Curran: Butler dishes it out, Brady takes it

Curran: Butler dishes it out, Brady takes it

I don’t know how long Malcolm Butler’s going to be a very good cornerback or how long he’s going to be in New England, but while he is, enjoy it. He is absolutely cutthroat. How, in a game where guys were getting flagged for even thinking about holding, he and DeSean Jackson avoided getting flagged for their end-of-half fracas is beyond me. I wouldn’t be surprised if there ends up being a modest fine for Jackson, who latched onto Butler’s facemask and wouldn’t release, and for Butler who flailed a punch at Jackson that wound up hitting Duron Harmon. Lightly. 

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But the bigger point is that – even though Jackson caught five balls for 106 yards, including a 24-yarder to start the Bucs final drive, Butler’s physicality on the tackle drove the slender Jackson from the game after that catch and he was a non-factor after that. There was nothing dirty about it. Butler merely took Jackson down hard and finished the tackle – the same way defenders do on Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Tom Brady whenever they get a chance. Despite the heightened consciousness for player safety, there is no way to excise the reality that whoever takes the beatings best often wins. Which brings me to …

*Tom Brady. After the Houston game, I pointed out the eye-popping rate at which he was taking punishment and figured the beatings would subside. At that point, he’d been sacked 10 times and taken (by NFL accounting) 20 quarterback hits. In the past two games (over five days), Brady was sacked six more times and hit another 14. So, 16 sacks and 34 hits through five games, which means the punishment has actually accelerated. Good thing the dude is hydrated because – from my perspective – there’s not another quarterback in the league who’d still be playing after taking the same thrashing. What’s the deal? It starts with Julian Edelman. Last night, it was exacerbated by Rob Gronkowski. 

Not having them out there means more coverage can be devoted to players who take time to uncover, which is what Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks are. So, Brady waits. And waits. And waits. And sometimes he gets sacked, sometimes he gets rid of the ball late and takes the hit anyway, sometimes he runs and gets folded over like a chaise lounge. Additionally, it doesn’t feel like they’ve yet settled into a groove with their rushing attack. They throw it 57 percent of the time on first-and-10. On third-and-2, they throw it 86 percent of the time; on third-and-3, they throw 100 percent of the time; on third-and-4, they throw 86 percent of the time. They are still too inconsistent running the ball to rely on it. 

Finally, there are inevitably plays on which the offensive linemen get beat. It’s alarming that a team which had a total of one sack through its first three games was able to get to Brady as often as it did. With the Falcons, Broncos and Raiders coming up – three very fast defenses – the beatings may continue.

*A few other quick hits...Kyle Van Noy, at first glance, got wheeled around the field like he had soap on his cleats. The Patriots are fortunate Tampa drifted away from Doug Martin and their running game in the second half. … So far this season, kickers are 20-for-96 outside 40 yards. Bill Belichick went in-depth on his decision-making prior to letting Stephen Gostkowski’s final field goal which pushed the lead from two points to five. Given the grass surface, the way the Patriots defense has yielded yards and the fact Tampa would get the ball at their own 37 if Gostkowski missed, needing just 33 yards (for a normal kicker) to be in reasonable range for a game-winner, you can see why Belichick weighed going for the first down or trying to pin Tampa near its goal line. As it was, the Bucs still had a shot at the end zone to win and if Jameis Winston hadn’t overheated on the final play and thrown it at the open back of Cameron Brate instead of waiting for him to turn, the Bucs would have had a shot to win. It was one of those 51-49 decisions where there’s no right or wrong. … Podcast coming up later today with (fingers crossed) comedian Bill Burr as the guest. We’ll also move the Friday Bag to Sunday so we can your questions in and answered and we can put something on the site for people to read so we can go apple-picking as a group on Sunday. Thank you for your support.


 

Pats were wary of wind on perfect night for Stephen Gostkowski

Pats were wary of wind on perfect night for Stephen Gostkowski

As Nick Folk could surely tell you, kicking conditions were not optimal Thursday night. 

Folk missed all three of his field goal attempts (56, 49 and 31 yards) in the Patriots’ 19-14 win over Tampa Bay. By the time he lined up for his 31-yarder in the fourth quarter, perhaps his confidence was rattled enough from his two misses on longer kicks made the shorter one more daunting than usual. Yet that wasn’t the only factor in play. 

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NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry noted that Bill Belichick and safeties coach Stephen Belichick were on the field checking the wind before the game, with the head coach gesturing from the Tampa sideline to the New England sideline. Belichick admitted Friday that the wind at Raymond James Stadium was fickle enough to dissuade the Pats from attempting a long field goal late. 

With the Pats facing fourth-and-12 from the Tampa 33 with 10:59 to play, the Patriots opted to punt rather than have Stephen Gostkowski — who had already hit a 45-yarder and was three-for-three on the night at that point — attempt a 50-yard field goal. 

“The wind was a crosswind. It was blowing from their bench to our bench. I don't think it was really favoring one direction or the other. Maybe a little bit towards the pirate ship end, but it seemed like mostly it was blowing across, but it was gusting. It wasn't consistent. It would at times die down and you wouldn't feel much and then other times it would kick up and was much more noticeable,” Belichick said. 

“I think that's always the toughest situation for a field goal kicker and it’s tough for the punters on the drop because you think the ball is going to drop flat but it gusts and then it might not. Then you have a hard time hitting it properly on your foot. I don't think it affected the passing game too much. Those balls are a lot lower and are less affected by that type of wind. The kicking game, for sure, and then the way they had that field marking there, too, kicking off that flag where the field is dyed, same thing in the end zone, just a little different surface than what it is on the grass part of it with the paint or however that's done. It's just not quite as consistent of a surface there all the way around. Yes, that played into that decision a little bit. The wind, the distance and the surface all combined.”

The Pats would attempt a long field goal two drives later after the Bucs had cut New England’s lead to two points. Gostkowski drilled a 48-yarder to make him a perfect four-for-four on the night and make it a five-point game with 1:10 to play. 

Yet when the Pats didn’t need to risk it, they didn’t. The lead was at nine points when the Pats opted to punt over going for the 50-yarder in the fourth. 

“Stephen's kicking the ball great, so he probably would've made those, but if you were to miss one there then you give them the ball at the 42,43, 40-yard line – whatever it is – and then compared to being able to have an opportunity to down the ball, let's say around the five or so. You give up 35 yards of field position. That's what the risk is for the three points, but when we gained that – whatever it was – five or six yards there on the last play to get it from the 35 or 36 – whatever it was – from a 53-yard field goal to, like, a 45-yard field goal, so it would've been 52, 53 to 47, right? Forty-eight – whatever the last quick was. That was a big five yards in the decision process.”

Belichick’s numbers were off just a bit — it was really a two-yard difference between the kick the Pats avoided and the one they attempted. Either way, both decisions paid off in the win. 

Belichick on Branch being left behind: 'This isn't about one player'

Belichick on Branch being left behind: 'This isn't about one player'

Bill Belichick went into specific detail Friday about why Alan Branch was left behind for Thursday’s win over the Bucs. No, he didn’t. Of course, he didn’t. 

Instead, Belichick essentially gave a lengthy song and dance explaining that you have the players who are unable to play in games because of injury, and then from there you choose which healthy players can play. You do it based on what gives you the best chance to win and blah blah blah. 

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Yet at the tail end of his answer, Belichick basically said what the move suggested: He thinks right now that the Pats are better without Branch than with him. 

“You take the players that you feel are best for that game, that you think will have the biggest impact, or give you the most depth that you feel like you need in that game,” Belichick said. “That’s what we do every week, but whatever players are inactive, you can put the same players in that same conversation.

“This isn’t about one player. It’s whichever players are inactive, whatever the reasons were — combination of reasons — we felt like the players we activated were the ones that gave us the best chance to win the game, which is ultimately what we’re trying to do.”

Branch signed a two-year deal to return to the Patriots in the offseason. He has failed to reach his level of play from last season, which has exacerbated struggles experienced by New England’s defense.