No Huddle: Patriots-Colts postgame sound

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No Huddle: Patriots-Colts postgame sound

FOXBORO -- How much stock do you put into New England's 59-24 win over the Colts? Are the Patriots truly gearing up in this four-game winning streak? Or was this one of those, when-they're-good-they're-really-good-but-they-could-be-bad-next-week Sundays?
For now, at least, we'll focus on the 'they're good' part. And when the Patriots give you reason to start with the defense, you start with the defense.

Here's what the players had to say.

Linebackerdefensive end Rob Ninkovich on if he enjoys the reputation he's developing as a defensive playmaker:

RN: Yeah, I mean Im not going to not take it. Obviously its everything that is helping the team out. Having our defense get a lot of turnovers is one of the best things we do. Obviously there are some things that you dont want to give upyardage and stuff like that. But when you can lead the league in turnovers that speaks a lot for what we do on defense."

Yeah, yeah, yeah -- the Patriots continue to lead the league in giveaway-takeaway ratio. But Ninkovich is having one hell of a year all his own.

>His third quarter forced fumble marked his fifth of the year, which is impressive considering he had only one in his six previous season. The play was a strip-sack of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and so also added to his sack stats (six) for 2012. Ninkovich is only half a quarterback takedown away from the career-high 6.5 he set last season. You can bet he'll reach that number, if not push beyond it.

Somebody give this guy a nickname.

Defensive back Alfonzo Dennard on if he was watching himself on the Jumbotron during his touchdown return:

AD: Yeah I was laughs. I was, though. Because I know Andrew Luck, hes a pretty fast quarterback, so I had to look at the Jumbotron to see if he was behind me.

The rookie was given a gift.

The pick came on Luck's very first snap of the fourth quarter. Receiver Reggie Wayne was the intended receiver on the out-pattern, but the QB waited to long to throw and Dennard had already looped around to intercept by the time the ball was released. Luck gave chase and nearly got a hand on the streaking cornerback. No dice; Dennard hit the sideline, put on a burst of speed, and made it in for a touchdown.

Speaking of fast quarterbacks, Tom Brady

Only kidding.

Luck on whether or not he introduced himself or talked to Brady before the game:

AL: "No, we didnt have a chance. Schedules, whatever."

An unfortunate circumstance.

Luck, in the days leading up to the game, said he has vivid memories of watching the Patriots-Colts, Brady-Manning rivalry when he was growing up. You'd think meeting a quarterback he admired as a kid would be a big moment in his career.

Or not.

On going against Brady:

AL: "It sucked tonight because we lost by however much. I dont know. Ive never been big into who the other quarterback is or who the other wide receiver is."

And then you grow up, right? The 23-year old Luck may have admired Brady at one time, but he knew exactly where he stood on Sunday -- on the opposite side of a battlefield. Not a bad thing at all.

Luck was competitive. He completed 27 of 50 passes for 334 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. Sunday marked the fifth time in his short career he's gone over 300 yards.

As for that other quarterback.

Offensive lineman Ryan Wendell on how easy Brady makes it for the offensive line:

RW: I wouldnt want anybody else. The biggest thing that Tom does is that he puts us in a position to keep him safe. Toms just as important in the protection as the offensive linemen.

It all works in concert. See below.

Bill Belichick on how the offensive line did protecting Tom Brady:

BB: "Better in protection probably overall than in the running game but we had a couple long runs on some outside plays. But really they did a good job stopping the run. I thought our line did a pretty good job protecting but again that really ties in with the receivers. If guys are open, the quarterback doesnt have to hold the ball, he can get rid of it and Tom Brady does a good job of that. That was something we really emphasized with the receivers this week, was that if they played a lot of man coverage, which they did, that wed have to get open quickly so we didnt have to stand back there and hold the ball and wait all day for them to get open. They did that so it was good; good complementary football all the way around."

You hear the Patriots talk all the time about how any guy needs to be ready to step up on any given day. There was call for that against the Colts. Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly were unavailable Sunday because of injuries, which left Donald Thomas and Nick McDonald to step in and play spot duty.

Both performed well enough that the offensive line held its ground: Indianapolis managed just two quarterback hits and not a single sack. Brady had an excellent night statistically, completing 24 of 35 passes for 331 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions.

It's also worth noting New England averaged a tremendous 9.5 yards per pass play.

Interim Colts coach Bruce Arians on if this the kind of game he tells his players to just burn from their memories:

BA: "No, you better remember it. You better damn remember it. Because you hope to be back here and you dont want to forget it. You dont throw things away in this business, you learn from them. We will watch this tape real hard tomorrow. We wont burn it and go to the next one. We will watch it and learn from it. Each guy individually and us collectively as a coaching staff and a group. And we will get better for it."

This is a fantastic answer by Arians. Indianapolis was 0-10 at this point last season. This year, behind a rookie quarterback, the Colts could make the playoffs. It's great to hear they're not settling for improvement.

Receiver Wes Welker on what the turnaround is like with a short week coming up:

WW: We will enjoy this for a few hours and then get ready for New York tomorrow and make sure were on top of everything. This is like a Wednesday night right now, so weve got to make sure we are getting ready for Thursday.

From Sunday to Wednesday in a matter of minutes.

It's nearly Thanksgiving.

This will be the first short week for New England and the team faces a divisional rival on the other side of it. No matter how terrible the Jets have looked at times, they won't likely roll over at home.

If they do, then they are who we think they are. It's almost been tougher to figure out who, exactly, the Patriots are. But this is when we find out.

Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

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Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

FOXBORO -- When the Patriots traded their first-round pick in the 2017 draft for Brandin Cooks, they gave Tom Brady one of the most productive deep-ball receivers in the NFL over the course of the last few seasons. 

The Cooks acquisition not only made the Patriots offense more versatile, it also may have signaled an acknowledgement that the team needed more pass-catchers who could produce down the field and outside the numbers.

In the playoffs last season, against Houston's and Atlanta's defenses -- both of which were effective at times in taking away the short-to-intermediate areas of the field -- the Patriots could have benefited from someone like Cooks. In both games, the Patriots were able to hit on throws deep and on the outside in critical moments with likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell. 

Now after three weeks, and after having faced two defenses in Houston's and Kansas City's that were intent on packing the middle of the field with defenders, it's clear that the move to grab Cooks is paying dividends. 

In Sunday's win over the Texans, 36-33, Brady threw eight passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, and he completed five for 185 yards and three scores, according to Pro Football Focus. On the season, Brady leads the league with 22 attempts of 20 yards or more, per PFF. He's completed 11 of those for 368 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating on deep attempts (135.4) is second in the league. 

Compare that to last season's totals for Brady on deep passes -- 23 completions for 834 yards and eight touchdowns -- and he's on pace to blow those numbers away. Whereas he only attempted deep passes on just over 11 percent of his throws last season, according to PFF, so far this year one in every five of his throws is traveling 20 yards or more.

The biggest beneficiary of the new approach? Cooks, of course, who Brady has dubbed "Cookie." 

PFF says Cooks is leading the league in deep-ball receiving through three weeks, with 187 yards on five deep catches. Three of those came on Sunday and they resulted in 111 yards and two scores. In Week 1, Cooks had three catches for 88 yards -- including a 54-yarder -- and he drew three penalties that resulted in an additional 38 yards. In Week 2, Cooks had two catches for 37 yards -- including a 22-yarder.

Last year? The leading receiver for the Patriots on passes that traveled 20 yards or more was Hogan (10 catches for 397 yards). 

One more indication that the Patriots offense has shifted with Cooks in and Edelman sidelined: Cooks leads the NFL in yards per catch through three games (25.6 yards per reception), while Danny Amendola (16.4 yards per reception, seventh) and Rob Gronkowski (14.9, 13th) are all found among the league leaders in that category.  

Opposing defenses may continue to play the Patriots as the Texans and Chiefs did this season: Flood the middle of the field and pressure Brady with just three or four linemen. They may be content with allowing Brady to attempt lower-percentage throws down the field as opposed to letting him slice them up with shorter tosses. 

It worked well enough for the Chiefs to win, and it nearly worked well enough for the Texans. Perhaps "the blueprint" is still the blueprint. But with the addition to Cooks, Brady and the Patriots have proven that they've evolved to more efficiently combat those schemes.

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Morning Skate: Blackhawks looking for right mix on fourth line

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Morning Skate: Blackhawks looking for right mix on fourth line

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading. while readying for the last home game of the preseason tonight. Boy that went by quickly.

*Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is looking for the right mix on the fourth line for the Hawks.

*The NHL is coming late to the China party and it makes one wonder what will happen for the Winter Olympic Games set to be played there in 2022.

*PHT writer Adam Gretz has the Arizona Coyotes wanting to retire the freshly-retired Shane Doan’s number in the future.

*Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan says that the decision to accept the White House’s invitation was independent of politics. Certainly, it was, but the timing of it and the feeble statement to go along with it left a lot to be desired.

*Pierre Lebrun goes 1-on-1 with Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien to talk about his past, his present and his future behind the bench with the Habs. I had always intended to subscribe to the Athletic, and this is the article that finally got me to do it as I get to read a few moments with one of the classiest individuals in the NHL in Julien. It certainly had a few rocky moments toward the end here in Boston for Julien, but I will always respect that guy as a coach and, more importantly, as a person.  

*For something completely different: an interesting look at Alejandro Villanueva, the only Pittsburgh Steelers player, and a proud veteran, to stand outside the tunnel and on the field for the national anthem prior to the Steelers game on Sunday.