Patriots

Terry Francona 'excited' to join the Indians

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Terry Francona 'excited' to join the Indians

From Comcast SportsNetCLEVELAND (AP) -- Terry Francona is getting back with one of his baseball families.Francona, who guided the Boston Red Sox to two World Series titles, has been hired as manager of the Cleveland Indians, a team that collapsed in the second half this season after a promising first four months. The sides continued working Saturday night on the length of Francona's contract.The 53-year-old will be formally introduced as Cleveland's 42nd manager during a Monday news conference at Progressive Field."I'm really excited," Francona said on the air as an ESPN analyst, his job for the past season. "People who don't know me may have thought I was looking for something different."The Indians chose Francona over Sandy Alomar Jr., who served as the club's interim manager for the final six games after Manny Acta was fired on Sept. 27. Francona and Alomar, who spent the past three seasons as a coach in Cleveland, were the only candidates to interview for the Indians' opening.Alomar has been offered a spot on Francona's staff, most likely as bench coach.The Indians have always held a special place for Francona. After he was fired as Philadelphia's manager, he worked in Cleveland's front office as an adviser in 2001. He also spent a portion of the 1988 season on Cleveland's major league roster and his father, Tito, played with the Indians from 1959-64.Francona has stayed close with Indians president Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti over the past decade. He said the chance to work with them again is what intrigued him most about the Cleveland job, which will have its challenges because of a much smaller payroll than he enjoyed in Boston."It's a good story, almost a family feeling," Francona said after his interview on Friday. "I don't think you can take a job because of that, but it still means a lot to me. Because of Chris and Mark and my relationship, I am excited to try to tackle, or attempt to tackle, every challenge that comes our way and do it together."There are some major challenges in Cleveland, where fans have been waiting for a World Series winner since 1948.The Indians were a major disappointment this season, going 68-94. They were within 3 1-2 games of first place on July 27, but went 5-24 in August -- the worst month in the franchise's 112-year history -- and finished 20 games out in the AL Central. Acta didn't get to finish his third season with the club."We have better talent than our record shows," Antonetti said earlier this week.With shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, second baseman Jason Kipnis, center fielder Michael Brantley and catcher Carlos Santana, the Indians have a solid core of young position players to build around. Cleveland's bullpen was the strength of the team this season, but All-Star closer Chris Perez caused distractions with his comments and actions.The Indians lacked a proven power hitter -- DH Travis Hafner was injured much of the season -- and it remains to be seen if Cleveland owner Paul Dolan will spend in free agency to add talent.Francona interviewed with the Indians one day after Alomar, a six-time All-Star catcher for Cleveland and fan favorite. Alomar managed the Indians to a 3-3 record after Acta was dismissed. Alomar will likely be courted by other teams seeking a manager. He interviewed with Boston last year before the Red Sox hired Bobby Valentine.Francona spent eight seasons with the Red Sox but was not brought back after the club fell apart down the stretch in 2011. This season, Francona worked as a TV broadcaster and said it was while preparing for telecasts that he realized how much he missed managing and being around players."We appreciate Terry's great contributions to our baseball coverage and we wish him the best,"? ESPN said in a statement, adding Francona will appear as a guest analyst during the network's World Series coverage.Francona has managed for 12 seasons in the majors, compiling a 1,029-915 record."I played for Tito (Francona) and everybody knows his track record is a good one," said Indians pitcher Justin Masterson, who was with Francona in Boston for 2008-9.Antonetti said part of Francona's appeal was how he developed young players like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester as they came up through Boston's system."In addition to that, he's a great communicator and an accomplished leader," Antonetti said.

Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

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Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

The first came in the second quarter, when Brandin Cooks turned on afterburners to beat a Raiders double team and glide underneath a Tom Brady heave for 52 yards. The second came in the third quarter, on the third play from scrimmage of the second half, when Cooks faked an out-route, jetted past rookie corner Obi Melifonwu, and sped into the end zone to make the score 24-0. 

Both deep completions in New England's 33-8 win over Oakland just added to cumulative effect that Cooks has had on the Patriots offense since arriving before the season to become their top deep threat. 

Paired with Brady, Cooks has actually become the most productive deep threat in the NFL. 

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According to Pro Football Focus, Cooks leads all receivers with 431 yards on deep passes (throws that travel 20 yards or more down the field). In second place is Houston's DeAndre Hopkins with 313 yards. 

And Brady, who has long been more effective in the short-to-intermediate range than he has been deep, is now among the league leaders in creating explosive plays from the quarterback position. The Patriots are third in the NFL with 41 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and they are tied for second with nine plays of 40 yards or more. 

"You're always trying to work on that," Brady told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show of his team's deep passing game. "It's not one particular year [you work on it]. I think that's been a concerted effort by our entire offense, trying to make more explosive plays in the pass game. 

"Sometimes your offense is built differently. We actually have some guys now that can really get down the field so that becomes more of a point of emphasis. The way Brandin runs, the way that Chris Hogan runs, the way that Phillip Dorsett runs, they're very fast. You need to be able to take advantage of their skill set . . . 

"When we had David Patten we were throwing it deep. I mean, but David Patten didn't run a lot of short routes. I would say Brandin Cooks, in general, he doesn't run a lot of short routes. Everyone has a different role. If we can get by you, I think that's a good place to throw the ball. if we can't, we gotta figure out ways to throw it underneath and different weeks are going to call for different things based on the strengths of the defenses we're playing, too."

A week before beating the Raiders, against the Broncos and their talented corners, the Patriots had less luck pushing the ball down the field -- though they tried to hit Cooks deep multiple times. In Mexico City, Cooks matched up with a weaker secondary, and he wasn't at all slowed by the altitude, catching six passes in all for 149 yards and a score. 

Per PFF, Cooks has seen almost one third of his targets (30 percent) come on deep passes, which is the ninth-highest rate in the league. He's caught all 11 of his catchable deep passes, three of them accounting for scores.

"Obviously when you're throwing the ball 50-60 yards down the field," Brady said, "your chances of completion go down, but if you hit it, it ends up being a very explosive plays and you can change a lot of field position and get a defense really on their heels if they have to defend every blade of grass on the field." 

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Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

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Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

After arriving in Boston and spending some time with his new teammates, Kyrie Irving felt good about this group doing big things this season. 

But when asked about the experience thus far being what he thought it would be, Irving responded, “It’s probably exceeded that.”

He’s not alone. 

Few would have envisioned the Celtics (15-2) would have the best record in the NBA at this point, let alone be riding a 15-game winning streak which ranks as the fifth-best winning streak in franchise history. 

Irving and his Celtics teammates will try and keep it going tonight when they take on the Dallas Mavericks.

Irving’s ability to mesh with his teammates and still find success was among the many questions out there when the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the blockbuster trade this offseason. 

Blending in has not been an issue for Irving, bolstered by the reality that his game stands out. 

We saw that in Boston’s 110-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks, which was a game in which Irving had 30 points on an insanely efficient 10-for-12 shooting night. 

There were many factors that went into Irving’s strong night against the Hawks, but he said it really came down to one thing above all else.

“I just made some damn shots for once,” Irving quipped. “That right there kind of made it seem better than I actually been shooting over the start of the season.  It would also contribute to being able to be in the right spots and guys being selfless in their approach driving to the basket or getting into the paint. It’s tell-tale sign of all of us getting more comfortable.”

Here are five below-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on as the Boston Celtics face the Dallas Mavericks, with Boston gunning for its 16th straight win. 

BROWN’S POSITIVE PLAY

Jaylen Brown has been on a bit of an offensive tear of late, the last being a career-high 27-point performance in Boston’s win over Atlanta. But even more telling is how well things seem to flow with him on the floor. Brown’s plus/minus this season is +146 which is tops among all players in the Eastern Conference. His closest competition in the East? That would teammate Al Horford whose plus/minus this season is +143. In addition, Horford has had a positive plus/minus in every game this season. 

YOGI FERRELL

You can count Yogi Ferrell among the ones that got away from Brad Stevens when he was coaching at Butler. Ferrell, who played at Indiana, was a player on Stevens’ radar when he was coaching at Butler. “I recruited Yogi, unsuccessfully,” Stevens told reporters in Dallas. While Ferrell came on strong as an undrafted free agent with the Mavericks last season, Stevens said there’s nothing about Ferrell’s game now that he didn’t see when he tried to woo him to Butler. “He would have been awfully good at Butler,” Stevens said.

HOMECOMING

While Marcus Smart grew up in Flower Mound, Texas (less than an hour from Dallas), tonight’s game is a homecoming of sorts for another Celtics player – Semi Ojeleye. The 6-foot-7 forward played at SMU which is located in Dallas. A second-round pick by Boston in last June’s NBA draft, Ojeleye has been among the many surprise performers for the Celtics this season. “We knew he could be a versatile defender,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Probably has exceeded our expectations in that regard with his ability to guard one (point guard) through five (center) at certain times. And he’s been pretty consistent shooting the ball. Right now, embracing that kind of 3-and-D role is what he has to do and he’s done it well.”

DEEP DRAFT CLASS

The Boston Celtics struck gold by drafting Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick. But as you look at the teams that had lottery picks in last June’s NBA draft, few come away feeling disappointed or discouraged by the player selected. The Dallas Mavericks are among the teams pleased with their first-round pick, Dennis Smith Jr. who was selected with the ninth overall pick. He has emerged as one of the top rookies this year, averaging 14.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. And yes, he was a player that was on the Celtics’ radar leading up to last June’s draft. “We had Dennis in and he was really impressive,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s a guy that’s going to have a great career and he’s got good veteran players around him to help kick it off.”

DIRK NOWITZKI

The numbers aren’t anywhere close to what we’ve seen for the bulk of Dirk Nowitzki’s illustrious career that’s now in Year 20. But there is a demeanor about him that seems to be at peace with where he’s at basketball-wise, even if the wins aren’t nearly as plentiful as he’s accustomed to. “I appreciate his game a ton,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Just watching him talk on the court, cheer on the bench, sit at the scorer’s table with a smile on his face. You can’t play this long and be this good this long if you don’t’ love it. Everybody says they love it, but he’s got a different level of passion. You can feel it, you can see it. You root for guys like him to have success.”

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