Patriots

Belichick watched 'Bama-Clemson to root for Saban, see future NFL picks

Belichick watched 'Bama-Clemson to root for Saban, see future NFL picks

FOXBORO -- As a good friend of Alabama coach Nick Saban, Bill Belichick had a rooting interest in Monday night's national championship game between Clemson and the Crimson Tide. Even with a Divisional Round matchup with the Texans less than a week away, and even with the college title game finishing well after midnight, the Patriots coach was watching.

But Belichick wasn't watching strictly to support his pal Saban, whose team fell to Clemson late in the fourth quarter, 35-31. It was a chance to do a little advanced scouting on two of the most talented college rosters in the country.

"We'll see what it looks like in a couple of months, but I'd say there's a lot of good football players on the field," Belichick said. "Some of whom I knew about. Some of whom I need to find out more about. I remember watching that game last year and watching it probably, [had to] be at least 10 times in the offseason because there's so many players.

"The ones that played last year and didn't play this year or are being replaced by guys that are going to be a factor in the NFL that are now draft-eligible. And you get to see them against other players that are comparable. Whether they're draft eligible or not, guys playing in this game are pretty good. If they're not draft eligible this year, they'll be draft-eligible next year or soon thereafter.  

"Competitively it's a great game to watch. It was a great game to watch last year . . . Just from a competitive standpoint, two great teams, two great programs. Again, coming down to a play. You got a lot of points scored like that, it's a lot of plays, but in the end, it's one or two plays that go the other way, you get a different result. That's the level of competition we're talking about."

Down three points with two minutes remaining in the game, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson drove the Tigers 68 yards in nine plays and found receiver Hunter Renfrow for a goal-line score to win it.

When Belichick was asked about the game during his Tuesday morning press conference, he said it exemplified the type of game fans of pro football and college football alike can expect at this time of year.

"Games like that, any play can be a big play, whether it's a conventional play . . . or just a great player making a great play, or a situation play," Belichick said. "It's fourth-and-one . . . I mean in the end the national championship came down to a yard. We've been in that situation before. Both ways. 

"That's the kind of football you see this time of year. Whether it be the NC level or the NFL playoffs. You get a lot of games like that, that come down to one play, one yard defines an entire season. You gotta be prepared for that."

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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