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.

NBA Gameday: Warriors welcome Cavaliers with vengeance in mind

NBA Gameday: Warriors welcome Cavaliers with vengeance in mind

OAKLAND -- With the Christmas Day Collapse lingering about the back of their minds, the Warriors are out for vengeance against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

When the teams meet Monday for a late-afternoon Matinee on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Warriors will be trying to end a four-game losing streak to the Cavs, who came from behind for a 109-108 win on Christmas Day in Cleveland.

The Warriors (34-6) hope to benefit from the sellout crowd at Oracle Arena, where they have been nearly invincible over the past two-plus seasons. They are 95-7 at home since coach Steve Kerr arrived before 2014-15 season.

The Cavaliers (29-10) are making the final stop of a six-game road trip that spanned 12 days in three different time zones.

BETTING LINE

Warriors by 7.5

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving: Though they don’t always defend each other, each point guard is his team’s catalyst. Irving has been winning this battle of late, and the result is success for Cleveland. Curry is playing well of late, better than Irving. If that trend continues Monday, the Warriors will take their chances.

Kevin Durant and LeBron James: Durant was superb on Christmas Day, clearly outplaying James until the final quarter, when he melted down with his teammates, missing seven of his last nine shots. James seized the moment, leading his team to victory. Nothing would please the Warriors more than KD getting the best of James.

INJURY REPORT

Warriors: No injuries listed.

Cavaliers: G J.R. Smith (R thumb fracture) and F/C Chris Andersen (R ACL surgery) are listed as out.

LAST 10

Warriors: 8-2. Cavaliers: 6-4.

SERIES HISTORY

The Warriors lost the previous meeting this season and, including the last three games of the 2016 NBA Finals, have lost four straight. They are 10-8 (including postseason) against Cleveland since James returned before the 2014-15 season.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

THE START: In winning their last three games, all against sub-.500 teams, the Warriors cruised through the first half and didn’t get serious until the third quarter. That formula would be particularly dangerous against a defending champion. A faster start is called for, and the Warriors know it.

THE GLASS: What killed the Warriors in the Christmas Day Collapse, perhaps as much as turnovers, was Cleveland’s relentless work on the offensive glass. The Cavs piled up 18 offensive rebounds, leading to 17 additional shot attempts. If the Warriors can’t do a better job, it could be disastrous.

THE 3-BALL WAR: The Warriors rank fourth in 3-point shooting percentage; the Cavs are third. The Warriors rank fifth in attempts from beyond the arc; the Cavs are third. Cleveland put up more triples, with more accuracy, on Christmas Day. But . . . the Warriors are No. 1 in defense against triples, while the Cavs are 14th.

What they're saying: Celebrating MLK Day 2017

What they're saying: Celebrating MLK Day 2017

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Bay Area athletes and teams posted their favorite quotes from the iconic Civil Rights leader.

Thank you for your sacrifice, dedication, and willingness to help others! Great god fearing man! #mlk

A photo posted by Quinton Dial (@quintondial92) on