Pats secondary struggling for 3rd straight year


Pats secondary struggling for 3rd straight year

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The New England Patriots keep drafting defensive backs in the early rounds. One of these years they may find one who lives up to that status.

For the third straight season, the Patriots have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, specializing in allowing big plays.

Clearly, their secondary is a primary problem.

``We have to play better in the secondary and this team will be better,'' said cornerback Devin McCourty, a first-round pick in 2010.

At Seattle last Sunday, New England gave up touchdown passes by rookie Russell Wilson of 50 yards to Doug Baldwin and 46 to Sidney Rice. A pass to Golden Tate gained 51 yards, and safety Patrick Chung, a second-round choice in 2009, was called for a 40-yard pass interference penalty. Rice's touchdown with 1:18 left and Steven Hauschka's extra point gave the Seahawks a 24-23 win.

The long completions are becoming painfully commonplace.

The Patriots have allowed 13 of 30 yards or more, a big reason they're just 3-3. Tom Brady has thrown only five passes for that distance in the six games.

Five of the six quarterbacks the Patriots have faced have completed passes for at least 30 yards. Wilson, Peyton Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Joe Flacco did it three times and Jake Locker once.

``Obviously, you never want to give up big plays, regardless what phase of the game it is,'' said Matthew Slater, a wide receiver and special teams captain who was forced into action at safety last season by injuries. ``Big plays are momentum plays so, in that respect, a lot of us have the responsibility not to give up the big play and to make the big play.''

The Patriots have tried plenty of defensive backs, hoping they can fulfill that responsibility.

They've drafted seven of them in the first two rounds in the last six years. Only four remain. Is that because coach Bill Belichick's defensive system is tougher to learn than others or because the three no longer with the team weren't as good as Belichick thought when he drafted them?

Those three - Brandon Meriweather, Terrence Wheatley and Darius Butler - haven't done well after leaving the Patriots. And cornerback Ras-I Dowling, slowed by injuries after being taken in the second round last year, hasn't lived up to expectations this year.

The turnover in the secondary has been constant.

Of the 10 defensive backs who played for the Patriots in 2009, four didn't play for them the next year. Of the nine they used in 2010, five were gone in 2011. They tried 13 different players in the secondary in 2011 and eight are no longer with the team. That includes James Ihedigbo, who started 12 of the 16 games he played.

None of the current defensive backs can be counted on week after week.

McCourty made the Pro Bowl as a rookie but has been plagued by defensive pass interference calls this year. Starting cornerback Kyle Arrington tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions last season, but was replaced by rookie Alfonzo Dennard, a seventh-rounder, after allowing the 50-yard touchdown to Baldwin on Seattle's second series.

The other two regular starters, safeties Steve Gregory and Chung, have been nicked up. Gregory missed the last two games with a hip injury and Chung left Sunday's game after hurting his shoulder.

So on the decisive touchdown pass to Rice, the Patriots used only four defensive backs with rookie draft picks Tavon Wilson (second round) and Nate Ebner (sixth) at safety. Rice got by Wilson and Ebner came over too late to help.

``Early in your career, everything's a learning experience and they're getting plenty of learning experiences now,'' said Gregory, in his first year as a Patriot after signing as a free agent from San Diego. ``But they're working really hard at trying to become better football players.''

Wilson put the blame on himself.

``I'm held accountable just like everybody else on this team,'' he said. ``I don't expect them to take no slack on me because I'm a rookie. I've got to make the play.''

But why didn't Belichick put more defensive backs on the field to help the rookies, knowing that the Seahawks would pass with little time left and a six-point deficit?

``I think we had enough people back there on paper,'' he said. ``I don't think there was anything wrong with the call. I think we could have played it better, which includes coaching it to be played better. ... We would have had to cover it if we were in something else as well.''

The Patriots could catch a break next Sunday when they face the New York Jets. Mark Sanchez has had a tough season and threw for just 82 yards in last Sunday's 35-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

The way New England's secondary is playing, that number could be much higher.

``I have played some safety and it is much harder than it may look,'' Slater said. ``We believe in every last one of them, wouldn't want any other guy back there than the guys that have been back there, and we stand behind them 100 percent.''

It's the receivers who get behind them who are causing the problems.


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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.


Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.


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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.