Patriots know what's at stake amidst high playoff emotions

884445.jpg

Patriots know what's at stake amidst high playoff emotions

FOXBORO -- We're just days away from playoff football in New England. The game is different. The speed is different. It's a one-game season.

Prepare how you will. Even the Patriots know they'll have to make in-game adjustments. It doesn't matter how many times they've played the Houston Texans.

They realize the playoffs are a whole different beast.

"It's like when you talk to the Navy Seals and those guys about when they go on a mission, how they talk about, 'Alright, so we get there, and we practice going over a six-foot wall, and the wall's 30-feet high.' Well, that's the way it is in the NFL," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Friday. "You practice for whatever you think you're going to . . . you swim across a 200-yard lake, and the lake's 800 yards. Well, guy's have to cross it. You get into the NFL game, and you think you're going to get this, and you get that. You think they're going to play this guy, and they play some other guy. You face new challenges. That's part of the gamesmanship and part of the competition, to figure out which team can do it better than the other one.

"There's always that unknown in the game," added Belichick. "Things happen that you just can't predict or you can't prepare for. Because they're working on things. We don't know what they're doing. So they'll come up with something that will cause us to make an adjustment. And I'm sure we'll do the same thing to them somewhere along the line. Everybody's got to figure it out and make the best of it. That's what makes this great game."

Belichick described just how anxious his team was for Sunday's kickoff to what they hope will be a long and successful playoff run, saying the emotions are taken to a "higher step."

"This is a jump this week," said Belichick. "We all understand that.

"I think there's an anxiousness whenever you play," added Belichick. "You always have that unknown of going up against a new opponent. Who knows how the game will go, what they'll do, how things will match up, what adjustments you'll have to make, and how the game will unfold. There will be different breaks or situations in the game that will make each game unique. That makes it exciting. So, there's no way to predict how all that's going to happen. Just take it as it comes."

But those unknowns and the emotions that come with it disappear when the game begins, playoff game or not.

"When the ball's kicked off, then I think you're in game mode," said Belichick. "All the things you think about, what could happen, what might, what you want to call, what you want to do, what situations might come up. Once that opening kickoff happens, then you're playing the game or coaching the game, whatever you're doing, whatever your role is."

As the hours wind down and Sunday's rematch with the Texans gets closer, the Patriots' excitement comes with a special embrace for the spot that they're in: a home game and a chance to get to the AFC Championship.

They are well aware at what's at stake.

"This is what we work all year for," said Belichick. "We worked all year, since the end of last season to get back to this point. So, really, this is what it's all for. All the team planning, the OTA's, the mini-camps, the meetings, the walkthroughs, the preseason games, the practices, the regular season. It's all for this. So we put everything we have into this game, and try to have the result that we want. That's where our team is. That's where I am, personally. I think that's where everybody is. That's where we should be."

First impressions: Ortiz moves past pregame ceremonies, hits game winner for Sox

red-sox-david-ortiz.jpg

First impressions: Ortiz moves past pregame ceremonies, hits game winner for Sox

BOSTON -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 5-3 win over Toronto:

* What's left to say about David Ortiz?

Ortiz acknowledged before Friday's game that the pre-game ceremonies and the attendant fuss over his pending retirement have created a challenge for him. Sometimes, it's hard to go from being feted to trying to win a game.

Not that you would know it by Friday night.

In his first at-bat, he singled home the first run of the game. Two at-bats later, he lined a bullet that was right at Jose Bautista.

But he saved his best for the seventh when, after the Red Sox tied the game at 3-3, Ortiz promptly untied it with a laser down the line, landing in the right field seats.

One more clutch hit from Ortiz in a career full of them.

* Brock Holt's defense at third has stood out.

John Farrell is looking for someone to step up with the third base job, given that Travis Shaw is hitting under .200 since the All-Star break and Aaron Hill has had difficulty hitting righties.

Holt, meanwhile, has seized the job somewhat by default, with a .319 average in the last 24 games.

But since starting the last four games at third, Holt has also contributed with his glove.

On Friday night, Holt made a fine stop with his backhand, on the third base line, and fired to nail Devon Travis on a close play at first.

Later, he came on a slow roller to gun down Josh Donaldson out at first.

* The Red Sox have done a better job of late capitalizing on opponents' mistakes.

Last week in Baltimore, the Red Sox were handed a gift by the Orioles when a throwing error by Chris Davis resulted in five runs being scored -- all of them unearned. It took exactly two pitches for the Red Sox to pounce on the opportunity.

On Friday night, it happened again.

Trailing 3-1, the Red Sox used a throwing error by Russell Martin to score one run and put another runner in scoring position. A groundout and single by Mookie Betts tied things, and Ortiz's homer broke the tie and gave the Red Sox a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Good teams take advantage of mistakes. Two of the last six Red Sox wins are prime examples of that maxim.

Ehrhoff signs a PTO with the B's after World Cup

bruins-christian-ehrhoff.jpg

Ehrhoff signs a PTO with the B's after World Cup

The Bruins will add another veteran defenseman to their training camp group fresh off the World Cup of Hockey as German D-man Christian Ehrhoff is headed to Boston on a PTO (professional tryout agreement). CSN has confirmed that Ehrhoff has indeed agreed to a PTO with the Bruins, and he'll report to the team sometime this weekend.

The 34-year-old Ehrhoff had three assists in six World Cup games for Team Europe, and had two goals and 10 points in 48 games for the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks last season while clearly starting to slow down a bit. He’s clearly no longer the player that averaged 14 goals and 47 points for the Vancouver Canucks from 2009-2011, and is another left-shot defenseman to add to a team that already has Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug.

But it behooved the Bruins to bring in at least one “name” veteran D-man on a tryout basis during this training camp with so many needs for upgrades on the back end, and with a host of young players that might not be ready for prime time. This might also be a warning sign for young veteran Joe Morrow, a left shot D-man that has struggled a bit in training camp after coming off an erratic first full season at the NHL level.

Clearly the Bruins need more than Ehrhoff, however, even if he’s somehow re-energized with the Bruins after playing pretty well in the World Cup. The Kings were down enough on his game to put him through waivers last season, but he was a top-4 defenseman for the previous eight seasons for San Jose, Vancouver, Buffalo and Pittsburgh prior to getting bounced around between the Kings and Blackhawks last season.

The added bonus with taking a look at Ehrhoff is that there’s no risk associated with a PTO, and the Bruins can simply walk away with no cost if the B’s coaching staff decides he’s not a good fit for the group in Boston. On the other hand, bringing in a Kris Russell-type would cost a great deal in terms of money and term in a free agent contract, and it might not benefit the Black and Gold club in the end result.