Patriots

Cowboys Big Three receivers are tough covers

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Cowboys Big Three receivers are tough covers

FOXBORO The New England Patriots have seen their share of big receivers and pass-catching tight ends this season.

But the Dallas Cowboys?

They have the kind of three-headed receiving monster unlike anything this Patriots defense has seen all season. When talking about the Cowboys' passing attack, you have to start with tight end Jason Witten, the team's leader in receptions (27), yards (366) and Pro Bowl selections (7).

"I evaluate (Witten) as one of the all-time greats," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "There's a lot of good tight ends in the league and there's good players at every position, but he's as good as any player and I'm glad we only play him once every whatever it is -- three or four years -- that's plenty."

Dallas also has 6-foot-2 Miles Austin, who had more than 1,000 yards receiving a year ago. And rounding out their trio of talented pass-catchers, is 6-2 Dez Bryant who is . . . we'll let Pats safety Patrick Chung tell you about Bryant.

"He's good. He's big, fast, strong," Chung said of Bryant. "He knows how to go up there and get the ball. He's good after the catch. He's a beast."

New England has had mixed results this season in dealing with big-time wide-outs and tight ends. In the 38-24 win to open the season against Miami, the Patriots had lots of problems trying to contain 6-4 Brandon Marshall who had seven catches for 139 yards.

The following week, New England defeated the San Diego Chargers 35-21, despite Vincent Jackson having a huge game. The Patriots took away San Diego's top receiver at the time -- tight end Antonio Gates -- and did not allow him to make a single catch. Gates had just one ball thrown his way.

"They made it difficult for me to get off the ball," Gates said following the loss. "They made it difficult for me to make a play on a ball. Every time I looked around, there were two guys around me. They had a game plan. They wanted to take me out of the game, and that's exactly what they did."

A similar approach to defending the Cowboys, however, seems unlikely.

Trying to take out any one of their Big Three receiving targets would in all likelihood create more opportunities for the other two to make plays.

However, having seen a number of large receivers and other talented tight ends already this season, should bode well this week for the Patriots in preparation for a Dallas passing attack that's ranked third in the NFL.

"It always helps that this is not the first time we've seen it, going against different guys this season," said Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty, who leads the Pats in tackles with 39. "The biggest thing is just the physical nature of the bigger receivers. Most of the time, they're bigger than the corners they're facing. They try and use that to their advantage."

And the Patriots will try to use the momentum gained from a solid defensive performance last week against the Jets, as a springboard going into the Cowboys game.

"That's what you want, to get better from one week to the next," said Patriots defensive lineman Shaun Ellis. "I think with us and our defense, we're doing that."

Ex-Patriot Chris Long donating his salary to educational equality program

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Ex-Patriot Chris Long donating his salary to educational equality program

PHILADELPHIA - Chris Long is donating the rest of his year's salary to increase educational equality.

The Philadelphia Eagles' defensive end already gave up his first six game checks to provide two scholarships for students in Charlottesville, Virginia. Now, he's using the next 10 to launch the Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign.

"My wife and I have been passionate about education being a gateway for upward mobility and equality," Long told The Associated Press. "I think we can all agree that equity in education can help affect change that we all want to see in this country."

Long signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Eagles, including a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.5 million guaranteed. His base salary in 2017 is $1 million.

The charitable initiative encourages people to make donations to improve equal education opportunities. Long began his career in St. Louis in 2008 and played for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots last season. Long's foundation has selected four organizations whose missions focus on making education easily accessible to underserved youth while also providing students the support they need to develop strong social and emotional character.

The four organizations are based in the three communities in which Long has played during his NFL career. The city that raises the most money during the season will receive an additional $50,000 donation.

"There's a lot of opportunities to help out and they're wonderful organizations," Long said. "We have such a great platform as football players and hopefully fans get behind it."

Long grew up in Charlottesville and starred in high school at St. Anne's-Belfield before going to the University of Virginia. He was moved to start the scholarship program following the violent protests in Charlottesville in August.

"Our hometown is a wonderful place and I feel like people got the wrong idea about what the residents of Charlottesville are all about," he said.

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Gronkowski advises Hayward to treat rehab like anything else -- dominate

Gronkowski advises Hayward to treat rehab like anything else -- dominate

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski's never suffered a break like the one Gordon Hayward did on Tuesday night, but he has been through enough to know what lies ahead as the Celtics forward stares at a lengthy recovery period.

"I saw it. I mean, I wish him nothing but wellness," Gronkowski said on Wednesday. "Hopefully he heals ASAP. You never want to see that with a player in any sport. When my friend showed me that last night, you get that feeling in your body, like, your heart drops. I wish him well.

"I can't wait to see him back. I know he's going to bounce back. Being here in Boston, he's going to be a hard worker it feels like. I can't wait to see him back."

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Multiple back surgeries, a plate in his arm, a surgically-repaired ACL . . . Gronkowski has put in his share of rehabilitation work. Asked if he'd give Hayward any advice as he embarks on his road back to normalcy, Gronkowski's message was simple.

"Just go into rehab just like you go into anything else. Dominate it," Gronkowski said. "Come back when you feel ready. Come back when you're 100 percent . . . He wouldn't be where he is now if he wasn't a hard worker. I don't know the guy. Never met him. But it's not something you want to see as an athlete happen to anyone else."

Gronkowski acknowledged that in his experience, one of the biggest hurdles following an injury like that is the mental one. You quickly go from being a powerful athlete to a patient in need of help with even the smallest of tasks. 

"There is a big mental challenge, definitely, with that," Gronkowski explained. "It's not just not being able to be with your teammates and all that. It's outside of football, too. Because it takes away your whole life, going out like that . . . You can't do anything. You can't walk. You gotta have people do [things for you]. You get really frustrated. You just want the people around you to help you out and keep you in the best mindset throughout the whole process."

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