Patriots focused on stopping Spiller, Bills ground game

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Patriots focused on stopping Spiller, Bills ground game

FOXBORO -- CJ Spiller was at the middle of it all when the Bills fell apart against the Patriots six weeks ago. Near the end of the first half, Buffalo was threatening to score when Spiller took a handoff and ran into Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes. The ball popped loose, New England recovered and came out for the second half with new life. They scored 45 points in the game's final 30 minutes to win, 52-28.

"That was the turning point of the game," Spiller told reporters afterward. "And thats totally on me. Nobody else. That was me. Ive just got to do a better job of securing the ball. Especially down at the goal line.

Spiller hasn't fumbled since. In fact, he's been arguably the Bills' most reliable offensive player in his team's last four games. He will carry a hefty 7.2 yards-per-carry average into Gillette Stadium on Sunday, as well as a reputation for breaking a big play at any moment.

The Patriots say they're expecting to see a different back than the one had just 33 yards on eight carries to go along with that crucial fumble in their last meeting.

"Oh man, this guy is a hell of a player," Vince Wilfork said Thursday. "He's running the ball very well, catching the ball for him. He's really showing the explosive plays that we were accustomed to seeing when he was in college, and that's what they drafted him for. So, he's coming into his own."

Together with Bills veteran running back Fred Jackson, Spiller makes up one half of one of the league's most dynamic rushing duos. Gaining 5.3 yards per rush this season, the Bills are owners of the NFL's second-most explosive running game.

"Obviously they're a two-headed monster," Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "Really a three-headed monster. TashardChoice provides a spark off the bench as well."

But Spiller will likely require extra attention.

"Anytime a guy's averaging over seven yards a carry, you know they can always take one to the house," Mayo continued. "It'll take a group effort to stop him. The front seven has to do an excellent job staying on blocks and hopefully making plays."

Like Wilfork, Mayo said he's seen a different Spiller on film this week. No longer is his game all scat. He's rounding more and more into a complete running back, it appears.

"One thing he's doing a lot better since the last time we played him, he's running inside as well," Mayo said. "He's making a lot of guys miss inside and he's breaking those long runs."

The matchup promises to be the latest challenge for the Patriots defense, which has taken on all rushers and, in general, stuffed them. They've allowed just 3.5 yards per carry and the longest rush they've allowed all season is a fourth-quarter 20-yard run by the Rams' Daryl Richardson two weeks ago when the Patriots already had their 45-7 win well in hand.

"You're only as good as your last performance," Mayo replied when reminded how stout the Patriots have been against the run.

But they were pretty good in London. Mayo, Wilfork, Spikes and the rest allowed 107 yards rushing, and they held Rams back Steven Jackson -- now closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but still a talent -- to 23 yards on seven carries.

Since then, New England has had some time off with its bye week. The Bills are probably hoping that break will work in their favor since Patriots rustiness may be Spiller and Jackson's best chance to get anything going on the ground Sunday.

"We work pretty hard," Mayo said. "We worked hard all week this week and even during the bye week to get better. Hopefully there's no rust, but you never know."

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

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Thomas excited for reunion with Green

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the phone rang this summer, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas had to do a double-take when he saw the name on the caller ID.

It was Gerald Green, his ex-teammate in Phoenix.

Although they only shared a locker room for 45 games in Phoenix, the two became quick friends.

On the court they developed instant chemistry while coming off the Suns bench. And that bond spilled off the court as Green would later spend time with Thomas in the Seattle-Tacoma, Wash. area in the summer months.

They were cool with each other, cool enough to where Thomas knew it wasn’t in Green’s nature to pick up the phone and call just to say hi.

“Gerald doesn’t call anybody,” Thomas said. “When he called I knew something was up.”

Green said Boston, the team that drafted him in 2006 straight out of high school, was interested in bringing him back for a second stint with the club.

“I tried to put my two cents in and he got here,” Thomas said.

There were several factors that led Green back to Boston, with a chance to reunite with Thomas being high on that list.

Green, already in Phoenix at the time the Suns signed Thomas in 2014, was impressed with the way the 5-9 guard carried himself.

“He was a genuine guy, came in really humble,” Green said. “I saw the talent was there. I knew he had the potential to be one of the best point guards in this league.”

Thomas certainly made a case for such lofty praise with how he performed last season, good enough to earn his first all-star selection.

What really stuck out to Green was that Thomas’ mentality and approach to the game was almost a carbon copy of his own.

“When we stepped on the court we had the same mentality,” Green said. “By any means necessary, get a bucket and play harder than the next team; just try and push the first team, make the first team better every day.”

Thomas was coming off the bench, showing lots of potential and promise that he could carry a heavier load if given an opportunity to do so.

He averaged 15.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes off the Suns bench in 46 games. Even more significant was that when Thomas did play for the Suns, they were 26-20.

In the games without him, they were just 13-23.

Green was admittedly disappointed they traded away Thomas, believing that season would have had a very different outcome had they not sent him to Boston.

And just like Green recognized Thomas’ skills and how much his team could have benefited from keeping him around, Thomas speaks in glowing terms about Green and what his return to Boston means for the team.

“We needed someone like him; a guy that could shoot the ball, a guy that could space the floor; instant scorer whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Thomas said. “Where the he starts or come off the bench. He’s going to really help us.”

Green has big game as Bengals dominate Dolphins 22-7

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Green has big game as Bengals dominate Dolphins 22-7

CINCINNATI -- For most of the game, A.J. Green piled up more yards than the entire Miami Dolphins offense in a virtuoso performance. As an encore, he thrilled the crowd by juggling some Florida citrus.

The Bengals receiver followed his disappointing game with a dominating one - 173 yards and a touchdown - and a Cincinnati defense that was inspired by Vontaze Burfict's return clamped down on the Dolphins for a 22-7 victory Thursday night.

The Bengals (2-2) rebounded from a 29-17 home loss to Denver on Sunday with a solid all-around game against a depleted team.

Green led the way, beating the Dolphins (1-3) on every type of route . He was upset with himself after he dropped a pivotal third-down pass and failed to make an impact against the Broncos.

"I hold myself to a very high standard," said Green, who had 10 catches. "I know what I'm capable of. Last week I didn't perform to that level. I had to refocus on a short week."

During the first three quarters, Green had 166 yards on catches while Miami had 152 total yards. The Bengals' season-long problem of stalling out near the goal line forced them to settle for Mike Nugent's season-high five field goals.

Afterward, Green and Andy Dalton appeared on the postgame show, and the receiver entertained the dozens of Bengals fans who stayed around by smoothly juggling three oranges at the interview desk.

"Any time he was one-on-one, he was able to make the play," Dalton said.

The Dolphins were missing four starting offensive linemen, two linebackers, running back Arian Foster and tight end Jordan Cameron. They had one big play - Ryan Tannehill threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills - but couldn't do anything else on offense.

"We've got to get it fixed and quick, and by that I mean Monday," Tannehill said. "We're kind of in a dark spot right now. It's squarely on our shoulders."

The Bengals' defense expected to get a lift from Burfict's return. The volatile linebacker was suspended by the NFL for the first three games because of his illegal hits. He got a loud ovation when he ran onto the field during introductions wearing a baseball cap. Burfict knocked down a pass and had three tackles.

"He's amazing," end Carlos Dunlap said. "Did you see the plays he made? Those aren't plays you can coach. He came off his couch and played great. It's good to have him back."

Mostly, it was Green's show. He caught a 51-yard pass off Dalton's scramble in the first half, and had a 43-yard catch that set up another field goal in the third quarter for a 19-7 lead.

REMEMBERING FERNANDEZ

A large fan banner in the upper deck at Paul Brown Stadium honored Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, who died with two friends in a boat crash early Sunday near Miami Beach. The banner read: "Jose 16 Heaven's Bright."

STILL CAN'T RUN

The Bengals rushed for 77 yards and only a 2.1-yard average against the second-worst run defense in the league, one missing two starting linebackers.

SLOPPY DOLPHINS

Miami had seven penalties for 68 yards. The most egregious was by Terrence Fede, who pushed Kevin Huber to the ground after he punted in the third quarter. The penalty gave Cincinnati the ball, and the Bengals got a field goal out of it.

INJURIES

Dolphins: LT Branden Albert and C Anthony Steen were inactive with sprained ankles. Also missing were LBs Koa Misi (neck) and Jelani Jenkins (groin). C Mike Pouncey has missed all four games with a hip injury.

Bengals: TE Tyler Eifert was inactive again, contributing to the Bengals' trouble close to the goal line. He's recovering from offseason ankle surgery and returned to practice on a limited basis last week. CB Dre Kirkpatrick was inactive with a hamstring injury suffered Sunday. G Clint Boling sat out most of the fourth quarter with an injured left shoulder.

ANTHEM STATEMENTS

Stills and Dolphins safety Michael Thomas knelt with their hands over their hearts during the anthem.

FANTASY IMPACT

Tannehill was 15 of 25 for 189 yards with a touchdown, an interception, a fumble and five sacks. Dalton was 22 of 31 for 296 yards with a touchdown and a sack.

UP NEXT

The Dolphins begin a stretch of four straight home games against Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the New York Jets.

The Bengals have a tough two-game stretch, playing Dallas and New England on the road. They're 1-5 in Dallas, dropping their last three. They've dropped their last six at New England, last winning in 1986.