Curran: Patriots building toward familiar territory

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Curran: Patriots building toward familiar territory

FOXBORO There was a full quarter remaining Monday night when the Texans said, Let us up, weve had enough.

Getting the ball back with 14:15 left in the game after the Patriots scored to make it 35-7, Houston ran the ball four times and punted.

The white flag was up. The Texans tapped out of what theyd called the biggest game in team history.

Are they really paper tigers or was this just a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad night under the bright lights in Foxboro? Well find out over the next month or so.

But there is nothing ambiguous about what the Patriots set out to do Monday night and then accomplished. This was one of those games they were itching to play because so much of the advance talk centered around what a daunting team the Texans were and how hard theyd be to deal with.

Obviously, we always talk about ignoring the noise, but you hear it, admitted linebacker Jerod Mayo. You hear it walking down the street. It was a little bit of a motivational factor for me, at least. Im sure the rest of the guys felt the same way.

The rest of the guys were gentle to the dispatched Texans. There was no grave-dancing done.

Logan Mankins, who can often be counted on for some straight-shooting and a subtle jab was taciturn.

We have our hands full every week, he said. We have a chip every week. We go out there and try to do our best and win the game every week. It doesnt matter the other teams record.

Pressed a little, Mankins did add that, Of course its rewarding to beat a team thats getting a lot of pregame buildup.

Anytime you play someone where its said, Youre gonna have trouble with this team all night and then to win the way we did tonight its always good feeling. We didnt want it to come down to a kick.

It didnt. The only kicking was administered to the Texans hindquarters, a point they were more than willing to concede.

We got our tails kicked, said Texans head coach Gary Kubiak.

"They just gave gave us a good ass-whooping, said wide receiver Andre Johnson.

"I think we put too much focus on this game as just a huge game, and not doing our approach as far as just going 1-0, explained Texans linebacker Bradie James. Sometimes guys get a little tight, things get a little out of hand. But the Patriots played lights out in the first half. That's what it takes. I think they showed us what it takes to be a champion.

Which is part of the process. The Texans are a good team this year. They were last year as well. The Patriots have been a great team for more than a decade. This game that Andre Johnson called the biggest in franchise history? The Patriots play in games of this magnitude several times a season.

Give credit to the Texans, theyre not going anywhere, said Patriots wide receiver Donte' Stallworth. Theyre gonna be around.

What the Patriots are doing this year is what they did last year. They are building to a crescendo. They seem to spend the first five or six weeks of the season tinkering in the lab on both sides of the ball. The stuff that works, they keep. The stuff that doesnt they throw out.

If they need something they dont have like a solid cover corner they go out and try to get one, which they did this year with Aqib Talib. If they need to move a guy like Devin McCourty to make everyone else better, they do it. If they need to de-emphasize a players role as they did with Brandon Lloyd they do that as well.

They put players in positions to succeed and, generally, dont try to force square pegs into round holes.

The ignore the noise mantra to which they subscribe doesnt just apply to not hearing the praise, but also shutting out the criticism. And there was a lot of it early this year, much of it deserved, some of it the aimless braying of donkeys with either four hours or column inches to fill.

Inevitably, as the season moves along, the Patriots fix whats broken or succeed in covering it up. At least well enough to emerge as one of the best teams in a 32-team league by the time the Christmas lights go up.

And the braying wanes until the laments are reduced to worrying about which starters are playing too long when the games are already decided.

This morning, the Patriots wake up and find themselves anointed as the favorites to go to New Orleans for their sixth Super Bowl appearance in 12 seasons.

Less than two months ago, the Patriots were 3-3 after a loss to Seattle. Misery. After an overtime win over the Jets the following week, panic and disgust over how flawed the Patriots were hit its annual high-water mark.

Six wins later, there is no team in the NFL playing better. The December coronation is coming. The Patriots are used to this.

One of the big things that Bill has always preached for years, even before I was here in 07 is, Dont buy into the hype and ignore the outside noise. Come in and prepare and dont worry about what the media is saying about the game . . . thats one of the things that has driven this organization to be so successful over the past however many years its been.

There is a methodical method to the madness of Bill Belichick. Plod, plod, plod to excellence every year. Let the other teams win the offseason, September and October. November and December belong to New England. And, quite often, January and February do too.

It takes a while to develop that patience. They dont hand out the lettermans jackets until after the season.

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

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Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.

But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.

The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.

“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”

Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that. 

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.

But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.

“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.

But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.

Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.

Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.

“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”

The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.

Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.