Questions persist, answers elusive with Pats pass-D

Questions persist, answers elusive with Pats pass-D

By Tom E. Curran

Think it's maddening watching the Patriots secondary play defense.

Try pinning down the architect of that defense - or at least its overseer, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia - on why the Patriots are so relentlessly bad at stopping receivers from catching footballs all over the place.

When a question was posed to Patricia on Monday about the number of passes completed for more than 20 yards on his defense (five on Sunday, reportedly 39 in seven games), Patricia went into his verbal four corners offense.

"Were just trying to improve on everything each week and obviously trying to eliminate those to the best of our abilities ... we spend time on it like we do on every aspect of offenses that we tend to see each week. We understand it is a little bit of a copycat league, so we are prepared for those things to try to repeat from week to week and were trying to do a good job here of getting everything handled to the best of our ability."

Upshot? They're trying to get better. When it was pointed out that it is a given that every team, every coach and every player is trying to get better and Patricia was asked to explain what in particular they are trying to improve, Patricia said, "Were trying to get the guys that we have out there defensively working together and improving and trying to, like I said, get better.

"Thats really our plan," he confided. "When we take a look at it and whatever the particular play is or the particular play were seeing and those individual specifics, were just trying to manage those on each individual situation."

Patricia went to Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute. It's a hard school. He's smart. He's also 38. He became a positional coach with the Patriots in 2006 when he took over the linebackers. Last year, he was in charge of the safeties. This year, he was made the coordinator.

It may be Bill Belichick's defense, but Patricia is Belichick's hand-picked lieutenant in charge of making sure things run as they're supposed to.

Yet the inevitability of defense collapse is ever-present. Especially in the secondary. And Patricia can't or most likely won't even attempt to articulate what the barrier to competent performances is.
"Were going out there just trying to improve it every week and we take a look at it, evaluate it and try to make sure that there is some improvement in what were doing try to make sure that we understand whats happening in the back end and as a defense as a whole," offered Patricia. "So thats just what were trying to do right now."
Before Patricia got on the call, Belichick was asked about the secondary yielding big plays and the alleged improvement over the previous week in Seattle.

Now, the notion of a vast improvement against the Jets week eluded me because there were plenty of explosive plays from an offense that's deadly as a pop gun most weeks.

But Belichick was encouraged.

"Theres no defense thats designed to give up 50-yard pass completions or anything like that," Belichick explained. "Thats really the worst thing that can happen defensively, is for the offense to get all their yardage or score on one play and not make them drive the ball and execute a number of plays and third down and red area and goal line and all those situations.

"If they just get it all in one play, then thats it," Belichick added. "Its always a point of emphasis. Its never anything that we want to have happen. We emphasized it last week; weve emphasized it every week. When we had as many big plays as we did in the Seattle game, it became more of a battle cry and I want to say one of the results yesterday of that was that we had more opportunities in the red area and we made a couple defensive stops in the red area and thats good. Thats a good way to hold the points down rather than seeing it all go in one play and be a 50-yard touchdown. They have to drive it and it gives you a chance to stop them and we did that a couple times and came close to blocking one of the field goals. You make your opponent work to get their points and work to get their yardage. Thats much better than just handing it to them all in one play or one pass interference call or one play that gains a lot of yards. Its a big point of emphasis, but it always is. Last week, we probably spent even more time addressing it."

So after seven games, the Patriots' defense - which just allowed Mark Sanchez to complete 68 percent of his passes for 328 yards and put up 26 offensive points - is moving in the right direction because it allowed no 50-yard completions, just a bunch of 20-something throws.

Got it.

Horford admits he was 'very emotional' after 'special' win

Horford admits he was 'very emotional' after 'special' win

CLEVELAND – For about 30 or so seconds following Boston’s 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland, Al Horford was not Al Horford.

He’s a passionate player, but seldom is it on display in as outwardly a fashion as it was following their Game 3 victory.

In an interview with CSN’s Abby Chin after the game, Horford tried to put into words what the victory meant.

But the aggressive high-fives to teammates passing him by, the intense way he looked into the camera … that spoke volumes about what this game meant to the veteran big man.

“It’s big, it’s big!” Horford said in between high-fives with Jonas Jerebko and other Celtics who came past him.

“A lot of people doubting us out there!” Horford said, staring intently into the camera as if he was saying, ‘yeah, I’m talking about you!’”

Less than 24 hours after the game, Horford’s emotions had cooled down considerably.

“It was an emotional game,” he told CSN following a short practice at the Q Arena on Monday. “Just, having to hear … since the blowout, everybody counting us out. Everybody really believing that it was over.”

The Celtics came into Game 3 having lost both Games 1 and 2 at home by a combined 57 points which includes the worst playoff loss (Game 2, 130-86) in franchise history.

So with that as the backdrop, knowing full well that no one outside of their locker room gave them an ice cube in hell’s chance at winning Game 3, the victory brought about a level of satisfaction that Celtics players had seldom experienced before if at all.

“The emotions at that time were high for our group,” Horford admitted. “And it shows what we’ve been talking about all year, a resilient group that has a lot of fight in them. We were hit with some adversity with Isaiah being down but our group responded.”

Thomas re-aggravated a right hip injury in Game 2, and was later ruled out for the rest of the playoffs. 

After falling behind 77-56 in the third quarter, the Celtics closed out the third with a 26-10 run to come within 87-82 going into the fourth quarter. During the run, Marcus Smart had 11 points which turned out to be equal to LeBron James’ scoring output … for the entire game.

This is Horford's 10th NBA season, all of which have included a trip to the postseason.

That, combined with having won a pair of national championships when he played at the University of Florida, serves as a reminder that the 30-year-old has been on the winning ledger of big games before.

But even he acknowledged Sunday’s Game 3 win was … different.

“I have had plenty of moments like this,” Horford said. “But this was definitely emotional. This was very emotional, exciting, on the road, no one really giving us any chance. To be able to come through like that, it just felt great. I’ve been part of emotional wins, but this one was a special one.”

That was evident in Horford’s energy-charged, post-game comments.

“Heart! Heart! This team got heart!” he yelled. “We got beat bad (in Game 2), but it’s all about how you rebound!”

And we get that message, loud and clear!

'Ecstatic' Thomas was with Celtics teammates via FaceTime after Game 3 win

'Ecstatic' Thomas was with Celtics teammates via FaceTime after Game 3 win

CLEVELAND – Gone but definitely not forgotten.

Isaiah Thomas, out for the rest of the playoffs with a right hip injury, wasn’t in the Q Arena physically, but his presence – and his face via FaceTime – were inside the locker room in the initial moments following their 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland.

“We called him right after the game,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “He got to celebrate with us a little bit. It’s sad that he’s not here. We wish he was here with us. We just want him to get better.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens added, “I didn’t even realize that had happened until later on. one of my first text messages was from Isaiah.  He’s hurting not being out there but he’s completely invested, for sure.”

He initially suffered the injury on March 15 at Minnesota, but re-aggravated it in the first half of Boston’s Game 2 loss to the Cavs. Less than 24 hours later, Thomas was deemed out for the remainder of the playoffs.

Instead of Thomas being the rock of sorts that the Celtics lean on with his play, he has become their rallying cry for the remainder of the playoffs.

“All we can do is play hard for him,” Bradley said. “He was excited with the way we played. We’re a family. Other guys got an opportunity to step up for us. Marcus (Smart) had a big game for us. It could be somebody else next game.”

Smart led the Celtics with a career-high 27 points which included a career-best seven 3’s going down.

And most important, the Celtics avoided going down 3-0 which would have all but sealed their fate in this series considering no team in league history has ever come back for a 3-0 series deficit.

Doing so without Thomas, the Celtics’ leading scorer and the top regular season scorer in the Eastern Conference, made the win all that more impressive for Boston.

“It meant a lot,” Horford said. “We know, Isaiah gives us so much and gave us so much this year. For him, we definitely wanted to come out and fight for him and our season and our team. It felt good to keep believing despite being down big. Just felt good to win the game and bring life back to our locker room. Because going down 3-0, that’s a death sentence pretty much. This was big.”

Not only to the Celtics players but also to Thomas who also texted head coach Brad Stevens full of excitement following Boston’s surprising win.

“He was excited,” Horford recalled. “He was ecstatic. I know he wishes he was here being part of it. We just need to keep doing it for him and our group and doing the best we can.”