Patriots

Colts think they're better equipped to stop Pats run attack

blount-patriots.jpg

Colts think they're better equipped to stop Pats run attack

INDIANAPOLIS - LeGarrette Blount is a nice back, powerful with a somewhat surprising dose of shiftiness. Jonas Gray is a one-cut and go guy, and go he went, out of Foxboro less than a year after he commanded national headlines. Neither player is headed for Canton, Ohio, home of Pro Football’s Hall of Fame, unless they buy a ticket. But that duo combined to torture the Indianapolis Colts last season, looking more like Walter Payton than they actually are.

In the two matchups between the Patriots and Colts, one during the regular season, the other in the AFC Championship game, Blount and Gray combined to rampage like wild stallions though Indy, rushing for 349 yards and seven touchdowns. Gray got his mug on the cover of Sports Illustrated in November, while Blount relished his role in January’s title game bludgeoning.

Considering the Colts were so close to getting to the Super Bowl, but in reality, so far away with that porous run defense. Anyone with half a brain assumed that solving that problem would be priorities one, two and three for Indy this offseason. Surprisingly, it wasn’t. GM Ryan Grigson (yeah, that guy) spent most of his free agency money on aging skill position players Frank Gore and Andre Johnson. He used his first round pick on a speedy wideout, Phillip Dorsett. What?

Now I won’t mislead you. It wasn’t as if Grigson completely ignored that front seven. He signed Kendall Langford and Nate Irving, traded for Sio Moore and drafted a pair of defensive tackles out of Stanford, Henry Anderson and David Parry. They have helped to improve the Colts run defense, slightly. They’re currently allowing 112 yards per game. They allowed 113 last year. However, this year’s group is surrendering just 3.8 yards per carry as opposed to last year’s 4.3, and bottled up the Texans and Arian Foster during their last game, a 27-20 victory over the Texans last Thursday.

“The last few games we’ve done a good job of stopping the run,” said linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, currently leading the NFL in  tackles. “Teams are still, last week for instance, 29 attempts (by the Texans), a little over 80 yards. That’s hard to do - when a team runs the ball that much-  it’s hard to keep a team under 100 yards and we’ve done it, proven we can do it, proven we can do it with some guys being out.”

He continued, “We’re confident right now and hey, we won games where we had to fight tooth and nail to get back into it. We were able to come out of it victorious. I like that. I like where we are as a team.”

Defensive coordinator Gregg Manusky concurs with Jackson, and thinks his defensive front is better equipped to stop the Pats now than it has been in the past, with Anderson and Parry playing big roles.

“I think just overall, maybe athletic ability,” he said. “Understand the scheme a little bit better. I think those guys, even though they’re rookies coming into the game, they understand the concepts that we’re trying to get across from stopping the run and who’s, from the blocking schemes, going to attack them certain ways. Smart, athletic, good football players.”

That statement played well in the Colts locker room, as you would expect.

“It makes me feel good,” Parry admitted. “I’m happy to have a coach that has that type of confidence in you, but also I don’t want to let him down. I want to be accountable to him.”

“We’re confident here,” said Langford, in his 8th season. “We feel we can get the job done. We agree with his comments. We’re looking froward to the challenge. We’re ready to roll. Let’s get this game going. I’ve been hearing too much about it.”

Manusky has challenged his group in practice. The defensive line said they’ve been pushed, both on the field and in the film and meeting rooms, since last Thursday’s game. One of the points being driven home: physicality. That was a huge issue for the Colts last year, especially against the Pats.

“Any team that runs the ball for as many yards as they have, it’s a combination of not doing the right thing, not being physical enough,” said Manusky. “It’s every week when you play guys like that. It’s across the board. Even from a coaching standpoint, putting them in the right call, putting them in the right front. During practice the same thing, so we’ve got to stop them.”

“This is a football team that will try to run the ball,” said Langford. “They’ve had success before. We gotta bow up. It’s a physical game. We have to get after it.”

Langford took it one step further.

“We need to get as many guys to the ball as possible. Put a hat on him (running back). Make it count.”

Langford smiled and laughed. Not sure if it was nerves setting in, or knowing what his team is capable of. But it’s almost a certainty that the Colts will get tested in that regard, over and over, until they prove they are truly different.

Chiefs rout Chargers 30-13 to seize control of AFC West race

chargers_chiefs_tyreek_hill_121617.jpg

Chiefs rout Chargers 30-13 to seize control of AFC West race

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Kansas City Chiefs saw their bandwagon empty during a midseason swoon, fans jumping ship almost as quickly as Kareem Hunt hitting a hole or Tyreek Hill speeding to the end zone.

They never lost faith in each other, though.

The Chiefs instead rallied to beat the Oakland Raiders last week, setting up a crucial AFC West showdown with the Los Angeles Chargers. And in a dominant performance reminiscent of earlier this season, the Chiefs rolled to a 30-13 victory Saturday night to seize control of the divisional race.

"It feels good to be back in this position," said Chiefs safety Ron Parker, who had one of the three interceptions thrown by the Chargers' Philip Rivers. "We stuck it out as a family the last couple weeks, did a good job of staying together. It would have been easy to fall apart."

The only way the Chiefs can squander the division and automatic playoff berth is by losing their last two games and the Chargers or Oakland Raiders winning out.

"It felt like a playoff game," Parker said. "This is the closest thing it gets to a playoff game."

The Chiefs (8-6) got production from their biggest stars: Alex Smith threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns, Kareem Hunt ran for 155 yards and accounted for two touchdowns, Tyreek Hill hauled in a 64-yard touchdown pass and Marcus Peters had a hand in forcing three turnovers.

It all added up to an eighth straight win over the Chargers.

"I didn't think we played our best. We have to look at ourselves and ask why," Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. "We missed tackles. We didn't execute well on offense. We went back to some dumb penalties we had early in the year. We made this game bigger than it really was."

The Chargers (7-7) led 13-10 early in the second half, but Rivers threw three interceptions - two of them to Peters - and Austin Ekeler coughed up a fumble down the stretch.

That ended their four-game win streak and quite possibly their playoff hopes.

Rivers finished with 221 yards passing and a touchdown, but has thrown 13 interceptions during the Chargers' losing streak to the Chiefs. Melvin Gordon added 78 yards rushing and a score.

"We took a step back today," Lynn said.

The game shaped up as a matchup of teams going in opposite directions: The Chiefs were 5-0 before watching their division lead waste away, while the Chargers started out 0-4 but won seven of their next nine to forge a near-winner-take-all divisional showdown at Arrowhead Stadium.

Instead, the Chiefs looked like they did in their Week 3 win over the Chargers.

So did the Chargers, for that matter.

The Chiefs' defense, which played so salty last week against Oakland, was buoyed by the return of Peters from a one-game disciplinary suspension in helping to build a 10-6 halftime lead.

Rivers eventually got on track, going 5 for 5 for 88 yards on his first drive of the second half, and his 10-yard touchdown pass to trusty tight end Antonio Gates gave Los Angeles its only lead.

One that didn't last very long.

The Chiefs answered with a methodical, 69-yard scoring drive of their own. Hunt supplied most of the work, and he capped the drive by catching Smith's short TD toss to give the Chiefs a 17-13 lead.

"He's such a well-rounded football player," Smith said. "He's so good in the passing game, has such a good feel, which is so important for a running back."

Two plays later, Rivers floated a pass downfield and Peters leaped up to make an easy interception, and his long return set up first-and-goal at the Chargers 6. The Chiefs nearly turned it into another TD when Smith found Hunt again, but the tip of the ball hit the turf for an incompletion.

The Chiefs' challenge failed and Harrison Butker knocked through a field goal for a 20-13 lead.

The Chargers' offense, which had committed just six giveaways over the last nine games, coughed it up again three plays later. Peters helped to pry loose the ball from Ekeler, and Butker tacked on a 51-yard field goal a short while for a comfortable cushion.

Rivers threw two more picks in the fourth quarter, giving him six in two games against Kansas City this season, and ending any hopes of Los Angeles mounting a comeback.

"We definitely wanted to put pressure on Philip. We know he's a gunslinger," Chiefs cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "He does take risks in the passing game. We just happened to put pressure on him in the front seven, guys did a great job and we came out with a lot of turnovers."

The Chiefs came out with a crucial victory, too.

STATS AND STREAKS

Chiefs coach Andy Reid is 10-3 against the Chargers. Smith is 7-1. ... The Chiefs also won eight straight against the Chargers from 1990-93. ... Chargers WR Keenan Allen had 58 yards receiving, ending a streak of four straight 100-yard games.

AILING BUT ACTIVE

Chargers CB Casey Hayward was active despite missing practice with a calf injury this week. That may have contributed to the star cover man getting burned by Tyreek Hill on his 64-yard first-half TD catch.

INJURIES NOTES

Chargers LB Denzel Perryman left with a hamstring injury late in the first half. S Adrian Phillips left with an ankle injury early in the second. DT Corey Liuget (knee) and LT Russell Okung (groin) also went down in the second half. ... Chiefs LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder) and DL Jarvis Jenkins (elbow) left with injuries in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Chargers visit the New York Jets next Sunday with fading postseason hopes.

Chiefs try to clinch the AFC West against the Dolphins next Sunday.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Stafford-led Lions beat Bears 20-10, stay in playoff picture

lions_matthew_stafford_121617.jpg

Stafford-led Lions beat Bears 20-10, stay in playoff picture

DETROIT - Matthew Stafford struck a balance between making plays and avoiding mistakes to keep the Detroit Lions in the playoff picture.

Stafford threw two touchdown passes and didn't have a turnover, helping Detroit beat the Chicago Bears 20-10 on Saturday night.

"It's just trying to be as calculated as you can with those chances that you're going to take," he said. "And, understanding the game situation."

Detroit (8-6) has won two straight and needs to close the regular season with two more wins to keep its postseason hopes alive.

"We've got to win to stay in," said tight end Eric Ebron, who caught Stafford's second TD pass. "If we win, we will hopefully make it to the playoffs. If not, then we get booted."

Whether the Bears (4-10) win another game this season or not, they may end up giving coach John Fox the boot.

Chicago has lost six of seven, sealing a third season with double-digit losses in three years under its embattled coach.

Stafford threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to TJ Jones to put Detroit up 13-0 with 6:10 left in the first half after Fox chose to punt on fourth-and-1 from the Chicago 45.

"We were thinking about field position," Fox said. "It's not a no-lose situation because if we don't make it, they've got the ball at our 45. Like I said, you could go for it, but you have to know that it can come back and bite you."

Stafford was 25 of 33 for 237 yards and didn't throw an interception for the first time since Week 11. His 8-yard pass to Ebron gave Detroit a 20-3 lead early in the third quarter after Darius Slay's first of two interceptions .

Chicago rookie Mitchell Trubisky had season highs in completions (31), attempts (46), yards passing (314) and interceptions (three) including one to safety Quandre Diggs in the end zone early in the fourth quarter.

"We have complete confidence in Mitch," Fox said. "And, we know that he's going to have better days."

Trubisky threw a 9-yard TD pass to Benny Cunningham to make it 20-10 with 2:32 left. After Fox chose not to try an onside kick, the Bears got the ball back 25 seconds later on their 6 and moved the ball to the Detroit 25 before Slay's second interception ended their comeback hopes.

GOING DEEP

Lions receiver Marin Jones had three catches for 85 yards, including a 58-yard catch in which he raced across the field and leaped in front of safety Eddie Jackson to set up the TD pass to TJ Jones.

"When I saw him out of the corner of my eye, I didn't think he was as close as he was," Jackson said. "By the time I jumped, he was on to me already."

Marvin Jones has single-season, career-high 18 catches of 20-plus yards this season.

GROUNDED GAME

The Bears ran for just 43 yards on 15 carries after having a season-high 232 yards rushing in last week's 33-7 win at Cincinnati, forcing them to throw a lot with Trubisky.

DANCING IN DETROIT

When TJ Jones scored, he and some teammates celebrated with a Rockettes-like kick line . Detroit's Golden Tate got turned around after making a catch later in the game, and kept spinning with his hands over his head as if he was a ballerina.

"I didn't practice it," Tate said. "Never even thought about it. It seemed like it was just a moment to do something crazy."

INJURIES

Bears: S Chris Prosinski, who started in place of injured starter Adrian Amos, and OT Tom Compton went into concussion protocol. LB Pernell McPhee left the game with a shoulder injury, an ailment that kept him out of the previous game. OT Josh Sitton had an ankle injury.

Lions: OG T.J. Lang left the game with a foot injury, which limited him in practice and led to him being listed as questionable to play. Lang left a line that began the game without two injured starters: center Travis Swanson and right tackle Rick Wagner. TJ Jones hurt his shoulder while covering a punt.

UP NEXT

Bears: Host Cleveland on Sunday, Dec. 24.

Lions: At Cincinnati on Sunday, Dec. 24.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE