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Patriots defense can’t let the Texans get up off the mat

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Patriots defense can’t let the Texans get up off the mat

The Patriots defense had a coming out party, of sorts, against the Buccaneers last Sunday.

Holding Tom Brady to just 19 points, with less than 300 yards passing, and no touchdown passes was a step in the right direction.

And yet, it wasn’t perfect.

The unit continues to have issues stopping the run. And, prior to the set of kneel downs by Brady to end the game, the Bucs also produced points on their final three drives with a touchdown and two field goals.

So there’s always work to do for Bill Belichick’s defense.

The good news?

The Texans are on deck, and right now, their offense is a mess. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is on the sidelines hoping to be traded. Starter Tyrod Taylor is on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, and Davis Mills hasn’t provided much in relief. The rookie looked completely overwhelmed and overmatched against Buffalo last week, throwing four picks in the 40-0 slaughter.

No doubt, Belichick will want to have the Patriots continue to torment the young Texans quarterback.

Here’s how the Patriots defense can keep the Texans off the board:

1. Spook Mills 

The Patriots got a bit creative in defending Brady last week. And while they might not need to use all the same bells and whistles to try and unnerve Mills, they’ll still want to use a healthy dose of disguise to keep the rookie’s head spinning.

Mills probably had nightmares all week, after going 11 for 21 for just 87 yards, with four picks.

The former Stanford star, a third-round draft pick, is going through some of the usual growing pains, but it also doesn’t help not having much of a team around him.

Last week, he had minus-23 net yards passing in the first half. His overall passer rating for the three games he’s played is 50.4.

He’s accounted for five of the team’s seven turnovers. At this stage, he’s an interception waiting to happen.

Belichick praised Mills, but wasn’t over the top, which is how he typically responds when asked about the opposing quarterback.

“Pro-style quarterback. I think he’s got a good base,” said Belichick. “Like any rookie quarterback, he’s learning all the time, but I think you see a good talent level and a good ability to make the throws, and I think they’re doing a good job of trying to bring him along.”

It was hard for Belichick to say much more, given Mills has thrown five interceptions, with just two TD passes.

2. Eliminate Cooks

Brandin Cooks is their best receiver, and judging by the stats, the favorite target of Mills.

Through four games, Cooks has 28 catches for 369 yards and one TD. He has 20 more catches than the next closest receiver, which is running back David Johnson, who has eight.

“He’s probably targeted as much as any receiver in the league, and he’s dangerous on everything,” Belichick said of the former Pats receiver. “Obviously, he has tremendous speed. He’s a great deep-ball player. Super competitive. Tough kid … he can turn a 5-yard gain into 20 in a hurry.”

The mission of eliminating Cooks falls on J.C. Jackson, who is now officially the top gun in the Patriots secondary, with Stephon Gilmore not returning after being traded to Carolina on Wednesday.

Last week, Jackson did well marking Bucs top receiver Mike Evans. Cooks is simply the next man up on his dance card. Take him away, and that should go a long way toward stifling Mills and the offense.

“He’s certainly a go-to guy for them in the passing game,” Belichick added about Cooks. “We’ve got to do a good job on him.”

3. Ground the run game

Given the Patriots struggles, the Texans are going to try to run the ball. And they’re going to keep running it, until the Patriots force them to stop.

If the Texans are successful pounding the rock, that would take some pressure off their rookie quarterback. But if the Pats can rise up and clamp down on the Texans running game, that will force Mills to pass more and put him right in their wheelhouse.

Last week, the Bills held the Texans to 48 yards on 18 carries.

Mark Ingram (52 carries, 171 yards) is the top back. David Johnson (16 carries, 67 yards) and Phillip Lindsay (24 carries, 31 yards) are also in the mix, while old friend Rex Burkhead is also a member of the Texans backfield.

Bottom line, if the Patriots want to flummox Mills, they’re going to have to stop the run first.

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Dolphins’ first-round pick pushed further back by 49ers’ win over Cowboys

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Dolphins’ first-round pick pushed further back by 49ers’ win over Cowboys

The Miami Dolphins didn’t play a wild-card round playoff game, but they still found a way to lose over the weekend.

The Dolphins’ first-round draft pick took another blow with the San Francisco 49ers’ upset win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday evening.

Now, Miami will be selecting No. 25, at best, in the draft’s first round after the 49ers advanced to the divisional round of the postseason.

San Francisco now plays at the NFC’s top-seeded Green Bay Packers. With another upset, the pick that goes to the Dolphins falls to 29. A 49ers loss Sunday would’ve likely given Miami the 22nd pick.

The Dolphins own the 49ers’ selection while the Philadelphia Eagles have Miami’s pick due to the two trades the Dolphins pulled off with the NFC teams last offseason ahead of the 2021 NFL draft. Miami traded back to No. 12 with San Francisco, sending the No. 3 pick, which previously belonged to the Houston Texans, to the 49ers. A move up from 12 to 6, where wide receiver Jaylen Waddle was selected, followed and sent the Dolphins’ 2022 first-rounder to Philadelphia.

In the movement, the Dolphins are now selecting at least 10 spots lower than they would be had they traded the 49ers’ pick to the Eagles instead of their own. The Miami selection going to Philadelphia in the upcoming draft is No. 15. The Dolphins also got a 2023 first-round pick from the 49ers in the deal.

San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, who is one of the Dolphins’ seven candidates being interviewed for their head coaching vacancy, could theoretically play a role in negatively affecting his first draft pick as Miami head coach should he be the choice for the job.

The Dolphins appear more likely than they once were to keep their first-round pick after the Saturday news that the franchise plans to continue working with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

The NFL draft is ordered by first having the 18 non-playoff teams pick in reverse order of record, with lower strength of schedule serving as a tiebreaker. Picks 19-24 are then reserved for the wild-card round losers in reverse order of regular-season record. Picks 25-28 go to divisional round losers and so on until the Super Bowl champion picks 32nd.

Bears interested in Dolphins exec

The Chicago Bears are already seeking interviews with ex-Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland and ex-Dolphins coach Brian Flores for their two vacancies in the respective roles.

Now, they have requested permission to interview current Miami executive Reggie McKenzie for the general manager job, according to The MMQB.

McKenzie has been with the Dolphins as senior personnel executive since 2019 after spending the previous seven seasons (2012-18) as the Oakland Raiders’ general manager. In 2016, McKenzie was named the NFL’s Executive of the Year by Sporting News, The MMQB and the PFWA.

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State Fair reports 2021 operating loss, raises admission rates for 2022

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State Fair reports 2021 operating loss, raises admission rates for 2022

Although Minnesotans had to go without their beloved State Fair in 2020, it returned despite numerous pandemic-related obstacles in 2021 to become one of the best-attended North American events of the year, according to Fair officials.

In spite of the comeback, the Fair reported an operating loss of $1.3 million last year, general manager Jerry Hammer told the governing body of the Great Minnesota Get-Together on Sunday. When the Fair was canceled in 2020, the loss was $16.5 million, he said.

The Minnesota State Agricultural Society, which oversees the state’s end-of-summer ritual, held its the 163rd annual meeting in Bloomington over the weekend.

The 2022 State Fair will take place between Aug. 25 and Sept. 5. The new admission prices will be $17 for those 13-64 years old; people 5-12 and 65 and older will pay $15. Those under 4 are admitted for free. The increased price begins Feb. 1. Discount tickets will be on sale for $13 for all ages until Jan. 31 at mnstatefair.org/tickets.

Despite the operating loss, the 2021 Fair drew 1.3 million attendees, Hammer said, adding that pulling off the fair in 2021 amid the ongoing pandemic was “miraculous.”

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Baylor WR, 3-star OL commit to CU Buffs

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CU Buffs football early National Signing Day class of 2022

One of the top receivers for the Big 12 champs is coming to Boulder.

On Sunday, RJ Sneed II announced that he will play his final season of college football at Colorado after spending the previous five years at Baylor.

Also on Sunday, Van Wells, an offensive lineman from C.E. King High School in Houston, announced his verbal commitment to the Buffaloes after spending the weekend in Boulder on an official visit.

Listed at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, Sneed helped Baylor go 12-2 and win the Big 12 championship game, as well as the Sugar Bowl this season. He was second for the Bears in catches (46) and receiving yards (573) and caught two touchdown passes.

During his career, Sneed has 133 catches for 1,564 yards and eight touchdowns. After playing minimally in 2017 and redshirting in 2018, Sneed finished third on the team in receptions (42) and yards (437) in 2019. In 2020, he led the Bears in receptions (39), receiving yards (497) and touchdowns (three) and earned second-team All-Big 12 honors.

A 2017 graduate of Cypress Ranch (Tex.) High School, Sneed was a three-star prospect who had 20 scholarship offers, including from Colorado. He had offers from 17 Power 5 schools, including Alabama, Mississippi, TCU, Arizona State, California, UCLA and Utah.

Sneed graduated from Baylor with a degree in health, kinesiology and leisure studies in August of 2020 and has been working on a master’s in sports pedagogy. He will have one season to play at CU.

With the Buffs, Sneed will provide production and veteran leadership to a group that has lost four players to the transfer portal this offseason: Chris Carpenter, Keith Miller, Brenden Rice and La’Vontae Shenault. Rice has not announced his destination, but Carpenter (UTSA), Miller (Texas A&M-Commerce) and Shenault (Alabama State) have committed to other schools.

Statistically, Rice was the Buffs’ top wide receiver this past season, but the Buffs are slated to return seniors Daniel Arias, Maurice Bell and Jaylon Jackson, junior Dimitri Stanley and sophomores Montana Lemonious-Craig, Chase Penry and Ty Robinson.

Also in the mix will be three incoming freshmen: Grant Page, Chase Sowell and Jordan Tyson.

A three-star prospect, Wells is rated by 247Sports.com as a top-75 interior lineman nationally in the 2022 class. He has 19 total scholarship offers, including from Air Force, Houston and Maryland.

Wells is the third lineman in CU’s class, joining tackles Carter Edwards and Travis Gray.

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