Vereen makes the most of his chance


Vereen makes the most of his chance

FOXBORO -- It's always practice, isn't it? The genesis of moments like these can so often be traced back to a field without lights or stands lining the sidelines. They are the kinds of moments for which the foundation is laid under the watchful eyes of teammates and coaches and few others.

Shane Vereen had his moment on Sunday in New England's 41-28 win over the Texans in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The second-year back out of the University of California was thrown into an increased role after fellow running back Danny Woodhead injured his thumb on the Patriots' first offensive play of the game, and he responded.

Vereen scored three times, one rushing touchdown and two receiving, each more improbable than the last.

"Shane had a great game," quarterback Tom Brady said. "Really just a huge growing up moment for him, so very special."

Vereen has always had the physical tools to play a game like this. The speed, the quickness, the hands, they were always there. He showed enough of each in college to be selected in the second round by the Patriots, one round before his teammate and 1,000-yard rusher Stevan Ridley. What hadn't always been there -- because of Woodhead's trusted hands and Ridley's ability to pound teams into submission -- was opportunity.

But as Vereen waited, he practiced. And he practiced well.

"He's done it in practice and he's the person that works hard and does his job," said Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. "When his number was called, he made a play and showed what type of player he is tonight."

Substitute the practice field behind Gillette Stadium for center stage inside it. Substitute grass for turf. New England's sun for bright lights. Barking coaches for roaring crowds. This was Vereen's night. Just like practice, only not at all.

Still, he was ready.

"I don't come into the game knowing how much anyone is going to play," Vereen said. "I come into the game ready to go and if my number is called, I do my best for the team."

Vereen didn't record a snap in last year's run to Super bowl XLVI, but he made his mark early in his first postseason game.

Lined up as a wide receiver in the first quarter, he caught a quick throw from Brady, shook Texans linebacker Bradie James and gained 25 yards. "Let's go!" he screamed as got up from the play and beat his chest.

Just before the ball was snapped, Houston didn't have a defender lined up on Vereen. James scooted to the outside, but Brady recognized the mismatch and took advantage.

"We used some different formations to try to move some people around," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "As Tom usually does, he finds the best matchups depending on the route and the coverage and so forth and getting the ball to the guys that have a good opportunity to win on those routes. A lot of credit goes to Tom for finding him but also to Shane for running good routes, catching the ball in tight coverage, running after the catch, all those things."

Of course, Vereen and the Patriots honed that one on the practice field.

"Obviously it's something we worked on during the week," Belichick said. "When Tom saw matchups he liked out there, he was able to take advantage of it."

When Vereen saw James scramble to line up across from on the outside, he admitted that a light went off. This was his chance.

"I knew that the matchup was in my favor," he said. "But at the same time, they are great defenders as well. So I have to do a great job of getting open."

It turned out to be the first of many. Two plays later, he ran for a 1-yard touchdown, his first score since a blowout win over the Jets on Thanksgiving.

His next touchdown was set up by a one-handed 47-yard catch by Patriots receiver Wes Welker in the second quarter. On the next play, Vereen found himself wide open for an eight-yard touchdown catch.

Vereen's third score showed just how different his skill set is compared to Woodhead and Ridley. Again, lined up as a wide receiver outside the numbers, he ran what looked like a slant-and-go pattern on Texans linebacker Barrett Ruud. Brady dropped a perfect pass into the front corner of the end zone and Vereen made a lunging catch for the score.

When he got to his feet, Vereen spread his arms wide and carried an expression that made him look as surprised as Texans coach Gary Kubiak and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips must have been.

Vereen finished with seven carries for 41 yards and five catches for 83 yards, and due in large part to his effort, the Patriots will play the Ravens in a rematch of the AFC Championship game at home next week.

"It is going to be a great matchup," Vereen said. "It's always is between us and the Ravens. We are going to have to go to work this week and get ready to play a great team."

That means going back to the practice field, away from the lights and the crowds, where a seldom used running back from California will grind it out in the hopes that he's ready for another big moment on an even bigger stage if and when the opportunity presents itself.

Raiders' Marshawn Lynch suspended game for shoving official


Raiders' Marshawn Lynch suspended game for shoving official

NEW YORK - Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch was suspended for one game without pay by the NFL on Friday for shoving a game official during the Raiders' victory over Kansas City on Thursday night.

Lynch was ejected from the game after he shoved line judge Julian Mapp.

The scuffle started when Oakland quarterback Derek Carr was hit late on a run by Kansas City's Marcus Peters midway through the second quarter. Raiders offensive linemen Kelechi Osemele and Donald Penn immediately confronted Peters, and Lynch sprinted onto the field from the bench to join the fray. Mapp tried to break up the fight, but Lynch pushed him and grabbed his jersey. Lynch also got a personal foul.

NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan wrote a letter to Lynch, saying:

"You made deliberate physical contact with one of our game officials as he was diffusing an active confrontation between players. You were disqualified for your inappropriate and unsportsmanlike actions. Your conduct included pushing the game official and grabbing his jersey. ... You were not directly involved in the active confrontation that the game official was attempting to diffuse, nor were you a participant in the play that initiated the confrontation. You were the only player from either team who ran from the sideline to midfield to insert himself into a situation in which he was not directly involved."

Lynch will be eligible to return to Oakland's active roster on Oct. 30, the day after the Raiders' game against the Buffalo Bills.

Lynch finished the game with two carries for 9 yards.

The Raiders rallied to win 31-30 on a touchdown pass by Carr on the final play, and Lynch was in the locker room after the game congratulating his teammates.

Lynch came out of retirement this season and was traded from Seattle to the Raiders. Lynch said he wanted to make a comeback so he could give something back to his hometown of Oakland before the Raiders move to Las Vegas in 2020.

Lynch has rushed for 266 yards and two touchdowns in seven games.


Larkin provides fourth-quarter spark, Celtics beat Sixers, 102-92

Larkin provides fourth-quarter spark, Celtics beat Sixers, 102-92

PHILADELPHIA – Despite playing its second straight game without a key rotation player, the Boston Celtics did just enough to get their first win of the season, 102-92, over Philadelphia.

Boston (1-2) was led by Kyrie Irving’s game-high 21 points, but it was Shane Larkin's floor game down the stretch that truly catapulted Boston to its first win of the season.

Larkin, who was seeing action in large part because Marcus Smart was out with a left ankle injury, provided a huge spark in the fourth before finishing with 10 points and four assists.

He drained a 3-pointer that tied the game at 75-all, which was part of an 18-9 Celtics run.

The Sixers (0-2) were led by J.J. Redick and Jerryd Bayless who had 19 and 18 points, respectively. Joel Embiid got off to a slow start, but finished with a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds.

Boston played with a lead for most of the first half, but Philadelphia took over with a 7-0 run to end the second quarter and had the Celtics playing catch-up for all of the third and some of the fourth quarter.

Boston was once again short-handed, with Marcus Smart out with a left ankle injury. He replaced Gordon Hayward, whose left ankle injury in the first quarter of Boston’s loss to Cleveland on Tuesday, is expected to keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.

But with players out, that opens up opportunities for others to step up.

Larkin, who walked away from a contract overseas that would have paid about $5 million more than he’s making with the Celtics, was one of those players.

Aron Baynes, who got the start with Smart out, had 10 points and eight rebounds. Boston also got another strong game off the bench from Terry Rozier who had 14 points and seven rebounds