Brady's Pats look just like Niners of 80s and 90s

Brady's Pats look just like Niners of 80s and 90s

FOXBORO Before getting swamped by the Patriots Monday night, the Houston Texans described their game with New England as the biggest in franchise history.
 
After the game, Patriots guard Logan Mankins said, I know the team we play next week. Its not the biggest game in their franchise history.
 
Not by a long shot. Next up for the Patriots? The San Francisco 49ers.
 
While this years model of the Niners is still making strides to be an elite team, the storied history of the franchise remains fresh and nowhere does that history reverberate more strongly than in New England.
 
When owner Robert Kraft bought the Patriots in 1993, he made it clear the franchise he would emulate was the 49ers, the NFLs gold standard of the 80s and 90s.
 
If it isnt mission accomplished, its pretty close.
 
The Patriots are the most successful franchise of the 2000s with five Super Bowl appearances in 12 seasons, three Super Bowl titles, a perfect regular season in 2007 and a Hall of Fame quarterbackhead coach combination in Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.  
 
The Niners, with their 5-0 Super Bowl record and 16 consecutive seasons of 10-or-more wins from 1983 to 1998 are the only team New England is chasing when it comes to sustained, unstinting excellence over more than a decade. The win over Houston brought the Patriots to 10 consecutive 10-win seasons.
 
In the Super Bowl Era, not even the Steelers were able to sustain the same level season after season for as long as the Niners did and the Patriots have.
 
Throw in the personal.
 
Tom Brady, grew up in San Mateo, California, went to the 1981 NFC Championship game where Dwight Clark made The Catch, idolized Joe Montana and is now mentioned in the same breath as Montana as perhaps the greatest ever.
 
Bill Belichicks coaching idol, Paul Brown, was the man under whom Bill Walsh learned what became the West Coast offense. And Belichicks Giant defenses banged helmets for NFC supremacy with Walshs Niners for a decade in the 80s.
 
Contemporary linkage? The 2012 Niners executed a quarterback switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick that hearkens back just a little to the switch Belichick made from Drew Bledsoe to Tom Brady in 2001. There are some differences Bledsoe was the Patriots franchise hood ornament while the Niners have been gearing up to replace Smith for years; Brady proved over several games to be better than Bledsoe, while Kaepernick made his bones in practice and cameos. But the comparison mostly stands.
 
Yet all that is window dressing to a game that could be could be a prelude to another meeting in New Orleans in early February.
 
The Patriots are in the midst of their annual December crescendo. Theyve won seven straight games and the three blemishes on their 10-3 record came by a total of four points.
 
The Niners are 5-1-1 over their last seven and are in the midst of a crushing late-season schedule that has them on the road for four out of five games.
 
Both teams are the No. 2 seed in their respective conferences. Both have designs on getting home field for the playoffs. Neither can afford to stub their toe down the stretch and miss out on a first-round bye.
 
Its a short week for us; we dont know them very well, Belichick said Wednesday. We havent played them in quite awhile and theyve made a lot of changes since the last time we did play them. We really have to do a good job of trying to catch up preparation-wise this week. Hopefully we can do that, but these guys do a lot of things well.
 
Having Brady, whos in the midst of an MVP-caliber season, helps New England make up the stagger a little bit.
 
Brady said Wednesday he began working on San Francisco on Thanksgiving night after a 49-19 prime-time win over the Jets.
 
Harbaugh was asked how hed slow Brady down.
 
Well, we'd sure like to find the answer to that and then implement it, he confessed. But it is really difficult. They're tough to do that against. They have a really good scheme, really good play calling, and then great individual effort at each position. The great ability that they have to play as a team. We could talk for hours about how good they are."
 
The Niners, meanwhile, remain an impressive work in progress. Kaepernicks been the anointed starter for four games. He brings a dimension to their offense that former starter Alex Smith didnt the ability to threaten a defense in multiple ways and create but hes an NFL embryo compared to someone like Brady.
 
Context? Kaepernicks thrown 134 passes in the NFL. Bradys thrown 6,609. Including playoffs.
 
So on Sunday night, the former gold standard will face the current gold standard. And it may not be for the last time.

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.

Bulpett: Ainge 'really protective' of ability to go to free agency this summer

Bulpett: Ainge 'really protective' of ability to go to free agency this summer

Steve Bulpett joins Mike Felger to weigh in on the NBA trade deadline and the lack of moves made by Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics thus far.