Patriots

Wakeup Call: Old friend Dave Thomas is out of a job

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Wakeup Call: Old friend Dave Thomas is out of a job

Here's your wakeup call -- a combination of newsworthy andor interesting tidbits -- for Wednesday, February 20:

AUTO RACING
19-year-old Darrell Wallace Jr. has a goal: To become the Tiger Woods of NASCAR. (AP)

Speedweeks is normally Tony Stewart's week. But Danica Patrick -- driving one of Wallace's cars, ironically -- is stealing his thunder this year. (AP)
-- Winning the Battle at the Beach Monday night wasn't Kyle Larson's "proudest moment in racing", not when he had to "monster-truck" C.E. Falk III coming out of the final turn to do it. (AP)

BASEBALL
Five new names -- including N.L. stolen-base king Everth Cabrera of the Padres -- emerge in the Biogenesis Clinic PED scandal . . . (NBC's Hardball Talk)

. . . but this latest ESPN investigation may have cleared Gio Gonzalez. (CSN Washington)

Bartolo Colon speaks for the first time since being slapped with a 50-game suspension for PED use last August, though -- except for "I'm sorry" -- he doesn't say much of anything. (CSN Bay Area)

If it's the second week of spring training, it must be time for injury updates. First we have the Yankees' Phil Hughes, out for a few days because of upper-back stiffness. (AP)

Then comes the definitive word on the Cubs' Matt Garza: Out for a week with what's being described as a mild side strain. (AP)

Darwin Barney isn't happy, but also is trying to be quiet, about Brandon Phillips dissing his Gold Glove. (CSN Chicago)

That didn't take long: The Braves are retiring Chipper Jones' No. 10. (AP)

Brady Anderson's climbing that corporate ladder. (CSN Baltimore)

Lance Berkman wasn't a member of the Rangers for more than, like, 10 minutes before he was reminding them that he beat them in the 2011 World Series. I'm sure your new teammates really appreciate that, Big Puma. (Hardball Talk)

COLLEGE BASKETBALL
No. 1 Indiana wins the showdown with No. 4 Michigan State, 72-68. (AP)

And the Hoosiers have the injured Victor Oladipo to thank. (NBC's College Basketball Talk)

The Spartans, however, didn't get much a contribution from their captain, Keith Appling. (College Basketball Talk)

Miami sure didn't look like the second-best team in the country, but they say beauty's in the eye of the beholder. And the Hurricanes' last-second 54-50 win over Virginia was just gorgeous to them, thanks. (AP)

Missouri gets revenge for its 31-point loss in Gainesville by upsetting No. 5 Florida, 63-60, at home in the rematch. (AP)

If I'm the Gators, I'm a little worried about that bad track record in close games. (College Basketball Talk)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL
The NCAA finally sends its notice of allegations to Miami, with the deadly "lack of institutional control" being at the top of the list. (AP)

Former Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon is hospitalized after suffering a stroke. (CSN Houston)

GOLF
The Match Play Championships being threatened by snow? In Arizona? Hah? (AP)

Steve Stricker thinks all the hand-wringing about the banning of the belly putter is much ado about nothing, since he's sure the PGA will ignore the USGA if the ban is adopted. (AP)

HOCKEY
When is a record-tying win a loss? When you lose Marian Hossa in the process . . . which is what may have happened to the Blackhawks in their 4-3 shootout victory over the Canucks. (CSN Chicago)

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville says Hossa, who has a history of concussion issues, "seemed OK" after the game, but "we'll know more" on Wednesday. (NBC's Pro Hockey Talk)

Jannik Hansen, who delivered it, called the hit that took out Hossa a "hockey play". So now elbows to the back of the head are "hockey plays", eh? (CSN Chicago)

The Canadiens really shouldn't get all that excited about their fifth straight win -- a 3-1 triumph over the Rangers -- since New York coach John Tortorella called it "one of the worst hockey games I've been involved in . . . It was two bad teams playing, and we were worse than they were." (AP)

The Sharks finally end their seven-game winless streak . . . (AP)

. . . but they won't get to enjoy it for very long, since a game with the undefeated Blackhawks is up next. (CSN Bay Area)

Andre Benoit and Dave Dziurzynski both score their first NHL goals in the Senators' 3-1 triumph over the Islanders. (AP)

A fine mess: The NHL takes 10,000 from Flames defenseman Mark Giordano for slew-footing Antoine Roussel of the Stars . . . (AP)

- . . . and 8,108.11 (?) from Wild right wing Devin Setoguchi for high-sticking Kyle Quincey of the Red Wings. (AP)

Who would've thought there are Little League dads in the NHL? (Pro Hockey Talk)

OLYMPICS
Prosecutors say shouting was heard in Oscar Pistorius' home for an hour before he fired the fatal shots at Reeva Steenkamp -- with one witness hearing the sounds from 1,000 feet away -- further damaging Pistorius' claim that he mistook her for an intruder. (nbcnews.com)

PRO BASKETBALL
There's lots of talk, but no action, as the trade deadline nears. (NBC's Pro Basketball talk)

In the Laker Schadenfreude Department, we have relations between Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant reaching a new low . . . (Pro Basketball Talk)

. . . and Phil Jackson, though he's not willing to come back and coach them, ragging on them for running the wrong offense. (Pro Basketball Talk)

Quiet down, you cynics. Andrew Bynum's going to play this season, definitely, for sure. Just not now. Or next week. Or . . . (CSN Philly)

Can anyone stop the Spurs? (AP)

PRO FOOTBALL
Old friend David Thomas is out of a job. (AP)

So's old enemy Bart Scott. (AP)

The NFLPA is singing the "We don't trust Goodell" blues again. (AP)

TENNIS
Victoria Azarenka's not going to get the chance to built on the momentum of her victory over Serena Williams in the finals of the Qatar Open; she withdraws from the Dubai Championships because of a bone bruise in her right foot. (AP)

Some days, John Isner looks like an up-and-coming star. And other days, like yesterday . . . (AP)

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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