By Tom E. CurranFOXBORO - In the preseason, the Patriots completed one pass to Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker. Combined. Ten were completed to Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. On Sunday, you have to figure nearly three times that many passes will be targeted to those players. The Patriots showed the Tennessee Titans nothing during the fake games. Youhave to expect the Titans are planning the same thing for the New England offense. "You have to deal with what youve seen because thats what they're working on and you have to deal with things that could come up because you understand that theyre probably holding some things back," Tom Brady explained during his Wednesday press conference. "Ultimately its going to come down to who executes the best. Its not the scheme; its taking care of the football, who does better on third down and the red area, taking advantage of scoring and penalties, all the things that play into every game. "But yeah, its different than Week 15 when you have a whole seasons worth of film on a certain team," Brady added. "There are some things were preparing for that we probably wont see and certainly there are things that they're doing that we havent seen. Thats just part of playing really early in the season."Last year, the Patriots burst from a quiet preseason to pummel the Dolphins, 38-24 as Brady threw for 517 yards. The potential is there for something similar to unfold against Tennessee. The potential is also there for the Tennessee to gum up a New England offense which didn't look revved up for the regular season in the practice games. Brady, as he usally is, seems wary of that Titans defense."Its a very fast front thats very disruptive, so you dont have a lot of time to sit back there and evaluate whats going on," Brady explained. "I think they mix in enough zone coverage with man coverage where its really tough to anticipate. To try to get a good pre-snap read and a good post-snap read and not really make up your mind before the ball is snapped of where the ball should go because they and they make some things look very similar, some blitzes look like coverage, some coverages look like blitzes, so you have to do a good job post-snap of really figuring out what theyre doing and find the open guy."The protection will be a big key because, as Brady's figuring out who's going where and what the defense's weak spot is, the Titans will be bringing pressure on an offensive line that's struggled some. With Nate Solder out at left tackle and Sebatian Vollmer (presumably) on the right side, the Titans have two edge spots to target. Solder's young. Vollmer's just back from injury and his conditioning may not quite be there yet. There will be a feeling out process to contend with on Sunday. And don't forget, this Titans team was 9-7 last year. They aren't slouches. The Patriots know they're in for something Sunday. Exactly what, they won't know until after kickoff. Yeah, thats part of it.
CLEVELAND – Gone but definitely not forgotten.
Isaiah Thomas, out for the rest of the playoffs with a right hip injury, wasn’t in the Q Arena physically, but his presence – and his face via FaceTime – were inside the locker room in the initial moments following their 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland.
“We called him right after the game,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “He got to celebrate with us a little bit. It’s sad that he’s not here. We wish he was here with us. We just want him to get better.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens added, “I didn’t even realize that had happened until later on. one of my first text messages was from Isaiah. He’s hurting not being out there but he’s completely invested, for sure.”
He initially suffered the injury on March 15 at Minnesota, but re-aggravated it in the first half of Boston’s Game 2 loss to the Cavs. Less than 24 hours later, Thomas was deemed out for the remainder of the playoffs.
Instead of Thomas being the rock of sorts that the Celtics lean on with his play, he has become their rallying cry for the remainder of the playoffs.
“All we can do is play hard for him,” Bradley said. “He was excited with the way we played. We’re a family. Other guys got an opportunity to step up for us. Marcus (Smart) had a big game for us. It could be somebody else next game.”
Smart led the Celtics with a career-high 27 points which included a career-best seven 3’s going down.
And most important, the Celtics avoided going down 3-0 which would have all but sealed their fate in this series considering no team in league history has ever come back for a 3-0 series deficit.
Doing so without Thomas, the Celtics’ leading scorer and the top regular season scorer in the Eastern Conference, made the win all that more impressive for Boston.
“It meant a lot,” Horford said. “We know, Isaiah gives us so much and gave us so much this year. For him, we definitely wanted to come out and fight for him and our season and our team. It felt good to keep believing despite being down big. Just felt good to win the game and bring life back to our locker room. Because going down 3-0, that’s a death sentence pretty much. This was big.”
Not only to the Celtics players but also to Thomas who also texted head coach Brad Stevens full of excitement following Boston’s surprising win.
“He was excited,” Horford recalled. “He was ecstatic. I know he wishes he was here being part of it. We just need to keep doing it for him and our group and doing the best we can.”