Rice on the menu for Patriots defense


Rice on the menu for Patriots defense

FOXBORO - Ray Rice led the NFL in 2011 in yards from scrimmage with 2,068 (1,364 on the ground). He carried the ball 291 times and caught it 76. So of the 5,419 yards Baltimore gained, he was responsible for 38 percent of them.

So, yeah, the Patriots want to keep tabs on Rice Sunday in the AFC Championship, New England's sixth appearance in that game in Bill Belichick's 12 seasons in New England.

On the first play from scrimmage in the 2009 playoffs against the Patriots, Rice ran virtually untouched for 83 yards and touchdown through the heart of the Patriots defense.

That play is still on their minds.

"2009, yeah it was unfortunate," Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich said Monday. "We didnt start that game off the way we wanted to on defense. A team that potent and tough, you cant give up a big run for a touchdown to start the game off like that. Obviously, thats something that we really need to focus on, is not letting up any big plays like that, especially to start the game off. The momentum they gained from that obviously just snowballed for the rest of the game and they were able to go out there and play well."

The next 59:45 of that game wasn't much fun for the Patriots, either, as they lost 33-14. So overpowering was the Ravens rushing attack that quarterback Joe Flacco only threw 10 times.

Finding Rice is sometimes half the battle. At 5-foot-8, he can duck behind linemen and runs like a field mouse. Except he's a strong field mouse and he runs through arm tackles.

"Hes a little bit different because hes a smaller, compact guy real strong," Ninkovich explained. "Kind of like a Maurice Jones-Drew guy: real strong at hitting the hole and is real fast, but also can catch the ball out of the backfield and make some plays in the passing game. Hes a target for them that really makes a lot of plays for them so you have to make sure that you account for him on the field at all times."

Rice was kept in check this past Sunday by the formidable Houston Texans defense. He ran for 60 yards on 21 carries.

The Patriots defense is not as stout as Houston's. And even if it were, it wouldn't lessen their concerns about him. "Hes different because hes just very explosive," said Ninkovich. "If you give him just a little bit, he can turn that into a real big play. You have to make sure you keep all the holes tight so he doesnt have something just to hit and go. Hes a challenge for us."

A challenge that, if the Patriots are able to limit, will go a long way toward putting them in the Super Bowl.

Morning Skate: Not all smooth sailing for top picks


Morning Skate: Not all smooth sailing for top picks

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the return of Adolfo to Toucher and Rich this morning.

*Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid have received plenty of acclaim over the past couple of years as talented, young stars in the league, but Pro Hockey Talk’s James O’Brien details how things haven’t gone ideally for either of those youngsters, or their teams, this season. Clearly, it’s not at this level yet, but just think about the hype behind Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin when they were drafted 1-2 back in 2010, and what they have, and haven’t, been able to accomplish in the league since that time.

*Outstanding rookie Brock Boeser credits a conversation with Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green for helping spark his game this season.

*Good video piece on the near miss of Wayne Gretzky almost playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs after dominating them in the playoffs.  

*Salivating for some hockey trades? The 10 potential NHL trade deadline targets around the league as we wait for players to become available for trade later in the season.  

*Hockeybuzz is asking what the NHL, and more specifically the Hockey Hall of Fame, has against goaltenders?

*For something completely different: A great piece from Drew Bledsoe on the tragic passing of former Patriots wide receiver Terry Glenn, and how his death came just as he seemed to be putting all the pieces of his life together.


Marchand, Krug and Backes all practice, won't play vs. Devils


Marchand, Krug and Backes all practice, won't play vs. Devils

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins are getting closer to a healthier lineup, but it won’t be in time for the Thanksgiving Eve road tilt against the upstart New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.

Brad Marchand (upper body), Torey Krug (upper body) and David Backes (colon surgery) all skated in red no-contact jerseys at practice Tuesday at Warrior Ice Arena, so none of those three banged-up B’s will be making the trip to Jersey. Anders Bjork (upper body) didn’t practice and is obviously out vs. the Devils as well, but Ryan Spooner might be a possibility after making it through his first full practice since tearing his groin almost six weeks ago.


If he can make it through Wednesday's morning skate without any problems, Spooner will likely be a game-time decision against the Devils after missing the past 14 games.  

The Bruins have continued to indicate that Marchand is in the concussion protocol, though it appears the Bruins agitator is dealing with both upper body and lower body issues. Marchand was encouraged by the progress he’s making while returning to practice, so perhaps the B’s could get back one of their leading scorers sooner rather than later.

“I feel pretty good. It’s good to be back with the guys and feel like you’re a part of the team,” said Marchand, who has missed five of the past seven games after returning for the home-and-home against the Maple Leafs. “It’s frustrating whenever you miss games and you miss time away from the team, but they had a great road trip and they’re playing well. It would be nice to be back in the lineup consistently and be back with the’ll come.”

Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings vs. the Devils based on practice Tuesday: