Packers' perfect season wrecked by unlikely opponent

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Packers' perfect season wrecked by unlikely opponent

From Comcast SportsNet

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)Aaron Rodgers kept misfiring, and his receivers kept dropping passes. Typically reliable Mason Crosby missed a field goal, and the Green Bay defense couldnt make a stop.

Nothing was perfect about the previously unbeaten Packers on Sunday.

Kyle Orton threw for 299 yards to outduel Rodgers, one of the games elite quarterbacks, and the Kansas City Chiefs rallied behind interim coach Romeo Crennel for a shocking 19-14 victory that ended the Packers 19-game winning streak. It was their first loss since Dec. 19, 2010, at New England.

Green Bay, playing without leading receiver Greg Jennings and top rusher James Starks because of injuries, also squandered a chance to wrap up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

I didnt see a bunch of guys running around talking about 16-0. That was my sense of it, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. We knew what type of game we were coming into today. This was no surprise. It wasnt just talk. We answered the questions all week.

We knew we were coming into a juggernaut and we didnt overcome it.

If the Packers knew they were facing a juggernaut, they might have been the only ones.

The Chiefs had lost five of their last six games, which culminated in the firing of coach Todd Haley last Monday. Tyler Palko, who started the past four games at quarterback, wasnt even active Sunday as Crennel opted to go with Orton in his first start since arriving in Kansas City.

Orton wound up putting together the kind of solid performance the Chiefs have been lacking since Matt Cassel went on injured reserve because of a hurt throwing handperhaps even before that.

That was a good football team we beat, Orton said. The coaches put together a good game plan for us. Everybody on offense, everybody on the team, did their job. They didnt try to do too much.

Rodgers was 17 of 35 for 235 yards and a touchdown, and he also scampered 8 yards for another touchdown with 2:12 left. But the Packers (13-1) were unable to recover the onside kick, and Kansas City picked up a couple of first downs to secure the victory.

I knew we had the 2-minute (warning) and three timeouts, regardless if we kicked it deeper or onside, Rodgers said. If they got it, we had a chance to stop them and get the ball back.

Ryan Succop kicked four field goals for Kansas City (6-8), while Jackie Battle added a short touchdown plunge with 4:53 left in that ultimately sealed the win.

Everybody had marked it off as a win for the Packers, but those guys in the locker room, theyre football players, Crennel said. They decided that they were not going to lay down. They were not going to give up, so they went out and played a tremendous game.

Neither team played all that tremendous in the first half.

Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson was hit twice with offensive pass interference, Rodgers was harassed by the Chiefs weak pass rush, and Green Bay wound up making five first downs.

One of them came when Kansas Citys Jeremy Horne ran into punter Tim Masthay, giving the Packers 15 free yards. The Chiefs tried to give Green Bay another gift later on the drive when Crosby missed a 59-yard field-goal attempt but Kansas City had 12 men on the field.

With another chance from 54 yards, Crosby again pushed the kick right.

Rodgers finished the half 6 of 17 for 59 yards, with a handful of drops between wide receiver Donald Driver and tight end Jermichael Finley. In fact, things were going so badly for Green Bay that at one point it ran out of the wildcat despite having one of the best quarterbacks in the game.

The Chiefs were still clinging to a 6-0 lead when Rodgers finally hit down field, finding Finley over top the coverage for a 41-yard gain. Three plays later, the star quarterback hit Driver in the corner of the end zone for a 7-6 lead with 8:04 left in the third quarter.

Kansas City answered when Orton hit his own tight end, Leonard Pope, for a career-long 38-yard catch. Jon Baldwin added a 17-yard grab to set up Succops 46-yard, go-ahead field goal.

The Packers moved into field-goal range on their ensuing drive, but rather than have Crosby attempt a 56-yard kick in the same direction he had already missed, McCarthy elected to go for it on fourth-and-9. Rodgers pass fell incomplete and the Chiefs took over.

They needed seven plays to cover 59 yards, but had to settle for another field goal and a 12-7 lead. It was the third time the Chiefs drove inside the 5 and had six total points to show for it.

They got seven on their next trip, though.

With first-and-goal at the 5, Thomas Jones managed to gain a yard and LeRon McClain bulled ahead for three more, setting up third down from just outside the goal line. Battle took the carry over the right side and powered into the end zone, giving the woeful Kansas City offense its highest-scoring game since the Chiefs beat San Diego in overtime in late October.

The Packers marched down field in the closing minutes, and Rodgers showed his moxie by scampering around the end for a touchdown that made it 19-14. But the onside kick ended up in the Chiefs hands, and they were able to pound out a couple first downs to secure the upset victory.

Green Bay came into the game averaging nearly 36 points, but was held to its lowest total since beating the Chicago Bears 10-3 in Week 17 last year. The Packers needed to win that game to make the playoffs, and wound up riding the momentum to a Super Bowl victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

All that momentum finally came to an end in the most unlikely of scenarios.

We set the tone on both sides of the ball, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. This is the great thing about football. You cant always look at the records, because youve got grown men out there who are all getting paid. You dont have to be better on paper.

If youre better on that given Sunday, youll get the win.

McDaniels on Pats QBs: 'There's no [learning] curve for any of them'

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McDaniels on Pats QBs: 'There's no [learning] curve for any of them'

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels lumped all Patriots quarterbacks together when asked to discuss Jimmy Garoppolo’s readiness to be the New England starter during Tom Brady’s suspension.  

“There’s no curve for any one of them,” said McDaniels Monday during an open-access period with the team’s assistant coaches. “They’re learning the same material, they’re going over the same stuff. Our expectation is, if you’re in the quarterback room, you’re learning what the quarterbacks need to know to play well in this offense. The expectations are high in that room and every other room.”

Asked if, entering his third season, Garoppolo was at a decent level of competency, McDaniels replied, “Year one is such a hard year for any rookie because it seems like you’re never caught up. You’re always learning something. Year two, you feel like you’ve got a foundation, a starting point but you’re still trying to gain on everybody else. Year three, if the players continue to work and do their job in the offseason when they’re not here, you hope that they close that gap and they can go out there and play fast and not think much. It’s too early to say that about any third-year guy at the moment because we haven’t done anything that would give us a gauge on that but I’m excited for all those guys that are in their third year.”

Are they on a crash course?

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Are they on a crash course?

This is the first in a five-part “Rebuilding the Bruins” series about the breakdowns that doomed the team this season, and what must change for the Black and Gold to once again get moving in the right direction.

In many ways, this offseason is shaping up as a typical one for the Boston Bruins. There'll be roster fixes -- like last year's Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton trades on NHL draft weekend -- that they hope will result in upgrades and improvements. They'll work with their prospects and draft picks, looking for maturation and development . Hopefully, they'll work toward building a greater level of accountability and urgency among the core players, most of whom are expected to return.

And it some ways it's atypical. The heat is most definitely on president Cam Neely and general manager Don Sweeney after a second consecutive late-season collapse left the Bruins -- again -- one point shy of the postseason. Ownership clearly expects better, and has made its "expectations" clear.

The question is: Are Neely and Sweeney doing what needs to be done to get the franchise back on track?

“If people were to ask ‘Who is head of hockey operations?’, it’s a collaborative effort between a number of people,” said Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs. “But if you ask for one sort of name, I would say it’s Cam Neely. I’m fairly certain my father" -- team owner Jeremy Jacobs -- "would share that sentiment.

"I just want to clarify. . . about investing in our team. It’s something that we continually do. We had leveraged our future (in recent years in an attempt to win immediately) to the point where something had to change last summer. We made the change and we’re righting the ledger, if you will, by stocking our team back up with prospects with the ability for cap flexibility to make the proper moves moving forward.

“We will always invest in this team. I think now we’re back on the right side of the ledger. We have an opportunity in front of us to move forward. We are a cap team and there should be expectations in an Original Six market that we continue to be a playoff contender and, frankly, a Stanley Cup contender. Given the mix of talent that we currently have on the roster and the youth that’s coming in, Cam’s aware of those expectations, as is Don.”

Those expectations underscore how much work there is to be done for a middling hockey club with some valuable individual pieces -- Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, David Krejci, David Pastrnak -- but far too many weaknesses that can be easily exploited by the better teams around the NHL.

The reality is, the Bruins are stuck in the mediocre middle right now . . . and that's a bad place to be. They're picking at No. 14 again, where the truly game-changing type of young player that Boston needs isn't available. In addition, the Bruins won’t be a true Stanley Cup contender again until they have a No. 1 defenseman in the 25-to-33-years-old range capable of playing 30 quality minutes per night over a long, two-month postseason run. They could also use a big, strong right winger with top-6 offensive potential. And they need to come up with an adequate backup goalie for Tuukka Rask.

That's a lot of work for Sweeney in one offseason.

“We just need to continue to get better, you know?” said Sweeney. “This is a performance-driven business and we’re going to be held to that standard and you know we fell short. We do believe that we should have [been in the playoffs]. That's not disparaging against the eight teams that [started the playoffs in the East] . . . [those] that are there they deserve it, and we fell just short of that. I still believe that we had a strong enough group to get in and challenge there. Then you just wait and see what happens.

"But we fell short in that and I take ownership of it. It’s on me; it’s not on anybody else to continue to improve our roster. That’s on me.”

Many around the league use terms like “half-pregnant” when describing the Bruins. Last season the B's had one foot pointed toward a rebuild and the other foot pointed toward competing for a playoff spot. In the end, they accomplished neither. Clearly, they were good enough to be in the playoffs -- the seventh-best goal differential in the East, a top-five offense and well above-average special teams’ play was enough to offset their shaky defense -- but Sweeney has to realize that even they'd made it they were destined to go out in the first round . . .which was the fate of the Red Wings and Flyers, the teams they were battling for one of the final two postseason spots in the East.

And that raises a deeper question: Is this current plan of action in the best long-term interest of the Bruins?

The front office's failings at the trade deadline are a prime example. Rather than face reality -- that even if they'd made the playoffs, they weren't going beyond one round -- the Bruins instead:

a) Shipped out future draft picks for marginal veteran upgrades in Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles.

b) Held onto unrestricted-free-agent-to-be Loui Eriksson, who was having his best season in a Boston uniform and might have fetched valuable long-term assets in a trade. That option no longer exists with Eriksson now on his way out the door.

Neely and Sweeney might argue that it’s pure media-driven hindsight to criticize those trade-deadline moves, which now look especially bad since the team failed to qualify for the postseason, but it's their jobs to shape the team’s future. It should have been very clear to both that the Bruins didn’t have the right stuff to make any kind of a playoff run. Playing and developing their promising young players down the stretch should have been the priority, but, frankly, that never felt like the case after Sweeney's band-aid trades for veteran rentals.

This was never more evident than when the Bruins flew Frank Vatrano cross-country on emergency recall at the start of the season-changing California road trip in late March, sat him for the loss to the San Jose Sharks, and then flew him back to Providence without having played a game. The emergency recall made little sense, especially considering how they could have used Vatrano’s scoring touch.

That simple fact was hammered home when the Bruins did come to their senses shortly afterward and recalled Vatrano, along with fellow prospect Colin Miller, for the final few pivotal games of the season. Both of those talented players should have been gaining that playoff-stretch experience in Boston all along. And who knows? They might have even provided the one extra point that ultimately cost them the playoff spot they so coveted.

Cultivating the next generation of Bruins talent is what will once again get them closer to their stated goal of Stanely Cup contention. (They’ll also need to get lucky with a top-pairing defenseman, or two, dropping into their lap along the way, of course.) But they'll be doomed to repeat the uninspired work of the last two seasons if they keep sailing the same course.

The Bruins need clarity in direction at the top of the organizational food chain. They need to do the right thing, rather than the easy thing.

The question is whether the Bruins want a nice, little playoff team or a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and whether they have the temerity and the discipline to make certain it’s the latter rather than the former. Bruins management needs to start making hard, unpopular choices if it doesn't want the listless history of the last two years to continue repeating itself.

 

May 2, 2016: Martin Jones standing tall in Sharks net

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May 2, 2016: Martin Jones standing tall in Sharks net

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while giving everybody a 24-hour reprieve from any Game of Thrones spoilers.

 

*Good to see FOH (Friend of Haggs) Nick Cotsonika back with a byline covering the NHL: here he writes about Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop with some thoughts from Martin Brodeur.

 

*David Backes got the ultimate birthday present when he snapped home a game-winning overtime goal for the Blues.

 

*Boston boy Rick DiPietro is working without a net as an analyst for the New York Islanders now that his goaltending career has come to a close.

 

*Jaromir Jagr was named a finalist for the Masterton Trophy for his decades’ long dedication to the game of hockey.

 

*Brooks Orpik is suspended three games for his head shot on Olli Maatta, and it’s a bit ironic it happens against the Pittsburgh Penguins team he spent plenty of years throwing predator hits for prior to joining Washington.

 

*Damien Cox has a mock NHL Draft now that the top 14 lottery picks have been set in stone following last weekend.

 

*Martin Jones is standing tall for the San Jose Sharks, and proving to be a difference-maker in his first season for them between the pipes.

 

*For something completely different: as the father of a newborn baby girl, I read about this Zika virus and find it absolutely terrifying and tragic.