Felger: Happy new year


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.

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars


THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There's nothing like a visit from the Jacksonville Jaguars to make the Tennessee Titans remember how to protect their home field.

Marcus Mariota threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns to end his home struggles and the Titans had their highest point total of the season in a 36-22 victory over the Jaguars on Thursday night.

Click here for the complete story

Develin stays on top of tight end techniques in case he's next man up


Develin stays on top of tight end techniques in case he's next man up

FOXBORO -- Once the Patriots traded AJ Derby to the Broncos for a fifth-round pick earlier this week, they were left with just two tight ends on their roster. While those two tight ends -- Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett -- have played as two of the best tight ends in football this season, it's a position group that has been considerably thinned. 

Until coach Bill Belichick adds another player at that spot, James Develin would be the logical "next man up." A position group unto himself as the team's lone active fullback -- the other fullback in the locker room is practice-squad player Glenn Gronkowski -- Develin meets with Patriots tight ends and coach Brian Daboll on a daily basis because the fullback and tight-end responsibilities in the Patriots offense are similar, particularly in the run game.

As much time as he spends with that group, Develin tries to absorb what he can when it comes to the nuances of the position. 

"I always kind of try to prepare, obviously, for my fullback role, but then in any other role that I might be called upon for," Develin said on Thursday. "A couple years ago, we had a bunch of injuries during the offseason program, during OTAs, and I filled in a little bit at tight end. I try to keep myself familiar with all those techniques and that tight end role so if the day were to come where I needed to go out there and do it, I'd be able to go out there and do it."

When the Patriots began the season relying more on the run, Develin was called upon to play a relatively significant role in the offense. He averaged 21.3 snaps per game through the first three games of the season, but that number has fallen to 13.6 since Tom Brady's return from a four-game suspension. Still, his role can be a critical one. 

The Patriots' running game faltered last season after both Blount and Dion Lewis went down with season-ending injuries. Having Develin in the mix as an extra blocker would not have guaranteed a more efficient attack, but it may have helped the team's running-game woes late in the year. 

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels now has the luxury of bringing Develin onto the field when he wants some added muscle for his blocking schemes, and should the Patriots need a tight end in a pinch, Develin could do that too.

"A lot of times, especially in the blocking game, really the only difference [between fullback and tight end] is that I'm five yards off the ball in the backfield and they're up on the line," Develin said. "The angles are a little bit different. But a lot of times the assignment is typcially the same thing. It's just the technique of getting there and the angles that you take.

"Then in the passing game, as a tight end, there's just a lot more routes and stuff like that. I try to work on that to help me as a fullback to be a little bit better in space . . . It's a sybiotic relationship." 

As it is, Develin will line up occasionally outside. Though not a threat as a receiver in that spot in the same way that Gronkowski or Bennett would be, he understands some of the different looks tight ends have to be comfortable with.

If an emergency arose and he was asked to fill that role, he wouldn't hesitate.

"There's a little bit of carry-over depending on what we're doing or whatever play we have called where I'll line up on the line," he said. "But that's kind of what a fullback has to do. You kind of have to be able to be thrown into whatever position on the field that you gotta do and you gotta just do your job."