Patriots

Lester to start Opening Day, Beckett gets home opener

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Lester to start Opening Day, Beckett gets home opener

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Bobby Valentine tabbed lefty Jon Lester as the Red Sox' Opening Day starter for April 5 in Detroit, marking thesecond straight season that Lester has opened the season on themound.

Lester got the nod over Josh Beckett, who recommended to Valentinethat Lester be the choice. That conversation took place on New Year'sDay.

Beckett will pitch the second game of the season on April 7 and isthen lined up on to pitch the home opener against Tampa Bay on April 13.

"I think the No. 1 determinant was the conversation I had withJosh,'' said Valentine, "where Josh explained to me about starting pitchersand their Opening Day status or mentality or whatever. He thought Jonearned the job last year and didn't do anything to lose it. And so Isaid, 'You have a lot more knowledge of Opening Day starters and theirmentality than I.'

"I saw the health of both of them. It's an honor both ways --the home opener and the opener. So they're both getting an honor.''

Lester becomes the first lefty to start consecutive Opening Days since Mel Parnell did so from 1952-1954.

Despite the interest in the topic, Valentine was unsure of howimportant the decision was.

"It's hard for me to say how much (that means),'' he said. "But I'msure there are varying degrees of what it means. The first game of the All-Star break is an important start. Because you pitch the first game of the season, it doesn't mean that you're going to line up to pitch the first game of the playoffs. I don't believe in that stuff, either.

"And I definitely don't believe that the No. 1 starter (always) lines up against the other team's No. 1 starter. I don't think that hasany validity. It's just a nice thing to plan and do.''

Valentine said Beckett introduced the topic of Opening Day starterwhen they spoke.

"It was great information,'' said Valentine. "It was like, 'Gosh,I'm glad I don't have to worry about this throughout spring training' andall that stuff. I was pleasantly surprised, I guess.''

Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

FOXBORO -- Here are some quick-hitting thoughts on the Patriots' 23-7 victory over the Falcons on Sunday night.

1) If the Patriots attacked this game believing that the best defense is a good offense . . . they were right. 

They controlled the ball for more than 18 minutes in the first half and ran for 92 yards on 18 carries (a 5.1 yards per attempt average) with four backs sharing the load. Rex Burkhead gave the team a spark with his speed and vision in his first game back since suffering a rib injury in Week 2. The success the Patriots had running the ball had the added benefit of opening up the play-action pass game and it helped protect Tom Brady. After taking two sacks in the first quarter and a monster hit (penalized for roughing the passer) from Adrian Clayborn in the second, Brady was fairly well-protected. 

PATRIOTS 23, FALCONS 3

2) Tom Brady lamented the fact that he hadn't been more accurate in the red zone of late, but he was better in that area to help the Patriots pad their early lead. 

The Patriots went 2-for-3 in the red zone through the first half, with Brady hitting on touchdown passes to Brandin Cooks (which looked more like an end-around hand-off) and James White. Brady still had moments of inaccuracy. The pass he lofted before being croaked by Clayborn was a bad one that was intercepted. (The pick was wiped after the penalty was enforced.) He threw behind Chris Hogan on multiple occasions. He also had an odd throw float well out of bounds that was intended for Rob Gronkowski. But for the most part he was on point, completing 21 of his first 29 throws for 241 yards. 

3) The Patriots defense showed up in critical moments time and time again in this one. 

They stopped the Falcons twice on fourth down, and they allowed Matt Ryan and his offense to convert on just two of their first nine third-down plays. The Falcons coaching staff deserves plenty of criticism for going for it when they did, but with a banged-up secondary, going against the reigning MVP and one of the best receivers in the league, the Patriots responded.

4) Bill Belichick's run defense was particularly impressive in the first half on Sunday night, helping keep the Falcons from getting anything going until it was too late. 

They allowed just 30 yards on nine attempts in the first two quarters (a 3.3 yards per attempt average), with Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise all making impressive stops at, near or behind the line of scrimmage. 

5) The Patriots suffered a handful of injuries to key players that will be worth keeping an eye on moving forward. 

Malcom Brown left the game in the second half with an ankle injury. Their top defensive tackle this season, Brown's absence may be one reason for why the Falcons were able to pump up their rushing yardage to triple digits by midway through the fourth quarter. Dont'a Hightower also left the game and was announced as questionable to return with a shoulder injury. Hightower has had a history of shoulder issues and so perhaps this is an older injury that was re-aggravated. Chris Hogan also left the game briefly and was evaluated for a concussion, according to NBC's television broadcast. He later returned.

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