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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 11:46 PM

AFC favorites New England and Pittsburgh reminded everyone why they’re amongst the class of the league with blowout wins Thursday Night. Even though it’s just Week Two of the exhibition season, we saw very sharp efforts from the first teamers against playoff hopefuls from the other conference. Let’s run some of the numbers… 

NEW ENGLAND 31, TAMPA BAY 14

Total Yardage: New England 383, Tampa Bay 244

Yards-Per-Play: New England 5.2, Tampa Bay 4.7

Third Downs: New England 50%, Tampa Bay 17%

Turnovers: New England 2, Tampa Bay 1

Yardage at the half was about 250 to 40 for New England based on the online drive charts. The Patriots led 28-0. So…this was a blowout in the first half, and everyone kind of went through the motions after that. Note that Tampa Bay scored one of its TD’s on an interception return off the arm of rookie Ryan Mallett.

This is two straight laughers for the Patriots, who look like they’re trying to send a message after their embarrassingly departure from last year’s playoffs.

PITTSBURGH 24, PHILADELPHIA 14

Total Yardage: Philadelphia 335, Pittsburgh 403

Yards-Per-Play: Philadelphia 5.9, Pittsburgh 5.8

Turnovers: Philadelphia 5, Pittsburgh 0

Pittsburgh enjoyed bigger edges until the Eagles had a long scoring drive after the two-minute warning with backups on the field. At halftime, total yardage was about 250-75 for the hosts.

Good nights for Tom Brady and Big Ben…

  • Roethlisberger: 8-12-0-125…for a passer rating of 140.6
  • Brady: 11-19-0-118…for a passer rating of 111.3

It can be tough to visualize what Preseason stats mean because of the low number of attempts. If you triple Ben’s numbers to get him up to a 36-attempt game…we’re talking about 24-36-0-375. If you double Brady to get him into the same range in attempts, it’s only 22-38-0-236. That’s a high number of incomplete passes for Brady. So, he did a good job of driving the field for points, but it wasn’t really a vintage Brady performance.

Bad nights for Michael Vick and Josh Freeman…

  • Freeman: 5-10-0-33…for a passer rating of 57.5
  • Vick: 5-12-3-47…for a passer rating of 13.5

Vick’s three picks in particular might be a warning sign because he already has a rap for not being able to thrive vs. top opposition. Skeptics about the “dream team” label point out that Vick is the type to get you to the playoffs, before making key mistakes that cost you once you get there. A TV test vs. the motivated defense of Pittsburgh won’t do anything to shut those skeptics up. No reason to draw any conclusions from Week Two in the exhibition slate. What happens in marquee matchups does shape the storylines that star players will have to deal with.

In the baseball pennant races Thursday…

*In the AL East, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox both began four games series on the road against AL Central also-rans. The Yankees beat Minnesota 8-4, Boston beat Kansas City 4-3. The Yankees still hold a half game lead.

*In the AL Central, Cleveland beat the Chicago White Sox 4-2…and moved within 1.5 games of idle Detroit. The Indians and Tigers go head-to-head in a three-game series that begins Friday Night in Detroit. Big series!

*In the AL West, Texas and the LA Angels finished after publication deadlines. The Rangers led by seven games entering the evening…as they clearly went for the knockout punch in this critical showdown. Texas flies to Chicago after the game to face the White Sox. The Halos stay home and host Baltimore.

*In the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers suffered a rare loss. It took a brutal pitching matchup, as a recent off-rotation fill in had to face Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Milwaukee is still 6.5 games ahead of idle St. Louis even after their 3-1 Thursday afternoon loss. Milwaukee is in Gotham this weekend to face the Mets. St. Louis visits the Chicago Cubs in a series that will get a lot of TV exposure.

*In the NL West, second place San Francisco lost a pitching duel in Atlanta 1-0. Division leader Arizona was pushed past publication deadlines because of a long rain delay. They D-backs would retain a 2.5 game lead even if they lost the late-nighter. Arizona’s brutal East Coast swing continues Friday in Atlanta. San Francisco hopes to catch a breather on the road against horrible Houston.

Back Friday morning with a Network Notebook report on the NFC South to get you ready for Atlanta-Jacksonville on FOX. The latest from Nick Bogdanovich is scheduled for later in the day. Check in every few hours so you don’t miss any bulletins!

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