Patriots far from one-dimensional

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Patriots far from one-dimensional

SANTA CLARA – When it comes to the New England Patriots’ offense, there’s little question that quarterback Tom Brady is the proverbial head of the snake.

But this season, there’s much more than the 35-year-old San Mateo native and his impressive corps of receivers. The New England running game in amongst the best in the NFL, and brings another dimension to an already explosive group that can put up points in a hurry.

Stevan Ridley, a 23-year-old second year pro out of LSU, leads the way. A third round pick of the Patriots in 2011, Ridley has already accumulated 1,082 yards on the ground, the most for a Patriots running back since Corey Dillon scampered for more than 1600 yards in 2004. In fact, Ridley is just the second New Englander to surpass the thousand-yard plateau in the last nine seasons.

It’s just another weapon that Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s group must prepare for, as it gets set for the Patriots on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.

“Every week in this league is a challenge. This week it’s more of a challenge, obviously because of Brady and their offense and they do a great job, but they do a great job of running the ball, too,” Fangio said. “They are way up there in the running stats.”

He’s right. The Patriots lead the league in total offense (425.7 yards per game, and 36.3 points per game), including the seventh-ranked rushing attack (139.9 yards per game).

They have a league-leading 20 rushing touchdowns, 10 by Ridley. Brady and Shane Vereen have three apiece, while Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden each have a pair.

“I just think their running game as a whole has really complimented their passing game and their overall offensive production,” Fangio said.

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman credits the Pats’ success on the ground to a scheming offense, which at times relies heavily on the no-huddle.

“They do a good job of play-faking off of the same type of run scheme, so we definitely have to have big eyes out there and make you’re seeing everything you need to see to have a good read,” Bowman said.

As for the no-huddle, Bowman said: “It speeds up the pace of the game. You have to really be on it, and be able to think fast out there. Having a good quarterback like Tom Brady, it makes it more difficult. We’ve been gearing up for it, we know that they like to do it, and I think we’ll handle it well.”

The Patriots’ rushers have also done a more-than-admirable job of protecting the football after the handoff. Ridley has lost just one fumble on 243 carries, while wide receiver Julian Edelman also lost one on a rushing attempt. That’s it.

“That’s, to me, one of the amazing things they’re doing well, too,” Fangio said. “They are a high-octane offense yet they haven’t turned the ball over hardly at all this year. When you put those two things together, that’s why they’re a tough assignment.”

Bowman would like to see the 49ers force more turnovers, especially in terms of fumble recoveries. San Francisco has just one of those in its last four games.

In fact, the recently extended linebacker was sporting a new fashion accessory on Thursday, in the form of a wristband. The slogan wrapped around the band had the phrase “To It, See It, Get It.” It, of course, being the football.

According to Bowman, he came up with the phrase with secondary coach Ed Donatell, and the bands will soon be passed out to other members of the defense. They arrived yesterday and are still in a big bag, and only Bowman had one on so far.

“We’ve got to get to it, we’ve got to see it, and we’ve got to get it,” explained Bowman. “We try to pride ourselves on defense with turnovers and going after turnovers, and I think if you do that you give your team a better chance to win the game.”

It won’t be easy, but playing the Patriots rarely is.

NHL Gameday: Sharks go for fifth straight win in only visit to Colorado

NHL Gameday: Sharks go for fifth straight win in only visit to Colorado

Programming note – Sharks-Avalanche coverage starts today at 6:00 p.m. on NBCSN

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 29-16-2, 60 points, 2nd Pacific Division
Avalanche: 13-29-2, 28 points, 7th Central Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***Tonight’s game is the second of a home-and-home for the Sharks and Avalanche, after San Jose’s 3-2 win in overtime at SAP Center on Saturday, and the final game of the season series. David Schlemko got the deciding score 1:18 into the extra frame, as the Sharks improved to 6-1-1 in their last eight against Colorado.

The Sharks have won four straight, while Colorado, just 2-14-1 in its last 17, has lost five in a row. The Avs have not won in regulation since Dec. 11 at Toronto.

***Colorado will reportedly give rookie Spencer Martin his second straight start after he made 27 saves in his NHL debut against the Sharks on Saturday. 

Martin Jones is tied for third in the NHL with 24 wins, and is 5-1-0 in his last six starts.

***Four of the Sharks’ last six games have been decided by one goal, including three in a row. San Jose is 16-10-2 in one-goal games – the second most one-goal wins in the league, and the most one-goal losses in regulation.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Kevin Labanc. The Sharks rookie has hit a bit of a wall since bursting onto the scene, going without a goal for the last 10 games. Coach Pete DeBoer said recently that he had a talk with the rookie about maintaining a high level of play, and Labanc has been more noticeable in his last two games, recording an assist in each. The 21-year-old has 14 points (7g, 7a) in 34 games this season.

Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon. No forward was more effective for Colorado on Saturday against the Sharks than MacKinnon, their lone All-Star, who recorded a game-high seven shots and set up the tying goal in the third period. The first pick in the 2013 draft has 10 points (7g, 3a) in 10 career games when opposing San Jose, and is Colorado’s leading scorer with 32 points (11g, 21a).

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Patrick Marleau – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Joonas Donskoi – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Kevin Labanc – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Timo Meier – Tommy Wingels – Melker Karlsson

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones 
Aaron Dell

Avalanche
Mikko Rantanen – Nathan Mackinnon – Mikhail Grigorenko
Gabriel Landeskog – Matt Duchene – Matt Nieto
Blake Comeau – Carl Soderberg – Jarome Iginla
Andreas Martinsen – John Mitchell – Joe Colborne

Francois Beauchemin – Cody Goloubef
Fedor Tyutin – Nikita Zadorov
Patrick Wiercioch – Eric Gelinas

Spencer Martin (starter)
Calvin Pickard

INJURIES

Sharks: Micheal Haley (lower body), Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist) and Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) are out.

Avalanche: Tyson Barrie (lower body) and Rene Bourque (lower body) are day-to-day. Semyon Varlamov (groin) and Erik Johnson (broken fibula) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“I felt we did a pretty good job in our end, [but] we probably played there a little too much. We didn’t execute as well as we wanted to coming out of our end or through the neutral zone. There’s going to be games like that and it’s good to find a way to win.” – David Schlemko, after Saturday’s win

Three takeaways: Sharks make life easy on Avs rookie goalie

Three takeaways: Sharks make life easy on Avs rookie goalie

SAN JOSE – It took overtime for the Sharks to surpass the worst team in the NHL, but the points are valuable any way they come in the second half. Here are our three takeaways from the 3-2 victory on Saturday night…

1 – Top guys struggle, but depth comes through

It wasn’t a very good night for the captain’s line, which was particularly sloppy on Colorado’s tying goal in the third period. Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic weren’t much better, as the former was caught out of position a couple times, and the latter was tagged with six giveaways.

But those guys have been playing the bulk of the minutes lately, so they’re allowed to have an off night. At least, that’s how Pete DeBoer saw it.

“We've ridden our big guys pretty hard,” DeBoer said. “They played some tough minutes with some of the opponents we played this week, in L.A. and on and on. Tonight's a night you're looking for your depth guys to step up and give you some energy, and I thought we got that."

The Sharks’ fourth line was probably its best from start to finish, including Melker Karlsson’s goal, from Ryan Carpenter.

“[Tomas] Hertl's missed 30 games, so we needed somebody to come in and help us out in that area, and he's done that,” DeBoer said of Carpenter.

2 – Making it too easy on Martin

Spencer Martin was making his NHL debut in difficult circumstances, playing in front of what has been an incredibly loose team in its own end against one of the best teams in the Western Conference. But, the Sharks made it easy on him most of the night.

Avs forward Nathan MacKinnon, who had a tremendous game, told the Denver Post that he thought Colorado was the better team.

“Tonight, we outplayed them,” he said. “We outplayed the team that went to the (Stanley Cup) Finals last year, and there were some bright spots for us. We have to climb out of this hole and have a good last 30, 40 games here and go into next season feeling pretty good about ourselves.”

They’ll get another chance against the Sharks on Monday at Pepsi Center as the teams conclude their two-game season series. San Jose will try and give the Colorado goalie, whoever it is, a more difficult time.

“When we’re on our game, we’re making it tough with grind time and traffic at the net, some chances,” Joe Pavelski said. “Tonight we didn’t have as many as we could have had. We’ll try to find a little bit more for next game.”

Schlemko said: “We just didn’t have as much grind time in the o-zone as we usually do. If you’re not playing in their end you’re usually playing in your end.”

3 – Ward gets another on the power play

Joel Ward’s resurgence continues, as the forward again found a way to contribute on the scoresheet. His first period power play goal was one of the easier scores he’ll have, on a nice setup by Joe Thornton.

“[Thornton] had it behind the net and came around the side, and sent it to me on the far side, so it went in,” Ward said.

The 36-year-old Ward has nine points (3g, 6a) in his last 13 games. To put that in perspective, the last time he was a healthy scratch on Dec. 20, he had just nine points in 31 games on the season.