Patriots

Belichick: Newton is 'Public Enemy No. 1' when it comes to scrambling quarterbacks

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Belichick: Newton is 'Public Enemy No. 1' when it comes to scrambling quarterbacks

FOXBORO -- Yesterday in this space we highlighted some of the difficulties that the Patriots had in containing Deshaun Watson's ability to scramble, extend plays, and pick up yardage down the field. 

With Cam Newton headed to Gillette Stadium over the weekend, Bill Belichick indicated that his team's job will only get tougher in regards to limiting those types of plays.

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"Well, I think both guys probably have a few plays that are designed runs, and then there are other plays that are improvised runs," Belichick explained. "I think when you’re talking about mobile quarterbacks, guys that are tough to handle, tackle, can throw, run, make good decision -- I mean, I would put Newton at the top of the list."

Watson ranks No. 1 in the league, according to Pro Football, when it comes to longest average time to throw (3.27 seconds). Other mobile quarterbacks -- DeShone Kizer, Tyrod Taylor, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers -- round out the top five in that category through three weeks this season. Newton is currently eighth on that list at an average of 2.76 seconds from snap to throw.

That's not all that far off from where Newton was when he was named MVP in 2015 (average of 2.85 seconds to throw). The difference this year is that regardless of when Newton throws, the results have been lacking. 

In 2015, his quarterback rating on throws that took 2.6 seconds or more was 97.9 -- third best in the league. And he was even better when getting the ball out more quickly, recording a 101.4 rating on passes that occurred 2.5 seconds or less from the time the ball was snapped.

This year? It's a small sample, but his rating on longer-developing throws is 69.7. It's only slightly better when he throws it more quickly: 71.0. 

Whether it's the shoulder injury that plagued him all offseason or turnover among the personnel with him in the offensive huddle, something's not allowing the Panthers offense -- which has scored 45 total points in three games -- to click.

Still, Belichick insisted on Wednesday that the Patriots have to respect Newton's ability to move in and out of the pocket to create explosive plays.

"Not saying that there aren’t a lot of other good players that do that, but I would say, of all the guys we play or have played recently in the last couple of years, he’s the hardest guy to deal with," Belichick said. "He makes good decisions. He can run. He’s strong. He’s hard to tackle. He can do a lot of different things, beat you in a lot of different ways. We saw that in the game down there in '13, so I would put him at the top of the list.

"Not saying the other guys aren’t a problem, because they are, but he’s Public Enemy No. 1."

Patriots donate 200 tickets to military members for tonight's game

Patriots donate 200 tickets to military members for tonight's game

Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona is also an officer in the Navy. He was instrumental in having the team donate 200 tickets to military members for tonight's game against the Atlanta Falcons at Gillette Stadium.

As ESPN's Mike Reiss pointed out, Cardona and teammate Matthew Slater were behind the plan to provide the tickets. The military personnel will also be on the field before the game. 

"It's a number that far exceeded expectations," Cardona told Reiss. "It was a collaborative effort. I was talking to Matt Slater, we were thinking of ways to reach out, especially to our local military community, and show how much we value them. My point of view was, 'Let's give these men and women the experience of coming to a big game.' Let's get them a personal feel, them being our personal guests, guests of the team."

The 200 tickets were provided by Patriots players and coaches, who each receive two tickets to a home game and the opportunity to purchase others 

“My point of view was, 'Let's give these men and women the experience of coming to a big game,'“ Cardona said in Reiss' story. “Let's get them a personal feel, them being our personal guests, guests of the team.” 

Gronkowski on pace for max earnings, ready for his crack at Falcons

Gronkowski on pace for max earnings, ready for his crack at Falcons

FOXBORO -- Despite missing one game this season, Rob Gronkowski is on track for a big year that would pay him more than double what he's scheduled to earn in 2017.

A thigh issue held the Patriots tight end out of action in Week 5 against the Buccaneers, yet he's still 12th in the league in receiving yards (401) and third among tight ends, behind only Travis Kelce (423) and Zach Ertz (405). His four touchdowns put him in the top-10 pass-catchers in the league in that category, and his six catches of 20 yards or more is tied for 14th. 

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If Gronkowski stays healthy and is on the field for the final 10 regular-season games of the year, he's on pace for 78 catches for 1,203 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those numbers would put him in contention for a first-team All-Pro nod, which would earn him the max $10.75 million for 2017 that's been written into his incentive-laden contract for this season.

But even if he isn't an All-Pro -- say Kelce and Ertz continue to have excellent seasons -- Gronkowski's 1,200 receiving yards would also trigger the max value of his deal. Seventy catches, 1,000 receiving yards or 12 touchdowns would trigger the second tier of Gronkowski's incentives, paying him $8.75 million. Sixty catches, 800 yards or 10 touchdowns would pay him $6.75 million -- up from the minimum of $5.25 million he's  guaranteed for this season.

Against Atlanta, he'll have a chance to combat the Falcons team speed in a way that he wasn't able to last February when he missed the Super Bowl following season-ending back surgery. 

"It feels great to be back playing, but I mean, it’s a whole new year," he said Wednesday. "It’s a whole new week. They’ve got different players now. We’ve got different players. They’ve got a different scheme a little bit from all the different players. We’ve got a little different scheme from all the new players that we have, so it’s a whole new game. It’s a whole new challenge this week and we’ve just got to work hard this week and get ready for Sunday night."

The Falcons defense features young and athletic players like linebackers Deion Jones and Duke Riley as well as pass-rusher Vic Beasley and safety Keanu Neal, but they haven't been all that stout against opposing tight ends in 2017. Per Football Outsiders, they rank 19th in defending tight ends, allowing 61.4 yards per game on 8.9 pass attempts. 

The Patriots could wind up seeing 6-foot-4, 232-pound linebacker De'Vondre Campbell on Gronkowski on Sunday night. He and Neal have been the primary defenders on tight ends in recent weeks, and against the Lions last month Campbell was targeted five times and allowed zero catches while covering tight end Eric Ebron.

"They're a good defense," Gronkowski said. "You've got to go out there and you've got to play your best football. I feel like at any time, any given time, if I'm not playing my best football, if I'm not taking the coaching points, if I’m not doing the things right out there on the field then I feel like I could be covered by any one.

"But also at the same time, if I’m doing things right, feeling good, taking the coaching points then I feel like I can get open on anyone. It just all comes down to playing the game this coming Sunday night."

The problem for Atlanta is that Gronkowski is playing his best football right now. And if he keeps it up, he'll be paid accordingly.