Wilfork: We're 3-3 for a reason

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Wilfork: We're 3-3 for a reason

SEATTLE -- Vince Wilfork was not in the mood to chat Sunday night.

The defensive captain got dressed slowly after New England's 24-23 loss. By the time he turned around, there was a crowd of reporters waiting. They waited to hear what went wrong when the Patriots failed -- for the third time this year -- to close out a game.

Wilfork clipped off the first question before it was finished.

"We didn't make enough plays," he said. "Plain and simple."

He shook his head while he spoke like a bull being bothered by flies.

"That's all I have. Didn't make enough plays. What else can you do? We lost. We're moving on."

Wishful thinking.

On Sunday, the Patriots gave up a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter before they were felled. They did it by hemorrhaging 14 points in the final 10 minutes. Before that, the Seahawks were held scoreless on six drives over two-and-a-third quarters: Fumble, downs, punt, punt, punt, fumble.

But when it came down to crunch time Seattle was able to execute touchdown drives of 68 and 57 yards. The first was scored in two minutes; the second, even faster.

"We just didn't make enough plays," Wilfork repeated. "It's very simple. I'm not going to sit here and lie to you and say I'm not -- I'm very frustrated. I don't know what else to say. I'll probably lose my head right now. I'm very frustrated. We just didn't make enough plays when it counted . . . and it cost us."

Again.

New England's three losses this season are by two or fewer points. The 20-18 Cardinals win is immortalized by Stephen Gostkowski's missed game-winning field goal. Against Baltimore, a last-second 27-yard boot by an undrafted rookie kicker did the Patriots in by a score of 31-30.

Those are just two plays in 120 minutes of football; they don't illustrate the team's larger failings. But describing them may be just as simple. Like Wilfork said, the Patriots couldn't hit the kill switch. They couldn't even find it.

And not for lack of preparation.

"It was exactly why it was going to be. Everything they did, we knew what they was gonna do." Here, Wilfork gathered as much scorn in the back of his throat as possible before spitting his next words. "They didn't shock us."

When asked if New England's .500 record belies the team's talent, he paused for almost five seconds before answering.

"Who knows? We're 3-3 for a reason," he said. "Until we do something about it, we're going to continue to have problems."

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

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Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- There are plenty of damn good running backs in the NFL but there is only one Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers star shuffles, darts and then dashes, often with bodies crashing all around him, many of them intent on doing serious bodily harm . . . but often failing.

“He’s very unique,” said linebacker Shea McClellin. “I don’t think anyone else runs quite like he does, but it’s efficient and it works.”

Defensive end Chris Long concurred: “His style is so unique, his patience, what he’s able to do with his vision. And as far as breaking tackles, being a complete player, catching the ball, he can do all that stuff.”

Now don’t get it twisted. The Pats respect the hell out of Bell, but they’d prefer they weren’t in charge of corralling him Sunday because everyone has failed during Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak. Bell, who played in eight of those games, has piled up over 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage during that stretch -- 1,172 yards rushing, 336 yards receiving -- while scoring 9 touchdowns. 

“He’s really fun to watch unless you’re getting ready to play him,” said Long.

The respect Bell commands in Foxboro is evident when talking to the Pats running backs, who spoke glowingly about the former first-rounder and in LeGarrette Blount’s case, former teammate.

“No one can do what he does,” Blount told me. “They can try, but it won’t work.”

“That’s his style,” added Dion Lewis, himself a shifty fella. “You can’t try to do that. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy that can do that.”

So how do the Pats accomplish something no one has been able to do over the last two-plus months? How do they slow Bell down, as they did back in Week 7, limiting him to 81 yards rushing (only 3.9 yards per carry)? 

“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” said Pats coach Bill Belichick. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles. [He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps.”

“If there’s space or if there’s a gap in the defense or if there’s an edge in the defense, he’s quick to take advantage of that,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told us during a conference call earlier this week. “He’s going to be able to get into that open space pretty quickly so you can’t really -- I don’t think you want to sit there and guess.”

If the Pats defenders, especially at the linebacker level, do that -- guess and attack a gap aggressively in attempt to make a splash play -- they may fill one gap but open two others. And that’s where a four-yard gain can turn into 40.

“Everyone on the field, it’s their job to get to him, gang tackle and be aggressive,” said Rob Ninkovich. “It can’t be just one time but every time you’re on the field.”

“There’s no one guy that can stop him,” added Belichick. “You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”

The Pats are a terrific tackling team, and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season (actually, not since November of 2015), but the red-hot Bell will put recent history to the test. 
 

Report: Bennett playing with cracked bone, bone chips in ankle

Report: Bennett playing with cracked bone, bone chips in ankle

FOXBORO -- Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett admitted last week that he has been dealing with a variety of physical ailments throughout the course of his first season with the Patriots. "I've been fighting through [expletive] the whole year," he said, "and I'm not gonna stop now."

PATRIOTS-STEELERS PREGAME

Bennett suffered a knee injury against the Texans last week that limited him in practices leading up to the AFC title game, but he's also had to cope with ankle and shoulder issues for much of the season.

On Sunday, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport tweeted: "Patriots love Martellus Bennett's toughness. Example: He plays with a cracked bone [and] bone chips in his ankle. Surgery likely this spring."

Bennett initially showed up on the Patriots injury report with an ankle issue after having his leg twisted awkwardly during a win over the Browns in Week 5. It hampered him for much of the regular season, and he seemed to aggravate it further while being tackled during a Week 12 victory at Met Life Stadium over the Jets. The following week, a win against the Rams, Bennett admitted he had what was probably his worst game of the season.

Bennett has continually played as the top tight end on the Patriots roster since Rob Gronkowski landed on injured reserve. He played in 64 of a possible 69 offensive snaps against the Texans in the Divisional Round, and he has played at least 43 snaps each week since the Patriots' bye in Week 9. For the season, he has played in 78 percent of New England's offensive snaps.

Bennett is due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. He'll turn 30 years old in March.