Patriots

Five quick thoughts: Patriots get back in stride against Saints

Five quick thoughts: Patriots get back in stride against Saints

Here are five quick-hit thoughts from what went down between the Patriots and Saints in New Orleans, starting with a strong response from Bill Belichick's club after a crushing defeat in the opener . . . 

1. Remember when Tom Brady called out the Patriots for their attitude and energy following the loss to the Chiefs? Seemed to work. The Patriots played with apparent enthusiasm and a renewed energy in New Orleans, which was evident throughout the matchup. Brady's touchdown pass to Chris Hogan resulted in a mini-outburst from the quarterback. Rob Gronkowski's 53-yard touchdown provoked a Hulkamania-style flex that got the Patriots going. Harvey Langi's special-teams tackle in the first quarter gave the Patriots a spark, as did the play up front of Deatrich's Wise (two quarterback hits, one sack through three quarters). There were lapses (a too-many-men penalty in the third quarter, letdowns by Nate Solder at left tackle), but overall it was a strong showing start-to-finish.

PATRIOTS 36, SAINTS 20

2. Brady's accuracy was on point. After the Chiefs game, there were some concerns about Brady slipping; Opening Night overthrows to Hogan to Dwayne Allen were served up as evidence. Against New Orleans, there were no such issues. His touch pass to Rex Burkhead was picture perfect. Gronkowski's score was thrown flat-footed, but it still hit the big tight end in stride. Gronk should've had another score on a well-thrown back-shoulder ball, but it was dropped. 

3. Gronkowski was looking strong . . . until he wasn't. He reeled in six catches for 116 yards and a score on nine targets, looking like his old self after catching just two passes in the opener. But on his final grab, Gronkowski went down and was slow to get up. He immediately called to the Patriots sideline for a substitution and soon thereafter headed for the medical tent. The biggest fear -- a recurrence of the back injury -- appeared to be unfounded, as it was announced to be a groin problem. He returned to the sideline and rode the exercise bike.

4. The Patriots were looking pretty banged up before the third quarter was over. Gronkowski left. Eric Rowe took off with a groin injury. Burkhead was held back and was seen hanging with head trainer Jim Whalen. Hogan was limping at times even though he remained in the game. And newly acquired Phillip Dorsett also made a trip to the tent late in the game. With Julian Edelman out for the year and Danny Amendola dealing with a concussion and a knee injury, the Patriots can't afford to lose many more bodies. 

5. The Patriots made a concerted effort to get Burkhead involved. Before his extended break (it's unclear what kind of ailment he was dealing with, if any), the team was clearly doing more to get him the football. He had just four touches against Kansas City but finished the first quarter with five touches and a 19-yard touchdown. Though he said last week that he wasn't a slot receiver, the route he ran on linebacker Alex Anzalone came from out of the slot. 

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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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