<![CDATA[NBC Connecticut - Sports]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/sports http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC_Connecticut.png NBC Connecticut http://www.nbcconnecticut.com en-us Fri, 19 Dec 2014 04:21:05 -0500 Fri, 19 Dec 2014 04:21:05 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Revis 'Sad' at Ryan's Situation in NY]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 15:57:52 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Darrelle+Revis+Getty.jpg

Losing stinks, but there's nothing worse in football than pity. And that's exactly what former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis has for current Jets coach Rex Ryan, who is 3-11 and will almost certainly be fired before the New Year.

New York and New England meet on Sunday in a game that has completely different implications for both teams; the Jets are in the running for the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft while the Pats are trying to hold onto homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

"It's kind of sad for the position that Rex is in right now, but at the same time [the record is] something that they've got to change," Revis told reporters on Wednesday via conference call.

The Jets drafted Revis in the first round back in 2007. Ryan was hired in 2009 and led the team to back-to-back AFC Championship games. But a looming contract dispute led the Jets to trade Revis to the Bucs before the 2013 season, and he landed in New England this offseason.

"I'm really not trying to pay attention to [the Jets' struggles], I'm really not," Revis said. "Me and Rex have a lot of history and we all know that. Some of those guys are dear to my heart and everything, but like I said, I've got to focus on the things that I am doing here, and I wish Rex the best."

The Jets' secondary, which has been decimated by injuries, certainly misses a player of Revis' caliber. Ryan was asked about just that this week but would only say that he's proud of the players he has. As to whether the team regrets not signing Revis before the Pats did, Ryan offered this: "Guys, I think we've addressed this before. Go back to our notes from the first time we played New England or even when Revis was in Tampa. You make decisions based on things. A lot of them work out, some maybe don't work out as well as others. I don't think it's fair to sit back and say this or that."

<![CDATA[Edwards Transfer Not a Surprise]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 15:42:30 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/geno-auriemma-2014-recruits.jpg

Last week, Geno Auriemma announced that freshman Sadie Edwards will transfer just seven games into her Huskies career. But the coach later said that the decision to leave UConn wasn't a surprise.

“I said, ‘Hopefully you learned something while you were here and hopefully you have a better idea of what it is going to take to play college basketball at this level. If there is anything we can do to help you land the right place for you, certainly we are going to do that,’ ” Auriemma said, via SNY.com's Carl Adamec. “It didn’t work. It didn’t work. ...

“You have to be all in. At this level you have to be all in, 100 percent, everything," he continued. "Everybody thinks it’s going to be a lot easier than it is. It always looks great from the outside, because what do you see from the outside? You see the crowds, the adulation, the Final Fours, the parades, all the All-Americans. What you don’t see is how all that comes about. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had an idea Edwards might leave.

“I’m not necessarily surprised that she left. I am surprised that it happened as quickly as it did,” she said. “She just wasn’t happy. You could tell she wasn’t happy that she wasn’t playing, and her demeanor just changed over the past couple of months. You could tell that it was deteriorating more and more the more she wasn’t playing.

“It takes a lot for people to stay here all four years. But it also takes a lot for someone to know when enough is enough and how much you can handle. And I think that she did the right thing by looking at what she can handle and what’s best for herself.”

Freshmen Courtney Ekmark, Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse remain from the 2014 class, and the 2015 class currently includes the nation's best high school player in Katie Lou Samuelson, and Napheesa Collier, De’Janae Boykin and Crystal Dangerfield are top-10 players. There's also Georgetown transfer (and 2013-14 Big East freshman of the year) Natalie Butler.

<![CDATA[Chattanooga Will Be Stiff Test for UConn]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 15:37:17 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/geno-auriemma-pat-summitt.jpg

Geno Auriemma has never been a proponent of soft schedules to prepare his team. As best we can tell, his thinking goes something like this: Iron sharpens iron. Put another way: You're not going to get better by playing a bunch of cream puffs.

That explains the early season matchups against traditional powerhouses Stanford and Notre Dame. This brings us to University of Tennessee-Chatanooga. Coach Jim Foster, who gave Auriemma his start in coaching, has led his team to wins over Tennessee AND Stanford in the last three weeks, and a season from now, UTC and UConn will begin a home-and-home series.

“Jim said they wanted to play us,” Auriemma said on Wednesday, via SNY.com's Carl Adamec. “I told him to call (UConn senior women’s administrator) Deb Corum and they put it together. I think it’s great. It wasn’t my idea. I didn’t go up to him and say we should be playing. It was his idea. He wanted to do it and I’m glad it got done. ...

“He’s got a pretty ambitious schedule -- us, Notre Dame, Stanford, Tennessee …,” Auriemma continued. “But they’re in a conference that’s usually a one-bid league. They’re doing the right thing. If something were to happen that they lose in their league tournament, they could have the kind of record or kind of resume that might still get them in the NCAA tournament. Chattanooga was always good when Wes Moore was (the coach) and Jim has picked up right where they left off.”

UTC is 7-3 this season. Auriemma is 3-3 lifetime against Foster.

<![CDATA[Okafor Will Be a Problem for UConn]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 15:31:13 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/483300299.jpg

The Huskies face their toughest test of the season on Thursday night in New Jersey when they face Duke. The biggest obstacle -- both literally and figuratively -- between UConn and a huge win will be the Blue Devils' 6-11, 270-pound freshman Jahil Okafor, who averages 18 points and 9 rebounds a game.

“He can run the court. He’s got soft hands, he catches everything. He’s an outstanding rebounder,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said, via SNY.com. “Just skilled. He can go over both shoulders, pivot in the post with both pivots. I could go on and on. He seems like a great teammate, great person. He’s the complete package.”

Ryan Boatright added: "He moves like a guard, man," Boatright said. "He's got real good feet, he has a high basketball IQ, he has a face-up game, a back-to-the-basket game. He's a great player. He works extremely hard and he understands the game. Any time a big guy like that has great feet, he's pretty hard to stop."

That's the bad news. The good news is that the Huskies have their own big man, 7-footer Amida Brimah who is coming off a 40-point performance against Coppin State.

“You get 40 points, you’re going to have to feel good about yourself,” Ollie said. “The way he got it, moving without the basketball, catching it, finishing it, that’s what we need from him. We don’t need pump fakes, we don’t need him dropping the ball.”

Ollie likes to "rebound and run," which could mean more opportunities for Brimah.

“We always look for him at the rim,” Ollie said. “There was a lot more against Coppin State but that’s one of our plays, where he dives hard and we have shooters around him. If he dives or sprints to the rim we throw it up when we see his number or when he has an angle on his opponent.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Giants Should Play Jets, Pats Every Year]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 13:53:29 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/459081054.jpg

The unpredictability of the NFL is one of its greatest charms, the any given Sunday maxim a central cause of the multi-billion dollar gambling industry that has helped make professional football the most popular sport among four-legged mammals, domesticated or otherwise.

But undergirding this most unpredictable of sports is the most predictable of plans, the NFL schedule. We may not know if the Giants can beat the spread in either of their final two games, but we already know who 14 of the Giants’ 16 opponents will be in 2015, because the NFL uses a staid formula with no room for leeway.

The Giants are playing the Jets, Patriots and Bills in 2015? Roger Goodell and his minions are scheduling savants! They know how to foster rivalries! Yeah, no. The commissioner and his team have no say about who plays who from year to year, which is probably good, because they’d probably have the Seahawks and 49ers play against each other in London each week.

But in proper hands (read: mine) the NFL schedule can be improved, with an emphasis on fostering regional and historical rivalries, while neglecting the perceived need to have, say, the Dolphins play the Cardinals every few years.

Believe it or not, Cardinals fans don’t care if the Dolphins ever come to town, and this is what the NFL fumbles in its construction of the NFL schedule.

As it stands, the NFL uses a very simple formula for determining a team’s schedule.

Per NFL communications:

Under the formula, every team plays 16 games as follows:

• Home and away against its three division opponents (6 games).
• The four teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle (4 games).
• The four teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle (4 games).
• Two intraconference games based on the prior year’s standings (2 games). These games match a first-place team against the first-place teams in the two same-conference divisions the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place, and fourth-place teams in a conference are matched in the same way each year.

Because of this formula, the Giants (who are locked into a third-place finish in the NFC East) already know who 7/8ths of their 2015 will be. As the consistently great Ed Valentine points out at Big Blue View on SB Nation, the Giants’ opponents are:

Home: Dallas, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Carolina, New England, New York Jets, and NFC West third-place team (“As of now, the third-place team in the NFC West is the San Francisco 49ers, who are 7-7. Sunday's opponent, the St. Louis Rams, are 6-8 and could sneak into that spot over the final two games,” Valentine writes.)
Away: Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington, New Orleans, Tampa Bay. Buffalo, Miami, and NFC North third-place team (“The third-place team in the NFC North is the 6-8 Minnesota Vikings. The 5-9 Chicago Bears have a shot at that spot, but they seem to have imploded.)

Is it great that the Giants get to host the Patriots and the Jets? Sure, but this should happen every other year, with the Patriots and Jets hosting the Giants in the alternating years. That’s right, a yearly contest at MetLife Stadium between the Giants and the Jets. How awesome would that be? How many fights would break out in the stands? Probably no more than go down whenever the Eagles, Cowboys Washington come to town. Well, the Eagles and Cowboys, anyway; Washington fans don’t like to travel these days.

It’s safe and predictable for the NFL to say this year’s standings should affect next year’s schedule, but it’s also lazy and idiotic. The last-place team in the AFC North this year is currently Cleveland, who are 7-7 and could finish 9-7. The last-place team in the AFC South is Jacksonville, which has two wins and could finish with, um, two wins.

Some fans complain that the NFC North will send a team with a losing record to the playoffs this year, while more worthy teams (please let it be the Eagles) get left out. But if it’s supposedly unfair to allow a sub.-500 team such as the Saints to reach the playoffs, how is it fair to automatically equate a seven-win team such as the Browns with a two-win team such as the Jaguars?

Listen, there’s no perfect formula for designing the NFL schedule, but the currently boring formula should be scrapped in lieu of a new “formula” that includes:

• A nod to regional or historic rivalries. Pittsburgh and Dallas? These two teams have played in three Super Bowls and need to play more often. You don’t think Steeler fans can hate Dallas fans as much as other fan bases? You are mistaken. Other teams that need to play more often: the Dolphins and the Jaguars, the Chiefs and the Rams, and the Texans and the Cowboys. The 49ers and Raiders don’t need to play more often; jails in California are already overpopulated, so there’s no need to put these two fan bases in a confined bowl. Like ever.

• The formula should also include never playing another game in London. Seriously, just stop. How about Iceland, though? The naturally occurring hot springs would be very therapeutic to players’ aches and pains. Plus it’s a shorter flight from New York and would actually allow the NFL to play a game on a real frozen tundra.

• Pulling team names out of a hat to determine matchups. You think the NFL Draft is entertaining theater? Imagine a scene at Radio City Music Hall, with the commissioner pulling the Eagles’ name out of a hat, followed by him pulling out...the Rams! And you think the booing was loud when Donovan McNabb got drafted.

Now, will such changes to the NFC schedule ever be implemented? Probably not.

Instead we get the lukewarm excitement associated with the NFL’s schedule release in the spring. We already know which teams play which, because the crusty old schedule formula determined that at the end of the previous season.

“But we get to learn WHEN the Giants play the Patriots!”

Come on, NFL. We can do better than that.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ryan Faces Pats, Maybe for Last Time]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 16:01:25 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Rex-Ryan-Playbook.jpg

Rex Ryan is very familiar with the Patriots. He's been the Jets' coach since 2009, and before that, he was a defensive assistant with the Ravens. On Sunday, the Jets and Patriots, two teams going in different directions, meet for the last time this season.

And, possibly, the last time with Ryan as the coach; he will almost certainly be fired in a few weeks, which frankly, is probably the best thing that could happen to him. (Ryan's a great coach in an untenable situation. A fresh start is in order.)

For now, though, he's focused on New England, even if the three-win Jets have long been out of the playoff conversation.

"We all know what's getting ready to happen in this game," Ryan said of a match-up in which there are few surprises, via ESPN.com. "We know that both teams give their maximum effort against each other. I don't think each team particularly likes each other. It's on. Regardless of what the record is. We could be playing for first place or whatever, it's the same effort always. It's usually a close game and it's usually a physical game."

Still despite the familiarity -- and even dislike -- Ryan respects what the Patriots have accomplished.

"They always have it -- six years in a row that they've won the division. You're a little envious, I guess. It's what it is -- they're the ones you chase. We respect them a great deal -- they're led by a Hall of Fame quarterback and a Hall of Fame coach. So they're hard to beat and we recognize that, but that doesn't mean that we'll take our rightful place underneath them. That's not going to happen. We're here to beat them. That's our mentality every time we play them. They're going to get our best shot and we're going to get theirs; we understand that about each other."

Ryan might be on the way out in New York but he maintains that things are going as well as they can, all things considered.

"Anything that's swirling around inside our team, I'm proud of this team," he said. "We've got nothing (in terms of issues). Some guys' reports are probably as far off as any I've ever seen. This team is tight. Our record is the only thing that stinks. We have a great group of guys that care, that prepare, practice hard. It's obviously unfortunate that our record is what it is. But it has nothing to do with the type of character in this room."

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Sheldon Richardson a Silver Lining for Gang Green]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:37:18 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/120714jets.jpg

April 22, 2013 is a day that will live in infamy for Jets fans. That’s when newly installed GM John Idzik traded Darrelle Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Of course, Gang Green has no lack of infamous days. How about the day Idzik decided not to bring Revis back, leading the cornerback to relocate his island to New England and return to his otherworldly form while playing for the hated Patriots? Or the day Idzik was hired? Or Rich Kotite? Or Bruce Coslet? Or Lou Holtz? OK, you get the point. And I won’t even mention butt-fumble day.

Oh well, too late, I guess.

But back to that fateful April day. The Jets parted with Revis --arguably the best player they’ve ever had -- and in return received a mid-first round and a fourth round draft pick. Sounds like a steal for the Bucs, right? Like taking candy from an Idzik?

However, in one of the few standout moments from what will likely soon be the end of the GM’s brief tenure of infamy, with the first round choice he wisely selected Sheldon Richardson from Missouri.

Yes, just four spots earlier, the GM chose Dee Milliner, the DB from Alabama, and not only is the jury still out on that pick, but at this point no one can even seem to find the jury. The rumor is it’s being sequestered somewhere under MetLife Stadium, a stone’s throw from the remains of Jimmy Hoffa. And Idzik also whiffed on 2014 fourth round choice Jalen Saunders, whom the Jets dropped after he failed to catch a pass through the first few games of his rookie campaign.

But even if Milliner doesn’t pan out, you can’t call Idzik’s first first round a wash, because Richardson has already proven to be one of the best players from the 2013 NFL Draft. The defensive end won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Honors last year, and has followed that up with an even stronger sophomore season.

A staunch run-stopper in the Jets’ base 3-4 D since he arrived in New York, Richardson has stepped up his game in the pass-rushing department in 2014 -- especially since linemate Muhammad Wilkerson went down with a toe injury in November. Richardson was a constant presence in the Vikings’ backfield two weeks ago, racking up three sacks in the 30-24 defeat.

Revis should be a Jet. After all, it’s rare that you get a second chance at a talent like that, and Idzik obviously blew it. Milliner? We still don’t know what we have there. But Sheldon Richardson is exactly the kind of building block the Jets need more of if they’re going to progress from a punch line to respectability.

If they can do as well with their first-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft as they did with their second choice two years ago, they shouldn’t be a laughing stock for much longer.  

<![CDATA[Huskies Know Duke Will Be Tough Test]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 13:41:35 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/483300299.jpg

The Huskies headed for New Jersey after Tuesday's practice, as they prepare to meet powerhouse Duke University at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

It's a big game for UConn, not just because it's a good measuring stick for where they are but because until Sunday's win over Coppin St., they had dropped three straight. Either way, coach Kevin Ollie knows Thursday's game will one of the toughest tests his team faces all season.

“They are incredibly athletic, and when you get live turnovers which we had against Coppin State, they are going to convert them," Ollie said, via the Connecticut News. … "We have to limit the mistakes with the basketball, make sure we limit our turnovers and of course they are going to try to pound it in there (to freshman Jahlil Okafor). I mean I saw Jahlil get a steal last night and go coast-to-coast. They’re not going to take their foot off the accelerator. They are always going to push the ball.”

Rodney Purvis, who began his college career at NC State before transferring to UConn, is quite familiar with what it means to play Duke.

“It’s great," he said. "Playing against a team like Duke, they’re undefeated right now and we are kind of getting back on the road. It will be a great game. I’m 1-1 against Duke (at N.C. State), so it would be good to get another win against Duke.”

Senior point guard Ryan Boatright added: “We were playing those first few games on just pure talent, but now it’s getting into the heart of the schedule and we got to come together and a lot of other things like that. We are starting to play together a lot better and we’re starting to understand the game more.”

Boatright also knows Duke's all-everything freshman, Jahlil Okafor, who, like Boatright, is also from Chicago.

“We worked out this summer a few times together, we played pick up and stuff," he said. "I know him pretty well, I watched him in high school. … I know him, but just pick up, I’ve never played a competitive game vs. him.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ollie, Huskies, Spreading Christmas Cheer]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:31:00 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/kevin-ollie-rim.jpg

Christmas is eight days away and coach Kevin Ollie and his team are doing their part to spread holiday cheer. On Saturday, they'll host Kevin Ollie’s Christmas For Hartford’s Children in the Harford's Blue Hills neighborhood.

Details via the university news release:

The event will take place at the Northwest Boys & Girls Club on Nahum Drive, where some 75 families, including about 200 people, will gather on Saturday afternoon. Coach Ollie and a few of his players will visit with two families who live near the club, bringing the joy of the holidays into their homes, while the rest of the team and staff head for the Boys & Girls Club.

Some team members will conduct numerous basketball activities for the older children, while other Huskies participate in arts and crafts with younger children. Then the team will reunite to listen to Coach Ollie address the parents and children. That will be followed by a pizza party for everybody, including gifts for the Hartford children and an autograph session with the Huskies.

Two days before the event, the Huskies will face Duke in Madison Square Garden in their biggest game of the season. On Monday, they'll host Columbia at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.

<![CDATA[U.S. to Bid for 2024 Olympics]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 04:15:47 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/TLMD-aros-olimpicos-juegos-olimpicos-olympic-rings-getty-images-470969827.jpg

The U.S. Olympic Committee has decided to bid for the 2024 Olympics, hoping to bring the Summer Games back to America after a 28-year absence.

The USOC board heard presentations from four candidate cities Tuesday — Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington — and voted to enter a field that already includes Rome and either Hamburg or Berlin, with Paris likely to join.

A decision on which city the U.S. will put forward for a bid is expected next month.

The United States hasn't hosted a Summer Games since the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

The country's last two tries have been flops, with New York (2012) and Chicago (2016) each finishing fourth in voting. The USOC chose not to bid for the 2020 Games, which will take place in Tokyo.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Brady's 17-Yard Run Still Has Legs]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 17:35:13 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Tom+Brady+113014.jpg

People are still talking about Tom Brady's 17-yard, ahem, sprint against the Dolphins that ended not with him sliding but taking on Dolphins safety Walt Aikens.

It led to joking teammates and Cheetah Facebook memes.

"It was the slowest 17 yards I've ever seen in my life," wide receiver Julian Edelman said, adding later: "It's always fun seeing the Clydesdale run. I call him Brady Vick."

"Oh man," fullback James Develin said. "Looked like a gazelle out there."

So why didn't Brady slide at the end of the third-longest run of his career? Competitiveness.

“No, I could have slid, but I wasn’t in the best mood that time,” Brady admitted. “If he was a bigger guy I would have thought really hard about sliding, but once I was in the secondary... things happen pretty quick for me out there. I'm not the fastest guy out there, so things close down pretty quick.”

But coach Bill Belichick has no problem with Brady's decision to take on a defender.

“I’ve coached for a long time and I don’t question players' decisions on the field when they try to make them to help the team win,” the coach said on a conference call with reporters. ...

“I think that they do the best that they can,” he continued. “They are trying to win. They are trying to win just as much as everybody else on the team is. [I’m] not saying every decision is a great one. It’s the same thing with a coach. I’m not saying every [coaching] decision is a great one. But every one is made with the intention to help this team win to the best that I can or an individual can for the team. So I don’t second-guess those.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Jim Calhoun Talks About Duke Rivalry]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 15:10:23 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/jim-calhoun-be-careful.jpg

The Huskies broke their three-game losing streak on Sunday with a blowout win over Coppin State, but there's little time for celebration. For starters, that was a game they were supposed to win. There's also this: They have to face Duke this Thursday at 8 p.m. in East Rutherford, N.J.

On Monday, Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun took a break from his annual tradition of passing out holiday groceries to talk about the history between the two teams.

"It is a rivalry in this sense," Calhoun said, via the Hartford Courant. "The games we've played with them include the single most important game UConn ever played, in '99. You get the first [national championship], life changes. It's a rivalry because Mike [Krzyzewski] is a great coach, the best of our generation.

"[Despite what] people might think, I don't have any hatred. I have a love for the competition. I wanted to beat them, as much as I ever wanted to beat anybody in my life. We should be happy that in our rise, we were able to beat the best teams in our generation, because that puts us there with the best teams in our generation."

And Calhoun's right; UConn beat Duke in '99 for its first championship, catapulting the program into the national conversation.

Calhoun, now an analyst for ESPN, offered this scouting report of the Blue Devils after watching them play Michigan State earlier this season.

"They were just too good [for Michigan State]," Calhoun said. "The 6-7 forward [Justise Winslow], he's what they haven't had in a lot of years. Okafor is the real deal. I thought the [Tyus] Jones kid in the backcourt, and the other guards, are great. They're real good, a very talented team, enough blend of veterans. A very good basketball team."

"Very good" might be an understatement, but these are the games Ollie relishes because it cast the Huskies as underdogs.

<![CDATA[Jets Need QB, But They Also Need Team Around Him]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 09:47:04 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Marcus+Mariota.jpg

A few days ago, I mentioned that Marcus Mariota’s college QB credentials were very similar to Geno Smith’s. Maybe that was a bit of a stretch. So let me try again.

Candidate A, Mariota, was a three-year starter and Heisman winner at a powerhouse program. He also threw 101 TDs against just 12 INTs, completed 66.6% of his passes at 9.2 yards per pass, recorded a passer rating of 172.6 and even ran for 28 touchdowns while leading his team to a 35-4 record.

Candiate B was a three-year starter and Heisman winner at a powerhouse program with 88 passing TDs against just 16 INTs, completed 66.4% of his passes at 9.3 yards per pass, recorded a passer rating of 170.8 and even ran for 57 touchdowns while leading his team to a 35-6 record.

Not much of a stretch, right? B is Tim Tebow. Yes, the same guy who in the NFL appeared as if he was conducting infield practice with his throws was one of the most statistically impressive passers in college football history -- while playing in that competitive crucible known as the SEC.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Mariota will be a good pro QB, and I think the Jets’ win on Sunday over the woeful Titans was in many ways a loss because it gave them a worse chance at landing the 2015 NFL Draft’s top pick -- and potentially grabbing the Oregon signal caller.

Then again, I also thought Tebow would be a good pro.

No, really, I did.

Are you still reading? I wouldn’t blame you if not.

But if so, I might as well come clean completely. So here goes.

I thought Mark Sanchez would be good too.

You’re not really still reading this, are you? If so, it may say as little for you as my evaluations on Tebow and Sanchez did for me.

But remember two things about Sanchez: playing the most important position in pro team sports, he brought Gang Green within one game of the Super Bowl his rookie year. Then, he did it again. How? By playing well enough to go far with a very good team around him -- one that had a top-flight running attack and one of the NFL’s best defenses.

Obviously, the Jets need a major upgrade at quarterback -- and they’re not likely to get one near the top of the upcoming draft, as, incredibly enough, 3 wins likely won’t get them a high enough spot to select either Mariota or Florida State’s Jameis Winston.

But that’s OK, because they will draft high enough to get the caliber of player who can be a true difference-maker for them.

That draft pick can hopefully be a starting point in again building a team so effective on both sides of the ball that whoever becomes their QB doesn’t need to be a world-beater to go far. Just like Sanchez five years ago. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Fleet-Footed Brady Leads Patriots]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 15:30:09 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Tom+Brady+121414.jpg

The Dolphins are who we thought they were. Which is to say: A good defensive team still searching for an offensive identity. And the Patriots remain the team we thought they were, at least over the last two months of the season: A high-powered offense and an underrated, ever-improving defense.

On Sunday, both teams played like we expected, the Patriots prevailed 41-13, and wrapped up the AFC East in the process.

Of course, the Dolphins had beaten New England in the two previous meetings, and according to reports, Miami players said they should have scored more points in the Week 1 meeting. Those quotes were plastered around the Patriots' facility this week to serve as a reminder of how important Sunday's game was. The message was received loud and clear.

“There was a lot of talk … those guys were chirping," Darrelle Revis said, via ESPN.com. "The Miami Dolphins were chirping this week about [how] they should have beaten us by 50 and all of those type of things the first game,” he said. “If that's what they want to do, then that's what they want to do. The one thing you have to understand is you get a second stab at it because we're in the same [division]. You might need to watch what you say.”

Meanwhile, Tom Brady finished 21 of 35 for 287 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Run of the mill numbers for Brady, but he did have a 17-yard scramble which, frankly, took everybody by surprise.

“It was the slowest 17 yards I’ve ever seen in my life," wideout Julian Edelman said. “It’s always fun seeing the Clydesdale run,” he joked. “I call him Brady Vick.”

The second-most surprising development: Brady didn't slide at the end of the run.

“I was going to, but I was pretty pissed off that time,” he said. “If he was a bigger guy, I would have thought really hard about sliding, but once I was in the secondary, things happen pretty quickly for me out there. I’m not the fastest guy out there so things close down pretty quick.”

The Patriots, currently the No. 2 team in the AFC, have two weeks left in the regular season to make a push for the top seed.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Heat Sends Napier to the D-League]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 14:02:06 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP144808893745.jpg

LeBron James once called Shabazz Napier the best guard available in the NBA Draft. So it wasn't a surprise when the Heat took Napier in the first round, though it wasn't long before James had returned to Cleveland. And now Napier has been sent to the D-League.

Napier, who led UConn to a national title last spring, has scored just three points in the Heat's last four games, and now he's headed to Sioux Falls.

Details from the team:

Napier has appeared in 23 games with the Heat this season averaging 5.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 21.4 minutes while shooting 42.9 percent from the field. He previously scored in double-figures in six-straight games from November 16 through November 25, the longest such streak by a Heat rookie since Michael Beasley did so in eight consecutive games from April 1, 2009 through April 15, 2009.

But Napier's recent struggles -- coupled with the return of Dwyane Wade -- convinced the Heat that he needed more seasoning in the developmental league.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[UConn Commitment Called "Awesome Player"]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 13:31:21 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/uconn+football_generic+shot.jpg

UConn's 2-10 season might be over but coach Bob Diaco has been on the recruiting trail pretty much since that final whistle. On Sunday, the Huskies got a commitment from defensive end Kirk Livingstone (Stranahan High School, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida).

The New Haven Register's Jim Fuller spoke with Tally Adams, Livingstone's high school coach, who described the defensive end as "an awesome football player."

"An All-American," Adams told Fuller. "See how fast I answered that question. He could be an All-American, there is no doubt in my mind. As a freshman I have no question, I know he will go first-team all-conference. He is an awesome football player, the kid is special. UConn is getting a real steal, he can play at any level in college."

Incredibly lofty praise, and exactly what the Huskies and Diaco need as he tries to turn around a program that has been going in the wrong direction for some time.

Livingstone was set to attend UAB, but the school shut down its program earlier this month. Now the 6-4, 235-pounder is headed to Storrs.

"It was tough when he heard the news because he had his heart set on going to UAB," Adams said. "A lot of recruiters stayed away from him because he was solid (in his commitment to UAB). The program decided to go in a different direction and he had to go in a different direction as well.

"I think it (UConn) is the perfect spot for him. Kirk is very smart, he is not just an intelligent football player, he is an intelligent kid. He is A student in the classroom and outside of the classroom, he is just an all-around great person."

Livingstone had 14 sacks in eight games this season.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[Brimah Scores 40 in Win]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 13:22:28 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/482962317.jpg

Sophomore Amida Brimah arrived in Storrs a year ago as a player with boundless talent but little experience. He hadn't played basketball that long and, frankly, he was raw. But his enthusiasm and athleticism were evident as a freshman, and he was a key cog in the Huskies' championship run.

On Sunday against Coppin St. in a game UConn needed to win if for no other reason than to prove they could, Brimah scored a career high 40 points. The Huskies cruised to a 106-85 victory, which snapped a three-game winning streak.

“I was just feeding of the play of my teammates," Brimah said afterwards, according to UConnHuskies.com. "They found me and helped me be able to make easy shots.”

Senior Ryan Boatright added 22 points, while sophomore Kentan Facey had 15 and freshman Daniel Hamilton had 11. Transfer Rodney Purvis finally looked healthy after suffering an ankle sprain last month. He played 21 minutes, scored eight points and pulled four rebounds.

"Just for him to get back in the swing of things, especially going into Duke, he needed a game like this," Boatright said. "Get his rhythm, get his sweat going. It's a different tempo than practice, and once we get out there with Duke it's going to be a hot, intense game."

The win, while expected, was still nice, especially after the Huskies have struggled on both ends of the court in recent games.

“I’m very proud of my guys," Ollie said. "We came out and established ourselves from the start and played very well. I like our fast break. We got out on the break and then we established Amida. He did an awesome job getting 40 points and 12 rebounds, and Daniel getting a double-double with assists was great. Our ball movement was great. We had the most rebounds, I think, for this year.

"The thing that I didn’t like the most is points off turnovers. We’ve got to cut down our turnovers."

Things don't get any easier as the end of the calendar year approaches; the Huskies have to face Duke this Thursday at 8 p.m.

"Once again, we’ve got to get back in transition and we’ve got to stop threes," Ollie said. "Especially against Duke. You’ve got to do those two things because they’re a great three-point shooting team, they’re a great transition team. ... We’re going to take this win and we’re going to build off of it."

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Jets-Titans: Someone Has to Win, Right?]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 11:55:17 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/180*120/Jets-Bills-1027003.jpg

Contrary to popular sentiment, the NFL’s blackout rule doesn’t cover matchups of 2-11 teams, so, unfortunately, the Jets-Titans game will be on for your viewing “pleasure” on Sunday at 4. Sure, you can switch channels to the 49ers-Seahawks game at 4:25, but that still saddles you with nearly a half-hour of some of the worst football imaginable. Remember, that’s time you’ll never get back.

Still, it’s not all that bad. After all, you could be:

• Very slowly serpentining through the parking lot of your local mall, in search of that elusive spot.
• Having finally found that parking space after two or three hours, now having to actually enter said mall to wait on line for four of five hours while holiday shopping.
• Digging holiday decorations out of your some godforsaken corner of your home that required enduring a virtual Tough Mudder course to reach. I’m all for saving a buck where possible, but those tree lights cost all of $15 to replace, and getting to them will surely require hundreds in visits to your neighborhood chiropractor.
• Doing just about anything with your in-laws. Isn’t celebrating Christmas with them enough?
• Watching video of your kids’ holiday concert. You already passed up a good game to sit through this mess. Do you really need to relive it, complete with constant commentary from the little ones? Who said camera phones were a good thing?
• Watching video of your relatives’ kids’ holiday concerts, and then being asked to comment on the performances. And then having to nod, smile and keep your mouth shut when they say, “Really, you think he (or she) has talent?,” followed by “That was nothing, you should see his (or her) one-person play. I’m going to start emailing it now, but it’s too big a file to send all at once.”
• John Idzik.

Suddenly sounds like one heck of a game, right? Hopefully Gang Green can find a way to lose (and stay right in the hunt for the #1 draft pick), which is one of the few things at which they’ve excelled all season. But it won’t be easy against a franchise that puts the “Titan” in Titanic.

With rookie QB Zach Mettenberger out with a shoulder injury, Tennessee is turning back to Jake Locker, who forms one corner of the Bermuda triangle of quarterback drafts (In 2011, Locker was selected 8th overall by the Titans, while the Jaguars picked Blaine Gabbert 10th and the Vikes chose Christian Ponder 12th. If any of the personnel guys who made these choices are still employed—in the NFL or anywhere else—that situation needs to be remedied immediately.).

Locker is lousy, but he fits right in on a team that can’t score or stop any opponent from doing so.

The Jets should win on Sunday at Nashville’s LP Field, and you should be watching at home, where you already have a parking space.  

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Hero, Nero, Zero for Giants-Washington]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 11:22:42 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/redskins+giants1.jpg

After losing seven games in a row, the Giants have now proven in back-to-back weeks that they are better than a two-win team, the Titans, and a three-win team, Washington. If the Giants had been able to play sub-.500 teams all year, they might have been able to go somewhere. Unfortunately they don’t play in the NFC South, where a 5-9 record will have you fighting for first place.

There was plenty of heroics, insanity and ineptitude in the team’s 24-13 victory over Washington on Sunday, but we can only designate one Hero, Nero and Zero.
Heroes: Giants’ defensive line.
OK, we lied, you can actually pluralize the word “hero.” Who knew?
When the Giants were making the playoffs and winning Super Bowls a few years ago, the team had an amazing ability to put the quarterback on his back. Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Usi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka and Jason Pierre-Paul were avowed quarterback sackers, and this had a magical trickle-down effect – fewer successful plays by the opposition led to more successful plays by the Giants. It was like voodoo.
In recent years, as the Giants have grown wary of the postseason and all it entails, sacks have dropped off precipitously. Well, until the last three weeks anyway, as New York has rattled off 22 quarterback sacks, including seven on Sunday.
Does Odell Beckham Jr. accumulate 12 catches for 143 yards and three touchdowns if the Giants’ defense can’t get off the field on third down? Maybe. Did Beckham deserve to be named “hero” for this game? Probably. Was I getting tired of writing about how great he is? No. I just chose to address his antics under “zero” this week. (Don’t read ahead!)
Nero: Santana Moss.
Football is a laughably imprecise sport. Where the ball is spotted on running plays? Yeah, the refs are basically winging it. Roughing the passer? You can make a great play in sacking the quarterback, but as evidenced by Jason Worilds’ sack of Matt Ryan in yesterday’s Steelers-Falcons game, you can’t make too good of a play. In short, the refs are making it up as they go along, which was further evidenced when they said Robert Griffin III did not score a touchdown as time ran out in the first half.
Was Griffin bobbling the ball as he dove across the goal line? I guess. Was it so obvious that the refs called it a fumble initially? No. Was it such a huge shift of the ball that they should have overturned it on replay? No way.
Listen, anyone with two eyes knows that Tom Brady fumbled when Charles Woodson hit him in the 2001 playoffs, in the so-called Tuck Rule game. I don’t care what the rule books says (or said at the time, anyway, since the rule has since been eliminated). That was a fumble.
Yesterday’s play by Griffin? Not a fumble. But that’s what the refs ultimately ruled, and that’s what sent Redskins’ wide receiver Santana Moss into apoplexy. He cursed at the refs, got thrown out of the game, and the Redskins got slapped with 30 yards in penalties, which allowed the Giants to kick off from Washington’s 35-yard line in the second half. This gave them the perfect opportunity to pull an onside kick, which was successful.
In other news, Santana Moss is still in the league. Who knew?
Zero: Giants rookies with 1,000 yards receiving.
Certain teams are better than others at drafting and developing particular positions. For instance, the Steelers with linebackers, the Colts with quarterbacks, and the Raiders with punters.
Other teams have a comedic inability to draft and develop particular positions. For instance, Washington with linebackers, the Browns with quarterbacks, and the Jets with everything.
It came as something of a shock to learn that the Giants have never had a rookie with more than 1,000 yards receiving. Until Sunday’s game, the rookie record was held by Jeremy Shockey with 894 yards. But with Odell Beckham’s latest stud outing, he now has 972 yards on the season and only needs 28 yards in the final two games to pass 1,000 on the year.
You can check my math, I’ll wait.
Really, is it a wonder that Giants fans are excited about Beckham Jr.? The team doesn’t exactly have a long track record of great wide receivers who don’t shoot themselves in the leg at a night club.
Besides, Plaxico Burress didn’t begin his career with the Giants. And the team’s all-time leading receiver, Amani Toomer, went to exactly zero Pro Bowls during his 13-year career.
The team’s second-leading receiver all time is Frank Gifford, who caught his last pass before the forward pass was even legal. (Probably.)
The third-leading receiver in franchise history? Tiki Barber, a running back. If you can remember the three receivers who round out the top six (Joe Morrison, Kyle Jones and Homer Jones), congratulations, you are old.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)]]>
<![CDATA[Kobe Bryant Surpasses Jordan]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 05:53:06 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/212*120/Kobe-Bryant-passes-Jordan-points_12-14-14.jpg

On Sunday evening in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Kobe Bryant further cemented his place in basketball lore by becoming the third greatest scorer in NBA history.

Bryant passed Michael Jordan's total of 32,292 points in the first half of Sunday's game at Target Center. Only needing nine points on the day, most expected Bryant would surpass the required total before halftime, and Bryant did not disappoint.

Though Bryant missed his first three shots and the Minnesota Timberwolves were consistently putting a hard double team on the Lakers' star, the 19-year veteran began to slowly solve the defensive riddle.

After eight scoreless minutes on Sunday, Bryant's first two points on the night came from the foul line. By the time the first quarter ended, Bryant had four points on five shots, but he did not appear to be in any particular hurry to pass no. 23 on the all-time scoring list.

Instead, Bryant was happy to chaperon the Lakers to a three point lead after one quarter. In the second quarter, Bryant would return from his rest and immediately launch a three-pointer. Bryant took the ball on a turnaround jump shot to pass Jordan, but the ball went in and out. On the next possession, Bryant would head to the free throw line and sink two free throws.

Bryant moved to third all-time on the NBA scoring list, and Jordan dropped to fourth.

The game was momentarily halted as Bryant received hugs and congratulations from his teammates. The Timberwolves' PA announcer congratulated the 36-year-old and the fans in attendance applauded in appreciation. For a night, Minnesota felt like the home of the Lakers again.

With Jordan out of the way, Bryant is still a long way behind Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Malone's total of 36,928 points and Abdul-Jabbar's total of 38,387 points would likely require Bryant to play past the summer of 2016, when Bryant's current contract is set to retire.

On Sunday in Minneapolis, no. 24 passed no. 23 on the all-time scoring list, as Bryant further solidified his case for being the greatest Laker of all time in the city where the Lakers were born.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Best of NFL: Week 15]]> Sun, 14 Dec 2014 23:22:57 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/460466000.jpg Don't miss the most dramatic images from the fifteenth week of the 2014 NFL season.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Eagles' McCoy on Playing Sunday Night]]> Sun, 14 Dec 2014 15:12:02 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP383450712423.jpg Philadelphia Eagles' star running back, LeSean McCoy, ran for 159 yards and a touchdown in a convincing win against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. McCoy looks to continue that trend against the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, where he always seems to come though for the Eagles.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Tom Brady: Winning Never Gets Old]]> Thu, 11 Dec 2014 15:12:37 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/chargers+pats+snf+7.jpg

Win and you're in, as the old saying goes. But for the Patriots, it takes on a slightly different meaning. They're currently the AFC's top team, so a playoff spot is virtually guaranteed at some point in the next two weeks. What isn't guaranteed is a first-round bye and homefield advantage.

But New England can make the first step toward that goal on Sunday when they face the Dolphins, the same team that beat them back in Week 1. Of course, that seems like years ago and the Patriots have won eight of their last night.

“Absolutely not,” Brady said in response to a question about whether winning ever gets old. “I think we’re trying to win every time we take the field. Winning never gets old, I know that. I think that feeling that we had the other night was a great feeling and that’s what motivates you to win because you know the opposite side of that.”

So if the Pats can avenge that Week 1 loss to the Dolphins, they will have accomplished one of their goals: The AFC title and a spot in the postseason.

And while the Dolphins have struggled in recent weeks, they've also showed the ability to play with anyone in the league, on both sides of the ball. This hasn't been lost on Brady.

“We’ve got to do the things that help us win as opposed to do the things that make us lose games. It should be a fun week,” Brady said, via ESPN.com. “This is a tough team to do it against. They have some goals that they have, too, and I think that’s what makes for a great game. We are determined to win, and only one team can win.”

Brady understands the implications of a win over Miami, but he's also well-versed in the Belichickian approach to never looking too far ahead.

“It’s a long season and we still have three games left. There’s a lot of football to be played, a lot of things to be decided,” Brady said. “The only thing that matters is this week and that’s the only thing we can control. We are going to go out there and try to control it the best we can.

“And try to go out there and play the way that we are capable of. See if we can have a great day of execution, certainly better than we have had the last two weeks.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Last Time for Some in Giants-Washington Rivalry]]> Thu, 11 Dec 2014 09:48:58 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/RG3-Tom-Coughlin-NYG-Wash.jpg

A lot has changed since the Giants faced Washington in Week 4. Washington and its fans have gone from loving quarterback Robert Griffin III to essentially washing their hands of him, the Giants went on a mid-season sabbatical that saw them lose seven games in a row, and both teams answered the question of whether they’d like to participate in the 2014 playoffs with a Bartleby-like “I’d prefer not to.”

Needless to say, this is the last time these two hated rivals will be facing off this year. For some of the game’s participants, it might be the last time they are involved in the rivalry, with the numerous question marks surrounding the futures of coaches, players and mascots on both sidelines.

So let’s use your old friend -- the NFL injury report -- to gauge whether this is last time certain figures will take the field for a Washington-NYG game.

Probable Last Game in this Rivalry: Robert Griffin III.

The last time a player fell from favor this quickly (Jamie Foxx in “Any Given Sunday”), Lawrence Taylor chain-sawed his car in half. Washington coach Jay Gruden has reportedly tired of Griffin’s act, lamenting the third-year player’s poor work habits and poor footwork, not to mention his willingness to throw teammates under the bus when the team loses.

Have other quarterbacks (namely, Peyton Manning) also tossed teammates towards the undercarriage of large vehicles? Yes. The difference is that Manning is a maniacal worker, whose knowledge of the game is more or less unparalleled in the game today.

Griffin, who won the Offensive Rookie of the Year two years ago, needs a change of scenery, and the Redskins -- who traded a king’s ransom to the Rams to move up and draft him in the 2012 draft -- will be lucky to get back 30 cents on the dollar in a trade.

Questionable Last Game in this Rivalry: Tom Coughlin.

Coughlin has one year remaining on his contract, and it seems unlikely the Giants will extend the league’s oldest coach with a new deal. Maybe they give him an added year, a way of a) saying thanks for the two Super Bowls, and b) here’s one last chance to make a run with a (hopefully) healthy team with talent on both sides of the ball.

Would Coughlin turn down a one-year extension? Not likely. No team is going to hire him to rebuild a franchise at his age. Well, maybe Washington, but Coughlin probably doesn’t have a death wish.

Doubtful Last Game in this Rivalry: Eli Manning.

Manning counts $17.5 million towards next year’s salary cap, so the Giants might cut him to clear space. Will they? It’s possible. But where would that leave them?At the doorstep of the Ryan Nassib Era?

I’m sure Nassib’s family loves him, but the rest of the NFL has no idea what he brings to the table, because Manning never misses a start and has played just well enough for sane fans to not call into Mike Francesa and pant heavily about giving Nassib a shot.

Manning will be back, and with luck he’ll have a full season from Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, Rashad Jennings and Larry Donnell’s hands.

Out Last Game in this Rivalry: Washington mascot.

Despite polls that say an overwhelming majority of NFL fans consider Washington's mascot to be racist and disparaging, team owner Dan Snyder has adamantly refused to change it. He, along with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, claim the franchise honors Native Americans with its name and logo.

If you needed any more proof that there’s no getting through to Snyder and Goodell, just remember that the team’s name begins with the word "red" and that the skin color of the Native American on the team's helmet is, uh, brown. It’d be like if the Red Sox wore the socks of the Cleveland Indians.

To quote Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” “Morons, your bus is leaving.”

<![CDATA[Belichick Surprised by Pats Fans in San Diego]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 16:19:48 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP859843360681_0.jpg

The Patriots spent last week in Southern California as they prepared to meet the Chargers. And while the usually laser-focused Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were just that during the game -- one in which the Patriots would win, 23-14 -- both noticed the large number of New England fans at Qualcomm Stadium.

“They were just all kind of in the same spot (behind the Patriots' bench), it was almost like a college game in a neutral site, where one side of the field is one team and the other side is the other team,” Belichick told reporters, via ESPN.com. “It wasn’t quite like that, but we had all those fans right behind us. They were loud and vocal. ...

“There were a couple times when I was talking to somebody or talking to one coach or another while the other side of the ball was out there and you hear the fans start yelling and [you’re] like, ‘Uh oh, what happened?’” said Belichick, who seemed surprised by the development. “And it was us making a good play and our fans cheering.

“It was a little bit of a different sensation. But the crowd was -- it was an electric night. The crowd had a lot of energy. ... “The support and the fans that we had at the game and all of them there behind us was awesome. It was great.”

Brady added: “I ran out for pregame warm-ups and everyone was going crazy,” he told WEEI in Boston. “I couldn’t believe it with all the fans that were right behind our bench. Just throughout the game we would make big plays on defense or offense and the crowd would just be going crazy. The way our fans supported us and traveled out there to make that trip, it was really neat. It was pretty cool. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

The Patriots face the Dolphins on Sunday and can clinch the AFC East title with a win.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Jets Likely to Lose Race to the Bottom]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 12:20:36 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/geno3.jpg

The good news: the Jets have finally stunk their way to the worst record in football. The bad news: they share that distinction with four other teams -- the Tampa Bay Bucs, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars -- and if Washington can just sustain their streak of utter incompetence, they’ll likely join this loser crew soon.

The worse news: of this feeble five, Gang Green probably has the best chance of winning this Sunday, taking a step forward in the standings -- and a step away from the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

The Jets play at Tennessee’s LP Field this week, and, put simply, the Titans are awful. They haven’t won since mid-October, and even then it was a two-point victory over the Jaguars, so it shouldn’t really count. The Titans have been especially bad over the past three weeks, dropping those games by an average of 24 points. The fact that one of those blowouts came courtesy of the Giants tells you all you need to know and more.

Meanwhile, the other three 2-11 squads face uphill climbs Sunday, as each plays on the road against an opponent that desperately needs every W it can get in order to make the playoffs.

Things do look up for Gang Green in the weeks ahead, though. Taking on the Pats and Fins in last two games of the season, the Jets may well finish the year no better than 3-13. Then again, it’s not as if their competition for the top draft spot will rack up a whole lot of wins either.

And if the Jets somehow do exceed expectations (is that the right phrase?) and perform poorly enough over this late stretch to somehow secure the first overall pick, who will they choose?

Well, the consensus top guy is Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, and what’s not to like about him? Mariota is a three-year starter at a strong program who’s very mobile and has put up eye-popping stats in his last season of college football (3,773 passing yards, 68.2 percent completion rate, 38 touchdowns and only two interceptions).

Mariota, actually, brings to mind a prospect from a few years ago who put up big numbers at a successful big 12 program (4,205 passing yards, 71.2 percent completion rate, 42 TDs and only six INTs).

You may have heard of him. His name is Geno Smith. 

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[NFLer Hill Probed for Sex Assault]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 19:51:38 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/sammie-hill-getty.jpg

The Tennessee Titans say they are aware police are investigating a sexual assault allegation involving defensive lineman Sammie Hill.

"We will let the police investigate the allegation, and we will provide any assistance they need," the Titans said in a statement Monday. "We have discussed the matter with Sammie, and we will continue to gather facts."

Atlanta Police Department spokesman John Chaffee wrote in an email that a woman told police she had been sexually assaulted by Hill and they are working with the woman for more information.

The woman apparently contacted Houston police first. Spokesman Victor Senties confirmed to The Associated Press that Houston police took a report Friday from a woman alleging she had been sexually assaulted in Atlanta and forwarded that to police there.

Hill, who played at Stillman and a West Blocton, Alabama, native, is a six-year veteran in the second year of a three-year deal with Tennessee. The 6-foot-4, 328-pound Hill has started 12 games this season.

Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Pats' D Slows Down Chargers]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 13:22:33 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Darrelle+Revis+Getty.jpg

It wasn't pretty but in the NFL, wins count all the same. And at the end of the night, the Patriots had outlasted the Chargers, 23-14, thanks in large part to a late Julian Edelman 69-yard touchdown reception and a solid performance from start to finish by a defense missing Dont'a Hightower.

"That was the key to the whole game -- the way the defense played," said quarterback Tom Brady, who finished 28 of 44 for 317 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

"We have great character," cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "I've been saying that all year -- guys stick in there and play within the game. Sometimes things are going to happen, and the offense might have to pick the defense up one game, and the defense might have to pick up the offense. Special teams might have to pick both sides of the ball up. We have to continue to execute our game plan throughout 60 minutes, and that's what we keep on doing."

The Patriots spent the week in San Diego after playing in Green Bay last Sunday. Some players said it was like training camp, while outsiders wondered if Southern California in December would be a distraction for a team trying to hold onto the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

"This was my first time doing this, and I think it was team bonding," Revis continued. "Guys were hanging out with each other, spending time, and that's what you need. You need unity on the team, chemistry, especially coming off a loss in Green Bay. I think it was a good time for us."

And bad for the rest of the conference. The Patriots face the Dolphins, Jets and Bills over the final three weeks of the regular season. If they win out -- and there's no reason they shouldn't -- a first-round playoff bye and homefield advantage is theirs.

<![CDATA[Ollie: 'We're on the Bottom Right Now']]> Thu, 11 Dec 2014 12:06:31 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP569834851424.jpg

Ryan Boatright and Rodney Purvis may have played Friday, but the defending national champions still lost at home to Yale in an ugly affair, 45-44.

A day later, the outcome wasn't any easier to swallow.

"Like I said, we're at the bottom right now," coach Kevin Ollie said, via the Hartford Courant. "But I'm not going to give up on my team; I'm not going to give up on myself. I'm going to keep fighting and my team will keep fighting. I've just got to find the guys that are going to stick together and not think individually, but think as a team."

Ollie's players echoed similar sentiments.

"When we come apart, we have to stick together," junior college transfer Sam Cassell Jr. said.

Sophomore center Amida Brimah added: "I don't think the chemistry of the team is what it was last year. Until we get that together, it's going to be tough for us," he told the Courant.

Despite the latest setback, Ollie remains upbeat -- perhaps because he has no choice. "We can do two things," he said. "We can stick together as a group and fight and try to get a win over Coppin State, or we can point fingers and make excuses and separate. When I come back to practice, I'm going to find the guys that are going to stay in the middle of the ring with myself and my coaching staff."

The Huskies play again Sunday when they host Coppin St. Then, next Thursday, they face Duke -- in New Jersey.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Geno: Good (for Him), But Not Good Enough]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 12:35:36 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/180*120/Jets-Bills-1027005.jpg

There aren’t that many franchise quarterbacks out there. Not nearly enough, in fact, for each franchise. There are only about half a dozen who can carry a team to the top. The best the rest of the NFL can hope for is a competent signal-caller that can win with a good team around him and make the occasional big play when needed, as it always will be at some point.

Teddy Bridgewater showed he can do that on Sunday. Geno Smith didn’t.

No, I’m not talking about Bridgewater’s game-winning 87-yard TD pass play in overtime. Not much was asked of the rookie QB on that bubble screen that the Vikings’ Jarius Wright took to the end zone to seal the 30-24 win over the Jets, and even so, Bridgewater’s throw was a bit high.

I’m referring instead to Bridgewater getting the ball with the score knotted at 24 and just 16 ticks left on the game clock, and marching his team 40 yards down the field to put them into position to win the game on a long field goal.

They didn’t, as Minnesota’s Blair Walsh, who successfully converted a 55-yard kick earlier this season, didn’t come close from 56. But the fact that Bridgewater brought the home team that far in just 13 seconds with the game -- and their air-thin playoff hopes -- on the line suggested that he may well have what it takes.

Does Smith? We’ll likely never find out, since he’s playing on borrowed time with just three games left in the Jets’ sorry 2014 campaign, and will probably start next season glued to the bench -- either for Gang Green or some other team. Smith had one of the better performances of his two-year career at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday, even after a start that gives new meaning to the word ignominious. Smith’s pick-six on the first play from scrimmage gave the Vikes a leg up in a game they needed to win to keep alive even the slightest hope of earning a playoff spot. But he went on to complete 18 of his next 28 passes, as Rex Ryan and Marty Mornhinweg removed the cuffs they put on Smith last week (when he threw only 13 pass as Gang Green ran nearly 80 percent of the time).

But, as has been his wont, Smith left Jets fans wanting more as he was unable to get the visitors any points after they began OT with the ball. After getting bogged down not long after crossing the 50, the Jets were forced to punt. Three players later, the Vikes were victorious. Not because of any heroics by Bridgewater. Heroes, after all, are hard to come by.

But he -- and his team -- made the right plays when they had to. And that was more than enough.  

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Hero, Nero, Zero for Giants-Titans Game]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 12:38:06 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/460112660.jpg

Admit it, when Eli Manning threw the pick-six to shrink the Giants’ lead to 30-7 in Sunday’s game against the Titans, a part of you -- because you were obviously watching -- wondered if Eli and his cohorts had it in them to blow a 30-point lead.

Last week they coughed up a 21-0 lead to Jacksonville and handed (fumbled?) the Jaguars its biggest comeback in franchise history. Could the Giants extend their season of giving by presenting the Titans with the biggest comeback in that team’s history?

No, Eli didn’t quite have it in him this time, and the pick-six turned out to be a momentary blip (and a horrific reminder of his ever-present potential) and the Giants beat the Titans 36-7.

Following the game, our blue ribbon panel once again convened to hand out honors to those who performed heroically, insanely and with ineptitude.

Hero: Giants rookies

On Friday I predicted that Odell Beckham Jr. had a decent chance of breaking Flipper Anderson’s 25-year-old record of 336 receiving yards in this game, because Beckham is awesome, Eli has shown himself to have few qualms about throwing it up for grabs and hoping his receiver makes a big play, and the Titans were coming off a game in which they allowed 238 yards receiving to DeAndre Hopkins.

Beckham didn’t disappoint; at first, anyway.

He had six catches for 98 yards and a touchdown -- in the first quarter. I’m no math wizard, but that put him on pace for nearly 400 yards receiving, which would have easily shattered Anderson’s mark and made this game historic.

But nooooo, fellow rookie Andre Williams had to go and be all productive on the ground and stuff, running for 131 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown of his own.

A well-balanced offense is the ideal when a team is in playoff contention, but when they’re playing out the string, we want ball hogs and broken records. Wise up, Giants rookies.

Nero: Titans fans with bags on their heads.

Life is short and there are innumerable ways to spend your Sunday afternoon. You can go to the park; take to the highway to drive slow in the passing lanes; or maybe sit in a bookstore and read an entire book and then put back on the shelf without having to pay for it.

In short, there are plenty of relaxing, enjoyable ways to spend 50 percent of your weekend. But attending a football game and wearing a paper bag over your head? That's what some Titans fans did to register their disgust with the team's play. Seriously, just save on paper and just write an L on your forehead. Ya know, because it’s the team that’s a bunch of losers.

Zero: Sense out of Antrel Rolle and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

When you’ve gone more than two months without winning a football game, it’s understandable if you’re a little excited that the team’s fortunes have shifted (for the time being, anyway) and the team is finally winning.

After Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie scored on a pick-six -- a high-stepping touchdown that was negated after Giants’ defensive lineman Damontre Moore de-cleated Titans’ quarterback Zach Mettenberger -- Antrel Rolle celebrated by taking a “snapshot” of Rodgers-Cromartie, who mugged for the camera.

This team had lost an NFL-high seven games in a row, and was now winning a meaningless game against the Titans. But two veterans, who probably should know better, decided that was a good opportunity to make a Kodak moment.


Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Tuck, Stokes Key Huskies Blowout Win]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 12:14:05 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/kiah+stokes_1.jpg

Usually, any conversation about a big win begins with Breanna Stewart's performance. Against Notre Dame on Sunday, the best player in college basketball had 15 points in UConn's 76-58 win, a game that saw the Huskies trailing by 10 points midway through the first half before Kiah Stokes and Morgan Tuck put the team on their backs down the stretch.

Stokes had 18 rebounds in 24 minutes and Tuck scored a career-high 25 points.

"I think the most significant outcome is people stepped up since the Stanford game, Kiah and Morgan's performance. They are capable of doing this every single night," said Stewart. "That's what we need as a team and we'll use that going forward."

Coach Geno Auriemma then dropped this interesting nugget.

"Morgan didn't do anything I didn't think she could do. Morgan might be the best basketball player on our team," he said, via the Hartford Courant. "Stewie is Stewie, obviously. But because Morgan is a little stronger, she makes a big three, she drives it to the basket, she is a pretty good passer, she's a good defender, she rebounds, she talks a lot on defense..."

After pausing, Auriemma then spoke about Stokes.

"What Kiah did today, I've seen her do a lot in practice once a week. Now, the thing is, a game like today, does that make her want to do this every day in practice and every game she plays from here on out? If she does, we're a completely different team."

To hear Stokes tell it, she certainly thinks she can be consistent from one game to the next.

"I knew when I went in there I needed to block shots and rebound, especially defensively," she said. "I know that is one thing I can do. (Early in the game) they kept getting a lot of layups. I'm like why don't we just block shots? Second-chance points and easy layups, they are two things I know I can stop," she told the Courant. "I know one thing our guards are looking for is for me and Stewie to give some help in the lane so they can pressure the guards. ...

"I like the way I feel right now," Stokes continued. "Coach is happy with me. It's a great feeling. I've got to take this moment and next time we practice bring the same thing. It can't be now and again. I've got to repeat it and repeat it and repeat it."

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut]]>
<![CDATA[Diaco: 'We've Built a Team']]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 12:08:14 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/bob-diaco-boise-state-sept.jpg

Bob Diaco's first season couldn't have gone much worse; UConn finished 2-10, and on Saturday, it lost to the previously winless SMU Mustangs.

The last time UConn lost 10 games? 1977. The Huskies are officially in the offseason and there's arguably more work to do now than when Diaco arrived 12 months ago. But as has been the case for months, Diaco remains upbeat in the face of a never-ending wave of adversity.

"We've built a team," the coach said Saturday, via the Hartford Courant. "There was not a team here. And like I said in the past, it doesn't represent the tradition and history. The tradition and history is rich with great teams and bleed blue and great alumni, but for a while here we've had a collection of individuals, maybe some position pride and they forged a bond. But as a whole as a team, that has actually just recently jelled. Even after 12 months, it has just recently jelled where I felt like not that we've turned the corner, but we were definitely at it. Even right now with a loss, I feel that way."

It's a start, but for the Huskies to be taken serious in the AAC and beyond, turning the corner will be integral. Diaco understands this, of course, just like he understands that rebuilding is a process.

"We've come a long way in how the players play during the plays, the energy and effort and passion they play with," Diaco continued, explaining how the team has improved this fall. "We've come a long way in respect, respect for each other, respect for our home, respect for our academics. There are so many areas that are changing and improving which is what would lead me to say to the tide is on its way back in," he told the Courant.

"We just still have a few habits that need to be eradicated. You can't change a bad habit. You just replace them. We've replaced a bunch. We've got a few more to go, and we will. The team which we are now is resolute to getting that done. We'll get it done. There is no question. The future is bright. I have no doubt. No one on the team has a doubt."

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Best of NFL: Week 14]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 00:08:44 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/460128832.jpg Don't miss the most dramatic images from the fourteenth week of the 2014 NFL season.]]> <![CDATA[Revs Fall in MLS Cup]]> Sun, 07 Dec 2014 18:21:59 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Revs+Fall+in+MLS+Cup.jpg

Robbie Keane scored a brilliant breakaway goal in the 111th minute, and Landon Donovan retired as a champion Sunday with the LA Galaxy's 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution in the MLS Cup.

Gyasi Zardes scored in the 52nd minute as the Galaxy won their record fifth league title in the final game for Donovan, the MLS career scoring leader and most accomplished soccer player in U.S. history.

Donovan, Keane and the Galaxy have won three of the last four league championships, celebrating all three on their home field.

After Chris Tierney scored the tying goal in the 79th minute for New England, both teams had golden opportunities before Keane capped his MVP season with the dynamic winner in the second period of extra time.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Patriots' Vince Wilfork on Team Spirit]]> Sun, 07 Dec 2014 14:32:30 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP136950174591.jpg As one of longest tenured New England Patriots player on the roster, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork continues to be a leader and speaks to how the collective mindset of the team helps them persevere throughout the long season.

Photo Credit: AP]]>