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.

Sharks need to 'figure it out pretty soon' after another thrashing

Sharks need to 'figure it out pretty soon' after another thrashing

NASHVILLE – Apparently, one wake up call wasn’t good enough for the plummeting San Jose Sharks.
 
Just one day after suffering what was arguably their worst game under coach Pete DeBoer, Nashville put up a touchdown on the Sharks in a 7-2 win, giving San Jose its sixth straight defeat – all in regulation.
 
After getting outscored 13-3 the last two nights, including Friday’s 6-1 loss in Dallas, where do they go from here?
 
“In two years, last year and this year so far, we haven’t had one night like this almost. Now we have back-to-back nights,” Joe Pavelski said. “I think it’s just a reality check. A gut-check time.
 
“It’s on us as players. Bottom line is we haven’t put the effort in that we need to have right now, and it snowballed on us a little bit at times. I think we’ve got to take a deep breath and really take a look in the mirror, refocus a little bit and understand there’s hockey out there, but it’s not going to fix itself.”
 
What has to be fixed immediately is the defensive structure that has been so vital to the Sharks’ success in the Pete DeBoer era. Even when the club was going through stretches of struggling to score, as it was earlier in the season, it was still collecting points in the standings with its ability to limit the opposition’s scoring chances.
 
While the game against the Predators was actually a little better in that regard, believe it or not, it was still nowhere near the level it needs to be for the postseason. Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s absence was partly to blame for that, but the Brent Burns-Paul Martin pair has been a disaster lately. Both have a minus-nine rating during the six-game losing streak, and that number is indicative of how they’ve looked, too.
 
“We’re giving up some goals. It’s a combination of things,” DeBoer said. “Obviously it’s not good enough to win games, so we’ve got to figure it out. I don’t have an answer standing here for you, but I know our group. Every team I’ve ever coached has a tough part of the season. This is obviously ours. We’ll regroup, and figure it out.”
 
Burns, who admitted to a “bad read” on Nashville’s second goal when Roman Josi sped around him, said: “It’s a tough league when you’re not executing little things.”
 
The Sharks actually looked strong early, poised to put the Dallas disaster behind them. The first few shifts, they had the puck in the Nashville end.
 
But Tomas Hertl was outmuscled behind the net by Colin Wilson on Colton Sissons’ goal at 4:14, Burns got beat on the second, and the Sharks never recovered. Patrick Marleau’s second period power play goal offered life, but that was extinguished 24 seconds later when James Neal answered with a power play goal of his own. The Sharks never got closer than two goals after that.
 
“When things are going bad, those are the things that are happening,” Burns said of Neal’s response to Marleau’s marker. “So, you’ve just got work through it."
 
Will they be able to work through it with just seven games left in the regular season, though? That this cold spell is happening in late March doesn’t speak well to the Sharks’ chances in the postseason, which begins in just two-and-a-half weeks.
 
Burns said: “Right now we should be just tightening up everything. … We've got figure it out pretty soon.”

Sharks forward Haley could face supplemental discipline from NHL

Sharks forward Haley could face supplemental discipline from NHL

NASHVILLE – Sharks forward Micheal Haley could be in line for supplemental discipline from the league, after earning a match penalty in the third period of Saturday’s 7-2 loss in Nashville.
 
After absorbing a borderline hit from behind by Calle Jarnkrok, Haley tracked down the Predators forward and promptly delivered a left jab to Jarnkrok’s face at 12:56 of the final frame, with the Sharks trailing 5-2 at the time.
 
Naturally, there were differing opinions from the two head coaches on the play.
 
Pete DeBoer said: “When you run someone from behind in a game like that, you probably deserve to get a punch in the mouth.”
 
Predators coach Peter Laviolette told reporters: "It's an ugly play. This isn't the wild, wild west. I mean, Calle hit him. We took a penalty. If we start doing that, we're in trouble, so hopefully it gets looked at."
 
Any player who earns a match penalty "shall be automatically suspended from further competition until the commissioner has ruled on the issue,” according to league rules.
 
In 54 games this season, Haley has two goals and nine assists for 11 points. His 110 penalty minutes is fifth in the league.
 
Jarnkrok did not return after the punch, but told reporters after the game he felt “OK.”
 
"I feel pretty good," Jarnkrok said. "Obviously, I saw him coming. There were a couple other guys coming, too. I didn't really know what to do. He got in a good punch on me.”