Pats take offense at Eagles in 38-20 romp

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Pats take offense at Eagles in 38-20 romp

The weather -- game-time temperature in the low 60s, gentle winds from the south -- spoke more to September and early October than post-Thanksgiving November.

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So did the performance of the Patriots' offense.

Any concerns about Tom Brady's arm, or the ability of the wide receivers to get separation, or over-reliance on Wes Welker and the tight ends, melted away Sunday. Before being given the rest of the day off with just under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, Brady completed 24 of 34 passes for 361 yards -- his highest yardage total since throwing for 387 in Game 3 against the Bills -- and three touchdowns as he led the Pats to a dominating 38-20 win over the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

"They played the game the way we wanted to play it," said a visibly pleased -- and downright chatty -- Bill Belichick after the game, "and did a good job in all three phases of the game."

The Eagles scored the first 10 points of the game, in the opening 6 12 minutes of the first quarter, and the last 7, with 32 seconds to play. In the 53 minutes in between, New England outscored Philadelphia, 38-3 . . . and the score really did indicate the way the game played out.

Especially on offense.

The Patriots got top-of-the-line production, as usual, from their tight ends -- Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for 10 catches and 121 yards -- but Brady had more targets on this day. Welker, held to 46 receiving yards or less in four of the last five games, broke through with eight catches for 115 yards, including two touchdowns. Deion Branch had a 63-yard pass-and-run with Brady en route to a 6-catch125-yard afternoon, his second-best game of the season.

They were backed by a solid, if unspectacular, run game which went for over 100 yards -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis was the top individual rusher, with 14 carries for 44 yards and two TDs -- and, with all elements of their game working, the Pats were especially efficient in crucial areas such as:

Red-zone efficiency (4 scores in 5 trips)

Goal-to-go efficiency (3 TDs in 3 tries)

Third-down conversions (6-for-11)

And it all happened despite an explosive start by the Eagles that had New England in a 10-0 hole before the Pats' second possession of the game.

"We certainly didn't want to start the game the way we started," said Belichick. "We kind of stumbled out of the gate there."

Eagles quarterback Vince Young completed two big passes -- a 58-yarder to Riley Cooper over Kyle Arrington that set up a two-yard touchdown run by LeSean McCoy just 2:10 into the game, and a 44-yarder to DeSean Jackson that led to a 43-yard field goal by Alex Henery -- in building the lead.

But to a man, the Pats said there was no panic on their sideline.

"We have a lot of veteran guys that understand it's a long game," said Welker.

"Overall, we did a great job of just staying composed," said Branch.

Brady directed a 12-play, 80-yard drive on the Pats' next possession that consumed nearly seven minutes and culminated in a four-yard touchdown run by Green-Ellis -- who carried the ball on 8 of the 12 plays -- to cut the Eagle lead to 10-7.

The Pats' defense forced a three-and-out on Philly's next possession, and on the fourth play of the second quarter, Brady completed the 63-yard pass-and-run with Branch on a third-and-13 that moved the ball to the 1. Green-Ellis ran it in from there to put New England in front to stay, 14-10.

"That was a good job by the entire team to really stem the tide," said Brady.

The Pats wasted an Antwaun Molden interception on the Eagles' next possession when Stephen Gostkowski missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt, but Belichick thought it was still a crucial play for the Pats.

"We finally made a play on defense, and that helped our confidence a little bit," said Belichick.

The Patriots increased their lead to 21-10 when Welker got behind the Philadelphia secondary and Brady found him for a 41-yard touchdown. The teams then traded field goals -- a 22-yarder by Henery and a 45-yarder by Gostkowski -- and New England took a 24-13 lead into the locker room at halftime.

After one possession of the third quarter, it was 31-13. The Pats took the second-half kickoff and marched 69 yards in 8 plays, with Brady passing nine yards to Welker for the touchdown.

Then it was the defense's turn. The Eagles took the ball to the New England 2 on their subsequent possession, but the Pats held. And when Young overthrew Brent Celek on a fourth-and-goal from the 2, the game, for all intents and purposes, was over.

Brady finished his afternoon by making his weekly TD toss to Gronkowski, this one of 24 yards with 8:42 to play; with a 38-13 lead, Belichick gave him the rest of the day off and entrusted the QB job to Brian Hoyer. The Eagles made the final 38-20 with a garbage-time touchdown, as Young threw a one-yard scoring pass to Jason Avant with 36 seconds left.

The victory lifted the Pats' record to 8-3, keeping them a) comfortably ahead of both the Jets and Bills in the AFC East race and b) in the hunt for a first-round bye in the playoffs. Considering the lack of iron in their schedule over the final five weeks, it's impossible not to be contemplating playoff scenarios.

Unless your name is Bill Belichick.

"We got a long way to go," he said. "Eight (victories); that's not going to win anything in the NFL . . . I don' t think we're where we need to be."

And the big picture?

"I don't even think about the big picture. The big picture is Indianapolis (next week's opponent) . . All the rest of it's just a bunch of garbage."

But at least one Patriot is putting it all in context.

"Coach always says football season starts after Thanksgiving," said Branch. "Right now, we're 1-0."

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

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Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.

But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.

The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.

“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”

Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that. 

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.

But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.

“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.

But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.

Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.

Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.

“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”

The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.

Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.