Patriots

Box Score Bank: Secules to the Rescue!MORE: Has media been fair to Bobby V.?

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Box Score Bank: Secules to the Rescue!MORE: Has media been fair to Bobby V.?

Sunday afternoon at Gillette, the Pats will look to earn their sixth consecutive victory against the Arizona Cardinals. It's a mildly impressive streak that dates back to the early '90s when the Cardinals played in Phoenix, not Arizona and it gives me a fantastic excuse to fire up the Box Score Bank.

So, let's all take a trip back to . . . October 10, 1993

Jurassic Park was No. 1 at the Box Office. "Dreamlover" by Mariah Carey was in the midst of its eight-week run atop the Billboard charts. A few months before (July 27) Microsoft launched it's first version of Windows. Bill Belichick was in his third season as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Chandler Jones was 3 . . .

And over at Sun Devil Stadium, the great Scott Secules was playing hero for the Pats

Final Score: New England 23, Phoenix 21

This victory is wildly important in the annals of Patriots history for a few reasons.

1. After an 0-4 start, it marked the first win of Bill Parcells' Patriots career.

2. Technically, it marked the first win of Drew Bledsoe's Patriots career.

3. It's the only time in Patriots history that Scott Secules threw a pass to Kevin Turner, who, in turn, lateraled the ball to Leonard Russell for an 82-yard gain.

I think.

Anyway, here's what happened: Bledsoe started the game, and had the Pats within striking distance (14-13), before exiting in the second half with a strained knee. (He would miss the next four weeks.) Bledsoe's replacement? The aforementioned Secules, who joined the Pats that season after three years of backing up Dan Marino in Miami.

The Cardinals led 21-16 with about five minutes left in the game, when Secules found Turner in the flat for a 12-yard gain. Before he was tackled, KT flipped the ball to a surging Russell, who broke free for 69 yards and trucked all the way down to the 2.

With 3:56 left, Secules found Big Ben Coates in the end zone for a game-winning score, thus writing the first chapter in nearly 20 years worth of Patriots dominance over the ArizonaPhoeniz Cardinals.

And it all started with Secules-to-Turner-to-Russell.

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

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

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The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.