Schaub's shaky performance the elephant in the room

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Schaub's shaky performance the elephant in the room

FOXBORO -- For the second time in a month, Houston Texans safety Danieal Manning walked out of the visitor's locker room at Gillette Stadium with his No. 38 letterman jacket.

This time he carried it around his arm. And this time, there would be no next time.

Sunday marked Houston's second loss of the year to the Patriots, in New England. But this is the playoffs. And with a 41-28 loss, the Texans' season is done. And it ends in the same round of the playoffs as it did last year.

"We've been down this road before, and we just can't get over this divisional round," said Manning after Sunday's loss. "We felt like we had a great team. We had people that we needed last year, that were able to get into playoffs this year, and still, we couldn't close the door."

He's talking about Matt Schaub, who missed last year's playoffs with a foot injury. With Schaub healthy, the Texans figured this year would be different.

But after another tough loss to the Patriots, and their season over, Schaub's performance was the elephant in Houston's locker room.

Schaub finished the game 34-of-51 for 343 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. But those two touchdown passes came way too late, the timing of the interception was devastating, and at the end of the day, he didn't make as many plays as Tom Brady.

He needed to be great. But on Sunday night, Schaub was, well, not good enough.

"It's quarterback-driven. And I knew it was going to be that way," said Texans coach Gary Kubiak afterwards. "This team's very difficult to run the ball against. We had a lot of opportunities to make plays in the pass game, and we did make a lot. But there were some more that we missed.

"And we talked. You've got to come in here and play great. And he did a lot of dang good things. And it's my job to keep pushing him towards greatness."

Kubiak went on to defend his quarterback, calling Schaub "one of the top quarterbacks in football." But still, it felt as if something was missing.

"You don't get over that hump unless you're willing to keep going back there keep getting yourself in that position," said Kubiak. "It's very, very difficult. I do not take anything for granted for where we are tonight, because it's hard to get there. But I believe in our quarterback wholeheartedly. My point is, we're going to continue to push him to a new level, as a player."

If Schaub was at the level the Texans needed him to be at, he would have put the ball in the end zone well before the fourth quarter. In fact, he should have threw a touchdown pass in the opening possession, after Manning returned the opening kickoff 94 yards, down to New England's 12-yard line.

But instead of a touchdown, the Texans ran three plays and settled for a field goal.

"We had the big return and we want to go out there and put up seven in that situation and they held us to three," said Schaub. "We cant settle down there especially against a team like this in their building; weve got to get touchdowns down there."

Schaub's first pass -- on second down -- should have been caught in the end zone by fullback James Casey, but he dropped the pass. Then, on third down, Schaub had Andre Johnson wide open in the back of the end zone, but the throw was well behind him.

"It got away from me a little bit," said Schaub. "I was a little late with the football going from my read low to high, and the safety was coming from the backside, so I tried to get in there, but it just took off a little on me."

"Those are big plays you've got to make," said Kubiak. "And there's a few of those in this game When you miss them and they make them, in the long haul, that's the difference in winning and losing in this league.

"You've got to step up and make those plays if you want this organization to take the next step."

Again, the elephant in the room.

Following the game, the Texans continued to point out that they "didn't make enough plays" to win the game. That is true, especially in crucial third-down situations.

Houston went 4-for-15 on third down. That's under 27 percent. Not good enough.

"The thing that jumps at me is, I think we must have had five 3rd-and-10's in the first half," said Kubiak. "And they had them too. They made them and we didn't. They made some great plays. And when you get in this environment, you get in games like this, you've got to step up and make those type of plays. And I think we had our opportunities."

Arian Foster did his job on Sunday. He finished the game with 90 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown, and 63 receiving yards and a touchdown reception.

But Schaub needed to do more, when the game was still in reach. And with the Texans trailing only 24-13 in the third quarter, Schaub had a chance to finish off a drive that started at his own 10-yard line.

They marched all the way down to New England's 37-yard line, when Schaub threw an interception over the middle to Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich, with 4:14 left in the third quarter.

"We liked the look with James Casey working over the middle, and they dropped a D-end out there, and I just didn't get enough height on it," said Schaub. "Ninkovich jumped up and made the play and ultimately hes the one that came down with the ball. But we had a play with James just over the top of that defensive end."

Ninkovich made the play, and Brady turned it into a six-play, 63-yard touchdown drive and a 31-13 Patriots lead.

Schaub's two touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter. By then, it was too little, too late. And it ended in a 41-28 Patriots win, leaving the Texans questioning what went wrong.

Actually, they weren't questioning. They already knew the answer.

"That's the thing, when you play against a team like this, they're capable of scoring every time they touch the ball," said a discouraged Johnson after the loss. "And we knew that. We knew that we had to come in and score points as an offense. And not kick field goals, but score touchdowns when we got in the red zone.

"They made more plays than we made, and they won the game."

Schaub was asked if he felt his name belongs in the same level as the four quarterbacks who are moving onto the conference championships. Those quarterbacks are Brady, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, and Colin Kaepernick.

"There is no doubt that I belong," said Schaub. "I think I belong right up there with every one of them."

The Texans thought Schaub's presence would help them get further than they did last year. But that was obviously not the case.

"You feel like, when you get back to the same spot that you were last year, you think you'd be able to overcome the things that you went through last year," said Johnson. "We got back to the same spot, and ended in the same spot. So we weren't able to overcome those things.

Johnson also pointed out that you don't get many shots at a championship, with the type of talent the Texans have on the roster.

"It took me nine years just to get two shots," Johnson. "So, I don't know. We just have to keep fighting, keep working, and keep banging on that door. And hopefully it will fall down."

As we saw on Sunday, that won't happen until Schaub takes his game to that next level.

It's the elephant in the room.

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

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Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.

But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.

The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.

“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”

Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that. 

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.

But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.

“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.

But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.

Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.

Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.

“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”

The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.

Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.