Two diva receivers disappear

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Two diva receivers disappear

By Michael Felger
CSNNE.com

A handful of thoughts on a Moss- and Mankins-free Monday.

Do you now see the problem with diva, pain-in-the-ass receivers? I promise, this isn't about Moss. It's about the guys on the other side.

The Bengals were totally unprepared to play that football game on Sunday. There were many examples of it throughout the day, but perhaps none was more striking than the scene that played out just before the half. With the Pats leading, 24-3, and driving into field-goal range, Chad Ochocinco headed off the field and into the tunnel to the locker room. Moments later, apparently feeling that's the way business is done with the Bengals, Terrell Owens followed suit.

The only problem was that the game was still going on. When Stephen Gostkowski's long field-goal attempt drifted wide, the Bengals found themselves with the ball at their own 46 with one second left on the clock and a chance for a Hail Mary. Unfortunately, they were without their best receivers for the play, which would up being completed to Jordan Shipley at the Pats' 3-yard line as time expired. While Ochocinco and Owens were unlacing their cleats, Moss was on the field as a safety defending the play. Score one for the Pats' DPITAR (diva, pain-in-the-ass receiver).

Again, there were a lot of examples of the Bengals' lack of preparedness. That was just the most glaring.

Ochocinco wound up with a big statistical day (12 catches, 159 yards, touchdown) but the majority of it came after the game was out of hand. Owens also put up a few numbers (7 catches, 53 yards) but had embarrassingly little impact spending most of his day up against a rookie, Devin McCourty.

In a recurring theme from last season, the Pats were outscored by the Bengals in the second half, 21-14. When you consider that seven of the Pats' points came on the opening kickoff, that deficit looks worse. This happened repeatedly last season, as the Pats lost five games in which they were leading or tied at half (at the Jets, at Denver, at Indianapolis, at Miami and at Houston).

So, was this a case of history repeating itself?

No.

This one was purely circumstantial. First, the Bengals were bound to show some life in the final 30 minutes -- and so they did. The Pats, leading 31-3, were bound to let up a bit -- and so they did. Second, the Pats seemed on their way to scoring on their first full drive of the third quarter when a Dan Koppen holding penalty nullified a first-down conversion pass to Alge Crumpler. Finally, the Pats had a chance to put points on the board on their final, garbage-time drive in the fourth quarter but instead took the air out of the ball.

Maybe the second half will prove to be an issue going forward. Maybe it won't. We'll find out. But as far as Sunday was concerned, it was a non-story.

I know the tight ends looks great, and I know Moss is still the most dangerous receiver in the league and that Brandon Tate looks legit. But, to me, the the heart-and-soul of the Pats offense remains Brady-to-Wes Welker and Brady-to-Kevin Faulk in the possession game. That's still the bread and butter.

Welker (8 catches, 64 yards, two touchdowns -- all team highs) was huge on the most underrated drive of the game, which occurred after the Bengals had closed the gap to 31-17 and the Pats got the ball back to start the fourth quarter. Welker moved the chains on third-and-3 and third-and-4 and the Pats were on their way.

Faulk, meanwhile, rebounded from a few early drops and a heavy hit to record four catches for 47 yards and three carries for 23 more.

Time will tell whether or not the Pats truly have a good defense. But at this point, you can definitely say it's younger and faster. Pat Chung (team-high 16 tackles) and Jerod Mayo (12 tackles) were active in the middle of the field and the young defensive backs more than held their own. Yes, Darius Butler gave up his share of plays to Ochocino, but he also made his share, too.

This is a game where stats lie. The Bengals had more yards (428-376), first downs (26-20) and time of possession (31:50 - 28:10) -- but the Pats' defense still carried the day when it counted.

The Pats have found the perfect role for Laurence Maroney -- as a fifth-string, emergency running back who will remain in street clothes until injuries necessitate his activation.

In the meantime, Fred Taylor is a pleasure to watch.

Felger's report card posts Tuesday morning. Email him HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Patriots defense carried chip on its shoulder all the way to the Super Bowl

Patriots defense carried chip on its shoulder all the way to the Super Bowl

FOXBORO -- It's a list that's been cited time and again as the Patriots defense rolled into the AFC title game: Brock Osweiler, Matt Moore, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty, Trevor Siemien, Joe Flacco, Jared Goff, Colin Kaepernick. 

Those are the quarterbacks the Patriots have faced since their last loss, a Week 10 defeat at the hands of Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. None of them ranked in the top 16 in quarterback rating during the regular season. None of them ranked in the top 19 in yards per attempt. 

PATRIOTS 36, STEELERS 17

The Patriots defense finished the season ranked No. 1 in points allowed, and since their last loss, they'd allowed just 12.9 points per game. Still, there were those who wondered if it was a unit that would hold up against Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown on Sunday night. 

Not only did Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense hold up. It dominated. 

"They held this team to nine points for 50 minutes," Belichick said after the game during the presentation of the Lamar Hunt Trophy. "Pretty good."

The 36-17 victory may have been the defense's best effort of the season due to the competition it faced.

For many, it was a performance that will legitimize the season the unit has had. But for Patriots players, it was a performance that showcased their ability, a performance that might shut up those who cited that list of mediocre (and worse) quarterbacks as an indicator of what they hadn't done this season.

"It's not validation," said corner Eric Rowe. "We hear the reports. 'Not a great quarterback. Not a great offense.' Someone said the Chiefs have a better defense than the Patriots so the Steelers should be able to have their way. We took that chip on our shoulder so that all week and we prepared . . . We definitely prepared better than we did last week against the Texans, I know that. We kind of took that chip, and it all just came together tonight."

Even when it wasn't perfect, the Patriots were able to recover quickly. At the end of the first half, they bent but didn't break as they put together a goal-line stand that held the Steelers to a field goal after they had a first-and-goal at the one-yard line. They stood firm again in the fourth quarter by recording a turnover on downs with the Steelers deep in Patriots territory. 

That "bend-but-don't-break" label that the Patriots defense wears is one they actually wear with pride. 

"I kind of like it," safety Duron Harmon said of the description. "It just shows the type of toughness and mental toughness we have. Even when the situation might seem terrible or might seem bad, we have enough mental toughness to come out and make a positive out of it. Right then and there (during the goal-line stand in the second quarter), a lot of people are thinking that's seven points. But that's a four-point turnover basically."

Execution in those critical moments, against an offense that's loaded with Pro Bowl talent, may allow the Patriots to be more widely respected. But they've known what they've had for some time, and so has their quarterback. 

He said after Sunday's AFC Championship Game victory that he's based his readiness on how well he's been able to practice against a unit that he knows is right up there with the best he's seen this season on game days. 

"There's a lot of noise, always," Brady said when asked about the chip on the defense's collective shoulder. "Sometimes you don't always have it figured out four games into the year. There's a lot of moving parts . . . I practice against those guys every day, and it's hard to complete passes.

"I know if I can complete it against our defense, then we should be fine on Sunday because our guys do a great job in the pass game. So many great pressures they got . . . They got a lot of good schemes. They got a good defense. We got a good defense. To slow down an offense like that was pretty great."