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Four thoughts on fast start for Patriots defense

09.13.13 at 1:51 pm ET
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For all the talk about how the New England offense has struggled over the first two games of the season — particularly in the second half of Thursday night’s game against the Jets — the defense has had a very good start to the 2013 season. While the Patriots faced two rookie quarterbacks to start the season, the results have still been impressive. Consider the numbers:

‘€¢ The Patriots have allowed three offensive touchdowns through the first eight quarters of play, and an average of 15.5 points per game. With the understanding that they’ve already played their second game of the season while just about everyone else is waiting to complete Week 2, their average points per game allowed is seventh in the NFL. (By way of comparison, New England yielded an average of 20.7 points per game last year, tied for ninth in the league. In addition, the Patriots had three games last season when they allowed one touchdown or less — the season opener against the Titans on Sept. 9, a 34-13 blowout, as well as the 45-7 victory against the Rams on Oct. 28 and the 28-0 shutout of the Dolphins on Dec. 30.) In addition, New England has held the Jets and Bills to a 32.3 conversion rate (10-for-31) when it comes to third down. (Last year, that rate was 40 percent for the season.)

‘€¢ The New England secondary has done an excellent job when it comes to forcing turnovers. The Patriots have forced six turnovers through the first two games — cornerback Aqib Talib has a pair of interceptions and a forced fumble, cornerback Kyle Arrington has a pair of forced fumbles, and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard has a pick of his own. As a result (and thanks to some good field position when it comes to punt returns), the Patriots offense has had astoundingly good field position through the first two games. Thursday against the Jets, New England had an average starting field position of its own 38-yard line, and in the season opener, the Patriots had an average starting field position of the 31.

‘€¢ One of the reasons the Patriots defensive backs have done such a good job over the first two games could be because they’ve been together on the field for a healthy number of snaps over that stretch. The Patriots utilized a 4-2-5 look for 59 of their 64 defensive snaps in the opener against the Bills, and were in nickel for 33 of 71 defensive snaps against the Jets. According to Pro Football Focus, Talib and Devin McCourty were on the field wire to wire against the Jets, while McCourty, Talib, Arrington and safety Steve Gregory were all on the field for the duration of the opener against the Bills. At first glance, it appeared that the odd man out defensively when New England favors nickel is linebacker Brandon Spikes — he played 16 of a possible 64 defensive snaps in the opener, and 31 of a possible 74 defensive snaps against the Jets. Not sure what this means for his season going forward, but the play time certainly bears watching.

‘€¢ One wrinkle New England has tossed into the mix over the first two games is the decision to occasionally kick Chandler Jones inside from defensive end to defensive tackle, and while the Patriots have been judicious in their use of Jones on the inside, it seems like good things happen just about every time he’s inside head up against a guard. In the opener against the Bills, he was there a half-dozen times and was able to effectively cave in the middle of Buffalo’s offensive front. And on Thursday against the Jets, Jones was inside for 18 (10 in the first half, eight in the second half) of a possible 64 defensive snaps and caused plenty of havoc. He got both of his sacks Thursday when coming up the gut,and was so effective that it appears likely the Patriots will continue to utilize him in a similar role going forward. (One of the reasons New England was so successful with that look was that rookie Michael Buchanan did a nice job holding up on the edge when Jones kicked inside. Per PFF, the Illinois product played 16 snaps at defensive end, and while he wasn’t totally overwhelming, did well when working in tandem with Jones.)

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Peter King on M&M: ‘Lucky’ Patriots benefit from ‘very advantageous schedule early’

09.13.13 at 1:12 pm ET
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Sports Illustrated’s Peter King joined Mut & Merloni on Friday to talk about the Patriots’ ugly 13-10 victory over the Jets on Thursday night.

Said King: “As far as lucky schedules in NFL history, to open with two rookie quarterbacks, one of them on a short week, and then follow that with a long week and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home, I don’t know what lucky star Robert Kraft‘s been under, but he used it. He used a few of his nine lives this week, to mix metaphors there. The Patriots are lucky that they have a very advantageous schedule early. They’ll pay for it a little bit later. I think they have Atlanta, Cincinnati, New Orleans in the three after that, so that’s not going to be very easy.

“Last year I remember when [Cardinals quarterback] Kevin Kolb went into Foxboro and beat Tom Brady, and everybody is thinking, ‘Is this is for the Patriots? They finally have reached the nadir.’ To me, I kind of look at that and I say you’re never going to be the same in September and December. Tom Brady has a chance to see that Kenbrell Thompkins can turn the right way on a pass route, that Aaron Dobson gets the point about if he’s going to run a 12-yard curl it’s got to be 12 and not 11½ or 13. I’m sure those are the problems that are happening right now.

“You just have to go by history. And there’s two things in the Patriots’ favor. Number one, [Bill] Belichick and Brady have been a winning combination over the last 12 seasons. And two, the AFC East, as usual, stinks. And it stinks out loud, so that’s what they’re fortunate to be in with. And they’re fortunate that the best of the three teams, Miami, they don’t have to play right now. Because their pass rush would really kind of get to Brady and really hurt them.”

Wide receiver Danny Amendola, coming off a gutsy performance in Sunday’s opening victory over the Bills as he played through a groin injury, missed Thursday’s game. That has led to renewed criticism of the Patriots for allowing the durable Wes Welker to leave as a free agent and sign with the Broncos.

“This was a bad decision on the Patriots’ part to let Wes Welker go. It was in March, it is in September,” King said. “Wes Welker games missed since the start of 2011: zero. Danny Amendola: 21 and counting. Part of being a good player is showing up and being there, we all know that. ‘€¦

“[Amendola] turned in one of the great, Audie Murphy performances on Sunday. When he starts grabbing his upper leg in the end zone in Buffalo the other day, in the second quarter, I said, ‘Well, that’s it, he’s gone for six weeks.’ And he shows up in the second half and I think catches seven balls. Just a fantastic, very courageous performance by Amendola. But the human body can only take so much. And Amendola is evidently one of those guys whose body fights back, because it certainly has in the last three or four years.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Danny Amendola, Geno Smith, Marck Sanchez

Tom Brady: ‘It just doesn’t magically come together’

09.13.13 at 2:46 am ET
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FOXBORO — Tom Brady hasn’t often been through the kind of night he endured Thursday night and still won the game.

The 2011 AFC championship comes to mind. But this Patriots team is a long ways from that, and Brady knows it. The Patriots quarterback was 19-of-39 for just 185 yards and did throw a touchdown pass that extended his streak of games with a touchdown pass to 50. The Patriots beat the Jets, 13-10, in a game their quarterback was just 4-of-18 on third down conversions.

And Brady clearly was not on the same page with most of his receivers, including rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins.

“I’m glad we won, but we just obviously have a lot of room for improvement,” Brady said. “We need to try to get back to work and see if we can do better next week.

“We have to evaluate and try to get it right. It just doesn’t magically come together. You have to work hard at it and you have to concentrate. All of us have to do a better job at that. The passing game is all about anticipation. They have to anticipate what I’€™m going to do and I have to anticipate what they’re going to do. We can do a better job of that. I think it’€™s unrealistic for them to feel like they can do it like 10-year veterans. It’€™s not what they are, but they’€™re trying hard and they work really hard and they have a lot of skill and they’re great kids. We’€™ve just got to keep battling.”

A very somber Brady was almost apologetic about his sideline bursts throughout the game.

“I think I have to do a better job with my body language,” Brady said. “I definitely can improve that. I wouldn’€™t say it’s a real strong point of mine right now. We’ll just try to keep doing better. That’s what we’€™ve got to do.

“I think everybody was [upset], when you don’€™t execute the way that you’re capable. We just have to keep fighting.”

His message to the young receiving corps?

“Well, we have a long way to go,” Brady said. “No one’€™s coming to rescue and save the day, so we’€™ve just got to fight through it and have got to work harder and do better and try to be more consistent. Hopefully we can score more points.

Brady’s brightest spot on the night was his connection with Julian Edelman, 13 catches on 18 targets.

“He did a great job,” Brady said. “He caught the ball, caught it in traffic. He really did a great job of really being dependable out there. Everyone is trying to do it; we’re all working at it. It just takes a little bit of time. I’m glad we won in a situation like this. It’€™s a good defense and they challenge you. We just didn’€™t execute as well as we are capable.”

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Read More: New England Patriots, New York Jets, nfl, Tom Brady

Patriots secondary rises to occasion, forces four Jets turnovers

09.13.13 at 2:31 am ET
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FOXBORO — With the Patriots offense having one of its worst games since 2009, the defense needed to pick up the slack in the second game of the season. That is just what it did, forcing four turnovers in the Patriots’€™ 13-10 win over the Jets on a warm, humid and wet night at Gillette Stadium in the home opener.

The secondary in particular stepped up in the fourth quarter, intercepting Jets quarterback Geno Smith three times with the Jets threatening to tie or take the lead, including ending three of the final four Jets drives with picks.

‘€œI thought we did a good job, especially out there on defense, coming up with huge turnovers, especially off a short week,’€ cornerback Kyle Arrington said. ‘€œBut in the fourth quarter and a tight game on the line, it was terrific and we’€™re happy with the outcome.’€

Leading the way was cornerback Aqib Talib, who was in on three of the four turnovers, including intercepting Smith twice in the fourth quarter, one with 48 seconds remaining in the game to clinch the win for the Patriots. The first one in the quarter came at the Patriots’€™ 27-yard line when the Jets were in a good position to either tie or take the lead, but following an Arrington tip, Talib was able to haul it in, abruptly ending the scoring threat. Talib also forced a fumble of Jets receiver Stephen Hill to give the Patriots the ball at the Jets’€™ 11-yard line setting up a field goal in the opening quarter.

‘€œYeah, and that’€™s big,’€ safety Devin McCourty said when asked about the defense’€™s ability to make timely plays. ‘€œWe’€™ve made winning plays, and we have to continue to do that. When we went out on the field for the last drive, all we kept saying was, it didn’€™t matter what we had done throughout the game, it was all about getting one last stop. Aqib [Talib] made a great play to finish the game off, so we just have to keep stepping up each week.’€

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Read More: Alfonso Dennard, Aqib Talib, Bill Belichick, Devin McCourty

Willie Colon on his fight with Patriots: ‘I was tired of losing’

09.13.13 at 2:28 am ET
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FOXBORO — It wouldn’€™t be a Patriots-Jets game if there wasn’€™t a little tension between the two teams.

While it was a relatively uneventful week, which carried over into a very sloppy, poorly played game, tempers did flare in the closing minute of the Patriots’€™ 13-10 win.

With 48 seconds left in the game and the Jets attempting to drive down the field, Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib intercepted Jets quarterback Geno Smith at the New York 46-yard line, for his second interception of the game, sealing the win for the Patriots. Following the interception, Jets lineman Nick Mangold dove at the cornerback’€™s legs when Talib didn’€™t just take a knee and was dancing up the sideline. The Patriots sideline took exception, and the two teams came together, exchanging words and, in the case of two Jets players, more than words.

“I didn’€™t do anything, I made the tackle,” Mangold said. “He was along the sideline. I obviously could not play defense in this league because I thought he was still in bounds, so I tried to make a tackle.’€

Fellow offensive linemen D’€™Brickashaw Ferguson and Willie Colon were ejected for throwing punches and in the case of Colon, striking an official in the melee. Following the game both players could not recall the particulars of what took place.

‘€œI don’€™t really remember the details of what happened,’€ said Ferguson, the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft, said. ‘€œAt the end of the day I was ejected and like I said, just a lot of frustration today and we didn’€™t have the result we were looking for.’€

Like Ferguson, Colon, in his eighth season in the league, couldn’€™t recall the details of the scrum, just that he was stepping in to protect one of his players.

‘€œI was tired of losing, and we just can’€™t have it,’€ he said. ‘€œI saw [Nick Bellore] in there and a lot of guys running. I was trying to get in there and help my brother, and that is why I reacted the way I reacted.’€

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Read More: Aqib Talib, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Geno Smith, Jets

Mike Petraglia and Chris Price break down Patriots’ survival of Jets

09.13.13 at 1:48 am ET
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Read More: Chris Price, Mike Petraglia, New England Patriots, New York Jets

Julian Edelman: ‘I tried to get open every play’

09.13.13 at 1:00 am ET
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FOXBORO — What made Julian Edelman‘s night so remarkable wasn’t the career high 13 catches on 18 targets or his 78 yards receiving. It was the fact that he did it all when there were no other viable options for Tom Brady.

With Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Shane Vereen and Zach Sudfeld all sidelined, the load fell on Edelman and he responded.

‘€œI just prepared like I do every week,” Edelman said. “I tried to get open every play, and Tom found me.’€

Edelman was a lone bright spot on a night when the Patriots were 4-of-18 on third down. Edelman converted three of those four by himself.

‘€œI’€™m sure our offense wasn’€™t giving up. We were trying to move the ball,” Edelman said. “Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the other team. They did some good things. But, our defense made some big plays, and we came out with the win.’€

The Patriots did move the chain at key moments of the fourth quarter, eating up just enough time and giving the defense just enough of a breather to come up with game-saving plays.

‘€œIt was obviously very important,” Edelman said. “We played complementary football. The defense played a hell of a game, came up with some big plays, so hats off to them. We’€™re going to go in, watch some of this film and fix the corrections so we can get better.’€

Did he sense he was Tom’s go-to guy?

‘€œI wasn’€™t even thinking about that,” Edelman said. “Like I said, you’€™re just thinking about beating your guy, getting open and catching the ball.

‘€œAny time you can go out and get a divisional win, start out 2-0, and [get] a home opener win it’€™s a good thing.’€

Read More: Julian Edelman, New England Patriots, New York Jets, nfl
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