Brady unforgiving after close Buffalo game

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Brady unforgiving after close Buffalo game

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady's Sunday evening press conference was short. He answered five questions before bluntly axing the affair.

He was not a happy man.

'Do you realize you're 20-2 against the Buffalo Bills in your career?' a local television reporter grinned.

"It was tight today," Brady retorted. "I'm glad we came away with a win. We fought hard. We certainly had more opportunities out there to score more points, but we didn't and made a great play at the end -- a couple great plays at the end."

The Patriots did win, 37-31, but they may find bullet holes in their jerseys.

With less than eight minutes to play, the Bills crept uncomfortably close to New England's 34-31 lead. Brady's offense had a chance to drive down, burn clock, and steal back its breathing room.

They got to the Buffalo 2-yard line before Stevan Ridley was tackled for a loss. On the next play, he was whistled for a false start.

Second-and-9: A Brady pass to Deion Branch fell incomplete. Third-and-9: Brady missed Danny Woodhead badly, threw it in the dirt.

New England was forced to settle for a field goal. Buffalo has two minutes to score. To win.

"We're always trying to make good plays whether it's the first quarter or the fourth quarter," Brady said of the team's failure to close out the game. "We've got to play through 60 minutes; that's the goal every week."

He sat on the bench during that final Bills drive, head bowed under the weight of a missed opportunity.

"It's frustrating when we don't play as well as we're capable of," he said at the podium. "But it's part of the game and part of mental toughness to put those things behind you and to keep playing hard, and we did that so that's why we won."

It's easier to say why New England didn't lose.

There were 23 ticks left on the clock when Devin McCourty intercepted Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The pass was announced as intended for Buffalo receiver T.J. Graham, but that was as good as wishful thinking; McCourty just jumped and the ball landed squarely in his arms.

Touchback. Bailout. Whatever you want to call it, the play didn't make Brady want to celebrate.

But isn't a win a win? Wasn't that the quarterback's sentiment after New England snuck by the Jets in a 29-26 overtime victory?

"Were trying to win every week," Brady had said, October 24. "But whether you lose by one or 30 or win by one or 30, the record is the same."

He's not wrong. And he wasn't lying. It's just that, when those words were cast out -- calmly, confidently -- it was done so from the other side of the bye.

It's easier to accept ugly play in September and October because it's cushioned by time. The bad routes, forced throws, missed tackles, surrendered yardage -- all of that can be corrected over the coming weeks.

How many times did Brady say it himself?

'There's a lot of football left to play.'

There are seven games left to play now. Just shy of half a season. Wins are still wins, but as the weather gets colder, mistakes start to appear in patterns instead of as anomalies. A team's inability to strike a late-game deathblow festers, hangs on a team

And opponents can smell it.

"We had plenty of opportunities to do something about it way before I was sitting on the sidelines," Brady said of surrendering control in the final minutes. "I had an opportunity to do something about it 50 seconds before that and the defense really saved the day."

The Patriots may be grateful for last-minute heroics, but they don't want to make it a habit.

It doesn't suit Brady to be rescued.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him. 

Crowder on Cousins' style: 'Step up to the test or you get run over'

Crowder on Cousins' style: 'Step up to the test or you get run over'

BOSTON – There was a point in the fourth quarter when Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins was fouled trying to score which brought about an automatic, intense and angry scowl from the all-star center. 

He raised his hand as he were going to strike back at the potential assailant. 

And then he saw the man was Jae Crowder. 

Cousins, who had a game-high 28 points, then went to the free throw line, incident-free. 

“I’m not one those other cats he be punking,” said Crowder with a grin.

That moment was one of many throughout Friday night’s game when Crowder made his presence felt when the game mattered most, and wasn’t afraid to mix it up with whoever stood between him and helping the Celtics win – even Cousins. 

But as Crowder explained following Boston’s 97-92 win, that moment was about two physical players who have developed an on-the-floor rapport that speaks to their intensity and desire to win at all costs. 

“He’s going to bring the game to you; his physicality,” said Crowder who had 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting. “He’s a very physical type of guy. If he senses you’re not physical at all, he’ll let you know. He’s a dog down there; he’s a bull. I love to go against a player like that. He’s going to give you his best shot each and every night. You either step up to the test or you get run over.” 

As soon as the two made eye contact, Crowder knew it was one of the many intimidation methods used by Cousins against opposing players. 

Crowder wasn’t having it. 

“That’s my guy; he’s my guy,” Crowder said of Cousins. “He plays a lot of tactics against a lot of other players. I’ve earned that respect with him. He knows I’m going to fight him just as hard as anybody else. We leave it on the court. He’s a good friend of mine. We’ve become friends, just playing ball, playing basketball the right way.”