Patriots pass rush to face generous Rams offensive line


Patriots pass rush to face generous Rams offensive line

FOXBORO -- The lasting image of the Patriots 29-26 overtime win over the Jets was Rob Ninkovich knocking the ball loose from Mark Sanchez's right hand, then pouncing on top of it for a game-ending fumble recovery. It was a nice moment for a defense that has had only a handful this season.

"You don't see too many of those, the defense winning the game at the end of the game," Ninkovich said of his walk-off moment. "So it felt great to get that."

However, that play -- an example of a spry and effective pass rush -- was the exception and not the rule on Sunday. The Patriots totaled four sacks in all against the Jets, but when their pass-rush was successful, it was often more a product of -- believe it or not -- good coverage than it was a quick penetration of the Jets offensive line.

New England's secondary has received much of the blame for the team's faulty pass defense, and while it deserves criticism, the Patriots' defensive front seven have had their hand in the failure as well. Without a pass rush, the depleted and inexperienced secondary is asked to cover for a longer period of time -- a losing proposition no matter the personnel.

Against the Rams, however, the Patriots pass rush may have a chance for a breakout day. St. Louis has given up the third most sacks in the NFL to this point (21) and features an offensive line group loaded with former backups and journeymen.

"I did see that stat that they give up a lot of sacks," said rookie defensive end Chandler Jones. "You go into every game with the same mentality. When it's third-and-long you rush the passer. When it's fourth-and-one or third-and-one, you're playing the run. Whatever they give you, you take it."

There could be more there for the taking this week than most others, and it would benefit the Patriots to be opportunistic.

When New England used both of its first round picks in this year's draft, they made a concerted effort to address their pass rush. Jones has been the team's best rusher, coming up with five sacks and three forced fumbles in seven games. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who returned from a hamstring injury against the Jets to notch seven tackles and a key sack on Sanchez in the fourth quarter, has also showed some promise as a rusher.  

But the work load can't all fall on the shoulders of the rookies. Ninkovich has to continue to produce when he gets his chances, and if others could chip in, all the better.

Pass-rush specialist Jermaine Cunningham hasn't been a consistent threat, but he made a nice move to free up Ninkovich on the final play against the Jets. Who knows? A little more of that may work wonders for the Patriots secondary.

Could this week, against a struggling Rams offensive line, be the week where it all comes together for the pass rush? If the Patriots are licking their chops, they aren't doing it publicly.

"Every week we do our best to game plan against the people we're playing against," Ninkovich said. "This week's just like every other week. We do a great job during the week of scouting who we're going against and trying to get our best game plan against those guys. This week we'll do the same."

Pastrnak on B's loss: "We kind of stopped playing"


Pastrnak on B's loss: "We kind of stopped playing"

BOSTON – At the end of the day, it was simply a game where the Bruins allowed themselves to get outworked in the third period and overtime. 

The B’s held a three-goal lead in the second period and still enjoyed a two-goal lead in the third period, but eventually dropped a frustrating, futile 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden on Saturday night. It was clear to most speaking after the game that the Bruins eased up on the gas pedal once they’d scored their fourth goal of the game in the second period, and simply watched as the Sabres stomped all over them in the game’s second half. 

“I think we might have been a little bit too scared to play [in the third period], you know? We tried to just flip the pucks away, and didn’t make any plays trying to get it in the zone. Instead we should have just kept going like we did in the first two periods,” said David Pastrnak, who scored a pair of goals early in the loss to allow the Bruins to build up the three-goal lead. “Obviously we’re disappointed. We got one point. I think we didn’t play our game in the third period. We kind of stopped playing and they were all over us, and you know, it’s on us. We were the ones that gave them their point, but the first two periods were good. It’s just another learning session.”

To Pastrnak’s point, the Bruins were outshot by a 15-6 margin in the final 20 minutes of regulation and 21-6 overall in the third period and overtime prior to Ryan O’Reilly’s game-winner during 3-on-3 play. It was at this point the Bruins certainly missed stalwart stay-at-home defensemen Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller in the D-zone, and fell short of qualified penalty killers while trying to burn off a Brandon Carlo interference call at the end of the third period. 

All of that caught up to them once the Bruins loosened their grip on the Sabres, but certainly the feeling is that the loss should’ve been avoidable even if some of the circumstances made it difficult for the Black and Gold. It also should have been avoidable against a Sabres hockey club that was dreadful last season, and is again one of the doormats in the Atlantic Division in the early going thus far. 

“Those are the games you can’t lose. We obviously didn’t do the job there in the third and close it out, but we’re going to have to regroup and work on our game and be better for the next one,” said Brad Marchand. “We didn’t play the game we needed to play. We relaxed a bit and we started losing a few battles in the wrong areas, and you know, they just played better than we did.”

It’s mystifying that any team would need a crash-and-born loss like Saturday night in order to learn any lessons moving forward, and it certainly might have been a different story for the Bruins if they weren’t missing a few big defensive pieces. But that’s not how it went down for the Black and Gold as they sagged under rising pressure from the Sabres, and simply stopped working when the chips were on the table late in Saturday night’s game. 

Astros beat Yankees in Game 7 to advance to World Series, 4-0


Astros beat Yankees in Game 7 to advance to World Series, 4-0

HOUSTON - Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers combined on a three-hitter, Jose Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Houston Astros reached the World Series, blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Just four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees for two straight games after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Houston aces Dallas Keuchel and ALCS MVP Justin Verlander will have plenty of rest, too, before the matchup begins at Dodger Stadium.

Houston has never won even a single World Series game. The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Now, manager A.J. Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first title, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

Houston improved to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and became the fifth team in major league history to win a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four.

Combined, they throttled the Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

CC Sabathia entered the game 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double after snapping an 0-for-20 skid with an ground-rule RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York struggled on the road this postseason, with this loss dropping the team to 1-6.