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.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

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STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

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Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

SAN FRANCISCO  — As an irate Bryce Harper charged toward the mound, Buster Posey just stood and watched from behind home plate.

And when the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants cleared their benches Monday and punches flew both ways, the All-Star catcher did his best to remain just outside the fray.

Not where some expected to find the Giants team leader with his pitcher, Hunter Strickland, exchanging head shots with Harper.

“Posey did NOTHING to stop Harper from getting to his pitcher,” former major league pitcher Dontrelle Willis wrote on Twitter. “I’ve never seen that before in my life.”

Posey declined to enter the fracas, instead remaining around its edges and watching as the players scuffled in “a pretty good pile,” as Giants manager Bruce Bochy called it.

Posey dealt with a concussion in April after being struck in the head by a pitch, but did not say he held back because of concerns related to that. He did say he was wary about the risk of injury.

“There were some big guys tumbling around out there,” Posey said. “You see Mike Morse and Jeff Samardzija are about as big as they come and he was getting knocked around like a pinball. So it was a little dangerous to get in there.”

Still, social media was abuzz at the sight of Posey not sticking up for his teammate.

“Strickland must have told @BusterPosey he was hitting him and let him come cause he didn’t even give a soft jog,” Willis wrote.

“Says all you need to know that Buster Posey didn’t bother to hold back Harper,” tweeted Fox broadcaster Kevin Burkhardt . “Let him go get his pitcher.”

Also absent from the fight: hard-nosed Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. As his teammates flew over the dugout railing, Bumgarner stayed put, perhaps because the left-hander is still recovering after injuring his pitching shoulder and ribs in a dirt biking accident in April.