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Patriots expect tougher time stopping Foster

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Patriots expect tougher time stopping Foster

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The New England Patriots found a way to turn Arian Foster from punishing runner into powerless bystander.

All they did was charge to a 28-0 lead, make the Houston Texans throw and keep the ball away from one of the most dangerous rushers in the NFL.

A month ago, the Patriots scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and routed the Texans, 42-14, as Foster gained just 46 yards on 15 carries.

Vince Wilfork, though, figures on a tougher challenge in Sunday's rematch on the same field in a divisional playoff game.

``I expect to see the best,'' the Patriots defensive tackle said Tuesday.

Something, perhaps, like Foster's brilliant performance in Saturday's 19-13 wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals - 140 yards on a season-high 32 carries, to go with eight catches for 34 yards and the game's only offensive touchdown.

That made him the first NFL player to rush for at least 100 yards in each of his first three playoff games.

Not bad.

``Last week, you saw why this guy is one of the top offensive players in the game, not just a back, but a top offensive player in the game,'' a rested Wilfork said after the team's bye week. ``The things that he can do with the ball in his hands, in the pass game and running it ... and he's a great blocker when they ask him to block. I mean he's a special player and we understand that.''

If he gets a chance to show it. He didn't on Dec. 10 at Gillette Stadium.

Foster rushed 12 times for 44 yards in the first half, which ended with the Patriots leading, 21-0. He had just three carries for two yards after that - and none after he scored on a 1-yard run with 6:12 left in the third quarter - as the Texans tried to preserve time by throwing the ball.

But New England (12-4) knew they would have to focus on that.

``Any time that you can get a team one-dimensional, that's a big plus. Every team tries to do that,'' Wilfork said. ``It just bottles up a bunch of things ... knowing when you can expect the pass, you can expect this and you can expect that.

``But when a team is on track and when they are running the ball good, and throwing the ball good, and the play action is good, and the special teams are good, it's tough.''

The Texans (13-4) can be dangerous when they go to play-action, as well, faking a handoff and then throwing. The Patriots know they can't fall for it and leave a receiver open while going after a runner who doesn't have the ball.

They must be disciplined.

``Just fundamentals. Just read your keys and just pay attention,'' linebacker Brandon Spikes said. ``Everybody has a job and my job is to pay attention to the run.''

That means focus on Foster.

He was sixth in the NFL with 1,424 yards rushing and eighth in yards from scrimmage with 1,641. He also was the leading scorer among non-kickers with 102 points - posting 15 rushing touchdowns as well as two on receptions.

``That was really a great example this past weekend of how they like to play football down there - be physical, be aggressive, run the ball, control the clock and really just do a good job of just handling the game,'' Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. ``The run game going the way they have it going, obviously it sets up the play-action pass game.''

For Wilfork, a key is recognizing when Houston's offensive linemen use cut blocks.

``That running back sees it and he hits it right off that cut block. So, up front it's going to be very important for us to try to stay on our feet,'' he said. ``Any team that runs the ball the way they run the ball and has the play-action and the bootlegs and all the stuff that comes after that, it's a big challenge for us.

``But we've faced it.''

The Patriots, the NFL's highest scoring team, will need their usual productive offensive game to offset that and force the Texans to throw.

They've already done it once, right?

``They didn't play their best game. They know that and we know that,'' Wilfork said. ``It starts with their running game. It starts with Foster. The more touches that he gets, in the passing game or on the ground, the better that team is.''

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.