Butler, Patriots’ secondary impresses Saints in joint practice


Butler, Patriots’ secondary impresses Saints in joint practice

FOXBORO - It’s not easy to play defensive back in a league that not only wants their quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns every week, but has tilted the rules to favor this previously unseen offensive explosion league-wide. 

How many times have you watched a game and wondered if a cornerback can even lay a hand on a wide receiver and escape without a penalty? It’s getting rarer than a great steak from Davio’s, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t players in the NFL who aren’t throwbacks to another place and time where physicality was not only encouraged but allowed.

Take Malcolm Butler for instance. The Pats’ third-year corner is not the biggest player, but he takes pride in getting his hands on opposing wideouts and control them on their release. The Saints’ Willie Snead got a hard lesson today in joint practices.

In 11-on-11 red area work, Butler got in Snead’s face when he lined up in the slot, had his hands into Snead’s chest within the first full step of his release and immediately knocked Snead off balance. The talented receiver tried to get back into his route but Butler stayed on him, again assaulting Snead with his hands to prevent the 69-catch and near 1,000-yard receiver from a season ago to get to his proper depth on a crossing route. 

Butler punctuated the play by once again jabbing Snead while he was still within that 5-yard halo of the initial line of scrimmage. 

The result was an incomplete pass and Butler preening in an agitated Snead’s face. Saints coach Sean Payton took notice, not just of that play, but the aggressive nature of the Pats in pass coverage all morning.

“I thought by and large we struggled at the line of scrimmage,” he said. “New England does a real good job with their press technique and their disrupting of the passing game, so whether it was the tight ends or receivers, we’ve got to be better separating and handling some of the man to man coverage looks we get.”

That kind of chatter is music to safety Devin McCourty’s ears. 

“It’s a big part of what we do,” the Pats safety noted. “I think if you watch us, you know that’s something we coach a lot here and every guy that comes in, whether it’s the starters or a guy that comes off the bench, everybody is playing the same way, same mentality.”

That’s why these joint practices are a much welcome break from the monotony of training camp sessions against teammates.

“Our offense is a different offense, this week [it’s] New Orleans,” said McCourty. “We gotta kinda get that going. We did a good job of coming out and being aggressive - obviously it wasn’t perfect - but I think we came out with the right mentality that will get us better as a group and we can work on.”

I’m not sure that’s what Willie Snead wants to hear.

Sooner or later, the Patriots will cut you down


Sooner or later, the Patriots will cut you down

FOXBORO – Somewhere in Jacksonville, there had to be a whiteboard drawn up with the following “MUST DOS!!” on it.

Control Rob Gronkowski.

Control Dion Lewis.

Win turnover battle.

Convert third downs.

Stop Tom Brady on third down.

Win time of possession.

Run football.

Stop the run.

Convert in red zone.

Get brilliance from Blake Bortles.

When the Jaguars return to Jacksonville, they will look at this hypothetical whiteboard.  They’ll see that they checked every … single … box. Even the last one. Then they will clean out their lockers and go home for the season.

The Jaguars – who had an upset for the ages in their hands until they realized it was too hot to hold – will have to grapple with how they let it get away.

They will never accept that they weren’t a better team on this day. They don’t have to. But they will have to accept that they got beat. This was one of those stealth assassinations by the Patriots – a blowdart in the back of the neck from behind a bush 200 feet away.

The Jaguars will watch another Super Bowl. Like the Lions, Browns, and Texans, they still don’t know what it’s like. The Patriots are headed to their eighth Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick Era. That means 15 percent of all Super Bowls will have included those two. Twenty-one percent of all Super Bowls will have featured Belichick on the sidelines (nine with New England and two with the Giants).

Even Tom Coughlin couldn’t save the Jaguars from the inevitable Brady’ing they got in the fourth quarter  Sunday evening.

Watching Brady bring the Patriots back from a 20-10 deficit without Gronk over the last 15 minutes was like watching the MacGyver disarm a bomb before the orphanage blew up.

Even after the wires sparked (Lewis getting stripped by Myles Jack with 13:53 left). Even after he dropped his wrench (a sack and an incompletion bringing up third-and-18 with 10:49 left). Even after the lights went out (forced to punt with six minutes left, still trailing by three). You knew, I knew, the Jaguars knew and America knew how it would end.

With kneeldowns and confetti and the Patriots heading to Super Bowl 52. With another local opportunity to produce odes and t-shirts commemorating the grit, preparation and resourcefulness that New England loves and makes the rest of the country want to punch itself in the face.

The Jaguars, with their Pro Bowl corners Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, their Defensive Player of the Year candidate Calais Campbell, their $90M defensive lineman Malik Jackson, a defensive end taken third-overall in 2015 (Dante Fowler) and two rocket-fueled linebackers (Myles Jack and Telvin Smith), got outfoxed by Danny Amendola.

Undrafted, 32-year-old Danny Amendola, noted for annual pay cuts, a lengthy injury history, a modeling contract and a narrow-frame that hasn’t been acceptable by NFL standards since the 1970s.

A player that was dismissed before he began in New England, mocked after once he did begin and lamented even after that.

Danny Amendola was the Robin to Brady’s Batman this time, catching five passes for 56 yards and two touchdowns and returning a punt 20 yards over an eight-minute span that brought the Patriots from down 20-10 to ahead 24-20.

It was Amendola and Brandin Cooks – a player maligned this year in a way similar to what Amendola once got – carrying the Patriots after their Hall of Fame-bound tight end that got knocked out with a concussion in the second quarter.

This will be the kind of game Jaguars fans will have to watch a dozen times before they finally see the tiny things that caused them to lose. Because the numbers sure don’t show it. Gronk caught one pass for 21 yards. The Jags were 6 for 15 on third down and the Patriots were 3 for 12. The Patriots had the game’s only turnover.

The Jaguars scored touchdowns on both red zone trips. The Patriots ran for 46 yards while the Jags ran for 101 (and 18 of those Patriots yards came on one run in clock-killing mode). The Jags had the ball 10 minutes longer than the Patriots and Bortles went 23 for 36 for 293.

But the Jags mismanaged the clock before the half. In a three-play span just before halftime, they took three penalties. One of them was a delay of game after a Patriots time out. Moronic. The clock stoppages and penalties gave the ball back to New England and the Patriots – predictably – got a touchdown before the break instead of the Jags being able to double up possessions going into the half and coming out.

Meanwhile, a Jags coaching staff that probably figured it would be playing from behind and trying to keep the ball away from New England, didn’t adjust to the flow of the game and take what the Patriots were giving – miles of open space in the secondary.

The Jags kept running into the middle of the Patriots defense on first down – Leonard Fournette looked like the drunk guy at the barbeque who keeps walking into the slider.

In the second half, this is what Jacksonville did on first down while it had the lead: Fournette for 2, Fournette for 1, Fournette for 3, incomplete, Fournette for 0, FLEA FLICKER for 15-yard completion! Fournette for 2, Fournette for 14, incomplete, Fournette for 2, Fournette for 1, Fournette for 1, Fournette for -1.

Think about that for a second. The Jaguars had the Patriots on the run. Gronk was down. Julian Edelman never played. Donta Hightower never played. They’d taken the running backs away on the ground and in the air. The 40-year-old quarterback was playing with a gash in his hand. Both Patriots coordinators have a foot out the door on their way to new coaching gigs. Bortles was playing like Aaron Rodgers. And they ran 10 dive plays, a flea flicker and threw two incompletions on the first 13 first down plays they ran in the second half.

That’s just asking for the result they got. If you steal a lead against the Patriots, you don’t hide in the closet and hope they don’t come looking for you there.

They always look in the closet.

And they always get you. In the end, they always get you.


Lane Johnson wants to 'dethrone pretty boy, Tom Brady'


Lane Johnson wants to 'dethrone pretty boy, Tom Brady'

The Philadelphia have embraced their role, winning back-to-back games at home as the underdog.

They donned dog masks after the first game and stirred up such a craze Philadelphia fans they immediately proceeded to buy every dog mask on Amazon.

Just minutes after winning the NFC Championship, offensive tackle Lane Johnson was asked about the Eagles being installed as 5.5 point underdogs.

According to ESPN's Tim McManus, Johnson responded by saying, "Pretty boy Tom Brady. Greatest QB of all time. I'd like nothing more than to dethrone that guy".