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Friday, October 29, 2010

"Thank you Kessel!"


As I said last week after I attended the Boston Bruins' season opener, their fans get it and that's what makes going to their games the best experience offered by the four Boston professional teams at the moment.

Another tangible example of this is the chant the TD Garden crowd came up with last night after Tyler Seguin gave Boston a 2-0 lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"Thank you Kessel!" Over and over, they sarcastically serenaded the former Bruins forward who was in town with his new team. Trading Kessel to Toronto last season, gave Boston the Leafs' first round pick in 2010 which turned into Seguin.

Getting rid of Kessel was a no-brainer, since he's a one-dimensional, enigmatic player that will always fail on the big stage when the games really matter. I'm not going to induct Seguin into the Hockey Hall of Fame just yet but for just 18 years old, the kid is filthy.

Seguin received the good news after the game that he won't go back to Juniors this season, he's with the big club to stay this season.

In seven games against the Bruins, Kessel has one point (an assist) and he's a -6. How do you spell fraud?

Oh yeah, the B's (5-2-0) shutout the Leafs (5-3-1) 2-0. The other big story line was Tim Thomas (5-0-0), who right now is the NHL's best goaltender. He only had to make 20 saves in his second shutout of the season, which is a credit to the outstanding defense in front of him.

Dennis Seidenberg looked like the guy the B's stole from Florida last season, leading Boston with six blocked shots. He also assisted on Seguin's goal.

Patrice Bergeron opened the scoring with a power play goal with 41 seconds left in the first period. The one-timer was Bergeron's first goal of the season and the 100th of his career. Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic assisted on that one.

Seguin's goal was also a pseudo one-timer as he snapped home a pass from Seidenberg. Michael Ryder also had an assist.

Nathan Horton was tossed out of the game in the second period after he fought Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Horton was upset that Phaneuf punched him while they were sprawled out on the ice. So Horton can score a ton of goals, he's tough and not afraid to throw down with fighters? Somebody order me a Horton t-shirt jersey!

Boston goes to Ottawa tomorrow night and you have to believe that Thomas will get the start. Bruins head coach Claude Julien has to ride the hot hand while he has it. Clearly, Thomas will come back to earth at some point but let's get his trade value as high as possible since he's one of the few pieces they can move and will bring interest around the NHL.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The J.J. Hickson/Byron Scott era truly begins in Cleveland


After Tuesday's spectacle vs. the Heat on Opening Night, the Celtics predictably succumbed to the trap game in Cleveland last night.

At Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs (1-0) began the post-LeBron era with a nice comeback win over the Celts (1-1). Over the course of the season, one of the biggest story lines to focus on for Boston will be how they hold up over back-to-back nights (a ubiquitous part of NBA life).

Mo Williams was out with a groin injury and Antawn Jamison was coming off the bench so I guess the newest marketable star in Cleveland is J.J. Hickson? He did play well, with a game-high 21 points.

Daniel Gibson (haha Boobie) added 16 points off the bench, Ramon Sessions had 14 points while Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker and Ryan Hollins all had 10 points.

Rajon Rondo led the C's with 18 points (never a good sign) while Glen Davis had 14 points off the bench. Looks like the few younger guys on Boston were less fatigued as Paul Pierce (13 points), Ray Allen (12 points) and Kevin Garnett (9 points, 15 rebounds) were not as sharp as they played against Miami.

Boston was up 23-21 after the first quarter and 47-46 at the half. With a decent third quarter (26-22), the C's looked poised to go 2-0 but they had a meltdown in the fourth quarter (27-14).

Even without Rasheed Wallace, odds are the Celtics will be the clubhouse leader in the NBA for technical fouls. They got off to a rousing start last night with two in crunch time (fourth quarter) by Shaq (7 points) and Nate Robinson (8 points). It all started because Robinson kneed Hollins in the balls and Shaq argued the call after Nate picked up a technical foul. Refs are quicker to pull the trigger now on technicals and the Celts will have to adjust somehow since they love to run their mouth after every play/call.

Boston comes home tomorrow night to face the New York Knicks. A team that they've owned in the last couple years but they'll get their first look at Amare Stoudemire.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The most hyped season opener in NBA history was great theater


It's only fitting that a league that is basically built on glitz and glamour (style over substance) would have a season opener last night that was more suited to be an NBA Finals game.

In the debut of the Miami Heat's new big three (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh), the Boston Celtics showed that their older Big 3 still has something left in the tank.

The Celts (1-0) got up by as much 19 points but held off a furious Heat (0-1) rally to win 88-80 at a sold out TD Garden.

Thinking that the Heat would be a finished product immediately was beyond dumb and Boston proved that teamwork, defense and depth are more important than star power and Q ratings.

The best player on the court had four points. His name is Rajon Rondo and while he still doesn't shoot 3s or can't consistently hit jumpers, he is one of the top point guards in a league full of them (Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, etc.).

Rondo had 17 assists (or two more than the Heat as a team) while Ray Allen (20 points), Paul Pierce (19 points) and Kevin Garnett (10 points, 10 rebounds) displayed the chemistry they've forged over three plus seasons together.

LeBron had a game-high 31 points but Wade was the only other Heat in double-figures (with 13 points on a pathetic 4-for-16 shooting).

Mike Miller, their sixth man, being out for the first few months is a huge setback for Miami since bums Joel Anthony and Carlos Arroyo started last night. Udonis Haslem and Eddie House (8 points apiece) were the top options off the bench and this is supposed to be a championship team?

Boston's marquee pickup, Shaq, did pretty much what you'd expect in his Green debut: nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes. He had a couple sweet dunks off assists from Rondo (an alley-oop and a two-handed slam when he trailed on a fastbreak).

Glen Davis (13 points, 5 rebounds) was huge off the bench for the Celts and even Marquis Daniels had eight points, showing his fine preseason might not have been a mirage. This was all without Delonte West, serving his 10-game suspension, who will surely be one of their top reserves.

The first quarter must have made Dr. James Naismith roll over in his grave as Boston led 16-9. The Celts was up 45-30 at the half but in the NBA, every team makes a run and double-digit leads in the first half mean nothing.

LeBron heated up and Miami made it a game with a strong third quarter (27-18). Boston squeezed out the fourth quarter (27-25) with Pierce knocking down two clutch 3-pointers and three free throws after he was fouled taking another 3. Allen hit 3-pointer that was the real dagger with 30 seconds left, which put the C's up 86-80.

Boston shot 46.4% to Miami's 36.5%. The Celts had only three more rebounds (42-39) but ten more assists (25-15) thanks to Rondo.

I'd love to see the Heat crash and burn but the NBA revolves around its stars and they'll be fine. If they can stay healthy (a huge if with this bunch of old-timers), the Celts should go deep into the playoffs once again.

Seems like the offseason was over in the blink of an eye since the Celts went seven games with the Lakers in an epic NBA Finals but it's nice to have this fun, well-coached team back.

Boston goes to Cleveland tonight for the Cavs' first regular season game post-LeBron.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chargers can't get out of their own way, hand game to the Patriots


You'll never see a more bizarre display of NFL football than the Patriots-Chargers game yesterday afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

The Chargers (2-5) gave up four turnovers in the first half: an interception, a fumble and then two crazy plays that are more likely to be seen on a Pee Wee field.

Still, the Patriots (5-1) played well when they had to (namely on a 79-yard touchdown drive to start the second half) and most importantly, the defense continues to improve by leaps and bounds from earlier in the season. No doubt about it, this was a game that the 2009 Patriots would have found a way to lose.

Sure it took a missed 50-yard field goal by Kris Brown with 22 seconds left (after a 5-yard false start penalty by San Diego) to escape with a 23-20 win but this looked like the type of unlikely victory that the Patriots were famous for during their Super Bowl days. They outcoached (for the most part) and their players didn't make the myriad mental mistakes that the Chargers did.

Brown gave San Diego a 3-0 lead in first quarter on a 32-yard field goal. From there, it was one fatal mistake after another for the home team. With Malcolm Floyd and Legedu Naanee out with injuries and Antonio Gates hobbled with turf toe, the Chargers were forced to give playing time to scrubs and it cost them.

Kris Wilson fumbled (recovered by Jerod Mayo), giving the Pats a short field which they took advantage of when Tom Brady (159 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) hit rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski with 1-yard touchdown pass. It was 7-3 New England after one quarter.

In the second quarter, Chargers rookie wide receiver Richard Goodman made his first NFL catch then put the ball on the field without being touched. Patriots safety James Sanders alertly fell on it. Later, Philip Rivers (336 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) threw a deep pass which was picked off by rookie cornerback Devin McCourty. There was also a backward pass from Rivers to Jacob Hester that the fullback missed and then walked away from. Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich picked it up and raced down to the San Diego 8-yard line.

Even with those two gifts, New England was only able to add six points on a 40-yard kick by Stephen Gostkowski and a 35-yard field goal by Gostkowski, who has regained his touch after early season struggles. The Pats offense only had 38 yards in the first half and they were 0 for 6 on third down.

The Patriots seemingly put the game away with a drive which covered 79-yards in 8:25 to start the third quarter. BenJarvus Green-Ellis dove in from a yard out to give New England a 20-3 lead over lifeless San Diego.

Things went haywire in the fourth quarter as Brown started the rally with a 28-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter. Gostkowski answered with another 35-yard kick which proved to the final points for the Patriots.

Gates (50 yards receiving) woke up in the fourth quarter and caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Rivers. After recovering an onside kick, Mike Tolbert plunged in from 1-yard out to make it 23-20 New England.

On the next drive, Bill Belichick opted to go for it on fourth and 1 at midfield but Green-Ellis was dropped for a one-yard loss. Images of the soul-crushing defeat to the Colts last season were front and center as it looked like San Diego might get the comeback triumph that turns around their season.

Well almost. They got in field goal range but the 45-yard field goal turned into 50 yards and that was enough to make Brown squeeze it to the right.

Aaron Hernandez (5 catches, 54 yards) was the only Patriots receiver to have a decent day while Patrick Crayton (7 catches, 82 yards) and Darren Sproles (9 catches, 70 yards) took advantage of way more touches than they're used to.

Mayo (11 tackles, 10 solo) had his third straight game with double-digit tackles as he continues to show the beast mode he had his rookie season two years ago. McCourty is also looking like a very solid first round pick and just maybe, the Pats have the No. 1 corner they've been sorely lacking since they didn't pay Asante Samuel.

Brett Favre & Randy Moss limp into Gillette Stadium on Halloween as the Vikings (2-4) can't afford another loss this early into the season. They choked in Lambeau Field last night and it should be nothing short of a circus atmosphere with Moss' return and all the drama surrounding the ol' gunslinger.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Let's hope this trend from last season doesn't continue


One of the reasons the Bruins struggled so much last season (besides the fact that they couldn't score, which is kind of a big deal) was the fact that they always played down to competition and struggled to beat the teams that they should handle.

Last night at the TD Garden vs. the New York Rangers was the first instance in this young season that the B's (4-2-0) haven't quite gotten over that disturbing trend. They were lethargic and lost 3-2 to the Rangers (3-2-1).

Tuukka Rask (0-2-0) got his first start in two weeks and it wasn't a good one. He stopped 27 shots but was victimized by two fluke goals in the first period by the offensively-challenged Rangers.

Artem Ansimov (power play) and Alexander Frolov scored 37 seconds apart in the first period, giving New York an early 2-0 lead. It was a strange period based on the goals and all the fighting: Sean Avery squared off vs. Marc Stuart, Shawn Thornton took on monster Derek Boogaard and Milan Lucic and Brandon Prust tangled for a second before it was broken up.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara answered with a power play goal for the second straight game. With five seconds left in the period, his blast from the point was assisted by Mark Recchi (his partner on the back line on the power play) and Nathan Horton.

Mark Staal scored on a breakaway 48 seconds into the second period and that's all the scoring that the Rangers would need thanks to their star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (35 saves).

Horton cut it to 3-2 later in the second with his fifth of the season, from David Krejci and Dennis Seidenberg.

The third period went by without any scoring, Boston couldn't find the tying goal and New York escaped with a gift two points.

The B's are off until Thursday when Phil Kessel and the Maple Leafs come to the TD Garden.

Johnny Boychuk left the game last night with a wrist injury after being slashed, so hopefully Chara's defensive partner is ok. He really came into his own in the spring during the playoffs and he would be a big loss.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Jump aboard the Black & Gold bandwagon while there is still room


If the Boston Bruins go on to do something special in the spring (namely end a 39 year drought for a Stanley Cup), I can proudly say that my buddy Rick and I were on the ground floor of some history.

One of my best friends from college and I were in Loge 7 last night for the Bruins' home opener against the Washington Capitals and it was a great time to be a Masshole as the B's (4-1-0) won convincingly 4-1 at the TD Garden.

It was Boston's fourth straight victory as Tim Thomas (38 saves, 4-0-0) was in between the pipes for the fourth game in a row and he looked like the Vezina trophy winner of two seasons ago, rather than the hobbled bum that was stapled to the bench last season behind Tuukka Rask.

Washington (4-3-0) has been one of the most high-octane offenses in the NHL the past few seasons but as their postseason chokes attest, that formula falls apart when the game changes in the playoffs (just ask the San Jose Sharks). It's all about goaltending, defense and timely scoring in that order when the results really count.

If I could bottle up any crowd in professional sports around here, no doubt it would be the Bruins. The prices get hiked up every season, the B's continue to epically fail in the playoffs and yet the residents of South Boston, Winthrop, Revere, etc. continue to eat it up. They love their predictable hard rock soundtracks and you can't accuse people that go to Bruins games of being frauds.

You go to Patriots games to drink in a parking lot, to Red Sox games to be seen (and scope out smokeshows in the summer temps.) and to Celtics games for the party atmosphere. There's nothing sexy about Bruins fans, quite the opposite when you see most of them up close, but it's all authentic blood, guts and cheap light beer (that they'll gladly spill on you after a goal). Kind of like they just stepped off the set as extras for The Town, I can't say enough about it.

Even in the home opener, we'll boo Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder for being underachieving (former) and overpaid (latter) bums but we'll still cheer Ryder for potting a sweet power-play goal in the first period last night from Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin. That came with 28 seconds left in the first period, a turning point heading into the locker room.

Rookie Jordan Caron, who is playing out of his mind, made it 2-0 at 2:22 into the second period. Bergeron found him with a pretty no-look feed from behind the net and he roofed it over Sergei Varlamov (30 saves). Matt Hunwick also assisted.

Besides Seguin and Caron, the other real notable Garden debut was for Nathan Horton. He continued his torrid start with a power-play goal at 12:16 in the second period. Mark Recchi and Milan Lucic assisted the ex-Florida Panther, who skated into a soft spot in the Caps' defensive zone and fired a slap shot that had just enough oomph to trickle into the net.

Thomas' shutout was erased in the third period as he cleared it right to Washington forward Jason Chimera but nobody really minded. Boston captain Zdeno Chara added his club's third power-play tally (after coming into the game with one as a team while Washington hadn't allowed one PP goal) with 16 seconds left in the game. Blake Wheeler and Johnny Boychuk assisted on Chara's thunderbolt that sent an already tipsy Garden crowd back to the surrounding bars after the game for more opening night merriment.

The Rangers come to the Garden on Saturday night.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lucic impresses with the Gordie Howe hat trick


When do the Stanley Cup finals tickets go on sale? And when is the rolling rally with the Duck boats for the Bruins?

Haha, just kidding. I realize that we're not even a few weeks into the 2010-2011 NHL season but you have to admit that your Boston Bruins are off to a great start.

In their last game of a four-game road trip that has spanned the globe, the B's (3-1-0) went to DC and snapped the Capitals (4-2-0) four-game win streak with a 3-1 victory last night at the Verizon Center.

Tim Thomas got his third straight start between the pipes for Boston and once again, he didn't disappoint. He made 35 saves to improve to 3-0-0 on the young season.

Milan Lucic scored a goal, had an assist and got into a heavyweight fight, adding up to the Gordie Howe hat trick. David Krejci had a goal and an assist, Matt Hunwick coughed up the puck which led to Washington's only goal but he made up for it with his first goal of the season. Finally, Greg Campbell got into his second fight of the season.

What's not to like about this team? Especially since they have the dominant first line (Lucic, Krejci and Nathan Horton) that they lacked all last season. That trio has the right combination of brawn, skill and scoring ability to ensure it should be around for a while.

Boston jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period as Krejci scored at 9:12 off a beautiful centering pass from Horton. Lucic started the sequence with a key chip into the Caps' zone.

In less than three minutes, Lucic was on the board with a rebound goal after some hard work in front of the net (ie. taking a beating but standing up to it). Johnny Boychuk's shot deflected in front and Looch was able to work for and tap it in. Krejci originally found Boychuk with a cross ice pass so he also had an assist.

At that point Capitals goaltender Michael Neuvirth (5 saves) skated to the dressing room done for the night with a nasty bout of the flu. He was replaced by Simeon Varlamov (13 saves).

Marcus Johansson got Washington back to 2-1 with a lucky bounce at 7:42 in the second period. Jason Chimera and Matt Hendricks assisted.

At 2:08 as I said, Hunwick scored on a long screened shot from Dennis Seidenberg and Blake Wheeler.

Thomas stood up to 18 Washington shots in the third period and the B's held Alexander Ovechkin scoreless for the first time this season (not an easy task by any means).

The two teams meet again tomorrow night at the TD Garden for the Bruins' home opener. I expect to see Tuukka Rask in net since he hasn't started in over a week now and they don't want to let him get too rusty.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Patriots beat Ravens in OT after dream return by Deion Branch


From what I remember (glug, glug), 2002-2005 was a special time for me since I was in college and coincidentally, Deion Branch helped the Patriots win two Super Bowls during that special time in both of our lives.

I'll never go back to college (which is good news for my liver) but Branch's return to New England yesterday proved that F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong when he famously remarked "there are no second acts in life."

Well if the unwashed masses had any doubt that Branch had anything left in the tank, they're currently digging out old Branch jerseys and trading in their Randy Moss jerseys.

The Pats (4-1) were down 20-10 in the fourth quarter but stormed back to win 23-20 to beat the Ravens (4-2) yesterday afternoon in overtime at Gillette Stadium.

It was just like old times as Branch (9 catches, 98 yards, 1 touchdown) and Brady (292 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions) looked like the dynamic duo they used to be in those halcyon days.

More than anything, this signature win validated that New England is back. I'm not saying they're going to the Super Bowl, it's such a crap shoot to make it that far, but this was one of the biggest and most important victories they've picked up in years.

Joe Flacco (27 for 35, 285 yards, 2 touchdowns) and the Ravens offense was moving up and down the field on the Pats defense until the fourth quarter and Overtime (ie. when it mattered most). Somehow, the Patriots stopped the Ravens three times in OT before they finally moved the ball and won it with a 35-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.

It was a vintage game since the Pats got contributions from bigger names, role players and emerging talents. Danny Woodhead had 115 total yards (63 yards rushing, 52 yards receiving), Aaron Hernandez caught four passes for 61 yards and had a reverse for 18 yards while Wes Welker moved the chains as usual (7 catches, 53 yards).

For one game at least, against one of the NFL's best defense, it was tangible proof that you don't need the deep ball threat. Without Randy Moss, the Patriots already seem better suited to long drives and spreading it around. This offense will struggle at times but it was shocking how well Branch played in his first game back in over four seasons wasting away in Seattle.

Ray Rice rushed 28 times for 88 yards and Derrick Mason had eight catches for 100 yards.

Baltimore received the opening kick and had a long drive but were limited to a 26-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis and New England responded with a 2-yard touchdown run for a 7-3 lead with 25 seconds left in the first quarter.

Todd Heap had the only score of the second quarter, a 16-yard touchdown catch from Flacco early in the second quarter.

When the Ravens' Anquan Boldin was left wide open and hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Flacco, things did not look good with a 17-7 Balitmore lead early in the third quarter.

On the next drive, Gostkowski hit his first field goal of the day (38 yards) as the Pats started to chip away.

Cundiff gave the Ravens a 10-point lead once again with a 25-yard kick at the beginning of the fourth quarter but Branch caught a clutch 5-yard touchdown pass from Brady (heard that one before?) and Gostkowski tied it with a 24-yard kick with 1:51 remaining in the game.

This one had it all, including some great defensive work from Jerod Mayo (18 total tackles, 11 solo), Brandon Spikes (16 total tackles, 10 solo) and Patrick Chung (13 total, 5 solo).

A schedule that looked so daunting when the season started, gets some breaks in the next few weeks since the Chargers (2-4) are a complete mess with Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd possibly out for Sunday's game in San Diego. Plus, the sideshow that is the Minnesota Vikings (2-3) with Brett Favre and Moss come to Gillette on Halloween.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Must not overhype, must not overhype


The New Jersey Devils are a mess right now. Last week, they dressed only 16 players for a game and have been skating three lines of forwards due to various injuries.

It is also October so the NHL season hasn't even begun unless you're a serious puckhead or NHL fantasy fan.

Nonetheless, seeing the Bruins (2-1) absolutely smoke the Devils (1-4-1) 4-1 last night in beautiful Newark, NJ at the Prudential Center was one of the highlights of my weekend (and I had a great one, thanks for asking).

Where to start? For the second straight game, Tim Thomas looked like the Tim Thomas of two seasons ago (the Vezina Trophy winner) vs. the 2009 version that was a shaky backup for young stud Tuukka Rask.

Boston was off for almost a week as they recovered from their European working vacation but Thomas is already in mid-season form, turning aside 31 shots by the Devils to improve to 2-0-0.

The B's also featured four different goal-scorers, who found the back of the net in a four-goal spurt that covered less than 13 minutes in the second period.

Dainius Zubrus gave New Jersey a 1-0 lead 3:45 into the second frame assisted by Zach Parise and Andy Greene but less than two minutes later, Jordan Caron scored his first NHL goal (helper to Johnny Boychuk). It was not highlight worthy, a simple rebound from the dirty area around the net, but it worked for a 20-year-old guy who wasn't supposed to make the team this season (or at least right out of camp).

The phantom that is Michael Ryder made an appearance and scored his first of the season, thanks to a gorgeous assist from stud Tyler Seguin and Mark Recchi.

Boston's fourth line (or energy/checking line) kept the good times rolling with the third even strength goal of the period, by Shawn Thornton. He showed some good skill, stickhandling in the New Jersey zone and past Martin Brodeur (31 saves but finally slowing down). Gregory Campbell and Brad Marchand assisted on Thornton's tally.

Finally, Milan Lucic got his second goal of the season with 1:51 left in the second period. His top linemates of David Krejci and Nathan Horton were credited with assists. Looks like Looch might have his scoring touch back after it was completely absent last season (due to numerous nagging injuries).

Boston outshot New Jersey 11-7 in the third period (and 35-32 for the game) but it was a scoreless final 20 minutes.

This sets up a nice home and home with the Washington Capitals on Tuesday in the nation's capital and Thursday night at the Garden for the 2010 home opener (which I will be at, WOOOOOOOOOO!).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Welcome back Deion


Last night, what had been whispered for days officially came through: former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch is back with the Patriots.

The Seattle Seahawks basically dumped him (sound familiar Randy Moss?) for only a fourth-round draft pick in exchange.

Branch was drafted in 2002 by New England and in his four seasons with the Patriots, they won two Super Bowls while he proved himself to be a big time wide receiver that always shows up when the stakes are their highest.

Naturally, the local knuckle dragging Belichick sycophants love the move and I can't say I disagree with them. However, we have to keep in mind two things: 1) Branch is 31 and he has only played 16 games in a season once (2005, his last with the Pats) and 2) he wasn't even playing in Seattle anymore.

I will give him the benefit of the doubt since Seattle has been a mess the last few seasons and the fact that they paid him (and pictured him) as a No. 1 receiver is beyond laughable. Branch is the definition of a system guy and when he was with Tom Brady, he was teamed up with the perfect type of quarterback.

There's a reason Brady and Branch are BFFs and Brady reportedly texted him last week when he knew Moss was done in New England. The good news is that Branch doesn't have to be a savior (unlike Moss in Minnesota) and there's plenty of other weapons around him: Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead, etc. to ensure that he doesn't have to put up fantasy numbers right away.

Branch is a classy professional and he should be a good mentor for all the young talent on the Patriots. He is a key to the storied past but hopefully he still has something left to give to this team which can use anything he's got.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Last season is over, time to move on


When the Boston Bruins epically pissed down their leg in May, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals after leading 3-0 in the series and 3-0 in Game 7 (only 3rd NHL team, 4th in pro sports to cough up 3-0 series lead), there were two choices: never watch the team again or get over the devastating loss (eventually) and look forward.

Like most people, I chose the latter if only because I felt like the B's are on the cusp of being very, very good.

After drafting Tyler Seguin No. 2 overall in the 2010 NHL draft and shipping Dennis Wideman to the Florida Panthers for Nathan Horton (pictured above with his smokeshow wife) and Gregory Campbell, Boston had two scoring studs that it sorely lacked last season.

It's still the Bruins who haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1972 and nothing is ever easy or smooth. That point was hammered home with Marc Savard's post-concussion symptoms that will postpone his return indefinitely. Add to that, Boston completely sleep-walked through their season-opener vs. the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday in Prague, Czech Republic.

Phoenix dominated all game long and won 5-2 although Horton did score twice in his Boston debut.

It figures that I'd park myself in front of the TV to watch all of that stink pie but I missed two periods of yesterday's 3-0 win over those same Coyotes in the O2 Arena in Praha (aka Prague).

A 10 a.m. EST start on a Sunday the morning after my gf's birthday ensured that watching the game live was a pipe dream. However, I did witness Seguin's first career goal (a lovely breakaway where he deeked Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and put the backhander in).

Yesterday was a breath of fresh air for the franchise and it showed why the Bruins are a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference and beyond. Their backup goalie Tim Thomas stopped 29 shots for the shutout, Milan Lucic and Horton scored second period goals and David Krejci had two assists.

Boston has proven the last two seasons that they can play defense and last year with the emergence of Tuukka Rask, they have as good a 1-2 punch between the pipes as you'll find.

The B's get back to action on this side of the pond on Saturday night at New Jersey and the home opener back at the TD Garden is Oct. 21 vs. the Washington Capitals.

No fan base in New England comes close to the Bruins in terms of irrational love and support. To put it simply, if you still follow this team you're a die-hard. Their owners and management have given the fan base plenty of reasons to leave and never come back but there they were showing up in big numbers for two Islanders-Bruins rookie games at the Garden a few weeks ago.

The Red Sox are stuck in neutral in the best division in baseball, nobody knows what to expect from the Patriots week to week and the Celtics are great. The Bruins fill the void in terms of passionate and knowledgeable fans, see you at the Garden.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

So long homey


Crazy stuff coming out of Foxborough today as the Patriots traded star wide receiver Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings for a third round draft pick in 2011.

It ended a three plus year stay in New England for Moss, who came here in a shocking draft day deal in 2007 from the Oakland Raiders (for the pittance of a fourth round draft pick).

He had 50 touchdowns in 52 regular season games, including his record setting 2007 (98 catches, 1493 yards, 23 touchdowns) where he put up video game numbers.

The team choked in the 2008 Super Bowl vs. the Giants and then got progressively worse the next few seasons since Tom Brady got hurt and in the last few season's, they tried to force the deep ball to Moss way too much.

Getting a third round pick in return seems like way too little compensation but obviously Bill Belichick and the Patriots felt like it was time to cut bait with Moss who is in a contract year but so far has done little in four games this season (9 catches, 139 yards, 3 touchdowns).

Going to the Vikings make sense for Moss since with uberclown Brett Favre still hanging around there, they'll be throwing his cherished deep ball 10 times a game. It will add up to some wins and highlights but when it counts, this ensures even further than Minnesota won't win the Super Bowl this season or as long as both Favre and Moss are there.

The fine folks in Minnesota are embracing Moss (who played there from 1998-2004) just like they have jumped onboard with Favre the last two summers. Too bad they're being hoodwinked by these two bozos.

The Patriots die-hards that never question anything Belichick for anything he does for once in their lives are getting objective. Nobody likes the deal save for Moss critics like Mike Felger.

So here we are. It's the Patriots' bye week but this is one of the biggest stories in the 2010 NFL season and to think it all started with rumors on Twitter yesterday that I thought were a joke.

Best of all, Moss will be right back in the spotlight on Monday as the Vikings take on the New York Jets in Monday Night Football. I'll shamelessly admit that I have Moss on a fantasy football team and I think this dramatically improves his value. Also on my side, I have tickets to see the Vikings-Patriots game at Gillette Stadium on Halloween. That was already a juicy game but now it takes on much more significance.

With the Moss deal, the Pats now have two picks in the first four rounds of the 2011 draft.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Neither the Dolphins nor myself saw that one coming


Nobody, not even the biggest Pats footie pajamas fanboy, could have possibly seen last night's Pats blowout of the Dolphins coming.

It was Monday Night Football in Miami and after losing to the Jets (3-1) on Sunday night, the Dolphins (2-2) figured to bounce back.

Miami led 7-6 at the half but the Patriots (3-1) exploded for 35 points in the second half, on the way to a 41-14 thrashing that completely changed the complexion of the AFC East (for one week at least).

In the process, New England became the first team in NFL history to record a touchdown catch, touchdown run, interception for a touchdown, a blocked field goal for a touchdown and kickoff return for a touchdown.

Obviously, the special teams were the difference, giving every football coach in the world a pants tent since that's something they harp about ad nauseum.

The biggest stars last night? Patrick Chung, Rob Ninkovich, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Brandon Tate and Jerod Mayo. And yes, this is real life.

When the game started, Miami looked like they were going to run over New England, literally. The Pats defense continued to play like they were wearing ice skates as Chad Henne (302 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions) threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Davone Bess (9 catches, 93 yards).

Ninkovich made two picks, one late in the first quarter and the other in the second quarter, that were converted into two field goals by Stephen Gostkowski: 23-yard and 30-yard kicks.

Brandon Tate took the opening kick of the second half and completely changed the game by returning it 103 yards for his second return touchdown of the season.

That 13-7 lead morphed into 20-7 a few minutes later as Green-Ellis (16 carries, 76 yards) ran up the middle 12 yards for the touchdown. It was all set up by Chung, who blocked a punt that was scooped up by Brandon Spikes at the Dolphins' 15-yard line.

Miami seemed to respond as the ageless Ricky Williams ran a screen pass in for a 28-yard touchdown.

Tom Brady (153 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions) and the offense got the job done on the next drive, as he eventually found Woodhead for a 11-yard touchdown pass.

It got much worse for the Dolphins in the fourth quarter as Dan Carpenter's 54-yard field goal was blocked by Chung and picked up by Kyle Arrington, who returned it 35 yards for the touchdown. Game over, it was 34-14 New England.

Finally, Chung capped off his career night with a 51-yard interception return for a score off of Henne. Once again, Henne was exposed for the fraud he is. I should have known better, I saw him enough at Michigan to realize that he'll never be better than average but I bought into the Dolphins.

Mark Sanchez is better than Henne and the Jets are better than the Pats and Dolphins. Fact not opinion as Mike Felger has famously said a million times.

The post-script from the game are some interesting stats: Randy Moss didn't have a catch for the first time in his Patriots career. Wes Welker had eight catches for 70 yards, including a vital third-down conversion. Mayo looked awesome, making 14 solo tackles and two assists. Also, Ninkovich had a sack in what Mike Tirico called "the best night of his football life."

Now we have two weeks to all jump back on the Pats bandwagon and feel the love. The schedule gets particularly hard after the bye week since they host Baltimore then go to San Diego.

For one night though, Belichick and Brady were pumped up on the sidelines as the game wound down and this season has much more hope and potential.