Wilfork in the middle of Patriots' improving defense

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Wilfork in the middle of Patriots' improving defense

FOXBORO -- They certainly aren't the 1985 Bears. And they have a long way to go to compare to the Patriots of the early aughts. But things are starting to turn for New England's defense.

In the last two weeks, in wins over the Jets and Colts, the Patriots have forced nine turnovers. Three have gone for touchdowns, including Steve Gregory's scoop-and-score from 32 yards out on Thanksgiving.

It may not be a shut-down unit, but the Patriots have won in recent weeks thanks in part to its defense, not despite it. Count Vince Wilfork among those encouraged by his team's improvement on that side of the ball.

"That's our goal," Wilfork said. "Each week we say we wanna get better as a unit. Over the past couple weeks you've seen a lot of guys make plays for this football team. Right now it's a one-game season. You really have to buckle down, start playing our best football. We've seen that we can play very well when we execute well. I think everybody individually is stepping their game up to help this ball club."

As it's been for the better part of the last decade, Wilfork has led the way when it comes to players elevating their games. His numbers don't do his dominance justice (6 tackles in the last two games combined), but his presence in the middle of the Patriots defensive line has been immense.

In the second quarter, he twice handled double teams to help the Patriots stop the Jets on third- and fourth-and-short plays, the latter resulting in a fumble. On Gregory's touchdown scamper, Wilfork was the one who shoved Jets guard Brandon Moore into quarterback Mark Sanchez to knock the ball loose. In New England's third-quarter goal-line stand against the Jets on Thanksgiving, he blew up the hole and allowed Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo to make the stop on Shonn Greene.

Wilfork also played well against Indianapolis, helping pressure Andrew Luck into throwing an interception to new cornerback Aqib Talib, which was returned for a touchdown.

Raising his level of play late in the season is something Wilfork has always taken pride in.

"My whole career -- high school, college -- it seems like the longer the season goes, the better I play," Wilfork said. "Nine years now with the Patriots, same thing. I just prepare well. Sometimes I make some adjustments in games in weeks, sometimes I don't make plays, sometimes I make a lot of plays. But my thing is to be the best I can be for my team. Whether that's making one tackle or that's making 10 tackles. I really don't care about that. My goal is always do what I do best and do what I can to help this ball club.

"Sometimes on the stat sheet it doesn't show, but as long as my teammates are making plays, and some things we put in as a defense, sometimes it's not meant for me to make plays. But as long as we winning and I'm playing well, I'm satisfied with that."

If the rest of the Patriots defense can keep pace with its big man in the middle, they should be in good shape for the last quarter of the season. The quest for continued progress resumes on Sunday against the Dolphins, with a shot at a division title on the line.

"Our goal is to get better, be better, especially now," Wilfork said. "Play our best football. We haven't played our best yet. We still waiting for our best. Right now it's gonna be like a one game season from here on out. We gonna need everybody to be at their best."

If history's any indication, Wilfork will be.

Will Dobson finally change the storyline this year?

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Will Dobson finally change the storyline this year?

FOXBORO - Aaron Dobson is like the tide. Hitting a predictable high-water mark around the same time every season then gradually receding to a predictable low.

At least that’s how it’s seemingly gone for the first three seasons of the wideout’s NFL career. In truth, it’s not really been as bleak as we’ve all intimated it to be.

There have been bright spots for the 2013 second-rounder and there is upside to his game. But the combination of injuries, inconsistencies and annual drops into obscurity have obscured the very notion that anything he does between May and August should be taken seriously.

Saturday, Dobson was back at it again with the summertime fun making two terrific early-practice grabs on the first day in pads. That was a continuation of what he put out there in May and June when he looked nothing like the guy who pattycaked so many passes in 2015.

When the team’s key skill players broke off to a separate field midway through practice it was Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett and Dobson working out.

Dobson knows the party line on him. He basically summarized what folks feel has been lacking with his game.

“I’m just trying to keep improving and stay consistent and show my teammates that I can stay consistent and dependable,” Dobson told me Friday.

We’ve done the Dobson Propaganda “This may be the year…” piece before. Like last summer when Josh McDaniels gushed about Dobson and we dutifully talked him up. It wasn’t without cause. The guy does things nobody else on the roster at the wideout position can do because of his height and leaping ability.

I asked Dobson if he’s yet shown the best of what he can do.

“I feel like I can play football,” he said. “It’s up to me to show my abilities to everybody. It’s hard to really say. For me, I’m just trying to get out and get better every day, every day, every practice.”

He couldn’t have envisioned this, though. Fourth season and still with some nitwit standing in front of him talking about his football mortality in New England.  

“Going through what I’ve gone through has been difficult but you just have to stay grounded,” he said. “You can’t let it hold you back, you can’t let it keep you down, you can’t worry about the past, you just gotta worry about the future and what I can do to help myself.”

There are things beyond Dobson’s control that have intervened. A stress fracture in his foot in 2013 that bled over into 2014 when surgery was deleted then performed in the spring.

But there are things which seem preventable too that keep arising. Like the number of times Dobson is unable to catch the ball cleanly and double-catches the ball.

I asked him about that.

“You gotta let the ball in,” he said. “Regardless. When it comes to double-catching, you just gotta make the catch, when it comes to you.”

You hear the things he’s said before – all said with a self-deprecating smile. No ego. You see the things he can do in the air. And you think…this year?

Then you watch that drill with Brady and Garoppolo, Bennett and Gronkowski. And throw after throw, when Dobson could either catch the ball out front with his hands or let it come into his chest or cradle it into his stomach, he chooses the latter. The less safe, less polished, easier way to catch.

And you know the coda to this Dobson story like the ones in the past comes with the caveat, “we’ll see…”

Tom E. Curran can be followed on Twitter: @tomecurran

Saturday, July 30: Colorado's Tyson Barrie could become available

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Saturday, July 30: Colorado's Tyson Barrie could become available

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while knowing that “Saturdays are for the boys” no longer exists once you are married with kids…except during glorious bachelor party weekends, which are few and far between.

*Congrats to Patrick Williams, who was named the Ellery Award winner for his great coverage of all things at the AHL level. Well deserved, Pat! 

*A really moving, heartbreaking and also life-affirming tribute from Bobby Ryan to his recently-passed mother after his childhood experience really forged a bond. 

*The Tyson Barrie/Colorado Avalanche arbitration case has a chance to get messy, and that may be a very good thing for teams hoping a D-man suddenly becomes available

*Some great stories about the hockey movies made over the last 30 years including Sudden Death, Mystery Alaska and Slap Shot. 

*Kudos to Gabriel Landeskog, who has joined an organization attempting to advise athletes on recovery from concussions after his scary experiences

*The focus of P.K. Subban’s philanthropy is on the kids, a thing made abundantly clear by his generous pledge to raise $10 million from a Montreal children’s hospital. 

*Good piece by FOH (Friend of Haggs) Josh Cooper over at Yahoo! Sports on Murray Craven as a bit of an “Everything Man” for the new Las Vegas expansion franchise. 

*For something completely different: what a great American and Patriot looks like, even if the Republicans and Trump don’t seem to think so.

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 6-2 win over the Angels

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Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 6-2 win over the Angels

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 6-2 win over the Angels:

QUOTES

* “He just had very good command the entire night. Stayed ahead in the count [and] pitched to all quadrants of the strike zone. He used his four-seamer in on some powerful right-handed hitters in their lineup.” John Farrell on Rick Porcello’s performance.

* “We needed a win bad and swung the bats well and played good defense. That’s a big win for us.” Rick Porcello said after his win in an interview with NESN.

* “24 hours ago we were probably in a much different place mentally after a ball game like tonight.” Farrell on the win.

“That was probably the first time I sat on off-speed pitches this whole year. I took a chance, took a gamble.” Jackie Bradley Jr. said on his home run.

NOTES

* Rick Porcello completed his first game in a Red Sox uniform in the 6-2 win. The CG was the fifth of his career and his first since he threw three in 2014. The righty has 14 wins, one win shy of tying his career high.

* Xander Bogaerts had his first multi extra-base hit performance of the season since June 11. He’s only done that twice this season. He extended his hitting streak to 11 games.

* David Ortiz logged his 85th RBI of the season in the win and Mookie Betts his 67th. Heading into Friday night’s game, the two were one of five pairs of teammates ranking in the top 20 in RBI. The list includes Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, Adam Duvall and Jay Bruce and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

* Dustin Pedroia has now reached base safely in 32 straight games.

STARS

1) Rick Porcello

Porcello had his first complete game in a Red Sox uniform, stopping Boston’s losing skid at four games.

2) Xander Bogaerts

Bogaerts finished with a double and a home run -- the only Boston hitter with multiple hits. He also led the Red Sox with three RBI and scoring twice in the win.

3) Dustin Pedroia

In addition to walking in his first two at-bats, Pedroia had a base hit -- and another walk -- scoring twice on the night.