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Top Stories of 2012, No. 1: Patriots lose Super Bowl XLVI to Giants 12.31.12 at 1:50 pm ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com has been counting down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. This entry in the countdown is No. 1: the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss to the Giants.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: NHL lockout
No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year
No. 8: Bruins’ early playoff elimination
No. 7: Ray Allen’s departure from Celtics
No. 6: Tim Thomas’ political controversy and sabbatical
No. 5: Celtics’ Eastern Conference finals loss to Heat
No. 4: Red Sox’ megatrade with Dodgers
No. 3: Tom Brady’s MVP-caliber season
No. 2: Bobby Valentine’s nightmare season as Red Sox manager

Wes Welker had seven catches for 60 yards in Super Bowl XLVI, but his key fourth-quarter drop got the most attention after the Patriots lost to the Giants. (AP)

It wasn’t a perfect season that was ruined, but the second time that the Giants ended the Patriots’ hopes for a fourth Super Bowl title was equally as heartbreaking.

For the Patriots, hopes were high at the beginning of the postseason. That’s because New England won the AFC East with a 13-3 record. For the Pats, especially after the previous year’s loss in the divisional playoffs to the Jets, it was Super Bowl or bust.

The Giants dealt the Patriots one of their three losses on the season in Week 9. In a game that featured no scoring in the first half, the Giants came out strong after the half and put 10 points on the board in the third quarter while the Patriots were held to just a field goal. Despite two touchdown drives and a field goal in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady and the Patriots couldn’t overcome Eli Manning and the Giants offense, who put up another 14 points for a 24-20 victory. It was the Patriots’ last loss of the regular season.

The Pats trounced the Broncos in the divisional playoffs on a frosty night in Foxboro. Brady threw for 363 yards and six touchdowns, three of which were to Rob Gronkowski.

The Patriots went on to a close win in the AFC championship game against the Ravens. After Brady’s fourth-quarter rushing touchdown put the Pats up 23-20, the defense was able to hold off the Ravens for two drives. The Pats forced the Ravens to place their trust in kicker Billy Cundiff. Luckily for the Pats, Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal attempt with 15 seconds on the game clock, ensuring another Patriots Super Bowl appearance.

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Top Stories of 2012, No. 2: Bobby Valentine leads woeful Sox to 93 losses, gets fired at 11:30 am ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. This entry in the countdown is No. 2: Bobby Valentine’s nightmare season as Red Sox manager.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: NHL lockout
No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year
No. 8: Bruins’ early playoff elimination
No. 7: Ray Allen’s departure from Celtics
No. 6: Tim Thomas’ political controversy and sabbatical
No. 5: Celtics’ Eastern Conference finals loss to Heat
No. 4: Red Sox’ megatrade with Dodgers
No. 3: Tom Brady’s MVP-caliber season

Bobby Valentine

In a forgettable season, the 2012 Sox finished 69-93, their worst record since 1965, and in last place in the American League East for the first time since John Henry and Tom Werner bought the team.

According to multiple reports, Bobby Valentine was not the preferred choice of first-year general manager Ben Cherington, but team president and CEO Larry Lucchino made the hire to replace Terry Francona.

As Valentine was formally introduced to Boston, nobody could have foreseen the outcome of the season.

“I am honored, I’m humbled and I’m pretty damn excited,” Valentine said at his introductory press conference. “This day is a special day, and it’s more than a special day. It’s the beginning of a life that I think is going to extend beyond anything else that I thought of doing. The talent level and the players that we have in this organization, I think, is a gift to anyone. And I’m the receiver of that gift.”

Valentine, 62, would become the first Red Sox manager since 1934 (Bucky Harris) to be fired after just one season with the team.

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Top Stories of 2012, No. 3: Tom Brady puts together MVP-caliber season at 7:44 am ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. This entry in the countdown is No. 3: Tom Brady’s MVP-caliber season.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: NHL lockout
No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year
No. 8: Bruins’ early playoff elimination
No. 7: Ray Allen’s departure from Celtics
No. 6: Tim Thomas’ political controversy and sabbatical
No. 5: Celtics’ Eastern Conference finals loss to Heat
No. 4: Red Sox’ megatrade with Dodgers

Tom Brady

Only four players in NFL history have won at least three MVP awards. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who on Sunday wrapped up a terrific regular season, has a chance to join that group.

Brady threw for 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns this season while only being intercepted eight times. He led the Patriots to a 12-4 record and the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.

In a 42-14 victory over the Texans on Dec. 10, Brady was hearing “MVP” chants from the Gillette Stadium crowd, and in his weekly appearance on Dennis & Callahan the next day he acknowledged it.

“I heard it. I’m very flattered to even be considered for something like that,” Brady said. “Honestly, the most important thing for me is winning games and enjoying it with my teammates. Everything that I do is dependent on them, on the group of guys that I play with, and the successful years we’ve had with our team has been all about team football. That’s what our team has been built on, and that’s what our team is about.”

Other top candidates for MVP include Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Peterson led the NFL in rushing yards (2,096 — just nine short of the NFL single-season record) and led the Vikings to a 10-6 record and their first playoff berth since 2009. Manning, who already has four MVPs, returned from a year off to pass for 37 touchdowns and lead the Broncos to a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

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Top Stories of 2012, No. 4: Red Sox complete blockbuster trade with Dodgers 12.30.12 at 9:12 am ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. This entry in the countdown is No. 4: the Red Sox’ megatrade with Dodgers

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: NHL lockout
No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year
No. 8: Bruins’ early playoff elimination
No. 7: Ray Allen’s departure from Celtics
No. 6: Tim Thomas’ political controversy and sabbatical
No. 5: Celtics’ Eastern Conference finals loss to Heat

It is one of the biggest trades the Red Sox have ever made. The late-August blockbuster deal that sent Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Dodgers will go down as a landmark moment for Sox ownership as it tries to rebuild a team that has won two World Series in the last decade.

In exchange, the Sox received first baseman James Loney and four prospects: pitchers Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, infielder Ivan De Jesus Jr. and outfielder/first baseman Jerry Sands.

The moving of Beckett, Gonzalez, Crawford and Punto was a major shift for the Sox, who in the past years had been locking players into long-term contracts. Together, those four players represent 11 All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves, three World Series rings, one World Series MVP, one LCS MVP and one All-Star MVP.

The Sox, with that trade, started the reconstruction of a team which had fallen short of expectations beginning with an epic collapse in September 2011.

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Top Stories of 2012, No. 5: Celtics burned by Heat in Eastern Conference finals 12.29.12 at 7:55 pm ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. This entry in the countdown is No. 5: the Celtics’ loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: NHL lockout
No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year
No. 8: Bruins’ early playoff elimination
No. 7: Ray Allen’s departure from Celtics
No. 6: Tim Thomas’ political controversy and sabbatical

The Celtics put forth a valiant effort but were not able to knock off LeBron James and the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. (AP)

The Celtics were one victory away from advancing to the NBA finals. But what stood in the way, LeBron James and the Miami Heat, turned out to be more than the Big Three and the rest of the Celtics could handle.

A 101-88 defeat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals put an abrupt end to a playoff run that looked like it had legs after a comeback season from the Celtics, who were under .500 at the All-Star break of a lockout-shortened season.

The C’s battled injury issues all season. Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox had season-ending heart ailments. Jermaine O’Neal had his season end early, and Avery Bradley missed the Heat series. Even as the playoffs began, a sprained MCL slowed down Paul Pierce and bone spurs kept Ray Allen off the floor.

After finishing first in the Atlantic Division at 39-27, the Celtics took down the Hawks in six games in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They went on to get by the 76ers in a seven-game series and line things up for a big series with the Heat.

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Top Stories of 2012, No. 6: B’s Tim Thomas stirs up political controversy, announces sabbatical from hockey 12.28.12 at 11:18 am ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. This entry in the countdown is No. 6: Tim Thomas’ political controversy and sabbatical.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: NHL lockout
No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year
No. 8: Bruins’ early playoff elimination
No. 7: Ray Allen’s departure from Celtics

Tim Thomas made headlines throughout 2012, first for his outspoken political views and later for his decision to take a year off from hockey. (AP)

A championship team’s visit to the White House usually doesn’t draw major headlines. In almost every case, players take photos with the president, speak with him for a few minutes, and come away talking about the memorable day they had. But when Tim Thomas decided not to join the rest of the Stanley Cup champion Bruins in Washington in January, the narrative changed.

As he posted on Facebook later that day, Thomas — a Michigan native whose helmet at the time read “Don’t tread on me” — declined the invitation because he believes the federal government infringes too much on citizens’ rights.

His Jan. 23 statement read:

I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People. This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL. This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT.

Bruins president Cam Neely then released a statement on behalf of the organization:

“As an organization we were honored by President Obama’s invitation to the White House. It was a great day and a perfect way to cap our team’s achievement from last season. It was a day that none of us will soon forget. We are disappointed that Tim chose not to join us, and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Jacobs family or the Bruins organization. This will be the last public comment from the Bruins organization on this subject.”

Thomas was a crucial part of the 2011 Cup-winning team, finishing the playoffs with a .940 save percentage and winning both the Conn Smythe and Vezina trophies. He was the first goalie since 1975 to win both of those trophies and the Cup in the same year, and he sealed the title-clinching win with a 37-save shutout in Game 7 in Vancouver.

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Top Stories of 2012, No. 7: Ray Allen leaves Celtics for South Beach 12.27.12 at 6:42 pm ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. This entry in the countdown is No. 7: Ray Allen’s departure from the Celtics.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: NHL lockout
No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year
No. 8: Bruins’ early playoff elimination

Ray Allen pushed the Celtics aside to sign with the Heat as a free agent in the offseason. (AP)

Heat owner Micky Arison first published the news of Ray Allen’s departure from the Celtics on Twitter, signaling the official end of the Big Three era in Boston.

Its 2:30am in London and I was just woken up with great news.Welcome to the family #20!!

— Micky Arison (@MickyArison) July 7, 2012

Allen made the choice to head south to Miami for around half the annual salary the Celtics were offering. In Miami, Allen would have the chance to play with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, while making a fresh start with a new team. Allen signed a three-year, $9.7 million deal in July.

Reports that Allen was unhappy in Boston began to surface. There was an apparent rift between Allen and mercurial point guard Rajon Rondo, and Allen was said to be unhappy with a lack of respect from management. A Yahoo! Sports report quoted a source as saying: “He felt he was getting respect [from the Heat] that he hadn’t gotten from [Celtics president] Danny [Ainge] and [coach] Doc [Rivers] anymore. … The [Heat] presentation was incredible.”

Ainge had placed Allen on the trading block in February in hopes that the C’s could get a younger player. And a deal with the Grizzlies for O.J. Mayo apparently was so close to being done that Rivers contacted Allen to let him know. That didn’t sit well with Allen.

Then Rivers inserted Avery Bradley, favoring his defensive tact over Allen’s 3-point shooting ability, into the starting lineup. Allen only started in the Eastern Conference finals because Bradley was out with a shoulder injury.

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Top Stories of 2012, No. 8: Bruins ousted in first round of playoffs by Capitals 12.26.12 at 8:42 am ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. This entry in the countdown is No. 8: the Bruins’ first-round exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: NHL lockout
No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year

Capitals forward Mike Knuble celebrates teammate Joel Ward's overtime goal that eliminated the Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. (AP)

Coming off a Stanley Cup season, the Bruins looked poised to make another run deep into the playoffs in 2012. However, they were dismissed in shocking fashion with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Capitals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

One goal decided the series, and it was Joel Ward‘s overtime goal that decided Game 7. The Caps outscored the B’s 16-15 in the series. Four of the seven games were decided in overtime.

“It was a long year,” B’s defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said after the Game 7 loss. “We had a few ups and downs, longer ups than downs. At the end, we came out of it strong and we seemed to find our rhythm going into the playoffs. But then again, we didn’t play our best hockey in this series. They played us well. It was tough.

“It’s definitely a weird feeling. It’s an empty feeling. You’re wondering what’s going to happen. You don’t really realize it’s over. It’s summer now. It’s going to be a long summer. A couple of bounces here or there, it could’ve gone the other way. You always have to look at it from a different perspective. The next couple of days, it’s going to sink in, probably.”

The Bruins had 49 wins in the regular season, three more than they had during their Stanley Cup season. The Bruins put up an impressive 102 points despite the “Stanley Cup hangover” that contributed to their slow start and grabbed the second seed.

On the other side of the ice, the Capitals finished with 42 wins and 92 points. They made an early coaching change, firing Bruce Boudreau following eight losses in 11 games while the Capitals sat at 12-9-1, tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference. Dale Hunter, a former Capitals enforcer, took over and led the team to 30 wins. The Caps won eight of their last 14 games, including two shootout wins (one against the Bruins) in their final three games.

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Top Stories of 2012, No. 9: Wes Welker franchised, phased out, back to form 12.25.12 at 3:04 pm ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. Our second entry in the countdown is No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year.

After a slow start, Wes Welker returned to form as the Patriots' most reliable receiver in 2012. (AP)

For five seasons in New England, Wes Welker seemingly could do no wrong, and it seemed unfathomable that the Patriots would not want to keep him in Foxboro for as long as possible.

Then came the drop in February’s Super Bowl loss — a difficult but catchable pass that went through Welker’s hands late in the fourth quarter. Instead of giving the Patriots a likely game-ending first down, it gave the Giants the opportunity for their game-winning drive. And suddenly Welker’s true value was being questioned by some. It didn’t help that the Patriots played hardball during contract negotiations in the offseason, electing to place the franchise tag on Welker and settle for a one-year contract rather than agree to a long-term deal.

The $9.5 million, one-year deal ensured that Welker would stay with the Patriots through the 2012 season. After that, who knows?

It certainly is possible that Welker could re-sign with the team after the season, but judging by his consistency and continued success, he might demand a larger contract next year, both in terms of money and years. For now, he is enjoying another tremendous season after professing happiness that he and the team were able to agree on a deal that kept him with a perennial Super Bowl contender.

“There are 9.5 million reasons why I wouldn’t miss any regular-season games,” Welker said during a May 14 appearance on Mut & Merloni, dismissing speculation that he would hold out for a long-term contract. “I don’t think there are any sort of hard feelings on my side or their side. I think we’re all looking forward to the 2012 season and hopefully do some big things there.”

Welker did not exactly do “big things” in the first couple of games this season, but he was not solely to blame. In the Patriots’ 34-13 victory over the Titans in Week 1, Welker’s playing time was limited and he had only three receptions for 14 yards while being targeted just five times (including a drop on third-and-8 in the first quarter). Speculation abounded that he was being phased out of the offense, either as punishment for asking for too much money or so fellow receivers such as Julian Edelman could get more of an opportunity.

Week 2 was better for Welker, as he finished with five catches for 95 yards, albeit in a 20-18 loss to the lowly Cardinals. Still, it was not the 10-catch, 100-plus-yard receiving performance New England fans were accustomed to seeing.

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