Patriots

Joe Girardi attends his father's funeral

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Joe Girardi attends his father's funeral

From Comcast SportsNetPEORIA, Ill. (AP) -- Jerry Girardi was memorialized Monday as a dedicated laborer who built the ranch-style Illinois home where he raised five highly successful children -- two doctors, a math professor, an accountant and New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi.The Yankees manager, who attended the funeral service during an off day in the American League Championship Series, sat quietly alongside his family. None of the Girardis spoke, and they left the church quickly to attend the burial in Tampico, the tiny north-central Illinois town known as the birthplace of Ronald Reagan.Father Larry Zurek told the roughly 100 mourners at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Peoria that Jerry Girardi's contribution went far beyond his occupations as a bricklayer, restaurant owner and salesman. Foremost, he cherished family, Zurek said."Jerry built walls, but he built so much more," the priest said.Jerry Girardi died Oct. 6 at a residential treatment center in nearby Metamora, Ill., at age 81. He had suffered from Alzheimer's for years.The funeral came the day after Joe Girardi was ejected for arguing a controversial call during a loss to the Detroit Tigers that left the Yankees down 2-0 in the series. But, a lot like the images baseball fans are accustomed to seeing from the Yankee dugout, Girardi showed little emotion Monday. A few times, he dabbed at tears with a handkerchief.Joe Girardi, whose mother, Angela, died in 1984, managed his team through much of last week without telling players or the public that his father had died. He told The Associated Press last week that he found out while riding a team bus."The one thing that both of them, besides many other things that they taught me, was always to finish the job at hand," Girardi said. "So my thought process was my dad would want me to do everything that we could do to go win a World Series. He had been a part of them with me as a player. 2009 -- I don't think he understood what we did at that time. He was at a stage in Alzheimer's that he wasn't talking, so I don't think he understood."In a statement, the family thanked the community and others for their support."Our father would have been touched by all the kindness shown to our family as we mourn his passing. As saddened as we are with his loss, we take solace in knowing that he lives on through the principles he passed down to us and in the many wonderful memories we have of him."Lee Hall grew up with Joe Girardi and his brother John, and was co-captain of the team one year with Joe.Hall, now a local TV sportscaster, said after the service that Jerry Girardi was typical of the hard-working, blue-collar Peoria-area people that both Hall and the Girardi children were raised by. Thousands of people in the area work at Caterpillar Inc., the heavy machinery manufacturer based nearby.Hall played high school baseball with Girardi and his brother John, he said, was a team co-captain with Joe Girardi one season."I think it was the kids' parents -- Mr. and Mrs. Girardi did an incredible job with them, you know?" Hall said. "They were kind of like my parents: working class parents who wanted better for their kids."Joe Girardi has talked frequently about his father taking him to Cubs games, and about how Jerry Girardi showed off his son's World Series ring -- won as the Yankees catcher in 1996 -- around town after his son gave it to him.The manager frequently spoke about his father's long struggle with Alzheimer's, progressing from occasional forgetfulness and disorientation as far back as the mid-1990s to the point where he was never sure his father knew or understood him when he called or visited.On Monday, as the service ended, Jerry Giardi's casket was draped with an American flag, a reminder that he was also an Air Force veteran who served during the Korean war.Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said outside the church that he played high school football with John Girardi, and recalled Jerry Girardi frequently standing on the sidelines at practices to watch his son."Jerry and his wife brought the kids up right," Ardis said.

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

“We’re a blue-collar team…”

Devin McCourty didn’t hesitate when asked about the Patriots’ identity. Moments prior, McCourty and his teammates had just stomped the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, 33-8, to run their win streak to a half-dozen games. The Pats are tied for the best record in the AFC with the Steelers

“We played at a high level,” said McCourty. “They made some plays, but I thought we executed our game plan and did exactly what we wanted to do today.”

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After surrendering a 100-points per game through the first month (ok, it was only 32), the Pats defense has flexed their muscle during this stretch, allowing 12.5 points per game, which would be the best in the NFL were this a season-long thing. We’re not looking at the same unit even though the personnel is largely the same. If anything, from a talent-level, this defense has less skill than it did when the season started. Their best player, Dont'a Hightower, is out for the year, lost during the first win of this 6-game streak. They’ve also survived three-game absences from $31-million cornerback Stephon Gilmore and their most consistent interior defender, tackle Malcom Brown. Yet the defense keeps showing up, keeps improving and its confidence is growing by leaps and bounds.

“We’re just playing together…we’re kind of figuring that out,” said McCourty. “We’re understanding how we need to prepare, how we need to practice, whether it’s a hard, full-padded practice, whether it’s a walkthrough, we know what we need to do on each of those days and when we do that, we give ourselves a chance. You’re seeing that on Sundays. Everyone running around, everyone knows their job and it’s all about execution.”

“I thought our players gave a great effort tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “We came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football.”

The Pats were opportunistic, forcing three turnovers, including one in a huge spot, when Marquis Flowers stripped the ball from wideout Seth Roberts as the Raiders were knocking on the door. It was 14-0 at the time, and Oakland had life. Second-year cornerback Jon Jones battled Roberts, Flowers popped the ball free and safety Pat Chung pounced on it. Instead of milking the clock and heading into halftime up two scores, the Pats turned that fumble into points, driving to midfield before Steven Gostkowski kicked a career-long 62 yarder. That further energized a Pats team that was already surging.

“It’s something we talk about every week,” said McCourty. “We’re playing solid defense, executing the game plan, but changing the game with turnovers - you know, even Duron’s interception was a third down so it was kind of like a punt. The energy that brings - when the offense takes the field after we get a turnover - that’s huge. And then with them driving again in the red area before the half is what we talked about, getting that stop.”

“We had some real critical swings with those turnovers,” admired Tom Brady, a chief beneficiary of those change in possessions.

Earlier this week, I asked McCourty if he got a sense that the team was coming together at the tail end of their stay in Colorado Springs. He smiled and joked initially, but you could sense the veteran safety can see and feel what the rest of the league is now a witness to.

“I hope so. I mean, it’d probably be terrible if I say yeah and then we go on a five-game losing streak. I can see the headline: ‘McCourty was wrong.’ So, no, I think we understand how the season starts to pick up. You know, each game means more. We understand that seven wins (now 8) doesn’t mean anything. We have to continue to get better. So, I think why we end up usually improving is because it’s the understanding of there’s no tomorrow.”

The defense ordered that Code Red after losing to Carolina in Week 4, and since then, they have worked harder, worked longer and cleaned up so many of the issues that ailed them that opening month. It’s a credit to the players, “they won’ the game tonight,” said Belichick, and the coaching staff as well. if you’ve followed this team over the years, you know even now, they’re not satisfied. There are “things to work on” added Belichick and they’ll start that work on the flight home from Mexico City to Foxboro. 

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No doubter: Gostkowski knew he wouldn't be short on record-setting kick

No doubter: Gostkowski knew he wouldn't be short on record-setting kick

The Raiders gave Stephen Gostkowski plenty of time to think about the 62-yard kick he was about to line up when they called a timeout just before the end of the first half. Didn't matter. Gostkowski returned to his spot, watched a good snap turn into a good hold, which turned into a Patriots record.

It was the longest field goal in Patriots history, making it the longest in Stephen Gostkowski's career as he bested his previous record of 58 yards set earlier this season. It was also the perfect exclamation point to a perfect day for Gostkowski, who went four-for-four on field goals and three-for-three on extra points in his team's 33-8 win over the Raiders in Mexico City. 

When asked about the half-ending kick, Gostkowski credited his teammates for putting him in position to kick it. They got from their own seven-yard line with 33 seconds left to the Raiders 45-yard line with five seconds remaining. A 20-yard run by Dion Lewis and completions to Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski did the trick. 

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"I think every time I kick a long kick, it's Gronk who makes the catch right beforehand," Gostkowski told reporters. "It's a nice little polish connection. It was cool. You can wait your whole career and not get a kick like that. It's a very opportunistic job. You're only as good as the opportunities you get. I got a good opportunity, and I'm glad I took advantage of it."

The longest kick Gostkowski tried in warmups was from 60 yards away but he had no concerns about trying to make something longer. Having kicked at altitude all week at the Air Force Academy, he knew his range would be better than it usually is. 

"I don't usually go past 60 in warmups," he said. "I hit one and I made it by a good bit. I knew that coming up short -- if I hit it good -- probably wasn't going to happen. Warm weather, altitude, the ball is going to fly. I just tried to concentrate on getting a good foot on it , making sure it stayed straight enough. Got the opportunity, took advantage of it. It's exciting for the whole team."

Gostkowski also used the extra oomph he had in Mexico City to boot six of his seven kickoffs for touchbacks, keeping the NFL's leading return man Cordarrelle Patterson (30.8 yards per return) from burning the Patriots in that phase.

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