<![CDATA[NBC Boston - Sports]]>Copyright 2017http://www.nbcboston.com/news/sports http://media.nbcboston.com/designimages/clear.gif NBC Boston http://www.nbcboston.comen-usSun, 22 Oct 2017 20:53:25 -0400Sun, 22 Oct 2017 20:53:25 -0400NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Justin Timberlake to Perform During Super Bowl Halftime Show]]> Sun, 22 Oct 2017 20:20:33 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/213*120/AP_17038258563711.jpg

It's official: Justin Timberlake will headline the Super Bowl halftime show.

The singer announced in a video with Jimmy Fallon Sunday that he will take the stage Feb. 4 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The announcement comes on the day the New England Patriots faces the Atlanta Falcons, a rematch of Super Bowl LI, on Sunday Night Football.

Lady Gaga was the last performer of the halftime spectacle when the Patriots won over the Falcons 34-28.

NBC will broadcast the 52nd Super Bowl.

Photo Credit: Rich Fury/Invision/AP
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<![CDATA[Do The Patriots Have What It Takes For a Super Bowl Return?]]> Fri, 20 Oct 2017 10:04:00 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-633956234.jpg

Even at 4-2, in sole possession of first place in the AFC East, there's plenty of cause for concern with this incarnation of the New England Patriots.

In some ways the Patriots are victims of their own standard of excellence, including the narrative that 19-0 was in play for the team in the preseason.

Not every New England team that has gone on to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl has gotten off to scorching starts, most notably the 2014 team that started 2-2 before winning Super Bowl XLIX.

In other cases, fast starts haven’t led to the Patriots being the last team standing – or even being in the Super Bowl at all. Think 2015, when New England started 10-0 but lost four of its final six games. The slide caused the Patriots to lose home field advantage for the postseason and the team ultimately bowed out in the AFC Championship Game in Denver.

With the Atlanta Falcons in town this weekend, reminders of Super Bowl LI are seemingly everywhere. While the Falcons (3-2) have their own set of issues – they didn’t help erase 28-3 talk by blowing a 17-0 lead at home last weekend – the game could still serve as a great litmus test for the Patriots in seeing if they have what it takes to get back to the Super Bowl for the eighth time in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.

Subpar New England defenses have at least gotten to the Super Bowl before. The 2011 team was No. 31 overall in total yardage by allowing 411.1 yards per game, a mere half yard better than the Green Bay Packers to avoid the basement. The unit was also No. 31 against the pass (293.3 yards per game), but more middle of the road against the run (17th, 117.1 yards per game) and scoring (15th, 21.4 points per game).

Those Patriots lost Super Bowl XLVI to the New York Giants, 21-17, but there’s little point in comparing the 2011 unit to this years. Only two players remain on the defensive side of the ball: Devin McCourty, who has since switched from cornerback to safety, and Patrick Chung, who had a year in exile in Philadelphia before returning to New England in 2014.

Still, the cold hard stats for the 2017 team are alarming, especially in comparison to the '11 outfit.

Through six games, the Patriots are dead last in both total yards per game defensively (440.7) and passing yards (324.8). The run defense is 20th, allowing 115.8 yards per game, but the majority of the cause for concern stems from New England’s scoring defense.

Aside from that 2011 Super Bowl runner-up, the Patriots have ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense each year since 2006. Last year’s Super Bowl champion team allowed the fewest points in the league.

New England currently has the third-worst scoring defense in 2017, giving up 26.5 points per game. Since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, only twice has a team finished with a scoring defense ranked 20th or worse and still gone on to win the Super Bowl: the 2006 Indianapolis Colts and the 2009 New Orleans Saints.

Another facet where the team has struggled is on third downs. New England was great at getting teams off the field a season ago, allowing opponents to convert on 36.9 percent of their third downs – good enough for the seventh-best mark in the league.

This year, not so much. The Patriots are allowing opponents to convert on 43.4 percent of their third downs, good enough for a slip down to 26th in the league.

"[It’s] not frustrating because our guys are working," Chung said of the third-down defense. "Sometimes you get beat; they [the offense] get paid, too. I’m not frustrated. We know we have to buckle down, do our thing. We’re a good team."

The defense is far from identical from a personnel standpoint from last year, but it’s not like the unit underwent a total overhaul, either. Is it safe to assume New England’s best football is ahead of it?

"We don’t know that the best football lies ahead," Chung said. "It’s all really up to us. 4-2, it is what it is, but all that means nothing. We’re going to have to keep playing."

The '06 Colts and '09 Saints were able to overcome their shortcomings defensively thanks to top-flight quarterbacks in Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, respectively. Of course, these Patriots happen to have an elite offense featuring an elite quarterback of their own in one Tom Brady.

Brady is leading the league passing yards despite not having Julian Edelman, virtually no production from tight end beyond Rob Gronkowski, a running game yet to truly establish itself and an offensive line that’s taken a step back from last year. The advanced metrics are kind to Brady as well, who has been the top-ranked passer in the league through six weeks per Pro Football Focus with a grade of 92.0.

Brady's presence can and will mask any deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball through the remainder of the regular season and perhaps even beyond. In order for this time to truly fulfill its Super aspirations, the defense is going to have to keep up its part of the bargain.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Dodgers Advance to World Series for 1st Time Since 1988]]> Fri, 20 Oct 2017 04:38:27 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-863241870.jpg

The iconic words of Vin Scully were first spoken 29 years ago, the last time the Los Angeles Dodgers were in the World Series: "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened."

After nearly three decades, the wait is finally over — the Dodgers are going back to the World Series.

Enrique Hernandez hit three home runs, including a grand slam, as the Dodgers punched their ticket to the Fall Classic, defeating the Chicago Cubs, 11-1, in Game 5 of the NLCS on Thursday night at Wrigley Field.

In 1988, the last time the Dodgers went to the World Series, Clayton Kershaw was just seven months old. Twenty-nine years later, he was on the mound when they won the pennant.

"We've heard 1988 for so long in L.A., it feels good to say that we're getting to go to the World Series in 2017," Kershaw said after the victory. "With four more wins, hopefully we get to bring one home."

Kershaw (2-0), threw six innings, allowing just one run on three hits with one walk and five strikeouts in the third potential-clinching start in his postseason career.

In those games, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner is a perfect 3-0 when he takes the mound with a chance to advance his team to the next round.

"To get to be on the mound tonight and get to be going to the World Series on the same night, it's a special thing," Kershaw said. "Who knows how many times I'm going to get to go to the World Series. I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. So, I'm definitely not taking this one for granted."

Since 2013, Kershaw had only gotten one run of support in four total starts in the NLCS over the course of his career. In his only two starts in 2017, he got 16 runs of support.

"That's a testament to this team and what we stand for," Kershaw said of the support from the offense. "As a starting pitcher, when you get seven runs, your job is to get them back in the dugout as fast as possible."

In order to end the drought, the Dodgers needed to go through the Cubs, the reigning World Series Champions, a team that slayed their own demons only one year prior. Los Angeles wasted little time dispatching the champs.

After a nine-pitch lead-off walk to Chris Taylor to start the game, Cody Bellinger roped a double down the right field line, giving the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.

"What [Taylor] has done for our lineup all year long, settling into the lead-off spot, getting on base, hitting balls over the fence. He's a dynamic player and table-setter," said teammate Justin Turner, who was named Co-MVP of the NLCS along with Taylor. "When he goes, we usually go as a team. I think you guys saw that here in the postseason."

One inning later, Hernandez started off the second inning swinging, as he jumped all over a first-pitch fastball from Cubs' starter Jose Quintana, hitting it to straightaway center for a solo home run.

Hernandez wasn't finished. After an RBI single from Turner gave the Dodgers a 3-0 lead, Quintana loaded the bases before leaving the game for Hector Rondon.

Once again, the Puerto Rican was swinging on the first pitch, and this time, Hernandez sent a slider into the basket in right-center for a grand slam home run.

"I blacked out," Hernandez said of the fourth grand slam ever hit in Dodgers' postseason history. "I can't even describe it you know. I was thinking the entire game, 'Man, this is unbelievable.'"

Hernandez not only sent the Dodgers to the World Series with his bat, he also became the first Dodger since Adrian Gonzalez in 2013 to hit multiple homers in a postseason game.

"I don't remember much of the game," Hernandez admitted. "The whole game is a blur. I remember the first two, but I definitely don't remember the last one. It's awesome!"

As Wrigley Field fell silent as the shrouded dead, one voice could be heard — that of Hernandez's father, Enrique Hernandez Sr., one year removed from a life-threatening battle with cancer, fresh off an evacuation from his homeland because of Hurricane Maria. Despite it all, he stood and cheered.

He just watched his son have the game of his life, in the biggest moment of his career.

"Honestly, I couldn't wait for this game to end so I could give my dad a big old hug," Hernandez said as he fought back tears. "Everything that he's been through the last year or so, and everything he went through for me to be here on this stage right now means the world to me."

Quintana (0-1) lasted only two innings, surrendering six runs on six hits with one walk and one strikeout in his fourth start of the postseason with the Cubs.

"Quintana was a great addition," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon after the game. "[The Dodgers] know what it feels like coming off last year, we were celebrating versus them in this exact same spot."

John Lackey entered the game in the fourth inning for the Cubs and served up a two-run double to Logan Forsythe that gave Los Angeles a 9-0 lead.

The two innings of relief may have been the last ever seen of Lackey as the 38-year-old's contract is up at the end of the season. He could be leaning toward retirement at the end of the year.

"John and I go way back," Maddon said. "John and I were together with the Angels in the 2002 World Series team. So it's really special for me with John. Hopefully it's not his last year, but if it is, having that chance to be with him in that moment is pretty special for me."

Kris Bryant hit his first home run of the postseason in the bottom of the fourth, a laser beam off Kershaw over the scoreboard in left field, for the Cubs' only run of the game.

The Cubs became the first team in Major League history to score all of their runs as home runs in a series that went at least five games.

"Every year is different," Maddon said on why his offense wasn't able to replicate the same success as last year. "We have all these incredible numbers from last year, but every year is different."

Just for good measure, Hernandez hit his third home run of the game off Mike Montgomery in the top of ninth, to put the exclamation point on his historical night. 

"I may have had a great game, but this is not about me, this is about this team," Hernandez said, as his teammates celebrated around him in the winning locker room. "Tonight it was me, but every night its someone different coming up big for us. Luckily enough, tonight it was me."

Hernandez is just the ninth player in MLB history to have three homers in a postseason game, joining like the likes of Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and Albert Pujols.

Hernandez finished the game three-for-four with three home runs and a league championship record seven RBIs. 

To put that in perspective, the Cubs scored eight runs in the entire series.

"I blacked out and four hours later I had three homers and seven RBI," Hernandez said. "There's a very big God up there that blessed me tonight, and grandpa, I appreciate it because I know you had something to do with it." 

Earlier in the season, Hernandez lost his grandfather and left the team to fly to Puerto Rico to be with his family. 

"Kiké told me before the game, 'Hey, I've got your back tonight,'" Kershaw said. "He said that before I even went out and took the mound. Then he goes and hits three home runs."

Kenta Maeda, Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jansen pitched the final three innings of the game as the Dodgers bullpen set an NLCS record with 17 scoreless innings of relief. 

"We wanted the defending champs," Jansen said after the game. "We know how much it sucks to lose here and see the fans enjoy it in front of us. We wanted to make a statement. We wanted to come here and we wanted to win in front of them. It's not over yet. Hopefully, we can bring the championship back home."

The Dodgers' pen has a scoreless innings streak of 23, a new MLB postseason record, surpassing the 1977 New York Yankees.

However, the rest of the game was a mere formality as both teams went through the motions before the Dodgers popped champagne — aged 29 years — in the visiting clubhouse.

The victory earned the Dodgers their 22nd National League pennant, the second most in league history behind only their rivals, the Giants, who have 23.

Nearly one year ago, the Cubs clinched their first World Series berth since 1945 against these same Dodgers. That night, as the mob of adoring fans celebrated in Wrigleyville, the Dodgers team buses were unable to leave, so the players had to wait over two hours in the visiting locker room.

During that time, the Dodgers sat and stewed, thinking about this exact moment that could occur one year later, and how great it would be to beat the Cubs on their own field to advance to the World Series.

Revenge is, indeed, sweet.

Up Next:
The Dodgers advance to the World Series, awaiting either the Houston Astros or New York Yankees for Game 1 at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Kraft, Nike Team Up for Special Super Bowl LI Sneakers]]> Thu, 19 Oct 2017 16:33:48 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/210*120/Screen+Shot+2017-10-19+at+6.57.55+AM.jpg

Patriots fans will probably get a kick out of the latest collaboration between the team's owner and Nike ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl LI rematch against the Atlanta Falcons.

Robert Kraft's latest project with Nike is a pair of shoes made from the game balls in the Patriots' latest Super Bowl victory.

The tongue of the shoe is made from the game ball laces, and features logos and markings from the original balls.

Proceeds for the shoes, which was made at Nike's Beaverton, Oregon, headquarters, will be used to benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston.

Fans can get an in-person peek on Saturday, Oct. 21, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 22, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at The Hall at Patriot Place and from 3 p.m. until close on Sunday at the Patriots ProShop ahead of the game at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots made a remarkable comeback against the Falcons earlier this year, beating them 34-28 in overtime.

Photo Credit: New England Patriots/Nike]]>
<![CDATA[Patriots Owner Robert Kraft Teams Up With Nike for Charity]]> Thu, 19 Oct 2017 15:36:32 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/213*120/LISNEAKERS.png

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has teamed up with Nike to celebrate the Pats Super Bowl LI victory over the Atlanta Falcons. The Nike RKK Air Force 1 Flyknit is the fourth collaboration between Kraft and the sneaker company.

<![CDATA[Patriots and Falcons Ready for Super Bowl Rematch]]> Thu, 19 Oct 2017 10:47:59 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/213*120/RyanBrady.jpg

One of the most anticipated games on the NFL's 2017 schedule is within sight.

By the time kickoff rolls around Sunday night, it will have been 259 days since the New England Patriots erased a 28-3 third-quarter deficit and crushed the hearts, spirits and minds of the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28 in overtime, to win Super Bowl LI. The rematch takes place on Sunday Night Football this week at Gillette Stadium.

It's the eighth time in NFL history that the two teams from the previous season's Super Bowl will meet in the very next season, including the third such occasion in the last four years.

Both the Patriots and Falcons have turned over plenty of their roster in the meantime. New England has 33 players on its current 53-man roster who played at least one snap in Super Bowl LI, while Atlanta has 30. Each team had 13 players (out of 22) starting in their respective games last week that also started back on Feb. 5 in Houston.

One notable way the Falcons are different is at offensive coordinator, where Steve Sarkisian has taken the place of Kyle Shanahan, who departed for the head coaching vacancy in San Francisco.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick called Sarkisian's offense "well-balanced" at his Wednesday morning press conference, saying it's an explosive group that can score from anywhere on the field in a number of different ways with a number of different players.

Matt Ryan remains under center, four of the five starters on the offensive line are back, and the ever-dangerous tandem of Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu – each banged up, to varying degrees – still pose threats on the outside for Atlanta.

Ryan, a Boston College product, won MVP honors in 2016, when he threw for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. He also completed a career-high 69.9 percent of his passes.

But his encore is off to a rocky start. Ryan is on pace to throw for a still-respectable 4,342 yards, but his touchdowns are down and his interceptions have skyrocketed. He's thrown for only six touchdowns in five games, and he's also already at six interceptions – all of which have come in the last three weeks. Ryan's completion percentage is down to 65.9 percent and is on pace for 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.

Needless to say, Belichick doesn't appear to be preoccupied with how the Falcons looked on offense a season ago under Shanahan, nor how any other phase of the game appeared in February. He's on to 2017.

"We're focused on the team that we're playing this weekend," Belichick said. "I don't really care about what some other coach did some other year. Like right now, we're getting ready for the Falcons, coach Sarkisian's offense, coach [Marquand] Manuel's defense and coach [Keith] Armstrong's special teams under the direction of [head coach Dan] Quinn. That's who we play this week. That's what we’re getting ready for. What somebody else did some other year – it's really not that relevant right now."

Belichick's philosophy appears to differ considerably from Quinn's, who readily admitted the tape of Super Bowl LI is a big part of his team's preparation for Sunday.

"When you face a team for a second time in less than a year ... I'm not going to call it a division game, but you have more familiarity than you would when you don't," Quinn said in his conference call with Boston media. "So you go back to look, how did they feature the players in their roles last year and then go back to look at some of the roles for this year. The players also have some familiarity with one another; 'how do I guard this guy, I've got to make sure my leverage is right when I tackle this player, in press coverage this release worked, this one wasn’t as effective.'"

One player the Falcons didn't have to worry about covering in Super Bowl LI is Rob Gronkowski. Tom Brady threw for a Super Bowl-record 466 yards against Atlanta without No. 87, whose presence this week is a whole other wrinkle for the Falcons to consider.

The return of Gronkowski is far from the only difference in the arsenal at Brady's disposal from the last time the teams met. Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell are both on injured reserve, and Martellus Bennett is now in Green Bay.

Brandin Cooks, who faced the Falcons five times in the first three years of his career as a member of the New Orleans Saints, is now one of Brady's top targets. Cooks doesn't have great career numbers against Atlanta – particularly last season (five catches, 32 yards and no touchdowns over two games) – but is on pace to establish a new career high in receiving yards in his new home, with 1,259. He's also averaging a career-best 19.7 yards per reception on the season.

"He works hard, very diligent, tough, durable, a smart guy that will do whatever you ask him to do," Belichick said of Cooks. "Whatever you ask him to do, he wants to know exactly how you want it done. He tries to do it that way. He's a pleasure to coach."

Phillip Dorsett is another new target for Brady. Dorsett, who was acquired from the Indianapolis Colts in September, said that his mentality is that it's just a game against Atlanta. He can't speak to the rematch aspect, since he just got here.

"I can't really say, I honestly don't know because I wasn't a part of it last year," Dorsett said when asked if it was any different for him being here for this particular game. "We're trying to treat it like it's just a regular game, so to me, my mentality is we're just playing Atlanta and I can't really think about what happened last year because I don't know because I wasn't here."

There will be some continuity for the Patriots on offense. James White, whose Super Bowl-record 14 catches the Falcons certainly remember well, will be active. Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Dion Lewis all played in Super Bowl LI, and they'll be on hand Sunday as well.

The opposing coaches seem split on using the film from February in preparing for this week's game, as do some players on the Patriots.

Amendola said that there are certain things New England can take away from re-watching Super Bowl LI, particularly when it comes to the mistakes made early in the game.

"We've taken some things away from that," Amendola said. "We obviously didn't start the game like we wanted to. That's a focus point this week – start fast and sustain drives throughout the game."

Left tackle Nate Solder, on the other hand, doesn’t think re-watching the game will do the Patriots any good.

"We've got to focus on this week," Solder said. "We've got a tough opponent we've got to worry about – the Falcons this year, this week, right now."

Nothing that happens this year, or even this week, can change what happened in February. But both the Patriots and Falcons can take steps on Sunday to change the tones of their respective seasons and work towards making next February one to remember.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Celtics: Hayward Surgery a Success, No Timetable for Return]]> Thu, 19 Oct 2017 15:44:04 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/185*120/GettyImages-860330888.jpg

The Boston Celtics said Gordon Hayward is expected to make a "full recovery" after undergoing successful surgery on Wednesday night.

The team announced Thursday afternoon that Hayward underwent "successful bony and ligamentous stabilization surgery for the fracture dislocation of his left ankle" sustained in Tuesday night's season opener.

Hayward's father tweeted Thursday morning the surgery was 'a big success,' and his wife Robyn posted her own message on social media saying "He did great with surgery! So now we are starting the recovery process." His agent, Mark Bartelstein, added that the surgery "went really well."

No timetable has been set for his return, but Bartelstein told ESPN it remains unlikely the 27-year-old forward will return this season.

The Celtics player had arrived at New England Baptist Hospital on Wednesday after flying in from Cleveland, where he and former Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving played their first game in Celtics green.

Hayward came down awkwardly after an alley-oop pass in the first quarter, dislocating his left ankle and fracturing his leg.

In a video message on the Celtics' Twitter page Wednesday, Hayward spoke to his fans from his hospital bed.

"Wanted to say thank you to everyone whose had me in their thoughts and prayers," he said. "I'm gonna be alright.

"Hurting me that I can't be there for the home opener," Hayward went on to say in his video tweet. "I want nothing more than to be with my teammates and to walk out on that floor tonight. But I'll be supporting you guys from here and wishing you the best of luck."

While the team initially tweeted that Hayward had been diagnosed with a broken ankle, Stevens said in a press conference Wednesday that hospital tests had confirmed his actual injuries.

"He put a lot of effort into trying to start his career out well in Boston, but this is a setback," Stevens added.

Despite the setback, the coach said he believes Hayward will be back to full health.

"We are expecting a full recovery," he said. "We know there are going to be a lot of tough days ahead on that recovery, but at the same time, I think, hopefully, he'll improve day to day."

Stevens coached Hayward at Butler University. After spending the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Utah Jazz, Hayward signed a four-year, $128 million contract to play for his college coach in Boston.

As Hayward lay on the court Tuesday night, the Quicken Loans Arena fell silent, with Celtics and Cavs players alike showing their concern. The crowds erupted in applause when he was carried off the floor on a stretcher. The following day, athletes and fans have taken to social media to support Hayward.

"Thanks for all the prayers for Gordon and our family," Hayward's wife, Robyn, tweeted Wednesday. "It sucks, but this is what happens."

Robyn Hayward's tweet included a quote, reading, "When everything seems like it's falling apart that's when God is putting things together just the way he wants it."

In their opener, the Celtics came back from a 16-point halftime deficit and jockeyed with Cleveland for the lead in the fourth quarter. The Cavs won their first game 102-99.

Wednesday night, the Celtics played their home opener without Hayward against the Milwaukee Bucks, but it was clear Hayward was on the mind of everyone.

Love for the forward was evident in every corner of TD Garden, as fans who miss him signed a giant "get well soon" banner for him, gave him a standing ovation, and even chanted his name.

The Bucks beat the Celtics 108–100.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[Goodell: 'Everyone Should Stand for the National Anthem']]> Wed, 18 Oct 2017 17:10:25 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/213*120/RGoodell_FULL-150836042626100002.jpg

The NFL Commissioner stated "we believe everyone should stand for the national anthem" at a press conference Wednesday.

<![CDATA[Olympic Gold Medalist Details Sexual Abuse by Team Doctor]]> Wed, 18 Oct 2017 21:18:40 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/213*120/McKaylaMaroneyfeuerherd.jpg

Two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney says she was molested for years by a former USA Gymnastics team doctor, abuse she said started in her early teens and continued for the rest of her competitive career.

Maroney posted a lengthy statement on Twitter early Wednesday that described the allegations of abuse against Dr. Larry Nassar, who spent three decades working with athletes at USA Gymnastics but now is in jail in Michigan awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. Nassar also is awaiting trial on separate criminal sexual conduct charges and has been sued by more than 125 women alleging abuse.

Nassar has pleaded not guilty to the assault charges, and the dozens of civil suits filed in Michigan are currently in mediation.

Maroney, now 21, says the abuse began while attending a U.S. National team training camp at the Karolyi Ranch in the Sam Houston Forest north of Houston, Texas. Maroney was 13 at the time and wrote that Nassar told her she was receiving "medically necessary treatment he had been performing on patients for over 30 years." Maroney did not detail Nassar's specific actions.

Maroney, who won a team gold and an individual silver on vault as part of the "Fierce Five" U.S. women's team at the 2012 Olympics in London, said Nassar continued to give her "treatment" throughout her career. She described Nassar giving her a sleeping pill while the team traveled to Japan for the 2011 world championships. Maroney says Nassar later visited her in her hotel room after the team arrived in Tokyo, where he molested her yet again.

"I thought I was going to die that night," Maroney wrote.

Maroney did not immediately return an interview request from The Associated Press. Attorneys for Nassar had no comment.

Maroney says she decided to come forward as part of the "#MeToo" movement on social media that arose in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

"This is happening everywhere," Maroney wrote. "Wherever there is a position of power, there is the potential for abuse. I had a dream to go to the Olympics, and the things I had to endure to get there, were unnecessary and disgusting."

Maroney called for change, urging other victims to speak out and demanding organizations "be held accountable for their inappropriate actions and behavior."

Maroney is the highest profile gymnast yet to come forward claiming she was abused by Nassar. Jamie Dantzscher, a bronze medalist on the 2000 U.S. Olympic team, was part of the initial wave of lawsuits filed against Nassar in 2016. Aly Raisman, who won six medals while serving as the captain of the U.S. women's team in both 2012 and 2016, called for sweeping change at USA Gymnastics in August.

USA Gymnastics launched an independent review of its policies in the wake of the allegations against Nassar in the summer of 2016 following reporting by the Indianapolis Star that highlighted chronic mishandling of abuse allegations against coaches and staff at some of its more than 3,500 clubs across the country.

In June, the federation immediately adopted 70 recommendations proffered by Deborah Daniels, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw the review. The new guidelines require member gyms to go to authorities immediately, with Daniels suggesting USA Gymnastics consider withholding membership from clubs that decline to do so. The organization also named Toby Stark, a child welfare advocate, as its director of SafeSport. Part of Stark's mandate is educating members on rules, educational programs, reporting and adjudication services.

USA Gymnastics praised Maroney's strength in a statement on Wednesday, adding it is "outraged and disgusted" by Nassar's alleged conduct.

"We are strengthening and enhancing our policies and procedures regarding abuse, as well as expanding our educational efforts to increase awareness of signs to watch for and reporting suspicions of abuse, including the obligation to immediately report," USA Gymnastics wrote. "USA Gymnastics, its members and community are committed to working together to keep our athletes as safe as possible."

The organization had initially agreed to purchase the training facility at the Karolyi Ranch following longtime national team coordinator Martha Karolyi's retirement shortly after the 2016 Olympics ended. The organization has since opted out of that agreement. Steve Penny, longtime president and CEO, resigned in March. A replacement has not been named.

The allegations and fallout have reached Capitol Hill. Two different pieces of legislation are in the works that call for greater responsibility for organizations that oversee Olympic sports to immediately report sex-abuse allegations to law enforcement or child-welfare authorities.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein issued a release Wednesday saying she is putting the finishing touches on a bill she is co-sponsoring that would make failure to report sexual abuse a crime.

"It has become clear that for too long, amateur athletics organizations have shirked their responsibility of protecting young, vulnerable children," Feinstein wrote. "That must stop, and it must stop now."

Maroney, who lives in California and officially retired in 2015, encouraged others to speak out.

"Our silence has given the wrong people power for too long," she wrote, "and it's time to take our power back."

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola
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<![CDATA[Oldest Woman to Finish a Marathon Dies at 94]]> Tue, 17 Oct 2017 00:13:34 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/213*120/Harriette-Thompson-Marathoner-2017.jpg

A nonagenarian who set a world record as the oldest woman to complete a full marathon has died, her family confirmed in a published report.

Harriette Thompson, 94, smiled and laughed as she crossed the finish line at the Rock 'N' Roll Marathon in San Diego in June.

With her finish, Thompson became the oldest woman to run a half-marathon.

"I guess it's unusual, but I don't know why people make such a big deal," Thompson said at the time. "I feel just like I did when I was 16. But I just can’t move as fast."

In 2015, Thompson broke the world record as the oldest woman to complete a full marathon.

The Charlotte Observer reported Monday Thompson died in hospice after suffering an injury in a fall on Oct. 6.

Thompson, a cancer survivor, used her love of running to raise money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society.

Through the years, she raised $100,000 for the organization. She raised $15,000 in 2017 alone.

In June, when she completed the Rock n' Roll marathon with a time of 3 hours, 42 minutes, Thompson was most pleased that she did it surrounded by members of her family.

"I enjoyed running across the finish line," Thompson said. "That’s always the biggest thing. And I really enjoyed having my family with me."

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Hernandez Lawyers Sue NFL, Helmet Manufacturer]]> Tue, 17 Oct 2017 09:27:35 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/213*120/aaron-ap.jpg

Lawyers for Aaron Hernandez's family have re-filed their lawsuit against the NFL, but the New England Patriots are no longer named in the complaint.

The family's lawyers filed the complaint Monday in Norfolk County Superior Court. They said the Patriots have been removed as a defendant, but a separate action involving the team will be filed at a later date.

Named in the suit are the NFL and several of its subsidiaries, as well as Riddell, the company that manufactured the official NFL helmet from 1989 to 2013. Hernandez played in the NFL from 2010 to 2012.

The suit claims the defendants knew of CTE dating back to the 1960s but intentionally kept that information from Hernandez and other players. The suit accuses them of a "long-running conspiracy" aimed at insulating themselves from litigation and financial responsibility.

"(Aaron's) decisions with respect to football would have been different had there been no intentional concealment for football-exposure risk," the complaint reads. "Defendants' multi-decade-long efforts to justify ignoring these warnings created a time-bomb in Aaron. Defendants did so to perpetuate the industry of football."

Attorneys for the Hernandez family initially filed suit last month in federal court after a brain study showed he suffered from a "severe case" of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Experts said it was the most severe case of CTE they had ever seen in someone his age.

The suit claimed the team and the league deprived 4-year-old Avielle Hernandez of the companionship of her father.

That suit was dropped on Friday because the lawyers said the issues involved belonged in state and not federal court.

The NFL has said it will "vigorously" contest the lawsuit, saying it would face "significant legal issues from the start."

Riddell said Monday that it is also prepared to defend its reputation.

"More than 15 years ago, Riddell introduced its first helmets specifically designed to mitigate concussion risk and warnings written to raise concussion awareness and promote medical treatment of concussions," the company argued in a statement. "Riddell intends to vigorously and successfully defend its products, its warnings and its reputation from the claims now being made by a handful of plaintiff lawyers."

Hernandez had Stage 3 CTE, the second-most severe out of four stages. That level of degeneration is usually found in players with a median death age of 67. Boston University officials who examined his brain said he also had early brain atrophy and perforations in a central membrane. CTE can be caused by repeated head trauma and leads to symptoms like violent mood swings, depression and other cognitive difficulties.

The 27-year-old former star tight end killed himself on April 19 in the prison cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, where he was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. He hanged himself with a bed sheet attached to his cell windows.

Hernandez blocked access to his cell from the inside by jamming cardboard into the door tracks, investigators said. They also said there were no signs of a struggle and Hernandez was alone at the time of the hanging.

His Bible was found marked with blood at John 3:16, a verse that describes eternal life for those who believe in God. The verse name was also written in blood on the wall and in pen on his forehead.

His death came just hours before the Patriots visited the White House to celebrate their latest Super Bowl victory.

Soon after his suicide, Hernandez's family decided they wanted his brain to be studied by the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center.

State officials originally refused to release the brain because it was part of the ongoing investigation into Hernandez's death, but later agreed to release it after his lawyer accused them of holding the brain illegally.

A star for the University of Florida when it won the 2008 title, Hernandez dropped to the fourth round of the NFL draft because of trouble in college that included a failed drug test and a bar fight. His name had also come up in an investigation into a shooting.

In three seasons with the Patriots, Hernandez joined Rob Gronkowski to form one of the most potent tight end duos in NFL history. In 2011, his second season, Hernandez caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns to help the team reach the Super Bowl, and he was rewarded with a $40 million contract.

But the Patriots released him in 2013, shortly after he was arrested in the killing of Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancee. Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to life in prison; the conviction was voided because he died before his appeals were exhausted, though that decision is itself being appealed.

SUICIDE PREVENTION HELP: The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Celtics Searching For Team Identity at Season's Start]]> Mon, 16 Oct 2017 14:29:17 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-856826950.jpg

The Boston Celtics will begin their journey for banner 18 on Tuesday night in Cleveland against the Cavaliers. With only four returning players and the departure of notable starters Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, the team doesn’t have a clear-cut identity to start the season.

Gone is the lockdown defense from Bradley, the versatility of Crowder, and the toughness of Thomas. Here now is the immediate scoring of Kyrie Irving and team-first mentality of Gordon Hayward. What the team is getting from individual players is set, but what they are as a cohesive unit is a question mark.

During the pre-season, the main players didn’t play much, but did showcase a willingness to share the ball when they were on the court, as the team averaged 22.8 assists per game through four games. Last season the team had the fourth best assist average in the league with 25.2 per game.

From the small sample size in preseason, it looks like Al Horford may have a bigger role in the offense this season as a playmaker. Last season he averaged a career-high five assists per game. This season that number could increase, as he’s showcased the ability to bring the ball up the court and create more opportunities for others. Last season he averaged 67.3 touches and 51 passes per game, according to NBA.com/stats.

The team was second just a season ago in passes made (325.3) and received (323.8) per game, per NBA.com/stats. This was along with making the extra pass, where they were second to the Golden State Warriors in secondary assists with 6.8 per game.

With Irving likely being the main ball-handler, his 79 touches per game are expected to increase. The only question is by how much? Thomas, for comparison sake, averaged 84.7 touches per game last season. Irving’s tally could be around that margin, as the primary handler, with Hayward and Horford being two and three in that category.

The trio of Irving, Hayward and Horford will be the main lineup for the Celtics this season. After that troika, it looks like Jaylen Brown will start at shooting guard after doing so for all of the pre-season games. Brown being at the two-guard position gives the team a bigger, more versatile and athletic presence over Bradley from last season. The only downfall with Brown starting is his three-point shot.

Brown went 2-for-11 (18.2%) from deep during the pre-season. In his rookie year he averaged 1.7 three-point attempts per game, in comparison to Bradley’s five per outing. Despite his current lack of a consistent shot, Brown’s relentlessness to the basket is a desire for possible playmaking and free-throw opportunities.

With the back-court being solidified with Irving and Brown to start the season, who joins Hayward and Horford in the front-court becomes an intriguing question. The team ended their pre-season with Jayson Tatum in the starting lineup, and head coach Brad Stevens recently suggested the rookie could possibly remain in that role to at least start the season. As the team announced on Sunday they’ll be without Marcus Morris for “at least a week or so” due to knee soreness.

Morris’ ability to space the floor has been a hallmark for his career, with last season with the Detroit Pistons being an anomaly for him as he posted the second worst shooting percentages of his career – 41.8% from the floor, and 33.1% from the three-point line.

A lineup including Morris seems imminent upon his return, and dependent on how Tatum produces through the season. The rookie starting or at least ending games at the four spot could become a possibility throughout the season. As Tatum being alongside Irving, Brown, Hayward and Horford brings added versatility, length, athleticism and scoring to that unit. Something that has become a trend in the league the past view seasons in wing heavy lineups.

The league itself currently has penchant for forwards that fit the pace and space mold. Tatum, during the preseason, has shown his ability to fit the description, along with scoring in a multitude of ways. Whether it be isolation, post-up or off a screen. One way or another, he’ll find a way to produce. His 6-foot-11 wingspan adds to the fascination of what he could become on not only the offensive side of the court, but also on the defensive end.

Another big question for the team will be their reliance on screens. Last season the team averaged 7.1 possessions off a screen, which was 6.6% of their plays, according to NBA.com/stats. The screens were mainly set for Thomas and Bradley, who combined for a 21.8% frequency off those type of plays. With both players being small guards, the screens played a role in helping them get the ball.

The only Celtic who might be screen heavy this season is Hayward, as he was more effective coming off a pick for his shot. In his final season in Utah, he had an 11.2% screen frequency which led to him scoring on 48.8% of those type of plays and shooting 48.2% from the floor when doing so.

Irving, who only came off screens 4.1% of the time last season, will likely have to adjust to a more set offense. Instead of his 5.1 isolation plays per night. In his limited playing time during the preseason, he showed an openness to coming off screens, which mainly involved Horford in pick-and-pop situations.

Boston’s offense has a lot of potential, and it’s just a matter of when they’ll be able to capitalize off of each other to become one of the more efficient teams in the league. If the team is able to gel accordingly, along with both Irving and Hayward making a seamless transition, then Brad Stevens receiving some attention as a Coach of the Year candidate shouldn’t come as a surprise. Especially if the team has another 50-win season.

Time will tell as to how the team will develop through the good and bad of another optimistic season in Boston.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Why Aren't NFL Cheerleaders Protesting During the Anthem?]]> Sun, 15 Oct 2017 06:12:07 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/168*120/GettyImages-856384992_master.jpg

Millions of Americans have applauded the NFL players who have taken a knee during the national anthem, but not the women whose job it is to root for the teams — the cheerleaders.

They have been noticeably absent from the year-long drama that has divided football fans and outraged President Donald Trump and their reasons range from not wanting to undermine the team — to not wanting to lose their prized spot on the squad, NBC News reported.

"Definitely the financial compensation isn’t high enough where you’re concerned about paying rent … but certainly if you’re creating waves you could lose your spot,” Danetha Doe, a two-season Indianapolis Colts cheerleader, told NBC News.

Doe remembers when it was rare to find an African-American in the rah-rah ranks and understands why a cheerleader might think twice about joining the players' protest against the persecution of black people in America.

Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[US Men's Soccer Coach Resigns After Catastrophic Loss]]> Fri, 13 Oct 2017 11:05:11 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/213*120/859961824-Bruce-Arena-Resigns.jpg

Bruce Arena resigned as coach of the United States men's national soccer team Friday in the wake of a shock loss to tiny Trinidad and Tobago that left the team outside of contention for next year's World Cup in Russia.

Arena coached the team in the 2002 and 2006 world cups, and was hired in November as the American campaign to qualify for 2018 stuttered. A 4-0 victory over Panama had put the U.S. in position to qualify going into Tuesday's game, for which the U.S. were heavy favorites.

The loss, combined with other results, meant the U.S. wouldn't qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

"Everyone involved in the program gave everything they had for the last 11 months and, in the end, we came up short. No excuses. We didn't get the job done, and I accept responsibility," Arena said in a statement Friday.

Arena took the team to its best World Cup finish, the quarterfinals, in the 2002 tournament in Korea and Japan.

As a Major League Soccer coach, he has won the MLS Cup five times, most recently for the LA Galaxy in 2014.

Photo Credit: Ashley Allen/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Kraft Says He'll Let Players Decide on Anthem]]> Fri, 13 Oct 2017 16:30:35 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-632618046.jpg

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft says that he will let his players decide how they will handle the national anthem at games but said he believes that it is important for players to "respect our flag and our anthem."

In an interview with the BBC, Kraft said that "The greatest enemy in sport is division from within. I personally feel it's very important to respect our flag and our anthem. But I also respect the right of people in this country to make statements or protests, peacefully, in a way that’s appropriate to them."

The comments come just days after Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that any of his players who do not stand for the anthem at games won't play. Jones said he felt that by not standing, the players were disrespecting the flag.

The issue has been making headlines since the season began, with several players and teams kneeling, others linking arms and some staying inside the locker room during the anthem.

Vice President Mike Pence left the 49ers-Colts game after about a dozen San Francisco players took a knee during the national anthem Sunday.

President Donald Trump has called on NFL owners to fire players who don't stand for the anthem and urged fans to boycott games in a series of tweets after he first criticized the demonstrations during a Sept. 22 rally in Alabama.

Kraft was being interviewed by the BBC for a story on free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose kneeling for the anthem made him the center of controversy.

The Patriots owner said he is unaware of other owners blocking Kaepernick from rejoining the NFL because of his beliefs and feels it is possible a team could sign the quarterback in the near future.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Raul's Pick: Will the Jets Upset the Pats?]]> Fri, 13 Oct 2017 09:30:26 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/223*120/raul6.jpg

NBC Boston's Raul Martinez makes his prediction on Sunday's Pats-Jets game.

<![CDATA[Injured Marine's New Challenge: 31 Marathons in 31 Days]]> Fri, 13 Oct 2017 09:00:32 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/213*120/robjones.jpg

Rob Jones never liked running. He didn’t like running when he grew up on a farm in Lovettsville, Virginia, and he didn’t like it by the time he graduated from Virginia Tech in 2007.

The 32-year old former Marine said he only ran to prepare for the test to join the United States Marine Corps.

All of that hasn’t stopped Jones from embarking on an ambitious journey of running 31 marathons in 31 cities — in 31 days.

Running multiple marathons back-to-back is remarkable but not unprecedented. A couple in Australia reportedly ran a marathon every day in 2013 and a man ran 401 marathons in as many days to raise awareness about the effects of bullying.

But Jones is not only planning to run a combined 812.2 miles in a month. He is doing so without his legs.

After kicking off his first run in London on Thursday, he's set to visit Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas and other cities in the coming days and weeks. His last run will be on Veterans Day in Washington, D.C.   

Jones’s life changed forever in 2010 when he was critically injured as part of a team of combat engineers, whose primary task was detecting IED’s in a heavily Taliban-controlled area in Afghanistan. He came across a landmine that detonated and resulted in both of his legs being amputated.

After hours of surgery and a year and a half of rehabilitation, Jones was ready to get back to his life, though he couldn't picture exactly where his recovery would take him.

“I wasn’t sure exactly of the specifics,” he said. “All I knew was that I was going to do everything I could to get back to being able to take care of my own, be self-sufficient.” 

After his accident, Jones rehabilitated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he was fitted with prosthetics. He recalled having to learn to walk again, but this time with bionic knees.

“I also used the time to relearn how to do other things with my new challenge including riding a bicycle, running, and rowing," Jones wrote on his website.

Running a marathon wasn’t something that Jones had on his mind, following his accident. He wanted to do more weightlifting or rowing, which he took a liking to.

After being honorably discharged from the military in 2011, he trained for the 2012 Summer Paralympic games in London, where he won a bronze medal for Team USA in mixed double sculls.

Despite being an Paralympic medalist, he wanted to do something for veterans. He set a goal to raise money for wounded veterans and thought that running successive marathons was a great start.

Jones said it was important to dispel the myth that all veterans are physically and mentally damaged.

“What I’m setting out to do here is to be an example for other veterans and millions alike,” Jones said.

He is a veteran who went to war and is still in the fight, he said.

He started training a year and a half ago by doing running an hour a day, three to four times a week, until he got to a point where he was able to run five back-to-back marathons in as many days.

“There are plenty of people who have done similar stuff and run similar distances,” Jones said. “It’s about preparation.”

Jones doesn’t know anyone who has done this type of ultramarathon, but he’s watched a lot of documentaries on people who have and said he is ready for the challenge.

While most marathoners run nonstop, Jones is taking a different approach once he starts on Oct. 12. He plans to pace himself while completing each leg of his run and could break up his run over the course of a day. He will monitor his distance by using fitness watches with GPS functionality.

Jones said he knows he couldn’t do this alone and is relying on his family for support. His wife, Pam, helps get his story out to the public, and his mother, Carol Miller, will be her son’s massage therapist.

“My wife is my number one supporter,” he said.

He also is working on a way for fans to watch his amazing run online, whether through Facebook Live or other live streaming services.

Jones has also received support from his prosthetists, physical therapist and other runners who were inspired by his story, among them Mirna Valerio, a runner and author of the book, “A Beautiful Work in Progress.” 

“He’s going to get up there and do it and challenge his body and spirit,” Valerio said. “They’re using their bodies and showing the world that despite what somebody might see as a challenge they’re just doing it anyway.”

Jones maintains close friendships with those he served with in Iraq and Afghanistan and knows they back him, even though they may be tired of his antics.

“I think they probably expect it at this point,” he said jokingly. “They’re not that impressed anymore.”

He is glad for his continued relationship with the Marines.

“You know the saying in the Marine Corps is, ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine,” he said. “It remains to be a tight-knit brotherhood for me, and that is what the Marine Corps is all about.”

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<![CDATA[Troy's Tales: Benching Himself in Super Bowl XXXVI]]> Thu, 12 Oct 2017 12:05:54 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/213*120/Tales+101217+.JPG

 In this edition of Troy's Tales, Troy Brown recounts how he got so excited during the festivities prior to Super Bowl XXXVI, he ran out of gas and benched himself unbeknownst to Bill Belichick, who bellowed, "Where's Troy?"

<![CDATA[Video of Distraught Red Sox Fan at UConn Goes Viral]]> Thu, 12 Oct 2017 12:14:49 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/213*120/red+sox+uconn+viral+video.jpg

The Red Sox elimination from the MLB Playoffs with a 5-4 loss to the Houston Astros on Monday afternoon was no doubt heartbreaking for fans.

Nowhere was that sentiment captured better than in a viral video taken during a class at UConn.

The video, shot by UConn student Josh Buser, shows another student watching the last out of the game on a computer. The unnamed student reacts to the outcome before closing his laptop and throwing his head back to agonize over the defeat.

"Watched this random Red Sox fan have his hopes and dreams crushed during class and it was absolutely electric," Buser said in a tweet that included the video.

That tweet was liked more than 19,000 times and had more than 8,000 retweets. The video has been viewed more than 2.7 million times on Imgur.

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Buser, a Yankees fan, wrote a column about the video for the Daily Campus, in which he explained why he thinks the video went viral.

"It's because Boston fans like Jonathan (a name Buser made up for the student) don't get to experience the agony of defeat as much as the rest of us," Buser said in his column. "Boston sports fans are notoriously spoiled by their recent glory, and the internet likes to take the chance to laugh at them when we can."

Buser said he doesn't believe that if the same video was of an Astros fan after a Houston loss, that it would not have had the same impact.

Photo Credit: Josh Buser/@jBuse33
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<![CDATA[US Misses First World Cup Since 1986 With Loss]]> Wed, 11 Oct 2017 06:34:12 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/213*120/859961062-PUlisic-Wonderboy-USMNT-Loss-World-Cup.jpg

The United States was eliminated from World Cup contention Tuesday night, a shocking loss at Trinidad ending the Americans' streak of seven straight appearances at soccer's showcase.

Twenty-eight years after a stunning victory here put the Americans back in the World Cup following a four-decade absence, their chances for next year's tournament in Russia ended on this island nation off the coast of Venezuela.

Trinidad and Tobago scored a pair of first-half goals, and the United States was eliminated with a 2-1 defeat, its first time missing the World Cup since 1986.

Shocked American players slumped on the bench, and Matt Besler sat on the field after the final whistle as Panama's game ended and then Costa Rica's. At the end, dejected U.S. players filed into their locker rooms with blank looks.

The U.S. entered its final qualifier with a berth uncertain for the first time since 1989. Home losses to Mexico last November and Costa Rica left the Americans little margin for error.

The 28th-ranked Americans needed merely a tie against 99th-ranked Trinidad, which lost its sixth straight qualifier last week. But the defeat, coupled with Honduras' come-from-behind 3-2 win over Mexico and Panama's 2-1 victory over Costa Rica on Ramon Torres' 88th-minute goal, dropped the Americans from third place into fifth in the six-nation final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Mexico and Costa Rica already had clinched berths, and Panama claimed the third and final automatic spot and will go the World Cup for the first time. Honduras will meet Australia in a two-game playoff next month for another spot at next year's 32-nation tournament.

Missing the World Cup is a devastating blow to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has steadily built the sport in the last quarter-century with the help of sponsors and television partners. It also is a trauma for Fox, which broadcasts the next three World Cups after taking the U.S. rights from ESPN. The USSF hopes to co-host the 2026 tournament with Mexico and Canada, and Morocco is the only other bidder.

After an 0-2 start in the hexagonal last fall under Jurgen Klinsmann, the USSF replaced him last November with Bruce Arena, the American coach from 1998-2006. The team revived with home wins over Honduras and Trinidad last spring and draws at Panama and Mexico. But the 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica in New Jersey at the start of Labor Day weekend proved one hurdle too many to overcome.

"No excuses for us not getting the second goal and at least a point,'' Arena said. "It's a blemish for us.''

The Americans fell behind in the 17th minute when defender Omar Gonzalez made a casual attempt with his left foot to clear Alvin Jones' cross and sent the ball looping over the outstretched right arm of goalkeeper Tim Howard from 18 yards.

Jones doubled the lead in the 37th with a 35-yard strike, again to Howard's upper right corner, and nearly scored another in the 44th when his swerving shot bounced off Howard's chest and spilled into the penalty area.

Christian Pulisic, the Americans' 19-year-old star midfielder, scored in the 47th minute from the arc with a right-footed shot. He played a role in 12 of the 17 Americans goals in the hexagonal.

One minute later, Howard made a kick save on Shahdon Winchester's short-range shot, and DeAndre Yedlin blocked Levi Garcia's follow-up attempt.

The U.S. bench was tense, as Honduras scored twice early in the second half to take the lead over visiting Mexico in the 60th minute and Panama tied the score against visiting Costa Rica in the 52nd.

Clint Dempsey, who entered at the start of the second half, was denied by goalkeeper Adrian Foncette's leaping save in the 69th and hit a post from 22 yards in the 77th. Pulisic's shot in the 87th was saved by Foncette.

All American reserves were standing for much of the final minutes, and Arena had repeated exasperated looks.

Just a few hundred fans were in the stands at 10,000-capacity Ato Boldon Stadium, located 24 miles south of the capital, Port-of-Spain. Paul Caligiuri's famous goal at the National Stadium in 1989 put the U.S. in the World Cup for the first time since 1950.

Among the spectators were a few dozen American Outlaws, the U.S. supporters group.

Water that had flooded the track surrounding the field ahead of the U.S. training session Monday was gone.

Photo Credit: Ashley Allen/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Jokes Penguins Co-Owner Should Help With NAFTA Negotiations]]> Wed, 11 Oct 2017 09:20:47 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/213*120/DIT_NAT_PENS_WHITE_HOUSE_TRUMP_101017-150766758608200002.jpg

President Donald Trump on Tuesday jokingly asked Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle if he would help re-negotiate NAFTA. The Penguins visited the White House to celebrate their Stanley Cup title.

<![CDATA[Tom Brady Has MRI on Left Shoulder]]> Tue, 10 Oct 2017 16:31:30 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-843937526.jpg

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had an MRI on his left shoulder, but results came back negative.

NBC Sports Boston is reporting that Brady missed practice Tuesday with what has been diagnosed as an AC joint sprain, but he is expected to play in Sunday's game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

Brady has been sacked 16 times this season. NBC Sports Boston said Brady hurt his shoulder when Julius Peppers sacked him in the Patriots Oct. 1 loss to the Carolina Panthers and re-aggravated it in last week's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Though he has often shown up on the injury report throughout his career, Brady has been mostly injury-free with the exception of the 2008 season, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opening game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Patriots record is currently 3-2, tied for first place in the AFC East with the Jets and the Buffalo Bills.

So far this year, Brady has thrown for 1,702 yards and 11 touchdowns. But he has clearly missed wide receiver Julian Edelman, who is out for the season after injuring his knee in a preseason game.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Where Do the Red Sox Go From Here?]]> Tue, 10 Oct 2017 11:28:19 -0400 http://media.nbcboston.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-859496204.jpg

So that’s it. In the end, the Red Sox were a good team that lost to a better one.

After embarrassing themselves in games one and two of the American League Division Series, the Sox returned to Fenway Park over the long weekend and at last displayed flashes of the fight and determination that characterized the team for so much of the season. But grit will get you only so far when you’re outclassed. And let there be no mistake — the Red Sox right now are not in the same class as the Houston Astros.

Still, as soundly as the Astros defeated the Sox in this series, it’s unclear just how much distance there is between the two clubs.

In calculating the talent disparity, should we look to the first two games of the series, in which the Astros clubbed the Sox by a combined score of 16 to 4? Or should we instead place more emphasis on the results of the second two games? The Sox won one of those games in a rout, after all, and lost the other in agonizing fashion.

These questions are not hypotheticals. The gap between the Red Sox and the Astros (and probably the Cleveland Indians, too) is the difference between merely winning a division and truly competing for championships. And determining the actual size of that gap — and then taking steps to close it — is, broadly speaking, going to be the real work of the Red Sox organization this offseason.

That work will fall, of course, to Dave Dombrowski, a man who, having just just completed his second full season as Red Sox president of baseball operations, must be given his due. Dombrowski has put together an impressive track record in Boston. His moves have not always been popular when first announced (I have certainly had misgivings with at least one of them), but more often than not, he has been proved right.

Dombrowski’s trades of top prospects for Chris Sale, Craig Kimbrel, and Drew Pomeranz all produced terrific returns this year. (Pomeranz’s transformation this season into one of the better starters in the American League was perhaps the single biggest surprise of the 2017 Red Sox.) His trade for the utility infielder Eduardo Nunez, meanwhile, may have saved the season. And then there was the prospect that he didn’t trade, Rafael Devers, who quickly demonstrated the potential for stardom.

But for all that’s gone right, there have been missteps for Dombrowski, too, and three of them contributed directly to the team’s problems this year.

First, there is David Price. As well as Price pitched in game three of the series, tossing four desperately needed scoreless innings, his was largely a lost season. Price was brought here to be a true ace, a horse capable of carrying the Sox to title contention. It hasn’t happened as yet, and his failure to contribute much at all this year was a significant part of the overall disappointment of this team. Two seasons after signing him to a massive contract, even Dombrowski would be hard pressed to describe Price’s time in Boston so far as anything more than a modest success.

Next, there was starting the season without a viable fallback option at third base in the (entirely foreseeable) event that the injury plagued and out of shape Pablo Sandoval didn’t bounce back with a serviceable performance after making only seven plate appearances the year before. A Sandoval who wound up playing in just 32 games for the Red Sox, posting a dismal line of .212/.269/.354 while providing below-average defense. As they tried to figure out what to do during Sandoval’s bouts of injury and extreme ineffectiveness, the Red Sox — a team that began the season with legitimate expectations of making the World Series—were forced to make due at third base with flawed players such as Deven Marrero, who posted a .593 OPS in 188 plate appearances, and Tzu-Wei Lin. It wasn’t until Devers debuted in late July that the position was no longer a black hole for the Sox.

But by far the biggest mistake made by Dombrowski was his calculation that his team’s young hitters — Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. in particular — would build on their success in the previous season and take another big step forward. Collectively, went the thinking, their improvement would allow the Red Sox to make up for the loss of David Ortiz’ offense without signing an expensive free agent slugger.

Instead, the Killer B’s all regressed at the plate, a drag on the team’s attack that even positive contributions from Devers, Andrew Benintendi, and Christian Vasquez could not overcome. Only three teams in the majors wound up hitting fewer home runs than the Sox, while among the teams that made the playoffs, only the Dodgers scored fewer runs. In short, it as a mistake for the Red Sox not to have looked to replace Ortiz’ bat with Edwin Encarnacion or some other free-agent thumper.

So where does that leave the team for 2018? Let’s acknowledge that there’s a good chance that we’ll see improvement from Betts, Bogaerts, Devers, and Benintendi. Even still, the Sox must not repeat the mistake of last year by counting on such improvements. One way or another, the organization is going to have to find a sure-fire, middle-of-the-order bat. With the minor leagues depleted of trade fodder, and the luxury tax presenting challenges to a blockbuster signing, it’s not entirely clear how Dombrowski adds a masher to this team without trading someone from the major league roster. But that will be his charge.

When it comes to the pitching, there’s really not a lot for the team to do. Top to bottom, the Sox had one of the best pitching staffs in game this year, posting the fourth-best ERA in the majors. Adding a full season of Price to the rotation will only help, as will the possibility of additional development by Eduardo Rodriguez. In the bullpen, meanwhile, Carson Smith looks ready to contribute high-leverage innings, and who knows, perhaps Tyler Thornburg will even find a way to throw a pitch.

Will a few strategic acquisitions and a bounce-back year here or there be enough for the Red Sox to close that talent gap with the Astros and Indians? We’re about to find out.

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