Patriots

Felger: Take it and run

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Felger: Take it and run

By Michael Felger

Four from Felger following the Patriots' near-collapse in San Diego . . .

Overall a very good win. It didn't feel that way in the immediate aftermath of the Pats' fourth-quarter collapse, of course, but when you step back, you have to be pleased. The Pats were ripe for a letdown following last week's war with Baltimore (see how the Ravens struggled at home against winless Buffalo?) while the Chargers were poised for their usual October breakout. The Pats had schlepped cross country and the Chargers were back at home playing for their season. Then Tom Brady and the offense came out and played like crap for most of the early going. It was just shaping up as one of those days.

So to come out of that circumstance with a victory and remain tied for the best record in football . . . take it and run.

Yes, the Chargers are pathetic. With any sort of coaching or composure they win that game going away. But this is nothing new. AFC teams have been taking advantage of Charger ineptness dating well back into the Marty Schottenheimer Era. The Pats used it to make the AFC title game in 2006. The Jets did the exact same thing last year. It's what the Chargers do.

The Pats just aren't talented enough to go on a deep playoff run this year without some luck. In fact, there may not be a single team in the NFL this year that is. So the Pats were handed some good fortune on Sunday.

In hindsight, given the opponent, that wasn't all that surprising.

Bill Belichick dodged the biggest bullet, of course. He never got past the fourth-and-2 in Indianapolis last season (the Pats went 4-5 after the call, including the Colts loss), and the comparisons to what happened in San Diego are just too hard to ignore.

Once again he showed little faith in the defense. Once again, he put the game in the hands of the offense. Once again, the move backfired (thanks in large part to BenJarvus Green-Ellis missing the hole), only this time he was saved by San Diego's ineptitude.

I would have punted, because I think at some point the defense is going to have to win you a game. But it wasn't a terrible decision; just a questionable one. And if the Pats had lost it would have been questioned hard.

Or at least harder. Something tells me I'll still be getting a few calls on it.

To me, the bigger coaching faux pas came when the Pats were caught napping on San Diego's fourth-quarter onside kick. It was hardly an automatic situation, but it was close enough (San Diego down 10 points with 7:23 remaining) that the Pats should have been more alert.

If it was too early for the hands team, then fine. But the up-men should have been waiting for it. Instead, the front line began its retreat as Kris Brown approached the ball -- and it cost them.

Call it a teachable moment for special-teams coach Scott O'Brien and Belichick. And once again, thank the football gods it came against Norv Turner.

The first half was the worst 30 minutes of football I've seen Tom Brady play in a long time. He was 6-of-16 for 35 yards while the Pats offense was 0-for-6 on third down, numbers that accurately portray the futility. Yes, the protection was bad (three sacks in the first half). And yes, his receivers weren't exactly getting separation (Deion Branch's bus must have been late). But Brady still threw some balls that just defied explanation.

He threw flat on a double-reverse to Branch on the first series. He made a bad decision going to a blanketed Sammy Morris on the second series, then drilled a ball at Brandon Tate's feet the next snap. He knuckled a hellacious little pass to Wes Welker early in the second quarter, after which he sailed one wide to Hernandez over the middle. He threw way behind Welker just before the half. Even the balls he completed, such as the touchdown to Rob Gronkowski and an earlier ball to the big tight end, were off the mark.

But as was the case last week, Brady and the offense got better as the game went on. They marched down the field and reached the end zone on a 17-play drive to open the third quarter and again went down the field (nine plays, 59 yards) to kick a field goal early in the fourth. Their third series ended in the failed Green-Ellis run.

And, once again, Branch didn't turtle. He kept working to get open and eventually broke through for four catches for 39 yards, all in the second half.

Meanwhile, Randy Moss caught three balls in the Vikings' loss at Green Bay.

The Vikings are now 1-2 since Moss got there while the Pats are 2-0 since the trade.

Just saying.

Felger's report card will post Tuesday morning. E-mail him HERE and read the mailbag on Thursday. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

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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