Patriots pass-rush looking for more against Buffalo

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Patriots pass-rush looking for more against Buffalo

FOXBORO -- They finally had gotten to Joe Flacco. With just over four minutes left in the fourth quarter on Sunday night, the Patriots defense sacked the Ravens quarterback for the first time. Chandler Jones wrapped up Flacco's feet while Kyle Love finished him off, and the Ravens lost 12 yards on the play.

Then, in an instant, the play was erased, as if it never happened. A defensive holding penalty was whistled on Brandon Spikes and the Ravens advanced five yards to the Patriots five yard line. Flacco threw a touchdown pass to Torrey Smith on the next play, putting them within a field goal of a win.

It was fitting that the New England's lone sack from that game was wiped clean. The Patriots pass-rush generated very little pressure all game, and the zeros in the box score under the sack column served as proof.

Against the Bills, the Patriots defense hopes to make the opposing quarterback's life a little more difficult.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is coming off of a down season for Buffalo in 2011, but he has looked solid so far this year -- especially in the last two weeks. After throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions in a season-opening 48-28 loss to the Jets, he's thrown five straight touchdown passes without a pick in wins over the Chiefs and Browns.

"The biggest thing is when he's playing really good, he's playing really good," said Patriots defensive end Trevor Scott. "We can't let him get confidence going early on in the game. We just gotta do our job to make sure he can't get going."

Easier said than done, it appears. In Buffalo's spread formations, it's difficult to determine whether the Bills will turn to the run or the pass. Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich noted that the Bills' "11 personnel" -- one running back, one tight end, three receivers -- allows them to do both. They like to use their varied offensive weapons in the passing game and then use change-of-pace run plays to keep defenses off-balance.

Through three weeks, it's worked. Fitzpatrick's eight passing touchdowns are tied for the league lead, and the Bills running game has the third most yards in the NFL (534).

Running backs Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller are both dynamic runners and capable receivers when healthy. (They have been dealing with injuries this week, but both practiced Thursday.) Receiver Steve Johnson and tight end Scott Chandler are also capable of taking quick-hitting passes and turning them into big gains.

Fitzpatrick spreads the ball around and is completing almost 60 percent of his throws this season. Plus, he's only been sacked once.

"He gets the ball out quick," Ninkovich said of Fitzpatrick. "I think they don't get sacked a lot because he's not holding the ball very long. We gotta do a good job of making sure their receivers run a little slant, don't catch it and take it 20 yards. We gotta make sure we have a an all-around good tackling game on Sunday."

A pass-rush would help, too. After two weeks of facing mediocre offenses in Arizona and Tennessee, the Patriots barely touched Flacco.

Ninkovich had trouble getting around Ravens tackle Kelechi Osemele, while Jones was handled by Ravens left tackle Michael Oher. Even Vince Wilfork had a rare down game as the Ravens interior line focused on stopping him.

The Patriots are hoping for something different this week. Even if they don't sack Fitzpatrick, they have to disrupt him more often than they did Flacco.

"Timing is a big deal with the receivers and the quarterbacks, especially with their style of offense," Ninkovich said of the Bills. "The best we can do to affect Fitzpatrick in the pocket, get our hands up in the throwing lanes, is really going to affect his game."

The biggest ally for the Patriots defense this week could be its offense. By getting out to a lead and making Buffalo more one-dimensional, it would allow Ninkovich, Jones, Love and Wilfork to read pass plays quickly and rush more aggressively.

The Patriots have bothered Fitzpatrick before. The Harvard-educated quarterback has thrown 12 picks in five career games against New England.

Though a 13-0 lead over the Ravens last Sunday wasn't enough, the Patriots defense is hoping an early lead will help jump-start the defense.

"I think the best thing we can do is get out there and start fast like we did last week," Ninkovich said. "Get 'em into a one-dimensional style of game. In the fourth quarter against the Ravens we were rushing a lot different than we were in the second and third quarters if you watch the tape. Once you get them into passing situations you can pin your ears back and just go."

The Patriots are hoping that the difference this week is when they go, they end up where they want to be.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is Rob Gronkowski good to go?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is Rob Gronkowski good to go?

00:43 - Rob Gronkowski says he's ready to go against the Texans. Michael Holley, Tom Giles and Kayce Smith talk about this risks of him playing while injured.

05:47 - Phil A.Perry follows up the Gronk discussion with a deeper breakdown of Gronk’s decision to play this Sunday.

10:02 - David Price appears to be easing back into baseball after pitching Friday night. Evan Drellich joins BST to talk about Price’s outing in Cincinnati. 

16:12 - The BST crew recaps the Red Sox win over Reds. Drellich returns to analyze how the pitchers performed and how that will impact the Red Sox postseason stretch.  

Trump says NFL should fire players who kneel during anthem

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Trump says NFL should fire players who kneel during anthem

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — President Donald Trump says National Football League owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem. And he’s encouraging spectators to walk out in protest.

In an extended riff during a freewheeling rally speech in Alabama Friday night, Trump also bemoaned that football games have become less violent.

“They’re ruining the game,” he complained.

Several athletes, including NFL players, have refused to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest of the treatment of blacks by police.

Trump says those players are disrespecting the flag and deserve to lose their jobs.

“That’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” he said, encouraging owners to act.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ’Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,” Trump said to loud applause.

Trump also predicted that any owner who went through with his encouragement would become “the most popular person in this country” — at least for a week.

Trump, who was in Alabama campaigning for Sen. Luther Strange, also blamed a decline in NFL ratings on the nation’s interest in “yours truly” as well as what he described as a decline in violence in the game.

He said players are being thrown out for aggressive tackles, and it’s “not the same game.”

The NFL has made several efforts to reduce violence in the sport, particularly hits that may cause damage to the head. A July report on 202 former football players found evidence of a debilitating brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them. The league has agreed to pay $1 billion to retired players who claimed it misled them about the concussion dangers of playing football.

During his campaign, Trump often expressed nostalgia for the “old days” — claiming, for example, that protesters at his rallies would have been carried out on stretchers back then. He recently suggested police officers should be rougher with criminals and shouldn’t protect their heads when pushing them into quad cars.

It’s also not the first time he’s raised the kneeling issue. Earlier this year he took credit for the fact that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the trend of kneeling during the anthem, hadn’t been signed by an NFL team.

Trump said the protest was the top reason NFL viewership had waned this season.

“You know what’s hurting the game more than that? When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem,” he said.

Trump encouraged his supporters to pick up and leave the stadium next time they spot a player failing to stand.

“I guarantee things will stop,” he said.

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