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Taking five from a stormy weekend

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  August 29, 2011 08:23 AM

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Five questions from a weekend spent in captivity…

1. Overall, what do you make of that Patriots game?

OK, maybe the Lions are better. Fine. But if the Patriots were looking for a reality check in the wake of two preseason cakewalks, they got it. Bill Belichick was right. The Patriots didn’t do anything well in any phase of the game, which certainly will give the coach plenty of ammunition as the Pats begin preparing for their Sept. 12 season opener.

Is there cause for alarm? No. At least not yet. But for all of the questions that we have focused on this preseason, the offensive line just joined the group. Tom Brady was under pressure constantly against the Lions and the pocket seemed to be collapsing on him from all sides. Given the Pats’ problems in their last three postseason games, that cannot be overlooked.

2. Does the American League East really matter that much?

Today more than ever, the answer is no. And here’s why: the American League West is still up for grabs. The Texas Rangers won a very important series finale against the Los Angeles Angels to keep the division lead at three games, but the margin is two in the loss column and the teams are scheduled to play a three-game series in Anaheim on the final weekend of the season.

Because the Sox and Yankees have such a firm grasp on playoff spots, the Rangers and Angels playing for one place in the postseason. As long as the race stays close, each team could be fighting for its life on the final weekend. As such, neither may be able to line up its pitching for the playoffs, meaning C.J. Wilson or Jered Weaver could prove unavailable for Game 1.

So would you rather face Justin Verlander twice or Jered Weaver once?

Naturally, this is all beyond the Sox’ control, which is why Boston is advised to just keep playing and let the chips fall where they may. Regardless, the best case scenario is for the Angels and Angels to play meaningful games on the final weekend.

3. Is it time to worry about Chad Ochocinco?

Four more targets, no catches. There was also a costly penalty in the first half, albeit on a highly questionable (or downright bogus?) call. Whatever. The Patriots' offense in this game looked a great deal like it did against the Jets last January, and Ochocinco was brought in to help rectify that.

Yes, the lockout changed things. But in recent years, numerous receivers have come to the Patriots via trade or draft and had no difficulty adapting to the offense. Aaron Hernandez lines up as a receiver for a good chunk of the time and has had no problems. Wes Welker’s transition was seamless in 2007. Same for Randy Moss. Maybe Ochocinco is a different kind of receiver than either of those two, but he still looks lost.

The twittersphere is ablaze.

4. Should the Sox have played Saturday night?

For that matter, we can probably ask whether the Sox should have played at all, though the majority of the first game took place in decent weather. The nightcap might as well have been a game of water polo, though the Sox’ obviously came out on the front end with a doubleheader sweep of the A’s that put the Sox on pace for precisely 100 victories.

If you were at the Saturday night game at all, you probably left early. Nonetheless, let’s actually give the Sox and A’s credit here. First, the Sox often get criticized for opening the gates and then failing to play. Second, Oakland does not return to Fenway this season and losing two games off the schedule is hardly desirable. Certainly the teams could have lost one. Regardless, there was no shot of playing yesterday, and baseball people believe in preserving the integrity of schedule.

Most important, the conditions were the same for both teams.

5. Why does the NFL even kick off at all anymore?

If you don’t like the rule change that now requires kickoffs take place from the 35-yard line, Saturday night gave you as much evidence as you will need. Stephen Gostkowski boomed his first kick to the back line of the end zone, and two of the three Patriots’ kicks resulted on touchbacks.

And then there was the Lions’ strategy.

Rather than kick the ball deep, the Lions had kicker Jason Hanson kick the ball higher and tried to pin the Patriots deep in their own end. They generally succeeded. The Pats averaged just 16.2 yards on their five returns, and the number actually shrinks to 12.3 yards if you take out Julian Edelman, who had the only good return of the night.

Based on what Bill Belichick said early this preseason, Brandon Tate could be toast. Tate was a terrific kick returner last year, but the new rules seem to change things. Edelman is shiftier and more elusive, which may be a more valuable asset with coverage teams bearing down on returners.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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