Time to step up

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Time to step up

By Michael Felger

So the Bruins are back in the playoffs. That elicits a lot of feelings.

Excitement is definitely one of them.

So is nausea.

Hey, FelgerWhat should the realistic expectations of Bruins fans be heading into the playoffs? What would be a successful season? I mean, the team has made the playoffs three straight seasons, and won a playoff series the past two years, but just can't get over the hump and get to the Eastern Conference finals. I know you have an issue with Claude and how he is just an average coach; how much pressure is on him this postseason to win two series and get to the conference finals? Personally, I don't think the Bruins are built for the playoffs. The problem is the playoffs are where great players shine, and the Bruins just have a lot of pretty good players. We shall see.Ryan

That last part is pretty well put, Ryan. Theyre pretty good, not great. So if the Bruins fall short of a Cup, you cant pin it all on Julien and you cant even pin it on Chiarelli yet. The players just arent good enough to win a championship, in my opinion.

However, this roster IS good enough to get out of the second round. Whats more, they were good enough against Carolina in 2008-09, and they sure as heck should have done it last year against Philadelphia. So if they fail to get there again this year, what are we left with? I would contend were left with a coach and GM that havent gotten the most out of their team.

Ive made this point many times but Ill do it again here because I think its important to note: Chiarelli and Julien dont suck. When they arrived (in 2007 and 2008, respectfully), the Bruins were at rock bottom. They werent a playoff team, having missed the postseason each of the previous two years, and in terms of their market share in Boston they were off the map. Chiarelli and Julien brought them back. This is their fourth straight playoff appearance, and hockey matters in Boston again. Those guys are a big part of the reason why. I just have my doubts as to whether they are capable of winning a championship. I think the same goes for this core of players, by the way.

Personally, I think making the conference finals is a minimum requirement. There are no excuses not to. They are healthy, rested and experienced. They finally have their PMD (puck moving defenseman). Defeat in any form in the first two rounds is a failure. Then it will depend what happens in the conference finals. If the Bs go up 3-1 in that round, regardless of the opponent, and then lose the series, would their postseason run be considered a success? Hell, no. It would be another gag. So lets see how it ends before we really pass judgment.

Felger, You DB! Great interview with Sgt. Ian Lafrenire of the Montreal Police. It was nice to see that there is at least one person in Bleu Blanc and Rougeland that still has a firm grasp of common sense. And while it was refreshing to hear Sgt. Lafrenire say that this case is not a priority and that the Bruins and Chara will probably not be bothered with it during the playoffs, I remain skeptical. Not because I doubt what Sgt. Lafrenire said. I thought he was very forthright and also entertaining, even without any Pink Panther references. It's because Sgt. Lafrenire and the Montreal Police were very obviously forced to do this by someone in the Provincial government. The investigators may have placed this sham investigation rightly on the back burner now, but what's to keep the same Provincial official with the Habs footie PJs, whom Sgt. Lafrenire referred to as his bosses, from demanding Chara be questioned and detained during the series? We are obviously not dealing with a business-as-usual situation here. Never underestimate the stupidity of a Habs fan, and this goes triple to someone who has to depend on the votes of these cretins for their job. Chara is not out of the woods yet. And that is just fine with me. Book him. Fingerprint him. Question him. I want a full episode of CSI Montreal. Why? It's two-fold Mikey. First, because I think we then get an angry Chara. Normally Z is just accidentally dangerous and menacing. I want full-on, shredded-purple-pants Hulk rage from Chara, and having Dudley DoRight processing him at the behest of some lunatic in a powdered wig and culottes should do the job without gamma radiation.

Secondly and most importantly, nothing will galvanize this team more than their Captain being subjected to the whims of a deranged governmental jackass. You want to see a rabid locker room? You want to see a team ready to turn P.K. Subban into dasher signage? Have Chara get yanked off the team bus by the Mounties. That will light a riot-sized, hate-fueled fire under this team that could last two or three rounds deep. Exactly the kind of tangible passion that B's fans have been wanting from their team and its Captain for a while. A kind of energy PC and Claude could never and will never manufacture. The series would be over before Sgt. Lafrenire and his men could finish the paperwork. The only question is who Chara would use his one phone call on. A Pizza place or a Massage parlor? May I suggest Wanda's? MikeAttleboro

I dunno, Michael. Youre saying this Bruins team would actually grow a pair? What evidence have you seen of that being possible? Talk about calling for an investigation. Lets bring in Lafrenire and see if he can find the Bs testicles, because right now thats a cold case.

HEY, FELGER!I had a chance to listen to you interview the sergeant from Montreal about the Chara investigation, and I'm trying to figure out if Montreal is either stupid or needs psychiatric treatment. I can only imagine what would happen if the Bruins beat the Canadiens in the playoffs. I thought Philly was a bunch of yahoos, but Montreal is the champions of yahoosMattFramingham

Indeed, I have given fans of the Jets, Steelers and any Philadelphia team a lot of crap over the years, but this experience with the Canadiens fans has refreshed my memory. They are, by far, the worst. What a bunch of children. Say what you will about Firemen Ed, but hes not calling the cops on Bill Belichick.

Felger,Bruins playoffs: Who sits, Ryder or Seguin?I think Ryder.MichaelQuincy

Seguin, unfortunately. He may be the Bs best pure finisher (which is truly an indictment of this roster), but Claude just doesnt trust him. Part of me doesnt blame him, either. All you have to do is challenge Seguin on the puck and hell cough it up. I can count on one hand the number on one-on-one battles hes won this year.

Quick one this week, Felgy. There isn't much to say with this Bruins team. Its time to put up or shut up. But I'm not going to lie. I'm a-scared of the flopping.DaveWoburn

You and me both, Davey. I can easily see the Habs playing their cowardly game and winning the series on the power play. The simple fact is they have more guys who can put the puck in the net. The less five-on-five play, the worse it is for the Bs.

Felger,I haven't been one of the "Green Teamers this year and I prematurely ripped Rondo for his miserable March, like so many of us . . . but my question is about Kevin Garnett. He's tops on the team in FG percentage (Shaq's is higher but doesn't count here) and it seems he could put up some huge 20-point15 rebound-type games in the playoffs IF he gets aggressive on offense, IF he calls for the ball more often, and IF his body allows it. Is seeing KG go on a playoff tear just a dream from the past? What do you think about KG's postseason?DaveBerkshire County

I agree 100 percent on Garnetts offensive game. The more he shoots, the better. Period. And I dont care where its from. I think his spot-up jumper from beyond the free-throw line is absolute money. If Im a Celtics fan, I want him shooting that sucker as often as possible. Unfortunately for you, hes never really been that guy in the postseason. Ask the folks in Minnesota. Hes just not a give-me-the-ball kind of player.

Felgy,To most people in Boston, Carl Crawford has been the biggest disappointment of all the Red Sox off-season acquisitions. However, I personally think it's been Adrian Gonzalez.By virtue of never seeing him play in San Diego, local fans, in my opinion, created a picture of Gonzalez that wasn't entirely accurate: that he's one of the top three sluggers in the game and would easily put up 45-50 HRs in a more hitter-friendly park. In light of the corner power questions we've had over the last few years, Gonzalez was supposed to be the answer. Yet, after 11 games, it appears Red Sox fans were wrong -- it appears that AG is more "Tony Gwynn with more pop (to quote Pedroia) than a top-three slugger. Therefore, the middle-order questions remain.Besides having no leadoff hitter, Felgy, don't you think we all overlooked the power problems this team would have? Granted, leading the league in HRs doesn't equate to leading the league in runs scored, but given the weaknesses in starters 3-5 and middle relief, power problems spell an inability to come from behind. If Gonzalez is closer to Texiera than Joey Votto, in my opinion, the problem remains. I was never into Crawford, but most fans projected Gonzalez to be a notch under Pujols. Thank you,
GregManchester, NH

I still think Gonzalez is going to be there, Greg. I think hes a beast. Hes going to play every day. And when the weather warms and he really gets comfortable, hes going to crush it. You know me; the eternal optimist.

Felger, What's up with the Red Sox? I think they have a serious issue with the hitting coach. Ever notice they either score a bunch of runs or nothing? On the days they score nothing, why are there never any kind of adjustments made the second time through the order? I would think that would be the job of the hitting coach. Based of Dave Magadan's career stats I cannot fathom why he is an MLB Hitting coach. Shouldn't the hitting coach actually be somebody who hit well in his career? Some people may say this is a stretch, but if the hitting coach doesn't matter then why not just throw me in there? Must mean something . . . MattTewksbury

Yes, the hitting problems may have something to do with Magadan. And, yes, the pitching problems may have something to do with Curt Young. But how do we know that yet? It amazes me how many people want to put the pitching problems, in particular, on Saltalamacchia or Young. Why dont we start with the pitchers themselves first? And when it comes to Magadan, didnt he coach an injury-riddled lineup to the second-most runs in the American League last year?

Everyone on the Red Sox bears some responsibility for this start, including Francona, but I say we put the players on the top of the list. Dont let them off the hook.

Hey, FelgerI am fully on board with the Pats being proactive in the search for an eventual successor for Tom Brady. We do not want to be like the Dolphins and the 49ers, who are still searching for long-term replacements for former greats like Marino and Young. But I cannot justify the talk of potentially using a first-round pick on a QB like Jake Locker. Not only does Locker not seem like the type of QB Belichick would go after (more brawn than brains, struggles with decision-making and turnovers, lacks elite accuracy, 15-25 career record as a starter, more of an athlete than a precise pocket passer -- a guy that seems more like Steve Young than Joe Montana), but going after any QB in the first or second round of this year's draft would be doing a disservice to the team and the fans, in my opinion. In this day and age of modern medicine, and with QBs like John Elway and Kurt Warner posting some of their best seasons and going to the Super Bowl at the ages of 37 and 38, it is not unrealistic to assume Brady should be able to perform at a high level for the remainder of his contract.However, Brady's window is closing and the chances you find another Hall of Fame-caliber talent like him are slim to none, so you've got to take advantage of his remaining years. Use those picks to address the main things that have been holding this team back over the last few years: an offensive line that pees down its leg in the playoffs and has not given Brady good enough protection, a defense that has not been championship-caliber for 4-6 years, a running game that is not consistently good enough to be relied upon in big games, a team that has been the less physical and less aggressive team in each of its last three playoff losses.This is not the year to use a high pick on a QB that will likely be sitting on the sidelines until 2014 or 2015. This is the year to move up in the draft if necessary to get some playmakers and difference makers on both sides of the ball that can restore the Pats to being a fierce playoff team. I don't know how using a first round pick on a QB that will sit on the bench could possibly be more beneficial to this team than getting a stud pass rusher to help this league-worst third-down defense and anemic pass rush.JP
A very intelligent and measured email, JP. Are you sure you dont have the wrong mailbag? This sounds like something for Reiss. Youre supposed to call me a DB and rant incoherently in here.

Anyway, its hard to argue with any of your points. And I would have no problem if the Pats passed on Locker and every other QB in this draft. All Im saying is that they have to start thinking about the transition plan. Note, I didnt say they need to have a quarterback competition this year. Note, I didnt say they should bench Brady. I said they should start thinking about the future of that position. The two best examples of passing the torch are the 49ers in the '90s with Steve Young, and Aaron Rodgers currently with the Packers. And in both cases the young torchbearer had several years to learn and develop within that teams system. They sat. They watched. They learned. They had multiple years in the playbook. And when their turn came they knew the offense, the coaching, their teammates, the media and the fans. There were no surprises. Now, theres no guarantee that this approach will work for the Patriots or anyone else. But I think it gives you best chance.

Also please note, the Pats already may have this player on their roster. If Bill Belichick has identified Brian Hoyer as the guy, then great. But if they dont, the Pats have to start the grooming process in the next year or two. Brady will be 34 by the time next season starts and he has four years left on his contract. The goal should be to have the next guy fully ready by the time Brady enters his final season. Were talking 2014.

Who knows? The Bruins might even have gotten out of the second round by then.

Read Felgers weekly column on Mondays. E-mail him HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.