FOXBORO - When the Patriots win the opening coin toss, their penchant is to say to the other team, "You decide first if you want to kick or receive."The reasons for any team deciding to defer have been discussed in pretty good detail since the rule was put in a few years back. The prevailing reason cited is getting the ball first in the second half when the game is compressed and possessions become increasingly crucial. Bill Belichick said Tuesday the decision isn't pre-programmed. "We discuss (the decision) every week," Belichick said. " 'We win the loss, we lose the toss. What we're gonna do with the wind . . . relative to what the conditions are?' "There are certainly practical aspects to the conditions that weigh in, but for the Patriots, the quick-strike potency of their offense also makes having the option to get the ball to start the second half appealing. Tom Brady is so proficient at moving the Patriots' offense in for half-ending scoring chances that it becomes doubly-irritating for a team to allow points to the Pats just before the half and then know New England will have the ball to start the third quarter as well. During the Patriots' November win over the Jets, New York quarterback Mark Sanchez called a timeout with less than two minutes remaining in the half and the Jets in scoring position. The stopped clock forced New York to run more plays and give the Patriots another possession before the half. Rex Ryan called the timeout "the stupidest play in football history" because he knew Brady had the potency to score before the half and that New England would get the ball at the start of the second half. "If you take the ball at the beginning of the game you have a chance to have one more possession in the first half," Belichick explained simply. "Take the ball at the beginning of the second half, you have one more chance to have the ball in the second half. It's not like you're stealing from somebody . . . "But what about the uniqueness of the Patriots' offense and Brady's ability to manage the clock?"Time management at the end of the half is critical in every game, regardless of what you do with the coin toss," Belichick shrugged.In Belichick's mind, it seems to be a minor issue. And not nearly as memorable as one instance in which he said he saw "A coach tell a guy what to call (heads or tails). More important, I've seen them criticize what the call was (after a player lost the toss)."Control. Freak.
FOXBORO -- Stephen Gostkowski is almost 34 years old, but in Mexico City he provided a reminder that he's not slowing down in his 12th NFL season.
After going four-for-four on field goals -- including a team-record 62-yarder, a 51-yarder and a 40-yarder -- and making all three of his extra points, Gostkowski was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for the sixth time in his career.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Bill Belichick explained that someone in Gostkowski's situation probably isn't improving at this point in his career. But if he's maintaining a strong level of play, that's OK.
"I don’t know how much real improvement you’re going to see from a player that’s been in the league 12 or 20 years in a case like Adam [Vinatieri] or somebody like that," Belichick said. "But, if the level they’re performing at is pretty good, if they can maintain that, then that’s certainly enough to help the team.
"Are there things that a player can do better? Yeah, sure, there always are technique things. I think Steve has really improved in some of his alternative kicks on kickoffs, as an example, instead of just kicking every ball as far as he can. He’s done a great job of that. I’d say it’s maintaining the timing and the overall leg speed and technique that makes kickers good at their job."
The Bruins seemed to discover a winning formula on the West Coast. Now the challenge is to keep it going.
It took them more than a month of play in the regular season, but they finally won two games in a row. Anton Khudobin and the B's played strong defense and finally built leads against the Kings and Sharks, and they avoided the kind of soft goal or defensive mistake that has been at the heart of so many of their losses.
Clearly that kind of tight, defensive game is how they're going have to play until they get their full lineup back, and they need plenty of wins. They're currently stuck in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, three points out of a playoff spot.
"It's always nice to get a couple of wins, especially against tough teams," said David Krejci, who is scoreless but averaging almost 17 minutes of ice time in the two games since returning from a back injury. "We knew we had some areas of our game that we had to improve, and we still do after the start to the game we had against San Jose. It's nice to get two in a row, and we're focusing on three in [New Jersey]. We're building toward something, and we're on the right track. It's a big game [against the Devils].
"Playing with a lead, playing good defensively and having a good, structured game with everybody buying in . . . when you have a young team and you're playing strong clubs like LA and San Jose, it really says a lot about what we're trying to do here when you can get the job done."
The good news is the Bruins are going to make it through the Thanksgiving marker within shouting distance of a playoff spot, but they're still just scratching the surface of what they need to do to stay relevant in the East. They're hoping that finally reeling off a couple of consecutive wins can start a run of good hockey at a time when they desperately need it.
"I think we've played as a five-man unit" said Kevan Miller. "Forwards are getting back to help the 'D', and defensemen are stepping up to help the forwards. When you play like that and everybody is on the same page, it makes it that much easier. I think everybody, whether you're coming from Providence or you're up here, has played the same systems, but it can be a little bit of a struggle to get everybody on the same page.
"We've done a pretty good job of that, but doing it for 60 minutes has been a bit of an issue. We're trying to work on that."