Patriots focused on stopping Spiller, Bills ground game

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Patriots focused on stopping Spiller, Bills ground game

FOXBORO -- CJ Spiller was at the middle of it all when the Bills fell apart against the Patriots six weeks ago. Near the end of the first half, Buffalo was threatening to score when Spiller took a handoff and ran into Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes. The ball popped loose, New England recovered and came out for the second half with new life. They scored 45 points in the game's final 30 minutes to win, 52-28.

"That was the turning point of the game," Spiller told reporters afterward. "And thats totally on me. Nobody else. That was me. Ive just got to do a better job of securing the ball. Especially down at the goal line.

Spiller hasn't fumbled since. In fact, he's been arguably the Bills' most reliable offensive player in his team's last four games. He will carry a hefty 7.2 yards-per-carry average into Gillette Stadium on Sunday, as well as a reputation for breaking a big play at any moment.

The Patriots say they're expecting to see a different back than the one had just 33 yards on eight carries to go along with that crucial fumble in their last meeting.

"Oh man, this guy is a hell of a player," Vince Wilfork said Thursday. "He's running the ball very well, catching the ball for him. He's really showing the explosive plays that we were accustomed to seeing when he was in college, and that's what they drafted him for. So, he's coming into his own."

Together with Bills veteran running back Fred Jackson, Spiller makes up one half of one of the league's most dynamic rushing duos. Gaining 5.3 yards per rush this season, the Bills are owners of the NFL's second-most explosive running game.

"Obviously they're a two-headed monster," Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "Really a three-headed monster. TashardChoice provides a spark off the bench as well."

But Spiller will likely require extra attention.

"Anytime a guy's averaging over seven yards a carry, you know they can always take one to the house," Mayo continued. "It'll take a group effort to stop him. The front seven has to do an excellent job staying on blocks and hopefully making plays."

Like Wilfork, Mayo said he's seen a different Spiller on film this week. No longer is his game all scat. He's rounding more and more into a complete running back, it appears.

"One thing he's doing a lot better since the last time we played him, he's running inside as well," Mayo said. "He's making a lot of guys miss inside and he's breaking those long runs."

The matchup promises to be the latest challenge for the Patriots defense, which has taken on all rushers and, in general, stuffed them. They've allowed just 3.5 yards per carry and the longest rush they've allowed all season is a fourth-quarter 20-yard run by the Rams' Daryl Richardson two weeks ago when the Patriots already had their 45-7 win well in hand.

"You're only as good as your last performance," Mayo replied when reminded how stout the Patriots have been against the run.

But they were pretty good in London. Mayo, Wilfork, Spikes and the rest allowed 107 yards rushing, and they held Rams back Steven Jackson -- now closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but still a talent -- to 23 yards on seven carries.

Since then, New England has had some time off with its bye week. The Bills are probably hoping that break will work in their favor since Patriots rustiness may be Spiller and Jackson's best chance to get anything going on the ground Sunday.

"We work pretty hard," Mayo said. "We worked hard all week this week and even during the bye week to get better. Hopefully there's no rust, but you never know."

Bruins don't extend qualifying offer to Joe Morrow

Bruins don't extend qualifying offer to Joe Morrow

With free agency just around the corner, the Bruins have officially cut ties with former first-round pick and last bastion of the Tyler Seguin trade, Joe Morrow.

The 24-year-old Edmonton native arrived in Boston along with Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser in exchange for Seguin when he was shipped to Dallas, and now all of those players have moved on from Boston as well. Boston does still carry Jimmy Hayes on their roster, a player traded from Florida in exchange for Smith, as a last remnant of the Seguin deal, but it isn't expected to be too long before Hayes moves on from Boston as well.  

The B’s announced on Monday afternoon that they hadn’t extended a qualifying offer to Morrow, as well as P-Bruins power forward Colton Hargrove, as a restricted free agent, and that both B’s youngsters were now free to sign with any of the 30 NHL teams as free agents.

The Bruins extended qualifying offers to restricted free agents in Noel Acciari, Linus Arnesson, Austin Czarnik, Zane McIntyre, David Pastrnak, Tim Schaller, Ryan Spooner and Malcolm Subban, and will retain the associated team rights with all of those players. Negotiations are ongoing between the Bruins and Pastrnak continue over a long term deal that would put him in the same $6 million plus per season level as teammate Brad Marchand, but one source with knowledge of the negotiations indicated it’s “not close” to being a done deal.

Some RFA’s like Spooner and Subban might not necessarily fit into the long term plan for the Black and Gold, but they need to maintain their rights if they hope to trade them as valued assets down the line.

Morrow never put together the talent that made him a former first-round pick while he was in Boston, and totaled just one assist in 17 games for the B’s before playing well in five playoff games after getting pushed into duty due to injuries. In all Morrow finished with two goals and nine points along with a minus-8 rating in 65 games over three seasons in Boston, but could never string together an extended run of consistent play at the NHL level.

With the Bruins in the market to bring on another left-shot defenseman into the Boston fold this summer, it was pretty clear that the time had come to move on from Morrow while allowing him to potentially develop as an NHL D-man elsewhere. 

Tom Brady claims No. 1 spot on NFL's top 100 list

Tom Brady claims No. 1 spot on NFL's top 100 list

The NFL Network revealed the final 10 players on its annual Top 100 list Monday night and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady finished in the No. 1 spot.

On NFL.com, the Top 100 list is described as the answer to the question, "Who are the top 100 players in the NFL today?" If that's the criteria -- and not simply performance in 2016 -- then Watt's complaint actually doesn't hold much water. If he's healthy, no one would argue that he's one of the best 35 players "in the NFL today."

Several Patriots players made the cut on this year's list: Rob Gronkowski (No. 23), LeGarrette Blount (No. 80), Julian Edelman (No. 71), Dont'a Hightower (No. 94) and Malcolm Butler (No. 99). 

Brady was also voted in as the No. 1 player back in 2011.