You hate to admit it, but . . .

197881.jpg

You hate to admit it, but . . .

By Michael Felger

A Felger three-fer two football, one Bruins -- to get Jets Week started.

Before we get started, please know that I fully expect the Patriots to beat the Jets this weekend. I believe the Pats are a better team with better coaching, better quarterbacking play and a better track record against quality opponents. I'd be stunned if Bill Belichick allowed that team, of all teams, to come into Foxboro and win on Sunday.

But here's something I think people around here arent recognizing.

The Jets don't suck.

They aren't nearly the mess you want to believe they are.

Two years ago they lost the last three games of the season with Brett Favre at quarterback and Eric Mangini as the coach. That's a mess.

Now they've made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the Joe Namath era. You said they were frauds for backing into the postseason last year, but they followed that up with 11 wins, another playoff victory, and a trip back to the divisional round. Sounds like something approaching validation to me.

You think the Jets are pathetic, but if they're pathetic then that doesn't speak very well of you. The Pats are just 2-2 against the New Yorkers since Ryan got there. The Jets have won three of their last four playoff games after Saturday's win in Indianapolis. The Pats? They've lost two straight.

The Jets may have been plagued by inconsistent quarterback play, but Mark Sanchez is just 24. He's probably going to get better. Their best defensive player, and for my money still the best corner in football, Darrelle Revis, is just 25. The core of their offensive line is young and under contract. Ownership has proven it will spend what it takes and the drafting by the scouting department has been pretty good.

Again, none of that will mean a heck of a lot on Sunday. The Pats should win. It could very well be another blowout. And maybe the Jets will never catch you as long as Tom Brady is here.

But if you think the Jets aren't legit or aren't headed in the proverbial "right direction," then you're simply blinded by your hatred for them. And I'd hate to be you if the unthinkable happens on Sunday.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, Peyton Manning suffered the seventh one-and-done playoff defeat of his playoff career on Saturday. Its not that he played poorly or, as has been the case in the past, gave the ball away in the fourth quarter. Its just that he lost again. His Colts are now 9-10 in his postseason lifetime. And, again, seven of those nine defeats came in their first playoff game. Ouch.

Then again, watching the Colts under Jim Caldwell only backs up a part of what Ryan had to say about Brady last week. Namely, that Brady benefits more from his coaches than Manning does from his. Folks around here took it as a major blast and it was certainly a dumb thing for Ryan to say, on many levels but it has more than a grain of truth to it.

I would have been more outraged over the Bruins collapse in Montreal on Saturday night had it not been so familiar. I mean, really. Aren't you conditioned to it by now? And at what point will you finally realize the sad truth?

This is what you're going to get from this group of players and this coaching staff.

This is who they are.

The most depressing part of the story is that the general manager of this soft, underachieving group, Peter Chiarelli, keeps giving out big contract extensions to the core of it.

Zdeno Chara, the captain who was on the ice for all three Montreal goals in the third period and overtime, who didn't get angry until the game was over and who then slinked out of the locker room without doing his job and speaking for the team, is signed for another 7 12 years. He's 33. He's been in the league 12 years and has been to just one conference finals and has never been to the Stanley Cup finals (the Senators went the year after he left).

Goalie Tim Thomas, who has been very good this year but was nevertheless brutal down the stretch in Montreal and has now blown third-period leads in each of his last two games, is signed for 2 12 more years at a cap-killing 5 million per season. He's 36. He's won one NHL playoff round in his life.

Marc Savard, who has been dreadful since returning to the lineup in November and looks like a shadow of his pre-concussion self, is signed for 6 12 more years. He's 33. He's never been out of the second round.

Coach Claude Julien, who is in his eighth NHL season and has never been out of the second round with three teams, is in the first year of his contract extension.

I could go on, but you get the point. Even if president Cam Neely wanted to clean house behind the bench (a big "if" given the fact Jeremy Jacobs just got through paying off Dave Lewis' deal), he's stuck with much of the roster. And as we've seen, it's a roster that has no idea how to win beyond a first-round level.

So as disheartening as Saturday's loss was, it's even worse to consider what's ahead unless a major shakeup occurs.

Purgatory.
E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursday. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.