Patriots

Curran: Five thoughts from Patriots 34, Bills 3

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Curran: Five thoughts from Patriots 34, Bills 3

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com
BUFFALO - Buffalo Bills, the Beasts of the AFC East outside of Foxboro? Oh, yeah. I was buying that line of shizzle. Well, the Bills tossed up a field goal a little less than five minutes into the game and then didn't score again over the next 55 minutes as the Patriots poleaxed them for their 13th win of the year. Here's 5 reasons why.

1. HE CAME, HE SAW, HE GRONKEREDBack in his native Western New York, Rob Gronkowski played a featured role. Seven passes were thrown his way. He caught four. Two went for touchdowns. Another was a 23-yard gain off a one-handed stab. Happy? "Yeah, mad excited. Being home, kind of like a homecoming in front of the family, its just great going home and scoring twice in front of them. Its a dream come true. I wouldve never thought this was going to happen, when I was back in high school and college, this is amazing." With Aaron Hernandez unable to go (hip), Gronkowski andveteran Alge Crumpler took all the reps. AndCrumpler - mainly a blocker this season - got himself a touchdown too. That's 16 scores for the tight ends this year. "Alge's been a great leader. I love a man who leads by example with everything, its great having him on the team. Were just out there working hard, whatever role us tight ends get, were going to go out there and do our role and do our own job. Hopefully its always a significant role." It's been a major role this year." 2. MANKINS A DIFFERENCESince Logan Mankins' return, the Patriots have run the ball with authority not seen, really, since Corey Dillon was lining up in their backfield. Certainly, a lot has to do with the backs and the rest of the line but Mankins' impact week in and week out has been tremendous. Sunday was Mankins' eighth game back with the team. They're 7-1 since his return. The only loss came in his first game back (Cleveland). I asked him if he would have come back early as he did if the team had been struggling. "I'd have done it the same way," he answered. "I woulda come back at the same time. I'm a football player. I knewI was coming back then. That was the dateI had in mind the whole time." 3. IN THE BLACK BY PLENTYThe Patriots are now plus-27 in turnover differential. They haven't committed a turnover in an NFL record seven games. Buffalo turned it over seven times on Sunday. The Patriots have taken it away 36 times (24 picks). They've given it up nine (5 picks). They had a six-turnover edge on the teams tied for second in plus-minus (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia). Next week against Miami, the Patriots will likely set the record for fewest turnovers in a season (the standard was set in 1982 when the Chiefs had 12 in a strike year). "We talked about that on the sideline today, saying Those guys dont fumble; those guys dont give up the ball. Thats a great credit to our offense. Staying on the field and not turning the ball over and giving us chances on defense to go out and turn the ball over and give it back to them, so its a hand-in-hand thing," said linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. Tom Brady's amazing string of 311 passes without a pick (and counting), meanwhile, continues. Told that Brady set the record against the Bills, breaking Bernie Kosar's record of 309, Bill Belichick said, "I didnt realize. That's great. Tom does a good job . Today they didn't get their hands on too many balls like (the Packers) did last week. He does a great job of placing it. Unfortunately, itlooked like we dropped a few. Tom does a great job of managing the game and taking care of the ball, he deserves that (record)."4. BLUES TRAVELERSThe Patriots were forced to spend Sunday night in Rochester, New York as the blizzard prevented them from getting back to New England. The World Juniors hockey championships being held in Buffalo this week made it impossible for the team to find enough rooms in Buffalo. "Pretty excited about staying here," Belichick said sarcatically. Dan Koppen said this was the one week he didn't bring an extra change of clothes. Belichick, meanwhile, said the team would "rest" Sunday night. Monday is usually a day for treatment and film review. Given the fact the team isn't playing for anything other than to keep sharp next week against the Dolphins, it's not a great blow football-wise. It is tough, however, after having to pull up stakes on Christmas Day to get out of town. 5. SOLDIERING THROUGHBelichick opened his comments by mentioning how difficult a week it was health-wise for the team. "It was a tough week," he said. "I really have a lot of respect for our players. We had abunch of guys with the flu, the injuries, bumps and bruises coming off the Green Bay game. They did a nice job fighting through it." Said Brady: "I thinkevery team has those weeks where some guys are in and some guys are out. There are injuries and this week, quite a few guys got sick. I think the guys fought through it and showed some mental toughness. That's been a big word for us this year."The inevitable question now becomes whether the Patriots rest players against Miami in the finale.Brady said, "I want to play. Whatever (Belichick) asks us to do, we're going to do. Miami is a good team. We struggled with them last time offensively so hopefully we'll go out andplay better."Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

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? 

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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. 

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