<![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, 28 Nov 2014 14:25:36 -0500 Fri, 28 Nov 2014 14:25:36 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Coughlin, Former Jags Coach, Returns to Jacksonville]]> Fri, 28 Nov 2014 12:14:33 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/4594822461.jpg

You probably won’t be able to read this article until they fix the Internet, which Odell Beckham Jr. broke last week when our nation flocked to social media to OMG en masse after his one-handed catch against the Cowboys on Sunday night.

That game was on national television, so Beckham had the perfect stage to impress a whole slew of people. This Sunday’s game against the Jaguars is going to be on television in the Jacksonville and New York City markets, whose potential audiences have roughly 73 better things to do than watch the 1-10 Jaguars host the 3-8 Giants in the Tom Coughlin Bowl.

Yup, the former Jaguars coach returns to the city where he got his first NFL head coaching job. None of the players he had are still with the Jaguars, a franchise which also has a different ownership group than it had during Coughlin’s tenure. In short, Coughlin might recognize a couple faces among the fans – like that one rabid Jaguar fan, or that other big Jacksonville rooter – but it’s unlikely he’s going to get a hero’s welcome. Which is too bad, because Coughlin is a direct tie to the team’s greatest seasons.

He led the team to the AFC Championship Game in its second year in 1996, helped end the NFL careers of both Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson when the Jags trounced the Dolphins 62-7 in the 1999 playoffs, and led the Titans 14-10 at halftime at home in that year’s AFC Championship Game before the 14-2 Jaguars were outscored 23-0 in the second half. At home. In the AFC Championship Game.

Yeah, I doubt we’ll see many highlights of that game on the jumbotron, although it’s the biggest home game in Jaguars history. This home game? Just one more thing that stands between the Jaguars and the potential No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Still, the Jags have plenty of things to be hopeful for in the long term. First-year quarterback Blake Bortles has the look of a franchise guy, the wideouts – led by rookies Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns – are promising, and fan expectations have nowhere to go but up.

If I’m a Jaguars fan (thankfully, just a hypothetical), I’m pretty excited about the future, at least in comparison with the present and the past.

For the Giants, this was the portion of the schedule they’d been looking forward to. With games against Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington and St. Louis, the underbelly of the Giants’ 2014 season was supposed to provide the late-season surge that could carry them into the playoffs.

But the team enters this Jacksonville game on a six-game losing streak, the longest in the NFL after the Raiders beat the Chiefs to snap their streak. Any time you’ve lost more consecutive games than the Raiders, you’re in bad shape.

But if I’m a Giants fan, I’m pretty excited about the future, too. Beckham is a transcendent talent, the secondary is talented when healthy, and because of injuries a lot of second- and third-string players are getting valuable playing time, which will benefit the team down the line.

But if the past few weeks were must-wins for the Giants’ 2014 playoff hopes – now dashed, of course – this week’s game against the 1-10 Jaguars is a must-win for Tom Coughlin’s 2015 employment hopes.

The Giants are a patient franchise, not given to the knee-jerk reactions that straddle franchises like the Redskins and Raiders. But the Giants are looking at a fifth season in six without making the playoffs. And though they used that lone playoff season to win a Super Bowl, “The Feast-or-Famine Franchise” is not a particularly dignified nickname.

But that’s what they are; the handle fits.

If nothing else, the Giants like to fashion themselves as a dignified franchise. It can come off as condescending and off-putting, but it’s a real thing. And losing to the 1-10 Jaguars would be the height of indignity in the Tom Coughlin era.

So while the Tom Coughlin Bowl might not mean much to fans of either franchise, it might mean a whole lot to its namesake.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Giants and Jets on Track to Make History]]> Fri, 28 Nov 2014 12:13:26 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/giants+helmet.JPG

If you haven’t been following the 3-8 Giants and the 2-9 Jets closely this season, you might be excused for missing the teams’ combined bid for New York football history. If the season ended today (and man, wouldn’t that be a blessing to both fan bases), the five combined wins would be the lowest such total since the NFL expanded to a 16-game season in 1978.

Did you know you might be witnessing history? You’re welcome.

Since 1978, the lowest combined win total for the two teams came in 1996, when the 6-10 Giants and the 1-15 Jets splashed the back pages of New York newspapers with seven total wins. The next worst win total came the year before, when 5-11 Giants and the 3-13 Jets combined for eight victories, a total they also accomplished in 1980.

I’m not merely taking the opportunity to bash the two franchises during a down year (OK, way down). It should be noted that there have been years since 1978 when both teams were very good (and in one team’s case, even won a Super Bowl or four).

But more often than not the two teams have never been on both sides of the see-saw at the same time. They’ve both reached the playoffs in the same season just five teams since 1978, the last time in 2006.

Apparently spoiling the concessionaires who get to watch both teams at the Meadowlands has never been a going concern.

In the Giants’ five Super Bowl runs, the Jets were also in the playoffs just once, in 1986, when the Jets went 10-6, won their playoff opener against the Chiefs, and then lost to the Browns in overtime in the divisional round.

Was 1986 the best year for New York football? Probably. The combined win total (24) is the most in the 16-game era. The Giants won the Super Bowl, and the Jets started out 10-1; but they lost their last five games, and limped into the playoffs with a negative point differential, which is very Jets-like.

When the Jets had their best team in the 16-game era, the 12-4 team from 1998 that had a positive point differential of 150 points, the Giants had 8 wins. Even when the Jets are great, the Giants have traditionally been average, never awful.

The biggest disparity in wins (to the Jets favor) came in 2004 and 1983, when Jets won four more games than the Giants. Conversely, the G-Men had eight more wins than the Jets in 1989 and seven more wins in 1990.

Here are the combined win totals since 1978, with the dual playoff years in bold and some additional comments below.

2013 -15
2012 -15
2011- 17
2010 -21
2009 - 17
2008 - 21
2007 - 14
2006 - 18
2005 - 15
2004 - 16
2003 - 10
2002 - 19
2001 - 17
2000 - 21
1999 - 15
1998 - 20
1997 - 19
1996 - 7
1995 - 8
1994 - 15
1993 - 19
1992 - 10
1991 - 16
1990 - 19
1989 - 16
1988 - 18
1987 - 12
1986 - 24
1985 - 21

1984 - 16
1983 - 10
1982 - 10 *strike year
1981 - 19
1980 - 8
1979 - 14
1978 - 14

It’s notable that the teams won 10 games in the strike-shortened 1982 season, which only comes in tied for fourth in the most win-starved years in New York football history.

Also notable? The last time both teams had new head coaches was in 1997 (Bill Parcells and Jim Fassel), or the year after the teams combined for seven wins and the worst season in New York football history.

Does that portend pink slips for Tom Coughlin or Rex Ryan? For both?

Safe to say, if the combined win total doesn’t creep any higher than five, New York professional football will be getting its first complete head coaching overhaul in nearly 20 years.

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<![CDATA[Thanksgiving Day Football Roundup]]> Fri, 28 Nov 2014 01:49:46 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP906300269122.jpg

The Thanksgiving holiday is best defined by the three F's: family, food, and football. NFL fans got their fill this Thursday with three contentious games —each between division rivals, and all of the teams battling for a playoff spot.

SEAHAWKS 19, 49ERS 3

Richard Sherman set up the only touchdown with another key defensive play in this heated rivalry, then made a second interception with the 49ers driving late, and the Seattle Seahawks ended a five-game losing streak on San Francisco's home field with a 19-3 win Thursday night.

Steven Hauschka kicked four field goals and the Seahawks' stout defense held Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree in check as Seattle (8-4) overcame 14 penalties for 105 yards, including an offensive pass interference that negated a touchdown.

Russell Wilson passed for 236 yards and thoroughly outplayed Kaepernick, who had one of his worst performances for the 49ers (7-5).

After his second pick, Sherman looked at those fans still remaining in half-empty stadium on a Thanksgiving night and gave them the hush sign with his pointer finger to his mouth, then waved goodbye. The Seahawks won by the identical score they beat first-place Arizona five days earlier.

Kaepernick was 16 for 29 for 121 yards.

EAGLES 33, COWBOYS 10

LeSean McCoy ran for 159 yards and a touchdown, Mark Sanchez had his first scoring run in almost three years and Philadelphia beat Dallas in a battle of NFC East co-leaders.

The Eagles (9-3) opened with quick drives of 80 and 88 yards for touchdowns. They took sole possession of the division lead with four games remaining, including a rematch in less than three weeks.

Tony Romo looked ragged in the first quick turnaround for his surgically repaired back as the Cowboys (8-4) lost their third straight home game.

McCoy, who led the NFL with 1,604 yards last season, had his fourth 100-yard game in the past seven after going without one the first five weeks and secured his fourth 1,000-yard season since 2010.

Although his deficit to Dallas' DeMarco Murray in the rushing race is probably insurmountable, McCoy outgained Murray, who was held under 100 yards for just the second time this season.

McCoy averaged 6.4 yards on 25 carries on the same field where he clinched the rushing title last December while the Eagles beat the Cowboys in a playoffs-or-bust finale. Murray finished with 73 yards and Dallas' only touchdown on 20 carries.

Making his fourth start since Nick Foles was sidelined by a broken collarbone, Sanchez was 9 of 11 for 99 yards in the first quarter. That included a 27-yard scoring pass to Jordan Matthews when Sanchez hit the rookie in stride on a crossing route for a 14-0 lead. Sanchez finished 20 of 29 for 217 yards with a touchdown.

LIONS 34, BEARS 17

Calvin Johnson caught 11 passes for 146 yards and two first-half touchdowns and Detroit beat Chicago to boost its postseason hopes.

After losing at Arizona and New England and falling out of first place in the NFC North, the Lions (8-4) spotted Chicago a 14-3 first-quarter lead before rallying with relative ease in the second.

Joique Bell ran for two touchdowns for the Lions, and Jay Cutler threw two scoring passes for Chicago (5-7). Detroit's Matthew Stafford went 34 of 45 for 390 yards with the two touchdown passes to Johnson.

Detroit had not scored this many points since a 35-14 win over the New York Giants in the season opener.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[NFL Roundup: Thanksgiving Day ]]> Fri, 28 Nov 2014 02:22:06 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP906300269122.jpg NFL Roundup: Thanksgiving Day

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[No, This Isn't a Misprint: Geno Should Get Another Shot]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 13:22:59 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/180*120/Jets-Bills-1027006.jpg

Two months ago, I said the Jets should bench Geno Smith and start Michael Vick. This wasn’t exactly a Woodward and Bernstein-type scoop. In fact, it would’ve been about as surprising as if I’d said the Broncos should sit Peyton Manning and play Brock Osweiler (Osweiler, don’t grab your helmet again, this is just a hypothetical).

At the time, Gang Green was 1-3, and needed to win the vast majority of their remaining games to secure a playoff spot -- and save Rex Ryan’s job -- and Vick clearly couldn’t have played any worse than Smith. Ryan continued to start Smith for the next four weeks, by which time the QB and his teammates had stamped out even the slightest hope of postseason play.

Would things have been different if Vick started those games? Could any QB consistently win when the Jets’ was pass defense was so ineffective that it could best be termed the Geno Smith of defensive backfields?

Anyway, that’s all in the past. The Jets’ present, meanwhile, is downright ugly, and the short-term future is basically unbearable (if you didn’t think the long-term future was bright, against a veritable mountain range of evidence to the contrary, you would’ve given up on being a Jets fan long ago). Could things get any worse if Ryan gave Smith the starting job back for the remaining five weeks?

Yes, I understand how poorly Smith has played to date, and no, I don’t put much stock in the fact that he looked competent in his brief run on Monday night in Detroit. Not exactly high-pressure territory when you come in down 28 with 10 minutes left on game clock.

Vick is clearly better than Smith at the moment. Maybe he leads the team to 1 or 2 more wins than Smith would. What does that too, besides hurt their draft position? We know what Vick is, and we know for certain he’s not the long-term answer for Gang Green.

Is Smith? Probably not. But why not find out for sure over the next five games? Not long ago, the Jets thought enough of Smith to make him the 39th pick of the 2013 NFL Draft. And history shows that plenty of eventual star QBs were terrible in their first year or two.

The Jets’ season is effectively done. So is Ryan, and probably GM John Idzik as well. Is Smith? There’s only one way to find out. Besides, when you’ve lost as much as Gang Green has, what else can there possibly be to lose? 



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Geno Not Worried About Stanford Loss]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:21:55 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/geno-auriemma-pat-summitt.jpg

Perhaps the person least concerned by the Huskies' loss to Stanford last week is coach Geno Auriemma. It's such a rare occurrence that people come out of the woodwork to tell the nine-time NCAA champ exactly what went wrong. Auriemma finds this all very amusing.

"It's like, when you lose a game [in the regular season] it's 'Oh crap, there goes the title, there goes the national championship.' That is absolutely crazy," Auriemma said, via the Hartford Courant's John Altavilla.

"But at the same time, I don't think it was a great game to play for us, this early, on the road [in terms of preparedness]. It's a tough game to play, the second game of the year, when [your team] is not all there. We were all there last season and Stanford wasn't [UConn won by 19 at Gampel on Nov. 11, 2013].

"Imagine if we had won that game [at Stanford]? We would have come home and the players would be saying, 'Right coach, stick that up your butt. Seriously, that's exactly how it is these days. … Sometimes, some teams need to be reminded of things.

"Look, some teams don't deserve to lose. If someone told me the 2009-10 team needed a loss to prepare it for the NCAA tournament, I would have said no. If that team lost, the NCAA tournament should have been canceled. That's how good they were, just like the 2002 team.

"But there are other teams … The more games they win, the more they are allowed to think how good they are, it's not good for them. They needed that. And that Texas beat Stanford a few days later just made it harder for them. They were like, 'Really, come on.' "

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<![CDATA[Tuck Happy to Be Healthy, Contributing]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:18:07 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/morgan-tuck-title.jpg

Morgan Tuck is a key cog for Geno Auriemma's team, even if she's not customarily a starter. She was forced into that role against Creighton because Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis was under the weather, but the redshirt sophomore is happy to embrace any role that helps the team.

“I definitely think that I’m going in the right direction, which feels good,” Tuck told SNY.com's Carl Adamec after scoring 15 points in 30 minutes on Sunday. “It feels good to play pretty well, but I do want to get better. I think I am getting into a good rhythm, but I still need to finish better."

Tuck is averaging 12 points a game this season, a welcome development after she missed most of 2013-14 with a knee issue.

“It is just great to see her back and the fact is that she is being aggressive,” said junior forward Breanna Stewart. “That’s how Morgan plays. She hasn’t really had an opportunity in her career to really come out and be consistent like that, and I am excited to have that on our team.”

Going forward, Tuck's role remains fluid, which is fine with her.

“If Coach sees me as a starter, I’m OK with it. And if he sees me as a sixth or seventh man, I’m OK with that as well,” Tuck said. “I’m OK with whatever Coach sees me as.”

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<![CDATA[Diaco on the Fans: 'They Deserve Better']]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:16:19 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/bob+diaco+uconn+pumped.jpg

Another Tuesday, another Bob Diaco press conference explaining that the UConn football program will improve ... but it will take time.

This time, Diaco delivered the message days after a 41-0 loss to Cincinnati in a game that served as a microcosm for a tough season.

"One of the greatest disappointments for me and the team, we really feel bad that the record is the way it is for UConn country," Diaco said, via the New Haven Register. "That hurts. That hurts that our Husky fans are not enjoying these Saturdays like they should be, need to and will be. Then we have this whole collection of former players and former athletes at the school that have created this incredible force of success and tradition.

"They deserve better, they should not be worrying if they will be putting their letterman coat on or not. They should feel like 'yes, I am going to the water cooler today like a peacock.' "I am looking for more, I am looking for more with the team and we are going to get it solved. The problem has been identified. I am not a problem identifier, I would like to think I am a problem solver so we have enacted an action plan to solve it. That is why I was brought here by Warde (Manuel) to get it done. I am going to get it done and I am excited about getting it done."

The Register's Jim Fuller asked Diaco if he's seen the same growth in himself that he expects out of his players as the season progresses.

"I have," the coach said. "The guy who showed up in the middle of December is not the guy who is standing here now. Hopefully in May I can say the same thing for the guy standing here. Every day you learn something new in that chair, every day a new thing is presented to you. It is exciting. I don't mean it in a disparaging way. It is a job I am really loving and enjoying. I am growing, just like Andreas (Knappe) at right tackle, I am growing in the same way."



Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut]]>
<![CDATA[Rodgers Looking Forward to Facing Brady]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 10:32:18 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/459466718.jpg

It's the new Brady-Manning Bowl: Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers. The Patriots have already dispensed with the Broncos this season, and now they'll travel to Lambeau Field to face the NFL's other best team: the Green Bay Packers.

But because Rodgers plays in the NFC, he rarely matches up against either Brady or Manning, though the quarterback admits that the lack of face time with two future Hall of Famers doesn't define his career.

"I don't have a void in my career for not playing them more times," Rodgers said during his Tuesday radio show. "I have a ton of respect for them in their careers, but again I don't ever look at it like it's one quarterback against another. It takes 11 every single play to be effective. We play against some great teams in the NFC all the time. They've spent their careers in the AFC and that's kind of the way it's gone.

"I'd like to think that at some point by the end of my career, I'll have a number of matchups against a quarterback in the NFC who they like, much in the way that they like Brady and Manning, and they can make some comparison there, but I won't have any void from not playing those guys. I'd rather not; they're great players."

But it's not like Rodgers and Brady don't know each other; in fact, they often hang out in the offseason, even meeting up at the Kentucky Derby.

"Tom loves talking ball," Rodgers said. "So every time we get together, it's always fun to talk football and see what he's been thinking about and talk about his season and maybe throw some film on and watch a little bit of stuff."

The two will be on opposing sidelines on Sunday in a game that could be a preview of February's Super Bowl.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Red Sox Make Big Signings Official]]> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 21:20:54 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Hanley+Ramirez+Pablo+Sandoval+Red+Sox.jpg

It's official - the Red Sox' offseason is off to a dynamic start.

Boston officially announced the signing of third baseman Pablo Sandoval and former shortstop Hanley Ramirez on Tuesday.

Sandoval's contract is worth $95 million over five years and contains a club option for a sixth year, along with a $3 million bonus. Ramirez will earn $88 million over four years, with a vesting option for a fifth year valued at $22 million, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

Ramirez, who started his career in Boston, will play left field for the Red Sox, as many had speculated when the signing was first reported. He has not played the outfield in the big leagues.

"I'm really happy to be back in Boston," said Ramirez Tuesday evening at a press conference. "Hopefully, I can finish my career here."

The Red Sox traded Ramirez to the then-Florida Marlins back in 2005 in a blockbuster deal that sent Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston. The Marlins sent Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.

Sandoval, also known as Kung Fu Panda, spent his entire career with the San Francisco Giants. He was introduced Tuesday afternoon.

"You want a new challenge. You want to start something new. And they gave me the opportunity to be here," said Sandoval. "To start my new challenge."

Ramirez and Sandoval represent a potentially major offensive boost for Boston, but both come with question marks.

Ramirez, who turns 31 in December, batted .283/.369/.448 with 13 homers last season, but was an MVP candidate just a year earlier, batting .345/.402/.638 with 20 homers. He is a career .300 hitter with an OPS of .873.

Sandoval, meanwhile, hits free agency at the young age of 28. He batted .279/.324/.415 last year, hitting 16 home runs. He made two All-Star teams as a member of the Giants and has a career line of .294/.346/.465.

Ramirez has a history of health problems, appearing in just 86 games during his excellent 2013 campaign and 92 back in 2011. While young and known as a solid defender, Sandoval has had ongoing weight issues. He is listed at 245 pounds, but his weight has fluctuated throughout his time in the big leagues.

A move to the American League could benefit Sandoval, as he could ultimately play as a designated hitter, eventually replacing 39-year-old David Ortiz.

The Red Sox adding both players is surprising. The team was in need of a third baseman, with Will Middlebrooks hitting below the Mendoza line last year with an abysmal .191/.256/.265 line last season.

But shortstop Xander Bogaerts was one of the top prospects in baseball going into his rookie season last year. While moving Ramirez to the outfield solves the infield logjam, it exacerbates an already-existing one in the outfield - he joins Yoenis Cespedes, Shane Victorino, Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Daniel Nava in the mix.

Needless to say, a trade is likely. Some of the team's outfield assets could be used to replenish starting pitching, the team's greatest need. Boston traded away Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Peavy before the trade deadline, and Clay Buchholz has been wildly inconsistent.

Lester, now a free agent after a brief tenure with the Oakland Athletics, has been in talks to return to Boston. But the Giants, after losing Sandoval, are now reportedly showing interest in the lefty.

As Comcast SportsNet New England's Sean McAdam notes, adding both players will make the Sox' offense "lethal." In one projected 2015 lineup, McAdam did not include Cespedes, Victorino or Craig, a testament to the depth.

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<![CDATA[Belichick Tweaks Raiola After Cut Block]]> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:23:12 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/bill-belichick-pencil.jpg

On Sunday, Lions center Dominic Raiola took issue with the Patriots' scoring fourth-quarter touchdowns in a game that had long been decided, and took it upon himself to dispense some vigilante justice in the form of a cut block on the game's final play.

He even admitted as much afterwards.

"I cut him," Raiola said. "We took a knee, so I cut the nose (tackle). "They went for six (a touchdown). They went for a touchdown at 2 minutes. They could have took three knees and the game could have been over. It's football. He wants to keep playing football, let's play football. Not a big deal. It's football."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about the incident on Monday. He summed things up in the most Belichickian understated, backhanded -- and ultimately hilarious -- way possible.

“I’m sure there was a lot of frustration there from Raiola," the coach said. "That was obvious," he said. "He’s never beaten us. He had a tough day in there dealing with [Vince] Wilfork and [Dont’a] Hightower and those guys.

"I’d say that was probably frustration. We saw a lot of that at the end of the game -- [Tahir] Whitehead on [LeGarrette] Blount’s touchdown, [C.J.] Mosley on the personal foul on the field goal.”

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<![CDATA[UConn Falls to 24th in AP Poll]]> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 13:26:46 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/kevin-ollie-2013season.jpg

UConn's loss to West Virginia over the weekend dropped the defending national champions from 17th to 24th in the Associated Press poll, with the Mountaineers rising to 21st after being unranked to start the season.

Meanwhile, the Huskies are headed back to Hawaii for the 2016 Maui Invitational, which will take place Nov. 21-23 at the Lahaina Civic Center. The team has made the trip on three previous occasions -- 2000, 2005, 2010.

More details via UConnHuskies.com:

Joining the Huskies in Maui in two years to compete for the Wayne Duke Trophy will be Georgetown, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and the host team, Chaminade.

The 2016 field has combined for 14 national championships, including six different teams that have won at least one NCAA title, and 35 Final Four appearances. Last season, UConn won the crown, Wisconsin joined the Huskies in the Final Four, and seven of the eight teams earned NCAA tourney berths. The teams have combined for 160 conference championships.

The Huskies are 8-1 at the Maui Invitational, including tournament titles in '05 an '10.

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<![CDATA[Ollie on Loss: We'll Learn From This]]> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 13:23:01 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/uconnj.jpg

There weren't many highlights from Sunday's loss to West Virginia in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament, but that's what the first few weeks of the regular season are for: to iron out the kinks as you get ready for January, February and March and all that the conference schedule has to offer.

It explains why third-year coach Kevin Ollie, who's fresh off an NCAA title, isn't overreacting.

"All of our guys are going to learn from this," he said, via the Hartford Courant. "These are things we can correct -- 19 turnovers, we just can't have that if we want to win games, and having nine assists. … It's alarming when we're under 10."

The Huskies faced stiff pressure from the Mountaineers all night, pressure the young group seemed ill-equipped to handle. That includes freshman standout Daniel Hamilton, who earned all-tourney honorable mention but had eight turnovers Sunday.

"Freshman mistakes," Ollie said. "I think he's going to get better from it."

Now 2-1 and ranked 24th in the country, the Huskies have work to do as the season progresses. They face Texas this weekend, Duke next month and Florida on Jan. 3.

"I'm a little disappointed we couldn't bring a championship back home," Ollie said. "Hopefully we can go back and learn from this tough tournament and be better prepared for our conference play."



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Diaco: 'We Have a Long Way to Go']]> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 13:16:23 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/bob-diaco-boise-state-sept.jpg

Progress comes in fits and starts. At least as it relates to the UConn football team. We saw glimmers of hope against ECU last month but no signs of it in last weekend's 41-0 loss to Cincinnati.

But as we've written for months -- and first-year coach Bob Diaco has said for much longer -- rebuilding a program is no small undertaking, and it takes time.

“We have a long way to go, we have a lot of work to do,” Diaco said this week. “This adversity is going to create an unbreakable foundation for championships in the future. There is no doubt.”

At this stage of the proceedings, you're looking for moral victories because at 2-8 there's not much else to be excited about.

“It is an honor to coach this team,” the coach continued. “Nobody quit. There was more leadership. More players leading the right way, saying the right things. There was an indomitable look on their face.”

Diaco has preached for some time that things may take awhile to come together, but once they do UConn's football program will again have to be taken seriously.

“We are going to love these guys, we are going to develop them we are going to teach the young men how to be men,” Diaco said of his young payers. “We are going to teach them how to play football… and as their eligibility expires they are going to have one of the greatest degrees in the country in their hand as they walk out. That’s how you have a great football team.”

One of those young players is sophomore quarterback Tim Boyle, who has struggled for parts of two season but who knows that getting better under these circumstances is a process.

“The game of football is about making mistakes, not trying to make them twice and trying to learn from them,” Boyle said. “I think the more snaps I get the more mistakes I’m going to make, which is weird to say, but down the road it is probably going to help me a little bit more. ...

“Football is not a flat line sport,” Boyle continued. “You know it’s up and down and I think you need to understand that when the lows happen who actually loves the sport. Who puts their head down and pouts a little bit, or who turns the page and tries picking the team back up. Coach wants guys that love football so when we do hit those lows we can bring them back up to a high again.”

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<![CDATA[This Just In: Bills Petition NFL to Play Jets Every Week]]> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:13:47 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/jets+bills3.jpg

Well, Jets fans, we’ve finally found what it takes to make Geno Smith play effectively at quarterback: spot the other team a 28-point lead. Smith performed reasonably well after relieving a banged-up Michael Vick with just under five minutes left in the third quarter of Gang Green’s 38-3 loss, completing 10 of his 12 passes.

Of course, Smith was no Kyle Orton. The Jets made the journeyman QB look like Joe Montana Monday night at Detroit’s Ford Field. Orton connected with his targets on all but eight of his 32 throws, and half of his incompletions were drops by heralded rookie Sammy Watkins and his fellow receivers. Watkins torched the Jets when the two teams met earlier this season, but he inflicted no such damage in the second match-up. He didn’t need to, since the Jets DBs were busy turning Bills second-year WR Robert Woods into Jerry Rice.

Speaking of all-time greats, it appeared as though Buffalo had a defensive line full of Reggie Whites. The Jets simply couldn’t block the Bills’ oncoming pass rushers, who finished the night with seven sacks to push their league-high up to 46 with five games still left in the season. Gang Green couldn’t even block a backup running back. Reserve Anthony Dixon not only finished with a game-high 54 rushing yards, but also blocked a Ryan Quigley punt that teammate Manny Lawson returned for a touchdown to effectively end the contest with 25 minutes still left on the game clock.

To say the Jets bring out the best in the Bills would be the understatement of the 2014 NFL season. Against all other opponents, Buffalo has averaged an anemic 17 points a game. In two games against the Jets this year, they’re at over 40 per.

Meanwhile, Buffalo brings out, well, the Jets in the Jets, who certainly lived up to their putrid 2-9 record last night. Even their few standout performers, such as defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, were ineffective -- to say nothing of an offensive line that apparently had already taken off for Thanksgiving. And for all the talk about how playing indoors on artificial turf would give the Jets’ playmakers an edge, Vick suddenly looked his age in Detroit, while I’m not even sure Percy Harvin made the trip. Can you imagine how upset he is if he’s in Buffalo right now?

The Bills were thought to be at a disadvantage in surrendering a precious home game for a neutral field nearly 300 miles from Buffalo. But I think coach Doug Marrone and his somehow-still-in-playoff-hunt team would gladly play at Ford Field -- preferably against the Jets -- every week.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Sandoval to Sign With Red Sox, Ramirez Reportedly to Follow]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 19:14:12 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Hanley+Ramirez+Pablo+Sandoval.jpg

It seems the Red Sox have wasted no time this offseason, as two big bats are apparently on the way to Boston.

Pablo Sandoval told his former team, the San Francisco Giants, that he would join the Red Sox, according to Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

A deal with shortstop Hanley Ramirez, meanwhile, is expected to be announced, as well. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted Monday that an agreement had been reached pending a physical.

Late Sunday night, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that Ramirez would travel to Boston Monday to finalize a deal. Initially reported to be worth $90 million over five years, Rosenthal tweeted Monday that it was a four-year deal worth $88 million with a vesting option for a fifth year at another $22 million.

Red Sox writer Ian Browne of MLB.com reports that Sandoval will be unveiled at a press conference Tuesday. He adds that Ramirez is likely to be unveiled Tuesday, too.

The shortstop started his career with the Red Sox before being traded to the Miami Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, both of whom were major factors in the team's 2007 World Series run.

Sandoval had been weighing offers from his former club as well as the Red Sox and San Diego Padres.

Heyman reports that Sandoval, also known as Kung Fu Panda, will earn close to $100 million over five years.

The Giants, with whom Sandoval has spent his entire career, released the following statement:

Ramirez and Sandoval represent a potentially major offensive boost for Boston, but both come with question marks.

The shortstop, who just played two and a half seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and turns 31 in December, batted .283/.369/.448 with 13 homers last season, but was an MVP candidate just a year earlier, batting .345/.402/.638 with 20 homers. He is a career .300 hitter with an OPS of .873.

Sandoval, meanwhile, hits free agency at the young age of 28. He batted .279/.324/.415 last year, hitting 16 home runs. He made two All-Star teams as a member of the Giants and has a career line of .294/.346/.465.

Ramirez has a history of health problems, appearing in just 86 games during his excellent 2013 campaign and 92 back in 2011. While young and known as a solid defender, has had ongoing weight issues. He is listed at 245 pounds, but his weight has fluctuated throughout his time in the big leagues.

A move to the American League could benefit Sandoval, as he could ultimately play as a designated hitter, eventually replacing 39-year-old David Ortiz.

The Red Sox adding both players is surprising and their intentions are not entirely clear. The team was in need of a third baseman, with Will Middlebrooks hitting below the Mendoza line last year with an abysmal .191/.256/.265 line last season. But shortstop Xander Bogaerts was one of the top prospects in baseball going into his rookie season last year.

In addition to creating an infield logjam, the signings are surprising because the team's greatest need is its starting rotation. Boston traded away Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Peavy before the trade deadline, and Clay Buchholz has been wildly inconsistent.

Lester, now a free agent after a brief tenure with the Oakland Athletics, has been in talks to return to Boston. But Heyman and Rosenthal both report that that the Giants, on the verge of losing Sandoval, are now showing interest in the lefty.

Should the Sox finalize deals with both hitters, they have a few options to solve the logjam. They could play Ramirez in the outfield and trade a player like Yoenis Cespedes or Shane Victorino. Bogaerts, while a superior defender to Ramirez, could also move to the outfield. They could play Ramirez at third base and Sandoval at first if they trade Mike Napoli.

Additionally, they could deal Bogaerts, though Boston is highly unlikely to move the young stud unless the return is heavy.

As Comcast SportsNet New England's Sean McAdam notes, adding both players will make the Sox' offense "lethal." In one projected 2015 lineup, McAdam did not include Cespedes, Victorino or Allen Craig, a testament to the depth, particularly in the outfield if Ramirez is moved out of the infield.

Late Monday night, Red Sox officials announced they will hold a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. Stay with NECN as this story develops.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Patriots Irate at Raiola Cut Block]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:07:58 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Tom+Brady+Julian+Edleman+112314.jpg

The Patriots had little trouble with the Lions on Sunday, cruising to a 34-9 victory in a game that was never really close. The win moves New England to 9-2 and one week closer to that first-round playoff bye. Detroit, meanwhile, falls out of first place in the NFC North, and if recent history is any guide (see last season), it's the beginning of the end of their previously successful season.

Perhaps Detroit's most memorable play was also the most notorious. It came on the final snap. As Matthew Stafford took a knee, center Dominic Raiola attempt to cut block Patriots defensive lineman Zach Moore as payback for running up the score (even though, you know, Moore had nothing to do with how many points New England scored). We know this because he admitted as much afterwards.

(You can watch the play here.)

"I cut him," Raiola said, via the Detroit Free Press. "We took a knee, so I cut the nose (tackle). "They went for six (a touchdown). They went for a touchdown at 2 minutes. They could have took three knees and the game could have been over. It's football. He wants to keep playing football, let's play football. Not a big deal. It's football."

Not surprisingly, Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork was unimpressed.

"I just heard what happened, but that was stupid," he said. "I didn't see it, but from what I heard … You're taking a knee. They'd get mad if we were just to blow up one of their players, so I mean, it's just uncalled for. But at the same time, you always have to protect yourself, so you always have to play with your neck on a swivel and being alert for 60 minutes, and it came down to it today on a bonehead play like that. But luckily no one got hurt and we can move on."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Boatright Honored, Purvis Injured]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 12:22:19 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/uconn+ollie+boatright_bryant.jpg

It was a busy Sunday in Puerto Rico for the 17th-ranked Huskies, and that's before they were outpaced by West Virginia, 78-68, in the tournament final.

The school issued this statement about an hour prior to tip-off: "UConn players Omar Calhoun, Rakim Lubin, Dan Guest, and Marcel Lewis have been suspended for tonight’s game against West Virginia due to a violation of team rules. Their status will be reevaluated following the game and the Huskies’ return home. The university, including coaches and players, will have no further comment on the matter."

Coach Kevin Ollie was asked about the suspensions after the game.

"I have no comment on it," he said, via the Hartford Courant. "We have to do what we have to do. They violated team rules, and we'll assess the situation when we get back to Connecticut."

Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore Rodney Purvis, who has been searching for his form in the early season, suffered a ankle injury in the opening minutes of the West Virginia game.

"He was limping around the whole game," Ollie said. "We'll try to get it X-rayed before we leave here and make sure there's no damage in there."

Finally, some good news: senior point guard Ryan Boatright, who averaged 18.7 points a game, was named to the all-tournament team along with Devin Williams of West Virginia, Jordan Sibert of Dayton and Shevon Thomson of George Mason. West Virginia's Juwan Staten was named MVP, while UConn freshman Daniel Hamilton earned honorable mention.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Hero, Nero, Zero From Giants' Loss to Cowboys]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:38:29 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/4594822461.jpg

Hero: Odell Beckham Jr.

The Giants’ 2014 season is not going to end in Arizona on the first Sunday in February. With Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys, New York’s sixth straight loss, the 3-8 Giants can at best finish 8-8, which might have been good enough to win the division -- ya know, if the Giants played in the NFC South.

Are the Giants officially eliminated from postseason contention? No. But no fan in his or her right mind is clinging to the hopes of making the playoffs. And given the chorus of cheers that went up at MetLife Stadium Sunday night when the referees ruled the Giants had come up short on fourth down to essentially end the game, most Giants fans had already thrown in the towel and sold their tickets to Cowboys fans.

But at least the Giants have something to look forward to, and that’s watching Odell Beckham Jr. play for their team, hopefully for a long time.

By now you’ve likely seen the catch that Beckham made, which ranks roughly No. 1 in the history of the world. We saw the flags come in, and we saw Beckham hit the ground, but the camera angle was so far away that we couldn’t see what happened to the ball. Only when he stood up did I turn to my nephew and ask, “Did he just catch that?”

Replays and additional camera angles confirmed the sublime. It was unreal.

That’s why we watch sports, to see and experience a moment of transcendent play like that. Here’s to many more from Beckham in the coming years.

Nero: NFL rules

Every major sport has its shortcomings involving the rulebook. Baseball has the “neighborhood rule,” which allows middle infielders to be within shouting distance of second base on force plays and is designed to protect them from baser runners barreling down the baseline; basketball often allows its players to take more than two steps after picking up their dribble; soccer has no effective way to protect against flopping; and hockey still allows people to commit felonies that would get an average person sent to prison.

Football? It has numerous rules that defy common sense. For example, the rule that doesn’t allow referees to infer the obvious, as displayed last night when Giants running back Andre Williams obviously fumbled the ball near the goal line before he hit the ground. Because the play was not ruled a fumble on the field, referees needed incontrovertible evidence that Williams had fumbled in order to turn over the call.

Williams was tackled in a scrum and it wasn’t immediately clear that he had coughed it up before he was down, but anyone with a modicum of common sense could deduce that he had in fact fumbled. But the referees didn’t feel they were 100 percent certain, so they hid behind the safe, incorrect call. On the next play, Williams scored a touchdown and the Giants were ahead 21-10.

So yeah, the Giants lost by three points, but it should have been by more.

Zero: Giants’ pass rush on final Cowboys drive.

If you can’t get to a quarterback with the front four (and the Giants couldn’t, especially on the last drive), then it makes sense to send extra rushers. Instead Perry Fewell’s defense sat back and didn’t blitz on the deciding pass play, even though Tony Romo has broken bones in his back and is limited in his mobility.

Romo had seven-and-a-half seconds to throw on one play on the last drive, which should have been the clue that the Giants’ pass rush wasn’t getting it done. 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Stewart, Nurse Shine in UConn Win]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 12:24:55 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/stewart-uconn-creighton.jpg

Stanford may have lost in the next game following their upset victory over the Huskies last week, but UConn had no such problems getting back in the win column against Creighton on Sunday. The final score: 96-60 in the home opener at Gampel Pavilion that included a 25-point effort from junior Breanna Stewart.

“I think that we’re three games into the season," Stewart said afterwards. "Yes we lost to Stanford, but that just shows that we need to get better at things, so we’re getting better at things right now and taking it game by game; not really thinking about where we’re going to end up in March but we have a goal of where we want to end up.”

Freshman Kia Nurse, who starred for the Canadian national team this summer, added 22 points, a nice bounce-back effort from Friday's loss.

“Kia was really disappointed after the Stanford game, I mean really disappointed," coach Geno Auriemma said. "She felt like she contributed to the loss in some ways and obviously fouling out bothered her a lot. She did what great competitors do. She came back, put it behind her, and used it as a motivator to play even better than what you would expect. I’m not surprised she did that. She is one tough kid.”

The Huskies have four high-profile freshmen on the roster; along with Nurse there's Gabby Williams (11 points), Sadie Edwards (0 points in four minutes) and Courtney Ekmark (DNP). After Nurse's performance against Creighton, Auriemma was asked about the preparedness of each of his freshmen.

“They all come with different levels of preparedness," he said. "I think Kia has a lot of other qualities, and that’s why I said what I said at media day. I’m not predicting she’s going to be anything down the road. If you ask me which of the freshman looks like they have an upside based on what I have seen up to this point, she has a lot going for her. Is she the same as some of the great guards that we have had here? None of them were that great as freshman.”



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jessica Hill]]>
<![CDATA[Tim Boyle Struggles in Start]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 12:24:16 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/boyle-uconn-cincy.jpg

Good news: Sophomore Tim Boyle made his first start of the season Saturday night against Cincinnati.

Bad news: He finished 13 of 21 for 70 yards and no touchdowns, minus-25 yards rushing, and a a quarterback rating of 1.0. Senior Chandler Whitmer, who had started the eight games, was 1 of 5 for 11 yards and an interception.

So why the decision to roll with Boyle out of the gate?

"We hadn't seen him do if he could start in a game, we hadn't seen it yet," first-year coach Bob Diaco said afterwards, via the New Haven Register. "Nothing against Chandler but we wanted to see what Timmy would give us. He is going to get better and better and he needs to get better and better. The only way to get better and better is to play."

That's the hope. The Huskies were outclassed by the Bearcats, 41-0, including trailing 27-0 at the half.

"We had a good game plan I thought we were going to be able to execute," Boyle said. "Turnovers and execution were the culprit, I think once we start executing and handing onto the ball, we can do some good things."

The plan coming into the season was to start Casey Cochran, have Whitmer as the backup, and redshirt Boyle. But Cochran retired from football after sustaining a Week 1 concussion, forcing Boyle to remain active on game days. Diaco said last week that the plan was to have Boyle head into the offseason as the Huskies' starter, and maybe that thinking has been expedited.

"Once I saw my role increase in practice I thought I was going to play more and I was going to get the majority of the snaps, not necessarily the start," Boyle said. "Chandler and I have been rotating on and off and see what does from there but nothing predetermined. It is always good to get more snaps. I know this sounds bad but the more mistakes you can make, the game of football is about making mistakes and not trying to make them twice, trying to learn from them. I think the more snaps I get the more mistakes I am going to make. It is weird to say but down the road it is probably going to help me a little more."

Now Boyle has to show improvement, which he fully understands.

"It is more settling into the game," he said. "You can ask any quarterback, it is tough in the beginning of the game to try to get into a rhythm especially when you are going 3 and out and have turnovers like that. More towards the end of the game I had more confidence in myself, I started seeing things a little easier. I am nowhere (near) where I need to be, where I want to be and that is going come down to film study and working hard in practice. I think the hardest thing for me is to just see the defense and make the right decision. I have a long way to go but I think it has increased my confidence level."



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Jets Aim to Turn Over New Leaf Against Bills]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:35:47 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/180*120/Jets-Bills-1027002.jpg

Remember all those times you swore you’d never pay to see the Jets, especially in lost seasons like this one? Well, now you don’t have to.

Tickets to tonight’s rescheduled game vs. the Bills are free. Of course, you’ll need either a plane ticket to Detroit or the willingness to make the 600-mile drive from the New York metro area. And, to answer the obvious question, unfortunately the beer isn’t free too.

The game at Ford Field is said to be a sellout (not sure how they can call it that when nothing was actually sold), and it will be interesting to see the composition of the crowd. Buffalo is a mere 250 miles from Ford Field, and while no one has voluntarily visited Detroit in decades, the Motor City will probably look like Tahiti to Buffalonians who have spent the past week shoveling snow taller than they are and, with warmer temperatures, are now awaiting a flood. The locusts are expected tomorrow.

A size able amount of local fans will likely be on hand tonight—did I mention tickets are free?—and that turnout may result in an advantage for the Jets.

Detroit fans aren’t too happy with Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who rubbed it in earlier in the season when he asked his charges to carry him off the field following a Bills win over the Lions. Note to Schwartz, who must have felt like he was unjustly axed in Detroit after losing 6 of his last 7 games as the Lions’ head coach in 2013: if you need to ask your players to do something like that instead of them doing so on their own, you may not be a match for Knute Rockne in the inspirational leadership department. What do the Lion defenders have to do next, watch videos from Schwartz’s last family vacation?

Unlike Gang Green, the Bills still have something significant to play for, as, at 5-5, they have a slim shot at the postseason with six games to go. Their defense remains stalwart, and their pass rush is fierce, with the team’s 39 sacks tops in the NFL.

Their offense, meanwhile, remains a mess. Buffalo has scored just 18 offensive touchdowns in their 10 games, and five of those came in the first match-up against the Jets, who in that game essentially turned the ball over on every other down.

With Michael Vick as the starting QB, the Jets are taking better care of the ball. If they can continue that trend tonight, they can turn back the Bills. 



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Best of NFL: Week 12]]> Sun, 23 Nov 2014 22:20:52 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/459467122.jpg Don't miss the most dramatic images from the twelfth week of the 2014 NFL season.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Lions Roar but Patriots Feast]]> Sun, 23 Nov 2014 16:35:58 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Tom+Brady+Julian+Edleman+112314.jpg

The New England Patriots have yet to stop rolling after Tom Brady's longevity was called into question following a tough loss to the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this season.

The veteran quarterback threw for 349 yards in New England's 34-9 victory over the now-7-4 Detroit Lions.

Only 36 of those yards could be attributed to Tim Wright, but he made them count - the second-year tight end caught both of the touchdown passes Brady threw.

Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski each received 78 or more yards from Brady, who completed 38 passes for 53 attempts.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, meanwhile, completed just 18 passes in 46 attempts. He was sacked twice and threw an interception, but no touchdowns.

Stafford did manage to compile 264 passing yards in the loss. Darrelle Revis and the Pats' secondary managed to hold Calvin "Megatron" Johnson, targeted 10 times, to four receptions and 58 yards.

LeGarrette Blount, who returned to New England after being released by the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, rushed for 78 yards and two touchdowns.

New England won by a 25-point margin despite Brady throwing a pick in the red zone to former teammate James Ihedigbo.

The Patriots improve their record to 9-2 on the win. They'll take on the Green Bay Packers on the road next Sunday.

More to come.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. on Sunday Spotlight]]> Sun, 23 Nov 2014 12:55:36 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP747099438720.jpg New York Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has had a stand-out first season, and recalls that he has always been ready for the Sunday spotlight.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Gray Happy to Have Blount in Backfield]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 15:29:04 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/jonas-gray-4tds.jpg

Less than a week after Jonas Gray ran all over the Colts to the tune of four touchdowns and 201 rushing yards, he has a new face in the Patriots backfield. Check that; it's a new face for Gray, who joined the Pats in the offeseason, but an old face for just about everybody else: LeGarrette Blount returns to New England after just 11 games in Pittsburgh, where he was released on Tuesday after leaving the field during the Steelers-Titans game before it was over.

Despite Gray's breakout performance, Blount's addition to the backfield didn't come as a shock.

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised," he said. "In this business, not a whole lot surprises me, especially given where I’ve come from. I just prepare the same way -- it doesn’t matter who we sign or who we bring here. I believe in Bill (Belichick) and whatever he’s doing.”

In fact, Gray said he's excited to play alongside Blount.

“We kind of knew of each other beforehand, and the guys here have nothing but good things to say about him," Gray continued. "It’s kind of funny, that running back position, they always talk about the camaraderie, so right away, even on the practice field, we acted like we’ve known each other for a long time,” he said.

“I’m excited, man. I think it’s going to be something good for us. For a team, what we want to do long-term, when these cold-weather games start coming up, I think it’s going to help. He’s a great guy to learn from, too, and I think we’re going to both motivate each other.”

The Patriots host the 7-3 Lions on Sunday.

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<![CDATA[Buffalo Bills Hitch Rides Aboard Snowmobiles]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 20:53:34 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/KRAIG+URBIK1.JPG

Up to seven feet of snow wasn't going to stop the Buffalo Bills from flying out to Detroit for Monday’s game against the Jets — even if some players needed a novel way to get to the Bills’ stadium and a bus to the airport.

“Just texted with a Bills player who was picked up on a snowmobile to head to his game,” tweeted Albert Breer, national reporter for the NFL Network. “So in 10 years of covering the NFL, that’s a first.”

The game was supposed to have been played in Buffalo on Sunday, but was moved to Detroit because of the deadly storm.

The blizzard dropped 85 inches of snow on Buffalo, enough to bury Snookie, Jim Kelly and even Yao Ming.

On The MMQB, Peter King describes the planning that went into the "snowmobile rescues."

"I have covered the NFL for 30 years, and I must say I have never heard an NFL executive say he hoped a snowmobile would come up big for his team in advance of a game with big playoff implications," he wrote.



Photo Credit: EMILY URBIK
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<![CDATA[Ollie Impressed With Hamilton in Win]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 14:49:00 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/kevin-ollie-2014.jpg

The Huskies moved to 2-0 on the season with a 65-57 win over the College of Charleston in their first game at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.  Not surprisingly, senior point guard Ryan Boatright led the way with 19 points, but freshman Daniel Hamilton added 15 points in 31 minutes.

“He plays with a lot of poise and a lot of maturity," coach Kevin Ollie said of Hamilton. "He knows the game, he can play on all three levels. He can shoot from 3, which we’ve seen; he can get to the rim, he’s got great ball-fakes, great footwork. And he can pass the ball. He threw a couple of lobs to Amida (Brimah), one of them Jeff Anderson called a charge. The other was a great pass. He’s like another point guard out there for me.” “I think he gambled a couple of times and got us out of our principles where we had the help and we got lucky on a couple of missed shots by (Canyon) Barry. It’s a learning process for him, but he’s very coachable. That’s the one thing I love: I can instruct him on something, and he’ll go out there and do it.”

Hamilton added: “I was getting in a rhythm. I’ve been shooting pretty bad preseason. At shootaround, we’ve got to take that seriously, because those are going to be game shots. I try to take as many shots as I can in shootaround, and when they came my way, I just wanted to knock it down.”

More good news: NC State transfer Rodney Purvis, who finally looked comfortable on the court, added nine points in 31 minutes of work, including two big shots down the stretch.

“The shot doesn’t go in, or does go in, we’ve still gotta play good defense," Ollie said. "And he started playing some real good defense. That gets you energized. To see those two 3’s go in, I know it felt good for him. You could see the exuberance on his face, the energy that he had. Hopefully, we can keep finding him for 3’s, because we need to shoot better.”

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<![CDATA[Whitmer Heads Down the Home Stretch]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 14:30:02 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/chandler+whitmer+uconn+close.jpg

We don't know if senior quarterback Chandler Whitmer's UConn career can be described as a tough stretch but it's certainly been a learning experience.

The starter in 2012, when the Huskies went 5-7 under Paul Pasqualoni, Whitmer was benched early last season for Tim Boyle and later Casey Cochran. He began the 2014 season on the bench but Cochran retired from football after a Week 1 concussion and Whitmer again found himself under center. Back in the spring, it wasn't clear he'd even be part of first-year coach Bob Diaco's program.

But he persevered and he's down the home stretch. But at 2-7, the Huskies have already been eliminated from bowl contention, which means Whitmer will leave Storrs having never sniffed the postseason.

"It's tough and I don't want to be clichéd, but that's life," he said, via the Hartford Courant. "That's something that I've really learned, that life isn't always going to go as planned. It's more about how you handle the situation, and adversity. I've looked at it as a blessing, really, for me. People that have success their entire life — because that's all I had before I got here — people have success their entire life and get into a situation and don't know how to handle adversity. I guarantee it's going to happen at some point. For me, I've really tried to take that route and not pout and ask, 'Why me?' Just look at it as a blessing."

While Whitmer won't be on a winning team at UConn, he is the foundation for change that Diaco's trying to implement. And if the Huskies can finish strong over the final three weeks, that's a great start.



Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut]]>
<![CDATA[UConn to Co-Host 2016, 2017 Regionals]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 14:00:23 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/geno-auriemma-pat-summitt.jpg

UConn has been selected to co-host the regionals for the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament for 2016 and 2017 in Bridgeport's Webster Bank Arena, the school announced Thursday. Fairfield University will serve as the other host.

“We would like to thank the NCAA for honoring Webster Bank Arena with the women’s basketball regional,” said Arena President Howard Saffan in a statement. “It is a great reflection on the continued growth of the city of Bridgeport as well as the improvements throughout our venue. We could not have received this honor without our loyal partners at Fairfield University and the University of Connecticut.”

UConn Senior Associate Director of Athletics/SWA Deb Corum added: “The news today that UConn has been selected to co-host the Regionals of the 2016 and 2017 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport was exciting! This provides another opportunity for the fans in Fairfield County, and across the state, to see high level competition right here at home.

"The staff at Webster Bank Arena does an excellent job and teams that have played in that facility always enjoy a superlative experience. There has been wonderful collaboration in working with the staff at Fairfield University to submit this bid and I look forward to continuing to build that relationship as we work to make this the best regional site ever. But, my most heartfelt thanks go to the fans who have made the State of Connecticut the Basketball Capital of the World. THANK YOU!!! Without you, we would not have won this bid to host.”

And Fairfield Director of Athletics Gene Doris said, “We’re obviously delighted with the announcement. We’ve been hosting NCAA events pretty much since the building opened. We’re pleased to be partnering with the University of Connecticut and Webster Bank Arena in hosting this event.”

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch was just as excited.

“This is great news,” he said. “In our improving downtown, we’re extremely proud to serve as home to Webster Bank Arena, which is a world-class sports and entertainment facility. It’s playing a key role in our city nearing a renaissance. And, I’m crossing my fingers that my alma mater, UCONN, gets to play – and win – in our backyard.”

Webster Bank Arena previously hosted two regionals, in 2006 and 2013. The 2016 tournament is scheduled for March 25-28 and the 2017 even it scheduled for March 24-27.

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<![CDATA[Jose Canseco Pranks Everyone with Finger Hoax]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 13:56:59 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP565783519558.jpg

Looks like Jose Canseco gave everyone the finger. 

The former Major League Baseball player took to Twitter at the end of October to announce that he had shot off his middle digit and had it reattached during surgery. Last week, Canseco claimed that the mangled finger fell off during a poker tournament because it had been “very loose” and “smelling really bad.” He also said he would be selling the thumb and gun that shot it off on eBay a few days later.

“Maybe I will make it a package the chrome 45 caliber Remington with the finger both for sale a package deal," he tweeted on Nov. 17.

But despite continuing to post on social media about the plan, Canseco reportedly will not be selling his appendage to the highest bidder—it was all just a prank.

When TMZ reporters followed up about the details of the unique eBay sale, Canseco finally admitted it was all a hoax, the site reported. He said he thought of the whole plan when he saw a fake finger in a Halloween store. 

What remains true, NBC Sports reports, is that the prankster did shoot off his finger but had it successfully reconnected with surgery.



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Much Has Changed Since Giants Last Faced Cowboys]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 14:54:38 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/458696810.jpg

A lot has changed since the Giants and Cowboys squared off in Week Seven, when Dallas won 31-21. We went to the polls and exercised our right to vote (or not), we watched as Philip Rivers went from an MVP candidate back to being a candidate for quarterback of the San Diego Chargers, and we saw far too many people dressed as Ray Rice for Halloween.

What else has changed between then and now? Let’s take a look:

Then: The Giants had a one-game losing streak.
Now: The Giants have a five-game losing streak.

Then: Cowboys backup running back Joseph Randle had just been arrested for shoplifting boxer briefs and cologne.
Now: Randle ostensibly smells nice and has proper support.

Then: The Cowboys were 5-1 after winning five games in a row and everyone in Dallas was making plans to attend the Super Bowl in February.
Now: The Cowboys are 7-3 after losing to Washington and Arizona, beating Jacksonville in London, and somehow making it through their bye week without anyone getting arrested.

Then: Half of the fans at AT&T were blinded in the second half because Cowboys owner Jerry Jones decided to leave the blinds up at his billion dollar storage shed as the sun set in the west.
Now: Those fans are probably still blind.

Then: DeMarco Murray was on pace to break the single-season record for most rushing yards and attempts.
Now: Murray is slacking and is only on pace for 1,973 yards rushing and 390 attempts, shy of the records set by Eric Dickerson (2,105) and the worn-out carcass of Larry Johnson (416).

Then: Murray became the first running back to surpass 100 yards rushing in the first seven games of a season, rolling over the Giants with 128 yards and one touchdown on 28 carries.
Now: Murray will probably roll over the Giants again, using this game alone to pass both Dickerson and Johnson for those all-time records.

Then: The Giants looked like a playoff team and no one was talking about firing Tom Coughlin.
Now: Nothing to see here, move along.

Then: The nation was in the midst of an Ebola panic, and in advance of the trip to Dallas
Giants doctors prepped the team about how to protect themselves against the virus.
Now: The nation has moved on and is panicking about immigration.

Then: Victor Cruz had just been lost for the season with a knee injury.
Now: Not a single one of his teammates has honored him by dancing the salsa after scoring a touchdown.

Then: Emerging star Larry Donnell was working with fans to come up with a proper nickname.
Now: Fans just hope he can catch a single meaningful pass again.

Then: Odell Beckham Jr. scored two touchdowns against the Cowboys.
Now: He’ll have to have similar success if the Giants are to have any shot in this game.

Then: The Giants’ defense couldn’t stop the Cowboys’ offense in the second half.
Now: The Giants' defense probably won't be able to stop the Cowboys' offense at all.

Then: Eli Manning was making fans forget about his propensity for throwing killer interceptions.
Now: The old Eli is back, baby!



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Report: Patriots Bring Back RB Blount]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 16:03:37 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP859843360681_0.jpg

LeGarrette Blount is back in New England on a two-year deal, according to several reports. The Patriots let him leave in free agency, and the bruising back signed a two-year deal with the Steelers, where he was to be the backup to Le'Veon Bell, one of the league's most dynamic players.

But after just 11 games, Blount was released. Specifically: He left the field on Monday night before the Steelers-Titans game was over because he was reportedly unhappy at not getting a single carry. Blount had showered and made his way to the team bus before some players had even spoken to the media. Safety Mike Mitchell went to the bus -- in full uniform -- to coax Blount back to the locker room but Blount didn't budge.

By Tuesday morning, Blount had been released and several players were glad to see him go. Center Maurkice Pouncey even called the move "a blessing in disguise."

Blount leaves Pittsburgh having played in all 11 games, but rushing for just 266 yards on 65 carries and two touchdowns.

In his one season with the Patriots, Blount rushed for 772 yards, including a 189-yard performance against the Bills in Week 17. He'll join a backfield that includes Jonas Gray (fresh off a 201-yard effort against the Colts), Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and James White.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Calhoun Gives Purvis Advice Ahead of Puerto Rico]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 12:46:48 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/rodney+purvis_uconn.jpg

The Huskies are in Puerto Rico for the aptly named Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament, where they will face the College of Charleston on Thursday at 12:30 p.m.

One of the matchups to watch will be sophomore center Amida Brimah versus 6-9 Adjehi Baru, who averages 13 points and 10 rebounds in two games this season for the Cougars.

“They have Baru down there that’s a senior,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said, via the Connecticut News. “That’s a load down there, a big-time rebounder, so we’re going to have to stick with him and have a game plan.”

Teammate Anthony Stitt added: “Baru is a tough player. He’s an animal. He’s got that length that they have down there so hopefully, he’ll be ready to compete with them tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, the redshirt sophomore Rodney Purvis said that Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun had a few words for him at practice last week. Purvis has been pressing, and it showed up during the exhibition games and the season opener.

"[Calhoun] "just be ready to make a play, just be ready to catch and shoot, things like that," Purivs said.

Ollie said, “That’s the luxury of having Coach there, because he knows so much about the game, and how to get to players. I’m just glad that he’s there if they need him. It’s just another that’s got my players’ backs, and I welcome it every day.”



Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut/UConn]]>
<![CDATA[Diaco Staying With QB Whitmer]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 12:30:59 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/uconn+ucf+whitmer.jpg

We mentioned on Wednesday that even though sophomore Tim Boyle is averaging about a series a game, he never had any plans to leave the program. And to hear first-year coach Bob Diaco tell it, Boyle is the frontrunner to be the Huskies' starting quarterback in 2015. For now, however, that job remains Chandler Whitmer's.

But despite the competition, Whitmer and Boyle are close.

"We've been close since he got here," Whitmer said, via the Hartford Courant. "I think he just respects what I have to say and I respect him as a player. He's like a sponge, he just tries to soak everything.

"That's all you can ask for from a younger guy on your team. I've enjoyed working with him and I'm excited that hopefully he can get some more time in the next couple of games and get ready for next year."

Boyle is expected to see the field for the final three games, but Whitmer is atop the depth chart because he gives the Huskies the best chance to win, according to Diaco.

"There's no doubt that not only will he continue in his role for the final three weeks, but he'll continue to improve," Diaco said of Whitmer. "So that when he ends, he has no regrets, or maybe has righted some wrongs and move forward."

And while Whitmer won't be around when Diaco's rebuilding process is complete, he knows he's helping lay the foundation for that turnaround.

"It's tough, but also you've just got to take the mindset and approach and the responsibility that you're part of the rebuilding," he said. "You can always look back and say we were the class that helped turn this thing around.

"We went through the worst and we're in the middle of really getting the program where it needs to be. That's kind of the responsibility a lot of seniors have taken."



Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[Mosqueda-Lewis Had Tough Night vs. Stanford]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 12:24:35 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/geno-auriemma-pat-summitt.jpg

In a night in which the top-ranked Huskies were shocked by No. 6 Stanford, perhaps the most unexpected moment came at the final whistle, when senior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis took the inbounds pass with 2.6 seconds on the clock and UConn trailing 88-86, made her way to midcourt ... and somehow failed to get off a shot as time expired, even though she was uncovered.

 That capped a tough evening for Mosqueda-Lewis, who finished with 12 points on 3 of 11 shooting, and with her first three-point field goal coming midway through the second half.

 "When somebody does a really good job on somebody defensively it’s really two-pronged,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after the game, via the Connecticut News. “Defensively, they were really good and they kept switching people off of her. And then offensively I don’t think Kaleena really got the movement that we needed to get her open.’’

Stanford's Karlie Samuelson was responsible for slowing Mosqueda-Lewis and her effort wasn't lost on teammates.

 “Karlie did a great job,’’ Stanford's Bonnie Samuelson said. “She worked really hard all game. We did a really good job preparing for Kaleena. We know she’s a phenomenal shooter. This week our team was working really hard on the scouting report. And props to Karlie, she worked her butt off and did a really good job on her.’’

Meanwhile, Auriemma remains at a loss for why Mosqueda-Lewis never attempted at shot at the buzzer.

"We had something set up if we’re down two or if we’re down three,’’ he said. “And I can’t explain it.’’

On the bright side, sophomore Saniya Chong finished with 20 points and was one of the few players Auriemma praised after the game.

"I think I needed to step up,’’ Chong said. “Everything in general -- passing, defense, my offense -- to help the team and contribute as much as I can.’’

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<![CDATA[Reminder: Eli Manning Is a Future Hall of Famer]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:00:32 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/457509652.jpg

There are a lot of things I don’t know. Who is less likeable, Jameis Winston or Nick Saban? Why are Notre Dame fans who didn’t attend the school more obnoxious than fans who did?

I don’t know, these are all questions I am incapable of answering.

But there are other things I know for certain: I will never look at “The Cosby Show” the same way again; Thanksgiving is the greatest American holiday; and Eli Manning is a future Hall of Famer. It’s sometimes easy to forget that, especially after Manning lays an egg like he did with last Sunday’s five interception outing against the 49ers.

Manning, in short, was terrible. It’s not often a team can overcome four interceptions and be in a position to win the game, much less against a great defense like that of San Francisco. But the Giants had a shot after Manning connected with Odell Beckham Jr. on a beautiful sideline completion that put the Giants at the 4-yard line late in the fourth quarter, trailing 16-10.

Beckham’s circus catch seemed to give New York all the momentum they needed to overcome San Francisco and steal a game they had no business winning. But then Manning, who has won two Super Bowl MVPs on teams that were big underdogs, missed on three straight fade routes and then capped the game with his fifth completion to the other team.

Brutal. Backbreaking. Just the opposite of the signature plays he made in winning two Super Bowls.
Two -- that’s as many as John Elway, Dan Marino and Shane Falco combined. Am I saying he’s on the same level as Elway, Marino or Falco? No, no, maybe. But the fact remains that no one who has won two Super Bowl MVPs is not in the Hall of Fame.

Jim Plunkett? Two Super Bowl wins, one Super Bowl MVP, and not in the Hall of Fame (or currently en route).

Bob Griese? Two Super Bowl wins, no Super Bowl MVPs, career passer rating of 77.1, and a face model for a bust in Canton, Ohio.

Eli Manning >> Bob Griese.

This is a golden era for NFL quarterbacks. Thanks to relaxed rules that have opened up offenses, any quarterback with a working arm can now throw for more than 5,000 yards. This has skewed stats, but the fact remains that these quarterbacks are going to Canton when their careers are over: Rodgers, Brady, Peyton, Brees, Roethlisberger and Eli Manning.

Eli is never mentioned among the league’s elite QBs, which makes sense because he’s not elite. Are Big Ben and Eli the statistical equivalents of the other four mentioned? Of course not. But if their careers ended tomorrow, all six of them would be bound for Canton. Rodgers, Brady, Peyton and Brees because they’re elite passers who won titles; Eli and Big Ben because they’re winners.

That’s the standard for the NFL Hall of Fame. Need proof? Look at how many Steelers are enshrined, some of whom are there because they performed best on the biggest stage, but who otherwise had pedestrian career numbers. Cough * Lynn Swann.

So, yeah, Eli Manning, three-time NFL leader in interceptions and possessor of an 81.5 career passer rating, is a future Hall of Famer.

Does he deserve to be? Who said anything about “deserve”? He’ll make the Hall of Fame because he’s a Manning who won two Super Bowl MVPs in the nation’s largest media market.

No matter how you define “fame,” he has a "hall" of a lot of it.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Memo to Jets: Beware of QB Busts]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:00:00 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/454405308.jpg

David Klingler. Heath Shuler. Akili Smith. Joey Harrington. JaMarcus Russell.

No, these aren’t the answers to a Jeopardy category called “Crappy Quarterbacks.” They’re just a few of the many underwhelming signal-callers that have were chosen at or near the top of the first round of past NFL Drafts.

When it comes to the Jets and next spring’s draft, two things appear certain: 1) Gang Green will have a very high first-round pick, likely in the top five and a lock for the top 10; and 2) Nearly everyone on the planet (OK, that may be just a bit of an exaggeration) will be calling for whoever is running the team five months from now to select a quarterback with that pick.

Such a move will surely be tempting for a franchise that’s sorely in need of a dynamic talent to lead it and hasn’t had an elite player at the most important position in pro sports in more than 40 years. But given the fact that QBs drafted in the top 10 have had a spotty record of success over the past few decades, and that teams drafting that high usually have far more than one big hole to fill, it may not be the way to go.

Over the 20 drafts from 1991-2010, 27 QBs were top 10 draft picks. Many were successful. 13 made at least one Pro Bowl (big disclaimer here: Kerry Collins, Trent Dilfer and Vince Young were among those who received that “honor”), including a guy named Peyton Manning. However, 13 also failed to become solid NFL starters, including a guy named Ryan Leaf.

Several of the mock drafts I’ve seen have Florida State QB Jameis Winston joining Gang Green as a top five pick. Call me crazy -- I do write three columns a week about the Jets, after all -- but I think that they may win enough games to fall to a draft slot where they’ll have little chance to get Winston.

But say they do have that chance. Should they take it? Winston’s ability is undeniable. He’s got the size, arm and athleticism to be a star. And while his character comes with a giant question mark, no one seems to doubt that the kid is a winner. Hard to call him anything but that when, remarkably, he hasn’t lost a single game in nearly two years at FSU.

Winston may well be a Hall of Famer one day. He may also be a bust. There have been far more of the latter than the former among QBs drafted with high first-round picks.

With Geno Smith all but a forgotten man just two years into his NFL career and Michael Vick well into his 30s, the Jets surely need to find a QB of the future. But, at 2-8, they need to find a lot of things. Plus, there’s always the second round. Just ask Drew Brees. Or Colin Kaepernick. Or Brett Favre. (Just don’t ask Browning Nagle, Kellen Clemens, or, yes, Geno Smith.) 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>