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Archive for the month “September, 2011”

Reflections on an Indian Summer

The Cleveland Indians may have fallen short of a division title, and a .500 record after losing their last four games of the season, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a season to remember for the Tribe.

As disappointing as the second half of the season may have been, that’s how exciting it was as the Indians raced out to a 30-15 record and a seven-game lead in the Central Division.

From late-game heroics, sometimes from unlikely sources, one of the best bullpens in the league, some decent (and sometimes great) starting pitching, a baffling offensive slump, to the slow influx of younger players, the Indians kept the attention of NE Ohio well into September for the first time since 2007.

And we haven’t even gotten to the trade for Ubaldo Jimenez.

We learned that Justin Masterson has the makings of a solid starting pitcher. He led the team (with Josh Tomlin) in wins with 12, was tops in ERA at 3.21, in strikeouts with 158, and was second among the starters with a 1.28 WHIP.

Masterson’s win total would have been better with some support. In May and June he made a combined 11 starts but went 0-6 despite posting an ERA of 3.34.

A starting rotation next season that is fronted by Masterson, Jimenez and Josh Tomlin as the first three starters doesn’t look all that bad right now.

Rookie Vinnie Pestano was the surprise in a mostly dependable bullpen that also included Tony Sipp, Joe Smith, Rafael Perez and closer Chris Perez.

Pestano posted a 12.02 K/9 ratio, fourth best among AL relievers, walked only 24 batters in 62 innings of work and posted a 1.05 WHIP.

And despite some rough outings, Chris Perez took hold of the closer’s role this season. It’s never bothered us how a closer finishes the game, as long as they get through the final inning with the Indians still in the lead, it’s all good.

On offense, Asdrubal Cabrera had a breakout season. After hitting above .300 through mid-June, Cabrera cooled off a bit in the second half, but still led the team in batting average (.273), RBI (92, first among AL shortstops) and hits (165, which also topped AL shortstops). He also hit 25 home runs (after totaling 18 in his previous four seasons).

It seemed like Carlos Santana struggled all season, he only batted .239, but at the end of the day he led the team in home runs (27) and on-base percentage (.351). He topped AL catchers in runs (84) and walks (97).

On the negative side, injuries cut short the seasons of Grady Sizemore (again), Travis Hafner (again) and Shin-Soo Choo. The offense clearly missed their bats in the lineup. Oh, and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco will miss all of next year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Also, Matt LaPorta pretty much removed all doubt that he is the Tribe’s everyday first baseman of the future. There is also some concern about just how good Michael Brantley can be. No pressure though, LaPorta and Brantley were only the players the Tribe received for C.C. Sabathia.

Fausto Carmona continued to prove that 2007 was a fluke, as he was up and down all year, one good game to tease us followed by two or three bad starts. On the year, he went 7-15 with an ERA of 5.25. He did pitch 188.2 innings, which is something. If (when?) the Indians pick up his option for next year, they better hope they can find another starter so they can put Carmona in the No. 5 slot.

Which brings us to Jimenez, who the Tribe picked up at the trading deadline in one of the more controversial trades in recent memory.

Jimenez was sold to the fans as an ace, but that seems more like a paper title than something he actually earned. With the Tribe, Jimenez made 11 starts, posting an ERA of 5.10 and a WHIP of 1.45.

Not exactly the numbers you’d expect from a player you traded your two top pitching prospects for.

But that was this year, which is now in the books. While we all dreamed of October baseball back in May, the Tribe still finished in second place, which is something no one really dreamed of coming into the season.

The team made strides this year and have some nice pieces in place. The trick now is to build on this year’s success and foundation so that next year we will see a true Indian summer come October.

***

Bill Simmons had some interesting numbers in his running diary about the Red Sox losing the final game of the season to complete the biggest collapse in baseball history.

According to Simmons, From August 30 through September 24, the Red Sox were 2-18 in games in which they scored fewer than nine runs. Their team ERA for September was 5.90. Their starters finished 4-13 for the month with a 7.03 ERA.

Wow, no wonder they choked away the lead.

And of course the Braves were almost as historically bad, blowing an 8.5 game lead.

Lost in all that, somehow, was the Yankees finding a way to blow a 7-0 lead in the 8th inning to Tampa.

Using 11 different pitchers probably played a role, as the Yankees made a mockery of the regular-season final by pulling their starters are trotting out a cast of unknowns to the mound.

It’s ironic that a team that takes itself so overly important like the Yankees do, getting caught up in all the unimportant nonsense that can make baseball insufferable at times, would show such disrespect to the game and not get called out on it.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

Feeling a bit nervous about Sunday

Now that we are a few days away from the Browns last-minute win over Miami, our thoughts have turned to Sunday’s game against Tennessee.

And we admit we’re starting to get a little bit worried.

In the Titans, the Browns will be facing the No. 1 defense in the NFL. Tennessee is second against the pass, eighth against the run and the AFC’s best in the red zone, giving up just two touchdowns on six trips by the opposition inside the 20.

The Browns are catching a break, however, as starting wide receiver Kenny Britt is out for the year after injuring his knee. After Nate Washington (21 receptions on the year) who Joe Haden can shut down in his sleep, the Titans will trot out Damian Williams (2 receptions), Marc Mariani (3 receptions) and Lavelle Hawkins (5 receptions) – apparently wide receiver is even a bigger trouble spot in Nashville than in Cleveland.

Hopefully that means the Browns won’t have to focus on stopping Tennessee’s passing game because what worries us the most is Chris Johnson.

Johnson is off to a ridiculously slow start after holding out during training camp, gaining just 98 yards through three games, a big part of the reason why the Titans rank last in the NFL in rushing offense.

“Of course it’s frustrating,” Johnson told Fox Sports Tennessee after last week’s game. “In the first two games not having big ones, and then starting out this game with a couple of nice runs in the beginning, but all of them were getting called back. It’s always tough, but we have to hold our head up.”

You know Johnson is not going to go an entire season averaging 32.6 rushing yards per game; eventually he’s going to break out.

“It’s one of those things it just probably takes one nice run,” Johnson told ESPN. “It probably takes one or two breaks out of there to kind of get that feeling back again that we can do certain things… It’s got to improve if we’re going to win these next two weeks.”

We just hope it’s not Sunday against the Browns 29th-ranked rush defense.

***

Turns out we were right when we said the excessive celebration penalty on Mohamed Massaquoi and Ben Watson was highly suspect.

Former vice president of NFL officiating Mike Pereira told The Plain Dealer that “It strikes me as technically being a foul but also one you could have gone without making, frankly.

“I personally like the rule about not going to the ground to demonstrate because you were having guys lay down on the ground and act like they were putting a pillow under their heads and all that kind of stuff. Clearly, you really had over-the-top things that happened. The problem is that when you do something like that, then you get into this area where, geez, all of a sudden you get into where you take it literally and it becomes a little picky.”

Thankfully the penalty didn’t end up costing the Browns the game, but it sure was close.

***

Speaking of being excessive, apparently there are now limits on how much standing you can do at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Head over to Cleveland Frowns to read about the ridiculousness that is the “excessive standing” policy at home games.

Just makes us that much more thankful that we can stand all we want at home while enjoying NFL Sunday Ticket.

***

We can’t began to explain how much it gets on our tits that the Steelers can put up a winning record every year while having a crap offensive line.

***

Finally, linebacker Chris Gocong is the latest player to hit the Browns ATM in the form of a contract extension.

The Browns reached a three-year, $16.8 million contract with Gocong, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Gocong becomes the fourth player to get a new deal from the Browns this year, joining left tackle Joe Thomas, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin and tight end Evan Moore.

The defense never rests

Fresh off their second consecutive game where they limited the opposition to a lone touchdown, the Cleveland Browns are starting to build something on defense and the league is beginning to take notice.

In less than two years on the job general manager Tom Heckert has jumpstarted the process of rebuilding the defense. Out are the aging veterans and ex-Jets, like Abe Elam, Kenyon Coleman, Jason Trusnik, David Bowens, Eric Barton, C.J. Mosley and Hank Poteat, and in their place are draftees Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard, T.J. Ward and Joe Haden.

And it’s starting to pay off.

The Browns are ninth overall in the league on defense, third against the pass and tied for 8th in third-down efficiency.

“You have to get off the field on third down and then there are a lot of ways looking at it,” coach Pat Shurmur said in his weekly presser. “Better percentage on first down makes a longer third, all of that. Most teams on offense find a way to move the ball. Now, when you get in the red zone and teams find a way to get in the red zone anywhere from two to three and sometimes five times a game. That’s when you have to make them kick field goals.

“Turnovers, efficiency on third down, that’s getting off the field and then execution in the red zone. That’s pretty much offensively and defensively the areas that if you are going to be consistently good you have to be good in those areas.”

Through three games corner back Joe Haden is playing like an All-Pro. He shut down A.J. Green in Week 1 (one reception), kept Reggie Wayne in check Week 2 (four receptions) and did the same on Sunday against Brandon Marshall (four receptions).

Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin earned Defensive Player of the Week honors in Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column.

King writes: Taken out of Iowa State in the sixth round of the 2008 draft, in what would be one of Phil Savage’s last acts as Cleveland GM, Rubin is turning into one of the best defensive tackles in the league. He was one of the keys to a resilient if ugly 17-16 win over Miami Sunday. He had 1.5 sacks, nine tackles and another tackle for loss as the Browns stifled much of what Miami tried to do on offense.

The young and mostly inexperienced defensive line has been a nice surprise so far this season, and should only get better as the season moves along.

“We are another game better of knowing what those guys can do,” Shurmur said. “I thought (defensive line coach) Dwaine (Board) had a good rotation getting guys in there. Every play is a critical play but you need your guys all the way to the end. So we had a good rotation in there and they played a lot of snaps.

“I think getting sacks is a team thing just as well as giving up sacks is a team thing. There is coverage involved. There is pressure sometimes and then there is just flat out guys beating guys. I think there was a little bit of all three elements yesterday, but I think that unit is really improving.”

King also made note of Shurmur’s decision to bring the players in to work on Monday, a sign that the coaching staff knows there is still a lot of work to be done.

There was something I liked about the Browns post-game Sunday, after escaping with a 17-16 win over the Dolphins. With the players screaming for a “Victory Monday,” a day off that normally follows a win, which then is followed by the normal day off on Tuesday, coach Pat Shurmur told the players he’d get them in and out as quick as he could on Monday, but it wasn’t going to be a full day off because next week is the bye, and a game with Tennessee awaited this week, and he wanted to do everything he could to make sure they prepared fully for this game against a non-division foe. And not a peep was heard from the players.

“Multiple reasons why that’s an important game,” said receiver Muhammad Massaquoi. “You don’t want to go into a bye with a loss, and you want to be sure you keep a good thing going. We still have work to do here.” Of the three Rust Belters not accustomed to feeling so good on a Sunday, Shurmur’s idea was not only the right one, but one his players embraced. And that’s the kind of team that can grow into something.

We’ll give defensive tackle Phil Taylor the last word.

“If we keep playing like we’re playing, people are gonna know about us,” Taylor said in published reports. “People already know about us from watching film, but if we keep playing like we’re playing, we’re gonna be one of those dominant forces.”

(Photo by The Associated Press)

Play fast defense saves the day for Browns

The Browns continued to show the benefit of defensive coordinator Dick Jauron’s “play fast” defense, defeating Miami on Sunday for their first home win of the season.

For the second consecutive game, the defense gave up only one touchdown on the day, working hard to carry the water until the offense could get its act together.

The defense showed why we’ve been longing for the return of the 4-3 for years, recording five sacks – four from the defensive line – and keeping the Dolphins out of the end zone for the final 52 minutes of the game.

The Browns also held Miami to 4-of-13 on third down and the Dolphins were just 1-of-3 in the red zone (think field goals, not touchdowns).

The biggest series for the defense came with 6:20 left in the game. Leading 13-10, the Dolphins took over with a chance to put the game away. Miami would eventually have a first-and-10 at the Browns 23, but the defense stuffed the Dolphins, forcing Miami to settle for a field goal and give the Browns hope.

As for the offense, it wasn’t very good – until it was.

Playing without starting running back Peyton Hillis and with a limited Josh Cribbs, quarterback Colt McCoy struggled on the day, but saved his best for when it mattered.

With the Browns trailing 16-10 and 3:23 on the clock, McCoy led an 80-yard drive where he completed 9-of-13 passes, hitting Greg Little with three passes (two for first downs) before finally finding Mohamed Massaquoi for the game-winning, 14-yard touchdown pass.

It was a nice throw by McCoy and an even better catch by Massaquoi.

“My best throw of the day,” McCoy said. “Mo did a nice job and got that guy (Miami defensive back Jimmy Wilson) to bite just a little bit. He wasn’t that open, but in the NFL, when they’re like that, you just gotta make a good throw. Mo did a great job of getting his feet in. It was a great feeling.”

Of course, this being the Browns the victory wasn’t that easy. Two highly suspect calls by the refs – yes, it may be sour grapes but the excessive celebration and horse collar tackle penalties were crap calls – allowed the Dolphins to start on the Browns 48-yard-line with 36 seconds and one time out left.

Needing only a field goal to win, Miami quarterback Chad Henne threw three consecutive incompletions before his fourth-down pass was intercepted by Mike Adams and the Browns finally secured the win.

“I’m proud of the guys because no matter if it’s one point, one second left — we hung in there,” coach Pat Shurmur told The Plain Dealer. “Colt knows how to win games. We are learning about each other.”

“We lost four games last year after leading in the fourth quarter,” Cribbs told The Plain Dealer. “This just shows how much we’ve grown.”

So what did we learn on Sunday?

This defense has the makings of being a pretty good and fun to watch group as general manager Tom Heckert’s decision to add Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard to last year’s draft picks of Joe Haden and T.J. Ward looks better every week.

You know who else looks better every week? Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, who had nine tackles and 1.5 sacks on Sunday.

The defense may not have a lot of depth, but the starting 11 looks pretty good.

Montario Hardesty looks like he may be a nice compliment to Hillis at running back. Making his first start on Sunday, Hardesty ran for 67 yards and a 4.8 yards-per-carry average. If he can continue to run like that, the duo of Hillis and Hardesty are going to be a real asset.

The offense is still very much a work in progress. The timing between McCoy and the receivers just isn’t there yet, and McCoy’s accuracy is off – he’s only completing 54 percent of his passes.

It’s obvious that the shortened training camp, combined with preseason injuries to the receivers, has the offense struggling to catch up.

“I’ll be the first to tell you I’ve got a lot of work to do leading this football team, and we as a team have a lot of work to do,” McCoy said in published reports. “We earned some confidence today in each other.”

There are those who will say the Browns “deserved” to lose the game because of the offensive struggles, but the last time we checked both sides of the ball count. The defense made the plays it needed to keep the team in the game and the offense found a way at the end.

There is still plenty of work to do, especially on offense, but for now the Browns hold a share of first place in the AFC North, and that’s a good thing.

“We got the job done,” Phil Taylor told The Plain Dealer after the game.

And really, that’s all that matters.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

Browns vs. Dolphins – Week 3

Fresh off their first win in the Pat Shurmur era, the Cleveland Browns return home to take on the Miami Dolphins and try to turn up the temperature on Dolphins coach Tony Sparano’s chair.

The Opposition

Miami record: 0-2
Offensive rank: 10th overall/9th passing/8th rushing
Defensive rank: 32nd overall/30th passing/22nd rushing
All-time record: Dolphins lead 9-7 (including playoffs), but Browns are 5-4 in Cleveland
Last meeting: Browns won 13-10 in 2010
The line: Browns (-2.5)

What to Watch For

How the Browns respond to being back at home following the mistake-filled season opener against the Bengals.

The Dolphins come into the game as the worst defense in the NFL, but that has a qualifier to it. They have given up the third-most passing yards and the second-most passing touchdowns in the league so far, but those numbers came against New England’s Tom Brady and Houston’s Matt Schaub, quarterbacks who can make any defense look silly when they are on their game.

Is the Miami defense really that bad, or are the numbers skewed because of the level of the opposition?

This will be a good game to see what kind of progress the Browns have made as they transition to the West Coast offense. The offense should be getting better each week as they make up for the repetitions they lost during the shortened workout.

If Colt McCoy and the receivers are on, they should be able to take advantage of the Dolphins, especially since Miami will be without starting cornerback Vontae Davis and possibly back-up corner Will Allen. Miami is giving up 30.5 points per game and allowing opponents to convert on 46.4 percent of their third downs.

Sounds like a potential good day for the offense.

Of course, the Browns may be without starting running back Peyton Hillis (strep throat), as well as starting wide receivers Josh Cribbs (groin) and Mohamed Massaquoi (ankle), who are all questionable for the game.

If all three are out, then the Dolphins can key on back-up running back Montario Hardesty, pay a little attention to rookie wide receiver Greg Little and ignore Brian “BlutarskiRobiskie, which would make for a long day for McCoy and the offense.

Much as the Dolphins defensive ranking may be artificially low because of the opposition, the Browns No. 6 ranked defense (No. 2 against the pass) may be a bit high because of playing Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

The Dolphins can still run the ball and, even under Dick Jauron’s “play fast” defense, the Browns are struggling to stop the run.

But the Browns have been tough in the red zone as they are tied for third in red-zone defense and didn’t give up a touchdown to the Colts until there were 24 seconds left in the game. The Dolphins may play right into that strength as they are weak in the red zone under offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (think field goals on Sunday, not touchdowns) and have made the eighth-most negative plays in the red zone in the league.

The Most Frustrating Browns vs. Dolphins Game We’ve Ever Seen

The 1986 playoff game where the Browns blew a 21-3 lead in the third quarter as Miami rallied back to win 24-21.

We can still see Miami’s Ron Davenport running over Don Rogers on his way to the end zone.

The Prediction

If we knew the Browns were going to be healthy on offense we would feel a lot better about this game. There’s no such thing as an “easy win” for the Browns, even if the other team is 0-2 and falling apart under a lame duck coach.

We’re worried that the Dolphins are not as bad as they’ve looked over the first two weeks, but that the Browns are what they’ve looked like: a young team adjusting to a new offense and new defense that can play well in spurts, but possibly not yet for an entire game.

And the Dolphins do have the third-best road record in the NFL since 2008.

But the Browns did look noticeably better at times last week against the Colts, which gives us hope.

The Browns should think touchdowns, not field goals, just enough on Sunday to pull out the win and stay on pace with Pittsburgh and Baltimore at the top of the AFC North division.

Take the Browns and the points.

Record picking the Browns (using the point spread) this year: 1-1-0.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

Out of sight, out of mind

The NBA announced on Friday that training camps, which were scheduled to open Oct. 3, are postponed indefinitely and that 43 preseason games have been canceled because of the ongoing labor fight between the league and its players.

“We have regretfully reached the point on the calendar where we are not able to open training camps on time and need to cancel the first week of preseason games,” deputy commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “We will make further decisions as warranted.”

The thing is, we’re not sure we really care.

It’s not that we don’t enjoy rooting for the Cavs. And we’re eager to see how coach Byron Scott works rookies Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson into the squad.

It’s just that we have a serious case of labor fatigue at this point. After going through the NFL lockout and all that it entailed, we just don’t have room any more to care about another labor issues involving millionaires and billionaires fighting over the money pie.

The league and its players don’t really care about the fans and, as fans, there is not much we can do about the ongoing labor issues. That’s also contributing to our feeling of ambivalence toward the whole lockout.

Plus didn’t we just go through this in 1999? Wasn’t that work stoppage – which caused the league to miss games – supposed to solve the problem? Why are we here again?

We admit we might feel differently if the Cavs were still a 60+ win team and a threat to challenge for an NBA title. The prospect of missing games under that scenario would be far different.

But for now, our attitude is call us when this is all over.

Browns being cautious with Hillis contract

When it comes to extending the contract of third-year running back Peyton Hillis, the Browns are approaching it like a fine BBQ chef.

Low and slow.

Browns general manager Tom Heckert said on Thursday that, “Until we get a contract done with somebody, we’re not gonna talk about it.

Read more…

The Browns are grown-ass men!

Alex Mack is the latest Cleveland Brown to go on the record about how things are different in Berea under new coach Pat Shurmur.

“It’s not acceptable to make mistakes (under Shurmur), but it’s — tolerable is the wrong word — a learning experience more than a lynching experience,” Mack told The News-Herald. “We had a lot of team corrections (the last two years). The theory behind it was as a team you’d see where people made mistakes and hold everyone accountable.

“On the same hand, other guys don’t know what you’re coached. If you keep it in your own meeting group and get it aired out, that’s better. Everyone knows you. But to have a DB get beat and have the coach yell at him — I don’t know how to cover anyone, and I don’t need to know. It’s hard for him to get embarrassed in front of the whole team. If it’s just your group of core guys, and they know how good the receiver is. It’s easier to bear.”

Mack joins a growing list of players who are embracing the changes in Berea from former coach Eric Mangini:

  • Joe Thomas: “I’ve been so impressed with coach (Pat) Shurmur and the staff that he brought in and the way he teaches the players. He won the respect of some of the leaders on the team right away with the way he treated them.”
  • D’Qwell Jackson: “(Coach Shurmur’s) created a great environment for us to want to come to work. You can tell the players are more involved. We have a lot more opinion about things.”
  • Scott Fujita: “Coach Shurmur is going to turn over the keys to us and say, ‘You need to run this thing the right way. I don’t need to be the guy policing the locker room. That’s on you guys.’ I think we embraced that. This is good for this group of guys.”
  • Sheldon Brown: “You have guys who go home to their families, to their kids. You’ll tell me I can raise a family, but I can’t behave and act like a pro? Give me the locker room. He understands that and I think that’s why the guys love and respect him.”

“The atmosphere is really nice,” Mack told The Plain Dealer. “To come to work and not be dreading it from what’s going to happen and how you’re going to get yelled at or what’s going to show up on the screen and just knowing that like, ‘Here, guys, we made mistakes, and let’s get better,’ and have a kind of lighter atmosphere is going to help guys stay upbeat. It’s easier to learn.

“It’s not acceptable to make mistakes, but it’s a learning experience more than a (chastising) experience.”

It’s not uncommon for players to have a positive reaction to a change in the coaching staff. But when you look at the names behind the quotes, you realize these are not just company men trying to get in good with the new coach. Fujita and Brown have been part of winning organizations, and Thomas and Mack are among the best in the league at their positions. When they say things like this, there is some credibility behind their words.

There are three things keys coaches have to do in order to maximize their chances of being successful:

  • Put the players in situations where they can succeed. If you are coaching the Patriots you can run a highly complex offense because you have Tom Brady at quarterback and he has built up a knowledge base over the course of his career. Try to be complex with a career back-up and an over-the-hill veteran and you are out of work.
  • Not everyone learns the same way and you have to figure out who on your team is an auditory learner, a visual learner and a tactile learner. Trying to teach everyone the same way doesn’t work. That’s why Shurmur’s approach of having the position coaches, who work with the players the most and should know how to teach them, work with the players to correct mistakes is a good approach.
  • Just like how not everyone learns the same way, everyone doesn’t respond to the same types of motivation. Some players need a pat on the back, some a kick in the ass. As a coach, you need to know the right approach to take; again you can’t treat everyone the same.

We seriously doubt players need to be humiliated in front of the entire team to understand they made a mistake. Sheldon Brown knows if he blew a coverage. Joe Thomas knows if he blows an assignment, all he has to do is look at the quarterback lying face down on the field. They don’t need to be treated like children.

But while the players can talk all they want about being treated differently, they have to show they have earned that right with their performance on the field each Sunday. That means no stupid penalties, no putting themselves before the team, etc. You want to be treated like adults? Then you better come through for the coach when it counts.

Look, there’s no universal way to coach an NFL team. Offensive coaches can win, defensive coaches can win, player’s coaches, hard-ass coaches, there’s room for everyone if they have the right approach.

We just hope that Shurmur’s approach is the right one for this Browns team.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

Shurmur riding high after first win

Fresh off his first win as an NFL head coach, Pat Shurmur is moving up the coach rankings at ESPN.

Shurmur has an 80 percent approval rating following the Browns 27-19 win over Indianapolis, fifth highest in the NFL and tops in the AFC North. Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis (39 percent) and Baltimore’s John Harbaugh (45 percent) are in the bottom 10.

Not bad for a coach who only met most of his players a little less than two months ago.

***

To commemorate New York’s Mariano Rivera recording his 602nd career save, it’s worth looking back at one big game he couldn’t close out: Game 4 of the 1997 American League Division Series.

Never gets old.

***

Finally, we’re all aware that Fox News is anything but “fair and balanced,” so we guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that attitude extends to Fox Sports.

According to Jim Romenesko at The Poynter Institute, during the Week 1 broadcast of the game between the Bears and the Falcons, Fox Sports showed the following newspaper “headlines”:

Cutler Leaves With Injury
Cutler Lacks Courage

Cutler’s No Leader

Daryl Johnston was working the game as an announcer and told viewers that “these are the actual headlines from the local papers in Chicago.”

Turns out, that was a blatant lie. The headlines sounded fishy so the Chicago Tribune checked around and found out that Fox Sports fabricated the headlines to sell an angle they decided the game needed.

Not sure why Fox just couldn’t televise the game and let the stories come naturally, but there you go.

(h/t to UniWatch)

(Photo by the Associated Press)

Is the bloom off of King Kenny?

Following their ugly 4-0 loss to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday at White Hart Lane, the new penny shine has worn off for Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool.

After last season’s late run under King Kenny, Liverpool opened the season on a high note, punctuated by their first win at Arsenal in 11 years. But back-to-back wins over Arsenal and Bolton have been followed by consecutive shut out losses to Stoke City and now Spurs, leaving the team in a bit of a mess.

And just as importantly, Dalglish has only two more points from the first five league games than Roy Hodgson had in 2010-11.

“The boys are upset and so they should be,” Dalglish said after Sunday’s embarrassing loss. “The football club expects more than that.”

The club was active in the off season, with the data-driven signings of Stewart Downing ($30 million), Jordan Henderson ($30 million), Charlie Adam ($13 million); Luís Suárez (nearly $40 million); and a record $57 million for striker Andy Carroll, now the most expensive English player ever, but so far the results have been mixed.

Suárez has two goals, but at times seems more interested in flopping than scoring; Adam has come as advertised with his crossing skills, but he was sent off against Spurs; and Carroll hasn’t done much of anything so far this season.

The team could just be biding its time waiting for captain Steven Gerrard to return and, while he will certainly help, we have to wonder how much the 31-year-old Gerrard, who has the groin of an 80-year-old, can have an impact.

Gerrard, who hasn’t played since March, is reportedly working toward the midweek Carling Cup game with Brighton & Hove Albion to make his return, but Dalglish hasn’t confirmed that.

“He’s fine,” Dalglish said. “We’ll try to get over this before we start worrying about something else. I’ve said all along, he’s done fantastically well to get where he is. We’ll just monitor him and pick the right moment for him and us before we get him back.”

The good news is that, unless you play in Manchester, there’s no team really playing lights out this year. Only three points separate Liverpool from third-place Chelsea, with Newcastle, Stoke, Aston Villa and Everton – not exactly the cream of the crop, between the two.

Having an emotional leader at the top can be a good thing and Dalglish gets high marks on that end. But now is the time for him to focus on the tactical end of the management spectrum.

The Premier League is a marathon, not a sprint, which gives Dalglish time to get the squad settled down. Getting things going this weekend against Wolves would be a good start, especially with the derby with Everton looming on the horizon.

***

It was nice to read that Fox did a good job with Sunday’s telecast of the Manchester United vs. Chelsea game.

But we are a bit puzzled by their strategy. Showing a game on tape delay (how very 1970s of them) or, in some markets not at all, against NFL games on Sunday seems like a strange way to draw viewers.

Fans already had watched the game on Fox Soccer in the morning or, at least, probably knew the score. Casual fans were watching NFL games.

We’re glad that Fox is making an effort to grow the game, but this seems like a strange way to do it.

(Photo by Getty Images)

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