Mike Giardi

Brady, Pats look to continue unparalleled December success

Brady, Pats look to continue unparalleled December success

Nobody appreciates the month of December quite like Tom Brady and the Patriots. Well, unless you’re a big believer of that fat man from the North Pole. The numbers have been repeated so often they don’t even require a double check but do bear repeating over and over again.

Brady is 55-10 in the final month of every year, far and away the best of any in his storied career. But it’s not just Brady, obviously. It’s an entire team, one that’s changed over the years but still has embraced the final quarter of the regular season like few other, especially in those “Super” seasons. The Pats are 26-2 during Decembers when they’ve eventually gone on to play for Lombardi Trophies, and one of those losses was a throwaway in 2014 to Buffalo in the season finale. 

“I’ve been a member of some great teams that have really paid the price months earlier to put you in a great position to succeed in December when the games are the most meaningful because there’s fewer of them,” said Brady.

To Brady and others, these games mean more. That puts an even greater onus on preparation, both big and small. That’s always been a hallmark of Bill Belichick coached teams. To have continued December success, it can’t change.

“When there’s a little bit more at stake and the ante moves up I think you compete a little bit harder,” said Belichick. “You prepare a little bit harder.”

“Coach [Belichick] would say ‘no days off.’ Just work hard every day, no matter what you’re doing,” added Brady.”Whether you’re on the field or not on the field, you've got to be putting the time in mentally or physically to get yourself physically, mentally, emotionally ready to play for those games.”

Despite their 8-game winning streak - one that has vaulted the Pats to the top of just about everyone’s power rankings (for whatever that’s worth) - this group doesn’t think it can get away with anything other than their best. Of course, that hasn’t always been the case this season. There certainly have been a couple of victories that weren’t the way the coaching staff drew ‘em up, but you can sense a certain level of disappointment from this players in the aftermath. They’ll take it, but they’re measuring themselves against something greater. That’s a belief ingrained into the important players and one that filters down the roster. 

“…we’re a team that we can't afford to come in Wednesday and have a bad Wednesday,” said Devin McCourty. “Like we're not good enough to catch up on Thursday and Friday and then walk–through Saturday and think Sunday it's just going to turn on and we'll be ready to go. We have to be ready throughout the whole week. We need to have a good Wednesday, a good Thursday, string good practices together where we're going over everything that we might get, whether we've even had walk–throughs sometimes out there. But we get a lot of plays done, we get a lot of things talked about, communicated and that gives us a chance to win on Sunday. I think once you get in December it's about not slipping up any of those weeks.”

“We can’t afford anything less than our best,” said Brady. “I know it’s not going to be perfect out there, but you try to do as best you can, especially in the preparation so that you can be ready to anticipate and compete as hard as you can like this on a Monday Night Football game in December.”

If your best players think this way, how can the mid-level or bottom-end guys not approach their jobs the same way? It partly explains Brady’s success, but the team’s as well. And it’s why they’ll treat tonight’s game against the Dolphins as if it’s the most important game they’ll play all year. Because it is. And if the Patriots keep stacking them up, then the games keep getting bigger and more important. Until it’s Super Sunday and the whole world is watching you try and lay claim to another Lombardi.

#FridayBag: Will Hogan be eased back into Patriots offense?

#FridayBag: Will Hogan be eased back into Patriots offense?

FOXBORO - Every Friday, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi will take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or Friday Bag, as they call it.

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, give the latest edition of the Bag a read.

MG: Who said Jimmy is just the second-greatest QB of all-time??  



PP: Usually anywhere from 10 to 20 questions, depending on the week. Thanks as always for checking in, Scott.

MG: I am a fan of the targeting rule in college and taking it to review during the game to determine whether or not it’s a 15-yard penalty or that plus an ejection. That said, I don’t think it’s ruining the game. I think the games have been pretty damn good this year. Competitive. 



PP: Hey, Trevor. Touched on this in a story this week. He'd be a huge addition. His red-zone numbers were pretty astounding before getting injured. Problem is, we're still not sure yet if he'll be a go. And even with Rob Gronkowski out this week, I don't think there will be any rush to get him back. The Patriots could lose Monday night in Miami, and as long as they beat the Steelers in their highly-anticipated Week 15 matchup, they'll be in the running for the No. 1 seed in the conference. The Patriots will never say it the way Mike Tomlin did, but the Steelers game is really the one that matters right now.

MG: MURPH!!!! I think Hogan will be eased back into the equation. Maybe they shave half of Dorsett’s snaps (he had 48 last week without a single target, although Mr. Brady had something to do with that). 2) Cefali does not wear lifts and he may now be in therapy after the Twitter beatdown he received, even if it was justified (that shirt was ugly). 3) the Pats have struggled setting the edge this year. Cassius Marsh was awful at it, Lee struggled at time last week and I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw in the season-long (essentially) absence of Dont’a Hightower. I know they’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to improve in that regard but maybe it’s just as simple as they don’t have personnel that is sound in that area.



PP: Now we're talking, Rich. Really hard to say one way or the other. Both obviously very well-respected offensive minds. I think because of Tom Brady's experience in the system, the number of plays available to Josh McDaniels is probably wider than those available to Charlie Weis. After one sideline conversation, Brady and McDaniels can drum up an old game plan from 10 years ago to attack an opponent. That wasn't the case for Brady and Weis in 2004.

MG: Jacob, he’s certainly built a level of trust with Tom Brady that didn’t exist when the season started or even when the Pats rolled into Denver a few weeks back. But I don’t think he’s that kind of player at this stage of his career. There’s a stiffness to his route running that makes me think it’s unlikely he’ll ever get more than three or four targets in a game (unless Miami doesn’t feel like covering him).




PP: The best.

MG: There won’t be any personnel changes, unless Fleming remains the right tackle in place of the injured LaAdrian Waddle (who’s playing in place of the injured Marcus Cannon). This offense has had to change in part because of the Edelman injury but also because of the acquisition of Brandin Cooks and then -- to a lesser degree -- Phil Dorsett. They’re more vertical threats. If you’re going vertical, Brady is going to have to hang on to the ball a lot longer than you’re accustom to. So there long and short of it is TB12 will get hit. 



PP: Mr. Q! I would say most players do not know and do not really care. They see enough of Belichick's Breakdowns live and in person. If they've made a good play, those sessions are the ones where it's nice to get a mention.

MG: Donny, it’s rare. I can only think of a few times a year where they’ll go inside the bubble and it’s not always because of Mother Nature. Bill thinks like my old college coach Don Miller thought. Your skin is waterproof. Deal with it. If it’s cold, wear layers. 

MG: Billy, I’m thinking he’s already a carbon copy of Carl Banks and with one or two more games like he just had, Lawrence Taylor better beware. But seriously, Lee has been a nice addition thus far. They needed a body and he’s been more than that thus far. Now the question becomes: can he sustain it?

PP: OK, I'll say it. It was a down week for Bag contributions.

Mason coming into his own to power Patriots' O-line

Mason coming into his own to power Patriots' O-line

FOXBORO - On a 44-yard jaunt by Dion Lewis Sunday, guard Shaq Mason chipped down on the defensive tackle before easily advancing to the second level to take out the linebacker, freeing the diminutive Lewis to break into the secondary. 

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Later, on Rex Burkhead’s 30-yard run, Mason exploded out of his stance, pulling right past Cam Fleming, Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen to flatten Tre’Davious White, freeing Burkhead to waltz down the sideline with nary a body to worry about.

On the Patriots’ touchdown scoring drive in the third quarter, Josh McDaniels called the same play twice within a 5-play span. Why? Because of Mason. Against an even front, he pulled with such quickness that he was on top of an unsuspecting linebacker to pave the way for an easy six yards. Once the Pats entered the red zone, they went back to the play. Facing an odd-man front, Mason pulled but recognized leakage from the backside linebacker. Instead of turning up and blocking the first off-colored jersey he saw in the hole, Mason peeled back and walled off that penetration. Lewis scooted through the opening and nearly scored, picking up 15 of the 16 yards to the goal line.

“I love when they give me the opportunity to get out in front of the play,” said Mason.

That opportunity has come frequently for Mason, who’s entered the conversation as one of the best guards in the league. He joins a long and impressive line at that position in Patriots history, from the greatest of all-time, John Hannah, to borderline Hall of Famer Logan Mankins and Mankins' teammate from that era, Steven Neal. 

“I don't think we've had many guards as athletic as Shaq,” said Bill Belichick. “He's pretty athletic. He's got a real good lower body. He's got a lot of leg strength and can move people and he can run very well, as you mentioned, on screens and pulling plays and so forth. He's really an athletic player that's strong, and explosive, and can make blocks in-line, and can also get out into space and run and make blocks in space. That's a pretty tough combination.”

Projecting Mason as a professional was complicated. He plied his trade at Georgia Tech, where passing plays are called only out of desperation. The Ramblin’ Wreck run on first down, second down, third down and fourth if they had to. In addition, their playbook is minuscule. Seventy plays recalled Mason, maybe less. He had to learn how to handle the sheer volume of the Josh McDaniels offense, but more difficult, this newfangled skill known as “pass blocking.” 

“We didn’t do that often,” said Mason, a man of few words.

But Mason worked at it, compensating for his shorter arms by relying heavily on quick feet. He was merely average at fending off pass rusher as a rookie but made that second-year leap last season, earning some Pro Bowl consideration. Now in year three, Mason should be a lock. He’s allowed one sack by my count. That hasn’t gone unnoticed. 

“in some cases, his athleticism shows itself the most when he has to redirect and handle himself in pass protection in an individual one-on-one match-up,” said McDaniels. “We don't often think of that as the time that's going to show up the most, but sometimes when the line slides the other direction and you're one-on-one there, and a good rusher has a lot of space to get to the quarterback and disrupt the passing game, you have to be able to move your feet and redirect. The rushers, obviously, have more than one move and they counter and then Shaq would counter.”

Mason acknowledges there were some steps to take when he left Georgia Tech but with that quiet confidence, he wanted to make sure everyone knows it wasn’t something he felt he couldn’t handle.

“It wasn’t as big a jump as some may think but it definitely was an adjustment coming from the college I came from to here,” he said. “But I was certain I could do it.”

The rest of the league is now certain too.