Gronkowski scores in return vs. Dolphins

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Gronkowski scores in return vs. Dolphins

FOXBORO -- He certainly wasn't himself, but he was out there. And he spiked one.

Rob Gronkowski returned to game action for the first time in six weeks in the Patriots' 28-0 win over the Dolphins on Sunday. He broke his left arm in a Week 11 win over the Colts and sat out as the Patriots went 4-1 in their five games without him.

Gronkowski appeared to be favoring his arm for much of the Dolphins game -- especially when kept on the line to block -- but he finished with two catches for 42 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown that led to his signature celebration: a right-handed spike.

"I was out there having a good time with my teammates," Gronkowski said. "It was a blast being back out on the field. It was up to the coaches, the training staff how much I was going to play. They control everything. I'm just glad we got the win versus a good Miami Dolphins team."

Gronkowski didn't play nearly as much as he does normally when fully healthy. He was on the field for about a quarter of New England's snaps -- 24 out of a possible 80, according to ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss. His arm was wrapped from his elbow to his wrist in a protective sleeve.

Gronkowski appeared to be favoring his arm at different points during the game: When used as a blocker on the line, he used his right hand to make initial contact with defenders; when blocking downfield, there points where he avoided contacting defenders with his left arm; when jogging back to the huddle in the second half, he cocked it in place while his right arm swung freely; even after his touchdown, when teammates joined him in the end zone to celebrate, he offered them right-handed high fives while his left arm rested at his side; quarterback Tom Brady tried to jump into his arms and Gronkowski made a half-hearted attempt to catch him with his good arm.

Gronkowski smiled wide in the locker room after the game and wouldn't say that his arm bothered him. He insisted that he was happy to finally take a few hits.

"It felt good," Gronkowski said. "I haven't got hit in a while. It's been a couple weeks, about 6 weeks, since I've got hit. It's football. Always ready to get hit. Always ready to get knocked down. Just gotta get back up and get in the huddle. So, good to be back out there."

Still, he hinted that the Patriots' upcoming bye will help him get back to playing like his old self.

"I was just out there, doing what I had to do," he answered when asked if his arm affected his blocking. "Doing what the coaches asked. We got a week off now so I'm just gonna be in the training room, trying to get stronger every day, just working hard. We'll go out there and make some good blocks when it comes down to it."

When it comes down to it, in the playoffs, Gronkowski said he'll be better off for the experience he got against the Dolphins.

"I got limited reps, obviously, not that many but you always want to get some reps before heading into the playoffs," Gronkowski explained. "It's good to get the speed down, the feel of the game. There's practice, you can go hard, but that was game time. It was great to get some reps in, get the flow back into it, and be out there with your teammates, and connect with some chemistry with your teammates."

In two weeks it will be important that the Patriots offense is as close to humming as possible. The reintroduction of a significant piece like Gronkowski, even if just for a quarter of their plays Sunday, could pay dividends for the group's rhythm come playoff time.

"It was nice to get him back in the flow of things," Brady said. "We used everybody, so it was exciting to kind of have everybody out there at once for the first time all season. We'll use the bye and hopefully come back strong in a couple weeks."

It was the first time since Week 7 when coach Bill Belichick's two standout tight ends, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, were out on the field at the same time. Hernandez said he noticed Gronkowski's impact right away.

"You know when Gronk's on the field you have to double him," Hernandez said. "He's too big and too athletic. So it opens things up for me, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, so it's good to have him back, and he's going to be even healthier come playoff time."

The Patriots are counting on it. Because even though he contributed against the Dolphins in limited action, it didn't look like he was at 100 percent. If he can get even more comfortable using his arm by the time the Patriots play in the AFC's Divisional Round in two weeks, their already potent offense will be even more dangerous.

At the half: Sixers applying pressure early and often against the Celtics

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At the half: Sixers applying pressure early and often against the Celtics

The Celtics are getting more than they bargained for against the Philadelphia 76ers who are once again, record-wise, among the worst teams in the NBA.

They didn’t look like it in the first half which ended with the Celtics trailing the Sixers 53-45.

Boston came into the game having won its last four road games. And they did so by playing solid defense, something that has been noticeably absent in the first half.

Philadelphia came into the game as one of the NBA’s better 3-point shooting teams and has lived up to the lofty ranking.

In the first half Philadelphia made nine of its 18 three-point attempts while the Celtics are way, way, way at the other end of the 3-point shooting spectrum while missing eight of their 11 3s with Isaiah Thomas making a pair with the lone other made 3-pointer coming from Marcus Smart.

The defense struggled, the offense never had any kind of flow and not surprisingly, the Celtics found themselves playing from behind most of the first half.

Here are the first half stars from Saturday’s game.

STARS

Sergio Rodriguez: His playmaking was solid as usual, but it was Rodriguez getting it going with his jumper that really produced surprisingly strong results for the Sixers. He had 11 points, four assists and a steal in the first half.

Isaiah Thomas: Playing his game which is shooting and attacking the rim, Thomas was Boston’s lone double-digit scorer in the first half with 15 points which is tops among all players.

STUDS

Dario Saric: It was a solid first half as Saric contributed both on the boards and the scoreboard. He had 10 points in the first half along with five rebounds.

Gerald Henderson: Henderson had one of those high efficiency-type games with 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting.

DUDS

Celtics 3-point shooting: It was a miserable first half for a team that has been among the NBA’s leaders in 3-pointers made and taken this season. At the half, Boston has shot 2-for-10 on 3's.

Celtics defense: Boston has shown little to no signs of providing the kind of push-back they’ll need in order to leave Philly with a win. In addition to allowing Philadelphia to shoot 47.4 percent from the field, Boston also allowed the Sixers to knock down nine 3's.

Red Sox outfield "Win, Dance, Repeat" celebration finds its way on MLB the Show 17

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Red Sox outfield "Win, Dance, Repeat" celebration finds its way on MLB the Show 17

Mooke Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and a mix of Andrew Benintendi, Brock Holt, Blake Swihart and Chris Young brought postgame celebrations to a new level last season.

Most Sox fans are familiar with the outfield victory "Win, Dance, Repeat" where the trio would dance and pretend to photograph the game's best player between them. The celebration ended with a pose at first, but as seen the MLB the Show 17's freshly released trailer, a few more wrinkes were added in.

In fact, here's a taste of the celebrations and what else to expect from Playstation's 2017 MLB game: