It should never get old

197883.jpg

It should never get old

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

On Sunday afternoon, during the third quarter of the Pats games, I flicked over to the Red Zone channel knowing that there was a good chance I wouldnt be back for a while.

At this point the outcome of the game was no longer in question, and really, hadnt been since the first quarter. The Pats were beating up on a team that just had no business sharing the field with them. They were methodically confusing the Bills offense and bulldozing their defense; they were making solid, unexciting work of an inferior opponent. What else were they supposed to do, right? It was Week 16 and they still needed a win to secure home-field advantage. It wasn't time to mess around. So slowly but surely, they strangled the life out of the Bills.

In past years, we'd be forced sit through this kind of merciless beatdown and when I say that, I'm not suggesting that watching the Pats win isn't a ton of fun. It's just that by the second half in Buffalo, it wasn't about the Pats winning; they had already won. They were literally just bleeding the clock.

Meanwhile, a few hundred channels down the digital dial, the rest of the NFL playoff picture was unfolding in real time. I couldn't resist. There was too much great football going on. So, a possession after Rob Gronkowski's touchdown made the score 34-3, I said goodbye to the boring Bills, and hello to Red Zone mayhem.

Ah, there you are Scott Hanson! Been a week already? So, what do you have for us today?

Rams vs. 49ers:

-------------

Of all the dynasties throughout NFL history, the 1980s 49ers are the group who I've always considered to be most similar to the Patriots.

Not identical, of course. But if you had to make the comparison, the Niners probably deserve the nod. Part of that might be due to the lack of other options. After all, the Patriots weren't nearly as mean as those Steelers of the '70s. They didnt have the drama of the '90s Cowboys. And they had a much stronger identity than Joe Gibbs' Redskins. But regardless of that, theres still an undeniable connection with San Francisco.

For one, the BelichickWalsh comparison is interesting. Even though they worked on opposite sides of the ball, they were both evolutionary thinkers, who ultimately changed the way the game was played. They're not your stereotypical, loud, enigmatic coaches. They wereare, for the most part, silent and cerebral. Both built their teams for the long-term success, and never jeopardized the big picture for temporary satisfaction.

Other than the coaches, the BradyMontana comparison is irresistible. Brady is Montana. He grew up watching Joe win Super Bowls. He's carried so much of Montana with him, and its still evident in his game.

Those two pairs, BelichickBrady and WalshMontana, make it work.

The more detailed you get, there are obviously further differences between the two franchises at their peaks. Among them, there's that the Niners won four titles in their decade, while the Pats only won three. The Niners were also a somewhat smoother team; an offensive juggernaut playing up in Northern California, while the Pats were a grittier crew that liked to beat people up in the snow. Most importantly, there's that San Francisco eventually extended its dynasty well into the next decade.

When it was all said and done, starting with their first title in 1981, the 49ers won five Super Bowls in 13 years with two different head coaches and two starting quarterbacks. And even without the Super Bowls, they still competed every year. After that first title, San Francisco made the playoffs in 17 of the next 21 seasons. At one point, they had 16 straight seasons of 10 or more wins. It ended in 1999, when Steve Young suffered his career-ending concussion, but the Niners were back in 2001 and 2002. They were contending again and you wondered if this run would ever end.

-----

Which brings us back to the Red Zone my distraction from a boring Pats game where the Rams are hosting the San Francisco 49ers.

And this isn't just any 49ers team. This is a 5-9 (now 5-10) team that has become the joke of the most laughable division in the NFL. A team that's eight years removed from its last winning season, and hasn't been to the playoffs since that 2002 campaign. A team which, over that time, has gone a combined 45-82, started 10 different quarterbacks and is now on the prowl for its fifth different head coach. It's a team in disarray.

They were the best. They were the Pats. How far away do those five Super Bowls feel now? And how about those 18 playoffs appearances in 22 years? Is this even the same franchise? With the same, history, hardware and legions of devoted fans and little kids like Tom Brady who grow up dreaming of putting on the uniform?

It is, it just doesnt feel even close. Everythings changed.

Sooner or later, it always does.

-----

I actually ended up going back and forth between the Red Zone and the Pats game for most of the third quarter, and a little bit of the fourth as well. But down the stretch I got caught up in the Jets, and Jaguars and, yes, even the 49ersRams game, and completely turned my back on Buffalo.

"Pshh, all theyre doing is clinching the AFC East for eighth time in 10 seasons, not to mention home-field advantage throughout the playoffs . . . I need to see which awful team wins the NFC West!"

So I sat, and I watched, and I'm not going to lie: It was a pretty entertaining 30 minutes of football. I didn't feel guilty at all.

But still, when the early games ended I clicked back for the Pats press conferences. I didn't want to miss any of Belichicks fancy zingers.

Anyway, during Tom Bradys presser, someone asked him about all the division titles; what it meant to do it for the eighth time in 10 years:

"It never gets old," he said. "I'll tell you that. We never get tired of winning. Thats what we have been preparing for all offseason and training camp."

He wasnt just saying this, either. This wasn't a tray of crap he was serving up for the microphones. This was genuine emotion. I mean, you'd think that after seven division titles, the eighth wouldnt have much of an effect.

"Oh nice, another division title! Hey, will you do me a favor and just throw it over there with the other ones?"

But that wasnt Tom Brady. Obviously, he knew that the Pats still had an unbelievable amount of work to do, but for him, winning the AFC East meant as much as it did in 2001. To Brady, nothing about that Bills game was uneventful or monotonous. It was all about taking care of business, enjoying every moment of success, taking pride in every worthy accomplishment, but never being satisfied.

It was around this time that I realized my missteps from earlier in the day; when I realized something that Tom Brady clearly already had:

That we better enjoy and appreciate every second of this now, because at some point whether it's 5, 10 or 22 years from now it will come to an end.

Brady should know, too. Just look at his Niners.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

bruins_ryan_spooner_120216.jpg

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.