Patriots keep winning despite shaky defense
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP)
The New England Patriots keep winning despite a defense that keeps
They're missing tackles, giving receivers plenty of space and allowing
long gains. Coach Bill Belichick, admired for his defensive brilliance,
hasn't figured out how to get his players to correct all that so they
won't need to make game-saving plays late in the fourth quarter.
''There are a lot of things that we can do a lot better,'' linebacker
Jerod Mayo said Monday, ''just starting with the fundamentals.
Tackling, going out there executing the plays that the coaches call and
going out there and getting off of the field on third down are things
that we have to improve on.''
It took an interception in the end zone by Devin McCourty with 23
seconds left to secure a 37-31 win over the struggling Bills on Sunday.
That was less of an outstanding play by McCourty, who caught a ball
thrown right to him, than it was a poor one by Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and intended receiver T.J. Graham, who took the blame for
Just three week earlier, the Patriots got another turnover on their
opponent's last offensive play and escaped with a 29-26 overtime win
against the New York Jets. That time, Mark Sanchez fumbled when he was
sacked and Rob Ninkovich recovered, ending the game.
But in the third game of the season, the defense couldn't stop the
Baltimore Ravens when they got the ball at their 21-yard line with 1:55
left. They made it all the way to the Patriots 9 before Justin Tucker
kicked a 27-yard field goal on the final play to give the Ravens a
''We're lucky that (Sunday) we were not really at our best but still
able to win and make enough plays to win. We've also been in a couple
games kind of like that that we didn't win,'' Belichick said. ''You
hate to leave it to come down to one play like that, have a little more
control of the game than that. That's the National Football League,
too. There are an awful lot of games that come down to that one
possession, one play.''
The defense has been saved by its knack for forcing turnovers at
critical times. It leads the AFC with 23 takeaways and is first in the
NFL with 13 fumble recoveries. One of the Patriots' two recoveries
against Buffalo came at their 1-yard line with the score 34-24 and 9:35
left in the game.
Still, they allowed one of the weakest teams in the NFL to run up big
The Bills set a club record with 35 first downs. They also gained a
season-high 481 yards. Their previous best? Also against the Patriots,
438 yards in a 52-28 loss in the fourth game of the season.
The Patriots have allowed the eighth-most yards in the league, 382.1
per game. They may not think about that when they're just trying to
make a play, but McCourty is concerned.
''We worry about that,'' he said.
Thanks largely to their prolific offense - they lead the NFL with 430.3
yards and 33.2 points per game - the Patriots are 6-3, the only winning
record in the AFC East.
''We can always get better and do things a little differently,''
defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. ''There are some scheme and
fundamental things we'd like to clean up, but we got away with a `W' to
be 6-3. You've got to be proud of that.''
Their performances against some of the NFL's weaker quarterbacks are
nothing to rave above.
Fitzpatrick, Sanchez and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks threw
for their highest yardage totals this season against the Patriots. Joe Flacco, a better passer for one of the top teams, did that with the
The Patriots also have been vulnerable to the big play. They've allowed
44 completions of more than 20 yards, nearly five a game. Fitzpatrick
had five of those on Sunday.
New England expects cornerback Aqib Talib, obtained from the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers, to improve the defense when he plays his first game with
the Patriots next Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. While the
Patriots were playing the Bills, he completed his four-game suspension
for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
He'll practice with the Patriots for the first time on Wednesday.
''It will be a big week for us, a big game versus the Colts,'' McCourty
said. ''Just to get another guy out there that you know is a good
player, it will be exciting.''
The defense certainly can use the help after Sunday's struggles.
''We had two or three sacks in the game. Guys were out there playing
physical,'' Mayo said. ''Those are some of the things that you can take
away and build on. But, at the same time, it's hard to look at those
things when you give up 30-something points in a game.''