FOXBORO - In 2001, one of the stories that personalized the September 11 attacks locally was that of Joe Andruzzi. The Patriots' guard was from Staten Island, New York and his three brothers - all New York City firefighters - were involved in the response. There was uncertainty, sadness, relief and mourning from Andruzzi that week. Earlier this week, the 11th anniversary of the attacks arrived and another Patriot from Staten Island, safety Steve Gregory, recalled the event with a story similar to Andruzzi's. His parents are both retired police officers in Brooklyn. "It's one of those days, it's so clear to remember," Gregory said Wednesday. "I was in college (at Syracuse)and I can just remember sitting in class when I heard about it and I went into a dining hall and there'sa TV there and there were hundreds of people just standing there watching in silence. "Nobody could believe what was going on and then, as we're watching it, the secondplane hit live. And then it was just crazy, man, people started screaming and running all over the place."Everyone, it seemed, knew someone at least tangentially involved in what was going on. Gregory knew many someones. "Up in Syracuse, a lot of people were from the City area, they had family and friends that were down there so there werereal personal relationships that a lot of people had up there in Syracuse," Gregory recalled. "The buildings came down and then my father went down to Ground Zero to help out. He was down there every day from the time the building went down for...a while. It was just a crazy time. You'd hear all the different stories of people on my block... The girl across the street from me, she might have been two years older than me, she was lost in one of the buildings, she had just gotten a job there. Family members, firefighters, all these different stories."Gregory's father, now retired from the force, got a call from Steve on Sunday. "I talked to him," said Gregory. "He watches the stuff when it's on TV and he's said to me, 'I don't even really want to watch it anymore because it brings back all those memories that were so horrible that day. Being down there and just trying to help out as much as you can and you see some horrific things.' Every year, to keep reliving that experience is hard I feel for him in that way." We seem a long way from the post-attacks unity we all experienced, I said to Gregory. "It's crazy how in that time of turmoil and the threat of terrorism, we all came together for that one cause just to stick together and be united as we should be," he agreed. "You wish that it could always be that way. There are so many people in the world, we'll never be truly united but if we could just try our best to understand that we are all one country, we all need to stick together and help each other out. That's the main goal of this country, right?"
FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.
But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives?
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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.
He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.
Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt.
"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.
"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."
Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted.
Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.
"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.
"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."
Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues.