Patriots 'D' makes strides, but not enough

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Patriots 'D' makes strides, but not enough

FOXBORO -- They were so close.

On Sunday night, the Patriots defense was seven minutes away from being the story of the game, specifically, a redemption tale.

Their performance against Pittsburgh just one week earlie looked like rock bottomr. New England let Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers complete 36 of 50 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns, convert 10 of 16 third-down plays, and control almost 40 minutes of ball possession. It was an embarrassment.

After the 25-17 loss, pressure for Week 9's match up against the Giants was immediately heaped upon Tom Brady and the offense. With the Patriots' 'D' close to useless and New York's barely better, the game was billed to be a shootout.

Nobody expected what happened.

The Patriots and Giants entered halftime tied at zero. Zero points. Nada. Zilch. What they did have was 10 combined punts, six being New York's. New England's defense finally looked alive, which was impressive in itself, but more so because the offense needed them. Brady went three- or four-and-out on three first-half drives; the defense held the Giants to 1-for-7 on third-down conversions. Brady threw an interception; Eli Manning was held to 8-for-18 passing. The Patriots -- because of consistently terrible field position -- only saw the red zone once; the Giants never did.

Finally, it looked like they stopped 'hoping' for improvement and improved.

So what changed?

"Eli Manning made some pretty good throws," cornerback Kyle Arrington shrugged. "That's all I can say."

Some good throws and some better breaks. Once some New England fumbles and bumbles got the Giants' scoring going, the fault lines started to appear. One major fissure was the pass-interference call on Arrington in the fourth quarter. New York got 35 yards and an automatic first down. The field position was too good to mess up and Manning found Mario Manningham for a third-and-5 touchdown. Arrington's coverage wasn't bad, but the throw was perfect. The Giants, after being limited 1-for-11 by New England's 'D', converted on its final three third-downs.

"It's tough," cornerback Devin McCourty said. "As a defense you hate giving up any touchdowns and toward the end of the game we know there's only a few possessions left and we've just got to get those stops.

"There's nothing we can do about it now, but this'll happen again. Close games like this, once you get toward the end of the season -- it seems like they happen each week. We've got to just learn from this game and be prepared when it happens again."

With the defense's weaknesses being so obvious -- the secondary's painfully so -- opponents know how to game plan against the Patriots. After Pittsburgh's 25-17 win, injured receiver Hines Ward admitted he didn't feel the need to push through his ankle ailment that week.

"I probably could have forced it and played but we have some great wideouts," Ward said. "I wasn't really concerned. And against the Patriots, we felt we could exploit their secondary."

The Giants did when it mattered. Now New England's forced to scrutinize back-to-back losses, the first time that's happened since 2009. With a meeting against the Jets in New York on the horizon, the streak could reach three unless the leaks get plugged.

They keep saying it's possible.

After each loss the Patriots promise to study their flaws, the problem seems to be in applying those lessons to game-day scenarios. No minor thing. For all the early improvement the defense seemed to show Sunday, in the fourth quarter it twice needed to preserve the lead and didn't -- couldn't. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich stood up to answer for the performance.

"We've got to do exactly what we did last week: come in, watch the tape, see the things we didn't do right, and can't dwell on the things in the past. It's in the past now. We've just got to . . . improve and go from there for next week. Next week's a division game and we've got to make sure we go into New York and do a good job on defense."

Another week to work things out. One more week before visiting the AFC East's first place Jets. If they don't stop trying and start doing, the Patriots' 2011 story could end a lot sooner than they want it to.

Curran: McDaniels staying with Pats shouldn't be a shocker

Curran: McDaniels staying with Pats shouldn't be a shocker

For weeks the speculation regarding Josh McDaniels wasn't a matter of "if" but "when."

But while national media had McDaniels signed, sealed and delivered to multiple landing spots, the proposition that he'd leave at all was never a likelihood. 

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The Rams weren't attractive to him from the outset. Jacksonville didn't excite him, either. And on Monday, he passed on the 49ers opportunity. 

The lure of a blank slate in San Fran at quarterback and GM didn't outpace the uncertainty of going cross-country to work for a seemingly dysfunctional franchise that's cycled rapidly through coaches and has an unrealistic sense that it's a long, long way removed from its glory days, the only remnant remaining from that being perhaps the logo on the helmet. 

With four kids and a job McDaniels considers one of the 10 best on coaching -- head man or no -- he will stay on as the Patriots' offensive coordinator.

"I was really impressed with (Niners owner) Jed York and (team executive) Paraag Marathe . . . and the people that came from the 49ers organization," McDaniels said on a conference call this morning. "They did a great job with their presentation. Humbled to be included in that process. At this time it's just best for my family and myself to remain here in New England and focus on this year's playoffs and finish out the year however it turns out."

The same faulty speculative reasoning that had McDaniels as good as gone from the Patriots will move on undeterred today and surmise that McDaniels is staying with the Patriots because he knows, or has been promised, that he'll receive the head coaching job when Bill Belichick steps aside. 

While the Kraft family certainly thinks highly of McDaniels and that could come to pass, anyone tapping their foot and checking their watch waiting for Belichick to step down is in for a long wait. He's showing no signs of wrapping it up and, while I haven't been told directly McDaniels isn't the automatic successor, he wouldn't be taking interviews at all if he were assured that. 

What will be interesting to see is whether interest remains high in him for other jobs or the perception that he's never going to leave means teams don't bother to ask. San Fran obviously had its heart set on McDaniels. Even though Nick Caserio passed on the chance to interview with the Niners for their open GM job, the team did talk to Louis Riddick about the spot. He and McDaniels have high regard for each other. 

Between McDaniels, Caserio and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, the people closest to Belichick on the coaching flow chart all had chances to go somewhere else and all passed on the chance. It's another example of not why the Patriots are good but why they remain good. Stability. 
 

McDaniels: 'Best for my family and myself' to remain with Patriots

McDaniels: 'Best for my family and myself' to remain with Patriots

Josh McDaniels will be staying put in New England, he said on Monday, because that's what's best for him and his family at this point in time. 

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The Patriots offensive coordinator was a front-runner for the open head-coaching job in San Francisco but has removed his name from consideration.

"I was really impressed with [Niners owner and CEO] Jed York and [Chief Strategy Officer and EVP of Football Operations] Praag [Marathe] and [Director of Football Administration and Analytics] Brian [Hampton] and the people that came from the 49ers organization. They did a great job with their presentation. Again, humbled to be included in that process.

"At this time it's just best for my family and myself to remain here in New England and focus on this year's playoffs and finish out the year however it turns out."

Next season will be McDaniels' sixth full season back with the Patriots since returning during the playoffs of the 2011 season.

"I've always said how grateful I am to have this opportunity to work here with Mr. Kraft and his family, and coach under Bill with a lot of great guys on our staff, and to have the privilege to get to work with the players that we work with each day," McDaniels said. "It's a great opportunity. I'm very thankful to be here, and very much looking forward to this week against Pittsburgh."