Off to the AFC Championship

(This morning’s links are provided by guest blogger Bob Ekstrom. He can be reached at [email protected])

It doesn’t get much busier around the Hub than yesterday, as the Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins were all in action. As always, Boston’s media coverage was out in full force, bringing all the games to your desktop this fine Sunday morning. Better get a cup of coffee, as there’s a lot of clicking ahead.

We’ll start off in Foxborough, where the Patriots, on the strength of Tom Brady’s 26 of 28 passing for 3 TDs and Lawrence Maroney’s 122 yards and one TD on the ground, got by the determined Jacksonville Jaguars, 31-20. Check out Scott Benson’s thoughts on last night’s performance over on Patriots Daily.

Christopher L. Gaspar has the Patriots opening the playoffs right where they left off the regular season with his full account of the on-field happenings. Karen Guregian notes that Tom Brady’s near perfect night keeps the Patriots’ season on the path to perfection. Douglas Flynn has the Pats overcoming some sloppy play and finishing strong to close out the Jags. Rich Garven says that, unlike other recent performances in which the Pats hung on to victory, this one was about pulling away, After a halftime reaming, David Heuschkel has the defense responding nicely by limiting the Jags to two second half field goals. Despite some rough patches, Shalise Manza Young keeps the big picture in focus, saying a win is a win. Bob Ryan says the Jags surely walked the walk, but it wasn’t enough to answer Brady and the offense. Mike Reiss says the Jags executed their plan to a T, but the Pats took what they were given all the way to victory.

Steve Buckley places Brady’s performance on a higher plane, both athletically and spiritually. Dan Shaughnessy reflects on Brady’s performance last night, which came two dropped passes short of perfection. Chris Price tops his weekly Ten Things We Learned with Tom Brady’s continual ability to surprise us.

While Brady carried the night, Tony Massarotti was impressed with Lawrence Maroney’s timely resurgence. Jackie MacMullan says Maroney’s performance was the perfect complement to Brady’s passing game, while Robert Lee has Maroney nearly too tired to talk after his heavy workload. Jeff Goldberg says Maroney’s star outshone the Jags’ tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Bill Doyle thinks the Jags made a big – albeit understandable – mistake not accounting for Benjamin Watson. Jim Donaldson has the nearly-forgotten Randy Moss staying upbeat heading into next week’s AFC Championship.

Donaldson can’t savor this victory because of the bad taste the defense left in his mouth. The poor defensive effort made Michael Felger’s weekly quest for the dark cloud inside the 17-0 silver lining an easy one. Michael Vega has the defense taking on Jacksonville’s best shot and vowing to do better. In his Patriots Beat, John Tomase has today’s Colts vs. Chargers participants licking their chops for a shot against the Pats’ defense, which he rates in the “lower third of good”. Lenny Megliola has apparently already seen the game as he has Peyton Manning and the Colts at Gillette Stadium next Sunday.

Tomase votes Brady’s hidden ball trick that led to the Patriots’ third TD as his Play of the Game. The play didn’t make Massarotti’s Best and Worst, but he wasn’t wanting for plenty of other nominations in this one. While Jags’ QB David Garrard was working over the Pats’ cornerbacks, so was Karen Guregian, who says Asante Samuel’s agent sees rich days ahead, and for his client too. In her Patriots Notebook, Guregian has Ellis Hobbs’ limited duty attributable more to preparation for the Colts than to injury. Bill Doyle brings Junior Seau one step closer to his first Super Bowl appearance in 13 years.

Celtics

The Celtics dropped their second game in the last three last night in Washington, falling to the Wizards, 85-78, after being outscored 15-4 down the stretch. Marc J. Spears has the C’s hitting a bump in the road. Steve Bulpett says that, in getting out-muscled and out-hustled by the Wizards, the C’s may have lost their swagger in addition to the game.

Spears’ Celtics Notebook updates us on the absence of Rajon Rondo in last night’s lineup. In his own Celtics Notebook, Steve Bulpett says Rondo could be out a while. Peter May offers a nice feature on Paul Pierce getting his just reward after nine years in NBA purgatory.

Bruins

The Bruins came away with a 4-3 overtime win against the Flyers yesterday afternoon in Philadelphia. Steve Conroy runs down the action clear through the 43-second overtime period.

Kevin Paul Dupont’s Bruins Notebook updates us on the B’s injury status after two more bodies went down during yesterday afternoon’s first period. Conroy’s Bruins Notebook has more on the end of Milan Lucic’s modeling career after breaking his nose yesterday. In his NHL Notes, Stephen Harris recounts Andrew Ference’s long road to recovery. Bud Barth might be thankful the B’s won yesterday’s match outright as he trashes the statistical anomaly that is the shoot-out goal.

Odds & Sods

Look, up on the Jumbotron. It’s Travolta. It’s Timberlake. No it’s one more distraction from the game on the floor. The Globe’s Wesley Morris has more on Gino Time, the latest rave at TD Banknorth Garden.

Kevin Paul Dupont has former NHL great Brett Hull saying enough is enough with all this politically-correct reticence among today’s players.

Haven’t had enough stories on Roger Clemens’ butt yet? Well, you won’t want to miss the latest controversy first reported by the New York Times yesterday.

I hope you have a great remainder of the weekend and get some time to enjoy today’s Colts-Chargers game. Thanks again, Lenny, for spoiling the outcome here. And for any Giants fans out there, may good fortune rest on Eli’s arm later today.

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