Wakeup Call: That was one costly safety for Vegas


Wakeup Call: That was one costly safety for Vegas

Here's your wakeup call -- a combination of newsworthy andor interesting tidbits -- for Wednesday, February 6.

-- After a tire test Tuesday at Darlngton Raceway, drivers give a thumbs-up to the new Gen-6 race car. (AP)

-- The burgeoning drug scandal has implicated Ryan Braun -- again -- but the 2011 N.L. MVP is ready with an explanation. (AP)

-- And it'd better be good, because MLB has started its own investigation into the Miami New Times report. (AP)

-- That investigation may lead to suspensions, but the Rangers -- whose Nelson Cruz was named in the New Times story -- say they're planning on having Cruz in right field until they're told otherwise. (AP)

-- Um, Derek? Does the phrase "beggars can't be choosers" mean anything to you? (NBC's Hardball Talk)

-- Funny, I never heard the words "Jed Lowrie" and "veteran leadership" used together before. (CSN Houston)

-- Spring training hasn't even started and already the Cardinals have suffered a big loss. (AP)

-- If we can get a couple more games that match No. 3 Michigan's 76-74, overtime win over No. 10 Ohio State on the excitement meter, we'll consider this a successful season. (AP)

-- So stop worrying about college hoops, will ya? (NBC's College Basketball Talk)

-- So much for that No. 2 ranking, eh, Florida? (AP)

-- Wouldn't this be considered a hostile act against foreign entities? (AP)

-- Old Dominion raises a number of questions about coach Blaine Taylor as it fires him with eight games to go in the season . . . and then refuses to answer any of them. (AP)

-- A tip of the hat to Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw as she records her 700th career coaching victory in the Irish women's 59-52 win over Villanova. (AP)

-- Starting soon, Northwestern will be calling Wrigley Field home, at least once a year. (AP)

-- The Blackhawks stake their claim as best in the West with a 5-3 victory over the Sharks in San Jose. (CSN Chicago)

-- The Sharks might be blaming the refs for this one, but that wouldn't be completely accurate. (CSN Bay Area)

-- Blame them for what, you ask? Take a look. (NBC's Pro Hockey Talk)

-- The NHL did, and immediately rescinded the match penalty that was handed to Andrew Desjardins. (CSN Bay Area)

-- It probably won't be rescinding this one, though. (Pro Hockey Talk)

-- An acid flashback for the Rangers, as they suffer a 3-1 loss to the Devils . . . the team that beat them in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. (AP)

-- It's the dreaded lower-body injury, and it may cost the Flames the services of Miikka Kiprusoff for a while. (AP)

-- Can't quite decide on the proper phrase -- Grasping at straws? Whistling past the graveyard? -- for Adam Oates' declaration that the Capitals are "going in the right direction" after a 3-2 loss to Toronto that drops their record to 2-7-1. (Pro Hockey Talk)

-- Bet when you heard that the Rockets nailed 23 3-pointers in their 140-109 blasting of the Warriors, you thought, "Hmm, bet that's a record." And you know what? You were right! (AP)

-- Bet you also thought, "Wow, bet the Warriors were pretty upset that they were launching 3s with such a big lead." And you what? You were right again! (CSN Bay Area)

-- But if you thought the Rockets were at all remorseful about the whole thing, you were wrong. (CSN Houston)

-- Even when the Lakers win these days, they lose. Players, that is. (AP)

-- The word's in on Thaddeus Young: He's out three weeks because of that Grade 1 hamstring strain. (CSN Philly)

-- That intentional, last-second safety taken by the Ravens Sunday night may not have meant much to you, but it was a killer to the Nevada sports books, who had to pay off on the will-there-be-a-safety-in-the-game? and will-the-49ers-last-points-come-on-a-safety? prop bets. (NBC's Off The Bench)

-- They still don't know what caused the third-quarter power outage, so Superdome officials and the utility companies are bringing in "outside experts" to investigate. (AP)

-- No Super Bowl halftime show next year? There is a God! (NBC's Pro Football Talk)

-- Quite the day for the Ravens: They had their victory parade . . . (AP)

-- . . . and President Obama phoned in his congratulations to John Harbaugh. (CSN Baltimore)

-- But today is the first day of the rest of their lives, and it's starting with Joe Flacco's agent saying that his client should be the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. (Pro Football Talk)

-- And Bernard Pollard warning that the Ravens have to bring back Ed Reed. (Pro Football Talk)

-- And ex-Raven Trevor Pryce ripping Ray Lewis' performance in the Super Bowl. (CSN Baltimore)

-- Sorry, Jim Harbaugh: Despite your theatrical, over-the-top pleas for a holding call on the 49ers' final offensive play, Mike Pereira says the referees were right when they didn't flag Jimmy Smith for whatever it was he did, or didn't do, to Michael Crabtree. (CSN Bay Area)

-- As one season ends and a new one begins, teams begin to shed those onerous contracts or declining veterans. In Detroit, the Lions say goodbye to Kyle Vanden Bosch and Stephen Peterman. (AP)

-- In New York, the Giants bid farewell to Michael Boley. (AP)

-- And in Cleveland, the Browns say so long to Frostee Rucker. (AP)

-- But in Philadelphia -- surprise, surprise -- the Eagles aren't parting ways with Michael Vick. Not yet, anyway. (Pro Football Talk)

-- A new season means a new look for the Jaguars. Literally. (AP)

-- Only the fourth? (CSN Chicago)

-- The U.S. begins its final push for the 2014 World Cup today with a match in Honduras. (NBC's Pro Soccer Talk)

-- So far, so good on Rafael Nadal's comeback. (AP)

Patriots get explosive plays, key blocks from Gronkowski-Bennett combo


Patriots get explosive plays, key blocks from Gronkowski-Bennett combo

Earlier in the week, Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler did an interview with the team's website and found himself in some hot water for suggesting that the Patriots straddle the line of fair play. That video has since been taken down, but Butler said something else during that discussion that may have furrowed a few eyebrows. 

He said that he believed that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was more of a receiver than a blocker.

On its face, that's not exactly an insult. Gronkowski is one of the best receiving tight ends to ever play. It's the stronger part of his game.


However, the implication was that there wasn't much to worry about when it came to Gronkowski's blocking ability. 

The All-Pro tight end may have helped jog Butler's memory that he's more than a pass-catcher during Sunday's 27-16 win over the Steelers. He and Martellus Bennett teamed up to help clear space for LeGarrette Blount in the running game, physically overwhelming Pittsburgh's defense at times. For example, during Blount's touchdown run in the second quarter at the goal line, Gronkowski and Bennett led the way, sealing off safety Mike Mitchell and defensive end James Harrison, respectively.

"That's part of the game, too," Gronkowski said. "That's part of being a tight end, too. I take pride in my blocking, too. That's part of my position. Marty did a really great job today, too, in the running game."

Part of the reason the Patriots offense has been as effective as it has with Tom Brady behind center over the last three weeks has been because of the his ability to share the football. There are stretches when Gronkowski is the go-to target, there are moments when Bennett is Brady's best option, and there are times -- like Sunday -- when Julian Edelman will be the focus. 

When the Patriots weren't running behind their two tight ends, they were sending them up the field, occupying safeties and leaving Edelman in one-on-one coverage underneath. The 5-foot-11 wideout finished with nine catches for 60 yards on 10 targets, while Bennett and Gronkowski saw just six targets combined. 

"It doesn't really matter who makes the plays, just as long as we make 'em," Patriots coach Belichick said. "So if they take somebody away or they do something to neutralize one player, then that's why we have other players on the team. It's not about featuring one guy. It's about the team winning."

"I just go out there and roll with it," said Bennett, who finished with one catch for five yards. "Wherever Tom throws the ball at, that's where he throws it. We're all just trying to get open. I thought today they took the seams away a lot so the middle of the field was open for Julian. When we got chances we came down with the ball so that's all we try to do any time we're out there.

"But today they relied a lot on us blocking. We did a great job blocking. A lot of poeple always looking at the pass catching or how many receiving yards we get, but what makes us dymanic is our ability to block and open up holes for LeGarrette."

Once the Patriots had established the run, and once they had gashed the Steelers in the short-to-intermediate range with Edelman, that's when things opened up for Gronkowski. He finished the game having caught four passes -- one in the first half -- for 93 yards and a score. 

"It's a team game," Gronkowski said. "You take away the top of an offense running down the field, Julian does a great job underneath, which is his game, which is his specialty. He does such a great job at it that you just can't let that be." 

Perhaps the Steelers had an extra set of eyes on Edelman with 6:19 left in the third quarter, when Brady hit Gronkowski for a 36-yard score on what Gronkowski called "a little bender" down the seam in single coverage. 

The Patriots got 37 more yards on a deep crossing route to Gronkowski early in the fourth quarter. That set up Blount's second touchdown run of the night -- an easy one thanks to Gronkowski and Bennett's work caving in the left side of the Steelers line.

"They were certainly aware of [Gronkowski] and Martellus, and then Julian got a lot of opportunities today," Brady said. "He hasn't got a ton the last few weeks, but today he had a lot of opportunities with the ball . . . We just gotta keep putting pressure on the defense.

"If you do that, either you're gonna make some plays or they're gonna kind of over-adjust to something. Then we got Gronk down the middle. Got Gronk back going down the opposite way, and LeGarrette punched it in. It was good to score like that."

The Patriots can score using Gronkowski in a variety of ways. Receiver. Blocker. After Sunday, no one knows that better than Butler.