Patriots, Ninkovich must beware of the 'trap'


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.

SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Seahawks, Cardinals miss OT FGs, tie 6-6


SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Seahawks, Cardinals miss OT FGs, tie 6-6

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Seattle's Stephen Hauschka and Arizona's Chandler Catanzaro missed short field goals that would have won the game in overtime and the Seahawks and Cardinals settled for a 6-6 tie Sunday night.

Hauschka's 27-yard field goal was wide left with seven seconds left after Catanzaro's 24-yarder bounced off the left upright.

The tie was the Cardinals' first since Dec. 7, 1986, a 10-10 draw at Philadelphia when the franchise was based in St. Louis. It was the first for the Seattle since entering the NFL in 1976.

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Curran: End result vs. Steelers justifies Patriots 'bend but don't break' defense

Curran: End result vs. Steelers justifies Patriots 'bend but don't break' defense

PITTSBURGH – “This game isn’t about numbers,” said Rob Ninkovich. “Everyone thinks about sacks and all these things as huge markers for success but there are a lot of teams with a lot of sacks that aren’t winning. I’ll take the wins over the sacks any day.”

It was another win on Sunday for the Patriots – 27-16 over the Steelers in Pittsburgh. There were no sacks. There was no chaos, no befuddled young backup quarterback flushed and addled by a complex defense. In fact, Landry Jones looked real comfortable back there in throwing for 281 yards and a touchdown.

Like Carson Palmer lighting it up late or Ryan Tannehill throwing for 387 or Tyrod Taylor converting third downs with impunity, Jones on Sunday continued a trend of quarterbacks looking pretty good against a very talented defense that – nonetheless – walked away with a comfortable win.


The Patriots have allowed 107 points – the fewest in the AFC and fewer than all but three teams in the NFC and all three of those have played one fewer game.

But it’s hard to escape the feeling that they’re playing it too close to the bone.

Except, maybe, Bill Belichick who once said quite plainly, “Stats are for losers.”

Not all stats though. We hear it often – three stats matter more than the rest: red zone defense, turnovers and third-down efficiency.

And if you look at those numbers for the Patriots defense, they were all fairly gaudy.

Pittsburgh was in the Patriots’ red zone four times. They came away with 10 points. They were inside the Patriots’ 40 six times and finished with 16.

The Patriots yield yards but not points. And that’s by design, said Ninkovich.

“In an offense like that with a bunch of very explosive players, one slant can turn into a touchdown so you have to be really careful in your coverages,” said the veteran defensive end. "There’s not just one go-to guy. They got a running back that can catch it out of the backfield and make plays (Le’Veon Bell). (Antonio Brown) can catch it anywhere on the field and make plays. You just have to make sure with a guy like (Landry Jones) to have him make the throws. It’s hard in this league to be perfect. So to have him sit back there and try to make all the throws was what we chose and the secondary did a great job.”

The Patriots rushed three or four most of the game. When they ran a corner blitz with Malcolm Butler, he didn’t get home and Jones hit Bell for a decent gain.  

“You can’t just pin your ears back because that’s when you get in trouble,” Ninkovich explained. “And then next week, there’s a guy (Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor) who can move in the pocket so that’s another whole type of defense you run with a mobile quarterback.”

Last season’s game at Buffalo is a good example of why Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia don’t like the feeding frenzy approach to defense. New England had the game in hand, 37-13 entering the fourth. And then, with everyone wanting to get in on the rush, Buffalo scored 19 in the fourth quarter with Taylor breaking contain and making plays with his feet.

After that game (and really, for most of Belichick’s tenure here), the Patriots were more interested in seeing what a quarterback could do in terms of stringing plays together.

The Patriots like their chances in that realm.

“It’s 1-on-1 matchups, guys making plays on third down and in the red area,” said safety Devin McCourty. “Guys are gonna make great catches every once in a while. Guys are gonna make great throws. You gotta live with that. They’re in the NFL too. But if we’re consistent with how we’re playing we’ll make enough plays to do well.”

They certainly do that.  As unpleasant as it seemed when the Steelers made it 14-13 (and had skewered themselves in the first half with a missed field goal, an end zone pick and a hold that wiped out a touchdown), the Patriots walked out with another double-digit win.

It felt like the butt-kicking could have been more thorough, though.

How does McCourty think Bill Belichick, film critic, will view the performance?

“Honestly, you never know,” McCourty said. “There’s times we leave the field feeling like we played terrible and (Belichick says), ‘You fix a couple things and we’ll be all right.’ And there’s times where you feel like you played well and we go in there and get ripped.

“The things Bill focuses on and what he expects out of our defense is what he (keys on) every week,” McCourty stressed. “No matter what the media says, no matter what the stats say. If we don’t give up any points but there’s three third downs where we give up the wrong leverage, that’s a problem. Monday afternoon (after film breakdown) is always a mystery.”

The results for the Patriots haven’t been (with the exception of the opener) cliffhangers. But the feeling persists that one of these weeks, this defense that plays a style daring the opposing quarterback to not shoot himself in the foot will go up against a quarterback that actually doesn’t.