Welker left with uncertain future after another crushing playoff defeat

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Welker left with uncertain future after another crushing playoff defeat

FOXBORO -- Wes Welker took a long, slow walk off of the Gillette Stadium turf, the haze of a season-ending loss descending on him. After quarterback Tom Brady threw an interception to Ravens defensive back Cary Williams to effectively end the AFC Championship Game, Welker was the last Patriots player to slump off the field.

Moments later, when the clock wound to zeros and players from both teams met to shake hands, Welker waded through the bodies from New England's sideline almost all the way to Baltimore's without stopping for a soul, meandering, as though lost inside the place he had called home for six seasons.

"We made it to the AFC Championship, did some good things along the way," Welker said back inside the Patriots locker room after losing to the Ravens, 28-13. "We just didn't do enough in the end."

Welker finished with eight receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown, making him Brady's most effective weapon against the Ravens' brutal defense. But the slot receiver's performance was overshadowed by a third-quarter drop that proved to be one of the game's turning points.

On a third-and-eight play at the Ravens' 34-yard line, Brady targeted Welker with a pass in the flat that would have been good for a first down if completed. But Welker took his eyes off the ball at the last second, and the pass bounced off of his hands and fell to the ground. Baltimore scored a go-ahead touchdown on its ensuing drive.

Three plays before Welker's drop, he was rocked by a hard hit from Ravens safety Bernard Pollard. Pollard's shoulder pad struck Welker's facemask immediately after a 24-yard completion, and a 15-yard personal-foul penalty was tacked onto the gain.

Asked if he was feeling the after-effects of the Pollard tackle when he dropped the next ball thrown his way, Welker shook his head.

"I was fine," he said. "Just a missed opportunity."

Welker stood at his locker and was reminded of how last season ended, when New England lost Super Bowl XLVI to the Giants in similarly heartbreaking fashion. Much like on Sunday, that game had hinged on an uncharacteristic drop by the Patriots' historically dependable slot receiver.

The feeling was an all-too-familiar one, and Welker said he would handle it the same way he did a year ago.

"Sun will come up tomorrow," he said softly. "Just try to move on."

Closure may be more difficult to come by if the AFC Championship Game was Welker's last as a Patriot. After playing under the franchise tag this season, he is set to become a free agent.

The Patriots will have three options when it comes to Welker: The two sides could agree to terms on a new multi-year deal; they could franchise tag him for the second consecutive season, which would cost the Patriots about 11.5 million in 2013, making him one of the highest-paid receivers in the league; or, they could let him walk.

Welker said he doesn't know what the future holds, but he insisted his next contract wasn't on his mind.

"I'm not sure," he said when asked if he'll be back in New England. "I'm not worried about that right now."

A reporter pressed him on the matter.

"I'm really not worried about it at all," Welker said. "Tough loss. Just try to get over it at the moment."

And a third time.

"Like I said, I'm not worried about any of it," he said, perturbed.

Welker finished the regular season as one of the league's most productive receivers, reeling in 118 catches for 1354 yards and 6 touchdowns, and in the process he became the first pass-catcher in the history of the NFL to put together five seasons with over 100 receptions.

The Patriots enter this offseason with some uncertainty at the receiver position. Along with Welker, wideouts Julian Edelman and Deion Branch are also scheduled to become free agents. If the Patriots choose not to retain Welker, it would mean a significant alteration to what has been one of the league's most prolific offenses since his arrival to New England in 2007. The possibility exists that the team's most trusted option in the passing game -- and one of Brady's good friends -- is playing elsewhere next season.

Welker's twisting traipse off the Gillette Stadium turf Sunday had a chance to be his last as a member of the Patriots, but he wasn't ready to think about that on Sunday night. Instead, he chose to deal with reality of the moment, another dejecting postseason loss, and the lingering regret of missed opportunities.

"It's always tough," he said. "You put a lot into it . . . all year round. You wanna finish strong. We just didn't do that."

Pastrnak's two goals lead Bruins past Panthers, 4-3

Pastrnak's two goals lead Bruins past Panthers, 4-3

BOSTON – The Bruins are undefeated this season when they manage to cobble together three goals in a game. 

It took a little extra as David Pastrnak knifed through former BC defenseman Mike Matheson in overtime for his second goal of the game, and his 15th of the season, to take a 4-3 win over the Panthers at TD Garden. 

It was thought the final offensive push they needed took place in the third period when Ryan Spooner hopped on the David Krejci line with David Backes, and fired a shot at the Boston net that Backes redirected through Roberto Luongo for his seventh of the season. 

But the Panthers tied it up on a Demers goal late in the third period, and that set up Pastrnak’s brilliant one-on-one move for the game-winner for the Black and Gold. 

The Bruins led off the scoring on a nice play by Tim Schaller winning a battle to enter the Florida zone, and then circling around behind the net before burying a one-timer from the slot as he crashed the net to connect with a David Krejci dish headed straight his way. 

The Panthers tied it a period later when the legend, Jaromir Jagr, buried a chance from the slot after his line had hemmed in the David Krejci line and Torey Krug/Adam McQuaid pairing for an extended shift in the Boston zone. It was goal No. 754 of Jagr’s brilliant NHL career as he continues to go strong for the Panthers, and it also tied the game 1-1. 

The Bruins looked like they might haven the lead for good on David Pastrnak’s 14th goal of the season, but it wasn’t mean to be. Pastrnak started it all by protecting a puck and retaining possession from his knees in the corner of the offensive zone. Eventually Patrice Bergeron fired a puck wide of the net, and Brad Marchand unleashed a spinning, no-look pass to a waiting Pastrnak for the easy score past Roberto Luongo. 

The Panthers tied it a second time in the third period when Reilly Smith stripped a puck from Patrice Bergeron going up the center of the ice, and eventually it found its way to Aleksander Barkov for a ripped shot from long distance for his fourth goal of the season. 

Then Florida tied it again in the final minutes of the third on a Jason Demers rebound bid after Mike Matheson’s shot went wide of the net and took a wild carom off the end boards in the exact opposite direction. 

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics struggling with three-pointers

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Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics struggling with three-pointers

You knew the 3-point shots were going to be flying all game long when the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets tipped off Monday night. 
 
Now whether they would go in, that’s another matter entirely. 
 
Boston’s struggles with knocking down the long ball played a pivotal role in them going into the half trailing the Houston Rockets, 58-48.
 
Houston, the NBA’s leader in three-pointers made (14.0) and taken (37.0), were 8-for-21 in the first half on 3s while the Celtics were a not-so-impressive 5-for-18.
 
Despite the shooting struggles, Boston managed to lead 37-36 after a driving lay-up by Jaylen Brown. 
 
But the Rockets had too much firepower and when they weren’t knocking down shots, they were getting to the free throw line where there 18-for-20 compared to Boston which was just 1-for-2.
Here are the first half Stars, Studs and Duds from Monday’s game. 

 

STARS
 
James Harden

The MVP candidate was bringing it all areas, scoring 21 points to go with seven assists. But he was far from perfect, evident by his six turnovers. 
 
Isaiah Thomas

He led the Celtics with 11 points, but looks to be growing frustrated with the lack of calls going the Celtics’ way. Near the end of the second quarter, Thomas was grimacing while holding his right groin. But it didn’t appear to be too big a deal as he hit a 3-pointer just moments later. But it’s worth keeping an eye on in the second half. 
 

STUDS
 
Jaylen Brown

He gave Boston a surprisingly strong lift off the Celtics bench. At the half, he had seven points which included a lay-up that put Boston ahead 37-36.

Trevor Ariza

He doesn’t get a ton of attention, but Ariza’s play has been one of the keys to Houston’s success this season. At the half he had 10 points and six rebounds.

 

DUDS
 
Jonas Jerebko

He got the start tonight, but looks nothing like the high-energy, impact player he has been of late while coming off the bench. He was scoreless in the first half while missing all three of his shot attempts.