Mitchell Madness; Big Baby Lends a Hand

(Morning links provided by guest blogger T.J. Donegan. Comments/Criticisms/Loving Admiration can be sent here.)

MLB is going to dump blood in the collective water when Senator George Mitchell’s report on the use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball is finally released this afternoon.

Speculation has run amok in the last few days about what will and won’t be in the report, but you can see for yourself (if you want to crank through the 400 pages) at MLB.com this afternoon, where it should be made available shortly after the start of Sen. Mitchell’s 2 PM EST news conference, with Selig and MLB responding with a news conference themselves later in the afternoon.

More and more, this report is looking like it has been a stop-gap measure by MLB, paying lip service to Congress. The fact is that this does not have a positive spin for baseball, with the general feel that this was an investigation done by the league, by a person who has deep ties to more than one club’s ownership, deep ties to Commissioner Bud Selig, and will not have the far-reaching effects some hoped it would 20 months ago. Without the windfall of Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski being forced as part of a plea agreement to talk to Mitchell, this report could just be 400 pictures of a brick wall.

One aspect that will certainly continue to get play in the coming days will be Mitchell’s ties to the Red Sox. Mitchell was a paid director for the Red Sox for years prior to the investigation and should resume that position in the coming months. This is clearly a conflict of interest, with many baseball executives expressing exactly that concern, and should have precluded him from being appointed for this job.

But quite simply, who in baseball circles doesn’t have long-standing ties to the league or the union? In a world where the World Wide Leader is owned by the same company that owns the Angels, where the same company owns the Boston Globe and part of the Red Sox, conflicts of interests are everywhere. Congress is the only group that can step in with the least prejudice and, with the full power of the law behind them, get at the whole truth. Yes, that’s a worst-case-scenario, but that’s exactly what’s at baseball’s doorstep.

Obviously it’s almost all speculation this morning but here’s a quick roundup of the opinion on what the report will contain:

Lester Munson has a Q&A (with himself, I guess?) about the investigation and its legal consequences. T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada have sources that state the blame will be “shared” by both the players’ union and the league office. For ESPN Insider, Buster Olney’s blog talks about the lack of closure of the Mitchell investigation.

Phil Rodgers of the Chicago Tribune adds that the union is likely to appeal any suspensions that come as a result of the report. Michael Petraglia sought out Curt Schilling of all people to get his opinion on what might be in the report. Gerry Fraley at the Sporting News thinks the report’s consequences will be minimal.

Jon Heyman files his opinion on the Mitchell Report for SI.com, saying he believes it could be a bombshell, although I don’t think he knows what the word “painstaking” means. Steve Silva’s Extra Bases for boston.com talks about Schilling’s belief that more than one big name will be revealed in the report, and wouldn’t be surprised if Red Sox players were named. Michael Silverman goes deeper into that possibility. Amalie Benjamin files her own report on the Mitchell investigation. The Big Lead wonders if we’ll see some extra names from the “1994 Amazin’ Squad” that Radomski worked as a clubhouse attendant for.

The only hard news about the report so far is the APs report that it will include the names of MVPs and All-Stars. All-Stars? MVPs?! Those couldn’t be Ken Caminiti, Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds, could they? The AP has gotten so sensationalist with their leads lately. I hope it’s someone nobody expects though, like Rollie Fingers. Him and his crazy ‘stache. Mitchell needs to bring him down a peg or two.

In other news, Theo Epstein’s wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy last night. Congratulations to the Epsteins on their first child, let’s hope he’s a five-tool shortstop, we could really use one of those.

Also, the Sox declined to tender reliever Brendan Donnelly, making the 36-year old a free agent. Amalie Benjamin files a short report.

Not much about the team itself today, with little grist for the rumor mill and most of the local talent focused on this afternoon’s festivities.

Patriots

Well what do you know? Spygate has life after all. Or as the immortal John Clayton said last night “[this issue] won’t go away because we won’t let it go away…it’s too good of a drama.” Nothing but the facts from the WWL, as always. It turns out that last season the Jets were caught videotaping at Gillette as far back as 2006. The Pats expelled the cameraman and didn’t report the offense to the league (which would certainly explain why Belichick has gone Ahab on the league this year).

Different circumstances, and it doesn’t mitigate what the Patriots were doing this year, but the team could still have reported the incident to the league and didn’t. I think the line in Vegas jumped 10 points when Belichick was told about that one.

The AP copy out of New York has been the only one run on the most sites, it sums things up pretty well.
John Tomase offers a little extra insight, however. Mike Reiss has the Jets not being punished by the league. So we just had to film from the stands, then? It should be noted that this rule is included in the NFL Game Operations Manual. That’d be the same Manual that also has rules regarding how much coffee and sliced oranges the home team must provide to the visitors.

Head on over to Patriots Daily where Dan Snapp looks at the Patriot passing game so far this season.

John Tomase stirs the controversy by examining Mangini’s comments about offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Tomase then gives us five things to keep an eye on for the game on Sunday. Karen Guregian has teams actively avoiding throwing at Asante Samuel, when possible.

Jeff Jacobs at the Courant questions whether the Patriots should be all-day or all class against the hapless Jets. David Heuschkel tracks Brady as the reigns in several single-season passing records.
Karen Guregian says the Patriots shouldn’t concern themselves with the weather report for Sunday’s game.
The Herald also offers a quick rundown of how Tom Terrific has performed in snow games so far in his career.
Ian M. Clark has the Patriots ignoring the media circus. Jim Donaldson says it’s almost time for the Patriots to get their revenge on the Jets. Robert Lee has Belichick wary of the Jets and their firepower going into Sunday’s game, even though the scores shouldn’t be close.

Guregian’s notebook has the Patriots players mum on the revenge talk.

Celtics

The Celtics cruised to a 90-78 win over the Kings last night on the back of Glen Davis, who picked up 16 points and nine rebounds to take their overall record to 18-2. Three Boston Celtics teams have started 18-2 previously, with all three making the NBA Finals.

Davis got some extra press this week as well, as John Hollinger over at ESPN has him as tops in his Player Efficiency rankings of rookies. David Thorpe at Scouts, Inc has Davis as the #5 rookie so far this season, including the relatively ancient minor-league veteran Jamario Moon. For a guy who fell as far as Davis did, it’s been great to see him get even that high, although you have to wonder if he’d get higher if he was getting 30 minutes a game like some guys on that list.

Rajon Rondo also got some national media love with Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen dedicating his Inside the NBA piece to the second-year point guard and how his game has developed so far.

Gary Dzen’s blog at the Globe has some good stuff on Big Baby’s impact last night in his first career start. Mark Murphy also talks about Davis’ reaction to his first NBA start. Jeff Howe talks about the win last night, as well. Steve Bulpett also adds a roundup of last night’s game.


Lenny Magliola
has more on the win and the reversal of the Celtics’ fortunes as of late.
The fourth installment of A Celtics Blogger Christmas Carol is also up at BSMW full-court press.

Bruins

The Bruins pulled out a 5-3 win over the Atlanta Thrashers last night. Head on over to Bruins Links to get your roundup of the day’s media reaction.

That’ll wrap it up for me today. Expect a lot of afternoon activity on your favorite blogs from around the web as the report drops later today. Have a good one.

Is it Sunday yet?

(Morning Links provided by Guest Blogger, Brian Beaupre. Brian can be reached here)

Well, it’s Wednesday and already the Spygate, handshake, student/teacher talk is at it’s most nauseating. Need proof? Listen to WEEI today for hours of riveting semantics about whether the Pats actually cheated or just “misinterpreted” the rules. I thought that 5-6 weeks of discussing Camera-gate was enough to draw some conclusions, and it would be nice to discuss the actual game this weekend, given we have higher goals than just beating Mangini. Does the impending bad weather serve as the great equalizer in a game that would be dominated by the Pats on a clean track? Does the Jet’s successful defensive game plan from last year come into play this year? Would be nice to talk about these things…but I’ve been around here long enough to know that’s not how it works. I digress…

Patriots

Mike Reiss discusses the transformation the Pats’ offense has undergone since the days of playing against the Rams in the Super Bowl back in 2001, where the Pats were a grind-it-out team, especially when the weather got worse, and now Brady operates almost exclusively out of the shotgun. John Tomase statistically breaks down Brady’s soon-to-be record setting season. Shalize Manza Young reflects back on the camera circumstances from September, and the ramifications Mangini’s actions have had on both past and future Patriots performances. Jeff Goldberg takes things a bit further into the past, and gives us a brief history lesson about the Jets/Patriots rivalry. Speaking of blasts from the past, Tony Massarotti has a great piece on Drew Bledsoe, and his appreciation for what the Pats and Tom Brady have accomplished thus far. Say what you will about old Drew, but he is a class act and won’t be forgotten by this Pats fan. Although it sounds like Tony didn’t even want to touch his relationship with Belichick. Maybe Ron Borges could chime in with some off-the-record nuggets for us? Dan Shaughnessy also takes a look at the bitter past between Belichick and Mangini, and tells us not to believe the downplaying of the past by BB and Co.

Mike Reiss’ notebook discusses Richard Seymour’s health (remember him?), another Patriots record of turnover differential in sight, Pro Bowl voting, and what seems to be going overlooked in this game on Sunday; that the Pats can clinch the #1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win this weekend. I remember last season when guys like Reiss and Mike Felger made great points about how important home field and a bye were in the playoffs for the Pats during their Super Bowl runs. Funny how they have achieved this goal again, only to be overshadowed by the pursuit of a perfect season…which I’m clearly ok with, but let’s give credit where credit is due for preventing a travel schedule like the one they had last year.

Over at Patriots Daily, Dan Snapp takes a look at the Patriots inclination to pass more, and whether this pass happy approach can remain effective.

Celtics

Peter May has an interesting look at Doc Rivers sharing the same passion for a championship as his players, never having won one as a player or coach. Mark Murphy has players and coaches reflecting that this season’s crowd at the Garden reminds some people of the old days. Peter May has a look at the Celtics one game away from tying the 1984-1985 franchise record for consecutive home victories to open the season, 12-0. Jeff Horrigan discusses assistant coach Clifford Ray’s influence on the young big men, Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins.

Speaking of Kendrick Perkins, Murphy’s notebook details how he injured his foot assembling his bed at home. May’s notebook has more on the bizarre injury.

Bruins

Fluto Sinzawa has a piece on backup goalie Alex Auld and his strong performance against the Sabres on Monday. Stephen Harris has the Bruins talking about their confidence in each other to start the season, and they expected to be as good as their second-best record in the Eastern Conference suggests. That was not a misprint; your Boston Bruins have the second best record in the Eastern Conference. Shinzawa’s notebook discusses the improvement of young Milan Lucic. Harris’ notebook details the struggles of Manny Fernandez, as well as the potential absences and returns for tonight’s game against the Thrashers.

Red Sox

Well when was the last time you saw the Sox this far down on the sports radar in Boston? The Johan Santana talks continue, and amidst reports that the Twins and Sox revived their conversations this weekend, Michael Silverman reiterates, well, that not much has happened since the end of the winter meetings. Gotta love this hot stove stuff, eh? As much as the Twins want to posture about the deals for Santana as insufficient, you would have to believe they will move him somewhere, as I’d like to think the delay is more a product of a brand new GM, who got a lot of difficult decisions put on his plate early in his tenure. I am glad, however, to hear the Sox holding the line with their offer, as much as it hurts to hear the Twins have now shifted their focus to Ellsbury. By the way, $125 for an autograph from Ellsbury? The same week he signs with Scott Boras? Na, can’t be any correlation between the two.

Joe Haggerty over at the Metro caught up with former Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler.

Thanks for checking us out this morning, check out the Celtics tonight at home hosting the Sacramento Kings at 7:30 pm, and the Bruins take on the Thrashers in Atlanta at 7pm. Feel free to shoot me any comments at [email protected]

Jacoby Speaks

Patriots Daily contributor Bill Barnwell recently caught up with the Red Sox (currently anyway) centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

Speaking of Patriots Daily, Christopher Price checks in with his “Inside Gillette” segment, as well as, “Five things to look for this week”.

Gregg Easterbrook takes a look at the NFL’s plan to allow ticket brokers to re-sell NFL tickets. Gregg argues that this practice will only lead to astronomical ticket prices. He also gives his two cents on the Patriots victory over the Steelers. It even seems as if his son hates the Patriots. That plus all the usual nonsense in this week’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback.

Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio has some NFL fans angry at the Patriots for not wearing the #21 decal on their helmets this weekend.

Old Boston scribe, Howard Bryant has a mammoth piece about the upcoming Mitchell Investigation, scheduled to be released sometime this week.

Peter King has a warning for Wayne Huizenga in this week’s Monday Morning Quarterback. He also has a suggestion for the Patriots on what they should do with their first round draft pick.

Michael Silver was at Foxboro this weekend, he offers up his observations and a look at the Steelers first year head coach Mike Tomlin.

Sports Illustrated has a great piece on the rehabilitation that injured Buffalo Bill, Kevin Everett is undergoing.

Michael Wilbon says that Michael Vick’s sentence reflects the judge’s dissatisfaction with Vick’s lying.

While you may have thought that a personal masseuse, as well as, a housing allowance were great perks added to Dice-K’s contract, that’s not the only thing he or some of these other players managed to get out of their respective ball clubs. Here’s a look at some of the offbeat clauses in baseball contracts.

ESPN Ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber gives her critique of the World Wide Leader’s coverage of the Sean Taylor tragedy, also, their endless hours of Michael Vick.

Revenge is in the air

(Morning Links provided by David Vidinha. Dave can be contacted here.)

Before looking forward to the “epic match up” this week between the Patriots and Jets lets look back at the Patriots domination of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Michael Felger has the Patriots getting their swagger back in his weekly Report Card. The Patriots made the “Honor Roll” with their performance on Sunday. Meanwhile, over in Pittsburgh, the Steelers might be hiding their report card, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette hands out some ugly grades to the Steelers. ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli has a tip for future opponents of the Patriots. Karen Guerigian has the Pats all charged up, and Belichick keeping some names out of his mouth.

Now that the Patriots have disposed of the last “real” threat on their quest for perfection, they can look forward to a week full of CameraGate and “Revenge”. The storylines that will be played out over the next couple of days will reach an all-time level in these parts, as well as, in New York. You can expect the New York papers to play this up as much as possible, considering the New York Post is responsible for placing an asterisk on the side of the Patriots record in their NFL Standings. As you look down the asterisk leads to the comment :”Caught Cheating”. Talk about pandering to the fanbase.

Gerry Callahan says that this Sunday’s matchup is all about hate. Gerry also points out all the offensive records that the Patriots will be vying for this season, and wonders if they can all be captured by halftime. Christopher Gasper has Eric Mangini telling reporters that his feelings for Belichick have not changed, too bad for Eric the feeling is not mutual. With the Patriots well on their way to breaking all sorts of offensive records, why not own a few Vegas’ records in the process. Jets safety Kerry Rhodes makes a guarantee about Sunday’s game, although this one might come to fruition. Mr. Old Time Baseball, Steve Buckley has Coach Belichick describing his team’s approach to Sunday’s game versus the Jets. Even though the most famous guarantee in football history was made by a Jets player, don’t expect to hear another one this week.

Gene Wojciechowski professes his love for Tom Brady, and looks for new ways to describe him.

In the Globe’s Notebook the Patriots discuss their improvements in the “red area”, and we also learn that there might be some real short press conferences this week. The Herald’s Notebook has Pittsburgh Pinhead Anthony Smith talking trash to Brady during pre-game warmups. How’d that work out for you? Young’s notebook in the ProJo has Richard Seymour still feeling the after effects of his knee surgery.

Bruins

The Bruins skated to a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres last night. Fluto Shinzawa has Bruins newcomer Alex Auld making the difference chalking up 44 saves on 45 shots. Glen Metropolit returned to the Canadian housing project where he was raised.

A Full Week For Smith

(Afternoon links are again brought to you by today’s guest blogger, Bob Ekstrom)

Turns out that Steelers’ safety Anthony Smith didn’t get his fill of making a fool of himself during the week. Earlier this morning, Tom Brady told WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan that Smith was jawing at him throughout yesterday’s pre-game warm-ups.

Getting to some new business, Scott Benson shares some thoughts on the Patriots’ convincing win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who didn’t measure up to all their yapping. Ron Hobson has more on the Patriots’ defense rising to the occasion. Ian Clark seems to enjoy the fact that Smith was the game’s big goat, while Tom King hopes Smith is out of the prophecy business.

Michael Felger has Randy Moss bouncing back after getting muscled around for the last two games. Rich Garven shares his take on Moss playing instead of talking. In her notebook, Karen Guregian has Wes Welker reacting to his ball-hogging five consecutive catches to ice this one. She also has Logan Mankins getting to know Steelers’ LB James Harrison during some down time, while Felger awards Mankins’ wrestling match his best scrap of the day. John Tomase recounts the Gaffney TD, which he awards as his best play of the day. Glen Farley leads off his Patriots Notebook with another angle on the double-lateral pass to Gaffney.

One of my favorite stats each week is Mike Reiss’s rundown on offensive participation. Conspicuous by his absence yesterday is – you guessed it – Lawrence Maroney, who was on the field for a mere 18 snaps. I’ve said this before, but that 49ers pick looks bigger by the week.

Celtics

Steve Bulpett’s notebook takes note of the C’s success in back-to-back games this season.

Odds & Sods

It’s nice to have you back from lunch but tell me, was it as good as Will McDonough’s?

Michael Vick won’t be enjoying lunch anytime in the next 23 months. His sentence was handed down a little while ago, and consider the book duly thrown.

Again, thank you for tuning in. Drop me a line sometime at [email protected]

Hey Mercury, Spare A Cup Of Sugar?

(Morning Links provided by Guest Blogger, Bob Ekstrom. Send Bob feedback here)

We took that turnpike exit ramp miles back. We’ve driven up and down the streets of town and, with yesterday’s impressive 34-13 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and the top defense in football, we bought the place next door, even if we don’t like the neighbors much. We’re just waiting for closing day so we were wondering: can we can come knocking now?

As the Patriots’ passing attack and bend-but-don’t-break defense pushed Mercury Morris and Don Shula one step closer to forgotten, Tom Brady’s 399-yard, 4 TD performance did the same to the statistical legacy of Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. Brady is now 989 yards and five TDs short of single-season passing yardage and TD pass records, respectively. In a day where negatives are hard to find, Randy Moss let his chance to eradicate Jerry Rice’s single-season TD reception record slide through his hands with a fourth quarter end zone drop, his second in two games.

Let’s open with some nice game accounts by Christopher L. Gaspar and Karen Guregian, who have the Patriots putting their money where the Steelers’ mouths are. Did Karen just call me a worrywort? Jennifer Toland says Bill Belichick’s 100th win in New England was a significant one. David Heuschkel has the Patriots less than intimidated by Pittsburgh’s shredded curtain defense. Christopher Price says it’s good to have the old Pats back. He also offers us ten things we learned in the blow-out win. Mike Reiss gives us an accounting of the game’s ups and downs. From the other sideline, the Steel City says Tom Brady is as good as gold. Perhaps they’re learning that a little silence can be as well.

The never superstitious Lenny Megliola puts the Pats’ regular season at 16-0 now that they’ve gotten by No. 13. Dan Shaughnessy also fast-forwards to 16-0 and warns of a heavy dose of Morris to come. Jeff Horrigan notes the continued improvement of Jabar Gaffney. Robert Lee was impressed with the Patriots’ red zone defense, while Horrigan says Rodney Harrison was in the red all day. Toland has more on Harrison’s big play.

With the Patriots now one of only five NFL teams to see 13-0, it seems almost sacrilegious to elevate a fool like Steelers’ safety Anthony Smith from sideshow to main act but it’s the sidebar de jour, especially when he tells Jackie MacMullan that yes, he’d do it again! John Tomase sure isn’t feeling too sorry for him this morning. Douglas Flynn says Smith’s shoddy play took over where his guarantee fell short. Jim Donaldson captures some less than remorseful post-game damage control, while Shalise Manza Young has Smith a little short in the sausage department.

Flynn has Brady admitting that his third quarter gadget play TD pass to Jabar Gaffney doesn’t work against the scout team, but then again, Moss never sold it with a drop. Heuschkel says that one was put in to send the Steelers’ mouthy defense a message.

Celtics / Bruins

A quiet day on the winter front, as both teams enjoyed off-days following Saturday night victories.

Jim Fenton reminds us that, despite The Green’s 17-2 start, it’s too early to think about spring before most of us have begun Christmas shopping.

Marc J. Spears catches up with Paul Pierce’s boyhood idol, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who thinks the C’s have what it takes this year.

Red Sox

You’d have to go back to 1626 when the Dutch picked up Manhattan for $24 to find a better deal than the weekend signing of Eric Gagne by the Brewers for one year and $10 million. After all, as Michael Silverman points out, the Sox actually got a draft pick out of it.

Gordon Edes offers an interview out of Japan in which Hideki Okajima found his transition a time of anxiety and discomfort. I can hardly wait for 2008 when he’s more comfortable.

Odds & Sods

In case you missed it, have a listen for yourself as Mercury spends 19 excruciating minutes on Boston airwaves Friday with WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan show. If you listen to nothing else, you have to hear Morris’s distinction between “unbeaten” and “undefeated”, which starts at the 2:30 mark.

Bill Reynolds checks in on the kid next door, BC’s Jamie Silva.

Thanks for letting me get your busy week started here on BSMW. I’m Eks and, as always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts with me here. See you this afternoon.

Heading Out

I’m going to be gone all next week, but have already lined up a guest blogger for each day. Please tip them accordingly.

I’ll likely not have access to email next week, so if you send me a message, I’ll have to get back to you when I return.

There’s a huge football game this weekend at Gillette Stadium (one I’ll be scrambling to watch) between the Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Be sure to check in at Patriots Daily on Sunday morning for the Sunday Links to all the Patriots stories in the morning papers.

The game is going to be the main focus of the pregame shows on Sunday. CBS’ The NFL Today will have former Steelers coach Bill Cowher game planning on offense and defense on how the Steelers can beat the Patriots.

Here are some thoughts from CBS Analyst Phil Simms on the Patriots/Steelers matchup:

(On Undefeated New England Patriots): Now the NFL is not about all the games, it’s about which game of the year is it this week. I guess there are certain parts of it that are good, but we tend to lose focus on too many teams that are doing some good stuff and they are going to be part of the playoff picture. We can’t get past the Patriots, the Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, and this week the Steelers squeak in there because they are playing the Patriots…Every time the Patriots play a game that is close now, of course since they are undefeated, it becomes huge news. I fell into the trap, thinking, my gosh, maybe what they are doing is so extraordinary that they may not play close games this year. Now I realize that it’s just too hard to separate yourself dramatically from the rest of the field, especially if you are talking about the elite five, six, or eight teams…

(On Pittsburgh Steelers): So what do the Pittsburgh Steelers have going for them this week against the New England Patriots? New England played on Monday night, so it is a short work week. The Patriots are looked upon as the champions because they are undefeated. Everyone wants a shot at the champ. I don’t think teams say, ‘Oh my gosh we are playing the Patriots.’ They look at it as a great opportunity. It was the Super Bowl for the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night. It won’t be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl because they have bigger aspirations than just winning one game. The Steelers are a good team. They are a tough team. They are always one of the top athletic football teams in the league. They have speed on defense. They are solid on offense, and they have Ben Roethlisberger, who four-or-five times a year is going to win a game almost by himself on the plays he is capable of making…Everybody says you have to attack the Patriots offense. I have never done a Steelers game in my life where they didn’t have somewhat of a pretty good array of blitzes. So I can’t imagine that all of a sudden this week they decide, well its Tom Brady, the New England Patriots, and Randy Moss, let’s not blitz. Dick LeBeau has been in pro football too long. I can’t imagine he is all of a sudden going to change in one week…Any time I do a Steelers game, I’m always very interested in seeing their blitzes and how other teams react to them, and see if they are effective…

(On New England’s Game Plan): If I was a fan sitting back watching the game, I would want to see how the New England Patriots’ offense is going to react to what the Steelers have done the past couple of weeks. Will they continue to always spread the field and put Tom Brady in a shot gun? Will it be more of a mixture?…I hear constantly on TV, and I want to make sure I address it this week, ‘You have got to run the football,’ and all this you got to, got to, got to. Yes, you want to be well-versed. The more things you can do increase your chances of winning games. But I’m not going to sit there and say the Patriots have to line up and have great days running the football to win. I don’t think they have to. They play at New England. They have proven they can throw it in bad weather. It’s cold but it’s not like it was 30 years ago with 40 mile-an-hour winds, playing on dirt fields and it’s raining and everything else. It’s artificial fields. The footing is better. The weather is not as bad as it used to be….

On ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown they will have the following Patriots-related features:

Bill Belichick’s Press Conferences
A Bill Belichick press conference is like most head coaches’ press conferences around the NFL where answers are usually short, repetitive, and reveal little or nothing at all. In a unique feature, reporter Greg Garber travels to Foxborough to reveal the experience of trying to penetrate the impenetrable Belichick, what questions are more likely to get answered, and the rare occurrences of levity.

Soundtracks – 2007 Patriots
Soundtracks will feature the in-game audio of the Patriots – Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Randy Moss and others – chasing a perfect season.

A few more links for this afternoon:

Jesse Noyes in the Boston Business Journal has a look at the business side of the Celtics and how Comcast bought FSN New England at exactly the right time.

Bill Simmons explores how to get Jason Kidd out of New Jersey.

Tom Curran examines the remaining roadblocks for the Patriots.

Greg Garber says that we’re just witnessing a market correction with the Patriots.

Tom Pedulla offers a blueprint for beating the Patriots.

I think Michael Silver caught a love of Brett Favre from his former colleague Peter King.

John Madden breaks down the week 14 matchups, including Patriots/Steelers.

Steve Silverman says that the Steelers are the league’s best option to knock off the Patriots.

Jason Whitlock talks Sean Taylor, and also says that talk of a league-endorsed conspiracy to keep the Patriots undefeated is the whine of losers.

Finally, on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan this morning, you might have heard this man:

madden.jpg

Say the following:

“Belichick’s obviously just a clown, he’s the greatest football coach ever, but he’s just a pair of clown shoes, what a miserable, terrible looking, just sad-sack of a human being”

Irony, thy name is Mark Madden.

TGIF

Just trying to bring you the top stories in the papers today…

David Scott checks in with a few things he actually doesn’t mind about the Boston sports media in this week’s edition of Scott’s Shots.

The staff of Patriots Daily checks in with a quick Patriots Roundtable discussion of this week’s game with the Pittsburgh Steelers. There is also a new edition of the Patriots Buffet Table.

Michael Felger says that the Patriots should go all-out in their quest for a perfect season. Eric McHugh has the Patriots hoping for a memorable game on Sunday. Mike Reiss has the Patriots trying to plug the gaps in their run defense.

Tony Massarotti says that the Red Sox and Yankees might’ve turned their attention to another lefthander, the Orioles’ Erik Bedard, who could make more sense for both teams. Rob Bradford has Coco Crisp with no desire to compete with Jacoby Ellsbury for a starting job.

Ryan Lambert looks at Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, who turns out to be quite the environmentalist. Douglas Flynn has Tuukka Rask not getting the Garden party he planned for in his home debut last night, a 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

Marc J. Spears says that we shouldn’t expect Kevin Garnett to go into coaching when his playing days are done.

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell has a look at NESN’s Red Sox 2007 DVD, which will be released next week.

Celtics Not Half Bad

After a tepid first half of play, the Celtics came to life in the third quarter and managed to beat the plucky Philadelphia 76ers last night 113 to 103 in Philly. Kevin Garnett had 22 points for the Celtics, who improved to 15-2 on the season.

Marc J. Spears has the Celtics adjusting to the feeling of being “an elite team with a bull’s-eye on its back” each and every night they step out onto the court. Mark Murphy has Doc Rivers getting on his team at halftime, especially the point guards.

Kevin Henkin as part two of A Celtics Blogger Christmas Carol on the BSMW Full Court Press.

Spears’s notebook has Tony Allen stepping up his game in the second half last night after Doc Rivers stuck with him following a bad first half. Murphy’s notebook looks at a strong performance from the Celtics bench as a whole, which totaled 46 points on the evening.

Patriots

Over in the Metro, I have a few problems with the telecast of the Monday Night Football game. Those frustrations are expressed in the open letter Dear ESPN. Over on Patriots Daily, there is a look at the AFC Playoff picture.

Christopher L. Gasper has a look at Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, and how he has done a good job replacing Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh. Karen Guregian has the Steelers planning on getting physical with the Patriots, especially the wide receivers. Mark Farinella has Mike Vrabel talking to the Pittsburgh media about the Patriots/Steelers rivalry, and what the Patriots need to do on Sunday. Douglas Flynn observes that the Patriots will have their hands full with Willie Parker on Sunday.

Shalise Manza Young has Anthony Smith, a second year safety for the Steelers, coming out and guaranteeing a Pittsburgh win on Sunday. John Tomase has a look back at the Baltimore game with another Tale of the Tape entry. Ian M. Clark notes that run defense is suddenly a big concern for the Patriots.

Young also has Belichick giving his players most of yesterday off – not so much for rest, but to give the coaches a chance to prepare for the Steelers. Rich Garven also has the coaches taking a little more time to gameplan for the Steelers. David Heuschkel has the Steelers as the latest obstacle for the Patriots in their quest for 16-0.

Gasper’s notebook has more on the “guarantee” from Smith. Guregian also looks at the quotes from Smith, who says that the Patriots should be worrying about them rather than the other way around. Garven’s notebook has still more on the Smith quotes. Flynn’s notebook has Smith’s word undermining the efforts of the other Steelers to not provide bulletin board material for the Patriots.

Bruins

After running out to a 3-0 lead over the Devils last night, the Bruins floundered, and eventually lost starting goaltender Tim Thomas to injury just before the end of regulation. Tuukka Rask came in and gave up the winning goal at 3:16 of overtime as the Bruins fell to New Jersey 4-3 last night.

Fluto Shinzawa has Rask coming into a tough situation after the Thomas injury. Stephen Harris says that the injury to Thomas is worse than blowing the three goal lead.

Shinzawa’s notebook has more on the injury to Thomas, while Harris’ notebook has Bruins coach Claude Julien returning to face the team that fired him with a week to go last season.

Red Sox

Gordon Edes has the Red Sox prepared to come home from the winter meetings without Johan Santana, as talks seem to have stalled between Boson and the Twins. Michael Silverman has the Twins apparently not ready to deal their ace just yet. Sean McAdam says that the Red Sox are biding their time with Santana and will likely leave Nashville without a trade for the lefthander. Marc Thaler says a Santana deal could have a New Hampshire touch.

Nick Cafardo has Larry Whiteside being honored by the Hall of Fame as the winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award. Rob Bradford has Josh Beckett not concerned about the Red Sox potentially adding Santana and his contract. Bradford also has Jacoby Ellsbury talking about possibly being part of a deal. Joe Haggerty reports that Julian Tavarez could end up being trade bait. Jeff Goldberg has more from Ellsbury as he awaits his future. Joe McDonald also talked with the young centerfielder. McAdam notes how slow these winter meetings have been in terms of trades and news.

Amalie Benjamin’s notebook has a look at the “Schilling Rule” adopted by the BBWAA yesterday, meaning that the writers will not vote for any player that has incentives in their contract for winning postseason awards, such as the Cy Young. (Schilling responded to the move with disgust on his 38 Pitches blog.) The Herald notebook has more on the rule.

Patriots Set More TV Records

From ESPN:

Patriots – Ravens on Monday Night Football: Cable’s Biggest Audience Ever
ESPN Wins the Night among All Networks; ESPN.com up 39%

Monday night’s last-minute 27-24 victory by the New England Patriots over the Baltimore Ravens – keeping the visitors undefeated at 12-0 – attracted the largest household audience in cable television history and broke the record for most viewers. It also made ESPN the most-watched network – cable or broadcast – that night, the third time this season MNF has “won the night.”

ESPN’s Monday Night Football averaged 12,529,000 homes (based on a 13.0 rating), breaking the record for household audience set last year when the network averaged 11,807,000 households for the New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys on October 23 (based on a 12.8 rating). The game was seen by an average of 17,522,000 viewers (P2+), breaking the record set by Disney Channel’s High School Musical 2, which averaged 17,241,000 million viewers on August 17 this year.

ESPN out-delivered all broadcast and cable networks in prime time among households, persons 2+, and all key male and adult demo groups (M18-34, M18-49, M25-54, P18-34, P18-49, and P25-54). It was the third time ESPN has won Monday night overall; MNF has “won the night” in the male demos every week this season.

In Boston, the game delivered a 28.3 rating on ESPN and an 8.3 rating on WCVB-ABC, for a combined 36.6 rating. In Baltimore, the game delivered a 12.9 rating on ESPN and a 24.6 rating on WJZ-CBS, for a combined 37.5 rating.

The game’s audience peaked from 11:30 – 11:45 p.m. ET (the telecast ended at 11:49 p.m.) with a 17.6 rating, representing 16,920,000 homes and 23,865,000 people. For that quarter hour, ESPN’s share – the percentage of U.S. television homes watching TV that were watching ESPN – was 31.

Including ESPN’s NFL programming from 4 p.m. through post-game coverage, the network delivered 25.1 gross ratings points.

ESPN’s 14 NFL games account for 11 of the top 12 most-watched shows on basic cable in 2007 among households: the first-, second-, third-, fourth-, sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, ninth-, 10th-, 11th-, 12th-, 15th-, 16th-, and 17th-most watched.

ESPN’s previous best rating and biggest audience this year was a 10.5 (10,163,000 homes) on October 29 (Green Bay at Denver, won by the Packers 19-13 on the first play of overtime).