What Boston did on its summer vacation


What Boston did on its summer vacation

By Rich Levine

I realize that there are a lot of people out there who love the fall.

They love everything about it the cooler air, the warmer clothes, the foliage. In fact, the only thing these people love more than fall is talking about how much they love it. Seriously, at least 37 of my Facebook friends have declared their affection for fall since I started typing this sentence.

I get it. Everyone loves fall.

Everyone but me, that is. For me, the end of summer only means one thing winter's right around the corner. It means that before we know it the sidewalks will be slush, the traffic will suck (even more), and I'll look out my window at 4:30 p.m. to the glare of headlights. Get ready. Here it comes.

And here we are. The end of summer; the first day of fall. I think the only person in Boston more depressed than I am right now is the dude who wears the big Scal face to the Garden.

But as much as I hate the change, I won't mind turning the page on what was a uninspiring summer for Boston sports.

Sure, there were highlights. The Bruins drafted Tyler Seguin. David Ortiz won the Derby. Clay Buchholz figured it out. Wes Welker defied modern medicine. The Celtics brought back Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and signed Shaquille O'Neal. I mean, this isn't Cleveland, we were bound to have some good news. But for the most part, the summer was subpar at best.

We had the Red Sox disintegrate right before our eyes, and they didn't even get a fair fight, thanks to a rash of debilitating injuries that you wouldn't wish upon the Jets (OK, you would). The Sox spent the summer slowly dying. They toyed with our emotions, consistently showing just enough life to stop us from pulling the plug, and despite all the glaring clues that this wasn't the year, we kept giving them second, third and fourth chances to make something of the season. We looked at the schedule and saw opportunity. We continued to hope that John Lackey or Josh Beckett, or God forbid, both would show up down the stretch. We married ourselves to the "Hey, who knows? Anything can happen" mentality and convinced ourselves they had a chance. But without Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis or Jacoby Ellsbury, not to mention the real Beckett and Lackey, they never did.

By the middle of summer, the Ellsbury saga became a dark cloud over an already overcast season. I still can't believe how that all played out. Really, could you have ever imagined that collision with Adrian Beltre would create such a domino effect of disaster? Ellsbury was one of the most likable, and certainly the most exciting player on that team. This was the year he made the leap. He should have been an All-Star. Instead he became a distraction. He pissed off his teammates. He pissed off the organization. He was pissed at the organization. He played in a total of 18 games!

It was a lost season for Ellsbury; a lost season for the Sox. And without them, the Boston summer can't reach its full potential.

But that wasn't all we dealt with.

There was Rajon Rondo's divorce from Team USA, which in the long run won't be a bad thing, but was an unsettling story from start to finish.

Was it really his choice to leave? If not, why didn't he make the team? Was it his ability or his attitude? A combination?

I don't think many Celtics fans have a problem with Rondo not playing in Turkey. There's no question that he'll be fresher for the start of the season than he would've been after three extra weeks overseas. But, at the same time, once Rondo made the commitment to play, don't you wish he could've just gotten along with everyone?

That's not to say he should've gone, become best friends with all the guys and then spent next season playing kissy face on the court. That's not the case at all. The no-nonsense approach Rondo takes to his life in the NBA is one of his greatest attributes. None of that should change.

But still, it would have been nice to see Rondo fit in with Team USA. To have him go over, play his ass off, be a great teammate, learn from Chauncey Billups or even Kevin Durant, and then listen to Coach K and Jerry Colangelo gush over him all year. But it never clicked. For one reason or another it wasn't meant to be.

There's no doubt that Rondo's maturity has sky-rocketed over the past four years, but this summer showed us that whether it's his game, his attitude or a combination he still has some work to do. I'm not judging that on the scale of your average NBA player. I'm talking about for an NBA star. That's the expectation now.

In other basketball news, the Miami Heat picked up LeBron James and Chris Bosh. That still hurts to type.

We spent the entire summer dealing with rumors about Tom Brady's less-than-cordial contract negotiations, and then Brady was nearly run over on Comm. Ave.

Subject: Brady car accident. Holy @

That's not an e-mail you ever want to wake up to. (Unless you enjoy having to change your sheets.)

Yeah, the contract eventually got done, and that's obviously the most important thing to remember. They figured it out, and Brady's here for another four years. But from far, far away, those negotiations felt off. It was strange to see Brady passive-aggressively voice his displeasure with the way everything was going. There was genuine emotion behind what he was saying. He was clearly upset.

We'd never really seen that before, and that weird tension played out for all of training camppreseason. At no point over the summer did you truly believe that Brady would leave, but for the first time, you could envision a day when he might leave. It's ridiculous to worry about that now, but it's still interesting. There was a time when you'd have bet your life that Tom Brady retires as a Patriot. I don't think you'd make that bet today.

Anyway, Brady's contract was followed by Moss' tirade, giving up on Maroney and the Jets game.

Oh, and did I mention that we spent the whole summer getting familiar with the impending NBA and NFL lockouts? Is that wearing on your conscious at all? It should be. And yesterday, summer bowed out quietly, by delivering the news that Kevin Faulk tore his ACL, Marc Savard might be out for the season and Brian Scalabrine's headed to Chicago.

It was one, or I guess, three swift gut punches from a season that never really panned out in Boston. And now it's finally dead.

The summer of 2010 is gone, and I can't believe I'm saying this thank God fall's finally here.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Julien thankful for B's video tribute, 'happy he can move on'

Julien thankful for B's video tribute, 'happy he can move on'

BOSTON – It was the final piece of closure for former Bruins coach Claude Julien when he made his return to TD Garden for the first time as the bench boss for the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night. Julien stood on the visiting bench, watched a first period video tribute of appreciation for his 10 years guiding the Bruins and then received the warm, thankful ovation from the B’s fans that still very much appreciate his efforts that resulted in a 2011 Stanley Cup title. 

Unfortunately for him and the Canadiens he also presided over a lifeless, limp effort from his Montreal club in a 4-1 loss to the Bruins where his team simply couldn’t derive any emotion or juice from his return to Boston. Julien said in both French and English that that his Habs simply “laid an egg” on the road, and that was disappointing for him given that Montreal already has its back against the wall for a possible playoff spot. 

Instead Julien’s biggest bright spot in the game turned out to be the video tribute from the Bruins midway through the first period, for which he was greatly appreciative. 

“It’s always something that you kind of dread a little bit because it’s a little emotional, and at the same time [you’re] trying to keep your emotions intact there so you can coach a game and stuff like that. But, you know, I appreciate what they did for me,” said Julien following his second loss to the Bruins in five days. “As I said, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about this organization that gave me the opportunity to spend 10 years here. At the same time I’m kind of happy it’s over so we can move on now, but that doesn’t mean you forget what’s happened here. It’s always going to be with you. But now I’m in another chapter of my coaching career, and I’ve got to think about that.”

Julien’s counterpart, Bruce Cassidy, called the video tribute a “classy move” by the Bruins organization after the game had been settled, and there’s no doubting it was the right move for a coach that won over 400 games during his 10 years leading the Bruins. It was also the final chapter in his Bruins book as Julien now has completely moved on to his new gig guiding the Canadiens where it seems like his work is most definitely cut out for him. 

Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?


Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?

FOXBORO -- Are we giving the Jaguars defense too much credit?

The numbers, on the surface, paint Jacksonville's defense as one of the best the NFL has seen in years. They finished the season as the league's top passing defense in terms of yards allowed, and they were second when it came to points allowed, total yards and sacks.

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Then there are the postseason awards that have been bestowed upon their defensive regulars. Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson have all been named Pro Bowlers. Ramsey and Campbell are First-Team All-Pros, while Bouye and Telvin Smith are Second-Teamers. Campbell is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. 

So why, then, is there this lingering feeling that the Jaguars defense isn't all it's cracked up to be? They allowed Ben Roethlisberger to heave his way to 42 points in the Divisional Round. In Week 16, they gave up 44 to Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners. Hell, Blaine Gabbert and the Cardinals put up 27 and beat them in Week 12. 

Those results don't exactly scream "all-time defense." So what is Jacksonville? Overrated? Properly rated? 

One thing is for certain: The Jags played an easy schedule. The combined winning percentage of their opponents in 2017 was a league-low 44 percent. And when it comes to the defense in particular, they had the second-easiest schedule in the league, according to Football Outsiders. It didn't hurt that they were able to play the Colts with Jacoby Brissett, the Texans before Deshaun Watson became a star and after he got hurt, and the NFL's No. 23-ranked Titans offense. Twice. Each. They also got the Ravens (No. 27 offense), Jets (No. 28), Bengals (No. 32), Browns (No. 24) and Cardinals (No. 22). Add it all up and that's nine games -- more than half their schedule -- against bottom-third NFL offenses. Two more games came against a Houston offense that featured starting quarterbacks Tom Savage and TJ Yates. 

When you dig into the analytics it's harder to find ways to poke holes in Jacksonville's credibility as a top-tier defensive unit. Pro Football Focus grades the Jags as their No. 1 defense, and it's really not close. Football Outsiders calls them their No. 1 defense in terms of DVOA. Even when you factor in some of its recent performances -- like letdowns versus the Steelers and Niners -- Jacksonville is still the league's No. 4 defense in weighted DVOA, which is adjusted so that games that were played earlier in the season are gradually less important. 

At the same time, the analytics can be occasionally unkind to the Jaguars. Football Outsiders has them ranked as one of the most inconsistent defenses in the league. According to their variance statistic, Jacksonville is the fourth most inconsistent defense in football. A deeper dive into the numbers has also located an apparent soft underbelly of the Jaguars defense. Per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Jaguars are dominant against three-receiver sets -- No. 1 in the league, in fact -- but they're the No. 23 defense in the NFL when it comes to defending personnel groupings that feature one or two wide receivers. That would explain, in part, why the Titans (who Sharp rated as the least-likely team to employ three-receiver sets this season) and Niners (who went with more "21" and "12" personnel looks late in the season) were able to beat the Jaguars. 

The most difficult argument against the legitimacy of the Jaguars' defensive rankings is the talent they put on the field on a weekly basis. Their roster, defensively at least, stacks up with some of the most imposing defensive units in recent memory. The Seahawks had four First and Second-Team All-Pros on their defense in 2014. The Broncos defense had five Pro Bowlers in 2015. The Jaguars have five players who were named either All-Pros or Pro Bowlers or both this year, and they probably should've had a sixth in pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who recorded 12 sacks (eighth in the NFL) and a league-best six forced fumbles. 

The verdict? The Jaguars defense is loaded with blue-chip players. It will be the best unit the Patriots offense has seen this year. But they have been inconsistent, they have holes -- which we touched upon in this week's Quick Slants the Podcast with Jerod Mayo -- and there remains the very real possibility that Tom Brady and his teammates will light up the Gillette Stadium scoreboard on Sunday. 

Now, is Brady healthy? Good question. Will he have enough time to throw? We'll see. But if the answer to both of those questions is "yes" (or "enough"), then the Patriots should be headed to Minnesota. This Jaguars defense is very good, but it's far from inpenetrable.