No Huddle: Patriots-49ers postgame sound

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No Huddle: Patriots-49ers postgame sound

FOXBORO -- Well, that was a wild one.

I don't know about you, but New England's 41-34 loss (complete with 28-point comeback!) to the Niners raised some questions for me.

Among them: What, if anything, does this game say about the league's conferences in light of last week's dismantling of Houston, the AFC's top team? Was the steady rain a factor on both sides? Is Alex Smith the saddest man in America?

The post-game sound from both locker rooms provided a few answers.

Let's get to it.

Head coach Bill Belichick on San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick's performance:

BB: "They won, give them credit. Im more worried about our team. Talk to Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh about his team. We just didnt do a good enough job."

Needless to say, Belichick was not happy. But someone should talk about Kaepernick.

The second-year quarterback completed 14 of 25 passes for 216 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed twice -- one scramble for 19 yards, the other run for 10 -- on the touchdown drive right before halftime. Though he fumbled four times (yes, four; we'll get to that in a second) he lost none of them.

Fumbling is part of why I was wondering about the rain.

At least two, if not all four, of Kaepernick's fumbles appeared to come on the snap. When it happened on San Francisco's first drive of the third quarter (which started at the New England 3 after the Patriots fumbled), it looked like Kaepernick was trying to pitch the ball right to running back Frank Gore. Whatever the design, the fumble got flipped enough in Gore's direction that he recovered and took the ball in for a touchdown.

Was the weather an issue? Ask the man, himself.

Kaepernick on fumbling a few snaps:

CK: "It was just a wet ball mishandling it. It was a hundred percent my fault."
Ok, then.

On whether or not putting on a glove helped:

CK: "Yes."

Good to know. One of his teammates didn't share the same view of the elements, however.

Niners tight end Vernon Davis on the wet conditions:

VD: I dont think the weather did anything to me. My own challenges were keeping up with Colin Kaepernick, because Alex Smith has always been around, I guess we got to get used to one another.

Interesting.

With the way San Francisco hung on to beat New England on the road in December (the Patriots previously held a 43-5 record in the month since 2001) all but blew up any remaining quarterback controversy for the Niners.

As a seven-year veteran of the Bay Area, Davis has dealt with Smith -- with San Fran for eight seasons -- in some capacity each year. That capacity has greatly diminished in the last six weeks.

Smith suffered a concussion against the Rams on November 11. He was medically cleared to play just 12 days later, but head coach John Harbaugh stuck with Kaepernick. San Francisco has gone 4-1 behind their new starting quarterback. In light of that record, it might be easy for some to forget the transition for the 49ers offense; Davis' quote should be a reminder that it's still a work in progress.

That said.

On feeling confident with Kaepernick as quarterback:

VD: I feel very confident with Colin being Quarterback, and Im sure everyone else is as well.

Swell.

Cornerback Aqib Talib on if the Patriots made a lot of sideline adjustments:

AT: We made adjustments and we made a good job of making adjustments. We just didnt do a good job of executing. We made adjustments and we just didnt execute. We let too many balls get deep on us.

The Patriots defense has allowed the most completions of plus-20 yards, with 68. I hesitate to attempt math, but after 14 games, we're looking at 4.9 long passes surrendered per game. Sunday night's effort against San Francisco saw more of the same as Kaepernick had five big ones: 38 yards to Michael Crabtree, 34 yards to Delanie Walker, 27 more to Crabtree, 26 to Gore, and 24 and a touchdown to former Patriot Randy Moss.

Four of those were good for touchdowns.

Speak of the devil....

Moss on the game:

Cricket

I include this so you know he wasn't forgotten, he just didn't speak.

After the game Moss got dressed at his locker while reporters crowded around behind him. Properly garbed, he put on his headphones, ducked past reporters, and left Gillette Stadium with his team.

His attitude was businesslike from the start.

Moss didn't come out on his own during warmups to meet any former Patriots teammates and slap backs at the 50-yard line. He came out in a big group of 49ers and immediately fell into receiving drills. The only exchanges I saw before kickoff were handshakes with Matthew Slater and Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

No; no bear hug with Tom Brady.

Now, this isn't his first time back at Gillette since trading Moss in 2010. And he might have gotten a coffee with Brady before the game for all anybody knows. But it was clear Sunday night Moss didn't want to make a big deal out of his return to Foxboro.

I think it's a show of respect to both his old team, and the new.

Niners safety Dashon Goldson on the fake punt:

DG: They showed us that side of the football field and the coach put it in my hands and made the call. I just took advantage of it. We ran it some in practice and I took a look and saw the look that I had seen in practice and took it and it worked. I was hoping they would show us that look so we could run it and they did. When we called it then it came out successful.

San Francisco ran this play in the first quarter. The score was 7-0 Niners and there was a little less than five minutes to play in the frame. Kapernick's third-and-10 attempt to Crabtree fell incomplete and the team got into its punt formation. That's when Goldson got the fourth down ball and ran for 31 yards. The Patriots were stunned.

Why bring this up?

I wrote a story Saturday about the importance of New England's scout team to its weekly preparation. You'd think I wouldn't be surprised to hear a player, regardless of who he plays for, say, 'Oh, that fake punt on fourth-and-10? We practiced it a bunch. Hoped it might come up and it did. How 'bout that!' But that's what happened.

Did San Fran know its opponent better than the Patriots? Looked like it on that play.

Linebacker Rob Ninkovich on the outcome of the game:

RN: I think this is a good lesson for us. Id rather take it now than down the road. Obviously, they are a good team. You have to give them credit. You cant take anything away from what they have done on the field. They came in, they had the turnovers, they made the plays that they needed to make. So that one is on us."

Don't think him flip for seemingly finding a silver lining. To Ninkovich's point, there isn't much road left to travel. Better to lose and learn something in Week 15 than lose in the playoffs and have a whole offseason to think about where things went wrong, right?

It depends on your point of view.

Another way to think is, maybe the Patriots aren't as good (and the Texans not as bad) as we saw last Monday night. Maybe the NFC is the stronger conference, by however much. Maybe, considering how we keep seeing teams topple just as they reach some kind of pinnacle, there just isn't one truly dominant team in the NFL this year.

All of that combined is making a large part of the playoff race stretch to the very end of the regular season.

Did the Patriots lose the No. 2 seed with the loss to San Francisco? Not necessarily. If Denver doesn't win out (by losing to the Chiefs and Browns? Ehhh.) , New England still has a chance to avoid wild-card weekend.

But it sounds like Ninkovich and his teammates don't much care. The Patriots won't stress do-or-die until they get to the postseason.

His attitude in the postgame was just slightly different from receiver Wes Welker.

Welker on if there were positives to take after facing the Niners:

WW: Not really. We still lost the game

It's nice when Patriots players wrap stories up so neatly for me.

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

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Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.

But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.

The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.

“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”

Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that. 

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.

But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.

“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.

But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.

Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.

Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.

“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”

The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.

Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.