Pats take offense at Eagles in 38-20 romp

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Pats take offense at Eagles in 38-20 romp

The weather -- game-time temperature in the low 60s, gentle winds from the south -- spoke more to September and early October than post-Thanksgiving November.

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So did the performance of the Patriots' offense.

Any concerns about Tom Brady's arm, or the ability of the wide receivers to get separation, or over-reliance on Wes Welker and the tight ends, melted away Sunday. Before being given the rest of the day off with just under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, Brady completed 24 of 34 passes for 361 yards -- his highest yardage total since throwing for 387 in Game 3 against the Bills -- and three touchdowns as he led the Pats to a dominating 38-20 win over the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

"They played the game the way we wanted to play it," said a visibly pleased -- and downright chatty -- Bill Belichick after the game, "and did a good job in all three phases of the game."

The Eagles scored the first 10 points of the game, in the opening 6 12 minutes of the first quarter, and the last 7, with 32 seconds to play. In the 53 minutes in between, New England outscored Philadelphia, 38-3 . . . and the score really did indicate the way the game played out.

Especially on offense.

The Patriots got top-of-the-line production, as usual, from their tight ends -- Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for 10 catches and 121 yards -- but Brady had more targets on this day. Welker, held to 46 receiving yards or less in four of the last five games, broke through with eight catches for 115 yards, including two touchdowns. Deion Branch had a 63-yard pass-and-run with Brady en route to a 6-catch125-yard afternoon, his second-best game of the season.

They were backed by a solid, if unspectacular, run game which went for over 100 yards -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis was the top individual rusher, with 14 carries for 44 yards and two TDs -- and, with all elements of their game working, the Pats were especially efficient in crucial areas such as:

Red-zone efficiency (4 scores in 5 trips)

Goal-to-go efficiency (3 TDs in 3 tries)

Third-down conversions (6-for-11)

And it all happened despite an explosive start by the Eagles that had New England in a 10-0 hole before the Pats' second possession of the game.

"We certainly didn't want to start the game the way we started," said Belichick. "We kind of stumbled out of the gate there."

Eagles quarterback Vince Young completed two big passes -- a 58-yarder to Riley Cooper over Kyle Arrington that set up a two-yard touchdown run by LeSean McCoy just 2:10 into the game, and a 44-yarder to DeSean Jackson that led to a 43-yard field goal by Alex Henery -- in building the lead.

But to a man, the Pats said there was no panic on their sideline.

"We have a lot of veteran guys that understand it's a long game," said Welker.

"Overall, we did a great job of just staying composed," said Branch.

Brady directed a 12-play, 80-yard drive on the Pats' next possession that consumed nearly seven minutes and culminated in a four-yard touchdown run by Green-Ellis -- who carried the ball on 8 of the 12 plays -- to cut the Eagle lead to 10-7.

The Pats' defense forced a three-and-out on Philly's next possession, and on the fourth play of the second quarter, Brady completed the 63-yard pass-and-run with Branch on a third-and-13 that moved the ball to the 1. Green-Ellis ran it in from there to put New England in front to stay, 14-10.

"That was a good job by the entire team to really stem the tide," said Brady.

The Pats wasted an Antwaun Molden interception on the Eagles' next possession when Stephen Gostkowski missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt, but Belichick thought it was still a crucial play for the Pats.

"We finally made a play on defense, and that helped our confidence a little bit," said Belichick.

The Patriots increased their lead to 21-10 when Welker got behind the Philadelphia secondary and Brady found him for a 41-yard touchdown. The teams then traded field goals -- a 22-yarder by Henery and a 45-yarder by Gostkowski -- and New England took a 24-13 lead into the locker room at halftime.

After one possession of the third quarter, it was 31-13. The Pats took the second-half kickoff and marched 69 yards in 8 plays, with Brady passing nine yards to Welker for the touchdown.

Then it was the defense's turn. The Eagles took the ball to the New England 2 on their subsequent possession, but the Pats held. And when Young overthrew Brent Celek on a fourth-and-goal from the 2, the game, for all intents and purposes, was over.

Brady finished his afternoon by making his weekly TD toss to Gronkowski, this one of 24 yards with 8:42 to play; with a 38-13 lead, Belichick gave him the rest of the day off and entrusted the QB job to Brian Hoyer. The Eagles made the final 38-20 with a garbage-time touchdown, as Young threw a one-yard scoring pass to Jason Avant with 36 seconds left.

The victory lifted the Pats' record to 8-3, keeping them a) comfortably ahead of both the Jets and Bills in the AFC East race and b) in the hunt for a first-round bye in the playoffs. Considering the lack of iron in their schedule over the final five weeks, it's impossible not to be contemplating playoff scenarios.

Unless your name is Bill Belichick.

"We got a long way to go," he said. "Eight (victories); that's not going to win anything in the NFL . . . I don' t think we're where we need to be."

And the big picture?

"I don't even think about the big picture. The big picture is Indianapolis (next week's opponent) . . All the rest of it's just a bunch of garbage."

But at least one Patriot is putting it all in context.

"Coach always says football season starts after Thanksgiving," said Branch. "Right now, we're 1-0."

Horford admits he was 'very emotional' after 'special' win

Horford admits he was 'very emotional' after 'special' win

CLEVELAND – For about 30 or so seconds following Boston’s 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland, Al Horford was not Al Horford.

He’s a passionate player, but seldom is it on display in as outwardly a fashion as it was following their Game 3 victory.

In an interview with CSN’s Abby Chin after the game, Horford tried to put into words what the victory meant.

But the aggressive high-fives to teammates passing him by, the intense way he looked into the camera … that spoke volumes about what this game meant to the veteran big man.

“It’s big, it’s big!” Horford said in between high-fives with Jonas Jerebko and other Celtics who came past him.

“A lot of people doubting us out there!” Horford said, staring intently into the camera as if he was saying, ‘yeah, I’m talking about you!’”

Less than 24 hours after the game, Horford’s emotions had cooled down considerably.

“It was an emotional game,” he told CSN following a short practice at the Q Arena on Monday. “Just, having to hear … since the blowout, everybody counting us out. Everybody really believing that it was over.”

The Celtics came into Game 3 having lost both Games 1 and 2 at home by a combined 57 points which includes the worst playoff loss (Game 2, 130-86) in franchise history.

So with that as the backdrop, knowing full well that no one outside of their locker room gave them an ice cube in hell’s chance at winning Game 3, the victory brought about a level of satisfaction that Celtics players had seldom experienced before if at all.

“The emotions at that time were high for our group,” Horford admitted. “And it shows what we’ve been talking about all year, a resilient group that has a lot of fight in them. We were hit with some adversity with Isaiah being down but our group responded.”

Thomas re-aggravated a right hip injury in Game 2, and was later ruled out for the rest of the playoffs. 

After falling behind 77-56 in the third quarter, the Celtics closed out the third with a 26-10 run to come within 87-82 going into the fourth quarter. During the run, Marcus Smart had 11 points which turned out to be equal to LeBron James’ scoring output … for the entire game.

This is Horford's 10th NBA season, all of which have included a trip to the postseason.

That, combined with having won a pair of national championships when he played at the University of Florida, serves as a reminder that the 30-year-old has been on the winning ledger of big games before.

But even he acknowledged Sunday’s Game 3 win was … different.

“I have had plenty of moments like this,” Horford said. “But this was definitely emotional. This was very emotional, exciting, on the road, no one really giving us any chance. To be able to come through like that, it just felt great. I’ve been part of emotional wins, but this one was a special one.”

That was evident in Horford’s energy-charged, post-game comments.

“Heart! Heart! This team got heart!” he yelled. “We got beat bad (in Game 2), but it’s all about how you rebound!”

And we get that message, loud and clear!

'Ecstatic' Thomas was with Celtics teammates via FaceTime after Game 3 win

'Ecstatic' Thomas was with Celtics teammates via FaceTime after Game 3 win

CLEVELAND – Gone but definitely not forgotten.

Isaiah Thomas, out for the rest of the playoffs with a right hip injury, wasn’t in the Q Arena physically, but his presence – and his face via FaceTime – were inside the locker room in the initial moments following their 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland.

“We called him right after the game,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “He got to celebrate with us a little bit. It’s sad that he’s not here. We wish he was here with us. We just want him to get better.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens added, “I didn’t even realize that had happened until later on. one of my first text messages was from Isaiah.  He’s hurting not being out there but he’s completely invested, for sure.”

He initially suffered the injury on March 15 at Minnesota, but re-aggravated it in the first half of Boston’s Game 2 loss to the Cavs. Less than 24 hours later, Thomas was deemed out for the remainder of the playoffs.

Instead of Thomas being the rock of sorts that the Celtics lean on with his play, he has become their rallying cry for the remainder of the playoffs.

“All we can do is play hard for him,” Bradley said. “He was excited with the way we played. We’re a family. Other guys got an opportunity to step up for us. Marcus (Smart) had a big game for us. It could be somebody else next game.”

Smart led the Celtics with a career-high 27 points which included a career-best seven 3’s going down.

And most important, the Celtics avoided going down 3-0 which would have all but sealed their fate in this series considering no team in league history has ever come back for a 3-0 series deficit.

Doing so without Thomas, the Celtics’ leading scorer and the top regular season scorer in the Eastern Conference, made the win all that more impressive for Boston.

“It meant a lot,” Horford said. “We know, Isaiah gives us so much and gave us so much this year. For him, we definitely wanted to come out and fight for him and our season and our team. It felt good to keep believing despite being down big. Just felt good to win the game and bring life back to our locker room. Because going down 3-0, that’s a death sentence pretty much. This was big.”

Not only to the Celtics players but also to Thomas who also texted head coach Brad Stevens full of excitement following Boston’s surprising win.

“He was excited,” Horford recalled. “He was ecstatic. I know he wishes he was here being part of it. We just need to keep doing it for him and our group and doing the best we can.”