Felger: Happy new year

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Felger: Happy new year

By Michael Felger

A few thoughts for you coming out of the weekend, led, of course, by the events last night in Pittsburgh.

It will be interesting to see what asterisk gets applied to the Patriots' 39-26 wipeout against the Steelers. I only say that because it seems that every one of their big wins recently has come with one. You know: Brad Childress blew it. Or the Chargers put the ball on the ground. Or the Ravens aren't as good as everyone thought.

Obviously, most of those asterisks were handed out by the crowd that simply refuses to believe the Patriots can be a better team without Randy Moss. I'm sure these folks will be coming up with something after Sunday night. (Roethlisberger sucks? Steelers injuries? Fluke performance?)

For the rest of us, the facts are becoming abundantly clear. The Patriots are no frauds. Pick apart their 7-2 record as much as you like, but Sunday showed us what they are capable of. It turns out last Sunday's debacle in Cleveland was an aberration, not a harbinger. It turns out they can play defense. It turns out there's more than enough room on a football field for Tom Brady to throw the ball without Moss performing that overhyped, overrated and grotesquely cliched task: stretching a defense.

Beyond all that, Sunday showed us that the Patriots have the character and resilience that championship-caliber teams must have. It turns out they can respond to adversity. It turns out they can take coaching and handle a star quarterback getting in their face (how do you think Moss would have responded to Brady's second-quarter rant?).

Certainly, there will be some weeks ahead when the Pats struggle. They aren't running the table. The doubters will have some material to work with, no question about it. Who knows, maybe the Pats hit the skids again this Sunday against nemesis Peyton Manning.

But here's what I took from Sunday: When the bleep hits the fan, unlike last year's fragile, pouty bunch (captained by Moss), this year's squad won't use it as an excuse to get worse.

In the end this Patriots team might not be talented enough. But they'll be in it all the way. And when the season is over, win or lose, at least we'll recognize them.

Are we once again seeing proof that David Krejci is the Bruins' most valuable forward? I don't know why anyone would need more evidence after what happened in the playoffs last season, but we're seeing it just the same.

The B's offense has stagnated badly of late, registering just one goal over the past two games, both coming at home and both coming against division rivals. They've played three games total since Krejci went down with a concussion, and the more they play the more apparent it is that their five-goal, third-period explosion in Pittsburgh was a fluke. Take out that stanza, and the Bruins have gone from two goals (vs. the Pens), to one (vs. Montreal) to zero (vs. Ottawa).

In a related story, the B's top line, with Patrice Bergeron filling Krejci's spot between Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic, has also cooled (no goals the last two games).

In case you haven't noticed, the B's are also having salary cap problems, which is why every contract matters and every dollar needs to be scrutinized. Bergeron is obviously a popular player with Bruins fans. But someone still needs to explain why it was necessary to give him a three-year extension with an annual salary cap charge of 5 million per season eight months before they had to. Krejci, meanwhile, carries an annual cap charge of 3.75 million.

There's another subplot at play with the Bruins, and that's their ability to perform at home. After an atrocious season at the Garden last year, the Bruins have gotten out to a 2-4-1 start on Causeway Street this season. What are these guys doing (or not doing) to prepare to play when they're at home? Is there a common denominator off the ice?

In the meantime, the B's await the return of their most indispensable (and cost-effective) forward.

We got another glimpse into the character of LeBron James this weekend. Fresh off throwing coach Eric Spoelstra under the bus for his deployment of minutes in the Heat's loss to the Celtics on Thursday, LeBron explained away the situation by evoking the image of the ultimate role model.

"You kind of understand sometimes what Randy Moss was talking about when he said, 'I will not be answering any more questions,' because every time I say something it gets turned out of character," said James.

Leave it to James. While the rest of the world was either laughing at Moss or scorning him, the King was actually taking his words to heart. Sort of makes sense, doesn't it?

Felger's report card posts Tuesday. E-mail him HERE and read the mailbag on Thursday. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Bennett says he is 'just chilling' and hasn't given free agency 'a ton of thought'

Bennett says he is 'just chilling' and hasn't given free agency 'a ton of thought'

Will Martellus Bennett be back with the Patriots next season?

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport says it's "a real possibility" Bennett leaves given the asking price and potential offers.

Less than an hour later, the unrestricted free agent sent out a tweet responding to speculation about his future.

Bennett, who will 30 years old in March, had seven touchdowns in 19 games in his first season with the New England Patriots. 

 

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

LeGarrette Blount knows where he wants to be for 2017. Ever since he re-joined the Patriots in 2014 following a short stay in Pittsburgh, the 250-pound back has been very open about how he wants to play out the rest of his career in New England. 

Those feelings haven't changed, even as he faces free-agency after having recorded the best season of his seven-year career.

"I just want to make sure that I go to this free agency with an open mind, knowing that I definitely want to go back to New England," he told NFL Total Access on Monday. "I love it there. I love the culture. I love the players. I've become close with a lot of the guys. Obviously you know how my running back group is.

"We'll cross that bridge whenever we cross it. On that point, I feel great. I'm in amazing shape. I feel like I could play 100 more years if I have to."

Blount finished 2016 with career-highs in attempts (299) yards (1,161) and touchowns (18). His ability to help the Patriots close games in the fourth quarter was notable throughout the course of the season, and he was among the most effective goal-line backs in the league. His 18 rushing scores are a franchise record.

Toward the end of the season, as Dion Lewis worked his way back into the Patriots offense, Blount had his workload cut into, and his fumble in the Super Bowl was a near-catastrophic moment -- his devastated reaction to which was caught expertly by NFL Films. But a big-picture view of Blount's year would reveal that he  posted the most prodictive "big back" season the Patriots have had in more than a decade.

Blount signed a one-year deal with the Patriots last offseason after seeing his 2015 prematurely ended by way of a hip injury. He turned 30 in December.