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Chopping the local sports scene into four quarters ...

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff  December 5, 2011 08:18 AM

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Disregard the final five minutes. For that matter, disregard the fourth quarter. The Patriots fell asleep for the final minutes of yesterday's 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, but the end of the game told us nothing about who the Patriots are and where they are going.

Truth be told, the first three quarters told us nothing, too.

The Pats are 9-3 this morning and once again possessors of the top seed in the AFC, but they have very little to gain in the final weeks of the 2011 season. New England should encounter some resistance in the final four games of this season - at Washington, at Denver, both Miami and Buffalo at home - but there should be nothing to prevent the Patriots from going 13-3 and earning a first-round bye when all is said and done.

That said, two questions endure from yesterday's affair.

First, is it really necessary for the fans at Gillette Stadium to boo Adam Vinatieri? (Weak.)

Second, is it really necessary for Bill Belichick to have the Patriots throwing out of the no-huddle offense holding a 31-10 lead with under seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter?

In the latter instance, nothing Belichick can say justifies the decision. Belichick likes to answer every question about his strategic choices by saying that he is "just trying to win a game," but throwing out of the no-huddle with under seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter was downright stupid and indicated no such thing. At that stage of the game, the Patriots should have been trying to milk the clock. Instead, Brady took a needless hit on a third-and-13 play that led to a Patriots punt, after which the Colts scored.

With the score then 31-17, Brian Hoyer entered the game. Does that all make any sense? Up 31-10, Belichick subjected Brady to a needless hit. Up 31-17, he put Hoyer in. That certainly suggests that Belichick recognized the error of his ways, but he never should have had Brady throwing at that stage of the game in the first place.

Sometimes, the man's ego just gets in the way.

Let's hope the Bobby Valentine acquisition does not prove to be the Red Sox' biggest move of the offseason. With the manager now in place entering the winter meetings, the Red Sox have needs to address on their pitching staff, both in the starting rotation and the bullpen. Presumably, there will be a substantive acquisition in there somewhere.

Under the circumstances, with closers going at inflated prices, one can only wonder if the Sox might be far better served to put their money in a starter, specifically Mark Buehrle. If relievers like Heath Bell and Ryan Madson command three- and four-year deals, the Sox would seem far better off committing three years and even $45 million to someone like Buehrle, who has a picturesque delivery and a long history of health.

In any case, here's what you shouldn't want to see: trepidation. So the Sox have made some bad free agent signings. So what? Does that mean they're all bad? If the Red Sox can pull off a trade for a young, healthy pitcher, so be it. If not, they need durability on that staff, and Buehrle is about the closest thing to a sure bet on the market.

The Red Sox don't need to abstain from the free agent market, folks. They just need to make more prudent decisions.

I mean, in retrospect, was giving John Lackey five years just utter foolishness or what? The man had a history of elbow problems. And everyone knew it.

Let's all pump the brakes on the Bruins for a moment. As extraordinary as this 13-0-1 run has been, this is still just the regular season. Roughly a year ago at this time, the Bruins were struggling enough that Cam Neely came out and seemed to put Claude Julien's job on the line, at which point the Bruins awoke and began playing with greater urgency.

Of course, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. And while that title has changed everything with regard to the perception of the team and organization, let's not put these bruins in the same discussion with the Bruins of the late '60s and early '70s just yet. Those Bruins were stacked with Hall-of-Fame-caliber talent, and we simply do not know whether this club has quite the same staying power.

That said, the Bruins certainly are positioned to have one of the great eras in their history, which is something we said a year ago. (You can look it up.) The signing of David Krejci further stabilizes a deep and talented roster that can skate, hit, score and play defense, meaning the Bruins can play any style of game, against basically any opponent, anywhere and anytime.

Still, tonight's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins bears close watching, for obvious reasons. These are two of the last three Stanley Cup champions and, currently, the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference. The injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin last year meant the Pens were absent from Boston's path to the championship, and we still do not know if the Bruins can defeat the Penguins when it matters.

Of course, we also don't know if the Penguins can defeat these Bruins, who seem fortified and emboldened by their Stanley Cup championship.

With all due respect to the most loyal Celtics fans, the window closed in Game 7 against the Lakers in June 2010. Anyone who believes the Celtics can win the title this year by simply adding some small pieces around Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo is missing the point. The Celtics are getting older and slower while the Bulls and Heat are getting better and deeper, which is why Danny Ainge must act aggressively.

Nobody ever said Rondo was a bad player. The question isn't even whether he's a great player. The question is whether he's a franchise player, the kind an organization can build around the way the Celtics built around Garnett, the indisputable centerpiece of the Celtics' latest championship runs. And it is difficult to think of Rondo in those terms when he is a career .622 shooter at the free throw line coming off a season in which he shot .568.

As a result, Ainge owes it to himself -- and, more importantly, the Celtics -- to explore any and all deals for Rondo, who remains his best bargaining chip. If Ainge can get something closer to a franchise player back, even for the short term, he must consider it. The Al Jefferson-for-Kevin Garnett swap was built on a similar principle, and nobody has complained about the loss of Jefferson for quite some time now.

Granted, Garnett is still here, albeit in a reduced capacity.

But is there anyone who still wouldn't have made that trade?

Tony's Top 5

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5
The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
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For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
3
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
2
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
1
You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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