Brady, Pats can only wonder what might have been

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Brady, Pats can only wonder what might have been

From Comcast SportsNet
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The eyes that watched Tom Brady's pass sail to him were red. The hands that couldn't catch it were clasped in his lap. The heart that has helped make Wes Welker a star was broken. Blame me, he said. Blame me for letting a ball I always catch fall to the ground. "It comes to the biggest moment of my life, and (I) don't come up with it," the New England Patriots wide receiver said. "Most critical situation, and I let the team down." One of the NFL's smallest receivers at 5-feet-9 and its leading receiver with 122 catches wasn't the only one who missed an opportunity that ruined the chances of coach Bill Belichick's usually disciplined players of winning their fourth Super Bowl. They lost to the New York Giants 21-17 on Sunday. There was a safety on the Patriots' first offensive play. There were three fumbles by the Giants, but they kept the ball after each one against a team that led the AFC with a plus-17 turnover differential. And there was a desperation heave by Brady on the final play into the end zone -- a pass covering more than half the field that bounced off several players in the end zone. After it bounced off the last set of fingertips and fell to the ground, the game was over. So was the Patriots' last, longshot hope. "The ball's just floating in the air," Patriots guard Logan Mankins said. "I think everybody's holding their breath -- the crowd, the coaches, the players." The Patriots other two star receivers, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, were there with three defenders. The ball was tipped out of reach of a lunging Gronkowski, who was hampered by a high left ankle sprain suffered in the AFC championship game. "We've completed a Hail Mary this year," said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who won his second Super Bowl MVP award. "I was hoping there wasn't going to be another one completed, for them." It nearly was. "I felt like I was close," Gronkowski said. "But close isn't there." Added Brady: "We got to the 50, and ran out of time." The Patriots missed plenty of opportunities when there was plenty of time left, including those three fumbles. The Giants recovered two. And the one New England's Brandon Spikes came up with was nullified because the Patriots had 12 men on the field. Two plays later, Manning hit Victor Cruz for a 2-yard touchdown and a 9-0 lead late in the first quarter. Then Brady got hot, completing a Super Bowl-record 16 straight passes, and the Patriots surged to a 17-15 lead. "I thought we played very competitive, had our moments where we moved the ball and stopped them," Belichick said. "We were in the lead for a good part of the game. We just came up a couple of plays short." The Patriots had a chance to make it a two-possession game when a mix-up on the Giants defense left Welker alone. On a second-and-11 at the Patriots 44, the sure-handed receiver had a chance to score. All he had to do was catch the ball and, perhaps, make it to the end zone. Amazingly, the ball went off his hands. "It's one of those plays I've made 1,000 times," he said. Brady and Deion Branch failed to connect on the next play on a pass just behind the receiver and the Patriots punted. "We had opportunities to put this team away and we didn't," Branch said. "All the plays were big. Every play is important. Had I made the catch that was behind me, that could have been a key third down but we didn't connect on it." After the punt, when Manning started the winning 88-yard drive capped by Ahmad Bradshaw's 6-yard touchdown run with 57 seconds to go. Had Welker made the catch and the Patriots scored, that touchdown might have been insignificant. "The ball is right there," Welker said. "I've just got to make the play. It's a play I've made 1,000 times in practice and everything else." But Welker is a big reason the Patriots reached the Super Bowl. And just one reason they lost it. "He's a hell of a player," Brady said. "I'll keep throwing the ball to him for as long as I possibly can. He's a phenomenal player and teammate. I love that guy." When Welker was done with his stint at the postgame podium, he walked slowly to the team bus with a backpack over his left shoulder. At one point, he passed a group of cheering fans dressed in Giants shirts. He kept walking, looking blankly straight ahead. At least he could share the misery with his teammates. "I think every guy in the locker room wishes they could have done a little more," Brady said.

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks beat Avalanche; Bulls lose to Mavericks

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After loss to Mavs, Wade says Bulls 'keep putting (their) hand on the hot stove every day'

After loss to Mavs, Wade says Bulls 'keep putting (their) hand on the hot stove every day'

Dwyane Wade sounded every bit like a frustrated 35-year old father when talking about the repeated ills and so-called growing pains of his Bulls, as they surrendered yet another game against a sub-.500 team.

Sometimes it's the New York Knicks whom the Bulls are offering temporary refuge. Or maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves as they are all-too-generous to roll out the welcome mat for returning figures to Chicago.

Tuesday it was the Dallas Mavericks, the second-worst team in the Western Conference, who stormed into the United Center and escaped with a 99-98 win, courtesy of Wesley Matthews' triple with 11.7 seconds left followed by him locking down Jimmy Butler on the ensuing possession.

Wade was forced to take a contested 21-footer that went awry, but the Bulls' ills went far beyond the last two possessions, when the Mavericks exploited their strategy yet again.

"Either you learn the lesson or figure out," Wade said. "Keep putting your hand on the hot stove every day.

"We just gotta figure out not to put our hands on that stove. And understand when we come in the kitchen, that stove is hot, don't touch it. As I continue to say, this is a very young team and they have to play in these games and have to go through these moments. The one thing you want, whether it's this year or next year, is to not make the same mistakes."

The Bulls are apparently insistent on touching the stove and keep burning themselves, the most recent time with the confusion or the bad strategy in defending the Mavericks' final offensive possession.

Deron Williams found himself with Nikola Mirotic defending him off a switch from Jimmy Butler. Not the quickest afoot, Mirotic gave Williams an easy path to the basket and Wade was the backside help, not wanting to leave Matthews on the wing for a triple.

But with the bench commanding Wade to help, Williams easily found Matthews for an open 3 as Wade had no help for his man. With the Bulls up two, one could see how Wade didn't want to leave Matthews.

"I'll have to go back and watch, but it looks like Deron got downcourt, Wade went over to help and we didn’t rotate accordingly," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We obviously need to do a better job of staying in front of the other end."

Mirotic was supposed to be brought back slowly in his return from strep throat, but he played the entire fourth quarter and 22 minutes overall, having lost eight pounds with his illness that had him miss four games.

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Their issues were game-long and have been seasonlong as the Mavericks were supposed to absorb a shellacking from a Bulls team that felt a 25-point beatdown in Texas last month.

Instead, they would've been happy with settling for an escape when Butler rose up over his college teammate Matthews for a 20-foot wing jumper with 22.8 seconds left.

Butler nearly added a triple-double and clutch moment to his growing resume with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds but was dogged by Matthews all night, the defender who wouldn't give him airspace, went chest-to-chest and even earned a technical foul when he felt Butler exaggerated some contact in the third quarter.

"He took away my space, wouldn't let me get to my spot," Butler said of Matthews. "Good for him. I should've did something different."

Wade missed 13 of his 21 shots, scoring 17 with five rebounds on his 35th birthday

With scoring at a premium, Robin Lopez had a season-high 21 points being guarded by Dirk Nowitzki — and they were necessary considering the Bulls were without Taj Gibson (ankle injury) and Doug McDermott couldn't repeat his 30-point showing from Sunday in Memphis.

Rick Carlisle has long been regarded as one of the top strategic coaches, and though he doesn't have the usual personnel from the Mavericks' salad days, he had enough tricks up his sleeve to throw the Bulls off.

Six Mavericks scored in double figures, led by Harrison Barnes' 20 points and Seth Curry's 18, as Barnes, Matthews and Curry combined for eight triples — spreading the Bulls out and picking them apart defensively.

The Mavericks started Nowitzki at center, going to an almost all-small lineup. And though Lopez scored 14 points in the first half, trying to feed him seemed to take the Bulls out of it in the second half.

The energy was tardy to the party, as they shot just 41 percent in the first half but woke up a little in the third quarter — continuing their all-too familiar trend of half-hearted efforts against lesser teams.

And it looks like the ever-optimistic Wade is dishing out some realism, probably something that comes with the perspective of turning 35.

"You can't keep getting stressed out or frustrated. We've been going through this all year. We'll get back in in the morning.

"Once you realize who you are, you're better off. I sleep better at night. Once we want to be a better team and start winning games, we will. I'm not mad, I'm not frustrated, I'm not stressed. Just taking the hits."