It should never get old

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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

OFFSEASON

Who will make the Celtics roster?

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Who will make the Celtics roster?

BOSTON – Regardless of what the Celtics do in the offseason, there will always be position battles in training camp.

But when the players arrive in a few weeks, a handful will have more at stake than just a roster spot.

Boston currently has 18 players with full or partially guaranteed contracts, a number that has to be pared down to 15 or less by the time the regular season begins.

The math is pretty cut and dry. Barring a trade, at least three players have to be let go.

But who will they be?

That’s for Brad Stevens and the rest of the Celtics brass to figure out.

In the meantime, here’s a look at five Celtics who, barring a trade, are likely to be among the pool of players Boston will be picking from for what should be the last couple of roster spots.

Brady spikes his helmet in frustration during competitive day of practice

Brady spikes his helmet in frustration during competitive day of practice

FOXBORO -- It could have been that he's been splitting first-team reps with Jimmy Garoppolo. It could have been that he had just thrown a pass that was batted down by a ball boy holding a paddle. It could have been that he's simply operating at a low boil at all times knowing that he has to serve a four-game suspension. 

Whatever the reason, Tom Brady was hot. And he took it out on his helmet Friday, slamming it to the turf -- with ear pads exploding out upon impact -- after the final snap of the 7-on-7 period at Patriots practice. 

It was the most noteworthy show of frustration during what appeared to be a highly-competitive day of work for Bill Belichick's club. Just two days into practice, and one day before the first day of work in full pads, there was a visible emotional edge exhibited by several players on the team -- not only Brady. 

"That's just football," tight end Martellus Bennett said. "It is what it is. I like guys that have an edge, and I think a lot of guys on this team have an edge. When they have that edge, it makes you bring it up a notch, too."

Bennett may have helped to amp things up when he caught a touchdown pass over Patrick Chung from Jimmy Garoppolo. He used his 6-foot-7 frame to go up and over Chung and then kept his balance as he corralled the ball with Chung down around his feet. When the play was over Bennett almost dropped the ball on Chung while Chung was on the ground. 

Later in the practice, Rob Gronkowski caught a touchdown on a back-shoulder throw from Garoppolo with Jordan Richards in coverage. Gronkowski promptly threw the ball in the air in celebration, which seemed to irk Dont'a Hightower. The linebacker quickly retrieved the ball and chucked it at Gronkowski's back. 

Brady's helmet slam came on a short pass that was batted down by one of the paddles made to simulate long-armed defensive linemen. He hadn't looked very shaky leading up to that point, completing 7-of-9 passes, though one of those attempts resulted in a Duron Harmon interception. But two incompletions to finish his 7-on-7 stretch led to the helmet slam that drew an audible reaction from surprised fans in attendance. 

Brady's reps and their timing drew considerable attention yet again. In a switch from Thursday's practice, it was Brady who took the first-team reps during 11-on-11 work, while Garoppolo was the first on the field during the 7-on-7 portion of practice. Each player got 10 snaps in 7-on-7 work and seven snaps in 11-on-11 work, so the workload was once again split evenly. 

In analyzing the results for both quarterbacks, Garoppolo went 9-for-10 in 7-on-7 work, while Brady went 7-for-10 with an interception during the same period. In the 11-on-11 portion of practice -- after the helmet spike -- Brady went 5-for-7. Garoppolo went 4-for-7, and Jacoby Brissett went 4-for-7 with an interception made by linebacker Kevin Snyder on a deflection from corner Darryl Roberts. 

It's not unusual for competitive moments -- and accompanying emotional outbursts -- to transpire during camp. That it's happening already with the Patriots could foreshadow weeks of such moments, which, given the talent level the team currently boasts on its roster, perhaps should be expected. 

When both sides of the football have as many accomplished players as the Patriots do, and when both sides are executing, the level of play tends to rise. With that, the competitive juices often do the same. 

"Every single day I've been here since OTAs it's been very competitive," Bennett said. "Everyone here does their jobs so well, and everyone's competing. You just gotta bring it every single day."

That may not be good news for the equipment staff that has to deal with the fallout of busted gear. But for coach Belichick, who has long called training camp the "competition camp" (as opposed to OTAs and minicamp, which is more of a "teaching camp"), it's probably music to his ears. 

Bennett, Gronkowski are students of each other's games

Bennett, Gronkowski are students of each other's games

FOXBORO – It’s nothing but bliss so far for Martellus Bennett in New England.

The humongous and irrepressible Marty B. met with the media after practice Friday. Fresh off a workout in which he picked a red-zone pass off the top of Patrick Chung’s helmet and did a little, “Lemme just leave this right here . . . ” placement of the football at Chung’s feet, and otherwise continued to stand out in all the right ways, Bennett spoke about his developing relationships with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

Bennett, Gronk and Brady have been working as a unit during a few quick side sessions. It’s an annual occurrence with Brady and his leading targets. Bennett shared an interesting detail though that refers back to something Brady spoke of with Gronk in 2015:

Body language.

“I think for Rob it’s a little different than for me (working with Brady),” Bennett explained. “He’s been with Brady so long and he knows the body language. And we move differently. Even though people think we’re a lot alike, we run our routes different. Understanding the body language of how I go into my cuts and where I like the ball might be different than when he throws to Rob, so we’re just trying to build as much chemistry as possible. It’s just conversations in motion.”

Brady mentioned last year how he’s able to watch Gronk running with his back to him and still read subtle cues as to when Gronk is going to cut, slow down, accelerate, etc., and then time his throw accordingly. Brady is in the early stages of learning Bennett’s subtleties.

And Bennett is learning from watching the other two. Dripping sweat after the workout in humid, cloudy conditions, Bennett got animated talking about the process.

“I was able to play with [Jets receiver] Brandon Marshall for a long time and I learned a lot of my game from him,” said Bennett. “Now to be with another great player like Rob, he does so many things well, when you watch tape (you can’t see all of it) but when you’re right next to him, you’re like, ‘Man this guy’s really, really good. Hey Rob, how’d you do that? How’d you do this? Man, show me that. Come to the side real quick and show me how you did that move.’

“It’s just give-and-take, sometimes he asks me, ‘Hey man, you did this today, I like that. Show me that,’ " he explained. “So we’re just working trying to make each other better and I think that’s what the whole tight end room is trying to do.”

Bennett’s been pigeonholed a bit as a quirky guy with great talent but intermittent intensity. Right now, the intensity’s been flowing freely.

“I ended up on IR in like November [last season] so I really haven’t had that much football for a long time so it’s really, really good (to be on the field),” he said. “It’s like when you break up and get back with the girl that you love in the first place, so it’s been great to be back out there.”

Can Bennett, who has one year left on the deal he signed with Chicago before the Patriots traded for him, see himself sticking in Foxboro past 2016?

“Yeah,” he began before adding. “I’m not thinking about next year right now. I’m just trying to have as much fun as I can this year. Football can be taken from you at any time. I didn’t get to finish the season last year. To me it’s just a joy to be out there playing and enjoying the game and enjoying the process. I’m just worried about my todays.”