Patriots

Patriots look to improve pass defense

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Patriots look to improve pass defense

FOXBORO It's one thing for an opponent to recognize the New England Patriots' pass defense as a weakness and try to exploit.

It's a totally different matter when they see that the Pats' defense against the pass is so bad that they don't even need their best players in order to find success through the air.

Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward, who did not play in the Steelers' 25-17 win over the Patriots due to a toe injury, said he "probably could have forced it and played" against the Pats.

But why bother?

"I wasn't really concerned," Ward told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "And against the Patriots, we felt we could exploit their secondary."

Those were Hines' words, but they could have easily have been said for just about every team, minus the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys who inexplicably tried to run more than pass against the Pats.

New England cornerback and defensive co-captain Devin McCourty said he had not heard of Ward's comments until told by the media.

"All of our focus right now is on the Giants," McCourty said. "We watched that (Pittsburgh) game so we can learn from that going forward. That's the focus right now -- is on the Giants."

If there's a lesson to take away from the Steelers loss, it's clear.

Find a way to better defend the pass.

"In this game, you have to find a weakness. Right now, our weakness is our pass defense," said New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. "That's not to say they're (Giants) not going to run the ball. We understand that."

He's right.

New York may look to run the ball some, but don't expect them to keep it on the ground.

For starters, New York's rushing attack is among the NFL's worst this season.

Only Tennessee (68.9 yards per game) and Seattle (77.7) have less success on the ground than New York, which averages just 85.6 yards rushing per game.

Take into account New York's lack of a ground attack and the fact that New England has struggled so mightily against the pass all season, and it's hard to imagine that the Patriots secondary should be a busy unit on Sunday.

It certainly has to bother the Patriots secondary that opponents are speaking so boldly about the secondary being such a weak part of the Patriots team.

"Of course it bothers me, but I don't really think it's important," McCourty said of the talk. "You can't control how somebody feels, and what we put out on tape is us. So if somebody looks at it and that's how they feel . . . it is what it is. That's not going to change our attitude. We're still going to watch the film and we're going to come out to play and come out to try to stop people. No matter what they say, if they're nice to us in the media and say all good things, we're still going to come out and try to shut them down. That's still our focus."

New England's secondary has taken much of the heat for the team's struggles against the passing game.

However, one of their more outspoken supporters has been Wilfork, who ranks among the team leaders in interceptions (2) this season.

"Trust me, I don't want none of our DBs to think it's their fault that we're not off the field on third-down, or they caught an in-cut 20-yards downfield," Wilfork said. "Twenty-yards down the field? That gives us a lot of time to work upfront, get to the quarterback. So, we have to take some of the blame, too. And we are."

Even if teams do look to focus more on throwing against the Pats, Wilfork believes they'll have to do more than that to win.

"One-dimensional teams shouldn't be able to beat us," Wilfork said. "We have to do a better job, all the way around. If a team wants to attack us that way, we make the adjustments and try to stop them and move forward. That's where we at."

Ryan's 2 TD passes enough as Falcons hold off Seahawks 34-31

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Ryan's 2 TD passes enough as Falcons hold off Seahawks 34-31

SEATTLE - Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons did enough through 3 1/2 quarters that even the best comeback attempt by Russell Wilson fell short this time.

A couple of yards short to be exact.

Ryan threw a pair of touchdown passes, Adrian Clayborn returned a fumble 10 yards for a score and the Falcons watched Blair Walsh's 52-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds fall short, holding off the Seattle Seahawks for a 34-31 win on Monday night.

Atlanta won its second straight to stay on the heels of New Orleans and Carolina in the NFC South, and handed Seattle a second consecutive home loss.

"What an absolute team win from the guys tonight," Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. "Coming here, in this environment, with the crowd, we thought it would be two competitive, tough teams that were going to battle for it in the biggest way."

Ryan threw TDs to Mohamed Sanu and Levine Toilolo, while Tevin Coleman added a 1-yard TD run on Atlanta's opening possession.

But it was Clayborn's fumble return that helped break the game open early in the second quarter and gave Atlanta a 21-7 lead. He scooped up a loose ball after Wilson was crunched by Takk McKinley and Courtney Upshaw.

"I think we're moving in the right direction. We keep proving we can finish games and beat guys. We have to take the momentum and keep rolling with it," Clayborn said.

With Seattle down 11 points, Wilson hit Doug Baldwin on a 29-yard TD with 3 minutes left and then threw to Jimmy Graham for the two-point conversion. Seattle got the ball back and moved in range for Walsh, whose attempt was on line but landed short of the crossbar.

"That was in our range, and in hindsight I would have just driven it more," Walsh said. "I would have driven it more and not left it short. I was too accurate and didn't have enough on it."

Wilson again was the entirety of Seattle's offense, throwing for 258 yards and two touchdowns, and running for another 86 yards and a TD.

But it was an awful night for the Seahawks, filled with more injuries and questionable decisions by coach Pete Carroll. He called for a fake field goal late in the first half rather than attempting a 35-yard kick. He also made a questionable challenge in the fourth quarter that didn't go his way and left Seattle with just one timeout.

That lack of timeouts came back to haunt Seattle on the final drive when seconds ticked away and rather than running one more play, Walsh was sent out to attempt the 52-yard kick. His long for the season is 49 yards.

The conclusion only amplified Carroll's baffling decision at the end of the first half, when Seattle ran a fake field goal rather than having Walsh attempt a 35-yarder that would have pulled Seattle within 24-20. Holder Jon Ryan completed his shovel pass to Luke Willson, but Grady Jarrett read the play and tackled Willson for a 4-yard loss.

Willson said Atlanta's defense on the play was different than what Seattle had seen on film.

"It would have been a really good call if we had made it," Carroll said. "Terrific opportunity right where we wanted it and the defensive tackle made a better play."

Seattle played a game for the first time since the end of the 2010 season without Richard Sherman. His streak of 99 consecutive starts in the regular season was snapped because of a torn Achilles tendon suffered against Arizona. The Seahawks were also without safety Kam Chancellor because of a neck injury, leaving their vaunted secondary with several new faces.

"Those two are phenomenal players. ... It was a lot different," Sanu said. "They did a lot of different things but we just had to take advantage of our routes."

MATTY ICE

Ryan was more than happy to pick on a defense without Sherman and Chancellor. He was 19 of 27 passing for 195 yards and rarely faced pressure. Seattle had one sack, and the Falcons went 9 of 14 on third-down conversions.

Sanu made a great one-handed grab for a 2-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Ryan found Toilolo on a 25-yard TD in the third quarter to give Atlanta a 31-20 lead. Matt Bryant added a 19-yard field goal with 3:49 left to put the Falcons ahead by 11, and Wilson's late heroics weren't enough.

Ryan's streak of 64 straight games passing for at least 200 yards was snapped.

INJURIES

Seattle's injury woes continued. The Seahawks lost rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin to a concussion on the second play of the game, forcing newly signed veteran Byron Maxwell into a more prominent role than expected.

Early in the second half, promising running back Mike Davis was lost to a groin injury after taking a screen pass 21 yards. Davis had two receptions and had carried six times for 18 yards before getting hurt. Seattle also lost starting guard Oday Aboushi in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.

Atlanta got a scare when safety Keanu Neal was checked for a concussion in the first half. He was cleared to return.

UP NEXT

Falcons: Host Tampa Bay on Sunday to open a three-game homestand.

Seahawks: Travel to division foe San Francisco on Sunday.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

EX-PATS PODCAST: How Belichick the perfectionist will find flaws in win vs. Raiders

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EX-PATS PODCAST: How Belichick the perfectionist will find flaws in win vs. Raiders

0:55 - Patriots playing great as they stream roll the Raiders but Koppen explains that Belichick will knock them down as he strives for perfection. Also talk about how it takes a couple months into the season for the coaches and players to learn each other again.

5:40 - Stephon Gilmore playing excellent lined up against Michael Crabtree. Malcolm Butler bounces back but gives up the only score to Amari Cooper. Koppen suggest Butler’s contract situation might be affecting his play. 

7:50 - All in on the Patriots defense yet? Giardi and Koppen discuss the defensive play and the upcoming offenses the Patriots will be facing.

10:30 - Dan Koppen talks about job security in the NFL and if he ever worried about somebody else taking his job, and the cutthroat nature of the Patriots. 

13:50 - Tom Brady picking apart the Raiders and Jack Del Rio’s defenses throughout his career. 

17:45 - A debate about Patriots backup quarterbacks and if Matt Cassel was actually a good NFL QB. 

21:20 - A few game notes: Rex Burkhead’s fumble vs. the Raiders, LaAdrian Waddle filling in for Marcus Cannon.