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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wanted: a big guy that can score off the bench

Heading into this four-game West Coast swing, I think most people expected the Celts to go 3-1, maybe even 4-0.

Can't say anyone was guessing 1-3 but that's the way it turned out as the Celts had another fourth quarter meltdown (though it certainly wasn't as drastic as the Warriors game) in a 91-86 loss to the underrated Portland Trailblazers at the Rose Garden last night.

Playing without star Brandon Roy, the Blazers (20-12) used a fired up home crowd to pull off the upset.

Steve Blake led Portland with 21 points while LaMarcus Aldridge notched 20 points and seven rebounds. Travis Outlaw (one of the best sixth men in the NBA) had 17 off the bench while Greg Oden had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

For the Celts (28-5), Paul Pierce scored a game-high 28 points, including 14-of-15 from the free throw line. Kevin Garnett added 17 points and eight rebounds and Rajon Rondo filled the stat sheet with 13 points, eight boards, seven assists and three steals.

Ray Allen managed to get 12 points but he shot a Larry Hughes-esque 2-of-11 from the floor.

The story of the game was the Portland bench which outscored Boston 29-9.

Jeff Van Gundy pointed it out during the Lakers game on Christmas and it gets more clear every night what the C's biggest hole is at this moment. They need another big guy, preferably one that can score off the bench. P.J. Brown was perfect in that role late last season and especially in the playoffs.

He seems content in retirement and the Rockets just brought back Mutombo, a name that had been floating around for a while (not that he can score at all anymore). Antonio McDyess would have been exactly what they needed but he returned to the Pistons after being traded to the Nuggets.

Boston came out strong and led 23-13 after the first quarter. The Blazers started to wake up in the second and only trailed 45-40 at the half.

Portland took the third (29-24) and fourth (22-17) both by five points as Boston came unraveled in crunch time.

The one good thing about the outcome is that it the Blazers didn't win by one or two points. Late in the first half, Portland had six men on the court (something I've never seen) and scored a hoop. Naturally, Boston stopped playing and the shot shouldn't have counted but for whatever reason, the refs allowed it to stand. Uh, Really? Somewhere Tim Doneghy nods his head in approval from his jail cell.

Eddie House had a chance to tie it with a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left but he shot an airball over Oden.

Portland shot 45.2% to Boston's 40.3%. The C's were 3-of-14 on threes but 29-of-31 at the line. The Blazers killed the Celtics on the glass (44-29) which is something that never happens to this team.

After what was no doubt a long, quiet flight home, the C's get back to action on Friday night with a gimmee when the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Wizards limp to the Garden.

Bruins on longest win-streak of my lifetime

Another night, another solid performance from the Boston Bruins.

The B's (28-5-4) went into Mellon Arena last night, facing a Penguins (19-14-4) that is really underachieving and would miss out on the playoffs if they started today.

Pittsburgh was desperate but it didn't matter since right now, the Bruins are the better team. Boston won 5-2, increasing their current win-streak to nine games (the longest since Dec. 1982).

With three minutes left in the first, Pittsburgh got out to a 1-0 lead as Petr Sykora (13th goal) put in a rebound from Ruslan Fedotenko and Dustin Jeffrey.

Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (35 saves) was giving up juicy rebounds all night and the B's made him pay starting in the second when they scored two power-play goals.

First Zdeno Chara (7th) finished a perfect pass from P.J. Axelsson (and Dennis Wideman). Marc Savard (12th) made it 2-1 (with assists from David Krejci and Wideman) by settling the puck near the goal-line then roofing it (hitting the Gatorade bottle) over Fleury.

Pascal Dupuis (9th) tied it up later in the second. Chara couldn't clear a bouncing puck from the Boston zone and Sidney Crosby intercepted it. He found Dupuis, who blasted a slapshot over Thomas' glove hand (a very rare occurrence).

Phil Kessel (23rd) scored what turned out to be the game-winner, 90 seconds later when he redirected Savard's cross-crease pass.

Martin St. Pierre made his first goal of the season (and 2nd career NHL strike) really count. He scored when the Bruins were short-handed in the third. St. Pierre blocked a Crosby pass then broke out 2-on-1 with Savard, who no surprise hit him with a crisp pass.

At 9:28 Wideman ended it with a screen shot that Fleury probably never saw. It was Wideman's eighth of the season from Axelsson and Chara.

Tim Thomas was stellar in net once again, making 32 saves while improving to 16-3-3. Even though he's not on the ballot (which is a complete joke), Thomas should be starting in the All-Star game. He had as usual a couple show-stopping saves.

These two teams have New Years Eve off and then they'll face each other once again, tomorrow night in Boston.

Milan Lucic and Pens rookie Tim Wallace threw down near the end of the game and Lucic recorded the win. It was a pretty nice fight and a fitting way to top off this beatdown of the Penguins.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Was there any doubt?

After consecutive losses for the first time this season, what NBA fan didn't know the Boston Celtics would make quick work of the Sacramento Kings last night at Arco Arena?

A 108-63 humiliation was just what the doctor (Rivers) ordered as the C's put the bad taste out of their collective mouths.

Boston (28-4) got solid production throughout the lineup and was able to sit the starting five for much of the second half.

KG continued his hot shooting (10 of 11) as he led the Celts with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Ray Allen had 19 points and Eddie House added 15 off the bench. Paul Pierce scored 13 and Kendrick Perkins looked good in his return (7 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks) after missing the Warrriors game.

The Kings (7-24) are a complete mess as John Salmons was the only double-digit scorer with 11 points.

Boston figures to have much more of a challenge as they travel to Portland tomorrow night in their West Coast finale to take on Brandon Roy and the improving Blazers.

Plenty of room left on this bandwagon folks

As my friends and I watched the Patriots' playoff chances go down the tubes yesterday afternoon, one thing brought us the most temporary relief: the Boston Bruins, who won their eighth game in a row.

Playing less than 24 hours after their last game, the B's (27-5-4) survived in Atlanta (12-20-4) and came away with an exciting 2-1 win.

One of the greatest ongoing storylines of this wonderful season has been the outstanding play of goalie Manny Fernandez. Mocked by many (myself included), he has quickly found his game as the Bruins have established the best 1-1A goaltending duo in the NHL.

The numbers just keep getting better for Boston too; they lead the NHL in goals and have the fewest goals allowed. They are also tied with San Jose for the most points in the league.

It's heady stuff and none of it would be possible without Fernandez, who made 32 saves (including 12 in the third) to up his record 12-2-1.

A neutral zone turnover late in the first period allowed the Thrashers to skate in and score when Bryan Little threw a centering pass of Bruins defenseman Matt Hunwick and past Fernandez with 15 seconds left.

It didn't take Boston long to tie it as Phil Kessel scored his team-high 22nd goal of the season at 1:43 in the second period from Marc Savard and Dennis Wideman.

Atlanta dominated the third but the B's made the most of their one real scoring opportunity.

David Krejci (from Blake Wheeler) found Michael Ryder right on the doorstep for a redirection goal at 13:56. Ryder has really played well lately as he potted his 14th goal of the season.

The B's wrap up their road trip with a visit to Mellon Arena to see Sidney Crosby and the overrated Pittsburgh Penguins tomorrow night.

And that's a wrap: the 11-5 Patriots sit out January

I promise not to whine, too much. The New England Patriots finished 11-5 with their 13-0 shutout of the Bills yesterday and yet they didn't advance to the playoffs. They are the first team since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams to miss out with 11 wins.

Since the loss to the Steelers, the Patriots' playoff fate was partially out of their hands. They won their last four games (and were playing their best football of the season) but they still needed the Ravens to lose to the Jaguars or the Jets to beat the Dolphins. As expected, neither scenario came through.

I could go on (and on and on) about how pathetic Brett Favre is (retire already) or that Eric Mangini is a terrible coach (he was fired this morning) but I'll leave that to everyone else in New England. This was the first season in a while that the AFC East was competitive and the fact that the AFC West and NFC West were terrible is irrelevant. Division strength is cyclical in football and there were two losses you can point to (Colts, Jets) that if the Pats had pulled out, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

For the third week in a row, the Patriots had to play in ridiculous weather. They won in the pouring rain in Oakland. They dominated in a snowstorm last weekend at Gillette against the disinterested Cardinals and finally yesterday they won in god-forsaken Upstate New York where the winds were 30-40 m.p.h with gusts up to 50.

In likely his last game for New England, Matt Cassel only attempted eight passes but he still was outstanding and showed just how far he's come since September. He finished 6 of 8 for 78 yards with 19 yards rushing on three attempts (including two fourth-down conversions).

I've never seen a game where it mattered so much if you had the wind at your back. Stephen Gostkowski made a 33-yard kick in the first quarter and the Patriots led 3-0 at the half.

The Bills' miserable end to the season was best summed up by their last possession of the second quarter. With time running out (and no timeouts left), they ran the ball in the Patriots' red zone then took too much time to get back to the line before the clock showed zeros. Dick Jauron is from Swampscott, two towns over from my hometown, but he's clearly over his head.

Sammy Morris (20 carries, 84 yards) and LaMont Jordan (20 carries, 64 yards) continued their fine late-season play. If they could both stay healthy consistently (a huge if), I'd much rather prefer them over the more talented but enigmatic Laurence Maroney.

Jordan plunged in from two-yards out in the third quarter. It turned out to be the game's only touchdown as the inept Bills couldn't get out of their own way.

Marshawn Lynch sat out but backup running back Fred Jackson (27 carries, 136 yards) was great.

Gostkowski added a 23-yard kick in the fourth. He had a solid day even though he missed a 26-yard field goal in the second quarter and almost missed an extra point. The missed field goal was right down the middle then the wind hooked it wide right. During the extra point, the wind almost completely knocked it down as it barely went over the crossbar.

You're only kidding yourself if you think the Patriots would have won the Super Bowl this season with all their injuries and obvious flaws but with the way they'd been playing over the last month, it would have been interesting to see what Cassel would have done in the playoffs. Especially if they won the AFC East and hosted a home game or two.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

It's going to take more than Hurricanes to stop the B's

The runaway freight train that is the Boston Bruins continued to barrel down the tracks. Last night, the B's (26-5-4) picked up a tight 3-2 win in Carolina (17-15-5) at the RBC Center.

With the two points and coupled with the Sharks loss, the Bruins are one point shy of the best record in the entire NHL.

Matt Cullen gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead in the first period as he scored a goal from Chad LaRose and Frantisek Kaberle.

Rookie phenom Blake Wheeler continued his hot streak as he scored two goals in the second period (in a span of 3:41).

Fellow rookie and defenseman Matt Hunwick assisted on the first tally while David Krejci and Dennis Wideman assisted on the second (Wheeler's 13th of the season).

Carolina's Anton Babchuk tied it up later in the second with help from Brendan Sutter (the sixth Sutter to play in the NHL, really) and Ryan Bayda.

Michael Ryder scored the game-winner for the Bruins, 13:46 into the third period. Marc Savard whipped a crisp pass right to Ryder's stick and Ryder used his quick release to put it by Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (18 saves).

Chuck Kobasew's empty-netter (from Savard and Wideman) with 16 seconds remaining ended any doubt that Boston would skate away with two points.

Carolina actually controlled most of the play but Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas stood tall with 29 saves as he improved his record to 15-3-3.

The Bruins go to Atlanta this afternoon for a game with the pathetic Thrashers (who they've already beaten three times this season). It is the teams' last meeting of the season.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

a sober Don Nelson didn't see this coming

The Boston Celtics experienced their second indisputable shitty loss (the Pacers being the other one) last night as they fell 99-89 to the Golden State Warriors at the Oracle Arena.

Playing without Corey Maggette, Monta Ellis and Jamal Crawford, the Warriors (9-22) picked up their biggest win of the season thus far.

Stephen Jackson led Golden State with a game-high 28 points (15 in the fourth) and seven rebounds while Marco Belinelli (some Italian bozo) aided 22 points. That eclectic duo was added by Ronny Turiaf, who had 14 points and eight rebounds.

It was a strange game as Boston (27-4) seemed to be firmly in control for most of the game until they completely unraveled in the fourth quarter.

Paul Pierce led the C's with 21 points, Kevin Garnett had 14 points and Leon Powe made the most of his start (Kendrick Perkins sat out with a sore shoulder, gulp) by putting up 12 points and seven rebounds. Rajon Rondo flirted with a triple-double (11 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists) but he also registered a troubling seven turnovers.

The Celts led 29-19 after the first quarter and it looked like they'd cruise. Boston took a 51-39 lead into halftime. The Warriors started to make their move in the third (25-21) before the mind-numbing fourth (35-17).

Golden State seemingly couldn't miss in the fourth and they also got to the line and converted at will. Conversely, the Celtics struggled to get the offense started when it counted and to make matters worse, Ray Allen (7 points) fouled out. It was Ray's worst game since the playoffs.

With two more stops on this West Coast trip, the Celts will look to get things back under control tomorrow night in Sacramento against the Kings (another very winnable game).

Friday, December 26, 2008

There is nothing like Christmas in LA

It was bound to happen sooner or later. The Boston Celtics can't win every game but did it have to end in Los Angeles against the Lakers?

Playing at the Staples Center yesterday afternoon, in front of a national audience on Christmas day, the C's (27-3) had their worst effort in weeks (maybe months) and as a result, lost 92-83 to a fired up Lakers (24-5) team.

Boston's 19-game win streak was snapped as well as their 10-game road win streak.

Boston was only down 71-67 heading into the fourth but LA led by Pau Gasol (20 points, 5 assists, 3 blocks), who scored seven points late, took over when it counted and came away with the big win.

The C's were sloppy all day and committed 17 turnovers as a team. Second in the league in getting to the line, Boston only went 6-for-8 on free throws in the physical game.

Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists and for once, he passed the ball in late game situations. Lamar Odom and Sasha Vujacic scored 10 points apiece off the bench.

Kevin Garnett (9 of 11 shooting) led the Celts with 22 points and nine boards while Paul Pierce had 20 points and 10 rebounds in his return to his hometown. Ray Allen added 14 points.

Rajon Rondo struggled shooting the ball (3 of 11) but he had 12 assists. It was a performance reminiscent of many playoff games last spring when teams didn't have to respect Rondo's scoring ability.

Boston led 24-23 after the first quarter but LA took a 51-45 advantage into halftime. The C's took the third 22-20 before the choke job in the fourth.

There is no time to cry about the loss as the Celtics travel to Golden State tonight to take on the injury-depleted Warriors. Defense will be an issue but Boston should have no trouble hanging 110+ on Golden State.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Who will lose first at the Garden: Celtics or Bruins?

As expected, the Celtics had little trouble last night racking up their franchise-best 19th straight win, while also shattering the NBA record for best mark through 29 games. 

The Celts (27-2) rolled over the Philadelphia 76ers (12-16), 110-91 at the Garden. 

Boston's starting five once again was outstanding and two subs had great performances as well. Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo each scored a game-high 18 points. Ray Allen had 16 points and six rebounds, Paul Pierce added 10 points and seven assists while Kendrick Perkins posted eight points and 11 rebounds. 

In just 16 minutes, Leon Powe had 15 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Eddie House scored 13 points. 

For the Sixers, Louis Williams (8 assists) and Marreese Speights both scored 16 points off the bench. Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller (8 assists) each had 14 points and Reggie Evans scored 12. 

The C's led 29-25 after the first quarter and 58-44 at the half. Philly took the third (22-20) but the Boston bench wouldn't let the lead slip away as they salted it away in the fourth (32-25).

Philly was 0-for-11 on 3-pointers (haha, really) while Boston made a respectable seven. Led by Powe, the Celts also got to the line more (29-17  made free throw advantage). 

NBA officials and ABC personnel must be doing cartwheels since last night's win sets up the monster Christmas matchup: Celtics at Lakers with the added intrigue of the C's going for their 20th straight victory. 

Everyone has been looking forward to this game since the schedule came out. The teams haven't met since the Lakers were embarrassed in game six of the Finals last June. Boston and LA have been the top teams in their respective conferences thus far.  

Merry Christmas from the gates of Hell, I mean Newark, NJ

Yesterday could have been a disaster for New England sports fans as the Red Sox missed out on signing Mark Teixeira, who took an eight year, $180 million dollar deal to play for the Yankees. Luckily, the Bruins and Celtics continued their amazing seasons and helpled numb the pain from missing out on the great Teixeira.

The B's went on the road to face the Devils, another one of the league's hottest teams. Boston (25-5-4) walked away with a 2-0 shutout at the Prudential Center (in Newark, not the office building in downtown Boston).

Time changes most things but not the boring Devils (19-10-3). Even with Martin Brodeur out with an injury for most of the season, New Jersey still plays the low-scoring, trapping, boring-ass hockey that sent the NHL back to the stone age after the lockout.

Boston had to adapt to the Devils' style but as they've shown all season, they are the most complete team in the league that can match any opponent's gameplan.

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas made 25 saves for his third shutout of the season and improved to 14-3-3.

The game was scoreless until the third, as Devils backup goalie Scott Clemmensen (22 saves) held the Bruins down until 49 seconds into the third when Milan Lucic (10th) scored from Zdeno Chara and Shane Hnidy.

David Krejci (13th goal) clinched it with 48 seconds left when he scored an empty-netter.

Boston gets a welcome few days off before they travel to Carolina on Saturday to face the Hurricanes.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Al MacInnis and his 100-mph slapshot aren't skating through that door

The Bruins (24-5-4) made it a four-point weekend as they won 6-3, last night at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Blake Wheeler scored twice for Boston, David Krejci had three assists and Phil Kessel added two assists to increase his point steak to 18 straight games.

Wheeler scored his 10th of the season, 2:27 into the game from Krejci and Michael Ryder. He put in a shorthanded goal less than two and a half minutes later from Krejci and Zdeno Chara.

The Blues (13-17-3) tied it up in the first with a power play goal from Brad Winchester (Jeff Woywitka, Roman Polak) and a shorthanded goal by Jay McClemant (Mike Weaver).

At 17:44 in the first, Bruins defenseman Shane Hnidy scored his second of the season, on a power play with assists from Krejci and Kessel.

In the second period, Yan Stastny (Keith Tkachuk, Tyson Strachan) tied it at 3 before Boston responded with two goals. Ryder (12th of the season) scored another power play goal from P.J. Axelsson and Chara while Marc Savard (11th) scored from Kessel and Milan Lucic.

In the third, recent call-up Vladimir Sobotka scored his first of the season from another youngster (Martin St. Pierre).

Bruins goalie Manny Fernandez (playing in back-to-back games) made 29 saves to give him a 11-2-1 record.

Boston travels to New Jersey for a game tomorrow night with the Devils.

The Knicks' NBA Jam defense is not going to stop anybody

With 19 inches of snow accumulating over the past few days and a constant cycle of putting 10 layers on, shoveling and moving cars, we can be temporarily be forgiven by not really paying much attention to the Celtics.

That's not to say they don't deserve it, they certainly do but on a day when the Patriots had another vital late-season game and the Bruins also played at the exact same time as the C's, you can only flip the channel so much.

There is nothing left to say about the Celtics (26-2). They beat the Knicks (11-16), 124-105, last night at the Garden, winning their 18th game in a row. It matched the best streak in history (1981-1982; are you listening old-timers?) while also tying the NBA mark for best start through 28 games.

For the second time in six days, Rajon Rondo set a new career-high in points (26 points) with six rebounds, five assists and two steals. As the Comcast announcers say every game, Rondo truly improves each time out, it's incredible.

Boston's starting five (the best in the NBA) came to play as usual. Ray Allen scored 18 and Paul Pierce added 17 points. Kendrick Perkins had 12 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks while Kevin Garnett notched 12 points, eight assists and six rebounds.

Tony Allen (11 points, 5 assists) and Leon Powe (10 points, 5 rebounds) led the bench. Glen Davis missed the game after getting into a car accident on the Mass Pike on the way to the game. He suffered whiplash and a concussion but he should be fine.

Quentin Richardson led New York with a game-high 29 points. Nate Robinson added 23 points (including a sick putback dunk) and Chris Duhon (when did he get good?) scored 20 points and had 10 assists.

David Lee put up 17 points and eight boards while Al Harrington scored 10.

Despite what the Celtics players and coaches said, this wasn't much of a game after the first quarter which the C's took 40-21. The Knicks outscored Boston, 37-26 in the second but the C's won the third (32-29) and fourth (26-18).

For the game, the Celts shot a season-high 65.8% which is nearly impossible. They actually missed ten free throws (14-24) but made up for it by getting more than double the amount of rebounds (47-23) for New York.

Those two records (franchise win streak and best 29-game start) can both be broken on Tuesday when the Sixers come to the Garden. With a win there, the Celts set up a monster game Christmas night in LA against the Lakers.

Are the Arizona Cardinals the worst playoff team in NFL history?

I mean honestly, I know the Cardinals clinched the NFC West two weeks ago but could a team put up less of a fight than Arizona showed yesterday in the snow/sleet at Gillette Stadium.

The Pats (10-5) embarrassed the Cardinals (8-7), 47-7, and kept their playoff hopes alive going into the final week of the regular season.

For a team that can't win on the road, especially on the East Coast and in bad weather, it was comical when Arizona came out and tried to run the ball (even though they have statistically the worst rushing attack in the NFL).

After the first three-and-out and a 28-yard punt return by Wes Welker, the Patriots moved the ball downfield until LaMont Jordan (20 carries, 78 yards) scored from a yard out. Another Arizona three-and-out and another Jordan TD (3 yards) gave New England a 14-0 lead barely 11 minutes into the game.

If there was any question how this would end up, New England added 17 more points in the second quarter. Kevin Faulk caught a 15-yard TD from Matt Cassel (20 for 36, 345 yards, 3 touchdowns), pro-bowler Welker (7 catches, 68 yards) snagged a 11-yard TD pass and fellow pro-bowler Stephen Gostkowski hit a 38-yard kick in a swirling wind with two seconds left in the first half.

With nothing to play for, the Cardinals never really tried to play in the unfavorable elements. Anquan Boldin sat out the game and Kurt Warner might as well have done the same. Everybody's favorite Jesus freak (this side of Jon Kitna) was 6-of-18 for 30 yards before he got the hook in the third quarter.

New England is now 10-0 at Foxboro in the snow and 9-0 under Belichick with those conditions.

In the first play of the second half, Randy Moss took a bubble screen pass, made one move and was gone 76 yards for a score. Gostkowski hit three more field goals (35, 24, 30) which helped him break the single-season Patriots record for kicks.

Arizona finally got on the board in the fourth quarter when Matt Leinart (remember him? 6-for-14, 138 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) connected with Larry Fitzgerald (3 catches, 101 yards) for a 78 yard bomb.

Sammy Morris led the Pats with 88 yards rushing on 17 carries and Jabar Gaffney had a team-leading 90 yards on five catches.

The Ravens didn't do New England any favors by winning in Dallas Saturday night and the same goes for the Dolphins, who survived against Kansas City. Still, Brett Favre gave us a beautifully-wrapped gift when the Jets fell 13-3 in Seattle yesterday.

For New England to make the playoffs, they have to win in Buffalo on Sunday and either A) the Jets have to beat the Dolphins (which they did in the first game of the season) or B) the Jaguars have to beat the Ravens.

I feel very confident that the Pats can take care of the Bills, even though they knocked off the Broncos yesterday. The Jets game is a toss-up (the Jets are also still in the mix for a playoff spot) and Jacksonville is pretty unlikely to do anything other than lay down in Baltimore.

The good omen is that since the NFL expanded to six playoff teams in each conference (in 1990), no 11-5 team has ever missed the playoffs.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

All I want for Christmas is for Patrice Bergeron to be healthy

Once the most promising young talent on the Boston Bruins, Patrice Bergeron's career was put in jeopardy last fall after a cheap-shot by the Flyers' Randy Jones. Bergeron missed the rest of the season and playoffs after the severe concussion and it wasn't until training camp this season that he fully returned to the ice.

He came into yesterday's game against the Hurricanes with four goals and 14 assists. His goal-scoring tough has clearly not been the same but Bergeron was slowly returning to the player he had been for a few seasons.

The B's (23-5-4) beat the Hurricanes (15-13-5), 4-2, at the Garden but unfortunately the lasting image from the game was Bergeron laying face down on the ice once again.

In the second period, he got hurt on a collision with a Carolina defenseman and it took him a few minutes to recover (possibly regain consciousness?) and get off the ice with help from teammates and the trainers.

It did not look good at first glance and with his concussion history, let's just hope that Bergeron somehow didn't get another serious head injury.

With Bergeron probably out for the near future and Marco Sturm recently placed on IR, the Bruins' injury list grows by the day. Aaron Ward and Andrew Ferrance are also out yet the team keeps winning.

Joni Pitkanen (Rod Brind'Amour, Joe Corvo) scored a power play goal at 4:50 of the first to give the Hurricanes an early 1-0 lead.

Marc Savard (Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic) tied it up with his 10th of the season in the second period.

3:54 into the third, David Krejci (Vladimir Sobotka, Shane Hnidy) put the B's up for good with a goal, his 12th of the season. Eight minutes later, tough guy Shawn Thornton (2nd of the year) gave Boston a 3-1 lead.

With less than five minutes left, Ray Whitney scored from Brind'Amour and Scott Walker but Stephane Yelle put in an empty-netter with three seconds left.

The Bruins have now won their last 13 home games. Goaltender Manny Fernandez made 32 saves and improved his record to 10-2-1.

Boston travels to St. Louis tonight for a rare Sunday night contest.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Another step closer to an NBA record

It's not enough to win in style, these days the Celtics also have to break or come close to tying incredible records in the process.

Last night, the host C's put up a season-high 126 points in a 126-108 win over the Bulls.

Boston (25-2) has won 17 games in a row, one shy of the franchise record and also one game away from the best start in NBA history (through 28 games).

Kendrick Perkins scored a career-high 25 points and hauled in eight rebounds as the Celts rolled. Ray Allen added 27 points, Kevin Garnett tossed in 17 points and Paul Pierce notched 16 points. Rajon Rondo had 15 assists (10 in the first half; 1 turnover) and four steals while Tony Allen put in 10 points off the bench.

For the Bulls (12-14), Luol Deng led the team with 19 points and seven rebounds. Andres Nocioni had 16 points off the bench, Derrick Rose had a quiet 15 points while Ben Gordon and Joakim Noah each added 10 points.

The Celts jumped out to a 31-21 lead after one but Chicago took the second quarter 34-26. Boston dominated the third quarter (41-27) and as a result, the starters sat most of the fourth quarter (28-26).

This was one of the first games (other than the ones I went to) that I caught most of and the passing display put on by the Celtics was nothing short of incredible. Everybody was looking to make the extra pass. They had 40 assists as a team.

Boston shot 59.5% to Chicago's 50.6%. The C's had nine more steals (14-5) and (20-13) seven less turnovers.

The New York Knicks come to Boston tomorrow night while this edition of the Celtics have a chance to tie those two aforementioned lofty NBA records.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Best team in the NHL?

They still have five more points and the best record in the NHL but the San Jose Sharks have lost two straight games, including a 6-0 beating in Detroit last night.

Your Boston Bruins (22-5-4) on the other hand, continue to cruise as they beat the Maple Leafs (12-13-6), 8-5, last night in a wild game at the Garden.

The B's have now won 12 consecutive home games and Phil Kessel (2 goals, 1 assist) picked up a point in his 16th straight game. Oh and David Krejci scored his first career hat trick and Marc Savard added a goal and three assists.

Sure, they had a big defensive lapse in the second period as a 5-1 lead turned into a 6-5 nail biter but they still won. Last night was the type of game that in the past 3-4 years that the B's would have lost, most likely in spectacular fashion.

Starting goaltender Tim Thomas was pulled in the third for Manny Fernandez and the moved paid off as Fernandez held the Leafs scoreless in the third.

It hasn't been as effortless and pretty lately for the Bruins but can we argue with the results? As far as them being the best team, that's also hard to say. They haven't played the Sharks yet but they did beat the Red Wings. It's all empty arguments that bloggers like myself get to make with no real evidence for or against our case. The wonders of the Internet indeed.

In his first game back after missing 12 games with a concussion, Marco Sturm scored 36 seconds into the game (from Chuck Kobasew and Patrice Bergeron).

Dubbed the Bruins' Willis McGahee by my buddy, Sturm proceeded to get hurt later in the period and didn't return. He's a talented player but he can never seem to get healthy for a lengthy span of time.

Less than four minutes later, Krejci scored his first goal of the night (9th overall), on a power play from Kessel and Milan Lucic.

At 7:23 Pavel Kubina scored a power play goal for Toronto, assisted by Nikolai Kulemin and Nik Antropov.

Charles Manson would have approved of the second period's Helter Skelter action (what a literary reference!) as the teams combined for a bat-shit crazy eight goals.

Savard scored a power play goal at 1:28 (his 9th) from Zdeno Chara and P.J. Axelsson. 35 seconds later, Krejci made it 4-1 with a sweet move around Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph (yes that one). Krejci collected the puck and deked around Joseph while Krejci's body was actually to the side and behind the goalmouth. He reached around the net and shoveled it in.

Kessel gave Boston its biggest lead at 4:21 when he scored his 20th goal of the year, from Savard.

In the span of eight minutes, Toronto used three tip-in goals to close the margin to 5-4. Alexei Ponikarovsky (Jeff Finger, Lee Stempniak), Antropov ( John Mitchell, Finger) and Mikhail Grabovski (Mike Van Ryn, Ponikarovsky) all lit the lamp.

With two minutes left in the second, Kessel scored again (Axelsson, Savard) but Jason Blake notched a power play goal (Tomas Kaberle, Kubina) when there was 44 seconds remaining.

The Bruins capped off a ridiculous 4-for-6 night on the power play with two more goals in the third on the man advantage.

Michael Ryder (11th) scored after a pass by Chara and Krejci completed his hat trick with Savard and Dennis Wideman providing the helpers.

Boston has today off but then Carolina comes to the Garden tomorrow for an afternoon matinee then they travel to St. Louis for a game Sunday night.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Even Ludacris can't save you Atlanta

For a game in December, the Atlanta Hawks and their fraud fans showed up in full force last night at the Philips Arena. Native son Ludacris even performed at halftime of this circus like atmosphere.

However, it will take more than that to stop the machine that is the Boston Celtics these days though as the C's (24-2) won 88-85. Boston has now won 16 consecutive games, including 10 straight on the road.

As we learned in the playoffs last spring and in the teams' first meeting in November, the Hawks (15-10) match up with the Celtics better than any other team in the league. That's not a misprint Lakers, Cavs, Pistons, Hornets or Spurs. Atlanta's combination of athletic youngsters (Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Al Horford) with some great shooters (Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby) means that games between these two teams are almost always tight.

The Celts starting five once again was superb. Paul Pierce (7 rebounds) and Kevin Garnett (8 rebounds) each had 18 points while Ray Allen added 16. Rajon Rondo went for 15 points, seven assists, six rebounds and four steals. Kendrick Perkins had eight points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.

For the Hawks, Johnson led the way with a game-high 20 points. Williams had 16 points and eight rebounds while Smith and Bibby both notched 14 points.

The outcome wasn't decided until the final possessions as each team had clutch hoops and free throws. Boston went up one late with a KG hook shot. Johnson was fouled and had a chance to tie it (and likely send the game to OT) but he missed the second free throw.

Ray Allen hit two free throws to put Boston up three and Bibby missed a prayer 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The Celts shot 44.2% to the Hawks' 36.7%. That was the only number that was much different.

Boston comes home to play the Bulls tomorrow night with the chance to tie the second best win-streak in franchise history.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Celtics win 15th straight as Rondo sets a career high

Much like the UNC men's team right now in college hoops, Boston Celtic fans wonder not who will beat the Green but who can just give them a challenge.

It is cocky and ridiculous that it has already come to that, but what else can you expect after the Celts beat the Jazz, 100-91 last night at the Garden. Boston (23-2) won its 15th consecutive game.

Rajon Rondo scored a career-high 25 points with nine rebounds, eight assists and three steals. He's making the case for Boston to get four players in the All-Star game (him, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett).

The rest of the starting five for the C's all scored in double figures. KG had 19 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. Kendrick Perkins continue to improve, posting another double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds. Pierce added 15 points and Ray Allen had 12.

Paul Millsap led the Jazz (15-11) with 32 points and 10 rebounds. Deron Williams had 15 points and seven assists. Mehmet Okur scored 13 and Andrei Kirilenko tossed in 12.

Utah power forward Carlos Boozer missed the game with an injury while Boston guard Eddie House was at an aunt's funeral.

Gabe Pruitt was the backup point guard for the C's and he scored eight points in nine minutes.

Boston jumped out to a 28-16 lead after one but Utah came back in the second to make it 43 all at the half.

The C's took the third (26-22) and fourth (31-26) to notch another win on this amazing streak.

The Jazz got destroyed on the boards (50-30) which was pretty much the story of the game.

The Celts go to Atlanta tomorrow night for another chapter in their blooming rivalry vs. the brash, young Hawks.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"How to ruin a once proud franchise" by Al Davis

It's hard to imagine two professional sports teams taking a more divergent path than the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders after they met in the 2001 playoffs. The Patriots pulled out that controversial game in overtime, a springboard to their first of three Super Bowl titles in four seasons.

Sure the Raiders made the next Super Bowl but they lost that to the Bucs and then since then they've been living on NFL's version of skid row with the Detroit Lions.

How else can you describe such a putrid franchise after yesterday's joke of a game in Oakland?

After two weeks on the west coast, the Patriots (9-5) came home with a 49-26 win that wasn't anywhere near that close.

New England scored on its first three drives and led 21-0 with 3:43 left in the first quarter.

The Raiders (3-11) certainly scored some points of their own but the outcome of this one was decided in the first half.

Matt Cassel's dad died unexpectedly last week but any thoughts of that being a distraction were quickly erased as Cassel set a career-high with four touchdown passes. He finished 18-for-30 for 218 yards and an interception (which clanged off stone hands Ben Watson who was wide open).

Even more impressive was the Pats three-headed rushing attack that for one day at least resembled the Giants' vaunted trio.

Sammy Morris (14 carries, 117 yards), LaMont Jordan (12 carries, 97 yards) and Kevin Faulk (45 yards rushing, 66 yards receiving) ran through the biggest holes in California, this side of your garden variety porn stars.

Faulk began the barrage with a 7-yard catch and run for a score (with a great block from Wes Welker).

Ex-Raider Randy Moss (5 catches, 67 yards) got his revenge for a couple wasted years of his life by hauling in a 20-yard pass from Cassel.

Morris made it 21-0 with a 29-yard run.

Oakland got on the board late in the first quarter when JaMarcus Russell hit Johnnie Lee Higgins with a 56-yard TD.

Welker (6 catches, 69 yards) scored a rare TD with a 13-yard catch.

Then on back-to-back plays, the Raiders and Patriots had kickoff returns for touchdowns.

Justin Miller (91 yards) did the honors for Oakland while Ellis Hobbs (95 yards) answered for New England.

In the third quarter, Moss' second TD (9-yards) put the Pats up 42-14 and sent many of the Raider faithful back to their various prisons and rehab facilities.

Still, in a driving rainstorm and watching their team get embarrassed, there was something very captivating about fans sticking it out. They are called many things but Raider fans are not frauds.

Russell (17-for-31, 242 yards, interception) completed his erratic day with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ronald Curry.

In garbage time, Jordan (another ex-Raider) scampered 49 yards (longest run of the year for New England) and rookie stud Darren McFadden (46 yards rushing; 68 yards receiving) ran in from 11 yards away.

There were only two bad things yesterday for the Patriots. Left tackle Matt Light left the game and appeared to have seriously injured his shoulder. Also, the Jets and Dolphins both hung on to win close games, meaning the Patriots are still tied with those two teams.

Only two games remain and the Patriots have to win out. They might not even make it if that happens but it would be surprising nonetheless.

The Cardinals, who have already clinched a playoff spot and are terrible on the road (especially on the east coast) come to Gillette next weekend. Hopefully Mother Nature helps the Pats out with some classic New England winter weather.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Alexander Ovechkin is not impressed

It was bound to happen sooner or later, the Boston Bruins after all cannot win every game (like the Celtics).

The B's (19-5-4) fell 3-1 to the Washington Capitals (16-10-3) last night at the Verizon Center in D.C.

Washington snapped the Bruins' five-game winning streak and truth be told, Boston didn't play that bad.

Caps goalie Brent Johnson (8-4-2) made 33 saves and outplayed Boston goaltender Manny Fernandez (23 saves).

Washington jumped out to a 2-0 lead as Nicklas Backstrom (9th goal of the season) scored on the power-play, 3:53 into the game (from Alexander Ovechkin and Viktor Kozlov).

Alexandre Giroux (1st of the season) doubled the lead at 4:52 in the second with a goal from Kozlov and Tom Poti.

The B's finally got on the board with 35 seconds left in the second. Just like the game before, Phil Kessel found Milan Lucic (his 8th of the season) parked right in front of the net for an easy one-timer. Zdeno Chara also assisted on the goal.

Ovechkin (15th) iced it with an empty-net goal with 52 seconds left in the contest. Alexander Semin-Washington's other superstar and Backstrom assisted.

The B's head to Atlanta tomorrow night to face the Thrashers, one of the worst teams the NHL has to offer. Atlanta will then come to Boston on Saturday night. Needless to say, Boston should take both of those games.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bruins just keep piling up the wins

Even when the Boston Bruins don't play particularly well this season, they still win. The B's (19-4-4) scored three goals in a four minute and two second span in the first period and held on to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning (6-13-8), 5-3, last night at the Garden.

At 6:44 in the first, Milan Lucic began the impressive burst with a power-play goal (his 7th goal of the season) from Dennis Wideman and Phil Kessel.

Kessel made it 2-0 less than three minutes later as his attempted pass went off a Tampa Bay defenseman's stick and past goalie Mike Smith (19 saves).

Michael Ryder (7th of the season) put it out of reach at 10:46 with a nice shot, assists going to Shane Hnidy and Matt Hunwick.

Boston had a chance to make it 4-0 in the second period but P.J. Axelsson could not score on a penalty shot.

Adam Hall cut it to 3-1 Bruins at 13:06 in the second period (assists from Evgeny Artyukhin and Paul Ranger).

My fantasy team got some help from Zdeno Chara (who's had a so-so season thus far) when the big captain blasted home a power-play goal on one of his monstrous slap-shots. David Krejci and Wideman (10th assist) had the helpers.

In the third, Tampa Bay made it interesting by scoring two goals: Vincent Lecavalier (Martin St. Louis, Ranger) and Paul Szczechura (Marek Malik, Andrej Meszaros). The second goal was with just 17 seconds left and it occurred when Tampa Bay had pulled Smith for the extra skater.

The Bruins won the ensuing face-off and Axelsson (1st of the season) sealed it with an empty-netter from Patrice Bergeron.

Boston goalie Tim Thomas finished with 26 saves and improved his record to 11-3-3.

Boston is now 9-0-1 in its last 10 games and they travel to Washington D.C. to face the Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and the high-flying Capitals tomorrow night.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The best shooter in the NBA is alive and well

I only caught bits of the first half and some of the second half and overtime since the Patriots game started at 4 p.m. but the Boston Celtics (20-2) took care of business once again with a 122-117 win over the Pacers (7-13) last night at Conseco Fieldhouse.

The C's won their 12th straight game, tying last year's best run and also tying the franchise's best start through 22 games.

You might not have noticed since the playoffs last season but Ray Allen has been playing out of his mind.

He had a game-high 35 points yesterday, including 7-of-12 shooting on threes. It's pretty remarkable how well the guy is playing when you consider how much of a funk he was in much of last season and particularly in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Kevin Garnett added 17 points, 20 rebounds, five steals and four assists. Paul Pierce had 17 points and eight assists while Kendrick Perkins scored 11 points and grabbed seven boards.

Rajon Rondo put up seven points, seven assists (six turnovers), six rebounds and four steals while Eddie House (15 points) and Tony Allen (12 points) had the scoring touch off the bench.

Marquis Daniels led the Pacers with 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Danny Granger added 20 points, six assists and three steals while Jarrett Jack (17 points), Troy Murphy (15 points, 6 rebounds) and Rasho Nesterovic (14 points) also put up numbers in the loss.

The C's travel to Washington on Thursday to face a Wizards team that gave them trouble last season but can't get out of its own way so far this season.

Welker and Cassel make just enough plays for Pats to hold off hapless Seahawks

The 2008 New England Patriots' playoff hopes looked over yesterday in Seattle as they quickly fell behind 14-3 to a terrible Seahawks (2-11) team.

From there, New England woke up and outscored Seattle, 21-8. It wasn't a thing of beauty but the Pats (8-5) made just enough plays on offense and finally a few stops on defense to propel them to a crazy 24-21 at Qwest Field.

Everybody's favorite short, white receiver Wes Welker (12 catches, 134 yards; 2-PT conversion catch) could not be stopped as he took over in the second half. Did I mention he's small?

Matt Cassel (26-for-44, 268 yards, touchdown) made a bunch of big-time throws and Brandon Meriweather forced a Seneca Wallace fumble on Seattle's last drive as they tried to tie it up. Richard Seymour recovered the ball and the Pats just took a knee for the clutch win.

Earlier, they had made Wallace, the backup quarterback, look like a Hall-of-Famer as he went 20-for-28 with 212 yards, three touchdowns and 47 yards rushing.

Old friend Deion Branch made up for lost time (he has been injured and virtually useless since he left New England) by burning the Pats for 88 yards on four catches, including two vintage Branch touchdowns.

Branch had the first score of the game as he caught a 14-yard TD after burning Meriweather.

Stephen Gostkowski's 50-yard kick cut it to 7-3 Seahawks after one quarter.

Rookie tight end John Carlson (8 catches, 69 yards) had a 10-yard TD catch which put Settle up 14-3 early in the second.

Cassel and the offense responded as Benjamin Watson hauled in a 2-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone.

It was 14-10 Seattle heading into halftime.

Another Gostkowski kick (42 yards), cut the Seahawk lead to one point in the third.

Branch worked some more magic with a ridiculous 63-yard catch and run where he went from one sideline to the other, juking past (and using blocks) to get by almost every Patriots defender.

He topped that with a juggling, one-handed grab on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Wallace.

New England made it 21-16 with Gostkowski's third field goal of the day (27 yards) early in the fourth then Sammy Morris jumped over the goalline on a gutsy fourth-and-1 run. Cassel found Welker with the two-point conversion and then Seattle did what it's done best this year (fail).

With Vince Wilfork and Tedy Bruschi going down during the game and Gary Guyton getting pulled, recently re-signed linebackers Junior Seau and Rosevelt Colvin were back on the field for New England.

Neither of them made any big plays but it was a time warp to see them again. That's how desperate New England is for warm bodies, they had to bring these two experienced veterans in.

The Pats will stay out on the West Coast as they travel to Oakland next Sunday to face an awful Raiders team with nothing to play for. The Jets once again choked yesterday (against the 49ers) and the Dolphins beat the Bills, so the AFC East is currently a three-way tie at the top.

The Patriots defense is a complete mess that can't stop anybody but if they can just make the playoffs, anything can happen. Especially in an AFC that still has no clear top teams other than the Titans and Steelers.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rondo records first career triple-double as C's make it 10 straight

Rajon Rondo had a vintage Jason Kidd performance last night against the Indiana Pacers. I'm talking Kidd on the Nets, during the wife-beating, ugly kid courtside days when New Jersey made back-to-back NBA Finals.

It's safe to say he's the best point guard in the East (which isn't saying much). The West is still loaded with the likes of Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Deron Williams, Baron Davis, Chauncey Billups and Steve Nash. There's no reason that Rondo shouldn't be playing in the All-Star game this year with such a weak conference for point guards.

Rondo dropped the first triple-double of his young career with 16 points, 17 assists (career-high) and 13 rebounds with three steals.

The Celts (18-2) made up for one of their two losses on the season by drilling Indiana (7-11), 114-96 at the Garden. Boston has now won 10 games in a row.

It wasn't all about Rondo though as Ray Allen had a game-high 31 points, Kevin Garnett (26 points, 14 boards, 4 blocks) and Kendrick Perkins (16 points, 10 rebounds) each posted double-doubles and Paul Pierce added 16 points.

Danny Granger led the Pacers with 20 points while T.J. Ford had 15 points and eight assists, Marquis Daniels scored 14 and Troy Murphy put up 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Boston led 28-27 after one quarter and 57-51 at the half. The third quarter was the money frame as the C's used a 31-22 advantage to cruise into the fourth and the win. For good measure, Boston outscored Indiana, 26-23 in the final 12 minutes.

The C's shot 50% to the Pacers' 44%. Boston got to the line much more (26-32) and made them count as the Pacers only went 9-for-13. Finally, Boston had an absurd 23 more rebounds (54-31) which you almost never see in an NBA game.

The Portland Trailblazers-winners of six straight-one of the NBA's other hottest teams comes to the Garden tomorrow night in what should be an intriguing matchup. Brandon Roy is a rising star while LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden (when healthy) make Portland a contender for the near future.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Take a number Orlando

Jameer Nelson and Mickael Petrus-two solid starters-are currently out of the lineup with injuries but the Orlando Magic came to Boston last night as the third-best team in the Eastern Conference. Outside of the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, the Magic (13-5) have looked like a much more cohesive team than the Detroit Pistons since they traded for AI.

The Celtics (17-2) right now are clicking on all cylinders as they won 107-88 for their ninth straight win.

Rashard Lewis scored a game-high 30 points for the Magic, Hedo Turkoglu added 19 points and Dwight Howard-the best center in the NBA-managed 14 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks.

Orlando only played seven players though and Boston's superior depth paid off. Paul Pierce had a team-high 24 points and seven rebounds. Ray Allen scored 21 and Rajon Rondo had a double-double of 16 points and 12 assists.

Kevin Garnett added 15 points and nine rebounds while Eddie House tossed in 11 off the bench. Kendrick Perkins had eight points and 13 rebounds.

Boston started fast, jumping on Orlando 28-18 after the first quarter. The Magic responded with a 28-20 second quarter.

As has been the trend so far this season, the C's really went to work in the third quarter. Pierce scored 17 in the frame as once again the Celts outscored the Magic by 10 (29-19).

A 30-23 fourth quarter was just a formality for Boston.

The numbers that seem to always be decidedly in their favor followed the course last night: Boston shot 54.1% to Orlando's 42%. They made six more free throws (21-15) and dished out six more assists (20-14).

If you're going to beat the Celtics, you have to shoot lights out or play lockdown defense because as they proved most of last season (other than the first few rounds of the playoffs), this team does not beat themselves.

Revenge will be on the minds of the C's as the Pacers (one of only two teams to beat them this season) come to the Garden tomorrow night.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Reality Bites

The past few weeks with Matt Cassel playing the best football of his life, it was easy for Patriots fans to think that just maybe this team could make a playoff run in the AFC that other than the Titans, has no heavyweights in 2008.

The Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3) came to Gillette Stadium yesterday afternoon and made a statement with a 33-10 victory over New England (7-5).

We were getting ahead of ourselves and this team-while still in position for a playoff spot given such an easy remaining schedule-has to get its shit together and fast.

The Pats actually led 10-3 late in the first half (and it should have been more) but the Steelers reeled off 30 straight points.

One of the hallmarks of the last eight years for New England has been smart, physical football. Rarely do the Patriots make more mental mistakes than their opponents.

That trait was totally absent yesterday as the Patriots turned the ball over five times and had countless drops and stupid mistakes.

After posting 400+ yards in his last two starts, Cassel quickly came back to earth against the No. 1 defense in the NFL. He was 19-for-39 for 169 yards and two interceptions. He also fumbled twice.

Cassel's teammates didn't help him much as Randy Moss (twice), Ben Watson and Jabar Gaffney all dropped very catchable balls.

Kevin Faulk (73 yards rushing, 48 yards receiving) seemed to be the only New England player that showed up all day.

Things started out well as Mike Vrabel picked off Ben Roethlisberger deep in Steelers territory on their first drive. Sammy Morris punched it in from 2 yards out to put the Pats up 7-0.

Pittsburgh drove down to the red zone but New England's defense held up, forcing a 20-yard field goal by Jeff Reed.

Stephen Gostkowski's 29-yard kick put the Pats up 10-3 in the second quarter.

Big Ben and the Steelers moved the ball downfield efficiently and Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes for a 19-yard TD pass.

Cassel and the offense looked like they would go up before halftime but Moss dropped a pass in the end zone and then Gostkowski shanked a 27-yard kick.

In the third quarter, Pittsburgh took a 13-10 lead on a Reed 25-yard kick then everything fell apart for New England.

Normal return man Ellis Hobbs was on the bench with cramps so rookie Matthew Slater took the ensuing kickoff and promptly fumbled which Pittsburgh recovered.

Two plays later, Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward with an 11-yard TD pass.

James Harrison started to get around Matt Light at will and he caused both fumbles by Cassel that Pittsburgh recovered. Two more Reed field goals and two more Cassel picks made this an ugly blowout.

Gary Russell went in from a yard out to make it 33-10 Steelers.

It was a pretty depressing game, fittingly played in miserable pouring rain.

Wes Welker left the game in the second half after taking a kill shot from a Steelers defensive back. Somehow, he walked off under his own power after being drilled when he was defenseless and trying to make a catch.

The Jets lost and the Dolphins won, meaning New England is still a game behind the New York and tied with Miami. Buffalo lost so they're officially done from the AFC East race.

The schedule maker gave the Pats a gift at the beginning of the year in the form of consecutive games at Seattle and Oakland.

Since they're still on the outside of the playoff picture, the remaining four games for the Patriots are crucial. They have to win at least three, four to be safe.

Just like they have no excuse for yesterday, there is no reason in the world they should lose to the Seahawks or Raiders, two of the worst teams in the NFL this season.