Pump the brakes, will ya?


Pump the brakes, will ya?

By Michael Felger

Yes, the Patriots allowed just three points against the Jets.

But can we pump the brakes just a bit on the Pats defense?

Felger, Oh, the defense! Oh, why does Belichick always trade down? Oh, we'll never have a good defense! Oh, we won't be able to stop anybody. Oh, the season is lost!!!! Oh, oh, oh..... I guess you know about as much about football as a flea on Belichick's ass. Michael

Is that sarcasm I'm sensing?

And I don't know about fleas on Belichick's tush, but in the interest of full disclosure, I had a tick on my ass last month. True story. He was in there for a day at least. Scared the crap out of me. But you'll be happy to know that I got it in time. I think.

Felger, The story of Monday's game was the maturation of the Patriots' young defense. There were very few lapses, and you can see that players like McCourty have Pro Bowl talent. The 45 points we've seen before. We've not seen the Pats hold a good team (and the Jets are a good, not great, team) to a field goal. I wouldn't get too excited about the Jet's ground game. When they started to pound the ball, the Pats were up big and were delighted to see the Jets eating up clock. Tomlinson was mostly stuffed in the first quarter. Regards, John, Boston

Ah, a more reasonable approach to the question.

Don't get me wrong, John. The Patriots played well on defense on Monday. And there is no question that some of these young players are going to be good. The list is not a short one -- McCourty, Mayo, Spikes, Cunningham, Chung, Deaderick, Brace, Pryor.

But you know there's a "but'' coming, and here it is:

Are you and other fans really ready to say this is a great defense? Or even a good one? I'm not. Mark Sanchez was brutal, and it's not like the Pats were very good on that side of the ball in the month leading up to the game. In fact, I think their best work this season came against Baltimore and Minnesota in the second month. I still consider the unit mediocre at best. And I say that with no malice. It's no one's fault. It's the youngest in the league. It was an intentional rebuild on the part of Belichick, and so that's what's going on.

The good news, as we've pointed out, is that you no longer need a great defense to win championships. As long as you have an offense like the Patriots', you only need and opportunistic one. And that's what the Pats have.

Felger, I wanted to see what your thoughts were on the ManningBrady hype from the ColtsPats game a couple weeks ago. Since that game, Manning has had the worst span of his career and Brady has been almost perfect. Have you ever seen two players be compared as 1A and 1B -- and then one have a tailspin like Manning is having? Mike Marshall

The Brady-Manning debate over the past month has been about as close as my Randy Moss argument -- which is to say it's been a rout.

Seriously, Manning has thrown 11 interceptions over the past three games and has fifteen on the season. Do you realize that Brady has never thrown more than 14 picks in an entire season? The only time he's come close to having as big a slump as Manning is currently in came nine years ago, when he threw seven interceptions over a three game span in 2002.

Simply put, Manning has made more mistakes with the ball than Brady over the course of their careers. That's a fact, not an opinion. It's one of many reasons why Brady is better.

Felger You DB! There arent many things better than heading out to Foxboro to see the Pats manhandle Mayor McCheese and his band of green felons. Watching a 45-3 beat down in weather that only true football fans brave was outstanding. Observing their evolutionarily challenged fan base exit Gillette en mass after the Spikes INT, like they all had to call their probation officers at the same time, was not only entertaining, but improved the smell inside the stadium considerably. And laughing as the Mayor trotted out Joe McKnight for some garbage time carries while Jets castaway Danny Woodhead (is he proving me wrong or what?) was celebrating on the sideline with 115 all-purpose yards under his diminutive belt, was the cherry on top. But Mikey, none of that has caused me to test the friction-based thermal breakdown of Lubriderms viscosity than what's happened the last three Sundays running. Peyton Mannings magical transformation into a quivering pile of regular season turnovers is absolutely chafe inducing. Usually he reserves these glorious meltdowns for the postseason, but the pressure is on a little earlier this year. Racking up eleven interceptions with four of the picks going for TDs in just three games should confine Manning to comparisons with Tom Hodson, not TB12. Now the spin were hearing is that all the Colts injuries are the true source of Mannings struggles. Forget pumping the breaks Mikey, I am going to have to shift straight into park. Manning still has Reggie Wayne & Pierre Garcon. Jacob Tamme has been at least an adequate fill-in for Dallas Clark (Tamme is averaging a half yard more per catch than Clark did). And dont let anyone tell you Blair White is just another guy. The second TD grab he made against the Pats was studly. No JAG reels that rope in. Now compare this cast with what Brady had in 2006. Troy Brown, Reche Caldwell, Ben Watson, Doug Gabriel, Chad Jackson and Brady had 12 picks all season with this group! To put this in a statistical perspective, Wayne will probably finish the season with more yards and receptions than Brown, Caldwell and Gabriel combined. Not to mention the fact that Manning would have had to file his tax return as a charitable organization if he ever had to audible to Caldwell and Gabriel. But I don't want this fun to end, Mike! I would love to see Manning make the postseason just to see another one and done flame out at home. Watching the Colts get their lunch handed to them at home vs. the RavensJets would be Wild Card entertainment that only a quart of Quaker State could withstand. Mike Attleboro

As usual, Mike does this better than I ever could.

Dear Mr. Felger: Thank you in advance. I can not stand the manner in which you express opinions, however you need to be lauded and recognized for the keen insight that you displayed. Riding home in the car a few months ago, I caught the tail end of your show and decided to call in. Thank you again for taking the call. I will admit I have a tough time listening to your show and listening in this instance was an outlier. I asked if you thought Mr. Bill O'Brien was overmatched. This question came on the heals of the departure of Mr. Moss. You said something to the effect of, No, and keep watching. This team will do better.'' It was toward the end of the show and you moved quickly on to the next caller, but you were and are correct. I apologize. You were right, I was wrong in viewing this coach as a weak link. Monday's game was surreal. I felt as if Charlie Weis were back in the offensive coordinator's position. Mr. O'Brien is starting to work the process. He is doing what we as Patriots fans have come to expect, coach up and coach smart. Chris in the Car

Thank you, Chris, for the most polite rip job I've ever been a part of. And I must concur. I nailed this one. Flushing the turd freed up the entire offense, including the man drawing it up. You can tell O'Brien was headed in the right direction even before the trade, when Moss had just three targets against Buffalo and only one vs. Miami. Of course, that resulted in Moss nearly (or actually, depending on who you believe) punching O'Brien's lights out. But give O'Brien credit. He knew which direction the offense had to go, and he went there. Getting Moss out of here just made it easier on him.

Felger, Do the jets go after Josh McDaniels now?? Makes sense to me. Danny

I know I would. The sooner they get Sanchez away from Brian Schottenheimer the better.

Mike, While I am ecstatic over the Gonzalez free agent signing, the Red Sox body of work compares miserably to the Yankees in this area. I have done some cursory research comparing the two franchises. I must tell you, it's enough to make you toss your cookies all over your pants. The fact that the Yankees outspent the Sox on free agents is irrelevant! Look at how well the money has been spent. I just looked back to 2006, but if you go back to when the Henry crowd took over, it's even worse. Look at who the Yankees signed over that period and look at who the Sox signed. Then to make that vomit chunky, look at who departed those franchises as free agents (no one significant from the Yankees left them yet we had some major defections). If you force fit all the free agents into two categories (performed and disappointed) it's appalling to see the percentage effectiveness of the spend, which is why the difference in total spend is irrelevant. Maybe the researchers can do an examination over the Henry years and expose how ineffective the Sox are in their free agent spend and also have a list of the key players who left each franchise and were successful (Damon, Lowe, Martinez for the Sox. Meanwhile, who left the Yankees of note, Kei Igawa?). It is not about how much you spend but how well you spend it. I'm not a Pink Hat. I love the Sox. But they need to be called out on this. Tojo

They have, Tojo. I don't sense much support for Theo for his signings at shortstop or in the bullpen. Was anyone actually in favor of JD Drew? And how excited are people about John Lackey? I think we've hammered him pretty good for losing Victor Martinez. I still don't get what was wrong with Jason Bay.

I don't think there is anyone out there -- other than Rob Bradford maybe -- who would say this regime has been good in the free agent game.

Felger, I'm with you in saying that Julien plays that fourth line way too much. For instance, on Tuesday night did you notice that with 2:30 left in the third period and a face-off to the right of Miller. Julien elected to put the fourth-line out there, and they ended up wasting about 66 seconds of ice time at the end of the game. Why not burn a timeout and get your first or second power play unit out there? And in OT, he rolled with three forwards and one defenseman during the OT 4-on-4. But when the Bruins went on the 4-on-3 PP, he put two defensemen and two forwards to start the PP. Julien is not the guy to get this team deep into the playoffs; let alone win a Cup Mark

You know how he would counter that? Look at who was on the ice when the B's tied the game with six minutes left in the third period: Brian Campbell and Brad Marchand. Believe me, I'm with you, Mark. It drives me nuts, too. But I don't see it changing -- at least in the regular season. We'll see if someone can light a fire under his butt in the playoffs.

Felger, I'd like to hear your honest assessment on two players you've been critical of in the past, Marchand and Wheeler. In my opinion, they've been two of the Bruins' most consistent forwards this year. I don't want Marchand on the top two lines, like you claim everybody does. Aside from the occasional dumb penalty he's been good in an energypenalty killing role and has been way more agitating than Begin was last year. Plus he's young and can still develop. Wheeler has stone hands at times but is still fourth on the team in goals, does a good job killing penalties, and has seemed more involved and noticeable this year. I'd rather move any of PailleRyderFerence to clear cap space and keep Wheeler around. On Chara, his cap hit drops by a million next year. Thirty GMs view him as a top-five defenseman in the league and someone would have given him this same contract, if not more. 6.5 million is reasonable for him. I'd rather have him than not, even with his 0-5 record in Game Sevens. I contend that the SturmRyderFerrenceThomas contracts are what are prohibiting the Bruins from persuing a puck-moving defenseman, not Chara's. He's one of the main reasons the team is at the top of the league defensively each year. Cut money elsewhere to bring in another defenseman because they'd miss him if he was gone. I agree that Chiarelli has been overly generous with contract, but I'd rather see that than have him lowball players out of town like Theo. Dave Manchester, NH

I accept most of your points. Marchand is perfectly fine on the fourth line. I like him better than Begin, too. I just think a lot of fans get carried away with what he brings to the table. He's an energy guyagitator. Lets not get carried away. And Wheeler has been better, true. I just don't think his ceiling is very high. I would shed a tear if they used him as a chip to upgrade elsewhere.

Finally, even if Chara was as highly valued across the league as you say (and Im not so sure), do you think there was any risk of him getting much more than he got in Boston? I don't. Hes currently scheduled to be the second-highest paid defenseman in the league next year. Was someone going to make him the highest-paid? No way. And if there was such a team, then you could always match. When you sign someone early you should get a discount, and I don't think the B's did with Chara -- or Bergeron. Trust me, these contracts are going to hurt the team's flexibility down the line, just as Thomas' is right now. But aside from all that, when are the Bs going to make someone play for their next contract? You know, set someone up to have a contract year? It might help address the "hunger" issue this team seems to have many nights.

Hi guys, I was really enjoying Tuesdays radio show until you started discussing the little "Cheers" segment they do at Gillette. I believe one of you (Felger: It was me) called it G-A-Y. WTF?? What, are you 12? Do you think there arent gay Patriots fans out there? Do you think your entire audience is made up of straight men? Because I can attest to the fact that it is NOT! I can assure you that your listeners may not be straight or may have a gay child or parent. Signed,Female Patriots fan whose family is not entirely heterosexual.
I apologize, Mrs. Tanguay. I promise to be more sensitive in the future.

Felgers Patriots-Bears game column will post Monday morning. The report card appears Tuesday. Email Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line


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.