McCourty: Patriots focused on taking away deep ball

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McCourty: Patriots focused on taking away deep ball

FOXBORO -- Priority No. 1 for the Patriots secondary this week? Get back.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco burned the Broncos in their AFC Divisional Round win with a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones to tie the score in the game's final moments. He also connected with receiver Torrey Smith on touchdown passes of 59 and 32 yards.

Patriots safety Devin McCourty said on Thursday that guarding against those big plays is a big concern for New England's secondary as they prepare to host Flacco and the Ravens in the AFC Championship game on Sunday.

"As all of us as a secondary, we have to realize it's our job to take away those deep passes," McCourty said. "We can't allow them to just throw the ball over our heads so I think all of us have to have that mentality and understand what we're trying to do.

"And I think the biggest thing is that we understand how strong Flacco's arm is because we already know how fast some of their receivers are over there."

Smith is the team's top deep threat. He had six catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 3 win over the Patriots, and last week torched one of the NFL's best cornerbacks in Denver's Champ Bailey for 98 yards on three catches.

"He's a fast guy," McCourty said of Smith. "That's not to say he's not physical at all, but I think one of his biggest strengths is his speed. If you give him a step or two, it can turn into three or four. You just have to be aware of how fast he is."

Flacco's other go-to wideout is Anquan Boldin. At 32 years old, and standing at 6-foot-1, 218 pounds, he doesn't have the speed of Jones or Smith, but he is a physical presence in intermediate routes and in the running game.

Back in Week 3, McCourty was dealing with Baltimore's receivers as a cornerback. Since cornerback Aqib Talib was acquired in a trade, McCourty has moved to safety and the Patriots defense has cut down on the number of big plays it has allowed.

According to ESPN, in nine games before Talib's arrival, the Patriots allowed 62 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Since then, in eight games, the team has allowed 40 such plays.

"Playing safety, I think you kind of have to be accountable for the whole defense and the coverage as a whole because so much of the communication will be between those two safeties," McCourty said. "Letting the corners know, letting the linebackers know what we're doing, what coverages we're playing and different things like that. Being a captain and a safety, I think a lot of the communication falls on me, and whoever else is playing that other safety."

One of the biggest messages they'll be communicating throughout this week and into Sunday's game: Don't get beat deep.

Quotes, notes and stars: Wright "today was tough"

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Quotes, notes and stars: Wright "today was tough"

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 10-3 loss to the Rangers:

 

QUOTES

* “On a night when he didn’t have the consistency to the knuckleball that we’ve seen from many of his starts, he went to his fastball a little bit more. [Against] a good fastball hitting team . . . He’s typically made good adjustments staying over the rubber to get his release point out front -- that wasn’t the case [tonight].” John Farrell said about Steven Wright struggling with his knuckleball in his 4.2 inning outing.

* “The ball was spinning a lot out of my hand. It was a little bit hard to grip the ball because the humidity. But it was the opposite -- it was real sticky. That’s the first time I’ve had that ever. But I still felt like I should have figured that out. It was one of those things where I think I started trying to hard . . . I was trying to the throw the kitchen sink at them but it wasn’t working.” Steven Wright said about struggling to find his knuckleball in the 10-3 loss.

* “It’s hard for me because you want to go out there and try and go as deep as you can to try to help the bullpen, but, you know, today was tough, a tough day for me.” Wright said on his disappointment with only going 4.2 innings.

 

 

NOTES

 

* Hanley Ramirez laced his fourth homerun in his last 11 games. In his nine career games at Texas, Ramirez has six homeruns.

* David Ortiz went hitless for the first time since June 12th. Boston’s designated hitter also hasn’t hit a home run since June 17th -- his third longest homerless spell of 2016.

* Xander Bogaerts scored his 57th run of the season, putting him one run behind Ian Kinsler -- the fourth highest total in the majors.

 

 

STARS

 

1) Adrian Beltre

The ex-Red Sox third baseman finished 2-for-4 with an RBI, a walk -- scoring the team high three runs.

 

2) Ian Desmond

Desmond laced his 13th homer of the season in his second at-bat of the game, sparking Texas’ offense with its first run of the game.

 

3) Elvis Andrus

Andrus ended Steven Wright’s day quickly with a three-run triple in the fifth inning, finishing 1-for-2 with two walks and a run.

First Impressions from Boston's 10-3 loss to Texas

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First Impressions from Boston's 10-3 loss to Texas

First impressions of the Red Sox 10-3 loss to Texas:

 

Steven Wright can’t be stellar every night.

Although it’s seemed like it lately, it’s just not possible -- especially with a knuckleball.

He wasn’t even that bad Saturday night. He just didn’t get any help from his defense in the fifth frame.

But there’s no denying he didn’t have his best stuff. But whatever the reason, he couldn’t find consistent command or movement from his knuckler and he gave up some hard hits as a result.

Did he receive a fate worse than he pitched? Yes. But what Boston saw from Wright in his Saturday start is there will be times his go-to pitch is off -- and there’s really no way to work around that.

 

Hanley Ramirez’s “timing issue” seems to be coming around.

Although he hasn’t necessarily caught fire, Ramirez hit another home run -- once again to right field.

He’s shown more patience at the plate, and not trying to pull every ball out of the yard.

Ramirez doesn’t have everything completely figured out, but his homeruns have been plenty valuable at this point.

 

Ian Desmond is no joke.

The newly converted centerfielder is 5-for-10 against Boston pitching this series with a run and two RBI.

The ex-Nationals shortstop has good pop and good speed still. He seems to be a lot more comfortable in his new home after hitting .233 for Washington last year with 19 homeruns -- hitting his 13th Saturday night.

 

For all the criticisms Boston’s bullpen has received, the Rangers’ is definitely worse.

Although there wasn’t the same miraculous comeback witnessed Friday night -- and Boston’s pen wasn’t particularly stellar in the loss -- the Ranger relievers did not look good in the second game of the series.

They put themselves into deep counts right away -- and was lucky Boston’s offense was off.

Boston’s bullpen has its faults -- no question -- but it’s not nearly as bad as the one in Texas.

 

The Red Sox unfortunately have to rely on Clay Buchholz Sunday.

The bullpen is beaten down once again. The righty is still fighting for his job, so this would be the best time for him to pitch competitively into the sixth inning -- and maybe even longer.

DC United tops Revolution 2-0

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DC United tops Revolution 2-0

WASHINGTON -- Lamar Neagle had a goal and an assist to give D.C. United an early lead that stood up in a 2-0 victory over the New England Revolution on Saturday night.

D.C., after being shut out in its two previous games and four of six, opened the scoring in the 20th minute when Luciano Acosta chipped a perfect pass over the defense to the foot of Neagle, who volleyed it in from 10 yards out.

Sean Franklin scored the second goal, his first of the season, when he knocked in Neagle's cross. Albaro Saborio sent a long ball down the right sideline that Neagle ran down and crossed to Franklin for the easy counter.

D.C. (5-6-5) leapfrogged the Revolution (4-5-7) into fifth in the Eastern Conference with its fourth shutout in the last seven games and improved to 2-0-1 in the series this season.