Patriots defense 'is what it is'

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Patriots defense 'is what it is'

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.

Matt Beleskey out six weeks with a right knee injury

Matt Beleskey out six weeks with a right knee injury

BOSTON – Some key Bruins players have missed a handful of games here or there already this season, but only this week did they suffer one of their first major injuries to a key player that will knock him out for nearly two months. 

Matt Beleskey will miss roughly six weeks with an injury to his right knee after the feisty forward was caught with a hip check by Tyler Fedun near center ice in Buffalo over the weekend.  Beleskey tried to instinctively sidestep the oncoming attack, but instead his lower half caught the brunt of the big collision with a young Sabres attacker. 

Instead Fedun caught Beleskey’s right leg with his hip check, and the gritty Bruins winger was knocked out in the first period of last weekend’s win over the Sabres. 

Beleskey was spotted walking with a bit of a limp during and after Boston’s 4-3 OT win against the Florida Panthers on Monday night, and armed with what looked to be a giant brace or cast on his right leg. It’s clearly a bummer for Beleskey that he’ll now miss a large chunk of time due to a freak injury, and the Bruins have to be disappointed at the timing of it all given how well Beleskey has been playing lately. 

The injury certainly opens up the third line left wing spot for a player like Ryan Spooner, who has struggled to find his right place in the NHL, or a player like Frankie Vatrano as he gets over the hump in his recovery from foot surgery.

Beleskey has skated in plenty of games with Boston in 2016-17, producing two goals and three assists for five points with 23 penalty minutes in what’s been better described as “bedlam”  after a slow start to the regular season. 

Julien: Pastrnak 'coming into his own,' has been Bruins' 'best forward'

Julien: Pastrnak 'coming into his own,' has been Bruins' 'best forward'

BOSTON – The Bruins are running out of superlatives for 20-year-old David Pastrnak at this point. 

The right winger continued his torrid goal-scoring pace in a breakout season with the B’s by scoring a couple of goals, including a dazzling overtime game-winner, in a 4-3 OT win over the Florida Panthers at TD Garden. 

Pastrnak now has 15 goals scored in 21 games this season for the Bruins, and has matched career-high for goals scored in a single season already with nearly three quarters of the season still left to be played. Only Sidney Crosby and Patrik Laine have scored more goals than Pastrnak in the NHL this season, and it’s a scary thought to imagine where the 25th ranked Bruins offense would be without their ascending superstar from the Czech Republic. 

Certainly the Bruins wouldn’t have taken two points from the Panthers without him: Pastrnak ended the overtime session quickly when he wheeled up and out of the offensive zone after getting the puck to David Krejci, and then gathered speed before taking the puck from Krejci, blowing the doors off Florida D-man Mike Matheson with a couple of moves and then easily beating Roberto Luongo with a game-winning goal. It was a highlight reel, electric overtime game-winner by any measure, but it’s also the kind of thing that’s started to become routine for an offensive player with as much speed, skill and creativity as anybody currently playing in the NHL. 

“He’s coming into his own, I think. There’s no doubt about that confidence wise, it’s at its highest right now and rightfully so. I think when you look at him skate – and not only in the goal, but even before the goal – he went after that puck to get control of it before that goal even happened,” said Julien. “So once you’ve got control and he moved it around and then got it into Krech’s [David Krejci] hands, at that point when he came back from circling just in the neutral zone a little bit, he had caught their defenseman flat-footed. 

“With that speed I guess there’s not much that D could have done, but what a great move. Obviously taking the time to lift the puck up was pretty impressive – especially that last move. So a nice goal and a great way for us to finish with that win. I think he’s been our best forward since the beginning of the year. So, no doubt it’s nice to see him growing the way he is right now.”

The second period goal was just as impressive for Pastrnak for all kinds of different reasons. The young right wing started a puck possession in the corner when he battled to hold onto the puck from his knees, and eventually worked possession up to Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron fired and missed wide on his chance at the net, but Brad Marchand grabbed the loose puck and uncorked a no-look, spinning pass to Pastrnak waiting in front of the net. 

The natural born scorer fired a laser blast past Luongo and temporarily gave the Bruins the lead in a seesaw game between Boston and Florida. All three of the forwards on the Bergeron line touched the puck on that scoring possession leading right up to the score, and it’s been part of the learning process for a player hitting his offensive peak in his third NHL season. 

“All the games I play beside Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] and Marchy [Brad Marchand] and [with] those two guys it’s such a pleasure to play [with them] and learn a bunch of stuff, learning every single shift,” said Pastrnak. “They talk to me, tell me what to do, and then I guess [I’m] trying to listen. We have a lot of guys here who have been around the league for a long time, so they [are] helping us young guys. It’s really helpful.”

Now it’s Pastrnak tearing up the league in just his third pro season, and playing like he’s going to be “around the league for a long time” just like some of the players on the Boston roster that have jumped from a talented young player to the pathway to NHL stardom. The sky is truly the limit for a player in Pastrnak that can win battles, score goals and skate around in overtime just waiting to embarrass any defenseman that dares try and stop him.