It appears the cops are fairly resolute on this being a non-premeditated murder, which I suppose makes much of the speculation — mine included, featured right below this post — appear hasty and flat wrong.
I'm not going to apologize for what I said because I still feel there's logic behind it. Readers will, by this point, be familiar with my love of William of Occam, and his fine razor. The simplest answer, in this case, was that Sean Taylor's off-the-field history likely played a role in his eventual demise. I agree with many critics of the media's coverage that attempting to draw conclusions about Taylor — as a person, or in regard to his demise — based on his on-field behavior reeks of prejudice, and not necessarily in the racial sense (though it would be foolish to say that's absolutely not the case, either). But I disagree with those crowing "See! I told you so!" to those who stated the obvious in the early days after his death, which is that Taylor had a history of being both the alleged victim and perpetrator of gun violence. And that's not even getting into the break-in a week prior, the remnants of which involved what can only be construed as a threat of violence. I'll be curious to see how that situation is ultimately reconciled by investigators when it's all said and done, if it's to be reconciled at all.
I'm also going to say this — and I know I'm likely to catch shit for it — before being done with the matter of Taylor's death: I still have trouble buying it. It would make perfect sense for the perpetrators to represent their crime as a burglary gone bad, as a lack of premeditation serves as a mitigating circumstance when it comes to murder. Of course, it's not just the perps saying this; I would like to believe the police wouldn't simply buy into what's been confessed and leave it at that. But without getting all conspiracy theorist on everyone here, if this is a coincidence, it's a hell of a coincidence. And I'm not the only person who thinks so. But that's also largely irrelevant, so I'll leave it at that.
There are a ton of other issues that Taylor's death has brought up, however, w/r/t black athletes, the perception of black athletes by the media and fans, and the fairly shocking mortality rates for young black men that Taylor's death has suddenly made everyone aware of. I'm not going to pretend I'm capable or willing of attacking all with the correct gravity right now, but maybe I'll break them up and tackle them another day. I am going to say this, however: If you believe that race isn't an issue, you are allowing your desires to cloud your perception of reality. Race is not only an issue, it might be the issue. And I don't see why acknowledging that, or talking about it, is met with shouts, because it's that reaction that guarantees the "race isn't an issue" people will continue to be very, very wrong. I'm not saying everyone has to agree on the conclusions, only that the argument is worth having.
Two sub-par performances in a row against teams that strain to be considered mediocre (unless we're actually willing to grant that the Eagles' and Ravens' performances against the Patriots suggest that, perhaps, they're better than just mediocre ... perhaps they've been unlucky?). But, still, two wins. And what's surprising to me is that, amid the speculation and desire to assign the 2007 Patriots a legacy despite the presence of, potentially, seven more games to go, everyone seems to have forgotten how fucking hard it is to win a football game in the NFL.
That statement can serve as an age-old truism — I mean, there's a reason there's been one undefeated team in the history of the league, and that team had one of the weakest schedules in the league that season — or you can make it specific to this era. It's difficult to describe to people who haven't been exposed to the inner workings of a professional or college football team just how staggering the technology at the disposal of coaches is in the modern era. The days of the single game tape are long gone; teams have the opportunity to dissect teams using the standard two cameras (one sideline, one end zone) operated by the home team at each game, television tapes and advance scouting reports in addition to the sheer volume of information that fans have access to as well. There are no secrets in football anymore, especially when it comes to schemes. To top it all off, coaches generally spend about 80 hours planning for each game, which would cause one to expect some advancement in approach against a particular opponent as the season wears on.
The Patriots, at some point, were going to have these kinds of games. I'm a little surprised that they came in a pair, but the timing shouldn't really be a concern. Nor should the opponents; while the Eagles and Ravens are well on their way to incredibly disappointing campaigns, they're not the Dolphins, either. Both teams schemed well in an effort to exploit their strengths and the Pats' weaknesses. Both had the Pats on the ropes. Both looked like they might pull it off.
And they didn't.
I have no idea what's going to happen for the rest of this season, which is why I'm willing to wait before making any affirmative statements about the Pats' "greatness." But I will say this: If New England wins out, regardless of margins of victory of heart palpitations on the part of Tony Kornheiser, they're the greatest team in the history of the NFL. But I really have trouble believing that's going to happen. It's just too hard.
On instant replay
Twice this week, games with big playoff implications were decided by questionable calls. The Packers lost because of a pass interference call that cost them close to 50 yards that appeared to be a case of tangled feet, which does not constitute pass interference. The Browns lost when Kellen Winslow was ruled out-of-bounds on a game-tying touchdown reception, despite the fact he was clearly forced out of bounds.
The pass interference call wasn't reviewed, because you can't review pass interference. The Browns' touchdown was reviewed, but not to determine if it was a force-out, because that's not reviewable either.
We're told that those plays aren't reviewable, because they're "judgement calls." The same goes for field goal tries, holding, and facemask penalties. What distinguishes these plays from non-judgement calls is not readily apparent to me. Does the term suggest that the definitions of the infractions are highly subjective? If that's the case, those definitions should be reconsidered. But I think we all know they're not subjective, they're just difficult to call consistently. And that makes sense; being a football official is very difficult, and expecting robot-like precision on the part of human beings is foolish. With all due respect to Seahawks fans, bad or missed calls are not indicative of anything more than human fallibility.
But doesn't the presence of instant replay indicate an implicit acceptance on the part of the NFL that referees might get it wrong sometimes, and that there should be a mechanism in place to allow aggrieved teams the benefit of an opportunity on the part of officials to correct their errors? I think that's a reasonable conclusion. And if that's the case, then shouldn't the most difficult calls to make be made available to a second look?
I sense that the league is afraid that including pass interference on the list of reviewable plays will somehow expose officials to scorn, or even worse expose the league's rules definitions as being more subjective than what constitutes obscenity. I guess it's nice to see that the colossus of American sports is so damn sensitive.
The hot stove
I know everyone's talking about Santana, but isn't that getting old (plus, he's not going anywhere)? No, the real story is that the smart teams are jumping in early and swinging high-risk, high-ceiling deals before the market gets further inflated at the Opryland Hotel bar. The Padres' signing of Randy Wolf is precisely the kind of free agent deal that mid-market teams have to make if they're going to stay competitive; the only way Wolf will end up being highly paid is if he earns the money. Yeah, I know, the Padres have an advantage because of PETCO when it comes to signing pitchers, but it has less to do with the specifics of this deal than it does the approach. The only "bargains" to be had are on players with red flags, as evidenced by the Nationals' swindling of the Mets and Rays for Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes, in addition to the aforementioned Wolf signing.
(Quick note on Dukes: If you think this was a bad deal, then you're confusing baseball with the National Honors Society. Dukes is a talented player who's done some bad stuff, on the field and off. He threatened the life of his girlfriend, which is reprehensible for sure. But he's not in jail for it either, which means he's still eligible to have a career. If you think Dukes should be punished for his transgressions, complain about the justice system, not baseball)
But I think the really interesting story is that its looking very likely that the Padres will lock-up Jake Peavy long-term. Peavy's willing to cut the Pads a discount — he'll likely make less annually that Carlos Zambrano — comes in return for a no-trade clause, which is understandable. And while I've often bemoaned long-term contracts for pitchers, I'm starting to soften a little when it comes to the elite guys. Peavy's on a very short list of hurlers who are near-mortal locks to be among the best five starters in the majors on a yearly basis, and while it's dumb to expect that he'll be anywhere close to this dominant in 2013, he should still be well above-average barring significant injury. And while the "significant injury" caveat isn't insignificant, it's probably not significant enough to make deals like these prohibitive any longer. At some point in time, you've got to take your shot, even if you acknowledge that the odds aren't the most desirable. Peavy's not only one of the pre-eminent players in the game, he also happens to play for a team whose best pitching prospect (Will Inman) projects to be a No. 3 in a perfect world. I happen to think that the Twins should strongly consider giving Santana the money he wants as well — this is a fairly recent conclusion for me as well — but the situation for the Twins and the Padres aren't exactly analogous. The Twins could afford to lose Santana, even without a massive return in a trade, because they are flush with pitching prospects and have Francisco Liriano returning from Tommy John surgery. The Padres, on the other hand, don't have anyone all that great coming up through the system, which means that Peavy's value to the team is even higher.
Guys like me are often accused of ignoring the forest for the trees when it comes to stuff like this, and I think that's fair criticism. I hate the idea of teams — particularly teams I like — signing irrational contracts, and those belonging to free agent starters are most often deserving of that particular epithet. In my perfect world, you would always have enough talent on the farm to allow free agents to walk, because free agents are almost always too expensive. But in an imperfect world, you have to accept that there are times when too much isn't really too much. Peavy's expensive, and if he gets hurt it will be a massive blow to the franchise's ability to compete. But it would probably be an even bigger blow to not have him, which means it's a deal you have to make.