Patriots defense 'is what it is'

Patriots defense 'is what it is'
January 14, 2013, 5:35 am
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FOXBORO -- In New England, everything "is what it is." The saying is a Bill Belichick favorite, a standard retort to nearly any question regarding his football team.
And it kind of works. The Patriots defensive effort Sunday night? It is what it is.
New England surrendered 425 yards to the Texans in this weekend's Divisional Playoff. Matt Schaub completed 34 of 51 passes for 343 yards (just the second time he passed the 300-yard mark in 18 games this year), two touchdowns, and one interception.
But Houston lost, 41-28, so all that offense is what it is: A bunch of numbers that don't add up to making Schaub feel better about the day.
It is another night the Patriots gave up a bunch of scores and didn't lose.
"I think guys have that attitude that no matter what happens, usually we're on the end where our offense is putting up a lot of points," cornerback Devin McCourty said after the game. "If things go wrong, somebody returns a kick of anything like that, we just want to hold guys out of the end zone. We want to make plays down there and just try to play great defense. We know if we can hold teams to three points our offense will do the job and put seven on the board."
McCourty was referencing the opening kickoff.
Texans safety Danieal Manning was back to receive. After the catch, Manning took off and ran 94 yards before being brought down by a sprinting McCourty. It was a nightmare open to the game.
But Houston couldn't capitalize. Running back Arian Foster got the only gain on the drive -- a 3-yard run -- before Schaub burned the final downs on incomplete passes. The ensuing field goal provided Houston's only points for nearly two full quarters.
And there -- a positive for the Patriots defense: The Texans punted on four straight drives in the first half.
Another positive: Houston converted just four of 15 third down attempts.
"It just comes down to team defense good pass rush, good coverage and keeping the yardage longer by playing better on first and second down," said defensive captain Vince Wilfork. "I thought we did a good job in the running game until we got to the last drive in the second quarter and running back Arian Foster hit a couple long runs to the weak side on us. They scored right before the half. Because we were able to hold off a few of those runs, that put them in some third-and-long situations."
"It was good team defense; I dont think its any one guy. Third down obviously is critical for us and our red area stop was big too."
The third down numbers, the red zone stop, those are the things that surface in the wake of a win. All those yards surrendered -- 90 rushing and 63 receiving to Foster; 95 on nine catches for receiver Andre Johnson -- will come out later in the film's dissection.
Before facing Baltimore in next weekend's AFC Championship, those things will be addressed. The Patriots will look at why Houston went three-for-four on fourth (two of which conversions eventually led to touchdowns) and try to fix what went wrong.
It's not like the defense thinks it's perfect. It is grossly opportunistic.
The Patriots entered Sunday's game at a plus-25 turnover differential. They forced 41 turnovers (21 fumbles, 20 interceptions) in the regular season's 16 games.
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich added another big play to the pile with a third quarter interception. It was on one of those third-down plays that Houston left on the field.
New England made the most of the pick, as it tends to do. Just like McCourty said, once the ball was back in Tom Brady's hands the offense put up seven more points, and the Texans looked a little less threatening on their next drive.
Bend, Don't Break isn't a perfect plan. It does work for New England most of the time, however.
Vince Wilfork was asked if he thinks the defense, as it stands, is good enough for what's ahead.
"No," the nose tackle answered. "We can get a little better. We can get a lot better.
"But overall, this defense is taking the right steps. That's the only thing you can ask for is taking the right steps, especially in this point in time. The goal, right now, is to win. No matter how you win, that's the goal. You lose, you go home."
That is exactly what it is.