Patriots

Curran: Can the Pats handle Haynesworth?

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Curran: Can the Pats handle Haynesworth?

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - The Patriots spent 2009 dealing with irritants. They spent the ensuing offseason fumigating their locker room afterAdalius Thomas and his contrarian ilk were evicted. The result? A 2010 team that was rebuilding, a team with scrubs all over the depth chart forced into major roles went 14-2 and wound up the best team in football during the regular season. Likable. A throwback to the Patriots of six, seven and eightseasons earlier. The hokey notion of "The Patriot Way" was in play again. Now, they've imported a guy who does things like this. And this. And, oh, yeah . . . this. All because, when he feels like it, he can do this. Worth it? Hell, yeah. Definitely. Give it a shot. What do you have to lose? If he's a 330-pound dog interested incalling the defenses and tooling around on his impressive watercraft, you thank him for his limited services and show him the door. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and he's got more to lose than the Patriots do. The notion that the Patriots are "selling their soul" by hiring a bad actor like Haynesworth can easily be flipped. Maybe they are giving poor Albert a chance. It's Boys Town for millionaires, Bill Belichick as Father Flanagan. The truth is in the middle. Haynesworth is on his way because he's got unique talent and presumably some motivation to save his career. If he turns into a decent citizen while he's here -- or at least remains one for his tenure -- then that's an ancillary benefit that the Patriots will gladly accept. As for the notion Haynesworth will pollute the Patriots impressionable young players, I personally doubt it. First of all, guys have their own stuff to tend to. Vince Wilfork -- who, along with Haynesworth, will bring 700 pounds of human to deal with on the Pats defensive line -- was eloquent on Haynesworth's impact on Thursday. This ship is on the move, regardless if guys are getting on it or if theyre not," he pointed out. "Day in and day out, its a business, so you see guys all the time. You may see them for a couple minutes, you may see them for a couple months. Theyre out the door and then theres new people coming in."Some of the guys who went out the door in 2009 -- Rodney Harrison, Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel -- were the kind you immediately miss. Into the leadership void left stepped . . . well, nobody. Wilfork was pissed about his contract at that time. Ty Warren is a quiet leader. The secondary had no vocal leaders and Jerod Mayo was in his second season and battling a torn MCL after the opener. And since nature abhors a vacuum, guys like A.D. and Shawn Springs were able to step forward and take leading roles. Their message wasthat Belichick was not beyond questioning and the program was not to be blindly followed. Even if the younger players didn't agree, the impact was there because nobody was leading powerfully in another direction. The tenor of the team suffered. But they flipped it back in 2010 and there are a lot of guys pulling on the oars now. In 2009, it was most guys pulling on the oars and afew standing back laughing at the guys working so hard. The easy comparison with Haynesworth is Randy Moss and Corey Dillon. Initially, I made it too. All were blessed with uncanny intelligence, limitless cynicism and each of them was the very best in the league at his position when at the height of his powers. All believethe world's out to get themand life is hard and unfair. But on further reflection, Haynesworth is the biggest reclamation project of the three. He's been far more diabolical. He's got anger issues (a look at his rap sheet shows that) and his transgressions aren't sophomoric as much as criminal. He's a dangerous guy. The idea that a player can take him into the parking lot and have a man-to-man to set the agenda the way Tedy Bruschi did when Dillon signed seems almost laughable. Haynesworth's shown he doesn't listen to anybody and he plays for Albert when he wants to. Belichick is trying to reach a guy who -- save for Jeff Fisher and former Belichick disciple Jim Schwartz -- has been beyond reach. But you still have to give Belichick the benefit of the doubt. Not that he'll reach him, but that he'll clear Haynesworth out quickly if he does not respond. I dont think that the organization would put us in a bad situation dealing with (a new acquisition)," Wilfork said. "We normally have pretty good decent guys that come around. Even if they have bad raps, or whatever it may be somewhere else. But you know what? Its always worked out for us."That person, hell see how we do things around here," he added. "Point blank. Like I said, weve had guys come through here with a rap sheet, He cant be handled, this guy cant do this. And you know what, it worked out fine for us.I dont think it will be a big problem. Like I said, thats the organizations call on who they bring in and who they dont bring in. But as a teammate, when were on the field, were all working together. We want to be the best. We want to be the best we can be. We want to prepare well. Thats one of the things that we do around here. We spend a lot, a lot of time in the film room and in the playbook, just learning what we need to do on this field. Because when we get on this field, regardless of what people say about you, its can you perform, can you put it together?"One thing that wont change, if theyre with us theyre with us," added Wilfork. "If not, guess what, the balls still rolling and this train is going to keep moving.Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

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.

Brady enjoys 'unique experience' of road trip

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Brady enjoys 'unique experience' of road trip

While being away from home isn’t uncommon for the Patriots - just think about all those Super Bowl trips - Tom Brady believes each excursion takes on its own feel, its own flavor and - eventually - its own meaning.

Back in 2014, the Pats went from playing in Green Bay and losing to the Packers straight to San Diego for a week on the West Coast prior to a rousing victory over the Chargers. That week, many players said in the aftermath, helped propel the team to great heights,.  You’ll recall, that season ended in grand fashion, a triumph in Super Bowl 49 over Seattle, at the time - and maybe still - the greatest Super Bowl ever played.

“I think all these experiences are pretty unique,” Brady said Friday from Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy. “That was a very unique experience. This is different.”

Brady spoke about the number of stops the Pats have and will have to make on this trip - from Denver to Colorado Springs then on to Mexico City Saturday before a Sunday night return to Foxboro and their own beds for the first time in 10 nights.

“When you’re on the road like this, there’s less to do,” he said. “You know my family is not here, my kids aren’t here. There’s nobody telling me what I did wrong in the house. It’s just being at home and now it’s being here and trying to figure out a way to win a game.”

Brady quickly smoothed over any possible ill-will at home - why make Gisele mad? - smiling and saying “I didn’t mean that so I’ll take it back.”

Kidding aside, the 40-year old signal caller seemed pleased with the work the Patriots have put in during this long trip. A week of team-bonding can’t be a bad thing, especially for a group that seems to be hitting it’s stride both on and off the field. There’s the five wins in a row and also a locker room that has a better understanding of one another than it did during the first month of the season. But Brady is not ready to make any grand proclamations. That just wouldn’t be his style.

“I think it’s still work in progress,” he said of team chemistry. “You look at still adding a player like Marty (Bennett) last week. Things are always changing and evolving. We’re still trying to figure out what we’re doing well and after 8 or 9 weeks, you start to figure those things out. Now we have to work hard at those things, try to really own them, and use them going forward to try and win the most important games. We have a lot of important games coming up, starting with this one. Hopefully we can play our best football going forward.”

Brady said he’s been fired up for this game with the Raiders south of the border ever since the schedule was released all those months ago.

“I’ve never been to Mexico City,” he said. “It’s been a game you kind of look forward to. We’re playing against a really good football team in a pretty cool environment. It will be very memorable. I think everyone is excited.”