Patriots

Belichick lightens up on Inside the NFL

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Belichick lightens up on Inside the NFL

Bill Belichick's been around football for a long time -- emphasis on long. But if his interview with the guys from 'Inside the NFL' is any indication of the connections he's made over the years, it's pretty obvious why he's so highly regarded by just about everyone around the league -- and beyond.

Take Charles Barkley for example. That's right, Charles Barkley. You probably never saw Belichick and Barkley grabbing dinner together while he was head coach of the Cleveland Browns, but it happened.

The two go way back to the early-to-mid '90s, and on Wednesday night Belichick joined host Cris Collinworth and special guest Barkley on Showtime's 'Inside the NFL', where Belichick joked that dinner with Barkley was one of the highlights in his Cleveland career.

"I have a lot of respect for Charles ... as a competitor, athlete," Belichick said. "How do you lead the NBA in rebounding at 6-4? That's what a real competitor is."

Although Barkley is officially listed at 6-foot-6, 252 pounds, the message is still clear, and coincides with Belichick's mentality that the player who works the hardest will get the most opportunities. Barkley was certainly a player who fit that mold while in the league, and one that you can bet Belichick would have utilized to the fullest.

Speaking of such, just how would have Belichick used Barkley if he played in the NFL?

"Tight end," Belichick answered. "Great hands, smart, knows how to get open . . . tough in the red area, and we'd use him on some crackback blocks."

Sound familiar? Like, maybe, Rob Gronkowski? Gronkowski is also listed at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, and seems to fit the definition Belichick gave of Barkley.

Collinsworth joked that Belichick's friendship with Barkley is what got him on the show, after alleged failed attempts by Phil Simms -- and expert analyst on the show -- to get him on.

"Phil knows I'd do anything to help him, so that's a bunch of garbage," Belichick said with a smile.

In 1979, Belichick and Simms began their careers with the Giants, Belichick as the special teams coach and Simms as the first pick made by the Giants in the 1979 NFL draft.

"After about a year or so, nobody wanted either of us," Belichick joked.

That's certainly true for Simms, whose career started off very slow due to injury and underwhelming play, but probably not so true for Belichick.

He eventually became the Giants' defensive coordinator in 1985 and the team, with Simms at quarterback, won two Super Bowls. Simms played a major role in the first one in 1986, and helped get the Giants to the second one before breaking his foot in the 14th week of the 1990 season.

But Belichick's Giants days are far behind him, and asked about his current Patriots team, Belichick seemed pleased with the results to date.

"I thought that the win against Dallas was a good, tough win for our football team," he said. "We haven't had a lot of those lately, to be honest."

Belichick specifically pointed to the last defensive stop and offensive drive of the game, when Patriots players on both sides of the ball "stepped up when they had to."

And then the conversation turned to the coaches' handshake at the end of games, in light of the recent exchange between the 49ers' Jim Harbough and the Lions' Jim Schwartz.

Belichick addressed similar questions earlier this week, but kept it interesting, saying again that he thinks the whole thing is a little bit overblown in terms of media coverage, but also admitting: "I've had a lot of memorable handshakes at the end of games and coaches have said things to me that I've remembered for the rest of my life."

Whether win or lose, Belichick said, an opposing coach can say the right thing and it means a lot.

No doubt Belichick heard a lot of "keep your head up" handshakes while head coaching the Browns.

In 1995, Belichick's last year with the team and the team's last year in Cleveland before moving to Baltimore, they held the 10th pick in the NFL draft. Belichick and the Browns' director of player personnel at the time, Michael Lombardi (now the insider on 'Inside the NFL'), had their eyes on a player in particular -- Warren Sapp.

Sapp is now also an expert analyst on 'Inside the NFL' (seeing a trend here?), although he wasn't present for the interview.

So what happened in 1995? Why didn't the Browns take Sapp, a seven-time Pro Bowler?

"Mike Lombardi loved Sapp, as I did," Belichick recalled. "It was one of those situations where the two of us were overruled by other powers to be in the organization on that day."

Belichick is most likely talking about the Browns owner at the time, Art Modell. The Browns ended up trading that pick to the San Francisco 49ers for a 1995 first-round pick (30th overall), a 1995 fourth-round pick, and a 1996 first-round pick.

So how did it work out for the Browns? They took Craig Powell, a linebacker out of Ohio State with their first pick in 1995. Powell was a bust, and out of the league after three seasons.

In 1996, after Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore, the Ravens drafted Ray Lewis with the pick they received in the deal. By then though, Belichick was gone.

He was on his way to serve as assistant head coach under Bill Parcells in New England.

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Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

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. 

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