Curran: Patriots building toward familiar territory

960903.jpg

Curran: Patriots building toward familiar territory

FOXBORO There was a full quarter remaining Monday night when the Texans said, Let us up, weve had enough.

Getting the ball back with 14:15 left in the game after the Patriots scored to make it 35-7, Houston ran the ball four times and punted.

The white flag was up. The Texans tapped out of what theyd called the biggest game in team history.

Are they really paper tigers or was this just a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad night under the bright lights in Foxboro? Well find out over the next month or so.

But there is nothing ambiguous about what the Patriots set out to do Monday night and then accomplished. This was one of those games they were itching to play because so much of the advance talk centered around what a daunting team the Texans were and how hard theyd be to deal with.

Obviously, we always talk about ignoring the noise, but you hear it, admitted linebacker Jerod Mayo. You hear it walking down the street. It was a little bit of a motivational factor for me, at least. Im sure the rest of the guys felt the same way.

The rest of the guys were gentle to the dispatched Texans. There was no grave-dancing done.

Logan Mankins, who can often be counted on for some straight-shooting and a subtle jab was taciturn.

We have our hands full every week, he said. We have a chip every week. We go out there and try to do our best and win the game every week. It doesnt matter the other teams record.

Pressed a little, Mankins did add that, Of course its rewarding to beat a team thats getting a lot of pregame buildup.

Anytime you play someone where its said, Youre gonna have trouble with this team all night and then to win the way we did tonight its always good feeling. We didnt want it to come down to a kick.

It didnt. The only kicking was administered to the Texans hindquarters, a point they were more than willing to concede.

We got our tails kicked, said Texans head coach Gary Kubiak.

"They just gave gave us a good ass-whooping, said wide receiver Andre Johnson.

"I think we put too much focus on this game as just a huge game, and not doing our approach as far as just going 1-0, explained Texans linebacker Bradie James. Sometimes guys get a little tight, things get a little out of hand. But the Patriots played lights out in the first half. That's what it takes. I think they showed us what it takes to be a champion.

Which is part of the process. The Texans are a good team this year. They were last year as well. The Patriots have been a great team for more than a decade. This game that Andre Johnson called the biggest in franchise history? The Patriots play in games of this magnitude several times a season.

Give credit to the Texans, theyre not going anywhere, said Patriots wide receiver Donte' Stallworth. Theyre gonna be around.

What the Patriots are doing this year is what they did last year. They are building to a crescendo. They seem to spend the first five or six weeks of the season tinkering in the lab on both sides of the ball. The stuff that works, they keep. The stuff that doesnt they throw out.

If they need something they dont have like a solid cover corner they go out and try to get one, which they did this year with Aqib Talib. If they need to move a guy like Devin McCourty to make everyone else better, they do it. If they need to de-emphasize a players role as they did with Brandon Lloyd they do that as well.

They put players in positions to succeed and, generally, dont try to force square pegs into round holes.

The ignore the noise mantra to which they subscribe doesnt just apply to not hearing the praise, but also shutting out the criticism. And there was a lot of it early this year, much of it deserved, some of it the aimless braying of donkeys with either four hours or column inches to fill.

Inevitably, as the season moves along, the Patriots fix whats broken or succeed in covering it up. At least well enough to emerge as one of the best teams in a 32-team league by the time the Christmas lights go up.

And the braying wanes until the laments are reduced to worrying about which starters are playing too long when the games are already decided.

This morning, the Patriots wake up and find themselves anointed as the favorites to go to New Orleans for their sixth Super Bowl appearance in 12 seasons.

Less than two months ago, the Patriots were 3-3 after a loss to Seattle. Misery. After an overtime win over the Jets the following week, panic and disgust over how flawed the Patriots were hit its annual high-water mark.

Six wins later, there is no team in the NFL playing better. The December coronation is coming. The Patriots are used to this.

One of the big things that Bill has always preached for years, even before I was here in 07 is, Dont buy into the hype and ignore the outside noise. Come in and prepare and dont worry about what the media is saying about the game . . . thats one of the things that has driven this organization to be so successful over the past however many years its been.

There is a methodical method to the madness of Bill Belichick. Plod, plod, plod to excellence every year. Let the other teams win the offseason, September and October. November and December belong to New England. And, quite often, January and February do too.

It takes a while to develop that patience. They dont hand out the lettermans jackets until after the season.

Webber, Massimino among the Hall of Fame finalists

kings_chris_webber_021817.jpg

Webber, Massimino among the Hall of Fame finalists

NEW ORLEANS - Chris Webber and Rollie Massimino are one step from the Hall of Fame.

The career 20-point-per-game NBA scorer and the coach who led Villanova to a stunning upset of Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship game were among the 14 finalists unveiled Saturday for this year's Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.

Webber played 15 seasons with five franchises, plus was part of Michigan's famed "Fab Five" group that headlined college basketball in the early 1990s.

"I don't know what I'm most proud of," said Webber, who averaged 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds in his career and was a five-time NBA All-Star. "I'm proud to be in the room with all these great individuals."

Other first-time Hall of Fame finalists include longtime NBA referee Hugh Evans, Connecticut women's star Rebecca Lobo, two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady, five-time All-Star Sidney Moncrief, Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey, Kansas coach Bill Self, and two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

"I still can't believe I'm here," McGrady said. "This is not even a dream come true."

Previous finalists returning to the ballot include star point guard and Olympic gold medalist Tim Hardaway, winningest all-time boys high school coach Robert Hughes, Notre Dame women's coach Muffet McGraw, former Wisconsin coach and four-time Division III national champion Bo Ryan and 10-time AAU women's national champion team Wayland Baptist University.

"We are grateful to the 14 finalists in the Class of 2017 for the impact they have had on the game we cherish," Basketball Hall of Fame Chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "To be named a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame is an incredible accomplishment."

Inductees will be announced at the Final Four on April 3. Enshrinement ceremonies in Springfield, Massachusetts are scheduled for Sept. 7-9.

Massimino, now an 82-year-old cancer survivor who is still coaching at NAIA school Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Florida, is a finalist for the first time. His Hall of Fame hopes have been backed by plenty of current and former coaches in recent months - including current Villanova coach Jay Wright, who presented Massimino with a championship ring from the Wildcats' 2016 NCAA title.

"Some days, we do take him for granted," Keiser guard Andrija Sarenac said. "But then you see him on TV so much, you see all these videos made about him, the movies about Villanova and everything, and it just hits you. You realize that he's a legend. I mean, your coach is a walking legend. With the energy and everything he comes in with, it's inspiring."

Finalists need 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee to be enshrined. Among this year's candidates who did not make the finalist group: Muggsy Bogues, Ben Wallace, Kevin Johnson, Maurice Cheeks, Mark Price, Lefty Driesell and Eddie Sutton.

Former New York Times sports writer Harvey Araton and former Turner Sports broadcaster Craig Sager will be recognized during Hall of Fame weekend as this year's Curt Gowdy Media Award recipients.

"A tremendous honor," said Sager's wife Stacy.

This year's lifetime achievement award recipients are former UConn coach Donald "Dee" Rowe and Michael Goldberg, who spent nearly four decades as executive director of the NBA Coaches Association. Goldberg died earlier this year.

"He bridged the gap between ownership and coaches," said New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, who spoke about Goldberg on Saturday while wearing a bow tie - one of the signature wardrobe accessories that Goldberg donned for years. "He was just such a great guy."

Dombrowski: There's a lot of talent on this Red Sox team

Dombrowski: There's a lot of talent on this Red Sox team

Trenni Kusnierek talks with Dave Dombrowski about the Red Sox clubhouse and their expectations for the 2017 season.