Niners well aware that Pats are ultimate test

Niners well aware that Pats are ultimate test

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By Kevin KurzCSNBayArea.com

SANTA CLARA Just in case the 49ers defenders needed a reminder that their next opponent was going to provide perhaps the toughest test of the season, they got it on Monday night.

Several key defensive starters were able to catch at least a portion of New Englands 42-14 dismantling of the Houston Texans. The defending AFC champions were firing on all cylinders in front of a national audience, giving Houston just its second loss of the year.

And, the 49ers were watching. New England (10-3) has won seven straight and will host San Francisco (9-3-1) on NBCs Sunday Night Football.

They looked good. They looked real good, man, said defensive lineman Ray McDonald. Weve got to come out here really prepared for that up-tempo offense.

Cornerback Perrish Cox said: I thought it was going to be closer than what it was. Houston is a good team. You can never look past the Patriots at all. Thats one of the best teams of the past decade, and still is. Thats one of them teams you just cant look past.

Of course, the Pats offense starts with quarterback Tom Brady. The 13-year pro has thrown 29 touchdowns and just four interceptions, and is second in the league with a 104.2 passer rating, percentage points behind Robert Griffin III and a tenth of a point better than Niners backup Alex Smith.

On Monday against Houston, the 35-year-old San Mateo native was 21-for-35 for 296 yards with four touchdowns and no picks against one of the stronger defenses in the NFL.

Hes more one of those laid-back, confident quarterbacks that basically you can tell his demeanor and he knows exactly what hes doing, Cox said. Hes one of those confident quarterbacks that basically calls his own offense. Hes a vet, a very good vet thats talented.

They have a lot of different weapons, a lot of guys that can make plays, but were really fighting against Tom Brady, cornerback Tarell Brown said. He has the keys to the car, and we definitely have to stop him.

Lineman Ricky Jean Francois is hoping that pressure on Brady will lead to a more effective defense of the future Hall-of-Famer. But, thats easier said than done.

They have a great offensive line. The only way Tom Brady's going to be successful is when those guys are going to block, Francois said. For their running game to work, the O-line's got to block. You've got to take your hat off to the trenches always, first. Without the trenches, you won't have a successful offense or defense.

McDonald said: They are physical. They are a physical bunch. They work together, they're smart. Just watching them last night, they're not a finesse team. They can run the ball, too.

The 49ers corners are also likely to get a healthy dose of Wes Welker, the Pats receiver who leads the team and is ninth in the NFL with 1,116 yards.

What makes the 59, 185-pounder so effective? Cox compared him with another skilled guy that the 49ers had trouble containing earlier this year.

The breakout speed, I dont think hes really that fast, but the quickness itself, hes just like another Danny Amendola, Cox said, referring to the Rams wideout who caught 11 balls for 102 yards on Nov. 11 against San Francisco. Both of them went to Texas Tech, and I was able to play against Amendola at Tech, so theyre quite similar receivers. Like I said, I really cant answer what makes them so good, but him and quarterback is on the same page every play.

Brown said: Youve just got to make plays. I think at the end of the day, they do a lot of reads on and off the field. We have to do the same thing play with what you see, and play fast.

In what could easily be a Super Bowl preview, Brown is anxious to learn how his club stacks up against the surging Pats, who have won 20 consecutive December home games.

Yeah, its a measuring stick for all of us, Brown said. I think well all be tested and challenged throughout the game, and thats the good thing about it.

Patrick Towles throws for 2 TDs, Boston College beats Buffalo, 35-3

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Patrick Towles throws for 2 TDs, Boston College beats Buffalo, 35-3

BOSTON - Patrick Towles threw for two touchdowns, Davon Jones and Jon Hilliman each ran for one and Boston College coasted past Buffalo, 35-3 on Saturday afternoon.

It was the second straight win for the Eagles (3-2) after they beat FCS-school Wagner last week.

The Eagles, who entered with the nation's sixth ranked defense, dominated on the defensive side.

"I think it was a pretty clean performance," Eagles defensive end Harold Landry said. "It was expected. We were supposed to do that. We don't expect nothing less."

Towles, a graduate transfer from Kentucky, completed 14 of 25 passes for 234 yards with no interceptions. He also ran eight times for 18 yards, but fumbled it away twice.

Hilliman had 54 yards rushing and Jones 53 for the Eagles.

"Totally dominating performance," BC coach Steve Addazio said. "It's great to get a win and go out and do what we needed to do."

Buffalo (1-3) was held to just 67 total yards. Quarterback Tyree Jackson completed 9 of 21 for only 42 yards, and the Bulls had just 26 yards on the ground.

"Never had any semblance of any type of sustained drive or movement, so that's disappointing," Buffalo coach Lance Leipold said.

With a steady mist blowing most of the game on a cool day, the Eagles came out throwing the ball more than usual and opened a 21-3 lead at halftime.

BC redshirt freshman receiver Chris Garrison made an outstanding catch to set up the first TD, but was taken off the field on a stretcher after the play in the first quarter with a fractured left tibia.

Garrison made a leaping grab on 44-yard pass from Towles at the Bulls' 11-yard line, but he came down awkwardly on his leg. Trainers called for a stretcher and an air cast was put on before he was taken off.

Five plays later, Jones had a 1-yard scoring run to push the Eagles ahead 7-0.

Midway into the second quarter, Towles topped an 11-play, 54-yard drive with a 7-yard TD toss to Charlie Callinan.

After a 28-yard field goal by Buffalo's Adam Mitcheson, Towles connected on an 11-yard TD pass to receiver Michael Walker along the back line of the end zone - just over the outstretched hands of linebacker Jarrett Franklin - to make it 21-3 with 21 seconds left in the half.

Heinen coming up big with Bruins' roster openings on the wing

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Heinen coming up big with Bruins' roster openings on the wing

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Danton Heinen has to know he’s got a fair shot to win an NHL job out of B’s training camp if he plays with confidence and assertiveness. 

So far, that little Black and Gold carrot has served him well in the preseason. The 21-year-old winger has scored a goal in each of his first two preseason appearances for the Bruins. He will be pushed back into the lineup again vs. the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night.

The difference this time around is Claude Julien will be behind the bench once again for the Bruins after his time with the World Cup of Hockey and the B’s lineup will start to take on more of a real NHL feel with David Pastrnak and David Backes entering the mix.

Julien has liked what he’s seen thus far out of the University of Denver product, and clearly he’ll keep getting looks as long as the production and good work ethic are there.

“I think he’s been a real good player. He’s a smart player that seems to be heady and sees the play well. He seems to be in the right place and understands the game,” said Julien. “The hockey sense is something that you either have or you don’t, and I think he has great hockey sense. It certainly makes a great hockey player. I’ve liked him so far and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him.”

One other thing is certain: wing positions are open on the roster with Frankie Vatrano out for three months and Jimmy Vesey sharpening his skates at Madison Square Garden as a New York Ranger.

“We have to keep an open mind.  Frank Vatrano is hurt, and we kind of felt that he was going to have a really good start to this year. His confidence seemed to be at its highest, and the World Championships were good for him,” said Julien. “We have to look at what we have for a replacement. We went after Jimmy Vesey and we didn’t get him. So there are some spots that are open, and there’s no doubt about it.

“I’m going to be looking at compete level and I’ll be watching for the next three games to see who can fit in those spots. There are open spots, so it’s not cut-and-dried like a lot of years when it has been.”

Clearly, the high-end offensive skill is there after posting 36 goals and 93 points in his first two years at the University of Denver prior to going pro, and Heinen has a dollop of pro experience after getting into three AHL games with Providence at the end of last season. 

The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder showed off the playmaking ability setting up his teammates for chances in Friday night’s win over the Red Wings, and then finally scoring at crunch time in the third period when the coaching staff moved Zach Senyshyn to his opposite wing.

Both of his goals in this preseason have been tying scores in the third that factored prominently in the game’s outcome. That’s been impressive for a young prospect in his very first NHL camp.

But Heinen claims there is still more to come in his game, and that’s encouraging. He’s just starting to get comfortable as a player that uses his vision, hockey IQ and passing to generate loads of scoring chances when he’s on the ice.

“I feel pretty good. I’ve felt better as things have gone on, and I felt better [on Friday against Detroit] than I did in the first game,” said Heinen, who finished just behind a couple of guys named Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin for the NCAA scoring title as a freshman a couple of years ago. “I just need to keep getting better. I think I have a lot more to give. I’m just trying to put my best foot forward, and we’ll see what happens.

“I think I’ve rushed a few plays where I feel like I could hang onto [the puck] and make a smarter play. So it’s little things like that. As I play a little more then I get more comfortable hanging onto it, so I hope to do a little more than that.”

It will also be interesting to see how Heinen responds to again being in the B’s lineup on Saturday for back-to-back, physical preseason games when the NCAA schedule can be a bit more spaced with weekend games. 

There are other candidates like Jake DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn that have enjoyed solid training camps to date for the Bruins, but it feels like Heinen is starting to push ahead for one of those winger roster spots Julien has in mind as he watches these final four exhibition games leading into the regular season.