Patriots still have something to play for

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Patriots still have something to play for

FOXBORO -- With just Jacksonville and Miami remaining on the Patriots' regular-season schedule, has their attention turned to the playoffs yet?

The Pats, as expected, say no but not just because they're the Patriots. It's also because there's still a chance they can get a first-round bye. They'll need help, of course. But if Houston (currently at No. 1) and Denver (No. 2) stumble, the Pats definitely won't have a shot at a first-round bye if they lose one of their last two games.

But it's not out of the realm of possibility, which is why these Patriots aren't going to take the 2-12 Jaguars lightly . . . even if you don't believe New England's usual praise of their next opponent.

"With this team, a lot of people might look at their record, but, you can just tell, they just line up and they play football," said Vince Wilfork after Thursday's practice. "They're old school. They line up, they try to do things right, and you can just tell that when they do things right they move the ball, they make plays. They have guys in skill positions that can make some good plays. They have a bunch of backs that carry the ball this year.

"So, like I said, it's going to be challenging for us. We're not going into this thinking about any record. We're going out and just trying to put together a good game plan and execute well. Hopefully that's good enough for us."

The offensive players feel the same way.

"We can't worry about Jacksonville's record," said wide receiver Deion Branch on Thursday. "Overall, we've got a lot of stuff that we need to straighten out, in all three phases of the game. So we can't worry about who we're playing."

"I think we've taken the whole season one game at a time, and we're going to continue to do that and get ready for Jacksonville," said wide receiver Wes Welker. "They present some real problems, and we've just got to go out there and play well."

The Patriots say they aren't just trying to win these next two games. They also believe they can use it as an opportunity to improve before the playoffs begin.

But improve on what, against a team with just two wins?

"Playing a little bit more consistent, working on our third down. Trust me, we can improve, scoring in the red area," said Branch. "I think most of the stuff just goes back to being a little bit more consistent."

Patriots players are at least being consistent with praising their opponent, even if they are a 15-point favorite on the road.

Julien: 'A lot of problematic things' in Bruins loss to Avalanche

Julien: 'A lot of problematic things' in Bruins loss to Avalanche

BOSTON – The Bruins simply weren’t ready to play on Thursday night when the puck was dropped against the Colorado Avalanche at TD Garden. 

They fell down quickly by a 2-0 score, had a couple of completely inept power plays in the first period that sucked all the game’s momentum away from them and received some subpar goaltending from Anton Khudobin on the way to a 4-2 loss to the lowly Avs. About the only B’s person above reproach in this one was David Pastrnak after scoring a pair of goals in the second period to get Boston back into the game, but it all fell short in a very frustrating, lackadaisical loss to a Western Conference team that isn’t very good. 

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Needless to say B’s coach Claude Julien wasn’t too happy after a loss where the Bruins might have had more success with a smarter approach to holding the puck. 

“There were a lot of problematic things [in the loss]. No doubt that the power play could have helped us in the first period, and failed to do that. They’ve got to be better,” said Julien. “We needed some saves tonight, and we didn’t get them. [Anton Khudobin] has got to be better. 

“A lot of things here that we can be better at, and take responsibility [for]. But at the same time, you got to move on here.  It’s one of those nights that had we been smarter from the get go, we would have had a chance.”

Clearly it was about a lacking group effort when dissecting the loss, and the minus-3 for David Krejci on Thursday night marked back-to-back negative performances from the playmaking Czech center in big spots. The goaltending was shoddy with Anton Khudobin allowing four goals on 22 shots for Colorado, and unable to make plays on a couple of Colorado shots from outside the painted area that built up the Avs lead in the first place. 

But it was also very much about the inability of the Bruins to generate consistent offense outside of David Pastrnak’s offensive burst in the second period, and the complete breakdown of the Boston power play in the opening 20 minutes. The Bruins struggled to enter the zone in their first PP possession of the game, and then allowed a Nathan MacKinnon shorthanded goal after Torey Krug futilely dove at the blue line to try and keep the puck in the offensive zone. 

The Krug misplay at the offensive blue line gave MacKinnon a clear path the net, and he buried a wrist shot past Khudobin to get the one-sided loss rolling. Beyond the costly mistakes that ended up in the back of the net, the Bruins looked sloppy and slow-reacting in their breakouts and more than willing to settle for outside perimeter shots.

That doesn’t exactly make for a winning combo even when it comes against a flawed, underachieving team like Colorado, and especially when it comes less than 24 hours after a hard-fought road game in Washington DC. 

“I think we were still sleeping there early in the game and they were able to capitalize on their opportunities. We couldn’t claw our way back,” said Brad Marchand, who picked up an assist on David Pastrnak’s second goal of the night on a perfect dish for the one-timer. “I think it was definitely a mental [block]. You’re able to battle through that physical fatigue. It was more the mental mistakes and not being prepared right off the hop of the start of the game. Again, that’s kind of where we lost it.”

The sleepwalking Bruins lost Thursday night’s valuable two points as soon as the opening puck was dropped against the Avalanche, of course, and the Bruins never got out of lollygag mode at a time when intensity should have been automatic. 

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Chiefs hold off Raiders 21-13 to take control of AFC West

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THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Chiefs hold off Raiders 21-13 to take control of AFC West

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Tyreek Hill had touchdowns receiving and on a punt return, Kansas City's defense made life miserable for Oakland quarterback Derek Carr, and the Chiefs beat the Raiders 21-13 on a frigid Thursday night to take control of the AFC West.

Charcandrick West also had a touchdown run for the Chiefs (10-3). They moved into a first-place tie with Oakland (10-3) but holds the tiebreaker with two wins over their longtime divisional rival.

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