Curran: Pats defense pulls its weight


Curran: Pats defense pulls its weight

FOXBORO The spin put forth and I was spinning too was that the Patriots would go as far as Tom Brady would take them.

Their defense? A liability. Something to be overcome.

But on Saturday night, with the football world and Tebownians everywhere watching, the Patriots executed their defensive plan to perfection. Bottling up the Denver running game, holding the Broncos to five plays or fewer on eight of their 13 drives, the Patriots oft-lamented group made it so Brady only had to score 11 with his offense to win.

They scored 45 just for good measure. And the New England defense could exhale and answer questions for once about what went right.

Those guys up front did a great job, said linebacker Jerod Mayo when asked the key to the performance against Tebow. I cant even lie to you. Those guys up front did an excellent job. Vince (Wilfork), Gerard Warren, (Brandon) Deaderick, Kyle Love. They let us run through and let us make plays, man, helluva game.

Admittedly, the Broncos were bringing in an offense from the football stone ages. But it was good enough for them to have won 7 of 8 at one point before the Patriots beat them 41-23. And it exploited an undermanned Steelers defense last week in the Wild Card round.

And the New England defense hadnt shown enough for anyone to feel secure theyd shut anyone down, no matter how much of an anachronism they were.

But in the cold and the wind of a January night in Massachusetts, Denver got nothing done. Their lone touchdown drive was a 24-yard excursion off a Brady interception in the second quarter.

I asked Wilfork how it felt for the defense to pull its oar as hard as the offense and Brady have all year.

If he plays well then everyone else plays well, said Wilfork. When he has an off-day, we try to rally around him as a team to help Tom and the offense. We arent going to get 20-30 points all the time. It doesnt happen like that. Our job as the defense is to stop the opponent. Whatever we score, make them score less. Thats the mind-frame we have. We dont want to depend on offense to score 30 points just thinking that each week is going to be like that. We arent going to set ourselves up for failure.

But it had shaped up that way. To believe theyd play this well was to take on faith the idea that, at some point, theyd coalesce as a unit.

Faith is something Wilfork and other defenders have had all year in the face of porous performances and disheartening statistics.

All year we had confidence, said Wilfork. I remember talking a long time ago, at the beginning of the season, about the confidence I had in this team and this defense from what I can see we can do. The main thing is guys believe. There is not a week that we come in here and guys dont believe what we are capable of doing as a defense. It can take us a long way. I think that with a performance like tonight, in the postseason, everything is elevated. We dont want to be good; we want to be great, especially at this time.

You want to be able to make the game changing plays and great situational plays, Wilfork continued. All that comes in, but this team wont go away.

The biggest game-changing defensive play ended Denvers first possession. After moving from their own 24 to the Patriots 37, Rob Ninkovich got around the edge and strip-sacked Tebow. Brandon Spikes who had a terrific performance recovered. And the Patriots scored to go up 14-0.

In other games, picks and turnovers came like found money. Right place at the right time stuff, it seemed like. This was a playmakers play.

There were other flashy plays too five sacks of Tebow. But the guts of this game was simply keeping Tebow and the Denver running game contained.

We stressed all week on keeping him contained, keeping the run contained, not letting the ball outside, said Ninkovich. When youre out there playing and you want to go one way because you see him, but you know that hes got the ability to get outside and really hurt your team. So youve just got to be disciplined in your responsibilities in the defense. Just playing good team defense all together and great communication, it starts with that.

No defensive player was biting on the vindication storyline.

In one ear and out the other, Ninkovich said when asked if it was nice to get a chance to shut people up. As a defensive player, I couldnt listen to that. Anything outside of here. People can say what they want but at the end of the day its about wins and losses and we were able to get 13. During the year we had our ups and our downs and we were still able to put an eight-game winning streak together.

And advance to the AFC Championship.

Belichick: Kickers are like golfers; have to hit driver, sand wedge, 5-iron


Belichick: Kickers are like golfers; have to hit driver, sand wedge, 5-iron

In searching for answers on what might be going on with Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, coach Bill Belichick was asked on Monday if there was any chance that Gostkowski's mechanics on kickoffs may be affecting his field goals. With the new touchback rule encouraging the Patriots to use more "pop-up" kicks to the goal line this season, might Gostkowski's swing have been altered?

Belichick said that the two plays are separate and that the Patriots expect Gostkowski to be able to execute a whole series of different types of kicks as part of his job.

"Well, I think they’re definitely different," Belichick said on a conference call. "I don’t think there’s any question about that. I mean, it would be like a golfer. You’ve got to be able to hit a sand wedge. You’ve got to be able to hit a five-iron. You’ve got to be able to drive. You’ve got to be able to putt.

"That’s what kickers and punters do. There’s plus-50 punts, there’s field goals, there’s kickoffs, there’s backed-up punts, there’s punts against a heavy rush, there’s punts against a six-man box where the gunners both are getting double-teamed. And just like golf, there’s wind conditions and not wind conditions and so forth. So it’s not like like you’re standing out there in a driving range and just banging the ball away every time. Especially on place kicks, you’re dealing with a center and a holder and timing on the play. It’s not like you’re just placing the ball down there on a tee and kicking it like you are a golf ball or a kickoff.

"Yeah, they’re definitely different, and whether it’s a punter or a kicker you’re talking about, they have to master different skills, different kicks, different types of kicks, different things that are specific to their position, just like every other player and every other athlete, for the most part, has to do. If you’re a basketball player, you just can’t shoot free throws. You’ve got to be able to make some other shots, too. That’s part of the position, being able to do the things that are required of that position, and they’re not all the same. I don’t think they’re all the same for anybody."

Belichick was also asked about how Gostkowski is coached. There are position-specific coaches with every NFL franchise, but when it comes to special teams, there is typically a special-teams coordinator and little else. There is no kicking coach, generally, nor a position coach dedicated to punting or snapping. 

Belichick said that he feels the team has enough support in place, starting with special teams coach Joe Judge, in order to help Gostkowski through his difficult stretch.

"I think Joe’s very knowledgable about the techniques of kicking," Belichick said. "I know when I became a special teams coach and coached special teams for many years as an assistant coach, and I continue to be involved with it as a head coach, that’s one of the things I had to learn. I had to learn how to coach those individual specialists, the snappers, the kickers, the punters, the returners. I don’t think it’s any different than coaching any other position. Things you don’t know, you need to learn. The things you do know, you need to be able to teach to the players, however you acquire that information.

"Some of that certainly comes from the players, especially when you coach good players at the position that you’re coaching, you can learn a lot from them, just like I learned a lot from many of the players that I coached. Going back to people like Dave Jennings as a punts or Carl Banks or Lawrence Taylor or Pepper [Johnson], guys like that, as linebackers with the Giants. However you acquire that information, you acquire it and you have to be able to convey it and teach it to the players and recognize technique or judgment.

"There’s a whole host of things that go into performance, but all the things that are related to those; be able to figure out which ones are the most important and which ones need to be corrected and so forth. I think Joe’s very knowledgeable on that, as was Scott O’Brien. I have a lot of experience with that myself. That’s what coaching is. You don’t know, then you’ve got to find out. Nobody knows everything. No coach knows everything about every position. Maybe a guy’s played it for a decade, he might be well-versed in that position. But I’d say for the most of the rest of us that haven’t done that, things you don’t know, you’ve got to learn, you’ve got to find out, you’ve got to figure them out."

Giardi's stopwatch: Brady quick vs. Steelers


Giardi's stopwatch: Brady quick vs. Steelers

How quick was Tom Brady's release in the New England Patriots win over the The Pittsburgh Steelers? Glad you asked. 

On average, Brady took 2.11 seconds to release the ball. That’s not as quick as he was against Cleveland, when averaged 1.86 seconds, but still pretty flippin' quick.

2.05 - Gun. Edelman crosser 9 yards
0.80 - WR screen to Edelman - 2 yards
5.34 - Gun. Flushed. 13 yards to White
2.04 - Gun. Edelman crosser. 6 yards
1.59 - Gun. Screen to White. 19 yards. TD
1.65 - Gun. Edelman at the hash. 9 yards
1.72 - Gun. Edelman crosser. 11 yards
3.17 - Gun. Hogan outside the numbers. 13 yards
2.25 - Play action. Incomplete short left to White
1.24 - Edelman right flat. 6 yards
2.37 - Gun. Deep in to Gronkowski. 13 yards
2.20 - play action. Happy feet, Incomplete to Bennett
2.90 - Gun. Bolden drop
1.53 - Gun. Incomplete to White at the numbers
1.79 — Gun. Edelman crosser. 7 yards
1.36 - Gun. Short right to Blount. 7 yards
1.66 - Gun. Edelman drop 
3rd Quarter
3.44 - Gun. Awful backhanded flip throw. Incomplete to White
2.25 - Gun. Crosser to Bennett. 5 yards
1.39 - Gun. Short right to Edelman. 3 yards
2.18 - Gun. Ground seam. 36 yards. TD
1.59 - Gun. Short middle to Edelman. 11 yards
1.33 - Gronkowski. short right. 7 yards
3.16 - Play action. 37 yards to Gronkowski
3.89 - Gun. Pressure. Incomplete deep left to Mitchell