Patriots

Pats 'D' takes on new look, better results

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Pats 'D' takes on new look, better results

FOXBORO -- The Patriots' secondary knows it has to be better than it was in the first quarter, if the Pats want to have any shot at winning a playoff game.

It was in that first quarter of Sunday's 49-21 win over the Buffalo Bills, that the Patriots fell behind 21-0. The Bills moved the chains 13 times, and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was 13-of-16 for 156 yards and two touchdowns.

After that, the defense improved dramatically, especially the Patriots' secondary.

New England finished the game with four interceptions. All of them came in the second half. Sterling Moore had two, and Devin McCourty and Antwaun Molden each had one.

They were the type of big plays that everyone on the team wishes would be made for the entire 60 minutes, not just in the second half, after spotting teams 21 points.

"It says we're definitely capable of being a defense we want to be when we should be and when we need to be," said Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington, who had an interception called back because of a penalty. "But then again, coming out spotting teams 17, 21 points is definitely not the answer. That's not going to get it done, come the postseason. So we have a lot of work to do still."

Part of the issue is always communication, and the Patriots' secondary had somewhat of a new look on Sunday, forcing the defensive backs to get accustomed to seeing McCourty -- a Pro Bowl cornerback -- playing the entire game at the safety position.

"He's a great athlete, so no matter where they put him, he's going to make plays, and I think he showed that today," said Moore. "So it's all about meshing as a defense. And during the week, it's about getting comfortable with who's out there, and we did that and fed off of it."

McCourty said afterwards that he couldn't remember the last time he played safety, but stressed the fact that he's willing to do whatever the coaches ask him to do, in order to help improve the defense for the upcoming playoff run.

"When you're on the edge as a cornerback, you have a different angle to see the offense," said McCourty. "You're looking outside in. But when you're in the middle, you can see the whole picture, standing right there.

"As the game went on, I got more and more comfortable," he added. "That's how a football game goes. As you play on throughout the game, the first two series or so, you start getting comfortable with the way the game's going, and you're just able to play."

"Were just trying to improve our team," said Belichick. "We worked with McCourty and Patrick Chung back there all week and thought it looked good this week in practice, so we went with it during the game. Im sure it could be better, but I thought they gave us some things back there. James Ihedigbo came in a played a solid role for us, too. We got good play out of all of those guys. We had some guys step up at the corner position Sterling Moore Antwaun Molden, so that was good, too. We got a lot of snaps out of Julian Edelman."

McCourty picked off a ball in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter that was tipped by Bills' running back C.J. Spiller on a slant route. It led to a Patriots touchdown drive that gave them a 35-21 lead with 11:16 left to play.

But perhaps it wasn't the biggest interception of the game. That would go to Moore.

With New England trailing 21-20, the rookie picked off a Fitzpatrick pass intended for Ruvell Martin with four minutes left in the third quarter, and gave the Patriots the ball at Buffalo's 25-yard line.

It led to a Rob Gronkowski touchdown that gave the Pats their first lead of the game.

"We knew at halftime that we were going to have to get some turnovers," said Moore. "That was going to put us back into the game. That was a big emphasis at halftime. So that's what we tried to go out there and do."

Moore's second-career interception came with three minutes left in the game, as he jumped an out-route and took it 21 yards to the house, giving the Patriots a 49-21 lead.

"Moore did a good job of recognizing the route pattern and undercutting the route or playing the route aggressively and being able to make a good play on the ball, too," said Belichick. "We got our hands on some balls; we dont always catch them, but we caught a few of them today. He made two real nice catches one with the receiver kind of on his back and then the other one where he undercut it. It looked like he bobbled it a little bit on the catch. They were both tough catches and plays that he anticipated well and made the play on, so it was good."

"He did a heck of a job," said Arrington. "It's just what Bill is all about. if you're not a starter, always prepare like you are one. And whenever you're number is called, you know you have a job to do. And he did a heck of a job."

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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