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Josh McDaniels talks about missed opportunities and offensive rhythm

10.22.12 at 7:11 pm ET
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Despite the fact that the Patriots picked up the 29-26 win over the Jets on Sunday, there were several missed opportunities for the offense, which didn’t capitalize on many New York mistakes — particularly early on — that could have potentially put the game away.

In the second quarter, the Jets had a safety, an ill-timed penalty that gave the ball back to New England following a Patriots’ punt and a turnover (a pick by rookie Alfonzo Dennard on a horribly thrown ball by Mark Sanchez), but could still only manage a six-point halftime lead.

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels talked about the missed opportunities with the media on Monday afternoon, saying New England has to do a better job taking advantage of those situations.

“We had some missed opportunities,” McDaniels said on a conference call with reporters. “We had some errors that we can correct and fix and that we need to, so we can continue to keep drives alive and be more productive during the entire course of the game. I think that’€™s a good thing for our team to see and we did enough things situationally right to be there and to have an opportunity to win it in overtime. At the same time, there’€™s plenty of room for us to get better and that’€™s all of us — coaches, players — and I think our guys will respond to that.”

McDaniels also addressed the second-half slowdowns that have plagued the New England offense through much of the first half of the season. While the Patriots were able to put together a sharp drive late in the game to force overtime, there were still large stretches in the third and fourth quarter where New England was unable to develop much of an offensive rhythm

“It’€™s never really one thing,” McDaniels said. “I think yesterday we had the offensive pass interference call there, I believe on our first play when we got the ball back with maybe five and a half minutes to go. That put us in a situation where ‘€“ anytime it’€™s first-and-20, those aren’€™t easy situations to overcome against a defense that plays the way the Jets do.

“I think no matter what we choose to do, what mode we’€™re in, whether we’€™re using our up-tempo, whether we’€™re huddling, whether we’€™re trying to run the football, throw it, I think it really comes down to trying to make the best call we can and hopefully putting the players in the right situation to be successful and going out and executing in those pressure situations, which is really what it is.”

Here are some more highlights of McDaniels’ Q&A with reporters:
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Bill Belichick praises Rob Ninkovich for his strip sack against the Jets on Sunday

10.22.12 at 6:27 pm ET
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On Monday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick gave kudos to Rob Ninkovich for his play at the end of overtime against the Jets when the defensive end/linebacker was not only able to sack New York quarterback Mark Sanchez, but he knocked the ball loose and recovered the fumble, ending the game.

“It’€™s something that we talk about and work on every week and talk to the players and their awareness about — not just hitting the quarterback, but having an awareness of the ball,” Belichick said on a conference call with the media on Monday afternoon. “We’€™ve seen Rob do that several times already this year. We saw it in the Buffalo game and we saw it in the Denver game and we saw in the Jets game.

“It’€™s not just sacking the quarterback, but as you go to tackle him that you have an awareness of where the ball is,” Belichick added. “As you go to make the tackle, if you can hit the ball or put pressure on the ball. As a quarterback, when you grip the ball, you don’€™t really have it secured like a running back does, when he covers the nose of the ball and has three points of contact between his rib cage, his elbow and the nose of the ball. It’€™s much harder to dislodge the ball when it’€™s there than when it’€™s in the quarterback’€™s grip.”

It was already the fourth forced fumble of the season for Ninkovich — only linebacker Mike Vrabel has had more forced fumbles in a season (five in 2007) in the last 20 years for the Patriots.

“Rob has done that on numerous occasions, including last year as well,” Belichick said of Ninkovich, who split the sack with Jermaine Cunningham. “He has a good feel for that. It’€™s just an instinctive play that we coach and we talk about, but every play like that is different.

“It’€™s really the player’€™s awareness — in this case Rob’€™s awareness — that made it a game-changing play. Not only did he finish the tackle; he had that awareness of the ball being down to his left side and was able to knock it out and once he knew the ball was out then he instinctively rolled over Mark [Sanchez] and just came up and recovered it. It’€™s a heads up play by Rob that we’€™ve worked hard on it and Rob has really had several opportunities to do this year and he’€™s done it well in all of them.”

Here are some other highlight’s of Belichick’s Q&A with the media Monday afternoon:

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Deion Branch on M&M: ‘We’ve got to get it straightened out’

10.22.12 at 12:30 pm ET
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Patriots receiver Deion Branch joined Mut & Merloni with Troy Brown Monday morning to discuss the Patriots’ victory over the Jets on Sunday. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Sunday marked another shaky fourth quarter for this Patriots team, although it ended with an overtime victory.

“We just didn’t play a complete game,” Branch said. “And this is what’s been going on. We’ve got to get it straightened out.”

Branch said that the important thing is that the Patriots got the win, although clearly there is a lot of room for improvement.

‘€œThis is the NFL, man. Regardless of how you win, we’ll take the ‘W,’ ‘€ Branch said. ‘€œBut we all know there are some things that we’ve got to tighten up. We know we haven’t played our best football. And we’re still hanging in there, pulling out the games. This isn’t a position we want to be in. But we want to make sure we are peaking at the right time.”

Asked what the Patriots are doing to improve, Branch said: ‘€œOverall, we are working on a lot of different things. We are trying to get better.  That’€™s one thing we are trying to do. That’€™s the flow of the game. Most importantly, converting on third down when we need to. ‘€¦ Overall, we’€™re trying. We’ve got to remember, every week we are getting every team’€™s best. Unfortunately, that’€™s how it’€™s supposed to be.’€

Branch broke down the Patriots’ performance Sunday and said the team needs to perform well throughout the game to avoid the need for last-minute drives.

‘€œIt’€™s a combination of everything,’€ Branch said. ‘€œWhat we’ve got to realize as well, if we take care of business in the early part of the game, we wouldn’€™t put ourselves in those positions. We come out and play the first half and it was pretty good. Third quarter, kind of hit a stalemate. It kind of put us in that position that we were in. We had plenty of opportunities in the game to kind of put that team away and we didn’€™t. ‘€¦ We put ourselves in a position where our backs were against the wall and we put our best football out on the field to drive down and get the field goal and tie the game.’€

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Rob Ninkovich: I’m just trying to make ‘big-time plays in big-time games’

10.22.12 at 9:53 am ET
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FOXBORO — Brandon Spikes is the biggest hitter on the team. Rookie Chandler Jones might be the best pure pass rusher on the team. And Vince Wilfork is one of the best pure nose tackles in the game.

But right now, Rob Ninkovich is the biggest big-play maker on the Patriots defense. And the secondary can thank its lucky stars for him.

Ninkovich helped seal the win against Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Oct. 7 with a strip-sack late. He proved his worth again on Sunday, breaking through the Jets offensive line and — with a little help from Jermaine Cunningham — stripping Mark Sanchez of the ball in overtime and recovering the fumble that ended the Patriots’ 29-26 overtime win over the Jets.

“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games,” Ninkovich said. “So, I’m just trying to do that.”

It was a walk-off win for Ninkovich and the Pats.

With the Patriots up in overtime by three and the Jets getting one more chance to tie or win, the defense needed to step up and not allow a game-winning touchdown drive.

The Patriots secondary had just allowed a 17-yard completion to Jeremy Kerley to the Jets’ 40. After Joe McKnight ran up the middle for no gain, Sanchez dropped back deep and looked to pass. Cunningham broke through and got Sanchez’ legs low while Ninkovich saw that the Jets QB was vulnerable.

“It was just an edge rush,” Ninkovich said. “Jermaine Cunningham did a great job of getting inside on the guard, shortening that corner for me. I was able to get around the guy and I saw Jermaine on his legs, trying to get him down, and [Sanchez] tried to throw it so I just got the ball, knocked him down and pick up the ball and finish the game. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jermaine Cunningham, Mark Sanchez, New England Patriots

Devin McCourty: The 104-yard TD return ‘what a special teams coach would love to see’

10.22.12 at 2:01 am ET
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FOXBORO — It was the best of times and the worst of times for Devin McCourty and Scott O’Brien on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

In the first quarter of New England’s 29-26 overtime win against the Jets, McCourty took a kickoff four yards deep in the end zone and returned it 104 yards for a touchdown that tied the game, 7-7, and gave the Patriots new energy.

“It was a kind of what a special teams coach would love to see, ran the ball, made one cut and everyone else got blocked except the kicker,” said McCourty, who deked Jets kicker Nick Folk on his way to paydirt. “When your kickoff return team does that, block everyone except for one guy, as a returner, you’ve got to score right there.”

Then came the nightmare for McCourty and special teams coach O’Brien.

McCourty took a hit from Lex Hilliard at the Patriots 15 and fumbled, with Hillard recovering at the Patriots 18 after the Jets had tied the game, 23-23. The Jets did not take full advantage and converted only a field goal with 1:37 left to take a 26-23 lead.

“My teammates saved my life today,” McCourty said. “A bad mistake in the fourth quarter that I just have to do a better job of holding the ball. This was just a total team win. We just kept fighting. Things didn’t go our way the whole game today. We made enough plays when we needed to for the win.”

McCourty was rescued when Stephen Gostkowski hit a game-tying 43-yard field goal at the end of regulation to force overtime and a 48-yarder in overtime to provide the margin of victory.

“That’s not something that I think I should do and plan on doing so just paying more attention and securing the ball better. I can’t let those other 10 guys down that are working hard to make some tough blocks out there. Whether it’s a score or not, I just can’t let the ball go.”

Read More: Devin McCourty, lex hilliard, New England Patriots, New York Jets

Vince Wilfork: Defense ‘understood we had to get after it nonstop’

10.22.12 at 12:24 am ET
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FOXBORO — After Rob Ninkovich forced and recovered the game-winning fumble in overtime against the Jets at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork laid down on the field, resting out his exhaustion from the physical battle with the divisional opponent.

The rest of that defensive unit celebrated on the field, and was quickly joined by the rest of the team, while Wilfork took his time standing back up.

Wilfork said in his post-game press conference that he was just tired ‘€“ nothing injury related ‘€“ but had to keep going on what proved to be the final play for the sake of the pass rush, which Bill Belichick emphasized to his defensive unit as the overtime period started.

Belichick’€™s words rang through the defensive front seven’€™s minds, and ended up being the deciding factor in tonight’€™s victory.

‘€œBill [Belichick] in overtime came to us and said ‘€˜We’re going to need the rush. We’€™re going to need the rush.’€™ And I think everybody on that defensive line, or whoever was a part of our pass rushing unit, I think we all understood that we had to get after it nonstop,’€ Wilfork said. ‘€œI was doubled on that play, but I just tried to keep the wheels turning, just in the back of my mind knowing how important it was to get out and get off the field and try to win this ball game. Because our offense put us in a good spot, going down, kicking the field goal and putting us ahead. We knew if we got a stop, the game would be over. And I think the guys responded well.’€

While the pass rush for New England was evident, at least for the most crucial point in the contest, the pass defense didn’€™t exactly shine.

The Patriots secondary gave up six plays to the Jets that went for 20 or more yards. Second-year receiver Jeremy Kerley accounted for three of them off passes from Mark Sanchez. It’€™s a glaring weakness on the stat sheet, but Wilfork remarked that at the end of the day, a win is a win.

‘€œYou know what? We really don’€™t pay any attention, to be honest with you,’€ Wilfork said. ‘€œFor the most part, I think our guys came to work. They understood. We got a lot of holding penalties, but what that tells me is they were getting their hands on the receivers; they were trying to be physical with the receivers.

‘€œYou can always look at film and play better technique, but I was proud to actually see these guys get their hands on balls, get their hands on the receivers, make a few plays in a critical situations. It never was perfect; you never play a perfect football game, but at the end of the day, we made more plays to win the ball game and that’€™s the only thing that matters right now.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Vince Wilfork

Tom Brady on whether this Patriots offense has an identity

10.21.12 at 10:15 pm ET
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FOXBORO — People were beginning to wonder whether or not Tom Brady still had the ‘€œclutch gene.”

The Patriots and their veteran quarterback this season have either been comfortably ahead of opponents entering the final few minutes or have struggled to hold a lead and found it necessary to fight for survival.

Brady’€™s critics were silenced for the time being on Sunday night, as the Brady of old led a 12-play, 54-yard drive that set up the game-tying field goal at Gillette Stadium Sunday in what would become a win over the Jets.

Shaking off Week 2 memories of a missed potential game-winner was Stephen Gostkowski, who hit a 48-yard field goal to put the Patriots ahead in overtime. New England’€™s defense forced a fumble on the Jets’€™ rebuttal, and The Patriots climbed back above .500 with the 29-26 victory.

After the game, Brady said that he hadn’€™t paid much attention to those questions being asked about his whether or not he could still lead a game-winning drive.

‘€œI haven’€™t turned the TV on in a week, so I don’€™t know what anyone said,’€ Brady said. ‘€œBut it was good to win that game. It was a tough game. It always is against the Jets. It’s nice to pull out a close one, so I’€™m glad we did that today.’€

He said that the offense executed better on the last two drives, which ended in the game-tying and game-winning fields goals. The two prior drives ended in punts after six and three plays, respectively.

‘€œIt really wasn’€™t our best day of execution in terms of assignments — we have to nail those things down,’€ he said. ‘€œA lot of those inconsistencies, you don’€™t score points, and we didn’€™t score as many as we needed to. And those last couple of drives, we moved the ball better. I wouldn’€™t say they were great drives, but they were good enough.’€

Good enough for the win was good enough for Brady, who admits it’€™s tough to say what the identity of this offense is yet. But that isn’€™t necessarily a bad thing, and depending on the week, as Brady said, an offense’€™s identity could change drastically.

‘€œI think you continue to go do the things you’re doing well,’€ Brady said. ‘€œYou’€™d love to figure those things out in spring camps, but it really doesn’t play that way. You have some teams that you play and situations that you face and players that are healthy or not healthy, and schemes that you run. And you boil it down to what you’re good at. It’s only October.’€

Read More: New England Patriots, New York Jets, Stephen Gostkowski, Tom Brady
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