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Patriots Were Firing on All Cylinders en Route to 24-17 Win Over Bills – Sports Illustrated

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The New England Patriots are the AFC East champions for the 11th straight season following their 24-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills in Week 16. 

The matchup was everything we had anticipated. Playing in Foxboro against a Bills team that has been shaped to beat the reigning Super Bowl champions, the game came down to the final series, with New England’s defense closing it out. However, for the first time in a while, the Patriots’ offense was firing on all cylinders for a full four quarters. Aside from a lone turnover on the first offensive series, New England’s offense was consistent, explosive and overall effective. 

New England controlled the clock by running the ball early and often, while also using its running backs in the passing game. The backfield combined for 143 rushing yards and one score. Sony Michel had a season-high 96 rushing yards on 21 totes, and Rex Burkhead had a career-high 77 receiving yards along with a touchdown. 

In a game where Julian Edelman missed a quarter of action because of a head injury, it was the trio of Michel, Burkhead and James White that got the job done in both phases of the offense. It was their efforts, along with some creativity by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, that got many of New England’s pass-catchers involved (nine players caught a pass in Week 16) and had the Bills’ defense constantly guessing. This allowed New England to rack up 414 yards of total offense, going 7-for-14 on third down, and dominate the time of possession (38 minutes compared to 21 minutes for Bills’ offense).

“This time of the year you have to be able to run the football, you can’t be one dimensional,” said White during his postgame press conference. “When you get in the red zone and you don’t have to always throw it in and you can run it in, that’s always a big bonus. The offensive line did a great job blocking, tight ends, (Elandon Roberts), the receivers, they opened up lanes for Sony (Michel), Rex (Burkhead) and myself. I think everybody tried to run hard.”

A win over Buffalo speaks loudly to what the Patriots can do moving forward. Scoring 24 points, all from the offense, against a top-tier defense shows that Tom Brady and the offense actually have what it takes to be productive and creative enough to keep themselves in a game without their defense forcing a single turnover. That’s something they haven’t shown over the past five weeks. 

“In a good offense everyone has to produce,” Brady said during his postgame press conference. “If you can get both tight ends involved, and all receivers involved, and all the backs involved, it’s hard to defend. We did a good job of that today. You have to make them defend everybody, and a lot of guys came up big. It was a big game for us. We needed it. Happy to come from behind in the fourth (quarter) and win.”

Heading into their season finale against the Dolphins, the Patriots have one big weight lifted off their back thanks to a win over Buffalo that clinched the division title. Now, it’s about finishing strong and clinching a first-round playoff bye. With Marcus Cannon (ankle) and Jason McCourty (groin) unable to finish the Saturday afternoon game, Brady still tending to his right elbow, and Edelman having just about every injury under the sun, New England desperately needs a week of rest. Getting a win at home against the last-place team in the division should do the trick.  

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Hazel Mae, Ken Rosenthal, Jon Heyman, and more reported Michael Brantley to Toronto – Awful Announcing

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Baseball transactions have often seen some unexpected people breaking news, whether that’s wetbutt23 and KatyPerrysBootyHole or Brendon Kuhn and Joey Vendetta. But Wednesday provided a remarkable reversal there, with TV host Hazel Mae and multiple U.S. baseball insiders (including Ken Rosenthal of Fox and The Athletic and Jon Heyman of MLB Network) reporting that outfielder Michael Brantley was headed to the Toronto Blue Jays before the eventual confirmation that he was instead returning to the Houston Astros (where he played last year, as shown above). Here are those initial reports:

And here are some of the later corrections and rebuttals from those who didn’t initially report that:

As noted Tuesday, baseball is a sport where local sources can sometimes break national news before the national insiders get it. But in this case, the initial reports appear to have been premature. And that led to some awkward tweets Wednesday for those who reported that the Brantley deal was done in Toronto before the actual news of that deal being done in Houston emerged.

[Photo from Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports]

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Canucks earn cathartic win over Canadiens after roller-coaster affair – Sportsnet.ca

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VANCOUVER – It was a game screaming out for fans. And a game that would have had coaches screaming.

But Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green’s mood at least would have been helped by his team’s 6-5 shootout win Wednesday against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Canucks’ home-opener at Rogers Arena, played in front of 18,000 seats kept empty by COVID, was a mistake-filled thrill ride whose surprise ending – a Vancouver win – was desperately needed by the team that had limped home after a 1-3 road trip to start its season.

Captain Bo Horvat scored twice on the power play, as the Canucks man-advantage unit finally put some pucks in the net after a 0-for-15 start, and then beat Montreal goalie Carey Price between the pads in the fourth round of the shootout.

Vancouver, wobbling on defence with veteran Alex Edler injured and other blue-liners struggling, appeared to be headed towards its fourth straight loss when former Canuck Tyler Toffoli – who else would it be? – completed his hat trick with a deflection to give the Canadiens their first lead with only 3:49 remaining in regulation time.

But after losing a one-goal advantage four times, the Canucks displayed some resilience by making it 5-5 just 32 seconds later when Brock Boeser wired a shot from the high slot after a setup by J.T. Miller.

“It was really important,” Horvat said of a victory that was like shelter during a January gale. “We needed that win. Obviously, for standings-wise, but also for confidence. It definitely feels good to get the two points, but at the same time I think we can be better.

“We can’t be satisfied with that. We’ve just got to keep building with that, keep our confidence and come ready to play tomorrow night.”

The Canadiens, now 2-0-2 and two points clear of the Canucks in the North Division, play in Vancouver on Thursday and again Saturday.

There were some glaring faults to the Canucks performance, especially in their half of the ice.

But it was vitally important for their struggling top players to break out. Boeser matched Horvat’s two goals, Miller had three assists and defenceman Quinn Hughes had two. And although Elias Pettersson failed to register a point for a fourth straight game – double his longest “slump” from last season – he was a key part of a power play that finished 3-for-6.

And, as Horvat said, there was a huge psychological lift for a team that for the first time under Green, appeared to be slipping backwards with its surprisingly poor start.

“It definitely feels good to get finally rewarded for it,” Horvat said of a power play that was fourth in the NHL last season and expects to be at least that good again. “It was just a matter of time before one went in. Thankfully, we got it off to a good start and we just kept building from there.

“Obviously, we can’t think that’s going to be good enough. We’ve got to hold ourselves to a high standard and do it again tomorrow night.”

The power play gave the Canucks their first of four leads, scoring at 11:07 of the first with quick passing that teed up Horvat in the slot, a play that would be repeated on Horvat’s other goal early in the third.

The power play and offensive outburst, plus some timely saves by Braden Holtby in overtime, were enough to overcome the Canucks’ defensive problems.

New first-pairing defenceman Nate Schmidt conceded last weekend in Calgary that the transition from playing in Vegas has been challenging, and Travis Hamonic hasn’t looked any more comfortable than Schmidt so far in Vancouver after spending the last three seasons with the Flames.

It didn’t help Wednesday that Edler nearly stopped playing in the second period before disappearing from the bench in the third, and that rookie Jalen Chatfield was making his NHL debut for the Canucks.

Even Hughes looked suspect medically, labouring at times while being constantly targeted by the Canadiens.

The lack of cohesiveness on defence was especially evident in the second period, when the Canucks blew the lead three times on goals that were far too easy for the Canadiens.

Hamonic wandered out of position to throw a hit after Hughes had been knocked over by Joel Armia, leaving the right half of the Vancouver zone open for Toffoli to walk in on a breakaway and pick his spot over Holtby’s catching hand to tie it 1-1 at 1:37 of the middle period.

A few shifts later, Schmidt gambled and lost on an intercept in the neutral zone, giving Jeff Petry a free pass to the net. But when the Canadiens defenceman zipped the puck wide, it caromed around the boards to Tyler Motte and gave the Canucks a two-on-one.

Motte looked to pass before fooling Price with a low shot through him to restore the Vancouver lead at 4:25.

But just 62 seconds later, with Schmidt and Hamonic now paired together, the Canadiens took advantage of more poor defending and Nick Suzuki set up Toffoli for a tap-in that capped a power-play three-on-one.

The Canucks power play made it 3-2 at 11:13 when Boeser collected a rebound from his skates and scored on a quick backhand.

And still Vancouver couldn’t get out of the period with the lead. With Chatfield looking to change and caught out of position and Schmidt’s check against behind him, Tomas Tatar lasered a goalmouth pass for Brendan Gallagher to tie it again, 3-3, at 18:25.

The Canucks were ahead, then tied and eventually behind before winning. Against the Montreal Canadiens. The crowd would have loved it, faults and all.

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League fines Caps $100,000 for safety violations, as COVID-19 rattles schedule

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(Reuters) – The National Hockey League (NHL) fined the Washington Capitals $100,000 for violating COVID-19 protocols on Wednesday, the first financial penalty related to the novel coronavirus it has handed down.

The NHL said the fine was in response to “player violations” of protocols including “social interactions among team members who were in close contact and who were not wearing face coverings”.

Captain Alex Ovechkin, one of four Capitals players placed on the NHL’s “COVID Protocol Related Absence List” following the incident, apologized and said he would learn from the experience.

“I regret my choice to spend time together with my team mates in our hotel room and away from the locker room areas,” he said in a statement.

The other players added to the list were Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Ilya Samsonov. It is unclear when they will be allowed to return to the ice.

The Capitals said in a statement they had worked hard to establish a “safe environment” to allow the team to compete this season and were disappointed the players had interacted outside of approved areas.

“We accept the NHL’s decision and once again will reiterate the COVID-19 protocols in place to make sure the players are in full compliance moving forward,” they added.

While not the maximum allowable fine under NHL protocol, the hefty figure could nonetheless serve as a warning to teams playing beyond the confines of last year’s quarantined “bubble,” with the league already rescheduling a number of games due to safety concerns since the season kicked off a week ago.

After postponing Tuesday’s game between Carolina and Nashville, the league said on Wednesday the Hurricanes’ schedule was paused through at least Jan. 23, with five players on the absence list.

“As an appropriate precaution, the team’s training facilities have been closed, effective immediately, and will remain closed for players until further notice,” the NHL said in a statement.

“The Hurricanes organization has, and will continue to follow, all recommended guidelines aimed at protecting the health and safety of its players, staff and community at large.”

 

(Reporting by Amy Tennery and Rory Carroll; Editing by Lincoln Feast/Peter Rutherford)

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