Patriots

Brady: 'It's been such an enjoyable offseason'

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Brady: 'It's been such an enjoyable offseason'

For the first time since his appearance at Salem State College May 7th, and just the 2nd time since the Wells Report was released, Tom Brady spoke in front of an audience.

The Patriots quarterback made light of his offseason by cracking a "it's been such an enjoyable offseason” to laughter from those in attendance at the 2015 Patriots Premiere held at Gillette Stadium.

Brady’s response came when the event’s emcee, former Pats QB and the team’s current radio color commentator Scott Zolak, asked the quarterback and several of his teammates to name the one coolest thing they did that really allowed them to celebrate as Super Bowl Champs. Matthew Slater got married 6 days after the Pats beat the Seahawks, Devin McCourty got engaged and Rob Gronkowski gushed about how much he enjoyed celebrating the title while on the Duck Boats. Brady was then pressed about cliff diving before making that remark.

The Patriots quarterback still faces a four-game suspension for his role in Deflategate and what the NFL says is a lack of cooperation. There was hope a ruling would be made on his appeal earlier Tuesday by Judge Richard Berman, however that didn’t come to pass. Berman instead indicated an order might come late in the week. That would likely bleed into the Pats preparation for their regular season opener Thursday, September 10th versus the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium. Not an easy spot for the Pats nor Brady to be in, but the quarterback appeared to be in good spirits as he talked about his experiences in Foxboro and with this organization.

“The commitment the players make, and the commitment the coaches make to try to establish such a high level of play year in and year out is something I’ve really learned from being here,” said Brady. “I try to pass those things on to the next generation of great Patriot players, and sometimes they don’t listen very well, but you just keep saying it - just like I tell my kids - and you have to repeat it over and over and over again and hopefully maybe it sinks in.”

It should be noted that a one-hour passing clinic with Brady that included lunch and a tour of the locker room raised 85,000 dollars for the Patriots Charitable Foundation in the team’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

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.