All of the worst fears of these two teams were realized in a 72-hour span (give or take) and all of the flaws were exposed. The result? A collective 0-3 record for the Sawx and Pats and a dose of some serious reality.
Walk with me, people.
After watching Dice-K spin a gem (a flawed gem, yes, but still a gem) on Friday night, the Rays wasted little time in jumping all over Josh Beckett on Saturday night. When the smoke cleared after four innings, it was 5-3 Rays and Josh Beckett looked like a shadow of the playoff ace with the "guts of a burglar"... and things would only get worse, as the Sox squandered a brief 6-5 advantage and wound up losing in extra innings (sometime around 1 a.m. or so) when the Human Surrender Flag, aka Mike Timlin, gave up the winning run.
Cut to Sunday night: The Pats, coming off a solid win over the 49ers that showed off their chameleon-like quality to win with many different styles, were facing a desperate San Diego Chargers team who needed a win to have any shot at keeping pace with the Broncos in the AFC West. All signs pointed to a spirited contest that would feature two teams that genuinely dislike one another (here's one example)... except one of those teams forgot to show up.
Sorry to be harsh, but when you allow a bomb on the first play (and two more) and blow a gimme touchdown opportunity in the first 20 minutes, you ain't winning. The Pats have issues... the secondary is thin, the offensive line is struggling, and Matt Cassel looks like a guy who hasn't had meaningful snaps since his senior year in high school (oh wait... he HASN'T).
Now the Pats find themselves facing a Broncos team licking its own wounds with the perfect combination of offensive weapons to give the Pats fits: potent passing with long ball options and a running game capable of playing keep away. You think teams aren't learning how to mess with Cassel? Pay attention this week to how many times the Broncos blitz up the middle and you'll see how to beat the Pats.
And it's on to Monday... the less said, the better. Of all the pitchers on the Sox this playoffs, Jon Lester seemed like the one who would be this year's Superman. In the 2004 run, it was Schilling, bloody sock and all. In '07, Beckett. This year, after watching him own the Angels (14 IP, 0 ER, dominance and command), you had to figure that yesterday afternoon's Game 3 at Fenway was a sure Sox win. Umm... not so much.
Tony Massaroti on Boston.com nailed it -- the Sox, for whatever reason, have disregarded the scouting reports on B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria and have paid the price. Watching Upton and Longoria unload on two Lester fastballs was just unbelievable. If I had those swings, I would own the BWCS softball "B" division...
So now it's a must-win Game 4. Make no mistake: THEY HAVE TO WIN THE NEXT TWO GAMES. There's now way they can afford to lose any of the Fenway games, because they can't win two in Tampa. It's on Tim Wakefield to own the Rays (surprisingly, he has, using their aggressiveness against them) and the offense to score early and put the pressure on Tampa. If they don't, it's gonna be a long night.
It's on Wakefield, Ortiz, Varitek, Ellsbury, and the bottom of the batting order to either get out in front or wake up their bats. Otherwise, it's Rays in 6.
And then a long winter...