Patriots

Patriots focused on stopping Spiller, Bills ground game

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Patriots focused on stopping Spiller, Bills ground game

FOXBORO -- CJ Spiller was at the middle of it all when the Bills fell apart against the Patriots six weeks ago. Near the end of the first half, Buffalo was threatening to score when Spiller took a handoff and ran into Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes. The ball popped loose, New England recovered and came out for the second half with new life. They scored 45 points in the game's final 30 minutes to win, 52-28.

"That was the turning point of the game," Spiller told reporters afterward. "And thats totally on me. Nobody else. That was me. Ive just got to do a better job of securing the ball. Especially down at the goal line.

Spiller hasn't fumbled since. In fact, he's been arguably the Bills' most reliable offensive player in his team's last four games. He will carry a hefty 7.2 yards-per-carry average into Gillette Stadium on Sunday, as well as a reputation for breaking a big play at any moment.

The Patriots say they're expecting to see a different back than the one had just 33 yards on eight carries to go along with that crucial fumble in their last meeting.

"Oh man, this guy is a hell of a player," Vince Wilfork said Thursday. "He's running the ball very well, catching the ball for him. He's really showing the explosive plays that we were accustomed to seeing when he was in college, and that's what they drafted him for. So, he's coming into his own."

Together with Bills veteran running back Fred Jackson, Spiller makes up one half of one of the league's most dynamic rushing duos. Gaining 5.3 yards per rush this season, the Bills are owners of the NFL's second-most explosive running game.

"Obviously they're a two-headed monster," Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "Really a three-headed monster. TashardChoice provides a spark off the bench as well."

But Spiller will likely require extra attention.

"Anytime a guy's averaging over seven yards a carry, you know they can always take one to the house," Mayo continued. "It'll take a group effort to stop him. The front seven has to do an excellent job staying on blocks and hopefully making plays."

Like Wilfork, Mayo said he's seen a different Spiller on film this week. No longer is his game all scat. He's rounding more and more into a complete running back, it appears.

"One thing he's doing a lot better since the last time we played him, he's running inside as well," Mayo said. "He's making a lot of guys miss inside and he's breaking those long runs."

The matchup promises to be the latest challenge for the Patriots defense, which has taken on all rushers and, in general, stuffed them. They've allowed just 3.5 yards per carry and the longest rush they've allowed all season is a fourth-quarter 20-yard run by the Rams' Daryl Richardson two weeks ago when the Patriots already had their 45-7 win well in hand.

"You're only as good as your last performance," Mayo replied when reminded how stout the Patriots have been against the run.

But they were pretty good in London. Mayo, Wilfork, Spikes and the rest allowed 107 yards rushing, and they held Rams back Steven Jackson -- now closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but still a talent -- to 23 yards on seven carries.

Since then, New England has had some time off with its bye week. The Bills are probably hoping that break will work in their favor since Patriots rustiness may be Spiller and Jackson's best chance to get anything going on the ground Sunday.

"We work pretty hard," Mayo said. "We worked hard all week this week and even during the bye week to get better. Hopefully there's no rust, but you never know."

Ryan's 2 TD passes enough as Falcons hold off Seahawks 34-31

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Ryan's 2 TD passes enough as Falcons hold off Seahawks 34-31

SEATTLE - Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons did enough through 3 1/2 quarters that even the best comeback attempt by Russell Wilson fell short this time.

A couple of yards short to be exact.

Ryan threw a pair of touchdown passes, Adrian Clayborn returned a fumble 10 yards for a score and the Falcons watched Blair Walsh's 52-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds fall short, holding off the Seattle Seahawks for a 34-31 win on Monday night.

Atlanta won its second straight to stay on the heels of New Orleans and Carolina in the NFC South, and handed Seattle a second consecutive home loss.

"What an absolute team win from the guys tonight," Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. "Coming here, in this environment, with the crowd, we thought it would be two competitive, tough teams that were going to battle for it in the biggest way."

Ryan threw TDs to Mohamed Sanu and Levine Toilolo, while Tevin Coleman added a 1-yard TD run on Atlanta's opening possession.

But it was Clayborn's fumble return that helped break the game open early in the second quarter and gave Atlanta a 21-7 lead. He scooped up a loose ball after Wilson was crunched by Takk McKinley and Courtney Upshaw.

"I think we're moving in the right direction. We keep proving we can finish games and beat guys. We have to take the momentum and keep rolling with it," Clayborn said.

With Seattle down 11 points, Wilson hit Doug Baldwin on a 29-yard TD with 3 minutes left and then threw to Jimmy Graham for the two-point conversion. Seattle got the ball back and moved in range for Walsh, whose attempt was on line but landed short of the crossbar.

"That was in our range, and in hindsight I would have just driven it more," Walsh said. "I would have driven it more and not left it short. I was too accurate and didn't have enough on it."

Wilson again was the entirety of Seattle's offense, throwing for 258 yards and two touchdowns, and running for another 86 yards and a TD.

But it was an awful night for the Seahawks, filled with more injuries and questionable decisions by coach Pete Carroll. He called for a fake field goal late in the first half rather than attempting a 35-yard kick. He also made a questionable challenge in the fourth quarter that didn't go his way and left Seattle with just one timeout.

That lack of timeouts came back to haunt Seattle on the final drive when seconds ticked away and rather than running one more play, Walsh was sent out to attempt the 52-yard kick. His long for the season is 49 yards.

The conclusion only amplified Carroll's baffling decision at the end of the first half, when Seattle ran a fake field goal rather than having Walsh attempt a 35-yarder that would have pulled Seattle within 24-20. Holder Jon Ryan completed his shovel pass to Luke Willson, but Grady Jarrett read the play and tackled Willson for a 4-yard loss.

Willson said Atlanta's defense on the play was different than what Seattle had seen on film.

"It would have been a really good call if we had made it," Carroll said. "Terrific opportunity right where we wanted it and the defensive tackle made a better play."

Seattle played a game for the first time since the end of the 2010 season without Richard Sherman. His streak of 99 consecutive starts in the regular season was snapped because of a torn Achilles tendon suffered against Arizona. The Seahawks were also without safety Kam Chancellor because of a neck injury, leaving their vaunted secondary with several new faces.

"Those two are phenomenal players. ... It was a lot different," Sanu said. "They did a lot of different things but we just had to take advantage of our routes."

MATTY ICE

Ryan was more than happy to pick on a defense without Sherman and Chancellor. He was 19 of 27 passing for 195 yards and rarely faced pressure. Seattle had one sack, and the Falcons went 9 of 14 on third-down conversions.

Sanu made a great one-handed grab for a 2-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Ryan found Toilolo on a 25-yard TD in the third quarter to give Atlanta a 31-20 lead. Matt Bryant added a 19-yard field goal with 3:49 left to put the Falcons ahead by 11, and Wilson's late heroics weren't enough.

Ryan's streak of 64 straight games passing for at least 200 yards was snapped.

INJURIES

Seattle's injury woes continued. The Seahawks lost rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin to a concussion on the second play of the game, forcing newly signed veteran Byron Maxwell into a more prominent role than expected.

Early in the second half, promising running back Mike Davis was lost to a groin injury after taking a screen pass 21 yards. Davis had two receptions and had carried six times for 18 yards before getting hurt. Seattle also lost starting guard Oday Aboushi in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.

Atlanta got a scare when safety Keanu Neal was checked for a concussion in the first half. He was cleared to return.

UP NEXT

Falcons: Host Tampa Bay on Sunday to open a three-game homestand.

Seahawks: Travel to division foe San Francisco on Sunday.

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'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

We have seen the Boston Celtics play less-than-stellar basketball for long stretches, only to turn it on in the second half and escape with a win.

But Monday night’s game at Dallas was different.

Usually it has been Boston’s offense that has kept the game closer than expected, but on Monday it was the team’s defense that struggled more than usual.

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But this team continues to show an ability to withstand all in-game struggles to eventually emerge victorious which was exactly what happened as the Celtics rallied from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to knock off the Mavericks 110-102 in overtime.

The Celtics (16-2) have now won 16 in a row which ties the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.

But this win, like so many of its predecessors during this historic run, was not one to celebrate afterwards.

“Quite a resilient comeback in the fourth,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Not our best foot forward before that. Of all the comebacks, that did not look good for a long time. We found a way to win it.”

Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 47 points, 10 of which came in the overtime period.

But his performance was just one of many Boston needed to extend its winning streak.

“In a game like this, you have to do whatever it takes, both ends of the floor,” Boston’s Jayson Tatum told reporters afterwards.

And he did just that.

In the final seconds of the fourth quarter, Tatum’s defense forced a Harrison Barnes miss that would have won the game for Dallas.

And in the fourth quarter, Tatum’s rebounding was critical to Boston (16-2) extending its stay atop the NBA standings.

The 6-foot-8 rookie had a near double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds, with four of his boards coming in overtime.

Boston also got another strong game from Jaylen Brown (22 points, nine rebounds) and Marcus Smart, whose shooting was well off the mark most of the night (3-for-15) but like he has done too many times to count, Smart managed to make a positive impact on the game.

He led the Celtics with eight assists off the bench, in addition to a slew of hustle plays that included a desperation save of a ball going out of bounds that managed to find its way into the hands of Kyrie Irving, who drained a much-needed 3-pointer late in the game.

“Those are worth more than whatever the shot goes in,” Stevens said. “That’s why it’s hard to quantify Marcus Smart.”

The same can be said about Boston’s winning streak, which has come about despite several stretches, every game seemingly, where the Celtics struggle.

But to their credit, they don’t allow the in-game setbacks take away from their focus night-in and night-out and that’s to find a way, any way possible, to emerge with a victory.

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