Curran: Five thoughts from Patriots 31, Packers 27

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Curran: Five thoughts from Patriots 31, Packers 27

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

1. PATS VS. BACKUPS

Wow. That Matt Flynn. How often are you going to see something like that against the Patriots, a backup lighting up a Bill Belichick defense? Doesn't Professor Hoodie normally leave young, inexperiencedquarterbacks wailing at the moon andyearning for the warm, comfortable womb of the sidelines? Not exactly. The best performance of the season prior to Flynn's 24 for 37, 251-yard, three-touchdown, one pick evening was actually Colt McCoy's ultra-efficient 14 for 19 for 174 (one rushing TD) day in the Browns' upset of the Pats. In the past, it's happened that way as well. Matt Schaub stepped in foran injured Michael Vick back in 2005 and threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-28 loss. A.J. Feeley stepped in for Donovan McNabb in 2007 and threw for 345 yards and three touchdowns (and three picks) when the Eagles went toe-to-toe with the Patriots. The first time the Patriots saw Mark Sanchez, he went 14 for 22 for 165 and a touchdown in his second career start. Maybe it has something to do with the fact the Patriots prefer to sit back in coverage and make a quarterback think his way down the field and string together plays as opposed to bringing extra rushers and allowing the chance of getting beaten with a lucky punch (which the Pats kind of were on James Jones 66-yard touchdown catch). Whatever the cause, it's happened enough for it to be more than a coincidence. 2. DEFENSE CHEWEDAfter weeks of getting leads and then stepping on opponents' necks, the Patriots defense breathed life into the Packers offense by being godawful on third down. Green Bay finished the night 11 for 19 (58 percent). The Packers' scoring drives were 11, 3, 13, 13 and 11 plays. The Patriots' defense couldn't get off the field (40:48 time of possession to 19:12). "The little things," lamented inside linebacker Jerod Mayo. "We prepared well this week, we just didn't go out and execute like we had to. Usually in base we're pretty tough against the run (Green Bay ran for 143 yards). We have a lot of work to do. I felt like we prepared just as well this week as we have the last five weeks. How many missed tackles did we have? A lot of missed tackles and that extended drives. We can't play like this next week."3. BRADY PICK STREAKTom Brady dodged a few more interception bullets Sunday night but emerged from the game with his pickless streak intact. He's now gone 292 attempts without an interception. He now holds the record for most passes without throwing a pick in a single season. He passed Jeff George (279) Sunday night and will pass Bart Starr (294) if he can make throw three more without a pick. Bernie Kosar's all-time mark of 308 is just 16 throws away. The nearest Brady came to throwing an interception was on the Patriots' first drive of the game when he hit Charles Woodson in the hands and the Packers corner dropped it. A.J. Hawk also had a chance on a tipped ball in the fourth quarter and didn't come up with it. 4. FLAGS FLYINGThe Patriots entered the game with 55 accepted penalties in their first 13 games. That was the fourth-lowest total in the league. They got flagged seven times for 52 yards on Sunday night. Bill Belichick threw a little chum in the water when asked about what would have been the most costly penalty of the night, Tully Banta-Cain's hands-to-the-face flag. "Look, these guys (referee Ed Hochuli's crew) call the most penalties of any crew in the league and they called them. We knew it was going to be a tight game and it was. We've just got to do a better job of that. I've got to do a better job preparing the team."5. ARRINGTON, CONNOLLY CHIP INBIGCornerback Kyle Arrington keeps on making big plays. He didn't havea lockdown night on the right side of the Patriots defense, but his pick on a pass intended for James Jones early in the second half was a huge play. His 36-yard return put the Patriots out in front 21-17 just three minutes into the half. "I got beaten earlier in the game on a slant and I decided if I saw that again, 'I'm gonna go for it.' The ball was there and I was in the right place at the right time." Arrington punctuated his return by stepping around and through four differentPackers. "The goal line wasn't too far so I was happy I could get there," said Arrington, whose impressive strength packed into a small body helped him power through. If he looked a bit like a natural, it's because he's got experience with the ball in his hands from playing running back in youth football and high school. "It's like riding a bike," he said."It's like muscle memory, you know?" Meanwhile, the 71-yard kickoff return by Dan Connolly at the close of the first half was not likely foreshadowed by any reps at running back earlier in his football career. Connolly, a left guard, took a squibbed kick back to the Packers' 4. That, along with Arrington's pick-six, were the two plays that turned the game for New England. Or at least kept them in contact with Green Bay until the offense awoke.

Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

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Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will head into Sunday's AFC title game with seven players listed as questionable, including three receivers. 

Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan have all been limited in practices this week due to their injuries. Amendola has been dealing with an ankle issue since a Week 13 win over the Rams, while Mitchell has not played since injuring his knee in Week 16 against the Jets. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans and left the game in the third quarter.

Both Hogan and Mitchell indicated this week that they were moving in the right direction in terms of their recoveries. One would think that the Patriots would need at least one, if not both, to help stress the back end of the Steelers secondary this weekend.

Hogan has been the team's most consistent down-the-field threat this season, averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch during the regular season. Against the Texans, before his injury, he reeled in four passes for 95 yards. 

Mitchell, meanwhile, had a very productive second half of his rookie season before he was hurt. He compiled 25 catches for 306 yards between Weeks 11 and 16, establishing himself as one of Tom Brady's go-to targets. 

The overall health of the Patriots receiving corps -- which will also include Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd -- will bear watching when the Patriots and Steelers kick off in two days.

The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

QUESTIONABLE
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

NOT LISTED
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)