Patriots

Curran: Belichick uses Colts to further experiment

604194.jpg

Curran: Belichick uses Colts to further experiment

FOXBORO Lets get this out of the way right now: The Patriots didnt take the Indianapolis Colts seriously.

In fact, they were so amused by the 0-11 Colts ineptitude that they stuck a wide receiverkick coverage guy at safety for the day, started two other players they just signed, started a linebacker who had barely played linebacker and had him play corner on the games first third down play.

It was such a walkover that even Shaun Ellis and Jermaine Cunningham got in and Chad Ochocinco had a catch (and an offsetting drop).

In short, the Patriots were able to treat a regular-season game like a preseason game and still win. Good for them? Great for them!

To be able to get players real-time reps at spots theyd never played in the month of December and still win? Any coach would leap at that opportunity.

The irony it all is that Bill Belichick spent the week acting like the media was high for disrespecting the Colts' 0-11 record. He then went out and shamed the Colts worse than the media ever could have with his personnel moves.

On Wednesday, Belichick did everything but take off his shoe and pound the table to make everyone understand what a difficult challenge his team faced.

Meanwhile, he was tapping Matthew Slater on the shoulder and saying, Wanna play defense this week?

He was sticking newly signed Nate Jones out at corner and just-activated Nick McDonald in at center and putting Niko Koutovides in at linebacker and splitting him out to cover a wide receiver.

And still they won. They scored 31 points in six drives and rolled up a 31-3 lead by the end of the third.

That Indy scored three touchdowns during garbage time to make the score less humiliating will cause hands to wring.

But consider this: If the Patriots thought the game was in doubt and that theyd actually lose, would Tom Brady have been taken out of the game in favor of backup Brian Hoyer and run the ball three straight times with three minutes left?

How badly can you eviscerate the players for letting up in garbage time when the coaches were experimenting and putting in the backup quarterback in garbage time?

Putting all that aside, how did it all work out for the Patriots, this depth-building exercise?

Pretty well. Three of the top five tacklers against Indy were new (Nate Jones, 9 tackles), new to the team (Koutouvides, 6 tackles) or new to the position (Slater, 7 tackles).

I just thank God for the opportunity to be able to get out there and help the team win a football game today, said Slater.. Im just so thankful for the opportunity.

Slater said he learned hed be playing defense just this week. But, he added, Ive known since Ive been here to just be ready to do whatever they ask me to do. They approached me with it this week and I know Im a role player on this team and whatever role they give me, thats what Im going to do.

My career has been about me doing whatever theyve asked of me, he said.

With Slater getting safety reps, the Patriots now have Patrick Chung (who missed his fourth game Sunday), James Ihedigbo, Sergio Brown and Sterling Moore to stick back there. Jones, meanwhile, showed to be an extremely sound tackler and a guy who plays fast. Hes now in the corner mix with Devin McCourty (shaky in his first game back from a shoulder separation), Kyle Arrington, Antwaun Molden, Moore, and another offensedefense convert Julian Edelman.

Bill always is saying that, anytime you can do more it helps the team, said Molden. If you can play different positions, it gives you a profound understanding of the game overall. I know that will definitely help us out in the long run.

Ihedigbo echoed that, saying, Versatility is a part of the game. The more you can do, the more you can help the defense . . . Whatever it is they want me to do, they do stuff in the best interest of us as players and us as a team.

When Belichick was asked why he had Slater at safety to start the game, he said, We tried to put the best people out there we could to be competitive. Its the same thing we do every week.

Asked if that meant that Slater is now better than other safety options, Belichick answered, We felt like that was the best thing we could do to win.

If putting a guy whos never played the spot before when regulars at the position was the quickest way to victory on Sunday, this teams in a bad way.

It took Ihedigbo to say what all the new faces in new places was really about.

Bill knows best, he said. Thats kind of the motto here and he knows what he wants to do in terms of getting guys reps and getting us as a secondary to have more depth and giving guys an opportunity to play. Its all in the best interests for our team and the best interest of our defense.

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

MORE PATRIOTS:

In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE