Hightower confident about Sunday's game

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Hightower confident about Sunday's game

FOXBORO -- A win over the Dolphins this weekend would award New England its ninth AFC East title in 10 seasons.

And it's hard not to see it happening.

This 5-6 Miami team might still be in the playoff hunt, but most of the numbers in this matchup favor the Patriots.

The Dolphins are ranked 26 in points scored per game with 19.2. New England sits at No. 1 with an even 37.

The gap narrows significantly on the other side of the ball, with Miami surrendering a relatively stingy 20.5 points on average (No. 8) and New England giving up 22.2 (No. 13).

Perhaps that's why rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower didn't sound too worried on Friday.

"They've been playing pretty good. I know quarterback Ryan Tannehill and we talked during the draft and he's been playing really good," he said.

"But all-in-all, I just think we need to go out and execute our game plan, know everything that head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have put out there, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as well. So I feel like if we go out and execute like we're supposed to, we'll be all right."

Another spot where the Patriots have a leg up is turnovers.

New England's plus-24 giveawaytakeaway ratio is head and shoulders, and maybe knees, above Miami's minus-10. Having 32 takeaways (14 interceptions, 18 fumbles) will do that.

Hightower was asked if the team's success is simply a credit to practice.

"I really feel like it's something we do emphasize during the week, but it's also about playing style -- that's how everybody plays. We play for the big hit and the big turnover to change the face of the game. Everybody wants to make a play and everybody's going to do their job. Whenever the opportunity comes, everybody's ready to strike fast," he explained.

"I believe this season we've all been doing a really good job. Maybe some times we've started off slow, but I definitely feel like we've come out in the last couple of games and done a good job there."

Tannehill: Beware.

Miami's 22-year old signal caller has just two touchdowns to six interceptions over his last three games. Three of those picks were thrown in Buffalo two weeks ago.

It just so happens the Patriots defense leads the AFC in that category (14).

So what if Miami tries to make gains on the ground?

Several scouting compliments this week have been dished out to Reggie Bush. The running back is an integral part of Miami's ground game (662 yards, five touchdowns on 150 carries) and has gashed teams more than a few times on the outside.

And you can't forget about Daniel Thomas. Though his numbers are more modest (306 yards, four touchdowns on 83 carries), he's effective in grinding out key yards inside.

Hightower complimented both backs.

"Thomas a really good back. He comes in on third down and does a really great job. Even when he comes in on first and second down to run the ball he's done a really good job. I feel like they're trying to split the carries with those guys, as well. But it's a really good tandem with Bush and Thomas; they have a similar running style. Those are two really good backs who are coming up, so you've got to be prepared for them."

True, the Dolphins are always a tough test in Miami -- especially for New England. But if the Patriots can keep up the pace, it sounds like they could be comfortably crowned on Sunday.

Friday, Feb. 24: 'Slap Shot' turns 40

Friday, Feb. 24: 'Slap Shot' turns 40

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while always holding a special place in my heart for Dickie Dunn as my favorite "Slap Shot" character. If Dickie Dunn wrote it, then it must be true.

*The ESPN hockey crew puts together some of their best scenes and favorite lines from "Slap Shot" as the movie hits 40 years old. I was first introduced to Slap Shot in my high school years and I liked it for the Hanson Brothers as much as for anything else, but that is a movie that just gets better and better every time I watch it. And I’ve watched it dozens and dozens of times. God bless Paul Newman for agreeing to lend his Hollywood star power to such a crazy, hilarious and raucous love letter to hockey.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Brian Wilde is recognizing the limitations of the Canadiens even under new coach Claude Julien.

*Bryan Bickell is stepping even closer to a return to the Carolina Hurricanes as he battles through his MS diagnosis.

*Kevin Shattenkirk apparently turned down a sign-and-trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season, and also turned down a chance to get dealt to the Edmonton Oilers last summer as well. I think the Blues D-man has a short list of teams he wants to sign with as a free agent, and neither one of those teams is on the list.

*Darren Dreger weighs in on Shattenkirk as well, and the price tag of a top prospect, first-round pick and NHL player for the puck-moving rental D-man seems very excessive.

*Things are coming to a head with Evander Kane and the Buffalo Sabres as he takes his play to a high level in Buff over the last few months.

*Interesting piece on Ed Snider’s daughter becoming an advocate for medicinal marijuana after his father’s health battles.

*For something completely different: Looks like a new season of "The Voice" coming our way.


 

'Why would the girls be treated any differently than the boys?'

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'Why would the girls be treated any differently than the boys?'

I grew up playing sports. For the most part I played soccer, but I also ran cross-country and track, I skied, snowboarded, and, at one point, I tried gymnastics. (It wasn't pretty.) My two younger sisters did the same. Our parents ran themselves ragged driving us to practices and tournaments, arranging carpools and fundraisers.

It never crossed our minds that we were girls playing sports. It's just what we did. And we loved it!

I didn't realize how lucky I was until visiting my grandparents in rural Ohio one summer. I found an old photo of their high school graduating class. I asked my grandmother what sports she played in school and I'll never forget her answer: "Oh, there were no sports for girls back then. We could cheer for the boys basketball team, but that was it."

I was shocked. I thought that was ridiculous. Why would the girls be treated any differently than the boys? I couldn't comprehend it.

Looking back, I'm so thankful I grew up in a time and environment where that wasn't the case. I can't imagine my life without sports. Not only because it's what I do for a living, but because playing sports throughout my childhood is a big part of what made me the person I am today.

Sports taught me the value of hard work. Being part of a team, I learned how to communicate and work with people to accomplish a common goal . . . and discovered just how gratifying the process can be. I became a teammate and leader who earned respect and empowered others. I made lasting friendships while stuffed like a sardine in a travel van singing Ace of Base at the top of my lungs. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. And I certainly wouldn't be in the position I'm in without them.

Don't get me wrong; it hasn't all been positive. Now that I'm a woman working in sports, I've had other kinds of eye-opening moments. During an interview for my first on-air job I was asked, in so many words, if this is really a career for me or if I had other plans after I found a husband. Once I did land a job, I covered many college football games by myself. There was one small school in particular whose players relentlessly catcalled me on the sidelines. I won't repeat the foul things they said, but I can tell you I went home feeling very dirty (and it wasn't because I  was pouring sweat after lugging a camera that weighed half as much as I did from end zone to end zone in the middle of an Alabama summer). Even now, every so often, social media has a special way of reminding me how some people still view women in sports. Surprise -- it's not good.

But if that's the worst I have to go through, I know I can't complain. My only focus is doing my job to the very best of my abilities and working as hard as I possibly can to continue to grow and get better. We've come a long way. I'm so grateful for those who blazed the trail and made it possible for me to do what I do. And, thanks to my grandmother, I will never take my opportunities for granted. My hope is that when my daughter grows up, she will be just as surprised and appalled by some of my bad experiences as I was talking to my grandmother that day.