Mitch's Sports Report: Pats Win AFC East For 8th Straight Year And Get Revenge On Broncos In Process
The New England Patriots took care of their own pre-Xmas wish list in impressive fashion yesterday. They went to Denver, where even Tom Brady has a losing record, and left with a 16-3 victory.
They clinched their eighth consecutive AFC east division title, dealt a blow to the playoff chances of a team they wouldn't mind not having to face in the post-season, avenged last year's AFC title game defeat, and improved their own chances for securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Patriots stockings are pretty well stuffed.
Things that went right for Brady and company included much better protection than the last time they faced the Broncos, when Brady was hit more than 20 times in the loss. He suffered just seven knock-backs this time. The New England defense was air-tight in Denver's thin altitude air, allowing just the three points with a Logan Ryan first quarter interception of Trevor Siemian being a key highlight. On offense, it was all about the ground game. No throwing touchdowns for Brady on the day, but Dion Lewis had 95 yards rushing and LaGarette Blount pounded in a one-yard run for his 15th rushing touchdown of the year, tying a single-season Patriots franchise record. New England now sits at 12-2 with a first-round bye in the playoffs already assured.
The Broncos, meanwhile, have lost 3 of their last 4 and fall to 8-6 on the year and right now are behind the Miami Dolphins for the sixth and final wild card playoff berth in the conference with two games left to play.
Over in the NFC Santa seems to have Eli Manning and the NY Giants on his nice list as well. The Giants are firing on all cylinders right now, especially on defense. They held the high flying Dallas Cowboys to just seven points last week and yesterday allowed just six on the board to the division leading Detroit Lions in a 17-6 victory in New Jersey. Eli Manning was 20 of 28 for 201 yards that included a 6-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard and Odell Beckham Jr. did that thing where he makes a one-handed touchdown catch that gets thousands of Youtube hits afterwards. It was a 4-yard grab late in the game to seal the win and Beckham has made so many of those catches by now that he has defenders sounding like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, yelling about the one-armed man. The Giants are 10-4 and looking very much like the team no one wants to meet in the playoffs, all due respect to the Cowboys, who are still the conference favorites after another win yesterday to move to 12-2 on the season.
In mens' college hockey, a lost weekend for UVM, losing back to back games against Union in a terrible 7-3 defeat Saturday and a much closer but still devastating 2-1 loss yesterday. The Catamounts held a 1-0 lead on a power play goal by Brian Bowen, but couldn't hold that lead when J.C. Brassard blasted a shot past Mike Santaguida early in the third period, and then an ill-timed cross checking penalty with just under 3 minutes left gave the Dutchmen a power play and Jeff Taylor scored to give Union the weekend sweep.
In the NHL the Boston Bruins knew they'd be heading into their contest against the L.A. Kings without their top goal scorer in David Pastrnak, who leads the team with 19 tallies and is second in goals in the league behind only Sidney Crosby. Wiithout Pastrnak they struggled again to find the back of the net, but a solid defensive game and Tuukka Rask in between their own pipes produced a workman-like 1-0 home ice victory. The only goal of the game came off a nifty redirect from Jimmy Hayes, just his second goal of the season, set up by a very pretty move at the blue line by defenseman Collin Miller, who faked a slap shot, stepped around the man in front of him and wristed the shot that Hayes got just enough of his stick on to make it change direction and get behind L.A. goalie Peter Budaj. The Bruins actually out-shot the Kings 30-18 in the game, so they were generating plenty of chances, but the finish, by players other than Pastrnak, has been what's lacking for Boston this season. Pastrnak is out for at least one more game as he recovers from having elbow surgery on Friday, and may be out even longer than that so the Bruins must find other players to put the biscuit in the basket in his absence.
Elsewhere the NY Rangers beat the NJ Devils 3-2 in an overtime shoot-out on a goal by Kevin Hayes, brother of Boston's Jimmy, by the way. The Blueshirts have now won 6 of their last 7 and Henrik Lunqvist got the win, career number 389, which, according to Elias Sports Bureau, ties him with Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek for the most victories by a European-born goaltender, and he'll break that mark soon.
In the NBA, the Boston Celtics took advantage of multiple Miami turnovers, the Heat committing 24 of those, and won in Miami 105-95. Isaiah Thomas is back from injury and had 23 points before being ejected late in the game for causing injury, when he elbowed Miami's Justise Winston in the face. Al Horford added 17 for the Celtics in the win.