The latest on the NHL labor talks

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The latest on the NHL labor talks

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- So much for a two-week break. Just over a week since the last set of failed negotiations, the NHL and the locked-out players' association will return to the bargaining table Monday.Conversations that restarted Friday between NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr produced enough positive movement Saturday to set up another face-to-face meeting that the sides hope will lead to an agreement to save the hockey season.NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman suggested to union executive director Donald Fehr this week that the sides take two weeks off from negotiations. The union maintained its desire to keep talking, and now bargaining is back on."We can confirm that we have tentatively agreed to get back together on Monday, either late in the afternoon or early evening," Daly said. "The meeting was requested by the union and it's their agenda. We will see what they have to tell us."Owners and players met for several consecutive days last week in New York, but made little progress. Negotiations ended in an angry exchange last Friday, but bargaining resumed two days later only to break off again in just over an hour.Staying apart never appeared to be a good option, and the NHL now seems to agree.All games through Nov. 30 have already been taken off the schedule, more cancellations are likely within a week, the Winter Classic has been wiped out, the All-Star game is the next big event in jeopardy, and the whole season could be lost, too, in the blink of an eye if a new deal can't be hammered out.The players have stuck to their position that negotiations are the only way to work out differences, and that they are willing to meet any time the NHL wants to.The NHL contends that the union has submitted the same proposal multiple times without moving in the league's direction. The union says it has agreed to come down from receiving 57 percent of hockey-related revenues to a 50-50 split. The league wants that to go into effect in the first year of the agreement, while the union wants to get there gradually.Seven years ago, after the entire 2004-05 season was lost to a lockout, the players' association accepted a salary-cap system for the first time. The union feels it shouldn't have to bear the brunt of the concessions now after league revenues reached a record high of over 3 billion last season.This 63-day lockout has claimed 327 regular-season games, and hope of a new deal and the start of the already-shortened season -- likely of 68 games per team -- on Dec. 1 has started to wane.It is more than just finances preventing a deal. The disagreements over player contract terms have emerged as just as big an impasse.The NHL wants to limit contracts to five years, make rules to prohibit back-diving contracts the league feels circumvent the salary cap, keep players ineligible for unrestricted free agency until they are 28 or have eight years of professional service time, cut entry-level deals to two years, and make salary arbitration after five years.Once those issues are settled, the sides will then have to figure out who will cover the financial damage the lockout will ultimately do to this season.Players missed their third pay day of the season Thursday, and the clock is ticking toward more losses. The 2004-05 season was canceled in February. A lockout in 1995 ended in January, leading to a 48-game schedule.

Patriots lean on Blount for iron-man workload with Brady out

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Patriots lean on Blount for iron-man workload with Brady out

We've heard it many times before. It gets repeated so frequently that it's become a regional sports cliche: The Patriots are a game-plan offense. 

And they are. When they like their matchups running the football, they'll run the football. When the short-to-intermediate passing game is what suits them best, they'll do that.

But make no mistake, they'll typically roll with the latter plan of attack. Especially when Tom Brady isn't serving a four-game suspension to start the regular season. Given his skill set, and given the weapons he has around him, the team thrives when medium-range passes are put on the money. 

Sometimes that comes at the expense of consistency in the running game. Last season, the Patriots were tied for 25th in the league in terms of rushing attempts. 

This year? Different story.

Through three weeks -- unless the Falcons choose to run it more than 50 times in their Monday night matchup with the Saints -- the Patriots have called more running plays than any other club in the league. Their 108 attempts is seven better than the 101 Dallas has run, and New England lead back LeGarrette Blount leads the NFL in carries with 75, one more than Houston's Lamar Miller. 

It's been a drastic change for a team that typically likes to chuck it.

In Week 1, against a talented Cardinals secondary, Blount carried 22 times, which was more than he had carried in any game in 2015 save for a win over the Redskins when he saw a career-high 29 attempts. In Week 2, he matched that career-high when the team needed him to step up following Jimmy Garoppolo's shoulder injury, running for 123 yards and a score. Then in his most impressive performance of the young season, with rookie Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, Blount took the ball 24 times against the Texans, scored twice, and averaged 4.38 yards per carry. And the 6-foot, 250-pounder did it on just three days' rest. 

"We really needed it in both games," coach Bill Belichick said on Monday. "LeGarrette has a lot of skill, as we know. I mean, he’s a big back that has very good quickness, and feet, and balance and speed for that size. So, we just kind of always feel like if we can just get a hole, get him started, get him going that he has a lot of ability to make yards on his own if we can just get him going, get him downhill, and get him some space to run.

"He has done a good job with it. He has broken tackles. He has run through some arm tackles and things like that. He has gotten some good, tough yards for us. Hopefully we continue to do that. Hopefully we can continue to get him the ball with some momentum, some space, and give him an opportunity to do some things on his own and not have to deal with four or five guys there at the line of scrimmage but try to get him going.

"He has worked hard, he’s in good condition, he has done a good job of gaining yards in the fourth quarter and at the end of the game. He hasn’t gotten worn down in those situations so that’s all been very positive and we needed it."

Belichick recognized Blount's work, and the work of the blockers in front of Blount, during his postgame address on Thursday night. "We talked about that running game breaking open in the fourth quarter," Belichick said, beaming

Blount is averaging 25 carries per game, which is 9.5 more than his previous career-high, which he recorded back when he was a rookie for the Buccaneers in 2010, and it's 11.2 carries more than his average last year.

Despite the workload, despite the fact that he's almost 30 and coming off of a season-ending hip injury suffered last year, he's looked fresh. Particularly late in games, Blount has been relied upon heavily as the Patriots have tried to maintain possession and salt away the clock. Against the Cardinals, he had a critical third-down run that helped set up Stephen Gostkowski's game-winning field goal.

"He’s had a number of games in his career here with us that he’s really done a nice job of carrying the ball a few times and to be able to do that four days apart, that’s always a tougher issue when you carry it a lot," said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. "And then come back and do it in the same week, four days apart, that’s not easy to do. He does a good job of taking care of his body and trying to get himself ready to go each week, learn the game plan and get ready to go when his number is called.

"He’s been in there a lot this year. He’s carried the ball, he’s pass protected, he’s been involved in the passing game a little bit, so he does a lot of different things. Some show up in the stat sheets, some don’t, but we’ve certainly counted on him a lot and he came through for us again on Thursday night."