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.