Patriots

Brady says Tebow's having 'great year'

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Brady says Tebow's having 'great year'

FOXBORO - This week is shaping into a circus. The Patriots don't want to step under the big top until they have to. That explains why nearly all Tebow-related questions are quickly spun into Bronco-centric answers.

Inevitably, though, the impact Tebow is having in Denver during his 7-1 stint as a starter gives rise to so many questions that they can't all be spun into generic pap.

Tom Brady came closest on Wednesday to holding forth on Tebow and his impact as the Patriots get ready to play Denver.

Even though he's never met Tebow, Brady's take is germane because he plays the same position and overcame similar obstacles in his second year in the league when he led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl win.

How does a young player overcome non-believers?

"I think you just really have confidence in yourself that you can achieve whatever you think you can achieve, and then you try to work hard at it, and then when you get your opportunity you try to take advantage of it," Brady explained. "I think thats what a lot of young players not everyone is a high pick or not everyone gets a lot of chances right out of the box, but when you do get your opportunity, you really try to take advantage of your opportunity and do your best and give everything you have. If football means a lot to you and its important, usually good things happen."

Football is clearly important to Tebow. And aside from the spiritual element he espouses, his ability, energy, optimism and authenticity has seemed to make believers out of his teammates. Same way the Patriots bought in with Brady.

"Id say, as a team, everyone is trying to raise everybodys collective level energy and enthusiasm, and thats part of being a team," Brady said when asked if one player can raise the play of his teammates. "You can really only do your job. Thats what Coach Belichick has stressed to us day after day here. I can only play quarterback, Andre Carter can only play defensive end, Kevin Faulk can only play running back, and you have to do your job as well as you possibly can, because no one else can do it for you. The better you do it and the better everyone individually does it, the better collectively youll be as a team."

It seems more than coincidence, though, that Tebow's work- and that of his teammates - when the Broncos are in desperate straits is high. Tebow's fourth-quarter statistics, when he rises from a 46 percent completion guy to a 61 percent thrower, show the way his performance elevates.

What can a quarterback do as a leader in crunch time?

"Its an important part of the position," Brady said when asked about leadership. "You're the one calling the plays. Youre obviously the coach in the huddle. Its a responsibility that I think every quarterback takes very seriously leading your team and representing what your coaches are trying to put across on the field. Obviously he does a very good job of that."
Standard as his responses were, Brady did acknowledge that there is something compelling about Tebow's game.

"I appreciate good quarterback play," Brady said. "Im always watching around the league, whether its Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees having phenomenal years. Obviously, Tim is having a great year. You watch guys and the way that they perform under pressure and it says a lot about who they are and the way their teammates feel about them. Its a big challenge. Its going to be a very electric environment out there. Weve had some really great games against the Broncos over the years. I'm sure this will be no different."
Not sure everyone will agree with that.

Patriots missing Brady, Gronkowski from start of Wednesday's practice

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Patriots missing Brady, Gronkowski from start of Wednesday's practice

FOXBORO -- Tough day in terms attendance at Patriots practice. 

Several starters were missing from the start of the session, including two of the team's most important players, that took place in the rain on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. 

Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, Marcus Cannon, David Andrews and Patrick Chung were all absent from the start of the practice. 

Hogan (shoulder), Cannon (ankle) and Andrews (illness) were all unable to play against the Raiders last weekend. Chung left the Raiders game briefly with an undiclosed injury but returned later in the game and met with media afterward. The reasons for Brady and Gronkowski's absences are unknown. 

Matthew Slater (hamstring) did not play last weekend in Mexico City, but he was back on the practice field. Newly-acquired defensive lineman Eric Lee -- who took Cassius Marsh's spot on the 53-man roster -- was also present. 

It appeared as though new practice squad return man Bernard Reedy was on the field as well. P-squad defensive lineman Mike Purcell was missing from the session so it looks like he was released in order to make room. 

Finally, Malcolm Mitchell was not on the field for Wednesday's workout. He's eligible to come off of injured reserve and begin practicing, as is defensive lineman Vincent Valentine, but both remain out. 

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Where have Patriots LBs improved? Look at covering pass-catching backs

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Where have Patriots LBs improved? Look at covering pass-catching backs

Third quarter, Patriots versus the Raiders. Elandon Roberts lined up in the middle of the defense, the only off-the-ball linebacker on this second-down play from midfield. Roberts looked intently into the Oakland backfield, trying to decipher where quarterback Derek Carr would go on the play. 

At the snap of the ball, Carr released his running back, Jalen Richard, to the right of the formation. With the Pats playing man-to-man, Roberts had to hurry to cover the quicker, faster Richard. The second-year pro also had to skirt around a slight pick by wide receiver Amari Cooper. Successfully navigating that landmine, Roberts went stride for stride with Richard. 

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Carr still identified that as the matchup to exploit but the throw clanged off the back of Roberts’ helmet. Not the result Carr was looking for, and despite the ugliness at the tail end of the play, yet another sign of the Pats improving in an area that early in the season had been an issue.

“It's certainly a good observation,” said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. “That's part of the process as you go through the year and understanding your opponents and what they like to do from the standpoint of plays. So certainly on that particular play where it might be a situation where they're trying to pick him or get him in a bad coverage matchup and he did a good job of getting through it.”

Covering running backs coming out of the backfield is not something that the Pats have been particularly adept at over the years. Roberts, especially, seemed lost in those spots in his rookie season. But with Dont’a Hightower lost for the season, the Pats have had to spread out some of those responsibilities and Roberts, 23, the University of Houston product, is growing in that department.

“[He's] someone that works really hard to know where his help is in both situations whether it's leveraging a run play or leveraging a pass play,” complimented Patricia. “He's really trying to learn and understand that at a much higher level which he's really trying to do a good job of.”

It wasn’t just that play and it wasn’t just Roberts. In the opening quarter, Kyle Van Noy swarmed Richard in the right flat, limiting the shifty back to just four yards. Later, Trevor Reilly quickly snuffed out a swing pass to Richard. Bill Belichick - like Patricia - has taken notice.

“I think that’s a very competitive group of players on our team,” Belichick said. “So again, just trying to work on our fundamentals, and individual techniques, and try to work each week on our opponent, and their tendencies, the way they do things to match it up against. Those guys work hard at both of those areas.”

That work will need to continue. The Pats will get two doses in three weeks of Miami running back Damien Williams, who in limited snaps has made an impact as a receiver. There’s also Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh, the skilled trio of Bilal Powell, Matt Forte and Elijah McGuire for the Jets and LeSean McCoy in Buffalo. In other words, no resting our recent success.

“We're obviously going to look at the other aspect of it too and say, 'Well this is where we think we need to improve and this is where we think we need to make sure that we have this tightened up because this showed up,'" Patricia said. "Whether or not – it could be a bad situation for us whether it's just a – maybe it's a particular look that offense gives us or a particular defensive call.

That no doubt earns a nod from the head coach, who never believes what’s good is good enough.

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