Brady happy to have Gronkowski, all targets active

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Brady happy to have Gronkowski, all targets active

FOXBORO -- Not only did the Patriots win to close out the 2012 regular season, they also earned a first-round playoff bye. 
"It was kind of a late Christmas present," Tom Brady said. "So we accept."
They certainly did; New England blanked the Dolphins, 28-0, on Sunday. 
Brady admitted the team knew before kickoff that Indianapolis had upset the Texans, clearing the way for the Patriots to have a week off. 
All they had to do was take care of business. 
"Coach Belichick said, 'Look, the only people that can improve out position are us, so regardless of what anybody else does, we have to win.' "
It helped to have Rob Gronkowski back. 
The tight end hasn't seen game action since fracturing his left forearm in Week 11. This is the player who had 17 of New England's 39 touchdowns last year. This is the player who, behind Wes Welker, led the team in targets, receptions, yards, yards-after-catch, and first downs. 
Between his injury and the injury to fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez (a broken ankle kept him out of six contests), Brady has been deprived of full firepower quite a bit this season. 
Going into Sunday's game, Gronkowski and Hernandez hadn't played together more than four times. The last game they both got snaps was October 21. 
That changed this weekend. 
On New England's first offensive play of the game, Gronkowski cleared room for Hernandez who was running a route underneath him. With Gronkowski's blocking, Hernandez was free to open the game with a 14-yard gain. It's not an unusual play. It's just one that seems to work brilliantly well with those two in particular. 
Brady finished 22-for-36 for 284 yards and two touchdowns. 
He was happy to see Gronkowski on the field again. He was happy to have Gronkowski and Hernandez together. He was happy to have all of his regular targets active. 
"It was nice to get Gronkowski back into the flow of things, you know," Brady said. "We used everybody. It was exciting to have everybody out there at once for the first time all season. We'll use the bye and hopefully come back stronger." 
When the Patriots return to action it will be in the playoffs. 
It appears most players are getting healthy, or are healthy enough, at the right time. Throw in one more week off to rest and rehabilitate, and the outlook is positive.  
Even Brady could admit that much. 
"Well, we've won 10 out of 11, so that's pretty good," he said. "We were 2-3 at one point and we had some tough games earlier in the year, then we win 10 out of 11 and our only loss was against a pretty good football team. But we turned it over four times in the loss to San Francisco."

Then he smiled.  
"If we don't turn it over four times, I like our chances."

Quotes, notes and stars: Betts has first career five-hit night

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Quotes, notes and stars: Betts has first career five-hit night

BOSTON - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 6-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals

QUOTES:

"We continually do a great job in creating opportunities and I'm confident that (the struggles with men in scoring position) will turn.'' - John Farrell

"When you start off with a five-run spot in the first, that's a tough deficit to overcome.'' - Steven Wright.

"That's how it goes sometimes. Sometimes, we score when we're not expecting to and then when we need to score, sometimes it doesn't happen.'' - Mookie Betts on the team going 4-for-15 with RISP.

 

NOTES:

* The loss was just the third in the last 13 series openers for the Red Sox.

* The game marked the first time in 20 home games in which the Sox never led.

* Boston was 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

* The first four hitters in the order were 13-for-19 (.684). The fifth-through-nine hitters, however, were just 2-for-21 (.095).

* Mookie Betts (five hits) leads the majors with 55 multi-hit games.

* Dustin Pedroia has reached base in each of his last eight plate appearances.

* David Ortiz's double was the 625th of his career, passing Hank Aaron to move into 10 place in MLB history.

* Ortiz leads the A.L. in doubles (41) and extra-base hits (72).

 

STARS:

1) Eric Hosmer

Hosmer cranked a three-run homer into the Monster Seats four batters into the game, and the Royals were off and running with a five-run inning.

2) Ian Kennedy

The Royals starter wasn't dominant, allowing nine hits in 5 1/3 innings, but he bailed himself out of a number of jams and limited the Sox to just two runs.

3) Mookie Betts

Betts had his first career five-hit night and knocked in two of the three Red Sox runs, though he also got himself picked off first base.

 

Knighton on future after DNP vs. Panthers: 'If I'm here, I'm here...If I'm not, I'm not'

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Knighton on future after DNP vs. Panthers: 'If I'm here, I'm here...If I'm not, I'm not'

When Terrance Knighton was signed by the Patriots as a free agent this offseason, many assumed he would factor into the rotation that the Patriots would use on the interior of their defensive line in 2016. After not seeing a single snap against the Panthers on Friday night, it seems as though Knighton's roster spot in New England is no sure thing. 

"Everybody wants to play. I didn't get a chance to," Knighton said after the game. "That's the decision they made . . . I have faith in my ability. I have faith in, you know, the coaching staff's decisions -- whatever the decision was. I'm not looking for an explanation or anything. [I'll] show up to work tomorrow. I still got a lot of ball left in me so it is what it is."

The Patriots opted to go with rookie third-round pick Vincent Valentine as the defensive tackle starter next to Malcom Brown in Carolina. Even so, because Alan Branch -- who was re-instated from a week-long team suspension on Thursday -- was not in uniform it would have made sense for Knighton to see playing time. 

He admitted it was disappointing that he didn't. 

"It's disappointing just because I've played a lot of ball in this league," Knighton said. "I've seen a lot of things. I'm not gonna make too much of it. It is what it is. Whatever happens happens. If I'm here, I'm here. If I'm not, I'm not. I'm just taking it a day at a time."

Knighton is vying for a role alongside fellow defensive tackles Markus Kuhn, Joe Vellano, Anthony Johnson and Woodrow Hamilton -- all of whom saw some action in Carolina. The former Jaguars, Broncos and Redskins defensive tackle saw playing time against the Bears last week, but he was in the game late, and when he was on the field, he had difficulty holding his ground at times. 

After the Panthers game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Knighton's lack of playing time, and he alluded to the fact that Knighton is still trying to pick up some of the techniques he's being taught in New England, where defensive tackles are expected to two-gap effectively. 

"Some new techniques, some new things...different things than what he's used to doing," Belichick said. "We played the younger guys tonight. We didn't get as much of a look at him as some other players. He played a little more last week. I think there's good competition at that position. We'll just have to see how it all plays out."

First impressions: Royals' five-run first inning dooms Red Sox in 6-3 loss

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First impressions: Royals' five-run first inning dooms Red Sox in 6-3 loss

First impressions from the Red Sox' 6-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals:

 

Steven Wright recovered nicely after the first inning, but the damage was done.

Wright's last five innings featured just three hits allowed -- one in the infield. But the first inning did the Red Sox in -- two walks followed by a three-run homer, then a single and a two-run homer.

Whether this was a matter of rust for Wright -- who last pitched three weeks ago Friday night -- or an early inability to command his knuckleball is uncertain.

The fact is, Wright dug an early hole for his teammates, and he had the misfortune to do so against a team with the best bullpen in baseball.

To his credit, Wright kept the game somewhat within reach thereafter, but the five-run head start proved too much of a jump.

 

It's time to worry a little about Jackie Bradley.

Bradley was just 7-for-40 in the just-completed road trip, and things didn't get any better on the first night of the homestand.

In the first, he came up with two on and two out and struck out swinging to strand both baserunners. In the third, he came to the plate with runners on the corners and, again, struck out swinging.

We're seeing the same kind of slump that Bradley fell into in previous seasons, where even contact is hard to find, with nine strikeouts in the last 16 at-bats.

Problem is, with Andrew Benitendi on the DL, there aren't a lot of options for John Farrell with the Red Sox outfield.

 

Trying to get Fernando Abad and Junichi Tazawa back on track in low- leverage mop-up didn't work.

Tazawa had a perfect seventh, but gave up a monster shot into the center field bleachers to Lorenzo Cain to start the eighth.

Abad entered, and while he did record a couple of strikeouts, also gave up a single, a walk and threw a wild pitches before he could complete the inning.

Getting some work for the two was the right idea, given that the Sox were down by three runs at the time. A good outing might help either regain some confidence and turn the corner.

But not even that could be accomplished Friday night.