Patriots-Texans turned into a serious mismatch

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Patriots-Texans turned into a serious mismatch

From Comcast SportsNetFOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- Tom Brady can't stop smiling these days. Or winning.Five days after becoming a father for a third time -- something that brings the biggest grin of all to his face -- Brady threw four touchdown passes, leading the Patriots to a 42-14 rout of the Houston Texans.If the game was a measuring stick in the AFC, New England and its star quarterback aced the test with a seventh consecutive victory. Houston failed it."It's a Monday night game," Brady said. "We have played in a lot of big games in December."A matchup of the top two scoring teams in the league was a mismatch from the outset. It took New England (10-3) only one possession to start its scoring barrage as the Patriots surpassed their average of 35.8 points per game."It needs to come together now, this is the perfect time for it," said Brady, whose his wife, Gisele, gave birth to Vivian Lake last Wednesday."She is doing very well," Brady said. "It's been a great week, a great way to end it."So look out. That familiar sight is the Patriots, who already own the AFC East title, romping through December, looking like a Super Bowl team."We can't predict the score but we know we can dominate games," said Devin McCourty, who had a first-quarter interception.They often dominate late in the season; this was their 21st straight victory in the second half of the schedule."It is always good to play in Foxborough in December," linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "When you go out and perform the way you do, I think Foxborough is going to be a tough place for anyone to come and play."The Texans (11-2) discovered that quickly, and now they need to look back at the Patriots gaining on them in the conference standings."We got our tails kicked," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "When you've got an opportunity to make a big play, you can't miss it against a team of this magnitude. We turned around and it was 21-0 pretty quick."Wes Welker's 31-yard punt return and 25-yard reception -- the 107th straight game he's had a catch -- led to Aaron Hernandez's 7-yard score to start the onslaught. That gave Brady 45 consecutive games with a TD pass, third longest in NFL history.It also set the tone.Houston, which had won six straight, threatened on its next series, only to have Matt Schaub force a ball into double coverage in the Patriots' end zone. McCourty picked it off and returned it 19 yards, setting up more pinpoint throws by Brady, who finished 21 of 35.He couldn't miss if he tried in the first quarter, his receivers were so uncovered: Brandon Lloyd for 14 yards, Danny Woodhead for 18, Hernandez for 13, then Lloyd for the 37-yard TD to make it 14-0. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips could only shake his head in disgust at his players' inability to challenge the Patriots.It got worse.At the end of a 70-yard drive helped by a 26-yard interference call on Danieal Manning, no Texans were lined up to Brady's left in front of Hernandez. A quick snap, a quicker pass and the tight end waltzed into the end zone."We've got to look in the mirror at what we did tonight," Kubiak said.New England was headed for its 20th successive home win in December."These guys feel really good about the way they played tonight and they should," coach Bill Belichick said.Houston was headed back home wondering not only how it could measure up to a perennial championship contender in the future, but if it could hold off surging Indianapolis in the AFC South. The Texans have a two-game lead but face the Colts (9-4) on Sunday in Houston, then in the season finale at Indianapolis.Although the Texans have clinched at least a wild-card berth, they haven't had a truly convincing win since October. This was a convincing defeat, however -- although they got on the scoreboard in the third quarter with an 88-yard drive capped by Arian Foster's 1-yard run.But Foster was held to 46 yards on 15 carries.By then the Patriots had scored their fourth TD, a gorgeous 63-yard throw to Donte' Stallworth, who was re-signed last week to replace injured Julian Edelman. It gave Brady his 18th game with at least four TD passes, moving ahead of Hall of Famer John Unitas for fourth all time.Brady nearly had a fifth as Woodhead broke free on a screen pass early in the fourth period. Texans standout defensive end J.J. Watt, who was pretty much invisible otherwise, forced a fumble, but the ball soared 11 yards into the end zone, where Lloyd fell on it for a 35-7 lead.Stevan Ridley made it 42-7 with a 14-yard run. The Texans have allowed 42 points in both losses, the other coming against Green Bay on Oct. 14.Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates scored on a 1-yard run with 2:00 remaining to close the scoring.NOTES:Patriots CB Aqib Talib hurt his hip in the second quarter. CB Alfonzo Dennard injured his hamstring. ... New England has won 10 games in each of the last 10 seasons. The record is 16 by San Francisco (1983-98). ... The Patriots have forced turnovers in 24 straight games. ... Hernandez had eight catches for 58 yards, while Houston star wideout Andre Johnson caught eight passes for 95. ... Stallworth's TD was his first for New England since 2007. ... Schaub went 19 for 32 for 232 yards.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.