Patriots expecting Houston's best this time around

960781.jpg

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."

Bruce Cassidy: Bruins 'have got to have a stronger mental capacity' in times of adversity

Bruce Cassidy: Bruins 'have got to have a stronger mental capacity' in times of adversity

BOSTON – While there were some warning signs over the last few weeks that the Bruins might be getting away from their game, it didn’t really hit home until Thursday night’s frustrating loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

The Bruins blew through three different one-goal leads in the second period in the 6-3 loss to the Bolts at TD Garden, and each time surrendered a tying goal to Tampa in less than two minutes after initially scoring. It was a clear indicator that the Bruins weren’t fully focused on the task at hand despite having already lost three games in a row, and that their ability to bounce back from adversity is going away from them again. 

That much was obvious when the bottom dropped out in the third period, and Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Kucherov turned into a two-man Lightning wrecking crew outscoring the Bruins by a 3-0 margin in the final 20 minutes. 

“I think the frustration is more in-game, where we’ve got to have a stronger mental capacity to handle those [challenging] situations in-game. Let’s face it, when you get on a bit of a losing streak, all those things creep in, whether it’s in October or whether it’s in March,” said Bruce Cassidy. “You have doubts, you start pressing, and again, it’s my job to alleviate the kind of attention in those situations.

“But, as I told you, we all have to be accountable and be responsible for ourselves, and that’s where we just need to have better focus and better discipline in those areas. It was there when it was 3-3 [on the scoreboard]. We’ve got to push back after they score, and that’s where I thought we started to come apart a little bit where we should’ve stuck together and stuck with the program. [We needed to] get ourselves slowly back into the game. We had 10 minutes to even the score, and we weren’t able to do it.”

Clearly this wasn’t just the coach alone in his pointed observations, however, as the lack of focus showed unfortunately in a rudderless second period for the Black and Gold where they couldn’t gain any separation from Tampa Bay despite scoring three goals. 

“[It’s] not being focused, not being sharp, and obviously at this time of the year it’s unacceptable, and it’s up on us to be better,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “Those kinds of situations shouldn’t happen. So, for sure, we need to address those things and hold each other accountable.”

One thing is clear: The Bruins have a lot of work to do if they hope to avoid the same kind of late season tailspin that doomed them each of the last two seasons, and already seems to be happening over their last four losses to varying levels of hockey talent. 

Talking points: Tuukka Rask wasn't good enough vs. Lightning

ap_17083100627774.jpg

Talking points: Tuukka Rask wasn't good enough vs. Lightning

Here are the talking points from the Boston Bruins' 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.