Patriots

New Meadowlands larger than life, just right for Ryan

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New Meadowlands larger than life, just right for Ryan

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Welcome to Oz.

You must remind yourself that you've entered the home team's press room at New Meadowlands Stadium when you walk through the door. Otherwise you might feel lost. No, you will feel lost.

There are Jets logos displayed on and behind the podium like with any other team, but to take in their full reach you'll have to tilt your head back. The ceilings stretch to near-cathedral height. For better acoustics? For intimidation? Or maybe to accommodate the personality of Rex Ryan?

He handles the scene well. Though, who would doubt him? Ryan doesn't shy from much; not competition, not emotion, and certainly not attention. And he gets plenty of that at New Meadowlands.

The three walls of the press room not pasted with New York logos are solid glass. Floor to ceiling. So Ryan is not only performing his postgame for the media, but also for the mob of Jets fans that is allowed to gawk just outside. He actually has to walk through them to get to the lectern; a gratifying or harrowing experience, depending on the outcome of the game.

On Sunday they announced his arrival with a booming chant: "REX! REX! REX!"

"I'll say this, it's much nicer coming here after a win than it was last week," he began. The crowd roared its approval. They can do that, you see, because they can hear every word Ryan says. After a minute, he launches into the usual 'It's-about-the-team' bit. The enormous green banner lights that outline the room cast an eerie emerald glow on the coach. It makes the whole thing even weirder.

Against this awesome backdrop stood the earnest Cryin' Ryan. When asked to verify a detail about the injury that sidelined Darrelle Revis, the coach shook his head. "I believe that's right but I'm not 100 percent,'' he said. "I think I was in tears when he told me, 'I pulled a hamstring.' ''

He cracked jokes. Was this the best game Sanchez has played in his career? "No,'' Ryan deadpanned, "I think when he played Penn State that was his best game."

He complimented Belichick. "Maybe they just outplayed us at coach today."

He said 'I told you so.' "I didn't learn a whole lot about the Jets in Sunday's victory. I think a lot of other people learned that this team's a lot tougher than people think.''

And he tried to fool us. On "Hard Knocks" there was some questioning by the Jets of Sanchez' ability to take control of the team -- they brought on backup quarterback Mark Brunell as a veteran presence to help Sanchez deal with pressure. But on Sunday the Jets' bench boss was Sanchez's most loyal supporter.

"We never stopped believing,'' Ryan said. "We know this is the guy who could do it for us. We've been saying it all training camp.''

So it was classic Ryan after all. It's just that everything he does at New Meadowlands is larger-than-life, on a bigger stage, under brighter lights. The funny thing? It seems to be a perfect fit.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

FOXBORO -- Stay low. Drive off the tight end's inside shoulder. And whatever you do, keep your feet. You don't want to be falling into kicker and picking up a penalty. 

Those were the kinds of things that were bouncing around somewhere in Cassius Marsh's subconscious as he lined up to try to block Falcons kicker Matt Bryant's field-goal attempt from 37 yards away at the end of the first quarter. Swimming past his blocker off the snap, Marsh got both arms extended and into the path of Bryant's kick, knocking it down and giving his team a boost. 

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"Guys work hard on that every week," Bill Belichick said after his team's 23-7 win. "Cassius has gotten some opportunities in practice. It’s hard to block Steve [Gostkowski]. Steve gets good height on the ball, gets the ball off quickly. I think this one with not quite as much height maybe as Steve's ball, or at least what Steve's balls were in practice, Cassius got a hand on it. 

"It was a big play for us because, again, we worked so hard on that and that’s everybody across the board. That’s all 11 guys, not just the guy that blocks it. The other guys have to do their job and if they block Cassius and take him away then that gives somebody else an opportunity so we never know how that’s going to go. We just want everybody to come hard and do their job right and wherever the opening is it is. That was a big play for us . . . 

"You can see the whole team – we were all excited. Sideline, players, guys on the field. That was a big moment for us. Our special teams units work very hard. They take a lot of pride in their job. The return teams, the coverage teams, the field goal and the field goal block team. It’s good to see that hard work pay off in a big play like that."

It was a big enough play that it earned Marsh a high-five from his coach. Marsh laughed about his reception on the sideline, remembering that the last time he got that kind of recognition from Belichick it came after a Week 4 sack.

"That's pretty much it that I can remember," Marsh said, beaming. "He only really smiles in situations like that so you've gotta cherish those moments."

The Patriots recovered at their own 26-yard line and embarked on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to get them on the scoreboard.

"With the defense playing as well as they were, to be able to preserve the shutout at the time was big," said special teams captain Matthew Slater. "Those are huge momentum plays when you're able to block a kick. It's not a traditional play that happens every game. Huge play. A UCLA guy stepping up, who would've thought? 

"You gotta tip your hat to those guys because they coach that, they work that and sometimes it seems like, 'Man, why do we continue to do this?' But it paid off for us tonight. You tip your cap to not only Cash but the rest of the guys on that unit." 

While Marsh's block was the highlight, it was a strong night overall for New England's special teams units. Every Falcons drive started inside their own 30-yard line, and Gostkowski had kicks returned to the 12, 19 and 18 before they were stopped.

Slater called it the most complementary game the Patriots played all season. Offense, defense, special teams. They all worked together to make Sunday perhaps their most dominating performance of the year. 

"That's the effort that we've been looking for and striving for all year," Slater said. "I think that's a good starting point for us. Lot of football left. Nine games left so we're going to have to continue to do it and be consistent week in and week out."

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Butler credits improved Patriots defense for 'playing smarter'

Butler credits improved Patriots defense for 'playing smarter'

As safety Duron Harmon emerged from the showers following the Patriots 23-7 win over the Falcons, he noticed a crowd gathered by his locker. As one of the captains of the team - and a man nicknamed by teammates as “The Voice” because of his ability to articulate the right words at the right time, the affable safety is a must listen postgame. But for a change, Harmon knew the mass gathering of media wasn’t there for him - at least not yet. We were there for Malcolm Butler, who had just played his best game of the season.

“You all want to talk to Malcolm?” Harmon sang. “I’d want to talk to Malcolm too.”

Devin McCourty got in on the act as well with some good-natured chirping in Butler’s direction. Both safeties were energized by the victory but also, it seemed, by the performance of a player they’ve come to rely on in games just like this. 

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“Awww man, Malcolm. . . Malcolm was great for us,” said Harmon later. “We need that.”

It's hard not to draw the parallel between Butler having his best performance of the season a week after making two of the biggest plays in the game against the Jets. He did all this while the man who indirectly caused so much of the 28-year old’s troubles - Stephon Gilmore - hasn’t been able to play because of a concussion. Meanwhile, an undrafted player in his 6th year, Johnson Bademosi, has emerged opposite Butler to play very sound football.

“Communication,” said Butler of the team’s defensive improvements. “Just playing smarter and better. That’s all.”

Butler himself didn’t want to spend much time analyzing his own performance. That’s usually not his thing. And it wasn’t as if that performance was perfect. Far from it. But Butler’s energy was evident right from the jump. He stuck his nose in there on running plays to his side, including a terrific submarine tackle of Tevin Coleman in the opening quarter. Butler also got his fair share of Julio Jones over the course of the night. Even though he surrendered that late touchdown to the Falcons wideout, he showed not only a willingness to play the big dog, but to go right at him. That is - after all - a Butler trademark. 

“Just competing,” said Butler. “Great player; you just got to compete.”

It’s not just competing, but it’s playing with confidence, something Butler said was an issue for him in the aftermath of his snap reduction in New Orleans. But now? That seems long gone and hard to find.

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