Young Pats secondary believes in bright future

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Young Pats secondary believes in bright future

INDIANAPOLIS -- The New York Giants' stable of receivers is imposing: Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham.

"Pick your poison," said safety Sterling Moore. He and the rest of the Patriots secondary knew how tough the assignment was; they haven't intimidated anyone this season.

Beleagured. Maligned. They've been called every pretty word for "awful" that's in the book. Some new words might be invented in consideration of The Manningham Catch.

Eli Manning started New York's final drive of the game at his own 12. The Patriots were up 17-15 and just under four minutes from Super Bowl victory. They attacked playing cover-2. Moore, on Mario Manningham, briefly got his hands on the Giants receiver. Patrick Chung was over the top.

Manningham made the catch. He toed the sideline for 38 yards and triple-jumped New York to the 50.

"When you lose a game like this, especially a close game, it's always, 'I could have gotten this play back, I could have gotten that play back; maybe it would have made a difference," said cornerback Kyle Arrington.

Then he caught himself.

"Everybody left it out on the field -- I'm not saying everybody didn't leave it out on the field. But you just try to recap, as a player, maybe plays you could have made that would have been a difference in the game."

Forcing Manning and his target into an incomplete would have made a difference.

But losing Super Bowl XLVI doesn't just rest on the boys in the back. The throw was perfectly placed; Manningham's catch was spectacularly athletic.

Safety James Ihedigbo remembers the unit's effort with stubborn pride.

"I don't think there's one play out there that beat us," he said, chin set and straight. "We played a great game on defense. It was one of those championship games, it was a game that was going to be a slugfest and they made the key plays at the end."

Sterling Moore, hero of the AFC Championship for breaking up Baltimore's go-ahead touchdown try, made some impressive plays throughout.

"He was great," Arrington smiled. "Especially on third down. He came up big for us. He got multiple stops for us and he's only going to get better."

In the second quarter, Moore ruined a third-and-10 Giants bid by swatting a deep-ball catch away from Manningham. He came through on another third-and-10 in the next frame. Moore read Manningham's route perfectly and held the receiver to five yards.

His teammates called him inspiring; they had moments of their own. Chung delivered a helmet-rattling hit to disrupt a sure-catch by Nicks. Arrington limited Cruz to 25 yards on four catches.

"We've been through a lot of things: injuries, people talking, saying whatever they're saying," said Chung. "But we fought back, we fought hard, we got to the Big Show. We performed, we played a good game. It just comes down to the end."

Sunday's end was a sad one.

The Patriots secondary, after whatever analysis they could afford, could only conclude they failed. But theirs is not a hopeless case. Arrington and the others understand their youth. It gives them hope.

"Our future is bright. Positive," he said after a pause. "Give us another year to gel, be more cohesive as a unit. We'll come together this offseason."

It's something. On this night, it has to be everything.

What will it be like when Goodell shows up in Foxboro?

What will it be like when Goodell shows up in Foxboro?

Tom E. Curran in the Cumberland Farms lounge joins Sports Tonight to discuss what he thinks it will be like when Roger Goodell attends the Patriots home opener on September 7.

Burkhead's former running backs coach: 'He's going to flourish' with Patriots

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Burkhead's former running backs coach: 'He's going to flourish' with Patriots

PHOENIX -- Rex Burkhead was buried on a deep running back depth chart in Cincinnati, but in New England he may finally have a chance to show his offensive value. That's how Burkhead's former running backs coach and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson feels, at least.

Before he was hired as Browns head coach last season, Jackson worked closely with Burkhead for three years and saw the 5-foot-10, 210-pounder's versatile skill set on a daily basis. With the Patriots, under Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels, Jackson believes Burkhead has a chance to see that skill set maximized. 

"He's very talented," Jackson said during the league meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. "He's a guy that was playing behind some very talented players [with the Bengals], and so he's going to get his opportunity now, and he's going to flourish. He's a really good player. A really good player.

"He's very versatile because he's a good runner, a good pass-catcher. He's a good blocker. He's very bright. He's been a sensational special teams player there so he brings a lot of different elements to that football team."

The Patriots signed Burkhead to a one-year deal earlier this offseason that could pay him more than $3 million -- a sign that they're hoping he'll factor heavily into the offense in 2017. With LeGarrette Blount still on the free-agent market, Burkhead is currently the biggest back on the Patriots roster alongside Dion Lewis, James White and DJ Foster, and he could be in line for a significant amount of work in short-yardage situations and on first and second down.

Burkhead served primarily as a special-teamer during his four-year career in Cincinnati, but in Week 17 of last season, because of injuries to his teammates at the position, he was the Bengals lead back and ran 27 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns. We took a closer look at the qualities he put on display that day right here

It was a performance that gave Burkhead's profile a where-did-that-come-from type of boost as he headed toward unrestricted free agency, but his head coach at the time wasn't surprised.

"Not at all. That's why we drafted him," said Bengals sideline boss Marvin Lewis, who went on to explain why Burkhead was an inconsistent offensive contributor leading up to that game.

"A lot of times when Rex got opportunities to play, he wasn't quite 100 percent and so that kind of limited him some. Even in preseason opportunities and so forth like that where you'd go into the game, and it'd be Rex's -- in my mind, Rex's ballgame -- to carry the ball in the first or second quarter and he wasn't able to suit up that day.

"That's one of the things he's battled over his career is just being 100 percent completely healthy. [But] he's just a hard-working guy who always wants to be out there."

And in New England, it looks like he'll have the chance to be out there more.