Patriots Continue Prep, Short Return for Jumbo Joe

Just a few more days to go..

Jerome Solomon looks at Tom Brady’s perfection under pressure. Howard Ulman of the AP examines Brady’s chance this weekend for a little payback against Denver, which beat up New England pretty badly in their last meeting. The Broncos are perfect at home this season, and John Tomase examines the challenge facing the Patriots in their effort to break up that perfect run. Chris Kennedy says that the Patriots top mission is going to be to shut down the running game of the Broncos.

Eric McHugh notes that this week provides the stiffest challenge yet for the revamped Patriots defensive secondary. Mark Blaudschun profiles Patriots right tackle Brandon Gorin, who has stepped into the starting lineup after an injury to a starter, just as he did last season. Albert Breer has a bit on Troy Brown, who just does whatever the coaches ask of him, be it on offense or defense. Steve Britt has a piece on tight end Benjamin Watson, who despite essentially being a rookie this season, has become one of the more dynamic tight ends in the game. Tomase notes that Tedy Bruschi was not listed on the injury report at all yesterday.

Steve Buckley says that whatever happens with Eric Mangini and the Jets, the Patriots playoff run will not be distracted. Alan Greenberg has more on the Jets and their interest in the Patriots defensive coordinator. Christopher Price also wonders if Mangini is the next to go. It seems all the New York papers have articles on Mangini today, including an article in the New York Daily News where Ty Law says it would be an injustice if the Jets don’t hire Mangini. Check out the news on the New York Sports Pages.

Solomon’s notebook looks at Tedy Bruschi being left off the injury report entirely yesterday. Kennedy’s notebook has more on Bruschi, who is quite likely to play on Saturday. Tomase’s notebook reports that Mangini will interview on Sunday for the Jets head coaching position. Curran’s notebook confirms that Mangini is the Jets’ top choice to be their next head coach. The Standard Times notebook looks at the meeting of the masterminds on Saturday night. Parente’s notebook says that Mangini’s status won’t be a distraction this week.

Nick Cafardo looks at Denver All Pro Cornerback Champ Bailey, and says that if anyone can foil Tom Brady, it’s Champ. Karen Guregian has a look at Broncos QB Jake Plummer, who knows that the Patriots are likely to have a few tricks up their sleeves for Saturday night, but hopes to be able to react to it in the right way. Tom E Curran looks at Plummer’s attempts to reinvent himself as an elite NFL quarterback after seeming to throw nothing but interceptions for six years in Arizona. Hector Longo looks at 10 Broncos that the Patriots have to look out for on Saturday night if they hope to come out of Denver with a win. Michael Parente notes that beyond having great running backs, the Broncos are a great running team. Christopher Price notes that the Broncos thrive on the big play.

Cafardo’s notebook reports on Denver offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who is likely headed to the Texans as their new head coach as soon as the Broncos’ season ends.

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell looks at Joe Thornton’s return to Boston being cut short after the former Bruins captain was ejected from the game for hitting Hal Gill from behind during a 6-2 Sharks win over the Bruins. Stephen Harris says that in a season filled with them, this was a new low for the Bruins. Joe McDonald has more on Thornton getting tossed early in the contest. Douglas Flynn also looks at Thornton and the Sharks beating up on the Bruins. The Bay Area Sports Pages also have coverage of Bruins/Sharks.

Kevin Paul Dupont says that the hit on Gill was precisely the sort of thing that we never saw from Thornton during his days with the Bruins. Dupont is still highly critical of Thornton, even though he has been gone for six weeks. Harris however, says that Thornton should have never been traded, and that if things weren’t working out here, it was the Bruins job to make them work. Steve Conroy has more on the hit on Gill. Rob Bradford looks at the impact that Thornton has had on San Jose, both on the Sharks and on the city. Mick Colageo writes that it was a short reunion for Thornton and the Bruins last night. Tim Bresnahan says that life after Joe hasn’t been all that bad for the Bruins.

Fluto Shinzawa looks at the spotty Bruins defense, which was giving up “slam dunks” to the Sharks last night. Harris’ notebook has Brian Leetch trying to take the blame for the Bruins shoddy defense last night. Burrell’s notebook says that Gill has no hard feelings toward his former teammate for the hit that took him out the game last night. McDonald’s notebook looks at Tim Thomas getting another chance in goal for the Bruins.

Peter May and Steve Bulpett report on the Celtics 98-94 win in Atlanta over the Hawks last night. It was a much needed win for the Celtics, who did not want to lose to the 9-23 Hawks for the third time this season. A surprise contributor for Boston last night was Brian Scalabrine, who had a huge follow up bucket in the final minute of the game to help the Celtics to the win. Scalabrine played 28 minutes…easily his longest stint of the year for the Celtics. Mike Fine says that the Celtics need to learn how to play the full 48 minutes. Perhaps last night was a step in the right direction as the right plays were made as needed down the stretch. Michael Muldoon looks at the cruel and unusual punishment being handed out to Celtics fans these days.

Bulpett reports that Paul Pierce confirms that he said everything that was in the Lenny Megliola article yesterday, but wanted to make sure that it was known that he also said more than what was published. Pierce tells reporters that his first choice is to be with the Celtics for his whole career. He said as a businessman, he would be open to talking about a trade if the Celtics approached him with one. May’s notebook has more on Pierce keeping his options open for the future. Bulpett’s notebook looks at the little things that make Brian Scalabrine valuable to a team.

Michael Silverman reports on Jim Rice once again falling short in the Hall of Fame balloting. Dan Shaughnessy makes the case for Rice, and believes his best chance will now come on the 2008 ballot. Bill Reynolds believes that Rice sealed his own Hall of Fame fate with his attitude toward reporters. John Molori’s Media Blitz says that if this is truly the case, then the vote should be taken away from media members.

Steve Buckley (subscription only) asserts that the Red Sox have not really done all they can to boost Rice’s case. He says they haven’t celebrated his career, really, and despite the fact that no one has worn #14 since Rice retired, they have not officially retired the number because of a “laughable policy created by the previous ownership and strangely embraced by the new one.” David Borges remembers Rice as the most feared hitter of his time. Tony Massarotti says that the Hall voters failed to send a message to steroid users with their vote.

Gordon Edes and Paul Doyle look at the career of Bruce Sutter, the only player who was elected to the Hall yesterday.

Only college hoops on the TV docket tonight. ESPN has Indiana/Michigan St. at 7:00 and Maryland/Duke at 9:00. ESPN2 has Syracuse/Notre Dame at 7:00, Texas A&M/Oklahoma St at 9:00 and TCU/New Mexico at 11:00. CN8 has UMass/Saint Joseph’s at 8:00.