Patriots

Brady: I definitely would have called timeout

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Brady: I definitely would have called timeout

There wasn't a particular play that stuck out in Tom Brady's mind as the one he would like to have back. Instead, there were several that went wrong and led to New England's 28-13 loss in the AFC Championship game to the Ravens.

Brady spoke to WEEI's Dennis and Callahan Show for his final Monday morning interview of the season to explain some of those plays that he'd like to have back, as well as the emotions he felt after dropping another playoff game short of the team's goal to win the Super Bowl.

"It's not like some games where you point to one or two plays," Brady said. "It was just all around: third down conversions, red area plays, turnovers always play a factor. All those things really weren't in our favor. When they're not, you can't point to 'Wow it was just that one play.' It was a lot of plays. That's how you lose by 15. I thought after the game, I can't remember the last time we lost by 15 points. It's been a while."

Brady did discuss a few of those plays he wished could have gone differently. Among them, he explained how he would've handled the end of the first half differently had he had the chance to do it over.

Would he have called a timeout immediately after sliding at the Baltimore seven-yard line?

"Yeah, I think that's definitely what I would've done," he said. "We talk about sometimes saving the last timeout for the field goal. With one timeout left I think that was the thought. It's just sometimes when you're in the heat of the moment sometimes you don't realize how much clock has ticked off as you've run that previous play. By the time I looked up, there was not as many seconds left as you thought because my mind was focused on the play. But yeah, of course looking back on it, I wish as soon as I slid I called a timeout and then maybe we'd have another opportunity to put the ball in the end zone."

Brady also discussed Wes Welker's third quarter drop. On a third-and-eight play on New England's first drive of the second half, Brady hit Welker in the flat for what would have been a first down, but the ball bounced off of Welker's hands and fell incomplete. Though just moments earlier Welker had been leveled by Ravens safety Bernard Pollard, Brady said he didn't think twice about throwing to his most targeted receiver.

"Big hits are part of the game," Brady said. "They're a very physical team, and they put a few big hits on us last night. Wes is the toughest player I've ever played with and been around. You just don't think about those things sometimes. You're reading the defense, or making protection calls, then you see a guy that's open and you try to throw it to him."

Brady lamented his team's offensive performance in the second half, when it was shut out by the Ravens. But he also spoke about missed opportunities to score points in the first half, when the Patriots started drives at their 33, 47 and Baltimore's 43-yard line.

"At times we moved the ball pretty well," Brady said. "We had good field position there early in the game. We just didn't make many critical plays, ones that got us over the hump. Just poor execution on our part. Just a rough night. There are other games where we haven't executed as well but you're margin of error is different when you pay the best teams.

"Baltimore is always a tough game for us, even when we play our best it's a tough game. They played very well. We just couldn't get enough going and string together enough good plays to score touchdowns when we needed to."

Brady said no matter how the season ends, it's heartbreaking and difficult to accept.

"That's kind of the way the NFL season is," he said. "Coach Bill Belichick said it after the game, there's no soft landing. It's just a crash, so to speak. It was just a bad night for us. Certainly we didn't play anywhere to the level that we were capable of playing."

Here are some of the other highlights from Brady's interview with WEEI:

On whether he will lobby the Patriots to retain Welker, who's scheduled to hit free agency
I think those business parts of the game, those usually take care of themselves. Certainly I'm not involved in any of those. Everyone knows how I feel about Wes. Our whole team feels that way about Wes. He's one of the best players I've ever played with and played against. He's just a phenomenal player. He's the heart and soul of what our team's been about. He's been so selfless, the way he carries himself and commits himself to the team to win, it's second to none. But like I said, those aren't my decisions.

On what happened when he scrambled from the pocket, collided with an official and went down
I saw Ray Lewis coming, and it's not like i really wanna go head-to-head with him. The official kind of got caught in a place where he really couldn't get out of the way, either. Just one of those things that come up.

On if he's excited to play in the Pro Bowl
We have a physical today so we'll see how I really feel. I would love to play in it. I'm not sure with a few things that have come up this last week if I'll be capable, but I'll talk with the doctor and see what he thinks.

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.