Bills' rush attack highlights sloppy defensive day for Patriots


Bills' rush attack highlights sloppy defensive day for Patriots

After New England narrowly escaped the Bills, 36-31, this weekend, Vince Wilfork said, "The biggest stat is to win."
Well, sure; the bottom line for every team is its record. But all that stood between this team and certain Sunday doom was a Devin McCourty end zone interception with 28 seconds left to play.
It's unlikely anyone in the Patriots locker room thinks Bill Belichick skipped into his office at Gillette Stadium Monday morning.
The coach confirmed as much on his weekly conference call."I think we missed a number of opportunities in every area of the game," he said. "We couldnt get the ball in on the goal line, gave up yardage in the running game and the passing game, had a couple tipped balls that we got away with that were pretty dangerous plays, didnt do well on third down defensively. You can go through the game and pick them out. There were a number of things that we can certainly work harder at to get better."
One weak spot was somewhat surprising: The Patriots run defense.
Going into the weekend, the Patriots had surrendered just 88.6 ground yards per game. They gave up season-high 162 rushing yards to Buffalo. Though the Bills are lucky to tout the likes of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, other talented backs -- Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, Willis McGahee, Marshawn Lynch -- have come and gone without much damage done.
Why the breakdown? And can any problems be solved before San Francisco's rushing attack, the NFL's best at 170.2 yards per game, thunders into town?
Linebacker Jerod Mayo admitted Monday that the win couldn't cover all cracks."Throughout some of the series we had some good plays, some negative plays. We had two or three sacks in the game. Guys were out there playing physical. Those are some of the things that you can take away and build on," he said. "But at the same time its hard to look at those things when you give up 30-something points in a game."
The 31 points, the 337 passing yards allowed to Ryan Fitzpatrick -- defensive shortcomings that nag and frustrate despite the final score. But Belichick was displeased with more than that."Our overall consistency in all three phases of the game There were just a number of things that we didnt do to the level that we want to or need to do them at consistently. We have to find a way to bring that up or eventually its going to cost us. It already has cost us at times this year, but it will cost us again. Were lucky that yesterday we were not really at our best but still able to win and make enough plays to win. Weve also been in a couple games kind of like that that we didnt win."
The 20-18 loss to Arizona in Week 2. The 31-30 loss to Baltimore in Week 4. The 24-23 loss to Seattle in Week 6. All games where victory was within reach. But when the win was left to a last-seconds field goal, the kick was missed; when it came down to the defense holding its ground, it handed the opponent 27 penalty yards on one go-ahead drive, and it yielded a 46-yard game-winning touchdown on another.
Each game is built on many moments, not just these few mentioned. Still, when there comes a deciding moment, a time when New England is presented with an opportunity to close out, Belichick wants his team to be able to reach out and grab it.
"You hate to leave it to come down to one play like that, have a little more control of the game than that. Thats the National Football League, too. There are an awful lot of games that come down to that one possession, one play, whatever it is. The fact that we made it against the Jets or made it against Buffalo or didnt make it against Arizona, thats kind of the nature of the NFL a little bit too."
Complete control may not be possible, but you can bet the Patriots want more than what they've had this season.

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Chris Sale brings with him to Boston some attitude. He also brings a measure of defiance and, perhaps, a little bit of crazy.

All of which the Red Sox starting staff just may need. And if Sale pitches as he has for much of the past five years, he'll probably be celebrated for it.

I still wonder how it will all play here, especially if he underachieves.

What would we do to him locally if he refused to pitch because he didn't like a certain kind of uniform variation the team was going with? What would we say if he not only refused to pitch, but took a knife to his teammates' uniforms and the team had to scrap the promotion? Sale did exactly that in Chicago last year, after which he threw his manager under the bus for not standing by his players and attacked the team for putting business ahead of winning.

All because he didn't want to wear an untucked jersey?

"(The White Sox throwback uniforms) are uncomfortable and unorthodox,'' said Sale at the time. "I didn't want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn't want anything to alter my mechanics. ... There's a lot of different things that went into it.''

Wearing a throwback jersey would alter his mechanics? Was that a joke? It's hard to imagine he would get away with that in Boston.

Ditto for his support of Adam LaRoche and his involvement of that goofy story last March.
LaRoche, you'll remember, retired when the White Sox had the nerve to tell him that his 14-year-old son could not spend as much time around the team as he had grown accustomed to. Sale responded by pitching a fit.

“We got bald-face lied to by someone we’re supposed to be able to trust,'' said Sale of team president Kenny Williams. ``You can’t come tell the players it was the coaches and then tell the coaches it was the players, and then come in and say something completely different. If we’re all here to win a championship, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen.”

On what planet does allowing a 14-year-old kid in a clubhouse have anything to do with winning a title? In what universe does a throwback jersey have anything to do with mechanics? If David Price had said things that stupid last year, he'd still be hearing about it. And it won't be any different for Sale.

Thankfully, Sale's defiance and feistiness extends to the mound. Sale isn't afraid to pitch inside and protect his teammates, leading the American League in hit batsmen each of the last two years. He doesn't back down and loves a fight. And while that makes him sound a little goofy off the field, it should play well on it.

In the meantime, the Sox better hope he likes those red alternate jerseys they wear on Fridays.

E-mail Felger at Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast appears daily on CSN.

Know Thine Enemy: A complete breakdown of the Ravens

Know Thine Enemy: A complete breakdown of the Ravens

After a 3-0 start, the Ravens dropped a 28-27 decision to the Raiders in Baltimore. That started a four-game skid for Baltimore which included back-to-back losses at the Jets and Giants. But they got back on track against the Steelers and have won four out of five with their only being to the Cowboys. It’s hard to get a clean read on who they really are. 

They had narrow, early-season wins over crap teams like Cleveland and Jacksonville. They had a narrow loss to an outstanding Raiders team and were close with the Cowboys but got run over late with Dallas scoring on its last five possessions. They are coming off their most impressive team win, a 38-6 triumph over the Dolphins. 

This game is a big one in the AFC race not just because it’s a divisional leader but also because it will be a common game between the Patriots and Raiders. The Raiders already beat Baltimore. 

The Pats need to keep pace in a tiebreaker they currently trail. Weird schedule quirk? The Ravens have had only one road game that required a long commute since September. That was the game at Dallas. They just played six of their last nine and four of their last five at home.


Ravens 21, Steelers 14
Ravens 28, Browns 7
At Cowboys 27, Ravens 17
Ravens 19, Bengals 14
Ravens 38, Dolphins 6


More than half of Joe Flacco’s 323 completions have gone to three players: tight end Dennis Pitta (61 catches), wide receiver Mike Wallace (57) and wide receiver Steve Smith (54). Those players are 31, 30 and 37 respectively so it’s a veteran group.
Flacco is 114 of 159 (72 percent) with nine touchdowns and three picks in Baltimore’s last four games. He has 15 TDs and 11 picks this season.

The Ravens don’t run it much: 502 pass attempts, 287 rushing attempts. Terrence West and Kenneth Dixon are the lead backs. West has carried more than 15 times in a game on three occasions this season.

Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley has been playing very well as has the rest of the Ravens offensive line in recent weeks. Still, Baltimore is just at 34.1 on third down conversions.


The Ravens have allowed 207 points this season, tied with the Patriots for lowest in the AFC and just behind Seattle (194) overall.
Baltimore’s allowing just 33.3 percent conversions on third down and only 3.4 yards per carry.

Opposing quarterbacks are completing 64.1 percent of their passes and have 21 touchdown passes and 14 picks against the Ravens defense. Ten of the Ravens 14 picks came against the Browns, Jaguars and in last week’s rout of Miami.

"I just think they've got a great team. They've got Tom Brady. They've been the best team in the conference, and it's going to be our toughest challenge of the year." – John Harbaugh, Ravens coach, on Monday night’s matchup