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' skid continues in 6-3 loss to Lightning

Bruins' skid continues in 6-3 loss to Lightning

BOSTON – The Bruins are doing it again. 

With a team that was badly in need of a win, the Bruins couldn’t get any separation from the Tampa Bay Lightning before ultimately sagging in the third period on the way to a deflating 6-3 loss at TD Garden on Thursday night. 

It marks four losses in a row for the Black and Gold with Thursday night as the worst among them, and doesn’t extinguish any of the concerns that Boston is in another late-season tailspin. 

Jonathan Drouin beat Tuukka Rask with a shot from the face-off circle that dipped underneath his glove hand for the game-winner, and Nikita Kucherov added the final two goals to give him a hat trick for a Bolts team that snapped their own three-game losing streak. 

This game had all the warning signs after a nondescript first period with the Bruins giving up goals immediately after they scored three times in the second period. The first was a David Pastrnak power play strike for his 32ndof the season, and the Lightning struck 44 seconds later with a Brayden Point rebound score after a big breakdown by Boston’s best players on the ice. 

Zdeno Chara again gave the Bruins a short-lived lead on a shorthanded goal in the second period, but Tampa Bay responded with a blistering Nikita Kucherov one-timer just 24 seconds later with the Bolts still on the power play. Boston scored again on a Riley Nash wraparound bid that he threw off the diving Victor Hedman in the crease, and Boston had a brief one-goal lead once again. 

It was 1:35 later that Anton Stralman beat Rask high to the glove side on an odd-man rush and that set up a third period where Tampa Bay scored three unanswered goals and sent the Bruins to their fourth straight loss. 

Report: Steelers' offer for Dont'a Hightower was bigger than Patriots'

Report: Steelers' offer for Dont'a Hightower was bigger than Patriots'

Dont'a Hightower left money on the table in New York and in Pittsburgh, and instead took a smaller deal to return the New England Patriots, according to CBSSports' Jason La Canfora.

The Jets' offer was previously reported to be $12 million per year, including incentives. La Canfora reiterated that report. But he also detailed Pittsburgh's offer, as the Steelers also outbid the Patriots with over $9 million per year.

Instead, Hightower settled for $8.7 million per season with New England, and will play under Bill Belichick in a Patriots jersey for the sixth season in 2017.

Hightower traveled a great deal during free agency, and ended up garnering interest from the Steelers, Jets, Tennessee Titans and Miami Dolphins.

The 27-year-old linebacker finished the 2016 season with 65 tackles tackles, 2.5 sacks, two pass deflections and one forced fumble. He also had a game-changing strip sack on Matt Ryan in Super Bowl LI that shifted the momentum of game.