Additionally, the Lakers have had brushes with goodness before – they won five straight at one point just last month. They then lost six in a row shortly thereafter. They need to put something sustained together before we can say they’re anything remotely resembling the team we expected. But last night was a nice way to break a losing streak. It’s gotta start somewhere.
Around the Association…
The Knicks beat the Hornets and Bucks beat the Raptors in early action (yeah, they didn’t actually happen last night, whatever). The Nets snapped the Pacers’ winning streak with a 97-86 win in Brooklyn, behind 22 and nine from Deron Williams. The Spurs batted back the T-Wolves 106-88 as Tim Duncan threatened to enter 5×5 territory (12 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals, seven blocks in 29 minutes). The Nuggets used a late flurry (37-18 fourth quarter) to come back and top the Warriors, 116-105, and the Thunder narrowly avoided being the Blazers’ latest home upset victim, pulling out an 87-83 win (Kevin Durant had 33 for OKC and LaMarcus Aldridge had the same number for the Blazers).
Hey, Grand Slam tennis is back, too.
The Aussie Open, specifically, so if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, you’ll have something to pass the time. (And I love tennis, but early rounds at those hours? No thanks, if I can help it.) The biggest name to play on the opening day: Maria Sharapova, who dominated her opponent as thoroughly as one can be dominated, winning 6-0, 6-0. More recently, men’s top seed Novak Djokovic earned a straight-sets first round win, as did fourth and fifth seeds David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych.
Embrace it, like I did – with a giant coffee that will make you a jittery mess, possibly for the entire rest of the day. Sorry, Abrams Media coworkers (and readers, if my hyperactivity comes across in my posting in a bad way)!
Photos via Getty