FOXBORO - Conversation about the Patriots' playoff prospects centers on two things. Whether the defense is championship caliber and whether the offense can avoid seizing up under heavy pressure. Virtually ignored? The special teams component. There's a credible reason for some of it. On kickoffs, the Patriots are a middling group statistically. On kickoff returns, they average a starting field position of 21.9. On coverage, their opponents' offenses take over at the 21.3. In the punting game, though, Zoltan Mesko is quietly having an outstanding season with a net average on punts of 40.8 yards (second in the AFC) and only two touchbacks on 42 punts. And on returns? Julian Edelman seems close to getting the knack for a job he is still a relative novice at. Edelman is averaging a respectable 12 yards on his 21 returns and he's only fair caught six punts. He's a bit of a panic back there, which may be part of the reason Wes Welker comes in to catch plus-50 punts. But he is also explosive and elusive. I caught up with Edelman in an otherwise deserted Patriots' locker room Monday to talk about his return progress. "Well, considering I dropped one this week, (not so good)," Edelman deadpanned. Aside from that? "You build the confidence in a week's practice," he explained. "You see that the (return) guys are holding their guys up and doing their job. You always like to think you can make someone miss. I guess there's a little confidence there but we didn't get to do it this week. Hopefully we can do it against the Redskins."Even though Edelman took back 21 punts last season and averaged a very impressive 15.3 yards per return, he is still a neophyte at the job. He didn't return until his final college game and only then because his coach was trying to showcase his versatility for NFL scouts. When I said the job takes guts, Edelman answered, "It's educated guts.There's a lot of study.Film study and taking punts to get the feel for the trajectory of the punt and what you have protected and if they're rushing and stuff. You usually know if you'll be able to return it or not (pretty early). Sometimes you take a risk and try to make someone miss and hope they overrun you."I mentioned to Edelman that I've seen him grab bouncing punts with coverage in close proximity. "I don't necessarily know if that's smart," he admitted. "Situationally, I have a lot to learn. I know when I do something wrong that I'm going to get yelled at when I get back to the sideline but sometimes you're competitiveness of wanting to make something happen wins out. But I have to get better at controlling that."Knowing how much Bill Belichick values special teams and how much he culls history for pertinent instruction, I asked Edelman if he's studied the great Cleveland Browns returner Eric Metcalf. "I've watched Metcalf. I've watched Steve Smith (from Carolina)," said Edelman. "I've watched a lot of the guys that Scotty O (special teams coach Scott O'Brien) has coached. Those guys not only were special athletically, they were situationally smart. They looked like professionals and as a punt returner you can tell if a guy knows what he's doing out there or not. That's something I have to get better at and hopefully we can put that together in this Redskins game."
CHICAGO - First impressions from the Red Sox' 5-2 win over the White Sox.
If this was some sort of must-win proposition for Clay Buchholz, he passed his test.
Buchholz found himself behind 2-0 just three batters in when he allowed a two-run homer to Jose Abreu, but he righted himself nicely after that.
Buchholz pitched seven innings and didn't allow another run. In fact, Buchholz only yielded two more hits after the first - both singles.
John Farrell said he wanted to see Buchholz attack the strike zone with his fastball, pitch with a quicker tempo and not rely so much on his secondary stuff. To varying degrees, Buchholz accomplished all three and finished strong - retiring the last 10 hitters in a row and 16 of the last 17.
Josh Rutledge had a nice night off the bench.
Rutledge was a last-minute addition to the lineup when Hanley Ramirez was scratched with the flu and Travis Shaw was shifted from third base to first base.
Rutledge reached base three times with two singles and a walk. One of the singles drove in the fourth run, scoring Chris Young with an important insurance run.
David Ortiz broke out of his U.S. Cellular slump in a big way.
Coming into the game, Ortiz was hitless here in his last 19 at-bats and when he hit into a double play in the first and flied to center in the third, that stretched to 0-for-21. Since the start of 2014, those first two at-bats made Ortiz 1-for-26.
But in the fifth, Ortiz hammered a pitch from Carlos Rodon into the seats in right for a two-run homer, giving the Red Sox their first lead of the series.
For all the talk about Ortiz's difficulty hitting lefties, he's now third among lefty batters in homers off lefthanded pitchers since last July 2.
The home run power continues to be in short supply beyond Ortiz.
Last season, the Red Sox didn't have anyone hit 20 homers other than the (then) 39-year-old Ortiz.
Might the same thing happen again this year?
Ortiz hit his sixth homer last night, again leading the club. Mookie Betts is the only other hitter on the Sox with more than three homers -- and he hasn't hit one in his last 58 at-bats, dating back a week and a half.
Watch out Julian Edelman, Wes Welker and Alex Guerrero. Tom Brady just might have a new best friend.
At an Under Armour event that took place on Wednesday, rapper Vanilla Ice snapped a selfie with the Patriots quarterback, who was grinning from ear to ear.
In South Baltimore, "Armour Day" was held in order to celebrate Under Armour's 20th year in business. Brady was one of many athletes in attendance, including Jordan Spieth, Lindsey Vonn, Deion Sanders, Ray Lewis, Cal Ripken, Boomer Esiason and Roger Clemens.
Brady is one of the faces of Under Armour, along with Spieth and Warriors guard Steph Curry. When he signed in 2010, he received equity in the company as part of the deal.
Dan Shaughnessy joins Sports Tonight and explains why he thinks building through the draft will not work for the Boston Celtics.