Curran: Patriots battle with 'Fins good preparation for Texans

955157.jpg

Curran: Patriots battle with 'Fins good preparation for Texans

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. Next up, Houston.

And the way things went down on a warm, windy Sunday in South Florida was excellent preparation for the battle that awaits the Patriots against the AFCs best team.

After winning their past four games by an average of 27 points, the Patriots had to grind on Sunday to emerge with their 23-16 win. Grind hard.

There wasnt an easy throw out there, said Tom Brady after soldiering through a game in which the Dolphins front-seven cuffed him around for the final three quarters.

The weekly worry about whether Brady might get dented while playing at the end of a blowout was put on the back burner this time as the Patriots needed Brady and the rest of the offense to twist the screws on Miami in the final eight minutes.

A 16-play drive that ended with a field goal to make it 23-13 with 70 seconds left did the trick. That possession, even though it didnt end with seven points, can serve as a confidence-builder for what awaits when the Texans come to town. Even though Houstons been a little more permissive on defense over the past month, they are still one of the NFLs most disruptive groups. And if the Patriots are going to hand the Texans their second loss of the year, they will probably find themselves in a closeout situation similar to the one they faced Sunday.

That was a grind right there, said Donald Thomas who was again holding down the left guard spot as Logan Mankins calf continues to heal. Youre sore during the game and youre feeling it and youre into it and its not gonna come easy. It wasnt like the past few weeks where we were scoring at a rapid rate. It was more of a dogfight. We knew before the game started. We knew it wasnt gonna be (easy). Theyre a good team. This team, I know theyre not gonna lay down and just give it to us . . . That drive was exactly what we needed. I think we had eight minutes when we went out there, we gave it up with less than two minutes. It was a seven-point game, then once we got into field goal range the focus was on getting a touchdown but the main thing was eating up clock and getting a score and giving our defense time to breathe.

The Patriots offensive line needs its best guys back out there. Mankins at left guard, Dan Connolly at right guard and Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle. Sunday was a little messy up front and the way the Patriots offense stagnated through the second and third quarters cant be repeated against a Houston team which will put up points a lot faster than the Dolphins could.

Mankins participation in practice will be a story to watch this week. He needs to get his wind and his mobility back before going up against that Houston front. The Patriots will have to sweat the availability of Connolly as well. He left Sunday with a back injury and, after Nick McDonald struggled to replace Connolly, Marcus Cannon stepped in for McDonald. Vollmer, who said after the game that he was feeling good, is playing with a back injury as well. He was a game-time decision on Sunday and while he mostly kept Cameron Wake in check, hes not at full strength, it seems.

But the Patriots were still able to summon enough to impose their will on the ground with Stevan Ridley and a dash of Shane Vereen on the Patriots last drive.

When you run the ball like that its somewhat on the O-line, the running backs and receivers, Vollmer explained. It feels good. Sometimes you gotta do that and we were able to do that today and it was big. We ran seven minutes off the clock and that was necessary. Hopefully we continue to do that.

Even though New England has two more losses than the Texans, the Patriots are still the conference gold standard. And Houston wont just be playing to solidify their hold on the No. 1 seed but also to get an appraisal of where they are.

We know were gonna get the best shot from every team we play and thats what Miami did, said Jerod Mayo.

Asked when the Patriots will turn their attention fully to the Texans, Mayo thought for a moment, smiled and said, Tomorrow.

Tomorrow is now today. And the Patriots are facing their toughest opponent of the season in a week. Its good that they got their nose bloodied a little bit on Sunday.

Because the grind is on.

After knee injury, Beleskey set to return for Bruins vs. Blackhawks

After knee injury, Beleskey set to return for Bruins vs. Blackhawks

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins, looking for a spark after terrible, back-to-back losses to the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings, are hoping the return of Matt Beleskey from a knee injury can help provide the inspiration. 

The blue-collar left winger has missed the past 23 games with a torn MCL in his right knee suffered in early December against the Buffalo Sabres, but now he’s easing back into the lineup on the fourth line in Friday night’s showdown with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Beleskey was skating with Dominic Moore and Austin Czarnik on the fourth line at morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena and should be expected to throw a few hard hits and play with some intensity in his return.

“I’m ready to go and excited to get back out there,” said Beleskey, who has been skating with the team for roughly a week after giving the knee sufficient time to heal. “I’ve just got to keep it simple and do what I do well: Be hard on pucks, take the body and just try and find your groove. You don’t want to expect too much in your first game back, but you just want to be able to contribute.

“’I’ve been saving [the pent-up energy] for a while, so I’m ready to get back out there and hopefully provide a spark for us.”

The Beleskey return also provides the player with a bit of a reset button after a slow start to the season that saw him with two goals and five points along with a minus-6 rating in 24 games played for the Black and Gold prior to his injury. Here are the projected line combos and D-pairs against the Blackhawks based on morning skate today:

Marchand-Bergeron-Vatrano

Schaller-Krejci-Pastrnak

Spooner-Nash-Backes/Hayes

Beleskey/Blidh-Moore-Czarnik

 

Chara-Carlo

Krug-McQuaid

Morrow-Liles

 

Rask

Thomas on not getting All-Star start: 'It hurts but I’ll be all right’

Thomas on not getting All-Star start: 'It hurts but I’ll be all right’

WALTHAM, Mass. –  Isaiah Thomas stood before the media throng on Friday afternoon at the Celtics’ practice facility and answered all the questions with the usual truthful tone sprinkled with a bit of humor.
 
But you could sense that he was still bitter about the results announced by the NBA on Thursday as to who will be the starters in next month’s All-Star Game.
 
Cleveland’s LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee and Chicago’s Jimmy Butler were the frontcourt starters announced by the league. In the backcourt you will find Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, who finished in a tie with Thomas in this first season in which fans, media and players all have a say in who will be the game’s starting five, as opposed to past seasons in which the starters were chosen strictly by fans.
 
DeRozan and Thomas finished in a tie under the voting system, but DeRozan moved ahead of Thomas due to a tie-breaker (fan vote), in which DeRozan had about 41,000 more votes than Thomas.
 
“It’s not the end of the world; it’s all good,” said Thomas. “I was disappointed, but those guys deserve it as well. I did everything I could in my control to put myself in position to be a starter. It’s not the end of the world.”
 
Especially knowing that the coaches will vote him on to the team for the second year in a row.
 
But for Thomas to be even in the conversation speaks to how the league’s new system of choosing All-Star starters, makes the whole choosing of starters about more than just a popularity contest, which is the irony of Thomas being left off the starting five – it ultimately came down to DeRozan receiving more votes from fans than Thomas.
 
“I didn’t really look at it. I didn’t look at what the reason was, but it is what it is,” Thomas said. “I’ll use it as motivation. I have to get better. That’s all I took out of that. I’m not where I want to be.”
 
Thomas finished fourth in fan voting for the starting nod, but was second among players and first among Eastern Conference guards among the media.
 
“I appreciate everybody who voted for me, especially you [media] guys,” Thomas said. “The media showed me some love and then my peers showed me love too.”
 
But as far as coming so close to being an All-Star starter and not making it, Thomas said, “It hurts but I’ll be alright. I’ll use it as motivation and keep going.”
 
Thomas is having a banner season that has elevated his name and game into the conversation for the league’s MVP award that so far is being led by Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
 
He averages 28.7 points per game, which is tops among Eastern Conference players and fourth overall. 

Among his more notable accomplishments this season, he scored a franchise-record 29 points in the fourth quarter of a win over Miami, and in the same game, wound up scoring a career-high 52 points.
 
Thomas isn’t the only NBA player who has had a season that most would believe would result in him being an All-Star starter.
 
“You look in the west, [Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook] averages a triple-double and he didn’t get in [to start],” Thomas said. “I guess…I’ll let everybody debate for me and argue for me. Those guys that made it who start, they deserved it.”