Curran: Patriots show signs of hope on defense

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Curran: Patriots show signs of hope on defense

FOXBORO Two games ago the Patriots threw a blanket over the St. Louis Rams offense, allowing seven points in Wembley Stadium in a 38-point blowout win.

A glimmer of hope? No. Just headlights from a freight train in a tunnel. The Bills came into Foxboro last week and smashed the notion the Patriots defense was all fixed by putting up 31 points and 481 yards of offense in a too-close-for-comfort, 37-31 loss to the Patriots.

Thats worth remembering in the wake of the Patriots electric effort against Indy and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck on Sunday. After a flat start, the Patriots defense made it hard for Luck, forcing four turnovers, returning two Luck throws for touchdowns and allowing just a field goal as a 14-7 deficit at the end of one turned into a 45-17 advantage by the end of the third.

All fixed? Probably not. Better. No doubt.

After weeks of passive defense in the secondary where receivers would wind up uncovered and DBs would look at each other with upturned hands as if to say, I thought you had him there were no occasions of Colts receivers running free.

And, of the 27 passes Luck completed (21 after the first quarter), the vast majority were on tight fits. The Patriots played faster and with more confidence than they have all season.

Obviously, weve been catching a little criticism but we know the type of players we have on the back end and what were capable of and I think today showed a little bit of that, said safety Steve Gregory. "But the thing for us is being consistent and thats what we have to focus on. We have to get in there and correct things. Theres some things we didnt do that well and in a game like this, sometimes things go unnoticed. We have to go in, get those things corrected and be consistently that way every week. Play like this every week. And thats what were going to focus on.

The presence of Aqib Talib and his aggressive style seemed to rub off on the rest of the secondary. Talib gave up his share two touchdowns went to his man but the Patriots seemed comfortable having a cover corner they could move around and get innovative with. And the safety play so horrid in terms of support picked up as well.

Aggression and confidence seemed to carry the day in the secondary.

Playing fast comes with experience, said Gregory. Obviously we have some young guys out there but you have to find a way to play free and fast within the scheme of the defense. You cant go beyond yourself and leave an area open where thats your responsibility. Its about picking and choosing and knowing those times when you can go beyond and do a little bit more. For us today, we did a great job of that. We made a lot of plays and you see the results.

With Talib starting at one corner and Alfonzo Dennard on the other side after Kyle Arrington picked up a 40-yard pass interference on the opening Colts drive, the Patriots suddenly have two players on the outside who are known for their coverage ability, not their versatility. And thats a good thing. Theres confidence on the outside with those two and communication continues to improve.

We had a good week of practice, said Talib. We put a lot of emphasis on that in practice - communication and playing fast. We coulda did better today. We gave up some stuff. We felt good today but it can be better.

It already is better than it was.

I think we settled in, said Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich. Obviously they gave us their best shot early. Everything they were doing, they game plan just like we do. You dont want to give up those drives, especially the first drive, you want to get the offense the ball. So its just another one of those, Hey, lets watch the tape and see the things we werent doing correctly. I was happy that we were able to settle down and stop them there towards the end and then we were able to just kind of keep rolling on that momentum there.

The first Colts drive ended with T.Y. Hilton scoring on an in-cut at the back of the end zone with Talib in coverage.

On the short one, I just got undercut at the goal line, Talib explained. I didnt play good technique. I let him widen me and then cut back inside.

As for the second touchdown Talib allowed a 43-yarder to Hilton - Talib said, I didnt have my eyes in the right spot. My eyes were exactly where they shouldnt be, on the quarterback, so I watched him throw a touchdown on me, thats what I did, so Just gotta get a lot better.

Hes a cog in a broken machine. Hes not enough to fix the Patriots secondary all alone. But his presence Sunday made the whole operation more smooth. And with the calendar soon to flip to December, its not a minute too soon if youre a Patriots fan.

Freeney, who expressed interest in joining Pats, taking physical for Bengals

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Freeney, who expressed interest in joining Pats, taking physical for Bengals

Dwight Freeney, who expressed a modicum of interest last week in joining the Patriots, is being checked out on Wednesday by the Cincinnati Bengals.

The 36-year-old pass rusher, who had an eight-sack season with the Cardinals last year, is in Cincy for a physical, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter

The Patriots kicked the tires on Freeney back in 2013 before Freeney spent two seasons with the Chargers. He was with Arizona for just one season and has expressed that his first choice is to return to the Cardinals. 

Felger: Bottom's always up with Bruins

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Felger: Bottom's always up with Bruins

Peter Chiarelli may be long gone from Causeway Street, but his spirit lives on. 

If someone can explain to me the Bruins' fascination with bottom-of-the-roster veterans with average talent, then I'd love to hear it. I used to think it was the problem of Chiarelli, the B's former general manager. But now I have to wonder if it's just in the water down there. And current GM Don Sweeney is chugging it.

I have no other explanation for the team's decision to sign defenseman Kevan Miller to a four-year (four!) extension worth $10 million yesterday. Miller is a nice role piece. But how that translates to four guaranteed years when he will turn 29 early next season and the Bruins have massive holes throughout their roster is beyond me. 

What's more, the B's already have nearly the identical player in Adam McQuaid, who is roughly the same age, same size, same shot (right), same injury history (poor) and plays the same role (bottom pairing, right side). McQuaid is a little less skilled than Miller, so of course, using Bruins logic, he makes a little more ($2.75 million). But McQuaid also got four years when he re-signed prior to last season.

Certainly, contracts worth $2-3 million annually aren't going to ruin your cap in a vacuum. But start adding them up you see how the Bruins got into trouble in the first place. Combine McQuaid and Miller's hits and you have $5.25 million of valuable space chewed up against the cap. Basically, that's the price of a solid, top-4 defenseman, which the Bruins need ten times more than a depth piece.

Scary. The Bruins currently don't have a No. 1 or a No. 2 defensemen. (Sorry, Bruins writers, Zdeno Chara belongs on a second pairing right now.) Yet they have decided to lock themselves up with a pair of No. 6 guys who basically duplicate each other. Again, why do the B's continue to overpay the bottom of the depth chart when the top is so lousy?

It's one thing for Chiarelli to overcommit to the likes of Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, Dan Paille, Greg Campbell, Dennis Seidenberg, etc. Those guys at least helped you win a Cup and get to another final. From an emotional standpoint, you can explain those mistakes. But Miller? He's been a part of one of the worst defense corps in the league the last few years. He's been on a team that has failed to make the playoffs two consecutive seasons. How do you fall in love with that guy?

Please don't tell me that Miller would have gotten that contract on the open market. I mean, it's true; he probably would have. But what does that matter? Does that mean it's a good deal? Just because Colorado was willing to pay Carl Soderberg just under $5 million a season, does that mean the B's should have paid the middling centerman that money last year? Of course not. Use your head. Just because someone else gets stupid doesn't mean you have to.

You shudder to think what's coming next. Loui Eriksson is still out there as a pending free agent. Ditto for Torey Krug. On a good team, the former is a third liner and the latter is another third-pairing guy. Neither have been good enough to lift the B's above the playoff line the last two years despite playing prominent roles. Both are about to get overpaid on the market . . . unless the B's step in first and insist on being the team that gets stupid and overcommits first.

Given what we've seen with Miller, how can anyone be confident that the B's will be smart enough to pass? My confidence level on this is somewhere around 0.0.

Which is exactly how much cap space the B's will have left with this approach.

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN. 

Bill "Spaceman" Lee is running for governor in Vermont

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Bill "Spaceman" Lee is running for governor in Vermont

BURLINGTON, Vt. — A former Major League Baseball player is running for governor in Vermont as a member of the Liberty Union party, which bills itself as nonviolent and socialist.

Bill "Spaceman" Lee tells WCAX-TV voters will "need umbrellas" if he's elected, because "it's going to be raining dollars," referring to money trickling down from the wealthy.

Lee pitched for the Boston Red Sox from 1969 to 1978. He was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in 2008.

Lee says he's a "pragmatic, conservative, forward thinker." He supports legalizing marijuana, a single-payer health care system and paid family leave.