Schaub made surprise splash vs. Patriots in '05

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Schaub made surprise splash vs. Patriots in '05

All week long, the Atlanta Falcons played a quarterback shell game leading into their October 9 matchup with the Patriots seven years ago.

Michael Vick's right knee was acting up, but Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr., knew the advantage of keeping Vick's availability under wraps.

Vick couldn't have been any more different in style from his backup, second-year player Matt Schaub. Vick lived on elusiveness; Schaub was a pocket passer.

Even though Vick didn't practice all week, he was listed as probable. On Saturday, he was downgraded to questionable. On Sunday, he watched from the sidelines wearing a sweatshirt and visor.

The Patriots, dealing with an avalanche of injuries in their secondary, were stressed preparing for both styles. And they didn't have a ton of film on Schaub.

At that point, Schaub had barely played in any games. As a rookie out of Virginia in 2004, he played extensively in two games when Vick was hurt and saw mop-up duty in three others. He'd thrown a touchdown and four picks.

Meanwhile, the Patriots were coming off a 41-17 pummeling at home at the hands of the San Diego Chargers. The gloating from the Chargers after snapping the Patriots 21-game home winning streak was sharp. "That's an ass-whupping right there," said Chargers defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

When Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer diplomatically tried to say the Patriots weren't themselves that day because of all the injuries they had -- Rodney Harrison, for one, was lost for the season -- Tom Brady said that Schottenheimer should worry about his own team.

"You don't talk about our team," Brady said on the Wednesday before the Falcons game. "He has no business talking about our team. He's not our coach. We'll let our coach talk about our team. We'll let our players talk about our team. The only thing we ever do is give respect to the other teams because that's what they deserve. They played a good game. They beat us. That's what it is -- no more, no less -- it's one game."

It was classic, circle-the-wagons exhibition by Brady. For a team that had won two straight Super Bowls, keeping its edge by finding slights was a common pursuit. And the Patriots had found one heading to Atlanta.

But that didn't stop Schaub from going out that Sunday and earning himself a lot of money. Throwing against a secondary populated by the likes of Guss Scott, Duane Starks, and Michael Stone, Schaub went 18-for-34 for 298 yards and three touchdowns. The Patriots pulled out a 31-28 win as Tom Brady went off (22-for-27 for 350 and three TDs).

"He wasn't ready to play," Mora said of Vick. "It was an easy decision. When a player is not ready to play, you are not going to put him out there in harm's way. This team felt confident we could perform with Matt Schaub, and I think we proved that to be true."

In the end, sitting Vick was the best thing that could have happened for Schaub. At that point, the Patriots were the NFL's marquee team by a lot. And even though the Patriots were shorthanded, the attention Schaub garnered by playing well that day helped his stock rise significantly.

Schaub's usage was minimal during the rest of his time in Atlanta, but when he became a restricted free agent in 2007, the Texans -- who had grown weary of starter David Carr -- swung a deal for Schaub and made him their quarterback.

Now, five years down the line, Schaub will be facing the franchise that he got his big break against as he brings the 11-1 Texans into Foxboro.

Funny how things work out.

5 reasons the Celtics will get the No. 1 seed

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5 reasons the Celtics will get the No. 1 seed

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Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

BOSTON -- For the third straight season, the Bruins are showing all the ugly, telltale signs of a hockey club poised to take a nosedive out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The short-attention span Bruins returned in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at TD Garden, and proceeded to blow three one-goal leads in the second period before totally collapsing in the final 20 minutes of the game. Three unanswered third goals later, the Bruins were understandably downtrodden and accountable for a performance that kicked up so many bad memories from the last couple of seasons.

“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and we can’t point fingers. Everyone has to step up and if every guy is going to do their job, including myself, then the rest will follow, you know?” said David Krejci. “But we hadn’t done that [against Tampa Bay] at all. The last two games against Toronto and Ottawa, I thought we worked hard. But for whatever reason [against Tampa] – maybe we thought it was going to come easy – we just shot ourselves in the foot.

“Like I said, each player has to be better, including myself, and if we don’t look at ourselves in the mirror that’s what’s going to happen. We’ll be losing and we need to win games. We have a team, we all believe, we know we can play well. We know we can win hockey games. We have a great game plan, but [against Tampa] I guess we just thought it was going to come easy.”

Even worse there were clear signs of panic in Boston’s game as things unfolded in an unsightly manner on the Garden ice.

Clearly it wasn’t about talent on Thursday night, and instead it was about focus, concentration and paying attention to the fine details that can come back to haunt you late in the season. The Bruins scored three goals in the second period with David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Riley Nash each lighting the lamp, but it took 44 seconds, 24 seconds and 1 minute, 35 seconds respectively in the second period for the Bolts to things up.

That’s the kind of instant buckling and crumbling under pressure we’ve seen in the past from the Bruins late in seasons, and we’re seeing it again despite a different coach and some new, hard-nosed players like David Backes. That lack of composure combined with a pinch of panic is a potentially disastrous mix for the Black and Gold, just as it has been for the last three years.

“Those follow up shifts need to be our best shifts of the game. They’re when you can either bury a team, or when you get scored on to have a great response, and to show that you’re not going away [if you’re the team trailing]. I don’t think they were our best shifts. They were probably some of our least [effective] in the form of execution, least form of desperation and fortitude to just impose what we’re going to do on the other team.

[Tampa] certainly made good on their chances, there’s no question about that. But I think we led into them way too much and the result is the result that we don’t get points again. We’re four [losses] in a row here, but this needs to stop Saturday [against the Islanders] or the bleeding starts to get profuse after that. The guys are in this room. We know it. We’ve seen it. We need to look in the mirror.”

It goes beyond a thoroughly gross second period, however.

The Bruins last line of defense, No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask, crumbled in the second and third period as things were falling apart around him. Anton Stralman beat him high to the short-side, glove side for the game-tying goal on a transition play, and Jonathan Drouin snapped one past him from the face-off circle that dipped under his glove hand for the game-winner.

It was a soft, inexcusable goal allowed in a hugely important game, and was part of five goals allowed on 28 shots for the former Vezina Trophy winner. After the game Rask seemed frazzled, his voice getting soft and trailing off when it was his turn to accept responsibility for a giant stink bomb tossed down on the Garden ice.

“You have to [pick up the team]. A lot of the time that’s the case, the goalie has to make a couple extra stops there and today I didn’t,” said Tuukka Rask. “That’s part of my job to accept the fact that sometimes it’s your fault. There were a couple of times I should’ve made the save, but it happens sometimes…”

The high pressure situation with things spiraling out of control even seemed to be getting to their best, most established players with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand forcing things down a goal in the third period. Bergeron and Marchand were put back together with David Pastrnak in the second and third periods with Bruce Cassidy looking for answers, and they attempted to execute a D-zone face-off play that’s worked a few times for them in the last few years.

It involves Bergeron winning the draw, and then either Marchand or Pastrnak immediately releasing for a home run pass that can turn into a breakaway opportunity if the opponent is caught napping. Tampa Bay wasn’t caught unaware when the B’s tried it in the middle of the third period, but then Bergeron and Co. kept trying to make it happen.

They ended up icing the puck multiple times trying to make the goal happen in one quick play rather than working for the tying goal, and it killed any momentum they could have possibly started building up for a third period comeback. It also showed a fundamental lack of confidence that they could scratch and claw their way back in on Thursday night, and that’s a definite cause for concern at this time of year.

“At the end of the day, it is a focus, and it’s urgency, and it’s understanding time and score. We did not have a good comprehension of that tonight, I don’t think, and of late,” said Cassidy. “We’ve let games get away, and you can look back, even this year, we’ve had some goals scored against us late throughout the course of the year. It’s been built in this year, and we’re still fighting through it, to be perfectly honest.

“It’s a mindset that we’ve just got to get harder and understand the stakes, and what’s required after you score a goal. I think winning teams get through that, and we’re fighting through it this year. Some nights, we’ve been good at it. We’ve had resiliency, I think. It’s just, lately, it’s creeping in, and we’ve got to nip it in the bud now.”

It hasn’t been just the young players at the heart of this four-game losing streak, and the Tampa loss should have been a wakeup call that the Bruins veterans need to find a way to step up their focus, their effort level and their composure at this time of year. After their fourth loss in a row, the Bruins have frittered away whatever margin for error they once had with just eight games remaining in the regular season.

Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.