Patriots expecting Houston's best this time around

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Patriots expecting Houston's best this time around

FOXBORO -- A couple of questions cropped up after the Patriots whipped Houston, the AFC's former No. 1 team, to the tune of 42-14 in December.
Are the Patriots really that good? Are the Texans really that bad?
At least one answer seemed obvious: No, the Texans aren't really a bad football team.
This team did not go 12-4 in the regular season by accident. And if doubt was inspired after Houston went 1-3 in its final four games, a solid showing against Cincinnati during Wild Card weekend should should have squelched a lot of it.
The Patriots certainly aren't banking on another cakewalk.
"We expect it to be a totally different ball game," Matt Slater said Tuesday. "We expect this to be a different team that shows up here this weekend, and we know we're in for a fight."
"There's a reason they're in the postseason," Vince Wilfork added. "There's a reason we're in the postseason. So I don't think anything from that game is going to play a huge factor. I think it'll give them more momentum, or give them more of an edge to want to face us, to want to beat us in Foxboro."
New England has several statistical advantages to reel off: Total offensive yards per game, (427.9 to Houston's 372.1), passing yards per game (291.4 to 239.4), points per game (34.8 to 26.0), third down conversion percentage (48.7).
Also, there's the Patriots bye week to consider. While Houston battled it out against the Bengals, New England got to rest, recuperate -- lick its wounds.
It's all well and good until game day. On that day, Slater said, the playing field is leveled.
"I dont expect it to give us some great edge or advantage come Sunday. These guys are going to come in here hungry. They feel like they owe us. We cant think, Oh, well we had the bye so were going to be OK. Thats not going to be the case at all. Hopefully we get everybody healthy and out there on the field this week, but when it comes down to, it we have to go line up and play the game this weekend."
Wilfork was in full agreement.
After all, Houston holds plenty of its own advantages on the other side of the ball: Total yards per game allowed (323.2 yards to New England's 373.2), average passing yards allowed (225.8 to 271.4), average rush yards allowed (97.5 to 101.9), third down conversion percentage surrendered (33.0 to 40.0).
"They didnt play their best game. They know that and we know that," the nose tackle said. "Come Sunday we are expecting their best. Its all or nothing from here on out and for us. We have to be able to execute. If we dont execute, well have troubles. First, it starts with their running game.
"Im pretty sure theyre sitting down there saying, You know what? They played us in the regular season and things didnt go well. We basically outplayed them and they feel that they are a better football team. They are a better football team."

WNBA: Sun blow 21-point lead before beating Liberty, 94-89

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WNBA: Sun blow 21-point lead before beating Liberty, 94-89

NEW YORK - Jasmine Thomas scored 23 points and Connecticut held on for a 94-89 win over the New York Liberty on Friday night after blowing a 21-point lead.

Jonquel Jones added 21 points for the Sun (6-5). Theyh ave won five straight games, including two over New York.

Connecticut was up 70-49 in the third quarter before New York rallied to tie it at 86 with 1:06 left on a layup by Shavonte Zellous. Courtney Williams then hit a jumper to give the Sun the lead and pulled down the rebound on the other end. Jasmine Thomas then hit a 3-pointer from the wing - the team's 12th of the game - with 24 seconds left to seal the victory.

The Sun were hot from the start from behind the arc, hitting five of their first nine 3-pointers and finished the first half with nine 3s to build a 46-32 advantage.

Tina Charles scored 18 of her 20 points in the second half to lead New York (7-5). Zellous added 18.

The Sun had been winning without Morgan Tuck (knee) and Lynetta Kizer (back), who are sidelined with injuries. Coach Curt Miller expects Kizer back sooner than Tuck.

The Liberty have only three home games in the next 45 days spending most of the month of July on the road.

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

BOSTON —  The Red Sox have become well known for their ceremonies, for their pull-out-all-the-stops approach to pomp. The retirement of David Ortiz’s No. 34 on Friday evening was in one way, then, typical.

A red banner covered up Ortiz’s No. 34 in right field, on the facade of the grandstand, until it was dropped down as Ortiz, his family, Red Sox ownership and others who have been immortalized in Fenway lore looked on. Carl Yazstremski and Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Pedro Martinez. 

The half-hour long tribute further guaranteed permanence to a baseball icon whose permanence in the city and the sport was never in doubt. But the moments that made Friday actually feel special, rather than expected, were stripped down and quick. 

Dustin Pedroia’s not one to belabor many points, never been the most effusive guy around. (He’d probably do well on a newspaper deadline.) The second baseman spoke right before Ortiz took to the podium behind the mound.

“We want to thank you for not the clutch hits, the 500 home runs, we want to thank you for how you made us feel and it’s love,” Pedroia said, with No. 34 painted into both on-deck circles and cut into the grass in center field. “And you’re not our teammate, you’re not our friend, you’re our family. … Thank you, we love you.”

Those words were enough for Ortiz to have tears in his eyes.

“Little guy made me cry,” Ortiz said, wiping his hands across his face. “I feel so grateful. I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to have the career that I have. But I thank God even more for giving me the family and what I came from, who teach me how to try to do everything the right way. Nothing — not money — nothing is better than socializing with the people that are around you, get familiar with, show them love, every single day. It’s honor to get to see my number …. I remember hitting batting practice on this field, I always was trying to hit those numbers.”

Now that’s a poignant image for a left-handed slugger at Fenway Park.

He did it once, he said — hit the numbers. He wasn’t sure when. Somewhere in 2011-13, he estimated — but he said he hit Bobby Doerr’s No. 1.

“It was a good day to hit during batting practice,” Ortiz remembered afterward in a press conference. “But to be honest with you, I never thought I’d have a chance to hit the ball out there. It’s pretty far. My comment based on those numbers was, like, I started just getting behind the history of this organization. Those guys, those numbers have a lot of good baseball in them. It takes special people to do special things and at the end of the day have their number retired up there, so that happening to me today, it’s a super honor to be up there, hanging with those guys.”

The day was all about his number, ultimately, and his number took inspiration from the late Kirby Puckett. Ortiz’s major league career began with the Twins in 1997. Puckett passed away in 2006, but the Red Sox brought his children to Fenway Park. They did not speak at the podium or throw a ceremonial first pitch, but their presence likely meant more than, say, Jason Varitek’s or Tim Wakefield’s.

“Oh man, that was very emotional,” Ortiz said. “I’m not going to lie to you, like, when I saw them coming toward me, I thought about Kirby. A lot. That was my man, you know. It was super nice to see his kids. Because I remember, when they were little guys, little kids. Once I got to join the Minnesota Twins, Kirby was already working in the front office. So they were, they used to come in and out. I used to get to see them. But their dad was a very special person for me and that’s why you saw me carry the No. 34 when I got here. It was very special to get to see them, to get kind of connected with Kirby somehow someway.”

Ortiz’s place in the row of 11 retired numbers comes in between Boggs’ No. 26 and Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.