Red Sox

Patriots defense thriving on big-time turnovers

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Patriots defense thriving on big-time turnovers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rob Ninkovich made a good point Thursday night.

"I think the turnovers are more important than the total yards that we give up."

For this game, anyway.

New England's defense gave up 405 yards of total offense to the Jets Thanksgiving night, including 306 on the arm of quarterback Mark Sanchez. Same old song for the league's 27th-ranked 'D.' It's a unit that surrenders 388.7 yards per game as well as the most pass plays of plus-20 yards.

But in this game, the Patriots also forced five fumbles and recovered four. Two of those turnovers resulted in touchdowns.

One reporter noted to Ninkovich, who has a career-high five forced fumbles this season, that Jets fans were booing the home team by halftime.

Think New England wouldn't notice the noise?

"It started in the second quarter, actually," Ninkovich corrected with a smirk. "It's a good feeling; you know that you're doing something right on the defensive side of the ball to get them so frustrated that they're leaving early. So I think that's always a great feeling when you come to another place and, at the end of the game, there's more Patriots fans in the crowd then there are Jets fans."

That was definitely the case by the time he recovered a ball in the fourth quarter. The score was 42-12; most of New England's damage was already done.

As nose tackle Vince Wilfork pointed out, the lead was big enough early on.

"When we play together -- play well -- good things will happen. It gets fun. It starts getting fun. We're up 28 points in the first half and all you can say is, wow," he marveled.

"This team is a tough, tough football team, mentally and physically. We preach from Day One: Be mentally tough, be physically tough, and play smart football."

It didn't hurt that the Jets were comically bad.

In the second quarter, Mark Sanchez faked a first-and-10 handoff and then made to run up the middle. He instead motored into the brick-walled butt of Jets offensive lineman Brandon Moore and landed flat on his back. The ball came loose. Patriots safety Steve Gregory scooped it up and ran back 32 yards for the touchdown.

He shrugged off personal praise in Thursday's postgame.

"I think Vince did a good job of knocking somebody back on that play, so it all works together. It was a team effort. Guys did a great job up front getting pressure on the quarterback, and hitting those guys. We were really physical tonight and I think it helped out."

It was indeed Wilfork, "fighting pressure with pressure," who backed Moore up into the charging Sanchez.

And wouldn't you know it? The big tackle returned the nod in kind.

"Gregory, what a hell of a game he had. Last week before we played the Colts, he had three interceptions in practice and I said, 'You can get three interceptions in a game. You can get three turnovers in a game.' It didn't happen that day, but he came out today and made some big plays for us."

We've seen it before: This defense is opportunistic. The Jets just showed what New England can do with many, many opportunities. 

Gregory alone added a forced fumble and an interception to his two recoveries and touchdown.

"It was good one for me today," he said. "Some of that was the ball popping out and you being in the right place at the right time."

That's been happening a lot lately. Gregory's first quarter pick marked the team's fifth interception in the last three weeks.

Do the turnover numbers alone make the Patriots a "good" defense by conventional standards? No. But maybe there's something to the 14 interceptions and 18 fumbles -- the 32 big play takeaways.

Maybe it makes them good enough.

Brad Ausmus interviews with Red Sox, but Alex Cora appears frontrunner

Brad Ausmus interviews with Red Sox, but Alex Cora appears frontrunner

BOSTON — Brad Ausmus was the second person to interview to replace John Farrell as Red Sox manager, baseball sources confirmed Monday afternoon. The Sox are expected to interview Ron Gardenhire, the Diamondbacks' bench coach, as well.

But the net might not be cast too wide. More and more, it sounds like the Sox already know whom they want.

Astros bench coach Alex Cora, who met with Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in New York on Sunday, appears the frontrunner to take the reins next year. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal has reported that to be the case multiple times, and for some inside the Sox organization, that's a growing feeling as well.

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The criteria the Sox value most isn't hard to guess: a strong connection with players, an ability to incorporate data and analytics; and someone who can handle the market.

"I knew Alex for a couple of years before getting a chance to work with him and had tried to recruit him to work a few years ago and he had other options," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Monday in New York, before Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. "To watch him develop relationships with the players, he's all about baseball. He's all about the competition and small advantages within the game, one of the brightest baseball intellects that I've been around. And to see him pass some of that on and transition from player to TV personality to coach, he's had a ton of impact.

"He challenges people. He challenges me. He's someone who's all about winning. And I think to watch our players respond to him, he's got a lot of respect in that clubhouse because of the work he puts in and the attention to detail that he brings. That's why he's the hottest managerial candidate on the planet and deservedly so."

Cora joined the Astros before this season.

Ausmus, whom Dombrowski hired in Detroit ahead of the 2014 season, grew up in Connecticut and went to Dartmouth. The 48-year-old spent 18 seasons as a big-league catcher, the last in 2010. He was working for the Padres before Dombrowski gave him his first shot at managing the Tigers. 

Ausmus went 314-332 in four years managing the Tigers, a more veteran team than might have been ideal for him as a first-time manager.

Ausmus pulled out of the running to interview with the Mets, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag while Cora was expected to interview with the Mets on Monday or Tuesday, per the New York Post's Mike Puma.

What could change from here? One baseball source indicated a second interview with Cora was expected. Asked if he plans a second round of interviews generally, Dombrowski did not say.

"We have started the interview process," Dombrowski wrote via email. "I do not have any specific time frames at this point. Will wait and evaluate as we go through the process."

The Boston Herald's Chad Jennings first reported Ausmus' interview.

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Smart, Celtics unable to agree on contract extension prior to deadline

Smart, Celtics unable to agree on contract extension prior to deadline

CLEVELAND – For the third year in a row, a first-round pick of the Boston Celtics is unable to come to terms on a contract extension prior to the deadline.

That means Marcus Smart will become a restricted free agent this summer. Last year it was Kelly Olynyk (now with the Miami Heat) and in 2015 it was Jared Sullinger (now with Shenzhen Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association).

Both the Celtics and Smart's camp intensified their discussions in recent days as the October 16th 6 p.m. EST deadline drew near.

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While there was progress made, there wasn’t enough to get a deal done.

Smart has repeatedly indicated that he wants to re-sign a long-term deal to stay in Boston.

And the market for the 6-foot-4 guard became clearer based on the contracts that some of his fellow rookie class of 2014, were receiving.

Denver’s Gary Harris agreed to a four-year, $84 million contract after establishing himself as one of the better young two-way talents in the NBA last season. And at the other end of the financial spectrum, you would have to look at Phoenix’s T.J. Warren who signed a four-year, $50 million contract.

More than likely, Smart’s deal next summer will fall somewhere between the deals those two players received.

As much as Smart would have preferred to get a deal done heading into the season, it’s not something that he’s going to cause him to lose any sleep.

“Get it done now, or get it done in six months, I’m OK either way,” he told NBC Sports Boston. “I’m not worried about it.”

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