Patriots

While backing up Brady, Hoyer learned his lessons well

While backing up Brady, Hoyer learned his lessons well

FOXBORO -- Over the last three days, there has been a familiar scene playing out at the tail end of every Patriots-Bears joint practice session: Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer exchanging hugs and handshakes, and chatting not just about football, but family.

Those moments, those conversations, had Hoyer -- now backing up Jay Cutler in Chicago -- taking a trip down memory lane to his first day in Foxboro as an undrafted quarterback, hoping to survive the day.

“[On] Day One . . . he came to introduce himself: ‘Hey, I’m Tom.’ I knew that already, but that’s the way he is,” said Hoyer, thinking back to the spring of 2009. “He is so humble. A great guy, and (he's stayed) in touch. He’s always been one of the first guys to text me after a game, whether it was good, bad or ugly, or whatever it was. It’s a friendship I've really cherished over the years.”

In three seasons with the Patriots, Hoyer didn’t start a single game, throwing just 43 passes during repeated mop-up duty. Like any young player, he craved the opportunity, any opportunity. But Brady stood in his way, just as he has with every backup to come through these parts -- Damon Huard, Rohan Davey, Matt Cassel, Ryan Mallett and now Jimmy Garoppolo.

Instead of growing impatient, however, Hoyer tried to learn from the master, however he could.

“I think, for me, (it was best to) just sit there and watch,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. But [Brady's] also a guy who goes out of his way to help . . . 

"I remember . . . just trying to sit back and watch and soak up everything, whether it was in the meeting room, on the field, training, whatever it might be. He’s an intense competitor. If you can just soak it all up, you just kind of gain it by being around him.”

That’s easier said than done, however. In Brady, we’re talking about one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- quarterbacks of his era and all-time. His brain functions on a different level. So do his muscles. That was a difficulty for Hoyer then, and for Garoppolo now.

“Sure, yeah, I mean at some point you gotta stop and say,‘Well, hold on, how are you seeing this?' Or 'How did you know that?’ " said Hoyer. "I remember that was the only question: 'How did you know this was going to be the coverage?' And he’d just go, ‘I’ve seen it years and years and years.’ So there’s definitely times you just have to stop and ask him, 'How were you even knowing to take the ball here, or check to this play?'

"But a lot of it was just seeing him operate: The intensity, demanding so much out of his teammates.”

Hoyer would eventually get his opportunity, starting 26 games over the last four seasons with Arizona, Cleveland and Houston. He was viewed as a leader in his last two stops and has wound up forging a perfectly acceptable career, especially when you consider where he came from.

Now Garoppolo, with a greater draft pedigree and potential, gets that chance, sooner than expected, and with Brady’s team. Garoppolo has a chance to put his stamp on this season and be a starting quarterback somewhere, be it with the Pats or, most likely, in some other NFL city . . . where he’ll have to prove he, like Hoyer, learned from Brady and can make at least some of those lessons translate on the football field.

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

quickslantspodcast_clean.jpg

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

MORE

We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.