Patriots, Ninkovich must beware of the 'trap'

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Patriots, Ninkovich must beware of the 'trap'

FOXBORO -- Most Patriots who spoke after the Jets game told a version of the same story: Everything leading up to that day was "extra." Cold off a two-game slide, New England went into preparations for its AFC East rival desperately trying to stoke some flame. The players said they watched more film, conditioned harder, put in longer days and pushed themselves to the limit to win.

They did, 37-16, and it was the team's best game in weeks. 329 yards and three touchdowns for Tom Brady. Mark Sanchez was hounded by the defense all day. It wasn't just a win; it was their first triumph over truly stacked odds this season.

"The feeling that you have after that game, how great everyone felt, that's what keeps you going because you want to have more of those great feelings," said linebacker Rob Ninkovich. "Going into the Jets home territory and their backyard, it's a great feeling to get a win out there, so you want to continue with that success. Obviously, we put in extra work so we've got to continue to do that."

The question is how.

How do the Patriots maintain an elevated level of play? How to they keep everything "extra" going from the Jets . . . to the Chiefs? Even beyond divisional storylines, the matchups couldn't be more different. If the Patriots limped into enemy territory on three legs last week, the Chiefs are dragging themselves to Gillette on two.

Ninkovich claims the Patriots will keep their guard up.

"The thing about the NFL is, every week there's so much talent on every team, that week-to-week you never know what's going to happen. You've got to prepare with each team the best that you can because every Sunday there's great teams, great players that can make plays on you. So you've got to do your best and not let that happen."

It's not a crazy idea. There's been plenty of bi-polarity in the NFL this season: the Eagles, Chargers, Ravens, Falcons, and Bills are some that have experienced the spectrum. How does it affect the Patriots? Inconsistency leads to unpredictability, which could spell trouble for a high-flying opponent coming off a huge rivalry game.

A trap.

This could be a week that Bill Belichick hangs little red mouse traps all over the building -- a trick learned from Bill Parcells. If so, defensive captain Vince Wilfork says they won't be surprised. The key is not simmering in old success.

"We turned the page real quick," said Wilfork. "We can't really sit back and think about the win. There's just so much stuff that goes into it each week. We approach this game with the same motto, that we want to win, but the whole game plan is different, so you have to be able to turn the pages quick.

"When you beat a divisional rival you want to be able to sit and enjoy it. But the only enjoyment you have is that plane ride home. Once we touch down, it's back to work."

One has to wonder about the new kids.

A veteran and defensive captain like Wilfork talk about staying grounded makes sense, but the Patriots are working with a mixed bag these days. Two practice-squad players, safety Sterling Moore and linebacker Jeff Tarpinian, started against the Jets. Cornerback Antwuan Molden and linebackerspecial teamer Tracy White -- two more guys who don't have jerseys in the team store -- also got significant time. While none of the four had a breakout performance, nobody turned out to be a major defensive liability, either.

These "scrubs" no doubt understood the gravity of the situation. Even with limited experience, once a player dons a Patriots jersey he understands what it is to hate the Jets. Turning it on against the Chiefs won't be so instinctual. That's where it comes back to guys like Ninkovich, Wilfork and Brady.

"I think the reserves are hungry," said Jerod Mayo. "They'll follow the lead of our veteran players."

An example must be set in practice. According to Wilfork, the newcomers will have to battle through preparation first before getting the reward of game day, "the fun part." His job is to put them, as well as the rest of the team, through hell on the field. There won't be a whole lot of chit-chat. It's November; there shouldn't have to be.

"For the most part these guys understand," Wilfork said. "It's not hard to get 'em to play. It's not hard. They know what we want to do and in order to do that we have to continue to keep preparing well."

We're back to that fundamental issue again: keeping the prep elevated. New England hasn't often been an underdog in recent years. The team's now dispatched of the Jets twice in 2011 and is returned to the top of the AFC East. Difficult to have your back against the wall from that perch, no?

The combined win total for the rest of New England's opponents -- Kansas City, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Washington, Denver and Miami -- is 21.

21 wins out of 64 games.

But the Patriots said all the right things Wednesday. When asked about finding motivation to fight statistically neutered opponents, cornerback Kyle Arrington took a moment. Then he laughed; the answer seemed so simple once he landed on it.

"It's our job. It's all about attitude and 'want to'. We're going to watch the same amount of film week in and week out. It's on the players when we're at home, when it's not asked of you -- when no one's looking -- to put that time in yourself and prepare week-in and week-out like that."

It's about attitude.

The season doesn't end when you beat the Jets, especially not for this Patriots team. One win, even a great win, doesn't prove the offense won't struggle without a downfield option. It doesn't mean the secondary won't get gashed again. Winning the games they're supposed to might be just as important because this stretch, largely devoid of drama, will test of New England's 'want to' in a different way.

"We always say, whoever can play the best football from November on will have the best chance at winning it," said Mayo. "So that's our mindset."

Easier said than executed? We'll find out in the coming weeks.

Quick Slants the podcast Ep 54: Brady, OTAs, and contract situations

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Quick Slants the podcast Ep 54: Brady, OTAs, and contract situations

Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry attended Thursday’s OTA session and offer their analysis on some of the new additions in Quick Slants the podcast.

Also on the docket, a look at some upcoming contract situations for the team, Tom Brady’s 17th season and Robert Kraft taking legal action in support of Brady.

Listen to the entire podcast via the player below, or by searching CSNNE on iTunes.

New Patriots DE Chris Long willing to be led

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New Patriots DE Chris Long willing to be led

Chris Long’s been in the NFL since 2008. As the offspring of Hall of Famer Howie Long, he knows the ways and means of life in the league.
 
So, it’s instructive that a player who’s been around this long decided that success here hinged on allowing himself to be led. Check the ego, check the pride, behave as if you know nothing.
 
In doing so, Long’s affixed himself to the side of fellow defensive end Rob Ninkovich like a 275-pound remora.
 
“Rob and I really clicked,” Long said Thursday after a Patriots OTA session open to the media. “We’ve got a lot of similarities, and he’s a great guy to learn from and shadow. He’s been here obviously a long time. Rob knows how to do things the right way around here. When you see a guy like that, if you’re halfway smart, you follow him around and do what he does. If Rob goes to lunch, I go to lunch. That type of thing. Rob’s a good buddy already.”
 
Long was also observed Thursday spending a lot of downtime with Jabaal Sheard, the two defensive ends on a knee near the Gatorade conversing for a couple of minutes.
 
With Chandler Jones now a Cardinal, the Patriots defensive end depth chart this offseason has have Sheard and Ninkovich at the top, with Long in the mix situationally, one supposes. Reps need to be split for freshness. Meanwhile, Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers are coming into their second seasons and will push for time as well.
 
For his part, Long isn’t projecting anything.
 
“Well, I’m still learning, so I can’t make the determination yet,” Long said. “Ask me again during training camp. Every day in the NFL is an opportunity. A coach I’ve had before said every day is an interview, and that’s how I like to look at things. Every day, you have a chance to get better and learn and worry about your own — farm your own land and do all that good stuff. That’s the way I approach everything. It would be a disservice to the other guys if I was worried about anything other than myself, that opportunity just to get out here on the practice field and compete and get better.”
 
And let yourself be led. 

Surprise! Rex and Rob Ryan talk themselves up

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Surprise! Rex and Rob Ryan talk themselves up

Can’t you just imagine the Ryan brothers as teenagers, riding along in a pickup, windows down, hair whipping, hollering their skewed affirmations over the Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“Biggest badasses in town?! US!!”

“Handsomest fat guys to be!? US!!”

“Defensive-geniuses-in-waiting destined to be criminally underappreciated and overlooked so that we’ll forever be obligated to remind everyone at every turn how tough, accomplished and slighted we’ve been? HELL, THAT’S US TOO!!”

It’s May, which means it’s Ryan propaganda season. Not that Jenny Vrentas of MMQB did the Ryan’s bidding with her fun Q&A that’s online today. 

All she needed to do was hit record and lay the recorder on the table. Rex and Rob take care of the tire pumping themselves.

Fortuitously, now that they’re together in Buffalo as head coach (Rex) and assistant head coach/defensive capo (Rob), they can pat each other’s backs rather than reach back and do their own themselves.

Rob – poopcanned from his last two jobs as defensive coordinator in Dallas and New Orleans – carried the show in this one firing passive-aggressive darts at Saints head coach Sean Payton and promising to “beat” Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

“At the end of the day, the last two years in New Orleans were a waste of time for me,” said Rob Ryan, who was fired last November by Payton. “I want to give everything I have to a team that I want to be a part of, with a head coach I want to be a part of. Not only is Rex a great head coach, but he is also a great defensive coach. He’s going to be the best coach that I can work for, anytime. And I have worked for Belichick, who is the best head coach in football, in the history of the game. But we’re going to beat him, and we’re going to beat him together. And it’s going to be an awesome challenge. I need to be in a multiple system. I was hired to be in a multiple system in New Orleans, and I did a damn good job and got fired for it. I am more hungry now than I have ever been. So I wanted to go with the right guy. And the right guy is someone I have 100 percent trust in and 100 percent faith in.

Payton has already termed Ryan’s contention that it wasn’t Ryan’s defense as “silly.” 

This in-depth look at the precipitous drop of the Saints defense has plenty of damning info about what a “hot mess” Ryan’s operation was. 

Payton is quoted in the piece saying after Ryan’s dismissal, "There were a few things that you looked at from a year ago and you said, 'We can't have X number of snaps with not the right number of guys on the field. We can't burn timeouts, you know, every other week because we can't get the right personnel on the field.' We just can't do that. We can't have guys looking left and right at the snap of the ball. There's a game last season where the first eight plays of the game, we're misaligned and we don't even cover down the right way. Those were just facts."

Facts, schmacts. You want facts? From the interview:

ROB: Well, the highest-rated defensive coach in the history of the league is you.

REX: Right.

ROB: We can pretend there is somebody else, but there’s not. Hey, my numbers are what they are. Now, I took over some pretty lousy jobs, but that’s OK. But no one’s numbers are better than his. I’m talking about Dick LeBeau’s; I’m talking about Belichick; I’m talking about all of them. Hell, even our dad. Who is the best that ever laced them up? Well, I’m just saying. To be the best defensive coach in football, I’ve got to learn from the best, so I came here. It’s been how many years since we’ve been together? He’s not learning anything, but I am. Look at some of his protégés. Bob Sutton is doing a fantastic job in Kansas City. Chuck Pagano was with Rex. He spun off a ton of great coaches, and it is going to be fun to be a part of that.

Here’s the thing, the Ryans are very bright defensive coaches with an in-the-trenches-with-you bedside manner that invites massive huge loyalty from their players.

But there’s also an outsized sense of pride and ego that both men seem to have that causes them to get caught up in style over substance.

Rex wanted to build a bully in Buffalo. His Bills talked tough before facing the Patriots last September and came unhinged in the first half, effectively taking themselves out of the game before it began. 

The Bills have an terrific array of defensive talent even with the loss of Mario Williams this offseason. They added Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland in the draft – both well-regarded players who could have early-career impacts. They have the pieces. But they had them in 2015 as well and underperformed. The fact is, Rex is in a “prove-it” season. Even though he points out in the interview that his family has coached in six Super Bowls, three of those were coached by Buddy Ryan, two by Rob and one by Rex. In 66 combined seasons of NFL coaching. Belichick’s coached in eight by himself in 42 NFL seasons. The results are lacking.

It is worth noting before I put a bow on this that respect for Belichick isn’t lacking. The interview is chock-full of references to Rob’s time with the Patriots from 2000 to 2003.

“All the respect in the world for Bill Belichick,” said Rob. “That was fantastic training working for him for four years, and I learned a ton. Look, he is the No. 1 nemesis of every coach in this league. So it’s not just Rex. Now, I think if you ask their offensive staff, the worst they ever play is against Rex. People say, “well, he hasn’t beat them [nine out of the last 10] tries.” Yeah, well, he has beat the hell out of that offense. I am sure the respect is mutual. But I know one thing, we are going to beat them. We are together, we’re going to beat the best. It’s two against one. Him one on one against any coach in the league, that guy is pretty damn good. And he’s also got his best buddy Tom Brady with him. He trained him, and he single-handedly made him great as well.”