Patriots

Ellsbury open to sliding down batting order

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Ellsbury open to sliding down batting order

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jacoby Ellsbury had 660 at-bats in 2011, his breakout season, and all but 31 of those came in the leadoff spot.

Whether Ellsbury remains in the leadoff position in 2012, however, is open to some debate. After belting 32 homers and compiling a. 552 slugging percentage, there's some thought in the organization that Ellsbury might better serve the team hitting third while, say, Carl Crawford takes over the top spot in the lineup.

That would give Crawford the chance to be more aggressive on the bases and take full advantage of his speed. Ellsbury, meanwhile, showed last year that he can be a valuable run producer and, hitting third, could now do so with more runners on base and in scoring position.

"There's not many who have that same package (of skills)," said Valentine. "If he's not totally unique, he's in a real small sample. He's just a joy."

Valentine believes Ellsbury could succeed in the No. 3 spot and has already spoken to the outfielder -- at least informally -- to sound him out on a potential change.

"I think he could," said Valentine. "He just hasn't, which makes it a little bit of a mental challenge."

"I guess, for me, I would keep my approach," said Ellsbury, "(keep) everything the same. And I've told (Valentine) whatever he thinks the team needs -- if it's better for me to hit down in the order or stay at leadoff -- I'm going to do whatever he feels best to get us the most wins. So if he thinks me staying at the top of the order is the best thing for the time... I'm not sure. I haven't talked about how he plans on working spring training. If he looks at mixing it up a little bit, seeing how different lineups look.

"But as far as right now, I'm just trying to get my timing, trying to get everything like that. But I'm sure that here in a couple of weeks I could probably have a better answer for you."

Grapefruit League games don't begin until March 4, and from there, Valentine will likely be experimenting with differing batting orders, depending on availability of veteran players on long road trips and other concessions to the spring schedule.

Toward the end of March, he'll probably settle in on what he'd like to do with the lineup, though he has cautioned several times that, in some past springs, the lineup he used on Opening Day was not one he used even once during spring training.

"I think that's going to be an interesting situation that will probably evolve this spring into the season," said Valentine. "The last thing in the world you want to create is confusion or doubt -- any of those things. Right now, (Ellsbury) seems to be open and Dustin (Pedroia) was in the office the other day and he seems to be free and open and Carl is ready to have a conversation.

"There's a lot of stuff going on."

Ellsbury's 2011 season, for which he was second in A.L. MVP voting, has given him the confidence that he can thrive almost anywhere. No longer the slashing and running player he was in his first few seasons, his improved strength and ability to drive the ball has made him more well-rounded.

"I've always taken or tried to be a complete player," he said, "tried to do everything. So yeah, for everything to come together, I guess you could say last year was something I was always working on. I just try to be a complete player and that's what I take pride in."

Pedroia has said that he doesn't like leading off, which would seem to take him out of the mix. Earlier in his career, Crawford had the same thoughts, though last year, he said hitting first wouldn't be an issue.

"It's hard for me to say at this point," said Ellsbury. "I haven't hit third on this team before. So I don't know how we'd go about mixing the lineup and that sort of thing. Certain guys feel comfortable with hitting certain positions. I've hit in different areas in the lineup and it hasn't really bothered me. I feel comfortable, but at the same time I think that time will tell. I really don't have an opinion either way at this moment."

Ryan's 2 TD passes enough as Falcons hold off Seahawks 34-31

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Ryan's 2 TD passes enough as Falcons hold off Seahawks 34-31

SEATTLE - Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons did enough through 3 1/2 quarters that even the best comeback attempt by Russell Wilson fell short this time.

A couple of yards short to be exact.

Ryan threw a pair of touchdown passes, Adrian Clayborn returned a fumble 10 yards for a score and the Falcons watched Blair Walsh's 52-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds fall short, holding off the Seattle Seahawks for a 34-31 win on Monday night.

Atlanta won its second straight to stay on the heels of New Orleans and Carolina in the NFC South, and handed Seattle a second consecutive home loss.

"What an absolute team win from the guys tonight," Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. "Coming here, in this environment, with the crowd, we thought it would be two competitive, tough teams that were going to battle for it in the biggest way."

Ryan threw TDs to Mohamed Sanu and Levine Toilolo, while Tevin Coleman added a 1-yard TD run on Atlanta's opening possession.

But it was Clayborn's fumble return that helped break the game open early in the second quarter and gave Atlanta a 21-7 lead. He scooped up a loose ball after Wilson was crunched by Takk McKinley and Courtney Upshaw.

"I think we're moving in the right direction. We keep proving we can finish games and beat guys. We have to take the momentum and keep rolling with it," Clayborn said.

With Seattle down 11 points, Wilson hit Doug Baldwin on a 29-yard TD with 3 minutes left and then threw to Jimmy Graham for the two-point conversion. Seattle got the ball back and moved in range for Walsh, whose attempt was on line but landed short of the crossbar.

"That was in our range, and in hindsight I would have just driven it more," Walsh said. "I would have driven it more and not left it short. I was too accurate and didn't have enough on it."

Wilson again was the entirety of Seattle's offense, throwing for 258 yards and two touchdowns, and running for another 86 yards and a TD.

But it was an awful night for the Seahawks, filled with more injuries and questionable decisions by coach Pete Carroll. He called for a fake field goal late in the first half rather than attempting a 35-yard kick. He also made a questionable challenge in the fourth quarter that didn't go his way and left Seattle with just one timeout.

That lack of timeouts came back to haunt Seattle on the final drive when seconds ticked away and rather than running one more play, Walsh was sent out to attempt the 52-yard kick. His long for the season is 49 yards.

The conclusion only amplified Carroll's baffling decision at the end of the first half, when Seattle ran a fake field goal rather than having Walsh attempt a 35-yarder that would have pulled Seattle within 24-20. Holder Jon Ryan completed his shovel pass to Luke Willson, but Grady Jarrett read the play and tackled Willson for a 4-yard loss.

Willson said Atlanta's defense on the play was different than what Seattle had seen on film.

"It would have been a really good call if we had made it," Carroll said. "Terrific opportunity right where we wanted it and the defensive tackle made a better play."

Seattle played a game for the first time since the end of the 2010 season without Richard Sherman. His streak of 99 consecutive starts in the regular season was snapped because of a torn Achilles tendon suffered against Arizona. The Seahawks were also without safety Kam Chancellor because of a neck injury, leaving their vaunted secondary with several new faces.

"Those two are phenomenal players. ... It was a lot different," Sanu said. "They did a lot of different things but we just had to take advantage of our routes."

MATTY ICE

Ryan was more than happy to pick on a defense without Sherman and Chancellor. He was 19 of 27 passing for 195 yards and rarely faced pressure. Seattle had one sack, and the Falcons went 9 of 14 on third-down conversions.

Sanu made a great one-handed grab for a 2-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Ryan found Toilolo on a 25-yard TD in the third quarter to give Atlanta a 31-20 lead. Matt Bryant added a 19-yard field goal with 3:49 left to put the Falcons ahead by 11, and Wilson's late heroics weren't enough.

Ryan's streak of 64 straight games passing for at least 200 yards was snapped.

INJURIES

Seattle's injury woes continued. The Seahawks lost rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin to a concussion on the second play of the game, forcing newly signed veteran Byron Maxwell into a more prominent role than expected.

Early in the second half, promising running back Mike Davis was lost to a groin injury after taking a screen pass 21 yards. Davis had two receptions and had carried six times for 18 yards before getting hurt. Seattle also lost starting guard Oday Aboushi in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.

Atlanta got a scare when safety Keanu Neal was checked for a concussion in the first half. He was cleared to return.

UP NEXT

Falcons: Host Tampa Bay on Sunday to open a three-game homestand.

Seahawks: Travel to division foe San Francisco on Sunday.

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'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

We have seen the Boston Celtics play less-than-stellar basketball for long stretches, only to turn it on in the second half and escape with a win.

But Monday night’s game at Dallas was different.

Usually it has been Boston’s offense that has kept the game closer than expected, but on Monday it was the team’s defense that struggled more than usual.

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But this team continues to show an ability to withstand all in-game struggles to eventually emerge victorious which was exactly what happened as the Celtics rallied from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to knock off the Mavericks 110-102 in overtime.

The Celtics (16-2) have now won 16 in a row which ties the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.

But this win, like so many of its predecessors during this historic run, was not one to celebrate afterwards.

“Quite a resilient comeback in the fourth,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Not our best foot forward before that. Of all the comebacks, that did not look good for a long time. We found a way to win it.”

Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 47 points, 10 of which came in the overtime period.

But his performance was just one of many Boston needed to extend its winning streak.

“In a game like this, you have to do whatever it takes, both ends of the floor,” Boston’s Jayson Tatum told reporters afterwards.

And he did just that.

In the final seconds of the fourth quarter, Tatum’s defense forced a Harrison Barnes miss that would have won the game for Dallas.

And in the fourth quarter, Tatum’s rebounding was critical to Boston (16-2) extending its stay atop the NBA standings.

The 6-foot-8 rookie had a near double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds, with four of his boards coming in overtime.

Boston also got another strong game from Jaylen Brown (22 points, nine rebounds) and Marcus Smart, whose shooting was well off the mark most of the night (3-for-15) but like he has done too many times to count, Smart managed to make a positive impact on the game.

He led the Celtics with eight assists off the bench, in addition to a slew of hustle plays that included a desperation save of a ball going out of bounds that managed to find its way into the hands of Kyrie Irving, who drained a much-needed 3-pointer late in the game.

“Those are worth more than whatever the shot goes in,” Stevens said. “That’s why it’s hard to quantify Marcus Smart.”

The same can be said about Boston’s winning streak, which has come about despite several stretches, every game seemingly, where the Celtics struggle.

But to their credit, they don’t allow the in-game setbacks take away from their focus night-in and night-out and that’s to find a way, any way possible, to emerge with a victory.

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