McDaniels hitting groove but still tweaking offense

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McDaniels hitting groove but still tweaking offense

Thursday night's game got so weird, so fast that the methodical beating the Pats seemed about to apply turned into a pie-in-the-face mess.

But it was clear on Thursday night that the Patriots offense - which had its moments of doubt and pain earlier in the season even as it put up points at a solid clip - is closer to becoming fully evolved.

Even without Rob Gronkowski, even with Aaron Hernandez coming back from his ankle injury (again), even on a short week, the Patriots ran some schemes against the Jets offensively that stretched New York to its breaking point. And past.

The slapstick nature of points 14 through 28 overshadowed the first 14 points the Patriots scored and the drive preceding on which Hernandez re-entered the Patriots offense with a 28-yard reception. But there were plays that showed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is understanding how all his gadgets work.

"Obviously, the more time we spend together, the more you get to learn about different phases of each receiver's game and then how they all work together collectively," McDaniels said. "Whether it's the plays or the performance we're looking for from them, it's all tied together. Really what we try to narrow it to is, hone in on what we feel are the strengths of those groups of players that are working together. Whether that's throwing the ball between Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd. Whether that's a certain blocking combination on the edge with tight ends. Whatever it might be, we're trying to maximize the strengths of their games at the same time."

Thursday night, Shane Vereen was employed on two plays of note - a third-and-1 toss that looked like it was ripped from a high school playbook and gained 7. Vereen was also the recipient of a pass in the flat that went for 83 yards when the Patriots schemed it up perfectly to get a matchup of Bart Scott on Vereen.

In the course of asking McDaniels about getting comfortable with his weapons, I alluded to Brandon Lloyd and Tom Brady. McDaniels circled back to that tandem as being one that can still improve.

"We need to work on the weak points that maybe we're not doing as well that we need, NEED, to improve on as we go forward," said McDaniels. "I think with Brandon and Tom specifically, there's definitely some real good and then we're always going to try to find some things that we didn't hit positive as we go forward. I know that those two guys have tried extremely hard to try to get that done and hopefully we're gonna see more and more results as we go down the stretch here."

The first time the Patriots and Jets met, Lloyd was a focal point of the game plan and was targeted downfield outside the numbers. Eight throws went his way, he caught 1 for 6 yards.

Thursday, the Patriots featured the running game more and a lot of perimeter attacking based on scheming things and stretching coverage as opposed to beating guys 1-on-1. 

That, McDaniels said, is an outgrowth of the offense expanding.

"There's always things that you need to take and add to (the base offense) as you go based on the defense that you're seeing that week," McDaniels explained. "It may not be a brand new protection but maybe it's a route combination that we've never used from that protection off of a formation that we've used previously. I think those are the little things that we're sensitive to.

"You've heard the term "self scouting" before," McDaniels noted. "A lot of that has to do with looking at yourself and seeing what other teams are seeing and then go forward and either perfect things that are going well or give them something to think about as we go forward."

The Patriots will face two of the NFL's toughest defenses in the next month - the Niners and Texans. It will be interesting to see what New England hatches for them that neither team has seen on film. That will be evidence of what McDaniels is referring to.

"I don't think there's a period of time where you just come to a point in the season where you stop (adding to the offense)," he concluded. "I always think you can make yourself better by complementing some of the things you do well and hopefully that's what will continue to do for the last five weeks of the season."

Report: Patriots fill open roster spot with former Browns DL Hughes

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Report: Patriots fill open roster spot with former Browns DL Hughes

The Patriots opened a roster spot by waiving defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, but they won't be adding a quarterback to take his place. 

According to Field Yates of ESPN, the team has swapped one defensive tackle for another by adding former Browns big man John Hughes, a 6-foot-2, 320-pounder who played under former assistant to the Patriots coaching staff Mike Lombardi when Lombardi was Cleveland's general manager in 2013. 

Hughes was released last week after spending just over four years with the team that drafted him in the third round in 2012. He signed a four-year extension with the Browns last season that was worth $12.8 million. 

With the Patriots, Hughes figures to work in as part of the rotation on the interior of the defensive line along with Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and rookie third-round pick Vincent Valentine. Unlike Johnson, who was more of a penetrating pass-rusher, Hughes should factor in as more of a space-eating type. He has 5.5 career sacks in 53 games. 

Johnson is the latest in a long line of Browns who played under Lombardi to end up in New England. The two most notable Patriots who spent 2013 in Cleveland are defensive end Jabaal Sheard and running back Dion Lewis. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who arrived in New England in a trade this summer, was drafted by Lombardi's front office as the No. 6 overall pick in 2013.

Isaiah Thomas: 'I didn't think Boston would be this cool when I came'

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Isaiah Thomas: 'I didn't think Boston would be this cool when I came'

Mike Gorman and Brian Scalabrine sit-down with Celtics All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas to talk about the high expectations for the season, the addition of Al Horford, and getting married this offseason.

Also, Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely talk about Thomas, including his very team friendly deal will ever become an issue.

Look for new podcast versions of our media day interviews in the coming days, plus videos and other content as the Celtics get ready for the season.