Patriots defense didn't bend or break vs. Jets


Patriots defense didn't bend or break vs. Jets

By Danny Picard

FOXBORO -- Bend but don't break.

That's been the phrase which has labeled this year's Patriots defense. It's not the sexiest slogan on the face of the earth, but entering Monday night's AFC East showdown with the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium, it had worked.

And it worked on nine different occasions.

But regardless of what they tell you, no NFL defense wants to go through an entire 17-week regular season plus-playoffs with a "bend but don't break" mentality. No matter how good your offense may be, that usually doesn't result in a hoist of the Lombardi Trophy at season's end.

The Patriots, regardless of what they tell you, are no exception.

Tom Brady and the rest of New England's offense put up 45 points on Monday night. It was good enough for a win against the Jets. On most nights, 45 points is good enough for a win against anybody.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that the Patriots offense is the team's biggest strength, and that it's the aspect of New England's game that has to step up and carry the load each and every week, if the Pats want to be playing in Dallas in February.

That was the thought, at least, entering Monday night. Hell, Patriots players were the first to tell you that.

"Bend but don't break," their defensive players would say, after each and every win this season.

But each and every time a Patriots defender would respond in those words, they'd imply that that slogan wasn't meant to be a permanent staple for this young defense.

On Monday night, they took that next step, and played their first 60-minute defensive game of the season, forcing Mark Sanchez to throw three interceptions, and allowing only three points in what was undoubtedly the biggest game of the year.

"That's something we've been talking about since the beginning of the year, 60 minutes," said Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington. "And I think today we finally put it together, a complete game for 60 minutes. We had one of the best weeks, the team felt, of practice all year. If we keep practicing like that and playing like that, we'll be in good shape."

"We used our time wisely," said safety James Sanders, who made New England's third interception of the game. "We prepared extremely well. Like coach Bill Belichick said after the game, we had our best week of practice of the whole year. And we put it together for 60 minutes. It was the first time all season we put it together for 60 minutes.

"Each week we're getting closer, we're getting closer, we're getting closer, and I think we went out there and made a nice statement tonight."

The Jets scored their only three points on a 49-yard field goal in the opening minutes of the second quarter. From there, it wasn't as if the Jets didn't have chances to put more points on the board. They did, but the Patriots' defense made three huge plays in the second half that killed any rallies that New York was going to make.

The first came on a Brandon Spikes interception, which ended a 60-yard drive on 2nd-and-8 inside the New England 10-yard line. Sanchez was looking for Braylon Edwards in the middle of the end zone, but Spikes leaped up and picked off the pass at around the 2-yard line, ending the threat, and leading to a 93-yard Patriots drive which resulted in a Wes Welker touchdown and a New England 31-3 lead.

On New York's very next possession, and just the second play of that possession, Sanchez tried to go deep down the right sideline to Edwards, and Devin McCourty picked off the underthrown ball at the New England's 6-yard line. The Patriots drove 94 yards, resulting in an Aaron Hernandez touchdown for the 38-3 Patriots lead.

Sanchez was intercepted for a third time on his next possession, when he threw a ball right into the hands of Sanders at New England's 44-yard line, who ran it down to the Jets' 28. It resulted in a 28-yard Patriots drive and a BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown run for a 45-3 lead.

"We got our butts whooped tonight," said Sanchez. "Flat out, that's the way you got to say it.

"They did a great job," added the Jets' quarterback. "McCourty made a great play on the underthrown ball. Spikes made a good play on a ball I threw a little too flat. And then, I don't even know who picked the other one, Sanders, he had a good play there. We didn't get the route communicator right, and I was throwing to a spot, and we weren't quite there, and then their pass rush did a really good job. So, across the board, they had a really good game. It looked like they played mistake-free, and then our mistakes really hurt us."

The Patriots hadn't played mistake-free football on the defensive end, for a full 60 minutes, all season long. Their goal was to get to that point slowly but surely.

Until they did so, they believed that the "bend but don't break" mentality was good enough -- given their high-powered offense -- to get into the playoffs.

On Monday night, New England's defense, once again, refused to break. This time, in the biggest game of the year.

But unlike the previous 11 games, there wasn't even a bend.

Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comdannypicard

Quirky Super Bowl schedule this time around for Patriots

Quirky Super Bowl schedule this time around for Patriots

The Patriots schedule for the next few days in Massachusetts and Super Bowl Week in Houston is a little quirky.

Players are off on Tuesday (media has conference call access to Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia). There’s no media access on Wednesday at all as the team begins getting introduced to the Super Bowl game plan that will have been partially formulated (and subject to tweaking). The players are in Thursday, Friday and Saturday for afternoon practices and there’s media access to the players each day. There’s no media access on Sunday.

The team will fly to Houston on Monday and – in a major departure – will do its media duties at night. The NFL has repackaged media day as Super Bowl Opening Night. It will be held at Minute Maid Field (home of the Astros) with access to the Patriots from 10 to 11 p.m. EST.

Tuesday, there will be access from 1:30 to 2:30 EST to Belichick and a handful of players at the Patriots’ hotel. There will be full access to players and coaches on Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 6:15 EST.

There’s no NFL-sponsored access of any kind on Friday or Saturday. Previously, there was a final press conference with the head coaches and a press conference with the NFL Commissioner. His name is Roger. Roger Goodell.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame committee meets on Saturday and will announce the 2017 inductees by the end of the day.

For those of you who like television - or who stream on your tiny devices – we’ll be all over this mess.

This week, look for Patriots Wednesday Live on Thursday at noon (hard to have Wednesday Live if ain’t nobody gonna be live from the team).

Mike Giardi and I will be down there Sunday so start looking for live reports and my giant nose in the great state of Texas at that point.

If we’re not live during media day in the evening, I don’t know what we’re doing with our lives. Quick Slants will be Tuesday night and Jerod Mayo will be down there.

Lotta podding planned. Lotta podding.

We’ll keep you updated.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.