Patriots defense thriving on big-time turnovers

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Patriots defense thriving on big-time turnovers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rob Ninkovich made a good point Thursday night.

"I think the turnovers are more important than the total yards that we give up."

For this game, anyway.

New England's defense gave up 405 yards of total offense to the Jets Thanksgiving night, including 306 on the arm of quarterback Mark Sanchez. Same old song for the league's 27th-ranked 'D.' It's a unit that surrenders 388.7 yards per game as well as the most pass plays of plus-20 yards.

But in this game, the Patriots also forced five fumbles and recovered four. Two of those turnovers resulted in touchdowns.

One reporter noted to Ninkovich, who has a career-high five forced fumbles this season, that Jets fans were booing the home team by halftime.

Think New England wouldn't notice the noise?

"It started in the second quarter, actually," Ninkovich corrected with a smirk. "It's a good feeling; you know that you're doing something right on the defensive side of the ball to get them so frustrated that they're leaving early. So I think that's always a great feeling when you come to another place and, at the end of the game, there's more Patriots fans in the crowd then there are Jets fans."

That was definitely the case by the time he recovered a ball in the fourth quarter. The score was 42-12; most of New England's damage was already done.

As nose tackle Vince Wilfork pointed out, the lead was big enough early on.

"When we play together -- play well -- good things will happen. It gets fun. It starts getting fun. We're up 28 points in the first half and all you can say is, wow," he marveled.

"This team is a tough, tough football team, mentally and physically. We preach from Day One: Be mentally tough, be physically tough, and play smart football."

It didn't hurt that the Jets were comically bad.

In the second quarter, Mark Sanchez faked a first-and-10 handoff and then made to run up the middle. He instead motored into the brick-walled butt of Jets offensive lineman Brandon Moore and landed flat on his back. The ball came loose. Patriots safety Steve Gregory scooped it up and ran back 32 yards for the touchdown.

He shrugged off personal praise in Thursday's postgame.

"I think Vince did a good job of knocking somebody back on that play, so it all works together. It was a team effort. Guys did a great job up front getting pressure on the quarterback, and hitting those guys. We were really physical tonight and I think it helped out."

It was indeed Wilfork, "fighting pressure with pressure," who backed Moore up into the charging Sanchez.

And wouldn't you know it? The big tackle returned the nod in kind.

"Gregory, what a hell of a game he had. Last week before we played the Colts, he had three interceptions in practice and I said, 'You can get three interceptions in a game. You can get three turnovers in a game.' It didn't happen that day, but he came out today and made some big plays for us."

We've seen it before: This defense is opportunistic. The Jets just showed what New England can do with many, many opportunities. 

Gregory alone added a forced fumble and an interception to his two recoveries and touchdown.

"It was good one for me today," he said. "Some of that was the ball popping out and you being in the right place at the right time."

That's been happening a lot lately. Gregory's first quarter pick marked the team's fifth interception in the last three weeks.

Do the turnover numbers alone make the Patriots a "good" defense by conventional standards? No. But maybe there's something to the 14 interceptions and 18 fumbles -- the 32 big play takeaways.

Maybe it makes them good enough.

Lowe: Wouldn't be shocked if C's move Bradley

Lowe: Wouldn't be shocked if C's move Bradley

Zach Lowe’s most recent podcast is worth a listen, as it features plenty of talk about what the Celtics may or may not due ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline. 

Lowe brought up the possibility of the Celtics top-1 or top-2-protecting Brooklyn’s first-round pick and including it in a deal for Butler. He surmises that the inclusion of the Brooklyn pick -- protected or not -- might not come until the final minutes. 

“Look, if Butler gets traded or if Paul George gets traded, that’s when it’s going to happen,” Marc Stein responded. “It’s going to happen in the last five to 10 minutes, so Boston has to make a decision, and let's see if they’re doing the math that they’ve had these assets for a while and it is time to do something bold and the time is now. Really, I think Boston will do it. The question is what will Chicago or Indiana do? And those are two hard reads.” 

Stein spoke to the Celtics’ lack of activity at certain points, but he said that if the C’s do fail to come away with a star player Thursday, it won’t be for lack of aggressiveness. 

MORE TRADE TALK

“I think the Celtics are taking criticism for waiting, and they’ve had all these assets they haven’t moved yet, but I think the record shows that Danny Ainge in general, in total, is very aggressive, not afraid to roll the dice, not afraid to make the aggressive move,” Stein said. “So I have less doubt about Boston saying, ‘Let’s just do it.’ I have far more questions about what Chicago and/or Indiana would do.” 

Lowe said that he imagines the Bulls would “think about” trading the C's Butler if Boston threw in the Nets’ pick unprotected, but added that Chicago would demand to also take two players out of Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. 

“I think that will be the offer and they’ll get there and Chicago will either have a moment where they say, ‘We walk away or we’ll do it.’ And Boston’s not going to throw in the other Nets pick,” Lowe said. “That’s just not going to happen.”

Rating the aforementioned foursome in terms of trade value, Lowe said that Crowder is the best piece because of his “ridiculously good” contract, followed by Brown, Smart and Bradley. 

Lowe added that he considers Bradley one of the “sneaky interesting pieces at this trade deadline” because his contract is up after next season, which is the same time that Isaiah Thomas’ contract expires. Lowe says that given the uncertainty of his future in Boston, he wouldn’t be overly surprised if Bradley is moved at the deadline. 

Report: Ainge wouldn't trade Nets pick for Butler, but would for George

Report: Ainge wouldn't trade Nets pick for Butler, but would for George

Will the Celtics part with the right to Brooklyn’s 2017 first-round pick in order to get a star before Thursday’s trade deadline? 

MORE TRADE TALK

Citing a pair of NBA executives, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News wrote this week that Danny Ainge’s willingness to trade the pick should be in doubt.

Sola named Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Paul George as potential targets, adding that the C’s might include the latter.   

Wrote Isola: 

Two executives doubt that Ainge, who historically plays it close to the vest, would give up the Nets pick in a deal for Butler. However, Ainge might consider it in a trade for George, the Pacers-free agent-to-be who has expressed doubts over re-signing with the Pacers.

‘With Danny, no one ever knows what he might do,' said the executive. ‘He's one of the best. If he thinks he can make a run at the Cavs this season, considering all the injuries Cleveland has had, I can see him making a move.

‘Everyone is talking about Butler to Boston but Danny and Larry Bird go way back. Paul George could be the sleeper.’

This season, the 26-year-old George is averaging 22.3 points 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists a game.