Patriots

Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals Game 4 preview

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Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals Game 4 preview

WASHINGTON Things could get a lot bumpier for the Bruins and Capitals based on the personnel being employed by Washington coach Dale Hunter.

The Capitals will be moving bruising, fighting defenseman John Erskine in place of Jeff Schultz in the Washington lineup, and everybody knows that Erskine has a history with Milan Lucic.

The Washington tough guy dropped Lucic to the ice with a right hand back in 2008 when the Bs power forward was a 19-year-old rookie in the NHL. Erskine should bring the kind of tough vibe that the Capitals are looking for in Game 4.

"Erskine brings a sense of humbleness to the other team, said Washington defenseman Mike Green. And thats what we need.

The Capitals will also go with 39-year-old war horse Mike Knuble, who can still battle and utilize his big body around the net for loose pucks in the battle areas. With both veterans in the lineup, it appears the Capitals will respond to the bullying tone that the Bruins set while taking Game 3, and grasping a 2-1 series lead in the process.

The Bruins are properly motivated to leave Washington with another win and go up by a commanding 3-1 lead in the series but theres little doubt the Capitals are going to through their hardest punches at the Black and Gold on Thursday night.

Were a team that needs to be physical to have success. We need to play hard and be first on the puck. Tonight is no different and we need to bring that, said Patrice Bergeron. Were expecting a hard game and a tough game. Thats exactly what Washington has given us in the first three games of the series. Its a big game for us. We need to find a way to get on top.

There are many that say Game 4 is the most important victory or defeat in a seven-game series and both teams will be loaded for bare when the puck drops at the Verizon Center.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED -- Tyler Seguin has no points in three games against the Capitals, but he did show a noticeable uptick in willingness to battle in Game 3 against the Capitals. Seguin now has a 14-game goal-scoring drought in the playoffs after his big explosion during last years Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he appears to be going through the normal adjustment period for a young player. It took Stamkos almost the entire postseason to get into midseason form last year, so Seguin isnt in bad company. But the Bruins could certainly use his offense.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME -- I don't know. I don't care . . ." David Krejci when asked if the Capitals will use Nick Backstroms suspension as a rallying point in Game 4.

KEY MATCHUP -- Everybody will be watching to see if tough guy defenseman John Erskine will drop them with Milan Lucic now that hell be playing in his first game since Feb. 12 for the Capitals. Erskine has twice fought Lucic in his career and got the better of No. 17 during their bout during the Boston power forwards rookie season.

STAT TO WATCH -- 0-for-11: That's the Bs power play after three games, which is on track to match last years 0-for-21 during their first round series against the Montreal Canadiens.

INJURIES -- Tuukka Rask (groin strainabdomen strain) is working out with the team and close to a return. Nathan Horton (mild concussion) has been shut down for the postseason. Adam McQuaid (headeye) has missed six of the last seven games with an upper body injury and didnt make the trip to Washington DC. Washington goaltenders Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun were both on the ice Wednesday. Neuvirth could be close to returning, but Vokoun said he doesn't know when he can come back from what he deemed a significant groin tear.

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP -- Still a series with superb goaltending even though the score was a little higher in Game 3. Tim Thomas made the save of the game in the third period when he stoned Jay Beagle just in front of the net to protect a 2-2 tie that eventually became a 4-3 victory for the Bruins. Brad Holtby looked a little more human with a couple of rebounds allowed in Game 3 once the Bruins achieved traffic in front of the net, but hes still boasting a 1.77 goals against average and a .942 save percentage in three games for the Caps.

Hard to find a Patriots equal in soft AFC

Hard to find a Patriots equal in soft AFC

John Elway created a stir this week when he said his Broncos, after a 3-1 start, had “gotten a little bit soft." Elway, the Broncos GM, said that after five straight Denver losses – the last two by the combined score of 92-39

Denver’s head coach Vance Joseph said Elway’s remark bothered him. He talked to his players about it. On Sunday, the Broncos went out and did something about it. They lost by just three at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. Yay.

They’re pretty much all soft in the AFC this year. Check out the AFC West. There’s Denver. And the Raiders – who the Patriots handled with disturbing ease on Sunday, 33-8. The 5-4 Kansas City Chiefs, who lost on the road to the one-win Giants after starting the season 5-0.

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The AFC East is soft. Miami was 4-2. It’s lost four straight including a 40-0 loss to Baltimore. The Jets were 3-2, they’re now 4-6 (which is a minor miracle given how ragged their roster is). The Bills were 5-2, now they’re 5-5 having lost by a combined 101-34 the past two weeks as head coach Sean McDermott willingly stuck a butter knife in an electrical outlet and replaced Tyrod Taylor with a not-ready-for-preseason-Week-4 Nathan Peterman.

The AFC South is led by the Jaguars and Titans. Jacksonville – which can play some defense – isn’t as bad as the rest. The Jags have won four straight and play cutthroat defense, but they had their hands full with the 0-10 Browns on Sunday. During the week, running back Leonard Fournette complained about having to play in the cold in Cleveland. At least he showed up Sunday and ran for 111. The Titans are awful when they leave Tennessee, which was further proven last Thursday when they lost 40-17 at Pittsburgh. Since October began, they’ve been outscored 122-43 in four road games. Their one road win in that span was a 12-9 decision over Cleveland. 

The big, bad AFC North contingent led by the Steelers at 8-2? Talented. But led by a forever-whining, passive-aggressive quarterback who openly and annually mulls retirement and two “me first” skill guys in Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Their greatest strength may be in executing elaborate post-touchdown skits. Vital.

Meanwhile, here are the boring-ass Patriots. Yeah, they have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and continuity in the program and coaching staff, but the gap between them and everyone else in the conference is that they don’t worry about the cold or the road or the five-act plays after they score.

They stayed a week in Colorado Springs to get ready for the altitude. Two Patriots – Stephon Gilmore and Danny Amendola – had to be treated for dehydration in the second half. After five PLAYS, Raiders rookie Obi Melifonwu was asking out of the game saying he couldn’t breathe.

The Raiders – a team that went 12-4 last year - haven’t improved a bit defensively all season. They are – under head coach Jack Del Rio – one of those “we do what we do” defenses the Patriots love to face because it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Brady is now 8-1 against Del Rio-led teams/defenses and the numbers against Del Rio’s teams are absurd: 225 completions on 310 attempts for (73 percent) for 2,387 yards, 21 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

It just feels like the AFC is a collection of teams, with an overwhelming majority of them in turn-it-on, turn-it-off mode. Their coaches are just kind of casting about, constantly open to suggestion and willing to give anything a shot because, hell, they better try something to get hot or they’ll be passing out resumes at the Combine in four months.

The Patriots remaining schedule goes like this: Dolphins, Bills, Dolphins, Steelers, Bills, Jets. Shake me awake on December 17 when the Steelers game comes. And we have a mountain of data explaining how that one will go too.

I’m not weary of the team. It’s historic and fascinating, like watching a hooded Mozart compose and a helmeted Van Gogh paint every week. But the exercise of trying to conjure scenarios where the Patriots play November football with the exquisite ineptitude of their opponents is not easy.

They are doing this without Julian Edelman or Dont'a Hightower. They played Sunday without Chris Hogan, David Andrews, Marcus Cannon and Matt Slater.

Offenses can’t score against them. Defenses can’t stop them. They create points on special teams. They manage the game, the clock and their opponents like simple arithmetic while every other team’s doing trigonometry. What was broken in September has been long fixed.

The time will come again when the Patriots appear just as inept, clueless and mired in mediocrity as every other AFC team appears right now. But it won’t be this year.

So embrace the softness? I guess?

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Wentz, Eagles roll over Cowboys 37-9 after losing kicker

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Wentz, Eagles roll over Cowboys 37-9 after losing kicker

ARLINGTON, Texas - No kicker, no problem for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Carson Wentz threw for two touchdowns and three 2-point conversions after Philadelphia lost kicker Jake Elliott to a head injury, and the Eagles all but wrapped up the NFC East with a 37-9 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.

The Eagles (9-1) outscored the Cowboys 30-0 in the second half while extending their winning streak to eight games, their longest since 2003-04 and tied with New Orleans for the best current run in the NFL.

Philadelphia leads the second-place and defending division champion Cowboys (5-5) by four games with six to play after handing Dallas its worst home loss at 8-year-old AT&T Stadium.

Dallas' Dak Prescott threw a career-high three interceptions and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in his second straight loss without star running back Ezekiel Elliott, serving a six-game suspension for alleged domestic violence.

Jake Elliott's injury wasn't a factor for nearly a half because the NFL-leading Eagles couldn't get in scoring position. They failed to get a first down on five straight first-half drives, starting with one at the Dallas 15 when Elliott missed a 34-yard attempt and soon after left the field.

Trailing 9-7 at halftime, Wentz led the Eagles on scoring drives of 75, 90 and 85 yards, the middle one boosted by Jay Ajayi's 71-yard run against his hometown team in his second game since getting traded by Miami.

"The biggest thing was sticking with the game plan," said Wentz, who is up to 25 touchdown passes with just five interceptions. "The big boys up front kind of came out angry. We ran the ball the second half really effectively."

Ajayi had 91 yards on seven carries and LeGarrette Blount added 57 on 13 carries, including a 30-yarder leading to the last offensive touchdown.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson declared at halftime that he would go for every fourth down and try 2-point conversions after every touchdown.

It came into play right away when Corey Clement scored on an 11-yard run to open the second half and ran in a screen pass behind three blockers for the 2-pointer.

The first fourth-down try was Wentz's 17-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery for a 29-9 lead. That 2-point pass failed. Torrey Smith had the other TD catch, an 11-yarder.

After Derek Barnett hit Prescott's leg and arm as he was throwing, Nigel Bradham picked up the loose ball and ran it 37 yards for a touchdown. Wentz's 2-point pass to Trey Burton provided the final margin.

"We got some nice 2-point conversions," said Wentz, who was 14 of 27 for 168 yards. "Now we've got to go back to the drawing board with our 2-point plays."

The Cowboys appeared to have fixed the problems of missing injured left tackle Tyron Smith and 2016 All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee from a week earlier, when they allowed eight sacks of Prescott along with three Atlanta scoring drives following Lee's injury in a 27-7 loss to the Falcons.

But after protecting Prescott fairly well before halftime, Dallas allowed three sacks and 180 of Philadelphia's season-high 215 yards rushing in the second half. Lee's replacement at weakside linebacker, Anthony Hitchens, left with a groin injury after halftime.

Prescott was 18 of 31 for 145 yards for a career-worst 30.4 passer rating before backup Cooper Rush took mop-up duty.

"It's no excuses," said Prescott, who teamed with Elliott in a remarkable rookie season that is now a distant memory with already two more losses and three more interceptions than Prescott had a year ago. Elliott won't be back until the final two games of the regular season.

"We're not saying injuries or any of that's bothering us. We're not saying it's the reason we're not winning is because of those guys."

NO RUST THIS TIME

The Eagles had a focus on being better following the bye after losing nine of 11 last season after a 3-0 start going into the break. Now Philadelphia will take a shot at the best record in the NFL with history on its side when starting this strong. The Eagles have two NFL championships (1949, 1960) and two trips to the Super Bowl (1980, 2004, both losses) following 9-1 starts.

SECOND-HALF MELTDOWNS

The Cowboys have been outscored 47-0 in the second half the past two weeks following a three-game winning streak that seemed to have Dallas back on track following an NFC-best 13-3 record last season.

"It would be pretty tough not to panic, but I don't think we are panicking," said running back Alfred Morris, who had 91 yards filling in for Ezekiel Elliott. "It's been two tough losses, ugly losses on top of that. But at the same time, I know the character of this team and the fight we have."

EMERGENCY KICKER

Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill is the emergency kicker for the Eagles. But he completely missed the safety net on a practice try on the sidelines, sending the ball into the stands. He did reach the goal line with his first kickoff, though.

UP NEXT

Eagles: Home against Chicago next Sunday.

Cowboys: Los Angeles Chargers visiting for annual Thanksgiving game.

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