Patriots

Age is just a number for Brady and Luck

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Age is just a number for Brady and Luck

As a guy whos spent the last three years dating a girl who's six years his junior, Id like to think that I know a thing or two about age discrepancy. And while Im sure there are probably more Norv Turner fans in San Diego right now than CSNNE readers who give the slightest crap about my personal life, for the sake of Tom Brady and Andrew Luck, take a second and hear me out. Itll be quick, and honestly, not even that personal.

This is by no means a groundbreaking statement, but one thing I can say for sure is that a relationship (as long as everyones legal) should never be defined by age. In many ways, nothing should, but in terms of a relationship . . . I mean, its just life. Everyone lives it differently. Some 30-year-olds act like theyre 20, some 30-year-olds act like theyre 50, some 30-year-olds bounce back and forth between the two, freaking themselves out every step along the way. Which group is right? Depending on whom you ask, theyre all right. Or theyre all wrong. Its a total mess. And sometimes that mess results in a connection between two people who are in similar stages at different ages. And sometimes it works. Age isnt always a big deal.

But with that being said and re-iterating the fact that my girlfriend is now a far beyond legal and professional human being Ill admit that theres nothing creepier or more jarring about our six-year difference than when we play a game of How old were you in . . .

For instance, in the spring of 1998, I was graduating high school and she was finishing up sixth grade. In 2002, I was graduating college and she was a high school sophomore. In 2012, Im expecting Chris Hansen to bust through my door with a camera crew. But only when I think about it in those terms.

And thankfully, thats not the reality.

OK, back to Tom Brady.

Heading into Sundays game against the Colts, there are a ton of interesting storylines surrounding New England, Indianapolis, and really, the entire NFL. We can talk about how the Pats defense needs to redeem itself after last weeks disaster. We can talk about Chuck Pagano and the feel good story of the year. We can talk about HOW SOMEONE ON THE JETS SAID THAT TIM TEBOW SUCKS AND PRETEND THAT ANYONE CARES!

But more than anything, I want to talk about Brady vs. Luck: Chapter 1.

Here in New England, we do our best not to think about Tom Bradys age. And for the most part, I dont think we need to. While theres no doubt that hes getting older, at this point, its clear that Tom Bradys 35 goes against the stereotype. For all the grumblings about his downfall, Bradys still averaging 293.9 yards a game and is on pace to eclipse 4700 passing yards for only the third time in his career. His 0.8 interception percentage matches his lowest ever. On that note, only five guys in the league have thrown more passes than Brady this season, but not one starting quarterback has thrown fewer interceptions. His 80.9 Total Quarterback Rating ranks second in the NFL, and is his best since ESPN started tracking the stat back in 2008.

Bottom line: With Brady, age isnt a big deal. Not yet at least.

But with that being said, and as much as its all true, Tom Bradys 35 is no match for a little game of How old were you in . . . with Andrew Luck.

For instance, when the Pats drafted Brady in the spring of 2000, Andrew Luck was in the fourth grade. When 24-year-old Brady arrived in the fall of 2001, Luck had just turned 12. In the spring of 2008, as Brady was in recovery from the most historic loss of his career (and no one had even heard of Bernard Pollard), Luck was giving the valedictorian speech at Stratford High School in Houston.

Think about that for a second: Tom Brady is 35. Andrew Luck is 23.

In a way, it leaves you with even more respect for how long Bradys been doing this. But on the other hand, it also reminds you of how long Bradys been doing this. Its like, OK, he might not be old, but my God, hes old! And Luck? He was born in 1989! In my head, he shouldnt even be old enough to have his drivers license, never mind lead a team into Gillette Stadium.

But obviously, the dynamic between Tom Brady and Andrew Luck cant be defined by a 12-year discrepancy.

First of all, because of everything I already said about Brady. And second, because the age of 23 has nothing on Andrew Luck. The kids a freak in every positive connotation of the word. He's barely human.

On the field, its already clicking. Since throwing three interceptions in Week 1 at Chicago (aka the most horrifying way for any quarterback to kick off his NFL career), Lucks thrown more than one interception in a game only once, and has only thrown two over the course of Indys four-game winning streak. For the season, his QBR (77.6) ranks fourth in the NFL, behind only Peyton Manning, Brady and Matt Ryan. Hes not as good as he will be, but Lucks already a legitimate quarterback. Hes not 23. And off the field, thats only magnified.

What Luck has been forced to deal with behind the scenes this year makes Week 1 at Soldier Field feel like a home game against the Stanford JV. Theres the pressure of being the No. 1 pick. The pressure of taking over for one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. And . . . theres pressure and emotional chaos that comes with your coach being diagnosed with cancer three games into the season, and being forced to leave the team. Lucks handled it with ease. At least on the surface. His comfort and confidence with the media is almost bizarre. Its hard to believe that someone that age could be so polished, but at the same time so introspective and revealing. To be honest, it reminds me a lot of Tiger Woods, which is at least somewhat concerning. But for now, Luck is already as good as advertised.

Of course, hes not on Bradys level yet, and I think the final score on Sunday will prove that. But the game will also serve as the first chapter in what will likely become a historically significant NFL rivalry. A tailor made passing of the torch.

Brady says that he wants to play five more years, and theres no reason to believe that he cant. But if he wants to stick around, he better get used to dealing with Luck.

The two might be 12 years apart, but it wont be long before their lives and careers converge on the same path. And while you can sometimes make that work in a relationship, in football, it's a collision course.

For Brady and Luck, Sunday's just the beginning.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Patriots-Falcons practice report: Gilmore (concussion/ankle) still out with Falcons, Jones on deck

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Patriots-Falcons practice report: Gilmore (concussion/ankle) still out with Falcons, Jones on deck

FOXBORO -- The Patriots are looking thin in the secondary as they head into their third and final day of practice before Sunday's matchup with the Falcons. 

Both Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle) and Eric Rowe (groin) sat out the session, as did linebacker Elandon Roberts (ankle). Undrafted rookie defensive end Harvey Langi was also a non-participant as he recovers from injuries sustained in a car crash last week. 

Asked if Friday's practice was a possibility, Gilmore said, "We'll see." He did not give any indications that his symptoms had improved or that he had been cleared for practice as he works through the league's concussion protocol. 

Rowe was spotted in the locker room on Thursday, but he has not practiced since aggravating his groin injury in Week 4. He was injured initially during a Week 2 win over the Saints. 

Roberts suffered an ankle injury when teammate Alan Branch landed on his lower leg during a loss to the Panthers in Week 4. However, he was healthy enough to play in Weeks 5 and 6. It's unclear as to whether or not his current ailment is related to what knocked him from that Week 4 loss to Carolina. 

Here is Thursday's practice participation/injury report for Sunday's game between the Patriots and Falcons:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
CB Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle)
LB Harvey Langi (back)
LB Elandon Roberts (ankle)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
RB Rex Burkhead (ribs)
WR Chris Hogan (ribs)
G Shaq Mason (shoulder)

ATLANTA FALCONS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
LB Jordan Tripp

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
OLB Vic Beasley Jr. (hamstring)
K Matt Bryant (back)
LB Jermaine Grace (hamstring)
LB Deion Jones (quadricep)
DE Takk McKinley (shoulder)
LB Duke Riley (knee)
WR Mohamed Sanu (hamstring)
DL Courtney Upshaw (ankle/knee)

Patriots' team personality changed by offseason moves, and not for better

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Patriots' team personality changed by offseason moves, and not for better

Bill Belichick has long been a proponent of altering his team's DNA from season to season. It cuts down on complacency, and also allows the head coach to be correct when he says last year doesn't matter to this year's Patriots. It can't, after all. What can players like Stephon Gilmore, Brandin Cooks or Lawrence Guy, who were on other rosters in other cities and -- in some cases -- other divisions or other conferences, know about last year's Pats? The answer is nothing, or next to nothing. Just the way Belichick prefers.

But last offseason's turnover may have done more harm than good, at least to this point in the year. Yes, the Pats have shown a toughness and an ability to overcome adversity -- see the start versus the Jets and the comeback against the Texans -- but there are clear indicators this group isn't gelling like Belichick believed it would. 

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Much of that points to the unusual approach taken by the coach and the front office in free agency. Whether it was the quick-strike signing of Gilmore to an expensive contract, to the surrendering of another first-rounder -- this time by choice -- in the trade for Cooks, or even the decision to walk away from fan favorite LeGarrette Blount in favor of younger, less proven backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, much of what Belichick was trying to do has yet to bear the necesssary fruit. And it's not just on the field where the Pats have shown deficiencies; it's in the locker room and meeting rooms as well.

Start with the bold move to get an in-his-prime Gilmore. Signing a player considered in some circles to be a No. 1 corner makes all the sense in the world. But what perplexed many was the decision to pay an outsider over Malcolm Butler, a proven player not only in this system, but in the biggest of games. Gilmore doesn't have that pedigree because his former team, the Bills, never made the playoffs, let alone a Super Bowl. 

Butler's anger at the decision and the way the rest of his offseason played out has been well-documented in this space. But what hasn't in many other spaces is the acknowledgement that it still wears on Butler to this day. 

His play is back on the uptick after a reduction of snaps in Week 2, but Butler has always been a player to whom the team has devoted extra attention to get ready week to week. That may have factored in the Pats' decision to only go so far in contract talks. Why then would Belichick assume Butler would be the perfect professional when Gilmore gets what Butler believes is his money? The thought seems to run counter with the argument against keeping Butler longterm in the first place. 

Butler says his relationship with Gilmore is good, that he's glad to have him as a teammate. Perhaps the 28-year-old has come to that now. Perhaps. 

As for Gilmore, he's soft-spoken. That has occasionally come off as though he's a player lacking confidence. His performance against Tampa Bay was a step in the right direction, but it was immediately followed by a day-before-the-game scratch against the Jets because of a concussion that was either suffered late in the week or was unreported until Saturday. His sudden absence put the Patriots in a bind. The fact that Gilmore spoke up was the right thing to do, but if it could have been communicated earlier it should have been, for the good of both player and team. Now he must reassert himself, whenever that opportunity comes.

"[You] grow together as team based on those experiences; some good, some bad, but learning from all of them," Belichick said when I asked him about a team's personality evolving over the course of the year. "I mean, we've only had one roster change since the start of the season but that's certainly on the low side. I would anticipate that there would be roster changes during the course of the year like there always are for every team and so that affects the makeup of the team, the interactions of the team. Maybe that's the personality you're talking about."

Belichick has a tendency to not only remember your last game, but -- if warranted -- hold it against you. Blount would be a prime example. He rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns last year but his play in the Super Bowl was poor. So despite his production on the field and his popularity off, the Pats had no inclination to offer LGB a raise. In fact, they were fine with him walking away, and that's exactly what he did. Gillislee and Burkhead were tabbed as replacement parts, and on paper it looked great. It still may end that way. But neither player has provided a) a level of play equivalent to Blount's and b) the energy that Blount brought. And that latter part of the equation is incredibly important. Just ask the Eagles, who get a jolt from Blount every time he lowers his shoulder and runs over a defender. 

The same could hold true for others who fled, were allowed to leave, or never got the chance to come back: 

-- Martellus Bennett could be a pain in the ass but there was never a dull moment around him, and no one can deny the loquacious tight end was an energy player both on and off the field. 

-- Logan Ryan had been through so much with the Pats, both good and bad. He had no problem talking, not just to his teammates but to the other side as well. He had earned his teammates' trust. 

-- Chris Long had an excellent relationship with so many guys on the team, and while he wouldn't be considered a "personality" in the same mold as Blount, he was incredibly well-respected for his professionalism and for his sacrifice, many times playing out of position. 

Then throw in the retirement of old standby Rob Ninkovich and, of course, the season-ending injury to Julian Edelman. If you didn't understand before, you should know now just how much each player is missed.

It's now up to the newcomers, and some of the holdovers, to elevate their level and find their voice, both on the field and in that room. And that may also be a part of the early issue. These "new" players -- Cooks, Gilmore, Gillislee, Burkhead, Guy -- are, for the moment, quiet. Perhaps they're concerned about stepping on toes, but at some point that may be needed.

"Look, everybody's a shareholder on the team," Belichick said. "It's not one person's team. It belongs to all of us and we try to make it as functional, as effective and as competitive as we possibly can. So, that's what the goal is, to win every game that we play and to have a good season and to make the most out of every day and every opportunity that we have. 

"I don't know if that answers the question or not, but I'm trying."

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