Patriots defense thriving on big-time turnovers

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Patriots defense thriving on big-time turnovers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rob Ninkovich made a good point Thursday night.

"I think the turnovers are more important than the total yards that we give up."

For this game, anyway.

New England's defense gave up 405 yards of total offense to the Jets Thanksgiving night, including 306 on the arm of quarterback Mark Sanchez. Same old song for the league's 27th-ranked 'D.' It's a unit that surrenders 388.7 yards per game as well as the most pass plays of plus-20 yards.

But in this game, the Patriots also forced five fumbles and recovered four. Two of those turnovers resulted in touchdowns.

One reporter noted to Ninkovich, who has a career-high five forced fumbles this season, that Jets fans were booing the home team by halftime.

Think New England wouldn't notice the noise?

"It started in the second quarter, actually," Ninkovich corrected with a smirk. "It's a good feeling; you know that you're doing something right on the defensive side of the ball to get them so frustrated that they're leaving early. So I think that's always a great feeling when you come to another place and, at the end of the game, there's more Patriots fans in the crowd then there are Jets fans."

That was definitely the case by the time he recovered a ball in the fourth quarter. The score was 42-12; most of New England's damage was already done.

As nose tackle Vince Wilfork pointed out, the lead was big enough early on.

"When we play together -- play well -- good things will happen. It gets fun. It starts getting fun. We're up 28 points in the first half and all you can say is, wow," he marveled.

"This team is a tough, tough football team, mentally and physically. We preach from Day One: Be mentally tough, be physically tough, and play smart football."

It didn't hurt that the Jets were comically bad.

In the second quarter, Mark Sanchez faked a first-and-10 handoff and then made to run up the middle. He instead motored into the brick-walled butt of Jets offensive lineman Brandon Moore and landed flat on his back. The ball came loose. Patriots safety Steve Gregory scooped it up and ran back 32 yards for the touchdown.

He shrugged off personal praise in Thursday's postgame.

"I think Vince did a good job of knocking somebody back on that play, so it all works together. It was a team effort. Guys did a great job up front getting pressure on the quarterback, and hitting those guys. We were really physical tonight and I think it helped out."

It was indeed Wilfork, "fighting pressure with pressure," who backed Moore up into the charging Sanchez.

And wouldn't you know it? The big tackle returned the nod in kind.

"Gregory, what a hell of a game he had. Last week before we played the Colts, he had three interceptions in practice and I said, 'You can get three interceptions in a game. You can get three turnovers in a game.' It didn't happen that day, but he came out today and made some big plays for us."

We've seen it before: This defense is opportunistic. The Jets just showed what New England can do with many, many opportunities. 

Gregory alone added a forced fumble and an interception to his two recoveries and touchdown.

"It was good one for me today," he said. "Some of that was the ball popping out and you being in the right place at the right time."

That's been happening a lot lately. Gregory's first quarter pick marked the team's fifth interception in the last three weeks.

Do the turnover numbers alone make the Patriots a "good" defense by conventional standards? No. But maybe there's something to the 14 interceptions and 18 fumbles -- the 32 big play takeaways.

Maybe it makes them good enough.

Collins: Contract situation will take care of itself

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Collins: Contract situation will take care of itself

FOXBORO -- Not long after Bill Belichick confirmed that Jamie Collins' absence from Day 1 of training camp practice was excused, the fourth-year linebacker was spotted on the field loosening up with his teammates for Day 2. 

Given the impact Collins has on the Patriots defense when he's healthy and on the field, his return to work was not an insignificant one. His health didn't appear to be an issue as he worked in for reps with the first-team defense alongside fellow linebacker Dont'a Hightower in the middle of the field. 

He explained that his contract is not an issue at the moment, either. In the final year of his rookie deal, the 2015 Pro Bowler is scheduled to make $917,864 in base salary this season -- far below what he would make on an annual basis if he were to hit free agency.

"I'm just handling business, man," Collins said when asked if there were any updates on his contract status. "That'll take care of itself."

The Patriots are in an unusual position in that they have a handful of young players of import to the defense that in the final years of their deals. Hightower is set to become a free agent after this season, as are defensive end Jabaal Sheard, safety Duron Harmon and corner Logan Ryan. Malcolm Butler, a Pro Bowl corner last season, will be a restricted free agent after the season. 

Signing them all could be difficult if not impossible, but there have been no holdouts to this point. After being publicly excused from Thursday's on-the-field work by Belichick, and after hearing from him on Friday, Collins' brief absence certainly would not fall under that category.

OFFSEASON

Who will make the Celtics roster?

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Who will make the Celtics roster?

BOSTON – Regardless of what the Celtics do in the offseason, there will always be position battles in training camp.

But when the players arrive in a few weeks, a handful will have more at stake than just a roster spot.

Boston currently has 18 players with full or partially guaranteed contracts, a number that has to be pared down to 15 or less by the time the regular season begins.

The math is pretty cut and dry. Barring a trade, at least three players have to be let go.

But who will they be?

That’s for Brad Stevens and the rest of the Celtics brass to figure out.

In the meantime, here’s a look at five Celtics who, barring a trade, are likely to be among the pool of players Boston will be picking from for what should be the last couple of roster spots.