Big spread for Pats


Big spread for Pats

I've spent the last hour looking for something interesting to say about the Jaguars and finally settled on this: They've got a thing for the No. 31.

Through 14 games, Jacksonville ranks 31st in the NFL in yards gained and 31st in yards allowed. They rank 31st in points scored, 31st in first downs gained and 31 in first downs allowed. They actually rank 29th in points allowed, so I guess that's an improvement, but it all adds up to the Jaguars being the 32nd best team in the league. Otherwise known as the worst.

Not that it would matter, but the Jaguars are probably best off rolling over for the Pats on Sunday. With two games left, they're tied with the Chiefs for the worst record in the NFL at 2-12. They're in a backwards race for the No. 1 pick! But like I said, they can give everything they have and the Pats should still win with ease.

New England's favored by 14.5 on Sunday, which the biggest spread they faced on the road since 2007, when they were favored by 19 points in Baltimore (Week 13), 16 points in Buffalo (Week 11) and 15.5 at Miami (Week 7).

For what it's worth, the Pats went 3-0 in those three and won by an average of 23 points a game. But knowing the Jaguars, Sunday's final spread will probably end up looking more like 31.

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Kraft should stop explaining and just accept Patriots fans' ire


Kraft should stop explaining and just accept Patriots fans' ire

FOXBORO – Never mind what Robert Kraft was attempting to do last May when he folded the Patriots’ tent and said the team would “reluctantly” accept the league’s Deflategate penalties. 

Forget about the fact there was really no other option than to do what he did in San Francisco.

The hole Kraft dug for himself when he opted for politics over optics is one he’s trying furiously to dig out of. Still.

Friday night at a draft party the team hosted at Gillette, Kraft’s main talking point was – again – that he didn’t abandon Brady last May.

“Number one, there is no finer ambassador for the game of football, and the New England Patriots, than Tom Brady,” Kraft said. “We always have had, and will continue to have, Tom’s back. Especially when he’s being treated unfairly. He knows that. All the decisions that this organization and I personally have made throughout this ordeal have been focused on putting Tom in the best possible position for success.”

Kraft believed taking the hit on the draft picks would satiate other owners enough to leave Brady alone. But they – and their arrogant marionette Roger Goodell – wanted more than to see Bill Belichick’s program stung. They wanted to see Brady brought to heel.  

Once that dawned on Kraft over the coming months, he returned to the rhetoric he used when he began fomenting local outrage at the Super Bowl, demanding a league apology. He even ratcheted it up, speaking at the outset of training camp about having made a grave mistake when he put faith in the league to do the right thing.

But for too many New England fans, it was too late. In their minds, all it took was 24 hours of fellow owners giving him the stink eye in California for him to side with the billionaire boys club over Brady.

Kraft anticipated an unhappy reaction, saying last May, “I know that a lot of Patriots fans are going to be disappointed in that decision. But I hope they trust my judgment and know that I really feel at this point in time that taking this off the agenda, this is the best thing for the New England Patriots, our fans and the NFL. I hope you all can respect that.”

He never expected to be demonized the way he’s been. And, to Kraft, it’s maddening, saddening and hurtful that the vocal opinion in New England is that he screwed Brady.

He’s refusing to take the criticism in stride, which means every time he’s in front of a mic, he has to prove his bona fides.   

“I have been in constant communication with Tom over the past 16 months and we’ve had numerous conversations this past week,” Kraft said. “We are both on the same page and he knows exactly where my allegiances, and the total team’s [allegiances] are, relative to the extremely unfair discipline that he has been subjected to. I share in our fans’ anger and frustration with the penalties the league has levied, and the entire process and how it was conducted. But please trust that I am always trying to do what I believe is best for this franchise, and pledge that I will always continue to do that.”

This is where Robert Kraft is at the age of 74. A man who figured he’d be praised and adored in the autumn of his ownership reign having to pledge allegiance over and over to HIS region and HIS team.

It’s got to be unfathomable to him how it got to this point.

Here’s a lifelong New Englander who – he’s always happy to remind everyone – sat on the metal benches with all the other bedraggled fans in the old stadium. A guy who used his business savvy to leverage purchase of the team, stubbed his toe a lot in his first few years, then made decisions and gave resources that allowed the Patriots to become the greatest dynasty in NFL history. A guy that built a kickass stadium and donated millions around the region. This is a guy that now feels compelled to explain himself and beg understanding every time he gets in front of a microphone these days.

I don’t think he deserves that.

There are plenty of things that I’ve eyerolled about with Kraft in my 20 years covering the team. From white-collared shirts to his weird game-day lifeguard chair to the subtle switch from Bob to Robert, the damn sneakers with the suits, slinging spirituality a little too cavalierly at times and his happy engagement in the NFL’s backroom lever-pulling and deal-making. For almost 25 years, Kraft has ridden a lead horse in the NFL’s stampede for money and power. The Game of Thrones environment that’s come with that, replete with throat-slitting, backstabbing and vengeance has visited Kraft’s kingdom.

You can second-guess his strategy. You can point out that he’s the one that made a king of Goodell and sowed bitterness with fellow owners by pushing them to do what Roger says. You can rightfully point out that Kraft wants too much the love and respect of both his fellow owners and his New England constituency and that he can’t have his cake and eat it too.

You can’t reasonably regard him as a “traitor.”

Unfortunately for Robert Kraft, plenty of people do. And plenty of them aren’t going to move off that spot.

At some point, he’s got to get his mind around that and accept that too.


The book on Patriots fourth-round WR Mitchell: He can play


The book on Patriots fourth-round WR Mitchell: He can play

The Patriots grabbed another weapon for their passing attack on Day 3 of the draft when they selected Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell in the fourth round with pick No. 112 overall.

Mitchell checks in at 6-feet and 198 pounds, but he has the ability to play like a much larger wideout. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he recorded a 36-inch vertical leap and he possesses incredibly long arms (32.5 inches) and massive hands (10.5 inches). 

Where Mitchell lines up as a pro is yet to be seen, but he has the skill set to play both inside and outside the numbers, giving him the type of versatility the Patriots often covet in their pass-catchers. At Georgia, Mitchell played primarily outside and showed off an ability to go up high-point contested throws. But he's also a sharp route-runner and has no fear going over the middle, which could allow him to transition to the slot in New England. 

A big-time recruit from Valdosta, Ga., Mitchell chose the Bulldogs over Alabama, Auburn and other SEC powerhouses. According to CBS Sports analyst Dane Brugler, he was given the opportunity to play either corner or receiver and he chose the offensive side of the ball, eventually earning Freshman All-SEC honors. 

Mitchell tore his ACL in 2013 while celebrating a Todd Gurley touchdown run, but he was healthy enough this past season to catch 58 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns -- all career highs -- in Georgia's run-heavy offense. He continued to deal with knee, groin and shoulder injuries over the last two seasons, which could help explain why he fell as far as he did after posting a 4.45-second 40-yard dash and a 6.94-second three-cone drill at the combine.

Mitchell's production, length, athleticism and versatility -- he has kick-return experience and some believe he could play corner in the NFL -- all likely made him an attractive selection for the Patriots. He also brings some unique off-the-field intangibles to the Patriots locker room as well. He was a captain at Georgia, and while in college he became a strong advocate for children's literacy.

After arriving on campus with an ability to read only at what he has estimated was a middle-school level, his love for reading grew and he eventually joined a book club -- made up of women about 30 years his senior --  that met monthly. He also wrote a children's book entitled The Magician's Hat.

Ortiz's winning HR fulfills his promise to young fan


Ortiz's winning HR fulfills his promise to young fan

David Ortiz's exploits with the Red Sox over the years can easily be described as "Ruthian."

That description became more fitting and Big Papi's legend grew Friday night when Ortiz made like the Babe by promising and delivering a home run to young fan named Maverick. 

Ortiz connected with a two-run shot over the Green Monster in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie and give the Red Sox a 4-2 victory over the rival Yankees. 

Here's the video Ortiz and former Red Sox teammate Kevin Millar, now with the MLB Network, made for Maverick before the game.

And here's Maverick's response, via Millar: