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.

Patriots sign TE Rob Housler to future contract

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Patriots sign TE Rob Housler to future contract

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have signed free-agent tight end Rob Housler to a future contract. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound target last played for the Bears but was released at the end of training camp.

Housler won't be eligible to participate with the Patriots during the postseason, but he will be available for the offseason program and training camp leading up to the 2017 campaign. 

Housler taken in the third round by the Cardinals with the 69th overall selection in 2011. In 65 career games, he has 109 catches for 1,166 yards and one touchdown. 

The Patriots may have been intrigued by Housler's skill set last summer when he caught one pass for 52 yards -- making two Patriots defenders miss in the process -- during a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots and Bears held joint training camp practices in August that would have given Patriots coaches and scouts a closer look at everything Housler has to offer as a player. 

Housler was one of the better athletes at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2011, running a 4.55-second 40-yard dash (fastest among tight ends), posting a 6.9-second three-cone drill, and recording a 37-inch vertical leap.

Bill Belichick and his staff hit big on a future-contract signing two years ago when a running back with a significant injury history was available to scoop up at the behest of then-assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi. Since then, the Patriots still have never lost with Dion Lewis in uniform. 

Edelman, Bennett marvel at Harrison's longevity

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Edelman, Bennett marvel at Harrison's longevity

FOXBORO -- On a daily basis, Patriots players are in the presence of perhaps the best late-30s player to ever lace up cleats. That's why it's noteworthy when those who inhabit the same locker room as Tom Brady marvel at another player playing at a high level despite being one of the oldest in the league. 

That's exactly the case with Steelers linebacker James Harrison, 38, who is the oldest non-quarterback, non-kicker in the NFL. 

Since the Patriots last saw Harrison, he's become an every-down player for Pittsburgh's improving defense, missing just nine total defensive snaps for the Steelers since Week 14. He's saved his best football for the postseason -- three sacks, two quarterback hits and seven quarterback pressures in the last two weeks, per Pro Football Focus -- and the Patriots have noticed.

Julian Edelman, who wears the same Kent State t-shirt to every Patriots practice, raved about his "fellow Flash."

"He’s an unbelievable stud," Edelman said of Harrison, who went undrafted seven years before Edelman was taken in the seventh round. "The guy has been doing it consistently for a long time.

"I’ve been a huge fan of him before I got in the league, and just to see and kind of have an idea where he came from, it’s unbelievable to show how hard he’s worked to get to where he’s got. He’s a large man that is fast, explosive, and if he’s coming my way, it’s going to be a 'get down.' "

While Edelman will do his best to avoid the 6-foot, 242-pounder, Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett will likely be asked to block Harrison at some point. The Steelers defense will move Harrison to different spots at times, but he does much of his work on the outside where Bennett will be situated. 

"Harrison is playing well," Bennett said. "He’s almost as old as my pops, and he’s still playing like a beast out there."