Brady happy to have Gronkowski, all targets active

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Brady happy to have Gronkowski, all targets active

FOXBORO -- Not only did the Patriots win to close out the 2012 regular season, they also earned a first-round playoff bye. 
"It was kind of a late Christmas present," Tom Brady said. "So we accept."
They certainly did; New England blanked the Dolphins, 28-0, on Sunday. 
Brady admitted the team knew before kickoff that Indianapolis had upset the Texans, clearing the way for the Patriots to have a week off. 
All they had to do was take care of business. 
"Coach Belichick said, 'Look, the only people that can improve out position are us, so regardless of what anybody else does, we have to win.' "
It helped to have Rob Gronkowski back. 
The tight end hasn't seen game action since fracturing his left forearm in Week 11. This is the player who had 17 of New England's 39 touchdowns last year. This is the player who, behind Wes Welker, led the team in targets, receptions, yards, yards-after-catch, and first downs. 
Between his injury and the injury to fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez (a broken ankle kept him out of six contests), Brady has been deprived of full firepower quite a bit this season. 
Going into Sunday's game, Gronkowski and Hernandez hadn't played together more than four times. The last game they both got snaps was October 21. 
That changed this weekend. 
On New England's first offensive play of the game, Gronkowski cleared room for Hernandez who was running a route underneath him. With Gronkowski's blocking, Hernandez was free to open the game with a 14-yard gain. It's not an unusual play. It's just one that seems to work brilliantly well with those two in particular. 
Brady finished 22-for-36 for 284 yards and two touchdowns. 
He was happy to see Gronkowski on the field again. He was happy to have Gronkowski and Hernandez together. He was happy to have all of his regular targets active. 
"It was nice to get Gronkowski back into the flow of things, you know," Brady said. "We used everybody. It was exciting to have everybody out there at once for the first time all season. We'll use the bye and hopefully come back stronger." 
When the Patriots return to action it will be in the playoffs. 
It appears most players are getting healthy, or are healthy enough, at the right time. Throw in one more week off to rest and rehabilitate, and the outlook is positive.  
Even Brady could admit that much. 
"Well, we've won 10 out of 11, so that's pretty good," he said. "We were 2-3 at one point and we had some tough games earlier in the year, then we win 10 out of 11 and our only loss was against a pretty good football team. But we turned it over four times in the loss to San Francisco."

Then he smiled.  
"If we don't turn it over four times, I like our chances."

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

BOSTON – The wait is finally over for the Boston Celtics and Avery Bradley.

Bradley will return to the Celtics starting lineup tonight after having missed the previous 18 games (and 22 out of 23) with a right Achilles injury.

“I’m excited to be back out there,” Bradley said. “I can’t wait for the game to start.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Bradley will play with a minutes restriction for the first week, and adjust accordingly.

“I wanted to come back four weeks ago,” Bradley said. “But I have to do what’s smartest. Those (medical) guys know better than me. It was tough listening to them. But we came to a compromise I guess you could say and I can play tonight. I’m happy with that decision.”

Bradley said the training staff wanted him to get more practices playing at the level he’s accustomed to, prior to returning to action.

But with the Celtics’ schedule, practice time would be few and far between so limiting his minutes initially is indeed a compromise of sorts.

Although rookie Jaylen Brown has done a solid job filling in for Bradley with the first unit, Stevens had every intention of Bradley returning as a starter.

“He’s our starting two-guard,” Stevens said. “We started the year really well as far as that group playing together. We haven’t had that group playing together very often. Jaylen and Marcus (Smart) are both able to give us a lot off the bench as well as if we need to plug them into a (starting) lineup later on. We feel good about that.”

As far as handling Bradley’s minutes this week, Stevens has a very simple approach to what he needs to do.

“I’m just going to play him in the first couple of stints,” Stevens said. “And when his minutes run out he won’t play anymore. It is hard if you’re trying to save minutes for the end. I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense with getting stiff, sitting for a long time, coming off a long lay-off.”

Bradley is the Celtics’ second-leading scorer at 17.7 points per game along with a team-high 6.9 rebounds. A first-team All-NBA Defender last season, Bradley is also shooting a career-high 40.9 percent from 3-point range.

Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

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Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

PHOENIX - The Arizona Cardinals, in an anticipated move, have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Chandler Jones after failing to reach a long-term deal with the player.

The non-exclusive tag allows the Cardinals to continue negotiating with Jones through July 15. If another team makes him an offer, Arizona can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks.

It's unlikely that any team would express interest in Jones, however, given what it would cost.

Under the franchise tag, Jones would receive about $15 million for the coming season.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season

Jones has 25 1-2 sacks over the past two seasons, third-most in the NFL over that span.

The Cardinals' move came two days before the NFL deadline for making franchise designations.

It also came on Jones' 27th birthday, prompting teammate David Johnson to tweet "Happy BDay to `The Man,' `Mr. Franchise' himself.....The one and only."

The franchise tag move came as no surprise.

Club President Michael Bidwill has stated all along that Jones would not be going anywhere, that the team didn't make the trade - sending guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick to New England - to keep him just for one season.

"We're not going to mess around with that," Bidwill said in a recent interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "He's a great pass rusher, but if we can't agree to terms that work for us, we're just going to franchise him, and his people know that."

Jones immediately upgraded what had been an average Cardinals pass rush at best. His fellow outside linebacker Markus Golden had 12 1-2 sacks and seven tackles for loss. Together they form one of the better outside pass rush combinations in the NFL.

By all accounts, the contract talks with Jones have been cordial and Jones has said he wants to stay in Arizona.

"I love it here," he said near the end of last season. "I love the vibe that the people give off and I can see myself being here for a long time."

Chandler heads a long list of free agents that the Cardinals must either re-sign or let go. That group includes starters defensive tackle Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson and inside linebacker Kevin Minter.