Patriots' 'D' gets an 'A' versus Ravens


Patriots' 'D' gets an 'A' versus Ravens

By Mary Paoletti

FOXBORO -- Reporters have been asking the Patriots all week how they remembered last season's playoff pounding by the Baltimore Ravens. Everyone -- from Belichick to Brady -- said that it's not the kind of game you just "get over."

The pain was especially fresh for New England's defense. Who could shrug off that 83-yard rushing TD by Ray Rice? It was the first play from scrimmage, the second-longest rushing TD in postseason history, and a foreshadowing of the full-throttle offensive outburst that would boot the Pats from postseason play.

But that was last year.

Painful as that loss was, the Patriots defense went into this weekend with fresh focus. They couldn't go back to the 2010 playoffs; they couldn't change history or even call it a second chance. All they could do was try and shut down Ray Rice and win a new game in a new season.

Mission accomplished.

Ray Rice was limited to 88 rushing yards and zero touchdowns in New England's 23-20 win over Baltimore on Sunday. The Ravens ran for just 99 total and Joe Flacco was forced to throw. It was a complete turnaround from the 234 yards that the Patriots allowed last season. And the effort can be chalked up to New England's front line.

The D-line and linebackers were shutdown. Bill Belichick praised his defensive captains specifically in the postgame.

"Team defense. I don't think you can say anything about one guy. I thought our captains this week did a real good job, I'll say that.''

Vince Wilfork, in particular, was a monster.

The nose tackle had a huge hit on Rice in the backfield for a 1-yard loss on first down in the second quarter. He never let up. In the fourth quarter he combined with Gerard Warren to derail Flacco on a QB sneak for no gain on third-and-1. The play forced the Ravens to punt and set Stephen Gostkowski up for the game-tying field goal with just 1:51 left in regulation.

"We were on the same page,'' Wilfork said. "Communication was good as a defensive force and we just rose to the occasion. Fourth-quarter hit and we knew what to do. It seemed like everybody was on the same page. And you know what? You can win it like that."

He certainly had help. Jermaine Cunningham, a second-round rookie, had a standout night. The outside linebacker punished Rice in the first quarter for a loss of 3 yards when Rice attempted a hesitation move. It was an impressive heads-up play for a first-year player to set up a third-and-9 for his team. Cunningham also recorded his first NFL sack for a 4-yard loss in the second quarter when he bumped Flacco's arm and forced a fumble. He showed more of that awareness later on when he baited Michael Oher into a 10-yard holding penalty in the same quarter.

It appeared everybody knew what was at stake this Sunday

"The captains told each person how important this game is, what we need to do to win this ballgame and they responded,'' Wilfork said. "We just told them, 'Hey, look; this is what happened the last time we faced these guys and we're not living in the past but this is what happened.' Everybody understood. We were talking in practice and we were just after one another. It showed today.''

So why overtime?

Despite such unity up front, there were breakdowns in the young secondary. Whether it was Devin McCourty failing to set the edge, Meriweather getting beat on third-and-short, or both the corners and safeties committing stupid penalties, the Patriots front seven were basically forced into excellence because their backup was often unreliable.

That's what makes the defensive stats so impressive. Even though McCourty and Meriweather allowed Baltimore conversions on third down, New England held the Ravens to 31 percent (5-for-16) efficiency on third down overall.

"We stepped up when we needed to step up. All year on third down, we've had problems in that area. Then, something went off and we basically turned it around. It's third down and we get off the field,'' Wilfork noted. "Once we get off the field, we're a totally different defense. We never gave up. I don't care what the clock said, we always believed that we were going to win that ball game.''

Key to the win was adjustments. The Patriots were down 17-10 at the end of the third quarter and had to make a push. That's when captains like Wilfork had to rally the troops. Luckily, the soldiers fell in line.

"They responded,'' he said. "That's people looking up to you. They're not sitting back asking us questions, 'Why are we doing this? Why are we doing that?' No. They put their heads down, they went to work, and it showed up today."

New England really tamped down in overtime and forced the Ravens to punt three times. The offense may have put up the points to bring the Pats back, but the defense put them in the position to get it done. Wilfork was effusively encouraged by his crew.

"We're going to need more of this going forward,'' he said. "I see this as an opening. We're far, far from where we want to be but if we keep putting weeks like this together and keep putting practices like this together like we did this week then we'll keep getting better as a team."

Better is the operative word.

They wanted to be better than the playoff Patriots of last season. They were. But more importantly, New England's defense had a better effort than Ray Rice and the Baltimore Ravens of this season.

Which, on this Sunday, is all they had to be.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones


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."