Patriots playoff rematch means looking ahead

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Patriots playoff rematch means looking ahead

On December 6, 2010, the Patriots walloped the Jets, 45-3, on a Foxboro edition of Monday Night Football. Six weeks later, New York returned to Gillette Stadium for the Divisional Playoffs and whipped the home crowd into stunned silence by bouncing New England from the postseason. 
It will sound familiar to some.
Fans were already thinking back to that experience and its parallels to the Patriots' upcoming rematch with Houston before the media could even write it. 
New England demolished Houston, 42-14, on December 10, 2012. Monday Night Football. Some five weeks later, the Texans will return to Gillette for the Divisional Playoff. It's not hard to see why more melodramatic fans and analysts are salivating over the storyline. 
But ask Bill Belichick how he feels about the drama.  
"I think there's certainly a lesson there," he said during a conference call Sunday. "But the game that we play now doesn't have much to do with the game we played before, whether it's them or anybody else. It's an example we can point out. It doesn't have to be talked about that many times . . . There are a lot of other games that don't have anything to do with this game on its own. And that is, and will always be, the case. 
"But it's an example we can point out of how little relevance each game with the same team really does have."
The Patriots can appreciate a level of familiarity that December's meeting with Houston provides. Bottom line, however, is that enough has changed that neither team will depend on the tape. 
And this isn't a lesson Belichick learned from the Jets. 
"As we all know, when you play a team twice during the season the games are totally different; they never go the same way," he said. "We'll certainly be able to certainly look at some of the match ups individually -- guys that faced each other in the game -- but as far as plays and calls and things like that, I'm sure they'll have some new wrinkles. I'm sure we'll have some, too."
A few things can be gleaned from Houston's Saturday night Wild-Card game against the Bengals. 
Why that game? Because it's the most recent one. 
Houston fell into a bit of a funk after playing the Patriots, going 1-2 in its final regular season games. Also, the addition of a few parts -- linebacker Brooks Reed, defensive back Alan Ball, tackle Derek Newton -- has changed how the machine runs since it came to New England. 
But above all, Belichick emphasized the importance of getting a fresh start. Even this weekend's game between Houston and the Bengals gives limited insight because the Texans game plan was specific to Cincinnati. The work this week will be extensive, yet tailor-made for the Divisional Playoff.
"We've got to be ready for all the things that they do," Belichick concluded. "It'll just be a full week of preparation. We'll take from the Cincinnati game what we can -- there's some good examples of things we can learn from their game -- but ultimately our match ups are different than theirs."
New England's look back to Week 14 will be brief; the one to 2010, nonexistent. 

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

NEW YORK - There won't be any wild pitches on intentional walks this season.

The players' association has agreed to Major League Baseball's proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.

"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I know they're trying to cut out some of the fat. I'm OK with that," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

While the union has resisted many of MLB's proposed innovations, such as raising the bottom of the strike zone, installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound, players are willing to accept the intentional walk change.

"As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes," union head Tony Clark wrote Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however."

The union's decision was first reported by ESPN .

"I'm OK with it. You signal. I don't think that's a big deal," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the most part, it's not changing the strategy, it's just kind of speeding things up. I'm good with it."

There were 932 intentional walks last year, including 600 in the National League, where batters are walked to bring the pitcher's slot to the plate.

"You don't want to get your pitcher out of a rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm," Girardi said. "I've often wondered why you don't bring in your shortstop and the pitcher stand at short. Let the shortstop walk him. They're used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is."

Agreement with the union is required for playing rules changes unless MLB gives one year advance notice, in which case it can unilaterally make alterations. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Tuesday that ongoing talks would lead to an agreement on other changes but also said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Some changes with video review can be made unilaterally, such as shortening the time to make a challenge.

"I know they were thinking about putting in a 30-second (limit) for managers to make a decision," Francona said. "I actually wish they would. I think it would hustle it up and if we can't tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn't be doing it anyway."

Blakely: Jae Crowder is more than 'just another guy' on Celtics

Blakely: Jae Crowder is more than 'just another guy' on Celtics

As the NBA trade deadline gets closer and closer, A. Sherrod Blakely helps shed some light as to why the Boston Celtics may be unwilling to part ways with Jae Crowder