The good and the bad

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The good and the bad

By Michael Felger

Pitching a tent for the Patriots and bitching about the Bruins.

Another day, another dollar.

Felger,Since 2004 this is how the AFC champions shook out.'04 Patriots'05 Steelers'06 Colts'07 Patriots'08 Steelers'09 Colts'10 ???See a pattern here? The AFC is really about only three teams. And the Patriots are due for this year.DanEast Providence

Hard not to recognize the trend. And if the Pats don't make it to Dallas, I think it will be one of the other two to go.

I sometimes wonder if we understand just what we're witnessing with these teams and just how lucky we are. Remember the '80s, when the 49ers, Redskins and Giants (with a brief interruption by the Bears) went at it every year? When the eventual champion almost always came from among those teams? There were all-time coaches (Walsh, Parcells, Gibbs) and all-time players (Montana, Lawrence Taylor). Those three teams accounted for nine championships in a 12-year span between 1981 and 1992. It was a golden era. Well, the AFC is in a similar zone, between the six combined titles of the Pats, Colts and Steelers and the all-time figures of Brady, Manning, Belichick, Roethlisberger, etc. It's basically the same deal. Again, we're fortunate to be a part of it. And the best news is that I think the window has at last a few years to run before it closes on us.

Felger,The Patriots have one of the worst pass defenses in the league yet have two members of their defensive secondary representing the AFC Pro Bowl squad, McCourty and Meriweather. Discuss. WillDorchester

I can't, because I have no earthly idea how anyone could have watched Meriweather this year and declare him as one of the best players at his position in the league. It defies logic. Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed and Brandon Meriweather. One of these things is not like the other.

Now McCourty is another story. That kid is legit. And the reason the Pats gave up so many passing yards, in addition to the lack of good cover guys around McCourty, is twofold: no pass rush, and a defensive scheme that gave up the underneath middle of the field.

Felger,Bill Belichick says the season starts after Thanksgiving. It isn't the team with the best record or the best talent; it's the team that is playing the best going in to the playoffs that will likely win. Below is a breakdown of the last six games of the six AFC playoff teams, as well as a breakdown of recent Patriots squads. The 2009 version of the Pats resembled this year's Chiefs, which means last year's ass kicking was predictable. Comparatively, this year's Pats are even better than the 2001, 2003 and 2004 teams by almost two touchdowns per game. Going by these numbers, the 2007 was the worst of the last four Super Bowl teams -- which we didn't believe going in. You never know how the ball will bounce, but after looking at this you have to feel pretty good about a potential fourth Super Bowl.Last six regular season games 2010 ppg ppg ppg record in Offense Defense Differential last 6 games Patriots 38.2 11.8 26.3 6-0 Steelers 23.3 11.2 12.1 5-1 Ravens 20.6 15.3 5.3 5-1 Chiefs 20.5 19.8 0.7 4-2 Jets 21.5 21.2 0.3 3-3 Colts 27.8 28.6 -0.8 4-2 ppg ppg ppg record in
Offense Defense Differential last 6 games Patriots (2004) 29.0 14.7 14.3 5-1 Patriots (2003) 27.3 13.8 13.5 6-0 Patriots (2001) 24.6 12.8 11.8 6-0 Patriots (2007) 29.7 19.5 10.2 6-0 Patriots (2009) 22.8 20.2 2.7 3-3 Douglas P. Dimes

No question that this Patriots team is peaking at the right time, as opposed to what happened in 2007. No one wanted to acknowledge it back then (having a 16-0 record will do that, I guess), but the Pats were getting more and more ripe for defeat as that season went on. They were lucky to get out of Baltimore, and the Eagles and Giants gave them dogfights. Then in the playoffs they went from 31 points scored against Jacksonville, to 21 versus the Chargers to the notorious 14 on the board against the Giants. In hindsight, the Pats were very much like those Colts teams we grew to hate last decade: a soft, high-scoring collection of talent that got smothered by a good defense when it mattered most.

This 2010 team may not be as talented as the '07 edition, but I think their offense is more equipped to defeat a good, physical defense when it matters most. They're more physical. More diverse. They have tight ends who can catch. And Deion Branch is a better fit for this offense than Randy Moss.

But we'll see.

Mike,Ian Rappaport of the Herald writes: "Moss has disappeared since the trade, contributing just 23 catches for 254 yards and two scores for two teams." He goes on to say "the Patriots offense is still ranked No. 1 in the league in scoring."I think this shows that the game has moved beyond Moss. He doesn't have the stuff to put himself back into the game at the level he was earlier in his career. It's not his body. His problem lies in that gray area between his ears.AlPeterborough, NH

Not that I'd want him on my team, of course, but I don't think Moss is done. I just think he shut it down this year, just like he did at the end in Minnesota (the first time) and Oakland. It's what he does. He's a quitter. But someone will take a chance on him, and with a contract that puts the onus on him producing, I bet he will rebound next year. But it's staggering to consider how much money he cost himself with this season. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut and run off the safety. It doesn't matter what his stats were. If the Pats were successful, he would have had multiple, big-money offers on the table this offseason. Instead, he'll have to accept a one-year, flyer contract filled with bonuses. In other words, he blew it. Big time.

Felger,Do you think the Bruins are ruining Tukka Rask by playing Tim Thomas so much?DanNewton

"Ruining" is way too strong a word for it. But they haven't been handling it properly, that's for sure. Playing Thomas, who will be 37 by the time the playoffs start, eight straight games through December is just dumb. When he won the Vezina two years ago he played just 54 games. This year, he's on pace for 62. That's just too much, especially when you have someone good on the bench.

Beyond that, don't you want a true goaltender competition that runs right up until the final weeks of the season? I still think Rask is going to be a very good goalie. Who knows, he might even be better than Thomas by the time the season ends. But don't you have to play him to find out?

Pulling Rask out of that Buffalo game was a major mistake. At least give the Bruins credit for correcting it by starting Rask the next time out. Now they have to increase his workload a bit.

Felger,Let's change the "Instigators" to the "Underachievers," starring -- Patricia Bergeron, who is a slow third-line center and paid like a superstar.-- Lucy Lucic, who now will not hit or fight and the word is out as teams rough him up instead of giving him room.-- Hotdog Horton, who can't score into an ocean and many times you wonder postgame whether he even played.-- Claude and Peter Puck, you've managed to turn Chara into a wimp.John Walpole
What do three of the four players you mentioned above have in common? That's right, John, they were given big contract extensions well before hitting free agency. You wonder why Bergeron, Lucic and Chara aren't hungry? Maybe it's because Chiarelli stuffed their faces with guaranteed money before their tummies ever rumbled. We usually look cynically at contract drives in pro sports, but in the case of the Bruins I'd love to see at least one. It would be refreshing. Beyond that, there's definitely a culture problem on this team. The B's just aren't hard to play against, and they haven't been for at least a couple of years. I don't know if that's the coach, or the captain or simply the mix of players. But the B's definitely aren't tough enough mentally or physically.

Guys, I've been watching a little more hockey than usual and here's something that has really been bothering me. Shootouts! This might be the dumbest thing ever put into a game since the college football overtime rules were made. If you think about the concept of a shootout, it's asinine. This would be if the NBA put a slam-dunk competition or a free throw-shooting contest to decide a game if it was tied. It's ridiculous. Leave it to Gary Bettman to cheapen the game to try and get more housewives and casual fans to watch. I consider myself a casual hockey fan but the shootout is a fraudulent attempt to convince us there was a winner in the game. Mike

Sorry, Mike. I love the shootout. What do you want them to do? Play 20 minutes of overtime? Play none? Flip a coin? In all my years watching hockey and of all the permutations overtime has taken, I think this is best by far. The four-on-four overtimes are usually great. And then we have that little piece of candy at the end. You're right. It's for the pink hats. Chicks dig it. But so what? It doesn't take away from the first 65 minutes.

Felger You DB!I hope your holiday was both restful and return-free.I think we are both on the same page in regards to Claude pulling Tuukka against the Sabres. Unless there was something physically wrong with him, you let Rask shake off the rust and get back into form. To me, decisions like this, ones that leave an aftertaste of desperation, represent a bigger problem that could have more devastating effects than just another wasted season. Now, I am not saying that they should make Tuukka the starter again, at least not now. Let me clarify. I am very happy with Thomas' play so far and it has absolutely helped to cover for the Bruins inconsistencies. The Capitals game was a prime example of this. (BTW, I don't know how this team, or any NHL team, gets outshot 26-2 in a period without Sabastian Janikowski slipping roofies into their water bottles during mini one-on-one, but since the Raiders were playing the Broncos at home the next day, I think Sea Bass is in the clear. And for comparisons sake, Slovakia lost to Canada 18-0 in women's ice hockey this past Olympics but only got outshot 25-2.) There have been more than a few things Bruins fans could complain about so far, and Timmy isn't among them. But Thomas is going to be 37 before the season is over. You can tell he's getting worn down already and his comments confirm it. Unless Julian is trying to deliberately void the warranty on his hip surgery, Rask in a backup role will need 15-20 starts the rest of the way if either of them is going to be worth a damn in the post season. So the problem really lies with the Julien. A coach under normal circumstances would know this. Treating your goalies like Jimy Williams treated his pitching staff didn't work for Mike Keenan and it won't work for Claude. But Claude is now under real pressure. Job-on-the-line pressure. Pressure that can result in rash, illogical and generally bad decisions. The kind of pressure that makes a coach do things out of the ordinary for him, like not rolling four lines. If the call to do these things came from Claude himself, then maybe he is still capable of squeezing some life out of this team. But if the call was Cam's, then he's DOA. As bad as it is for a coach to make reactionary calls motivated by fear, it will only get worse when that coach is emasculated by the management.And it doesn't just stop with the coach. Chiarelli is also under added pressure. Every move he makes is scrutinized at a level he's completely unaccustomed to. It was his choice to bring back basically the same coach and team that collapsed in the playoffs. His future depends on their performance. Do you trust him to make a calculated, well thought-out decision if things start to get really dicey? Darryl Sutter was under similar pressure in Calgary. The Dion Phaneuf trade was just one example of the desperation-based mismanagement that led to his ousting. For those needing a more local example, Mike O'Connell dealing Joe Thornton for spare parts is another. Mikey, I am ecstatic that Cam is holding Claude and PC accountable. But if things really are at a tipping point, I'd prefer a proactive approach. Refocusing a team is far easier than rebuilding one. MikeAttleboro

Way to bring in the New Year on a positive note, Mikey. I think we all feel much better now.

Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Patriots-Rams notes: Brady and the defense have record-setting days

Patriots-Rams notes: Brady and the defense have record-setting days

FOXBORO -- Notes from the Patriots' 26-10 win over the Rams Sunday, courtesy of the Pats' P.R. department:

TEAM NOTES

A DEFENSIVE FIRST : The Patriots allowed just 25 total first-half yards to the Rams, the lowest total in a half in team history. The previous low was 28 yards by the Jets in the first half on Dec. 26, 2005 in a 31-25 New England win.

A DEFENSIVE SECOND: The Patriots yielded just 36 yards rushing to the Rams, the second time this season New England has held its opponent to fewer than 40 rushing yards. Cleveland rushed for only 27 yards in Week 5.

BY THE NUMBERS DEFENSIVELY: The Patriots have now held the opposition to less than 20 points in 8 of their 12 games this year, and are allowing just 17.3 ppg.

PATS HIT 10-VICTORY MARK FOR 14TH CONSECUTIVE SEASON: The Patriots are now 10-2 and have won 10 or more games for 14 consecutive season, the second-longest streak in NFL history. The 1983-98 49ers had a 16-year streak

RECORD-SETTING PERFORMANCE: Tom Brady did not throw an interception Sunday and Patriots QBs have been picked off just once in the first 12 games of the season, an NFL record. The previous record for fewest interceptions thrown in the first 12 games was three, held jointly by the 2016 Vikings, 2015 Chiefs, 1993 Cowboys and 190 Chiefs. The NFL record for fewest interceptions in a season is five.

INDIVIDUAL NOTES

THE GOAT: As noted elsewhere, Brady became the winningest QB in NFL history with his 201st career victory.

HOME BODY: Since 2007, Brady is 62-6 overall at home in the regular season. That is more wins than five teams (home and away) have combined during that span. (60 by the Bucs, 57 by the Raiders, 52 by the Jaguars, 47 by the Browns and 46 by the Rams).

GETTING CLOSER: LeGarrette Blount scored on a 43-yard run in the first quarter and is now one rushing TD away from the tying the franchise record for rushing touchdowns in a season. He has 13, one behind Curtis Martin (who scored 14 in both 1995 and 1996).

SOME FIRSTS:
-- CB Logan Ryan sacked Rams QB Jared Goff for a loss of 12½ yards in the second quarter for his first sack since 2013.
-- LB Kyle Van Noy recorded his first NFL interception when he picked off a QB Jared Goff pass in the third quarter.
-- WR Julian Edelman finished with 8 receptions for 101 yards, his first 100-yard game of the 2016 season. (He now has eight 100-yard games in the regular season and two in the postseason.)

Sources: Bruins engaged in trade talks involving Ryan Spooner

Sources: Bruins engaged in trade talks involving Ryan Spooner

This probably won’t come as a complete shock to those watching the way things have played out with him this season, but the Bruins have engaged in discussions with multiple teams about a Ryan Spooner trade, per multiple sources with knowledge of the situation. 

The 23-year-old Spooner was mentioned casually a few months ago as possible fodder in a Jacob Trouba deal with the Winnipeg Jets, but that deal never really materialized prior to the Jets signing their young, frontline D-man to a two-year deal. The Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and San Jose Sharks have all expressed interest in Spooner, per one hockey source, as it appears that things simply aren’t going to work out for him in Boston. 

It’s been a challenging year for Spooner with pedestrian numbers of three goals and eight points in 24 games, but there are plenty of mitigating circumstances behind the slow start. Spooner has been pushed into playing left wing for the bulk of the season rather than his natural, preferred center position, and he’s been dropped to the fourth line by Claude Julien over the last few weeks. At times he’s also been pulled from the Bruins power play where he racked up six goals and 17 points working off the half-wall last season.  

Julien talked about the former second round pick in frank terms after this week’s win over the Carolina Hurricanes, which featured a Spooner snipe to the top corner during a successful shootout for the Black and Gold. 

“I think at times that [David Krejci] line goes quiet, other times it’s better. We’ve tried different guys on the left side right now and one [Spooner] might give them speed but doesn’t win as many battles,” said Julien of his search for stability at left wing alongside Krejci and David Backes. “The other way [with Tim Schaller] guys are a little harder right now, and they spend more time in the O-zone. So we’re really trying hard to find the right balance there.”

Trade talks have increased the past few weeks because A) the situation has worsened recently with Spooner’s prolonged stint as a miscast fourth line winger and B) the speedy, skilled forward will most likely be a man without a spot when 22-year-old left winger Frank Vatrano returns sometime around the mid-December range. 

According to one source, the Bruins are asking for a “top six forward” in exchange for a package including Spooner, and it’s a lead pipe certainty they’re looking for some goal-scoring given their 24th ranked offense this season. That represents a bit of an organizational sea change after the Bruins searched low and high for a top-4 defenseman in trade over the summer. The emergence of 20-year-old Brandon Carlo, and the Boston defense’s performance across the board, has lowered the Black and Gold’s priority list need to trade for a D-man. 

The Bruins have scored two goals or fewer in 18 of their 25 games this season and badly need somebody that can put the puck in the net from one of the wing positions. Unfortunately for the Bruins, there aren’t a lot of top-6 forwards readily available that could make an immediate impact. It’s highly doubtful any team is going to fork one over for an asset like Spooner that’s been downgraded due to the way he’s been utilized by the Bruins this season. He hasn't played with the same creativity or confidence this season after posting 13 goals and 49 points as their third line center last season. 

So it remains to be seen what the Bruins will get for Spooner after they offered him and a draft pick to Buffalo for rental forward Chris Stewart a couple of years ago. That was a deal Sabres GM Tim Murray turned down before trading Stewart for considerably less at the trade deadline.

The bottom line: the Bruins are working the phones discussing possible Spooner deals, and it feels like there is some motivation from B’s management to move a player that doesn’t seem like he'll ever be a proper fit in Julien’s system.