Curran: Forget the refs, this loss is on McCourty

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Curran: Forget the refs, this loss is on McCourty

BALTIMORE Bruce Hermansen, Ali Shetula, Rodney Russell, Esteban Garza, Mike Riley, Jeff Sadorus, Mark Wetzel and Mark Burns. Those were the officials for Sunday nights Baltimore debacle.

Theres a lot of justifiable moaning over the horrific job they did during the Ravens 31-30 win over the Patriots.

But not one of them are to blame for the Patriots being 1-2 on this Monday morning.

None of them were trying in vain to cover Jacoby Jones on a 24-yard completion up the sideline from Joe Flacco with 1:55 left in the game.

None of them were beaten badly off the line by Jones on a third-and-9 play from the Patriots 34 with 52 seconds left beaten so badly they had to tackle Jones and draw a pass interference that set up the game-winning field goal.

None of them dropped an interception in the first half. None of them dropped an interception in the second half.

None of them got hurdled by Dennis Pitta en route to a 20-yard touchdown late in the first half.

Who did all that? Devin McCourty. Usually you have to order a six-pack of goat horns after a loss because in an NFL game theres a lot of blame to be spread around and theres rarely one culprit. Not this time.

McCourty imploded Sunday night on national television. He was the weak link that Flacco and the Ravens attacked in the Patriots secondary time after time after time. Not undrafted Kyle Arrington. Not undrafted Sterling Moore. Both of those guys let up plays. So did many others. But McCourty gave up the win.

Think of it this way. The Patriots were up 2-0 with 115 seconds left. They had to prevent Baltimore from getting three points. In order for the Ravens to have a reasonable chance to get three, they needed to gain 49 yards. On the first play of the drive, Flacco threw 24 yards over McCourtys head to get the ball to the Ravens 45.

When they needed another play on that third-and-9 I mentioned to avoid a 51-yard attempt, they went at McCourty again and Jones beat him even worse than he had on the first play.

Thats 51 yards on Devin McCourty in a crunch time drive when the Patriots offense put up 30 points on the road against a team that plays pretty good defense.

And thats the ballgame.

We were all puzzled last year when McCourty went from very good as a rookie to one of the worst starting corners in the league. Had to be the scheme. Had to be the things the coaches were asking him to do. Had to be an injury. Had to be his confidence.

This season, in camp and in the first two games, he looked closer to the form he showed as a rookie. All fixed? Not exactly. As the game wore on Sunday night and Joe Flacco heated up, McCourty became his target. Trying to play a trail technique in which he gave receivers a free release from the line of scrimmage and let them get downfield ahead of him, McCourty showed the same inability to close on the ball in the air that he did in 2011. Not only was he unable to close, his fundamentals went to hell as well. He wasnt just out of position on some deep throws, he was flailing (he was also beaten by Smith on another long completion in the first half that Smith dropped as he hit the ground out of bounds).

The dropped pick in the first half wasnt an easy play but it wouldnt have been spectacular if hed made it either. The second dropped pick could have been hauled in by an average high school player.

McCourty works hard. Hes good on special teams. Hes seen as a leader. Hes a stand-up guy after losses. But the evidence over the past year is indisputable. He cant cover very well.

McCourtys postgame mantra Sunday was the same as it was last year when he allowed (according to the website Pro Football Focus) 62 catches for 1,004 yards the second highest total of yards allowed in the league by the sites reckoning.

I just gotta make plays, said McCourty. There were more plays out there, not just the last drive, but there were plays that I can make and my teammates count on me to make and I simply have to make those plays.

I asked McCourty why he doesnt make those plays.

I wish I knew, he said. If I knew I woulda made em. I gotta work on em, I gotta get better. Close on a lot of plays and just gotta get it done.

McCourty seemed offended when I asked if it was a lack of confidence.

Nahhhh. I just gotta make plays. Its not a confidence thing. Why would it be a confidence thing? he asked. I had two balls in my hands, I gotta make those plays, its not a confidence thing. I gotta make plays. Its the National Football League. You go out there with no confidence, youll see a worse display than what I put out there. You just gotta make the plays. Its simple.

Gotta make plays. Gotta work harder. Theres only so long you can hear that pap, nod and presume McCourty will figure it out.

No player has gotten a wider berth and easier ride while being staggeringly ineffective than McCourty. Hes playing like Kato Serwanga and getting treated like Ty Law.

Cornerbacks get beat sometimes, thats a fact. Its an extremely difficult position. Arrington let up a touchdown as well to Smith on a deep ball from Flacco. It happens.

But the all-too frequent toastings McCourty receives have grown old. As has the gotta get better, gotta work harder mantra.

Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

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Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

PHOENIX - The Arizona Cardinals, in an anticipated move, have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Chandler Jones after failing to reach a long-term deal with the player.

The non-exclusive tag allows the Cardinals to continue negotiating with Jones through July 15. If another team makes him an offer, Arizona can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks.

It's unlikely that any team would express interest in Jones, however, given what it would cost.

Under the franchise tag, Jones would receive about $15 million for the coming season.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season

Jones has 25 1-2 sacks over the past two seasons, third-most in the NFL over that span.

The Cardinals' move came two days before the NFL deadline for making franchise designations.

It also came on Jones' 27th birthday, prompting teammate David Johnson to tweet "Happy BDay to `The Man,' `Mr. Franchise' himself.....The one and only."

The franchise tag move came as no surprise.

Club President Michael Bidwill has stated all along that Jones would not be going anywhere, that the team didn't make the trade - sending guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick to New England - to keep him just for one season.

"We're not going to mess around with that," Bidwill said in a recent interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "He's a great pass rusher, but if we can't agree to terms that work for us, we're just going to franchise him, and his people know that."

Jones immediately upgraded what had been an average Cardinals pass rush at best. His fellow outside linebacker Markus Golden had 12 1-2 sacks and seven tackles for loss. Together they form one of the better outside pass rush combinations in the NFL.

By all accounts, the contract talks with Jones have been cordial and Jones has said he wants to stay in Arizona.

"I love it here," he said near the end of last season. "I love the vibe that the people give off and I can see myself being here for a long time."

Chandler heads a long list of free agents that the Cardinals must either re-sign or let go. That group includes starters defensive tackle Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson and inside linebacker Kevin Minter.

Mayock: If I'm Cleveland, I'd be 'stoked' to land Garoppolo for No. 12 pick

Mayock: If I'm Cleveland, I'd be 'stoked' to land Garoppolo for No. 12 pick

NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock quarterbacked a marathon conference call with reporters from around the country on Monday in order to shed some light on the prospects who will compete at the combine later this week. One thing that stood out? He's not ready to crown anyone in this year's crop of draftable signal-callers.

As a result of the dearth of pro-ready talent at quarterback, Mayock recognized Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo as perhaps the top target for any quarterback-needy team. Garoppolo might interest the Cleveland Browns in particular, Mayock noted, because of the number of picks they have near the top of the draft.

"In my opinion," Mayock said, "if I'm the Cleveland Browns and I've got No. 1 and No. 12, if I came away with either [defensive end Myles] Garrett or [defensive tackle] Jonathan Allen at No. 1, and gave up the 12th pick in the draft to get Garoppolo? I would be stoked.

"I would feel like I had a difference-maker on defense and we had a quarterback on offense. Now let's get to work. We got five in the first 65 picks. Let's get to work. From my perspective, especially looking at the quarterbacks this year, if they gave up No. 12 and could get Garoppolo, I'd be all over that."