Patriots searching for consistency before facing Dolphins

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Patriots searching for consistency before facing Dolphins

FOXBORO -- It's a word that seems to rule the Patriots universe: consistency. Players who want to play need to show it. It can be heard in the soundbites provided to the media. And the team fosters it as much as possible with its schedule.

Lately, it's eluded the Patriots on the field. In Week 14, they beat one of the best teams in the NFL when the Texans came to Gillette Stadium. They lost to the Niners the following week after spotting a second-year quarterback a huge lead and responding with a remarkable comeback that fell short. Then they beat the Jaguars, but without playing close to their best game.

When the Patriots play the Dolphins on Sunday, their hope is that they can rediscover the consistency that's eluded them.

"We try to do that every week," Bill Belichick said on Wednesday. "This week, every week, the early part of the season, end of the season, middle of the season. Yeah, its always about consistency. I think you can look at every team in the league and find good plays and players doing things really well. These are professional football players: theyre very talented, they can do a lot of things. The good teams, the good players, they do them more consistently. Its not about talent as much as it is consistent performance teams and individual players. Its all connected."

Tom Brady echoed those same thoughts yesterday.

"I think its about playing consistent football and I think weve got to do a better job of that," Brady said. "It hasnt been as consistent as we would have liked, but weve still got a chance to improve it. And really, if were consistent this week, which I hope we are, thats ultimately whats going to help us win this game, not really what happened in the previous month or two months. Our goals are ahead of us and thats where were looking and thats the direction were heading in."

The rest of the Patriots know what their coach and quarterback are looking for, and they're trying to find it in the most obvious of places first.

"I think it just gives us reason to want to get better to go out there and practice hard and do what we need to do to get better," Wes Welker said today. "I think it's constantly us just trying to push each other in the right direction."

Vince Wilfork said that sometimes finding consistency is as easy as getting on the right track early, and letting it find you from there.

"We have to do a better job of starting games," he said. "We can play with anybody, we can play for 60 minutes, but there's just so much up and down. Part of that is how we start. We gotta do a better job of starting fast. That's gonna be the motto here from here on out: Start fast and finish strong. It's a good week to start this week. last week of the season, being at home, division game, against a team that's not gonna come in here and lay down."

However it happens, if the Patriots can find some consistency before the end of the regular season, it would be an opportune time for order to be restored to their football universe.

Playoff football awaits.

Jae Crowder: Bucks came out and "hit us in the mouth" early, good test

Jae Crowder: Bucks came out and "hit us in the mouth" early, good test

Jae Crowder and Brad Stevens react to the Celtics loss to the Bucks on Wednesday night, followed by Kyle Draper and Brian Scalabrine talking about where this loss leaves Boston in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Haggerty: Bruins plan to take it slow with McAvoy, unless . . .

Haggerty: Bruins plan to take it slow with McAvoy, unless . . .

BRIGHTON -- Nobody doubts that 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy is going to be a game-changer down the road for the Boston Bruins.

The Boston University sophomore, expected to be in the NHL next season, is the crown jewel of a draft-and-development movement led by general manager Don Sweeney over the last three years. And if McAvoy hits the ground running with the Providence Bruins over the weekend, he may even make his NHL debut with the Bruins sometime in the next 10 days, even though playing in as much as a single game with Boston this season would burn a year off his entry-level contract.

"[The NHL] is still to be determined. It will be contract first and [the AHL] as a good first step for us," said Sweeney after signing McAvoy to an ATO (Amateur Tryout Agreement). "He's made the decision to leave [college] and we're excited about that process. It leaves some options open [for McAvoy], but first and foremost gets him playing and acclimated to pro hockey."

But there's also the reality that a 19-year-old like McAvoy is going to face challenges in pro hockey. Mastering the defenseman position at the NHL level is an extremely complicated process. It's the reason we see a lot more teenage forwards take the league by storm than teenage D-men, who typically need more development time in the AHL to hone their skills at both ends of the rink.

"[The challenge] would be getting him to figure out what works at this level and what doesn't, just like if he were in Providence," said interim coach Bruce Cassidy about the theoretical possibility of McAvoy playing in Boston soon. "We've used seven defensemen here over the last eight weeks and they've done a good job for us, so we'd have to see where he fit in and go from there . . . I've seen him here and there, but I don't know enough about his individual game at this point to know what he would specifically need to do . . .

"[Defense] is a tougher position in the NHL because mistakes are magnified. If you're a forward you've got another layer of defense to support you, so you can get away with some of that stuff. I think that's why you see generally that most of the rookies that age in the NHL are forwards."

Torey Krug signed with the Bruins out of college five years ago and had a one-game cameo with them before spending the entire next season in Providence. Krug says now that, looking back, he knows he wasn't ready to play in the NHL coming out of school and needed a season to sort things out defensively against bigger, stronger, smarter and faster opponents.

"The speed itself wasn't much of an issue, but if you fall asleep even for a second it's going to turn into a scoring chance for the other team," Krug said of the adjustment from college hockey to the NHL. "These games are not easy to play in, even for veterans in the league . . .

"I thought offensively I was ready [right away], but defensively I had a lot to learn. It's a tough league to play in. Offensively it was fun, but defensively I had my share of hiccups realizing I had to go down to Providence to work on some things."

McAvoy isn't expected to follow Krug's path. He'll get development opportunities at the AHL level at the end of this season just like fellow young D-man Brandon Carlo, who used last spring's AHL experience to vault directly into the NHL this season as a 19-year-old playing top-four minutes right from opening night.

It's also the track taken by Zach Werenski last year with the Columbus Blue Jackets. An AHL playoff run fully prepped him for his breakout season as the league's best rookie defenseman.

"It's a long time ago, but I used that [ATO] myself as a benefit and I've always been an advocate of it, and I think Robbie O'Gara, Danton Heinen and Carlo all [did it]," said Sweeney. "All the players that have been able to come on and play at a very high level against men, generally in a playoff stretch drive or the playoffs themselves, it's a unique [experience].

"When you first turn pro, you're introduced to it at a really high level and you have to adjust to it on the fly. It's about structure and understanding the voices you're hearing. And reading and reacting at the pro level are all very important [skills]. [I think] it's a great on-the-job training exercise and right now Brandon is the best example of it. He's been able to jump into our lineup this year, and that's a testament to him and also the work he did last year."

So the Bruins should take their time with McAvoy, though also allow that he could be a dominant exception to the rule and become a force right out of the chute. It certainly appears Sweeney is going to leave that door ajar,  to make sure the Bruins don't miss out on anything with a young defenseman who's already drawn comparisons to Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty.