Patriots

McCourty: Patriots will be united in how they handle Sunday's anthem

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McCourty: Patriots will be united in how they handle Sunday's anthem

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty didn't want to get into detail when asked what the Patriots will do for the national anthem before Sunday's game with the Panthers. He was willing to say, however, that what they do they will do as a team. 

The Patriots had 16 players kneel for the anthem last weekend, while a smattering of others stood and linked arms. McCourty explained it's important to him that next time they be united in their actions.

"I think as players we all care for each other," he said. "We spend a lot of time in this building. You guys see us when other guys have events, no matter what the day is . . . That's not because it's mandatory. That's because we care about each other and we care about the causes that people have.

"I think that just goes to show, when we go and do something, what we do together is we go and play football and we try to do that well together. I think anything that gives us a chance to be together and unified, we want to do that. We want to do it well. I don't think that's ever changed for any player here. We've all tried to respect everybody's wishes as teammates and do what we feel is best for the team, each player in that locker room."

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Danny Amendola told reporters on Wednesday that, as far as he understood it, players would be standing together for the anthem.

Other players have indicated that having a unified look on the sidelines before the Texans game would have been ideal, but the timing of Donald Trump's speech last week didn't allow for much in the way of planning. There was a group of Patriots players who spoke Saturday about their reactions to Trump's Friday night speech, but unlike the Seahawks (who spent hours discussing their anthem plan on Saturday and Sunday, according to The MMQB's Peter King) or the Steelers (who King said "debated what to do at length Saturday"), they did not spend a large chunk of the weekend going back and forth on what to do. One Patriots player described what happened during the anthem last week as "kind of a heat-of-the-moment thing."

It seems as though now that the Patriots are all on the same page as far as how they'll handle what happens before the game on Sunday. 

"I think the good things for us as a team, players-wise, we wanted to meet and we wanted to be united as players," McCourty said. "I think that is the key thing. That's what we've done. We met as players and we've decided what we're going to do. I think that is the beauty of this game, us as players, when we have issues . . . it's up to us. We decided as players what we'll do moving forward and we'll try to stick to that."

McCourty is a team captain and the player who has publicly spoken the most about the topic in the Patriots locker room. He said the reaction he's heard from people since Sunday's game has run the gamut.

"Everything," he said. "I'm sure whatever you guys see is the same things we see. It's ranged from far left to far right and everything in between."

McCourty and Matthew Slater joined Patriots owner Robert Kraft on a trip to New York in order to discuss the anthem with other players, owners and commissioner Roger Goodell. Despite the uniqueness of that sit-down, McCourty said he doesn't view the ongoing onversation and everything that comes with it as a distraction. 

"I don't see this as a distraction because it's important to me," McCourty said. "It's like anything else. I've never been in a season where I only do football. I do a ton of work on sickle cell [disease] and try to work in the community so it's always been a balance. I think that is always key for us as football players. I could play my last game on Sunday and life doesn't stop. I always try to keep that balance. To me, this is another part of that balance."

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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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