Patriots

Felger: The seven key plays in the Patriots' victory

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Felger: The seven key plays in the Patriots' victory

By Michael Felger

I could use this column to pound my chest over the Randy MossDeion Branch thing -- but that's a little too easy isn't it?

I mean, I've only told you for about two-and-a-half years running that for all of Moss' talent, the Patriots would have a better offense when it truly counts with Branch. And for the last two-and-a-half years, you've told me I'm a moron.

Well, whaddya know? In his first game back, Branch caught 7 balls for 75 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter and overtime (he finished the day with 9 catches for 98 yards) as the Pats came back from a late, 10-point deficit to beat one of the best teams in football for their best win since the 2007 AFC Championship Game.

Too.

Easy.

Instead, in a game that had around two dozen notable plays, I'll give you seven key ones in the fourth quarter and overtime that may have slipped through the cracks in the euphoria of victory. We'll go in inverse order:

Brady to Branch for 10 yards on third-and-2 on their final possesion

Hah! I guess I can't let it go. When the Pats offense HAD to have it, when an incomplete would have meant a risky, 49-yard field-goal attempt from Stephen Gostkowski with under four minutes remaining in overtime, Brady went with the trust factor and sent it to Branch, who fought his way open against tight coverage. Catch. First down. Game over. You think Moss would have battled to the finish despite having just two catches through three quarters as Branch had? Please. The turtle would have been well inside his shell by then.

Zoltan Mesko 65-yard punt with 7:26 left in overtime

What an insanely huge mistake by the Ravens' special teams, letting Mesko's punt hit the ground and roll deep into Baltimore territory when it looked like they would get the ball near midfield with a short-field opporunity for a game-winning field goal. Instead, the ball, which had been at the Pats' 16-yard line when it was snapped, came to rest at the Baltimore 19.

The ensuing punt back to the Pats resulted in Wes Welker getting tackled at his own 38, which put Brady in good position to finally put the game away.

Devin McCourty pass breakup at around the Pats' 35-yard line with 8:16 left in overtime

This is as close as the Pats came to losing the game. The Ravens had driven to the Pats' 48-yard line and were facing a third-and-5. A first down would have put them perilously close to field-goal range. The Pats, who owned the 32nd-ranked third-down defense in the league entering the day (54.7 percent), needed another stop.

They got one from the rookie corner, who rode Todd Heap down the sidelines as he mostly faced Flacco the whole way down the field. Having his head turned was the key, as it made the contact he put on the tight end legal. McCourty got called for a bad pass interference on a similar play in the first half when he failed to turn to the ball. That's called progress.

Three-and-out stop by the Pats' defense with under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter

Really, how much confidence did you have in the Patriots to stop the Ravens at this point? I had very little. The Pats had just tied the game with a short Stephen Gostkowski field goal and it was time for the defense to step up. I know a lot of people had a lot of bad thoughts. But with Flacco suddenly jittery, the Pats did the job, forcing Flacco to throw three times to Rice, with the first sailing high, the second going for a measly four-yard gain, and the third bouncing off Rice's shoulder pads and to the ground.

To me, the defense getting stops in the fourth quarter and overtime was THE story of the game (not Branch, as much as I want him to be). Again, the Pats had the worst third-down defense in the entire NFL entering the day. They had allowed the Ravens to convert some big ones in the first half. But in the fourth quarter and overtime, the Pats held the Ravens to just 1-of-6 conversions (and that was a third-and-1).

Brady to Gronkowski for 24 yards on first-and-25 with 5:15 left in the fourth quarter

This is the play where Brady got throttled to the ground, cried for a flag, and then got up jawing with Terrell Suggs. It came with the Pats desperately needing points and with a Matt Light holding call and a delay-of-game penalty on Brady putting the offense in a deep hole. Brady and Rob Gronkowski promptly dug them out of it. It was Brady's best play of the day. It put the Pats on the way to tying the game.

Defensive stop on a Flacco QB sneak with 9:10 left in the fourth quarter

Hey, John Harbaugh, does your husband coach football, too? What a limp decision by the Baltimore coach to punt on the ensuing fourth-and-inches. It was, in fact, the second time Harbaugh did that, punting on another fourth-and-short near midfield late in the second quarter. Those two decisions came back to haunt Baltimore.

Brady to Branch for a five-yard touchdown catch with 11:02 remaining in the fourth quarter

Hah! I'm still not letting it go. Brady made another nice play on this one, buying time against a three-man rush while waiting for Branch to shake free on the back line. The play came on third down, so it was a big one. A field goal in that situation wouldn't have felt quite the same.

As for Branch, he simply got open and caught the ball.

Remember when that's all we wanted our receivers to do?

(I'll move on from this eventually . . . Okay, maybe not.)

Felger's report card will post on Tuesday morning. Email him HERE and read his mailbag on Thursday. Listen to him on the radio week days, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

Patriots-Dolphins injury report: Tom Brady sits out with Achilles injury

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Patriots-Dolphins injury report: Tom Brady sits out with Achilles injury

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski both sat out of the entirety of Wednesday's practice at Gillette Stadium. 

Brady is dealing with an Achilles injury, per the injury report released by the Patriots. The Boston Herald has reported that Brady will play despite the issue. It's unclear when exactly Brady suffered the injury, but Brady was hit low by Raiders pass-rusher Khalil Mack in the fourth quarter on Sunday, and Mack was called for a roughing-the-passer penalty.

Gronkowski, like teammate David Andrews, is dealing with an illness. Patrick Chung, who left Sunday's game briefly, has an ankle issue. 

Here's the full injury report for both the Patriots and Dolphins . . . 

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
C David Andrews (illness)
QB Tom Brady (Achilles)
OT Marcus Cannon (ankle)
S Patrick Chung (ankle)
TE Rob Gronkowski (illness)
WR Chris Hogan (shoulder)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
WR Danny Amendola (knee)
TE Marellus Bennett (shoulder/hamstring)
DT Malcom Brown (ankle)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)
WR Matthew Slater (hamstring)

MIAMI DOLPHINS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
LB Stephone Anthony (quadriceps)
G Jermon Bushrod (foot)
QB Jay Cutler (concussion)
DE William Hayes (back)
T Laremy Tunsill (illness)

FULL PARTICIPATION
RB Senorise Perry (knee)
S Michael Thomas (knee)

 

Curran: Randy Moss better not have to wait for Hall call

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Curran: Randy Moss better not have to wait for Hall call

If you’re a Hall of Famer, you’re a Hall of Famer. The notion that a great player’s candidacy has to have some kind of gestation period before it can be deemed induction-worthy is just plain cruel.

And if you think “cruel” is an overstatement, consider Ken Stabler. Three times a Hall of Fame finalist, Snake had to croak before Pro Football Hall of Fame voters decided it was time to put him in Canton.

There are borderline guys whose candidacies need to marinate. There are players whose contributions to an era take on greater meaning as time passes. You could make the case Stabler was one of those.

MORE PATRIOTS:

You could also make the case that too many HOF voters in each of the major sports get caught up in a “guardian at the gate” mentality, puffing out birdlike chests until they align with swollen stomachs and declaring an athlete’s not getting inducted on HIS watch.

Or until said athlete’s served time in purgatory and either begs for induction or says, “F--- it, I don’t care if I get in at this point anyway.

Which brings me to Terrell Owens and how his HOF candidacy will impact Randy Moss.

Moss was a better player than T.O. Historic. The second he entered the league in 1998, he was probably one of the five best players in the league at any position. Owens took a while. He didn’t make a Pro Bowl until his fifth NFL season.

Moss was a technician and a savant. Owens just wrestled the game to the ground with brute force.

When measuring what a player “means” to the NFL and its fans, a reasonable Moss comp is Allen Iverson. They were iconic. Owens? Dwight Howard. Where T.O. felt needy, desperate and narcissistic. Moss just didn’t GAF.

And that’s where some voters start to rub their hands together and scheme.

How can we exact revenge for perceived crimes against football and propriety? Make 'em sweat. Use incidents, moments and comments as cudgels and pound penance out of them.

Even though Moss was better than T.O., that doesn’t mean Owens is borderline. Owens is second in all-time yards (Moss is third), eighth in receptions (Moss is 15th), third in touchdowns (Moss is second) and was a five-time All-Pro (Moss was a four-time All-Pro).

The only justification for voters keeping T.O. out the past two years was that he was a prick.

Few – if any - of his ex-teammates say that he should be kept out of the HOF for that. But scores of people in the media, ex-players and league lobbyists do think he should be kept out. At least until he learns his lesson, or whatever.

Owens’ narcissism chewed at the fabric of franchises he was a part of, is the contention. That’s why he played for five teams. That’s why he only played in one Super Bowl. That’s why tears weren’t shed when he signed someplace else.

Moss also played for five teams. He also played in just one Super Bowl (like Owens, Moss’ ’07 Patriots lost though Moss – like Owens – did his part to win). And tears weren’t shed too often when Moss left either.

Check this Tom Brady quote from September 2010. It came just days before Moss began shooting his way out of New England because he was unhappy the team wouldn’t extend his deal.

"There's only one Randy Moss that will ever play this game," Brady said. "He's the greatest, probably, downfield receiver in the history of the NFL. Those catches that he makes, where you guys see he runs 65 yards down the field, you throw it and he just runs and catches it. That's impossible to do.And I ask him, 'How did you do that?' And he says, 'I don't know, man. I've been doing it for a long time.' He has some special skills that nobody's really gifted with." 

That weekend, Moss gave his “This probably will be my last year here as a Patriot…” press conference after a season-opening win over the Bengals. The next week, he caught two of 10 passes that Brady threw his way in a loss to the Jets. One of the passes was a touchdown pass where he blew past Darrelle Revis and made a one-handed pull. Two of the other passes were picked off and Moss was non-competitive. After that, he was effectively frozen out of the offense and was traded after Week 4, less than a month after Brady accurately described him as the greatest downfield receiver in the history of the NFL.

Stuff like that, nudging a traffic cop for a half-block with his car stating “I’ll play when I want to play…,” fake-mooning the Lambeau Stadium crowd, saying he still smoked weed “once in a blue moon” – all those occasions will be aggregated and used as cudgels used to beat down Moss’ candidacy just as the driveway situps are used to beat down T.O.’s.

Whole bunch of voters will hand-wring about what it all meeeaaaannnnnsssss if they sweep Moss in on the first ballot after keeping T.O. out. And then wonder if T.O. should go in before Moss, after Moss or with him. Meanwhile, they’ll rush to get Ray Lewis in line for his gold jacket with nary a word about disappearing white suits 

The whole “between the lines is all that matters” defense.

Randy Moss belongs in the Hall of Fame. ASAP.