Patriots’ defense back on track

Published 7:28 am Thursday, January 24, 2019

FOXBOROUGH, Mass.  — It took an entire regular season and some tough losses, but the Patriots defense finally likes where it is at heading into its Super Bowl matchup with the Los Angeles Rams.

It hasn’t been perfect, but after a slow start to 2018 and fighting to find an identity following the departure of defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, the Patriots have found stability for a group that gave up 25 or more points five times through its first 10 games.

The Patriots rarely revisit the past, but on Wednesday linebacker Kyle Van Noy said that part of their issues early on had roots in their Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia last February.

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“It was just a humbling experience,” Van Noy said. “I feel like defensively we didn’t play well, so it’s just humbling to go through that opportunity like that.”

Over the latter part of this season, the Patriots have used that disappointment as motivation.

Following its bye in Week 11, New England’s defense held all but one of its final six opponents to 17 or fewer points. The exception was a 34-33 loss at Miami , which ended with the Dolphins scoring on a wild final play.

Last season the Patriots finished fifth in the NFL, allowing 18.5 points per game. This season they were just slightly worse, allowing 20.3 points per game — seventh best in the league.

In the playoffs they’ve had some of their best moments of the season.

They held Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers to seven first-half points in the divisional round, then limited a Kansas City Chiefs offense that averaged a league-best 35.3 points during the regular season scoreless in the first half of the AFC championship game. Both times it allowed the offense to establish a cushion it would need in the second half.

“I think our team has done a really good job of putting the last week behind us and focusing on that week that’s ahead,” Van Noy said. “You learn from those mistakes whether they’re good or bad and you try to fix those and keep trying to get better and better.”

This team has done a really good job of it.”