Soft Pats 'D' can't follow Mayo's lead

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Soft Pats 'D' can't follow Mayo's lead

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

CLEVELAND -- Jerod Mayo was not happy Sunday night.

He sat in front of the locker the Browns had given him, neither changing nor packing, after New England's 34-14 loss to Cleveland. The captain seemed unready to move on.

Maybe he was trying to get his bearings.

"It was very disappointing,'' Mayo said of the loss. "We were coming in feeling pretty good about our run defense and Hillis just came out -- the offensive line came out -- and did a great job."

Mayo was talking about Peyton Hillis. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound running back had the game of his career, and it was all Cleveland needed. He dodged, hurdled and shrugged off tackles on his way to 184 yards. Hillis had as many carries (29) as the rest of the Browns rush and receiver corp had touches combined.

That's one player doing the work of 12. One guy the Patriots couldn't contain.

"He ran the ball hard today,'' Mayo said. "You really can't simulate the skill that of a bigger guy back there. But he did a great job today. Their offensive line did a good job, as well."

So you can understand Jerod Mayo's confusion. It has taken weeks -- that stretch back to 2009 -- for the Patriots to feel "pretty good" about their defense. But the strides have been made.

Third-down defense was a major concern entering Week 6's match up with Baltimore. The Patriots were holding down the NFL's cellar spot for efficiency, allowing opponents to convert 54.7 percent of the time. But the 'D' stood strong and gave the Patriots an opportunity to win by forcing the Ravens to punt on their final five possessions, three straight coming in overtime.

The next week saw another step forward. The Patriots forced four turnovers on San Diego's league-leading offense and stonewalled the run (38 yards).

And last weekend? Minnesota's 410 total yards of offense are deceptive. That three-headed monster of Brett Favre, Randy Moss, and Adrian Peterson only put 18 points on the board. Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Brandon Meriweather held Moss to just one catch.

So what happened on Sunday? Why will rookie quarterback Colt McCoy be able to tell his grandkids that his breakout game (14-for-19, 174 yards) came against the Patriots? How could Hillis set a career-high for rush yards and score two touchdowns? Was it about those trick plays that Cleveland is so notorious for?

It's a start.

One bit of sneakiness came late in the second quarter when the Browns had a 10-7 lead. Cleveland lined up in its Wildcat formation with Josh Cribbs at quarterback. But Cribbs didn't run the ball. Instead, the Browns remixed the"fumblerooski" play. It confounded New England's defense, and resulted in an 11-yard touchdown from wideout Chansi Stuckey.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had a basic answer in the postgame.

"It was a new play, they hadn't run it this year. We had prepared for plays like that, but we obviously didn't prepare very well,'' he said. "It was a good play by them, not a good play by us, that's all it is."

Belichick's cut-and-dry analysis was similar to Mayo's. Those two, as did Arrington, all pointed to a lot of preparation that proved fruitless. It seemed that no matter how much mix-and-match the Pats did, no matter how much shuffling of defensive schemes they did, they just couldn't find an answer.

"We knew they were coming up with some stuff we hadn't seen. We haven't watched the film yet,'' Mayo laughed ruefully, "but hopefully when we watch the film we'll learn where the breakdowns were and we'll have to get better at it.''

Improvement shouldn't weigh heavy on the captain's shoulders, though. Mayo led all players with seven tackles and three assists. Belichick says Mayo's impressive tally has everything to do with the linebacker taking the opportunities given to him. Mayo is doing that: He has 17 more than the league's No. 2 tackler, Tennessee's Stephen Tulloch. So it's up to the other guys to get better.

The secondary in particular will have film study to do.

Setting the edge has been an issue that keeps cropping up for the Pats. It's what
Arrington called a "lack of awareness." It bit the Patriots again on one fourth-quarter drive when Hillis got the ball six straight times. Cleveland's O-line was suffocating on the final carry. Fullback Lawrence Vickers blocked Patriots' safety James Sanders brilliantly -- as he had all day -- and gave Hillis an open sideline. Thirty-five yards. Touchdown.

To see Mayo, the only guy able to break free, chasing Hillis in futility was a pathetic capsule of the day's defensive struggle. It is why he sat before his locker on Sunday night, unable to or unsure of where to file the effort away.

Eventually, he got up and got ready to go home.

"It's disappointing but if we can learn something from this, it was worth it,'' Mayo said.

Learning is what the Patriots defense has been doing all season and overall, they've taken more steps forward than back. With just one week until a trip to take on a tough Steelers team, they'd better hope that rebound rate stays high.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti.

Rookie Dak Prescott solid again, Cowboys beat Bears, 31-17

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Rookie Dak Prescott solid again, Cowboys beat Bears, 31-17

ARLINGTON, Texas - Maybe the Cowboys will be OK without quarterback Tony Romo this time. The future of the Dallas running game with Ezekiel Elliott looks pretty good, too.

Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass in fellow rookie Elliott's first 100-yard game, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without the injured Romo over three seasons before the fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott's first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he's up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia's Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals for a rookie in NFL history.

"Dak's handled every opportunity he's had right from the start really, really well," coach Jason Garrett said. "No different tonight."

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offense early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox.

Making his 27th career start for his fourth different team, Hoyer was 30 of 49 for 317 yards - a good portion of that with the game out of each late in the fourth quarter - and threw for two scores to Zach Miller.

"We haven't played a complete game," Fox said. "This week was the reverse of what we've had. We played very poorly in the first half."

Elliott finished with 140 yards on 30 carries, including a 14-yard run when he hurdled safety Chris Prosinski. The Cowboys kept giving him the ball while trying to work the clock with a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter a week after he was benched because of two fumbles in a win over Washington.

"Made a lot of good runs tonight, a lot tough runs, a lot of NFL runs," Garrett said. "He's physically tough. He's mentally tough."

It didn't even bother Prescott that Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith missed just the second game of his six-year career after his back tightened up during the week.

Prescott was 19 of 24 for 248 yards in Dallas' first home win since last year's opener, which was a week before the first of two broken left collarbones that kept Romo out of 12 games last season.

Romo is expected to miss about another month after breaking a bone in his back in the preseason.

Prescott had one of three rushing touchdowns for the Cowboys, who have seven this season after getting eight all of last year, when they finished 4-12.

Because the Bears fell behind again, they couldn't do much with the running game. They had just 15 carries for 73 yards and lost leading rusher Jeremy Langford to an ankle injury in the second half.

Jets lose, Patriots guaranteed 1st place in AFC East when Brady returns

Jets lose, Patriots guaranteed 1st place in AFC East when Brady returns

When Tom Brady returns to the Patriots following his four-game suspension, his team will be in sole possession of first place in the AFC East.

That became the reality as soon as the Jets fell to the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday, 24-3. The Jets committed eight turnovers in the loss to fall to 1-2. 

The Bills and Dolphins each won their first games of the season on Sunday, taking down the Cardinals and Browns, respectively. 

With the Patriots record at 3-0 following their win over the Texans on Thursday night, and with all three of their AFC East rivals sitting on just one win thus far, even if Bill Belichick's club was to fall to Rex Ryan and the Bills in Week 4, it would still be alone atop the division.

MORE PATRIOTS

Surely the Patriots would like to have a zero in the loss column when Brady returns. Regardless, to be in first place when Brady's Deflategate punishment is finished -- and having achieved that mark with two different starting quarterbacks -- has to be a point of pride for the organization . . . and a source of agita for those who doled out the punishment.