Patriots

On Belichick's big night

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On Belichick's big night

So, do you think Bill Belichick's gone to bed yet?

What do I know, but I wouldn't be shocked to find out that he worked straight through the night. That, powered by a case of Diet Coke, a Bon Jovi box set, and the good vibes from a headline stealing first round, Belichick hasn't stopped since Thursday.

You know that scene in Social Network when they're at the dorm party and the programmers are racing almost in a trance through endless pages of code?

That's how I imagine Belichick for the last 24 hours (minus the vodka shots).

He loves it.

And after last night, so does New England.

Forget the feeling of actually getting to experience the first round of an NFL Draft. (You know, a night where the Patriots use a first round pick on something other than an offensive lineman.) Don't get me wrong, it was great. But even better than the Pats moving up twice and using both their picks is the fact that both picks made so much sense.

For the longest time, it's felt like Belichick was just slapping together random names and faces and trying to pass it off as a NFL D. Sometimes, it felt like he was just making it up as he went a long. But after last night, the present and future of this defense is really coming into focus.

Starting in the back, you have Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung at the safety spots. Imagine that? Stability at safety. It's April and we not only know who the starters are, but there's actually reason to be optimistic. McCourty and Chung that works.

Moving up, they now (ideally) have three young, athletic and exciting linebackers with Mayo, Spikes and Donta Hightower (Not too mention, some solid potential with newcomer Trevor Scott). On the line they have Wilfork in the middle, next to Kyle Love, and they'll hopefully bring back Andre Carter on the outside. You have Carter to help bring along Chandler Jones, and do other Andre Carter-type things. He gives you that presence even if Jones isn't immediately ready.

OK, now the cornerbacks are still a little shaky. With McCourty reportedly headed for safety, they have Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore and a still unproven Ras-I Dowling's coming back from last year. And veteran Will Allen newly in the mix. That's not awful, but they still don't have a legitimate No. 1.

But that's pretty much it. For all the chaos and uncertainty that's surrounded this defense in recent years, Belichick's defensive jigsaw puzzle is finally taking shape.

He'll be back at the table tonight.

Probably not on much sleep.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

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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