Patriots

Same old, same old

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Same old, same old

By Michael Felger

Which previous champion should we compare the Patriots to? Where is the Bruins' heartbeat?

It seems we can ask the same questions every year.

Hey, Felgy,Now I'm starting to get a little concerned. The Pats are bowling over the competition and "may" not be getting properly tested for the mentalphysical toughness you need to get through the playoffs. I think this kind of happened in '07, and I think the offense is better equipped to handle it this time. But how about the defense and the coaching? I guess we may find out with any one (or all) of the three remaining games down the stretch, but if we don't?Your thoughts . . . PhilMethuen

My thought is that there is absolutely, positively nothing you can do about it. If you want close games you can rest your starters, but then you're not getting anything out of those games, either. So then what do you do? Tell your starters to suck so they can play a close game?

I agree that there's something to the notion of being battle-tested. I agree that having a run of soft games down the stretch can lead to bad habits. But the bottom line is that there's nothing you can do about it.

The good news is that the Pats are just coming through a stretch against some of the best teams in the league. In 2007 they never had a two-month stretch like this one: Baltimore, at San Diego, Minnesota, at Cleveland, at Pittsburgh, Indy, at Detroit on Thanksgiving, Jets and at Chicago. Whatever the Pats needed to gain for a postseason run was acquired in that stretch.

Hey, Felger,It feels like 2007 except for one BIG difference: This team's accomplishments are not happening under the mega-downer shadow of Spygate.This is LEGIT and this is FUN! Marie
No doubt that this a fun team to root for. It's much more interesting in my mind than the 2007 version, which, as I've said before, was just a collection of talent. The '07 squad wasn't exactly the kind of Patriots "team" we came to know and love through the earlier part of last decade. They were more like the Colts soft, high-scoring and, ultimately, unable to come through when it counted. The Spygate thing also dulled it for some people, even around here.

Hey, Felger,Clearly the Pats are clicking on all cylinders and beating the crap out of all of the top teams in the AFC. But I still am not completely sold on the defense and their ability to succeed in the playoffs. They have succeeded with everything that has been put before them, but are they ready for the playoffs? The offense has given them double-digit leads to work with in almost every win this season, which is no guarantee in the postseason. The only real, wire-to-wire close game where every series meant something was the Ravens game. Can the Pats' 'D' play in a game like that and still be successful? I also feel like they rely on the turnover a bit too much. Come playoff time the turnovers I think will come down by opposing teams and this could be a problem for the Pats. Can they win without the turnover? Ryan
Beyond legit, Ryan. I still say the offense is going to have to win these games for the Patriots, with the defense playing a complimentary role. Now, weather is going to be huge factor the remainder of the regular season and, presumably, the first two rounds of the playoffs. I trust the defense to do enough in those situations with the possible exception of a return engagement from Peyton Manning. In that case, I don't trust the defense. That will be a game where anything can happen. The other game that would worry me? The Super Bowl under the roof in Dallas against a good NFC offense like New Orleans, Philly or Atlanta. That's a game where the Pats are going to have to hang on for dear life.

Hey, Felgy,Curious for your thoughts on this. The Pats shipped Maroney to Denver for a fourth-round pick and then shipped a fourth-round pick to Seattle for Branch. And as you've commented on many times, then they shipped the "turd in the punch bowl" to Minnesota for a third-round pick. So BB basically shipped out Moss and Maroney for Branch and a third-round selection. I think that Branch's contributions alone have given them far more than anything they could have expected out of Maroney or Moss. Plus they netted out an additional third-round pick (which likely will become a second in 2012, given how BB loves for move up a round into the following year's draft). At the beginning of the season I think many would have called such moves foolhardy; now I think you'd have to call those moves a steal. Your thoughts.JoeWoburn

Absolute grand slams on the part of Belichick. He would have made his team better by simply releasing Maroney and Moss for nothing in return. Those guys are classic, addition-by-subtraction guys. But to also get those draft picks in return? Masterstrokes. What made the Moss move even better, of course, is that no one understood it at the time (with a few notable exceptions . . . ahem).

Felger,When do we start to talk about Moss being the MVP for forcing the trade??Thanks for sticking around here, Mike, big fan. I couldn't stand you when you started, but you grew on me over the years. Thanks for bringing a different point of view to the fans. This town is full of robot media types . . . keep it up.James
Don't talk about Tanguay like that. But you're right on that first point. Randy Moss is turning into the Mo Lewis of 2010.

Felger,Will Spikes be a Patriot next season? He's already had three strikes (eye gouging, sex tape, banned substance). I realize two of them came before he was in the NFL, but you'd think he'd be smarter than he has shown.AndrewLeominster

The Pats won't hold those things against him. They could care less about sex tapes made in college. Or eye-gouging, for that matter. But if those incidents, plus the failed test, are indication of his intelligencematurity level, and if those things don't improve, then it's just a matter of time before he does something to take himself out of Foxboro or out of the league. It's totally up to him. I'd be more concerned about him being a part of the league's testing program. If he was pushing the limits before, he may not be able to do that in the future and maybe he'll be a lesser player because of it. In other words, it's not uncommon for players who fail PED tests to be not as productive as they were prior to getting busted. Funny how that happens, right?

Felger,I think you and that other soccer twit owe Brandon Spikes an apology after your disparaging remarks about him Friday night.WilfredDelta Junction, Alaska

What specifically are you talking about? That he's a PED guy? What in the world would ever lead us to believe that?

Felger,I saw that Brett Favre is selling a signed football on his website with the No. 297 and the dates of his first and last game. It is only 499.99. Did you ask Mrs. Felger to buy it for Christmas? I can't wait for that fraud to ride off to his next calling -- a porn shoot in the California valley. Freakin' degenerate!!!KenWhitman

It's been quite a bit of fuss for someone who has won a grand total of three playoff games the past 12 years, wouldn't you say?

Hey, Felger,Get over your Jets love. First of all, you keep saying Sanchez is going to be good. Well most QBs make that leap in the second year. Manning, Brady, Flacco, Ryan (first year), Rivers, Brees, I could go on and on. There is no evidence that he's going to be good. However I can name a lot of top 5 quarterbacks who never got better: Alex Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington, etc. Just because Sanchez made some big plays against bad competition doesn't indicate anything. So did Jake Plummer, another West Coast, Pac-10, overhyped QB.As for the rest of the Jets, Rex was a great DC and he has made the Jets a formidable defense mostly with players Mangini brought in. The core is there, but the Jets have a ton of free agents and they are not all going to take market deals to come back to a franchise that has really won nothing.So bottom line, Mikey, the Jets haven't won anything. Going to the AFC Championship last year and getting blown out after getting gifted into the postseason is like kissing your sister. As far as beating the Pats 2-of-4 times, who cares? So have the Dolphins, and no one is putting them on the precipice of greatness. You keep mentioning they went farther than the Patriots last year. Wow, Mike, thanks for stating the obvious. That was an average Patriots team in transition. It only would support your argument if the Jets had surpassed the Pats again this year.You talked heavily about the "Jet way." So far it hasn't proven to be anything that exudes greatness. Are the Jets in the picture the next few years? Yes, but no more than a dozen other teams. Study your NFL history, Mike. The Ryan Jets are a carbon copy of the Ryan Eagles, a team with big mouths, star players, a young QB and a lot of hype. And it ended with Buddy being show the door. Read the story of the Boy who Cried Wolf, Mike. Rex is the mouth that won't shut up. GeorgeWoburn

P.S. I think the Red Soxownership is so afraid of the decline in TV ratings on the nights DiceK pitches they are looking to trade him. You think I'm kidding but I amsure there are charts and graphs to support this.

Brilliant observation on that last point, whether it's actually true or not. I like it. As for your Jets obsession, I don't know what I can do to help you. For a team that is so pathetic, you certainly seem to have some strong feelings for them. That's rare. Usually we reserve such passion for the teams we deem a threat.

Felgy,The baseball media in this town drives me crazy. After years of absolutely CRUSHING the J.D. Drew contract, the sycophants are now lauding Carl Crawford for seven years @ over 20 million per. Let's see how the career averages of the two stack up through the age of 29. With how good you've been on Randy Moss, I thought you'd be averse to falling in love with the razzle dazzle players . . . Drew (I didn't count his rookie year in which he played 14 games):SLG: .504OBP: .385OPS: .889AVG: .284HR: 20Crawford:SLG: .444OPB: .337 (pathetic, IMO, for a speed guy)OPS: .781AVG: .296HR: 12My opinion: were it not for the fall-out of steroids, there's no way Crawford even sniffs at that kind of money. This is all apart of a larger shift in baseball, and I don't like it one bit. It's too soon to determine what the "post Steroid-Era" baseball player is.Thanks,GregManchester NH

It's pretty obvious what happened here, Greg. For business reasons (TV ratings, market share, etc.), the Red Sox felt they needed to make a splash. Otherwise, that deal makes little sense. They don't need more speed. They don't need another left-handed bat. They don't need a middle-of-the-order guy who doesn't hit for power. Yet they needed some buzz and Crawford fit the bill. And all that said, he's still a very good ballplayer. He'll make them better. We can pick the signing apart, but we really shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. What, you want another Mike Cameron?

Hey, Felger! Now that my ice-cream headache has subsided (come on, Mazz, get over the Teixeira thing; people make mistakes -- I've been married three times -- and at least they realized their wrong and tried to right it), I would like to comment on where I think Crawford fits in the lineup. I have not heard anyone mention leadoff. Ellsbury is gone. Right now he is just a chip to be bartered for later. My lineup as of now would be Crawford, Pedy, Gonzo, Youk, Papi, Cameron, Drew and who cares. L-R-L-R-L-R-L-R. Pretty balanced, I'd say. Now let's get back to football and hockey talk.SteveChester NH

Don't think so. You don't pay someone over 20 million per season to lead off. You pay them to drive in some runs, and I'm pretty sure the Sox are going ask Crawford to do that. If you look at his numbers batting third in Tampa last year (.323 average; .890 OPS) there is reason to believe he can do it.

Hey, Felger,Doesn't Adrian Gonzalez bear a striking resemblance to Lou Merloni with the beard? Long-lost twins? I think so.MattNatick

I think Lou would prefer to have his swing over his facial hair.

Hey, Felgah, What's with those lame questions to Thornton each week? One minute you're railing (deservedly so) on the Bruins for a lack of response to the McQuaid hit, and the next you're accepting a "well . . . you know . . . it's a tie game at the time'' response from Thornton. Tie game?! The regular season is just one big team-building exercise. Who cares about a lousy two points in December? Did they learn nothing from the fan reaction last year? Where the hell is Cam's stamp on this team? We keep waiting with each of his promotions for a hint of the Big Bad Bruins, yet we keep getting this passionless, robotic squad that looks to be trying to win a Lady Byng. Favorite Christmas present, indeed. Daniel

A: I can't disagree with one thing you've said, although I don't know how much you expect me to challenge him on a TV set. (Why are you guys such wussies, Shawn?) They aren't a hard team to play against. They just don't leave a mark. I'm not saying they suck. They'll make the playoffs. But does this group have what it takes to be great? I don't see where the evidence of that is.

For me, the bottom line is this: Chiarelli, Julien and Chara have done a good job lifting the Bruins out of the basement. That's no small feat (just ask Toronto). But do they have what it takes to get the B's to the next level? Again, if they do, I haven't seen it.

Felger, You DB! So I was watching Mohegan Sun Sports Tonight last night and I'm sort of conflicted after seeing the "Someone's Gotta Go" segment. Is Tanguay stupid because he doesn't understand why you're complaining about Bruins ownership, or is he brain dead because he thinks that his mention of a magic wand in the introduction requires him to remind viewers that neither of you actually possess mystical powers? As for the Bruins ownership, in the last 15 days they have traded Matt Hunwick and Marco Strum for Colby Cohen while casting some rather harsh glances at Jodie Shelly after he tried to play Lawn Darts with Adam McQuaid -- and I don't think JJ or Chuck have lost a wink of sleep over it. They could care less that their GM seems to miss the fact that the Blackhawks managed to win a cup BEFORE they were forced to have a team yard sale.At this point, I don't know what's worse: Chiarelli building a soft team that needs cap-driven fire sales after choking in the playoffs three years running . . . or the fact that he needed two flushes to send Sturm to the Kings for nothing. And please, don't let anyone tell you the Bruins were forced to sell low on Sturm. Terming it as selling would imply there was an exchange of goods of some sort. Wouldn't peddling Wheeler have at least gotten something in return? Ownership also seems oblivious to the fact that the Bruins' captain plays like he spent his offseason listening to the Swami Baha's power-of-positive-thinking records. Maybe next year they can have the preseason team-building weekend in Tibet? The owner, GM and coach don't have a problem with Big Z playing like a Big P, but I'm sure there are plenty of fans that would have liked to see their captain make an example out of somebody after the Flyers tried to turn McQuaid into rink signage. And, yes, we know the refs sent Shelley off, and he was very sorry and sent chocolates and flowers but there are at least four other guys on the Flyers that deserve a punch in the face "just because." This was as good an excuse to do so as any. If JJ and Charles in Charge want to convince their fans and the media that they really want that "Big Trophy," they let PC can the coach, let Cam can PC, or both, eat some of those deals and pay to get a couple of tyrants who will light a fire under this team. Show the fans you really want it by finding leadership that will make the team show it on the ice -- or else. No more contracts that look like Mass Pike pensions. No more ice time for guys playing like conscientious observers. I know it's hard to get this through to Gary, though -- so maybe this will help. The B's have Daniel Paille locked up for two years!!! Woo. MikeAttleboroP.S. Thank you Cliff Lee.

At least we have that going for us . . . Once again, though, Mikey does this about 1,000 times better than I ever could. Just let me know when you want to take over the bag. The job is yours.

Read Felger's Patriots-Packers game column on Monday. E-mail him HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Hard to find a Patriots equal in soft AFC

Hard to find a Patriots equal in soft AFC

John Elway created a stir this week when he said his Broncos, after a 3-1 start, had “gotten a little bit soft." Elway, the Broncos GM, said that after five straight Denver losses – the last two by the combined score of 92-39

Denver’s head coach Vance Joseph said Elway’s remark bothered him. He talked to his players about it. On Sunday, the Broncos went out and did something about it. They lost by just three at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. Yay.

They’re pretty much all soft in the AFC this year. Check out the AFC West. There’s Denver. And the Raiders – who the Patriots handled with disturbing ease on Sunday, 33-8. The 5-4 Kansas City Chiefs, who lost on the road to the one-win Giants after starting the season 5-0.

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The AFC East is soft. Miami was 4-2. It’s lost four straight including a 40-0 loss to Baltimore. The Jets were 3-2, they’re now 4-6 (which is a minor miracle given how ragged their roster is). The Bills were 5-2, now they’re 5-5 having lost by a combined 101-34 the past two weeks as head coach Sean McDermott willingly stuck a butter knife in an electrical outlet and replaced Tyrod Taylor with a not-ready-for-preseason-Week-4 Nathan Peterman.

The AFC South is led by the Jaguars and Titans. Jacksonville – which can play some defense – isn’t as bad as the rest. The Jags have won four straight and play cutthroat defense, but they had their hands full with the 0-10 Browns on Sunday. During the week, running back Leonard Fournette complained about having to play in the cold in Cleveland. At least he showed up Sunday and ran for 111. The Titans are awful when they leave Tennessee, which was further proven last Thursday when they lost 40-17 at Pittsburgh. Since October began, they’ve been outscored 122-43 in four road games. Their one road win in that span was a 12-9 decision over Cleveland. 

The big, bad AFC North contingent led by the Steelers at 8-2? Talented. But led by a forever-whining, passive-aggressive quarterback who openly and annually mulls retirement and two “me first” skill guys in Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Their greatest strength may be in executing elaborate post-touchdown skits. Vital.

Meanwhile, here are the boring-ass Patriots. Yeah, they have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and continuity in the program and coaching staff, but the gap between them and everyone else in the conference is that they don’t worry about the cold or the road or the five-act plays after they score.

They stayed a week in Colorado Springs to get ready for the altitude. Two Patriots – Stephon Gilmore and Danny Amendola – had to be treated for dehydration in the second half. After five PLAYS, Raiders rookie Obi Melifonwu was asking out of the game saying he couldn’t breathe.

The Raiders – a team that went 12-4 last year - haven’t improved a bit defensively all season. They are – under head coach Jack Del Rio – one of those “we do what we do” defenses the Patriots love to face because it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Brady is now 8-1 against Del Rio-led teams/defenses and the numbers against Del Rio’s teams are absurd: 225 completions on 310 attempts for (73 percent) for 2,387 yards, 21 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

It just feels like the AFC is a collection of teams, with an overwhelming majority of them in turn-it-on, turn-it-off mode. Their coaches are just kind of casting about, constantly open to suggestion and willing to give anything a shot because, hell, they better try something to get hot or they’ll be passing out resumes at the Combine in four months.

The Patriots remaining schedule goes like this: Dolphins, Bills, Dolphins, Steelers, Bills, Jets. Shake me awake on December 17 when the Steelers game comes. And we have a mountain of data explaining how that one will go too.

I’m not weary of the team. It’s historic and fascinating, like watching a hooded Mozart compose and a helmeted Van Gogh paint every week. But the exercise of trying to conjure scenarios where the Patriots play November football with the exquisite ineptitude of their opponents is not easy.

They are doing this without Julian Edelman or Dont'a Hightower. They played Sunday without Chris Hogan, David Andrews, Marcus Cannon and Matt Slater.

Offenses can’t score against them. Defenses can’t stop them. They create points on special teams. They manage the game, the clock and their opponents like simple arithmetic while every other team’s doing trigonometry. What was broken in September has been long fixed.

The time will come again when the Patriots appear just as inept, clueless and mired in mediocrity as every other AFC team appears right now. But it won’t be this year.

So embrace the softness? I guess?

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Wentz, Eagles roll over Cowboys 37-9 after losing kicker

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Wentz, Eagles roll over Cowboys 37-9 after losing kicker

ARLINGTON, Texas - No kicker, no problem for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Carson Wentz threw for two touchdowns and three 2-point conversions after Philadelphia lost kicker Jake Elliott to a head injury, and the Eagles all but wrapped up the NFC East with a 37-9 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.

The Eagles (9-1) outscored the Cowboys 30-0 in the second half while extending their winning streak to eight games, their longest since 2003-04 and tied with New Orleans for the best current run in the NFL.

Philadelphia leads the second-place and defending division champion Cowboys (5-5) by four games with six to play after handing Dallas its worst home loss at 8-year-old AT&T Stadium.

Dallas' Dak Prescott threw a career-high three interceptions and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in his second straight loss without star running back Ezekiel Elliott, serving a six-game suspension for alleged domestic violence.

Jake Elliott's injury wasn't a factor for nearly a half because the NFL-leading Eagles couldn't get in scoring position. They failed to get a first down on five straight first-half drives, starting with one at the Dallas 15 when Elliott missed a 34-yard attempt and soon after left the field.

Trailing 9-7 at halftime, Wentz led the Eagles on scoring drives of 75, 90 and 85 yards, the middle one boosted by Jay Ajayi's 71-yard run against his hometown team in his second game since getting traded by Miami.

"The biggest thing was sticking with the game plan," said Wentz, who is up to 25 touchdown passes with just five interceptions. "The big boys up front kind of came out angry. We ran the ball the second half really effectively."

Ajayi had 91 yards on seven carries and LeGarrette Blount added 57 on 13 carries, including a 30-yarder leading to the last offensive touchdown.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson declared at halftime that he would go for every fourth down and try 2-point conversions after every touchdown.

It came into play right away when Corey Clement scored on an 11-yard run to open the second half and ran in a screen pass behind three blockers for the 2-pointer.

The first fourth-down try was Wentz's 17-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery for a 29-9 lead. That 2-point pass failed. Torrey Smith had the other TD catch, an 11-yarder.

After Derek Barnett hit Prescott's leg and arm as he was throwing, Nigel Bradham picked up the loose ball and ran it 37 yards for a touchdown. Wentz's 2-point pass to Trey Burton provided the final margin.

"We got some nice 2-point conversions," said Wentz, who was 14 of 27 for 168 yards. "Now we've got to go back to the drawing board with our 2-point plays."

The Cowboys appeared to have fixed the problems of missing injured left tackle Tyron Smith and 2016 All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee from a week earlier, when they allowed eight sacks of Prescott along with three Atlanta scoring drives following Lee's injury in a 27-7 loss to the Falcons.

But after protecting Prescott fairly well before halftime, Dallas allowed three sacks and 180 of Philadelphia's season-high 215 yards rushing in the second half. Lee's replacement at weakside linebacker, Anthony Hitchens, left with a groin injury after halftime.

Prescott was 18 of 31 for 145 yards for a career-worst 30.4 passer rating before backup Cooper Rush took mop-up duty.

"It's no excuses," said Prescott, who teamed with Elliott in a remarkable rookie season that is now a distant memory with already two more losses and three more interceptions than Prescott had a year ago. Elliott won't be back until the final two games of the regular season.

"We're not saying injuries or any of that's bothering us. We're not saying it's the reason we're not winning is because of those guys."

NO RUST THIS TIME

The Eagles had a focus on being better following the bye after losing nine of 11 last season after a 3-0 start going into the break. Now Philadelphia will take a shot at the best record in the NFL with history on its side when starting this strong. The Eagles have two NFL championships (1949, 1960) and two trips to the Super Bowl (1980, 2004, both losses) following 9-1 starts.

SECOND-HALF MELTDOWNS

The Cowboys have been outscored 47-0 in the second half the past two weeks following a three-game winning streak that seemed to have Dallas back on track following an NFC-best 13-3 record last season.

"It would be pretty tough not to panic, but I don't think we are panicking," said running back Alfred Morris, who had 91 yards filling in for Ezekiel Elliott. "It's been two tough losses, ugly losses on top of that. But at the same time, I know the character of this team and the fight we have."

EMERGENCY KICKER

Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill is the emergency kicker for the Eagles. But he completely missed the safety net on a practice try on the sidelines, sending the ball into the stands. He did reach the goal line with his first kickoff, though.

UP NEXT

Eagles: Home against Chicago next Sunday.

Cowboys: Los Angeles Chargers visiting for annual Thanksgiving game.

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