Patriots

Brady first unanimous NFL MVP selection

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Brady first unanimous NFL MVP selection

Associated Press
DALLAS -- Here's a Brady Bunch for NFL fans: Tom Brady got all 50 votes for MVP.The New England Patriots quarterbackon Sunday became the first unanimous choice for The Associated PressNFL Most Valuable Player Award since the AP began using a nationwidepanel of media members who cover the league.He surpassed himself, too: In 2007, when Brady won his first MVP, he got 49 votes; one voter went for Brett Favre."It is always flattering to be chosenfor such a prestigious award," Brady said. "But I also look at it as ateam award, as nothing in football gets accomplished without the mentaltoughness and determination of every player and coach associated withthat team."I am very humbled to be a part of anorganization where winning comes first, and our goals are based aroundthe success of the team."Those successes, including three Super Bowl titles in the last 10 years, are in great part due to Brady's excellence.Although he didn't set nearly as manypassing marks as in '07, Brady by far was the league's top performer inleading New England to a 14-2 record, best in the NFL. He had a recordstreak of 355 throws without being intercepted, and passed for 36touchdowns with only four picks.Not that the 33-year-old Brady would compare this season's Patriots to any others."Every team every year is different,"he said, "and over the course of 100 practices and many games a teamestablishes its identity. Players change, schemes change, opponentschange, which is why the game is so exciting year in and year out."The fact that 32 teams start outeach year with the same goal is why the popularity of the sport is atan all-time high. The great part about our sport is that nothing comeseasy, and wherever you stand at the end of the year is the exact placethat you deserve to be."Individually, Brady stands above allothers. The only Patriot to win the award, he and Peyton Manning, hisrival for the NFL's best quarterback, have split the last four MVPs.Brady followed his previous MVPtrophy with a lost season, tearing left knee ligaments in the firsthalf of the 2008 opener. His return in 2009 was solid, although handand rib injuries slowed him.This year, even with a sore rightfoot that required postseason surgery, Brady was simply dynamic. Hetwice threw for four touchdowns in a game and four times had three.Twelve times, he had a passer rating of at least 100.And he guided a young team in transition to 14 victories."Brady is so special because he'ssuch a great leader and all the players can relate to him," team ownerRobert Kraft said. "These kids (rookies) who come in live in awe ofhim, but the nice thing is he treats them well."He works very hard, he studies veryhard," Kraft added. "Being a great quarterback isn't just being veryskilled. It's being able to process information quickly, to make theadjustments, and I think he's fabulous at that."As fabulous as he might have been, Brady, not surprisingly, has some regrets about 2010."When the season is over, 31 teamsare disappointed about the outcome," he said. "There is only onechampion, and nobody plays this game for second place. The desire andhunger is about winning, which to me never gets old. The motivation toget up and work every day for that goal is something that challenges usall."Our team has very highexpectations, and our team will come back this year with the samepurpose," he said. "Whether or not that leads to a championship seasonwill be determined by the commitment each player makes to do their jobas best as they possibly can."The way Brady does.

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

FOXBORO -- Stay low. Drive off the tight end's inside shoulder. And whatever you do, keep your feet. You don't want to be falling into kicker and picking up a penalty. 

Those were the kinds of things that were bouncing around somewhere in Cassius Marsh's subconscious as he lined up to try to block Falcons kicker Matt Bryant's field-goal attempt from 37 yards away at the end of the first quarter. Swimming past his blocker off the snap, Marsh got both arms extended and into the path of Bryant's kick, knocking it down and giving his team a boost. 

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"Guys work hard on that every week," Bill Belichick said after his team's 23-7 win. "Cassius has gotten some opportunities in practice. It’s hard to block Steve [Gostkowski]. Steve gets good height on the ball, gets the ball off quickly. I think this one with not quite as much height maybe as Steve's ball, or at least what Steve's balls were in practice, Cassius got a hand on it. 

"It was a big play for us because, again, we worked so hard on that and that’s everybody across the board. That’s all 11 guys, not just the guy that blocks it. The other guys have to do their job and if they block Cassius and take him away then that gives somebody else an opportunity so we never know how that’s going to go. We just want everybody to come hard and do their job right and wherever the opening is it is. That was a big play for us . . . 

"You can see the whole team – we were all excited. Sideline, players, guys on the field. That was a big moment for us. Our special teams units work very hard. They take a lot of pride in their job. The return teams, the coverage teams, the field goal and the field goal block team. It’s good to see that hard work pay off in a big play like that."

It was a big enough play that it earned Marsh a high-five from his coach. Marsh laughed about his reception on the sideline, remembering that the last time he got that kind of recognition from Belichick it came after a Week 4 sack.

"That's pretty much it that I can remember," Marsh said, beaming. "He only really smiles in situations like that so you've gotta cherish those moments."

The Patriots recovered at their own 26-yard line and embarked on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to get them on the scoreboard.

"With the defense playing as well as they were, to be able to preserve the shutout at the time was big," said special teams captain Matthew Slater. "Those are huge momentum plays when you're able to block a kick. It's not a traditional play that happens every game. Huge play. A UCLA guy stepping up, who would've thought? 

"You gotta tip your hat to those guys because they coach that, they work that and sometimes it seems like, 'Man, why do we continue to do this?' But it paid off for us tonight. You tip your cap to not only Cash but the rest of the guys on that unit." 

While Marsh's block was the highlight, it was a strong night overall for New England's special teams units. Every Falcons drive started inside their own 30-yard line, and Gostkowski had kicks returned to the 12, 19 and 18 before they were stopped.

Slater called it the most complementary game the Patriots played all season. Offense, defense, special teams. They all worked together to make Sunday perhaps their most dominating performance of the year. 

"That's the effort that we've been looking for and striving for all year," Slater said. "I think that's a good starting point for us. Lot of football left. Nine games left so we're going to have to continue to do it and be consistent week in and week out."

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Butler credits improved Patriots defense for 'playing smarter'

Butler credits improved Patriots defense for 'playing smarter'

As safety Duron Harmon emerged from the showers following the Patriots 23-7 win over the Falcons, he noticed a crowd gathered by his locker. As one of the captains of the team - and a man nicknamed by teammates as “The Voice” because of his ability to articulate the right words at the right time, the affable safety is a must listen postgame. But for a change, Harmon knew the mass gathering of media wasn’t there for him - at least not yet. We were there for Malcolm Butler, who had just played his best game of the season.

“You all want to talk to Malcolm?” Harmon sang. “I’d want to talk to Malcolm too.”

Devin McCourty got in on the act as well with some good-natured chirping in Butler’s direction. Both safeties were energized by the victory but also, it seemed, by the performance of a player they’ve come to rely on in games just like this. 

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“Awww man, Malcolm. . . Malcolm was great for us,” said Harmon later. “We need that.”

It's hard not to draw the parallel between Butler having his best performance of the season a week after making two of the biggest plays in the game against the Jets. He did all this while the man who indirectly caused so much of the 28-year old’s troubles - Stephon Gilmore - hasn’t been able to play because of a concussion. Meanwhile, an undrafted player in his 6th year, Johnson Bademosi, has emerged opposite Butler to play very sound football.

“Communication,” said Butler of the team’s defensive improvements. “Just playing smarter and better. That’s all.”

Butler himself didn’t want to spend much time analyzing his own performance. That’s usually not his thing. And it wasn’t as if that performance was perfect. Far from it. But Butler’s energy was evident right from the jump. He stuck his nose in there on running plays to his side, including a terrific submarine tackle of Tevin Coleman in the opening quarter. Butler also got his fair share of Julio Jones over the course of the night. Even though he surrendered that late touchdown to the Falcons wideout, he showed not only a willingness to play the big dog, but to go right at him. That is - after all - a Butler trademark. 

“Just competing,” said Butler. “Great player; you just got to compete.”

It’s not just competing, but it’s playing with confidence, something Butler said was an issue for him in the aftermath of his snap reduction in New Orleans. But now? That seems long gone and hard to find.

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