Mitch's Sports Report: Patriots Perfect Record On The Road Leads To Home For Playoffs
Before yesterday, there were only eight teams in NFL history that completed a perfect season on the road, but the New England Patriots made it nine with their 35-14 win over the Dolphins in Miami.
The irony, perhaps, is that the larger importance of going 8-0 on the road this season is that in doing so, the Patriots have locked up home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, and despite the team's only two losses this season coming at Foxboro, that is definitely where the Pats want to be come playoff time.
Tom Brady threw for three touchdown passes, jumping out to a 20-0 lead with TD passes to Martellus Bennett and the newest Patriot Michael Floyd, the talented but troubled off the field wide receiver who's been charged more than once with alcohol related driving violations. If Floyd can address and correct those issues his on the field contributions could be a huge boost for the Patriots in the playoffs. His TD reception yesterday came on a tremendous effort at the goal line as he was mobbed by multiple Dolphin defenders but kept driving forward and moved the pile far enough to get the ball just across the goal line. And in the second half after Miami had closed the gap to 20-14, Floyd made a key downfield block that sprang Julian Edelman for a 77-yard catch and run touchdown, his longest of the year. Also key with the game still within reach and Miami driving in the red zone was a hit by Devin McCourty on Miami's Damien Williams, that dislodged the ball. The fumble was recovered by Shea McClellin, who ran it back 69 yards into Miami territory to set up another Patriots touchdown on a run by LaGarrette Blount, and that was all she wrote for Miami, who are still playoff bound but will have to face the Steelers in Pittsburgh rather than what would have been an easier match up against the Texans in Houston. If Miami is able to beat Pittsburgh, they'd get a rematch with the Patriots, but back at Foxboro in two weeks time as the Pats rest up with a first round bye.
The AFC North is finally decided with Aaron Rodgers' prediction of running the table proving to be more than just talk. In beating the Detroit lions 31-24 yesterday the Packers win the division and make the playoffs by rattling off six straight victories to end the season, something quarterback Rodgers said the Pack would do back when they were 4-6 and looking like they'd be a playoff no-show. The Lions, meanwhile, went the other direction, losing their last three games of the season but still sneaking into the playoffs, only because Washington lost to the NY Giants yesterday when Kirk Cousins threw a late interception to seal Washington's fate. The Lions had a two-game lead at one point over Green Bay for the AFC North, but will now have to open the playoffs in Seattle against the Seahawks. And with the AFC North under their belts the Packers will host the NY Giants in the wild card round next Sunday. The Oakland Raiders round out the other wild card game Saturday in Houston against the Texans.
Great contest in the NHL's annual New Year's Day outdoor game, dubbed the Centennial Classic this year to honor the league's 100th anniversary. Two original six clubs went at it in Toronto with the Maple Leafs hosting the Detroit Red Wings before 40,000 fans braving the chill. The Leafs blew a late three goal lead with Detroit forcing overtime on a goal with just 1 second left on the clock by Anthony Manta, his second goal of the game. But Toronto won it in overtime on a backhand goal by rookie sensation Auston Matthews, his second goal of the game.
Locally, the UVM mens' hockey team defeated Bentley 3-1 Saturday. The team learned after the game that they'll be losing defenseman Max Daigle of Quebec, who informed coach Kevin Sneddon that he will not return to the campus for the second semester, in part to pursue different academic opportunities, according to the Burlington Free Press. Daigle had four assists in 11 games with the Catamounts this season, and his departure leaves the team with eight defenseman on the roster.