Belichick is seeing secondary gains

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Belichick is seeing secondary gains

Two games ago, the Patriots picked off three Andrew Luck passes and returned two of them for touchdowns.

Last game, safety Steve Gregory snuffed some building Jets momentum by stepping in front of a red-zone throw by Mark Sanchez in the first quarter of the Patriots blowout win.

Opposing wide receivers left desperately and totally alone along the sidelines for 20-something gains are becoming less frequent. Late-arriving defensive backs arriving without brakes and plowing into receivers have become scarce.

The Patriots secondary is making incremental improvement. Just like it did last year. Bill Belichick sees it too.

"I think over the last couple of weeks we've made improvement there," Belichick said on a morning conference call Monday. "Steve (Gregory) coming back, Devin (McCourty) at safety and with (Aqib) Talib and Alfonzo (Dennard) switching sides; with Talib coming (to the team) in the past couple games . . . there's some moving parts there but I think those guys have worked hard to try to improve it and I think there are some positive signs and they need to continue to do that."

Belichick said that, although the Patriots' track record has been to build momentum and efficiency as a season progresses, improvement is not automatic.

"It can increase as the season goes along," Belichick said, speaking of the secondary's intuitiveness and anticipation specifically. "I don't think that's a given or something you can take for granted. The people that are involved in the rotation and the amount of opportunity that they get to practice, prepare, play and communicate together (leads to improvement)."

Belichick cited practice reps as being indispensable to being able to effectively carry out a game-day plan.

"If your scout team gives you a really good look at a play in practice and you get that play in the game it can really build your timing and help your anticipation," Belichick noted. "That can make a difference too. All those little things add up. Where one stops and the other starts, they're all interrelated and all a part of the end-result product. We just try to incrementally (improve) and hope that in the end the product (is effective)."

The Patriots have cycled through a slew of defensive backs this season. Injuries, ineffectiveness and skipping on from ineffective combinations have forced their hand into moving guys around. But it now seems the intangible and invaluable attributes of confidence, aggressiveness and trust are starting to emerge.

"You know how quickly it moves and how fast the game is, especially at that position," said Belichick. "Just a split-second of anticipation or of saved reaction time can make the difference between making a play and giving up a play and those split-seconds are very hard to measure but the difference can be the difference in a game. So if you think that it's improving, I think it should continue to improve, it needs to continue to improve. We've gotta really work hard at it. That's everybody."

Rookie Dak Prescott solid again, Cowboys beat Bears, 31-17

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Rookie Dak Prescott solid again, Cowboys beat Bears, 31-17

ARLINGTON, Texas - Maybe the Cowboys will be OK without quarterback Tony Romo this time. The future of the Dallas running game with Ezekiel Elliott looks pretty good, too.

Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass in fellow rookie Elliott's first 100-yard game, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without the injured Romo over three seasons before the fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott's first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he's up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia's Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals for a rookie in NFL history.

"Dak's handled every opportunity he's had right from the start really, really well," coach Jason Garrett said. "No different tonight."

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offense early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox.

Making his 27th career start for his fourth different team, Hoyer was 30 of 49 for 317 yards - a good portion of that with the game out of each late in the fourth quarter - and threw for two scores to Zach Miller.

"We haven't played a complete game," Fox said. "This week was the reverse of what we've had. We played very poorly in the first half."

Elliott finished with 140 yards on 30 carries, including a 14-yard run when he hurdled safety Chris Prosinski. The Cowboys kept giving him the ball while trying to work the clock with a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter a week after he was benched because of two fumbles in a win over Washington.

"Made a lot of good runs tonight, a lot tough runs, a lot of NFL runs," Garrett said. "He's physically tough. He's mentally tough."

It didn't even bother Prescott that Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith missed just the second game of his six-year career after his back tightened up during the week.

Prescott was 19 of 24 for 248 yards in Dallas' first home win since last year's opener, which was a week before the first of two broken left collarbones that kept Romo out of 12 games last season.

Romo is expected to miss about another month after breaking a bone in his back in the preseason.

Prescott had one of three rushing touchdowns for the Cowboys, who have seven this season after getting eight all of last year, when they finished 4-12.

Because the Bears fell behind again, they couldn't do much with the running game. They had just 15 carries for 73 yards and lost leading rusher Jeremy Langford to an ankle injury in the second half.