Patriots

Kraft: Light was a model Patriot

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Kraft: Light was a model Patriot

FOXBORO -- Matt Light retired from the New England Patriots and the NFL Monday morning. The offensive tackle, a Patriot for all 11 of his career's seasons, ended his playing days before a crowd of family, friends, and reporters.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft was first to speak. He began by addressing, then dismissing, the doubt football fans and analysts had in the team's second round pick in 2001's draft.

"On the field, Light was a tenacious competitor who had one of the toughest jobs. Every week he's be going up against the greatest athlete on the defensive lineman who was coming after our quarterback's blindside. Off the field, he was the guy who kept it L-I-G-H-T for everyone else. He brought humor and hijinks to the locker room and meeting rooms since the days we drafted him.

"But I personally admire most about Matt is that he contributed to the team both amazing on the field and in the locker room. His impact on our community, we still feel the legacy, both here in New England and back in Ohio he's been making a very positive impact on the lives of children, and is the model of what we consider to be a true Patriot."

Head coach Bill Belichick next stepped to the podium. In a rare moment, he abandoned his usual gruffness for nostalgia.

"It's with a lot of mixed emotions I get up here today to talk about Matt Light," Belichick smiled. "We kind of got off to a rocky start that rookie year, with my brilliance and foresight, I decided Matt, really even though he played left tackle at Purdue extremely well, that he would be better suited to play right tackle for us. We put him over there at right tackle."

It's no secret the move failed miserably. As the story goes, Belichick and Scarnecchia decided at the end of training camp to move Light back to the other side of the line.

"Let's just put him over there and see how it goes," Belichick recalled saying. "Went pretty good." He laughed, as if nodding to Light's multiple Pro Bowl seasons.

"That was probably one of the best undoing of a bad decision that I've done. He's been a tremendous player for us, been a tremendous resource for us. And he's put a levity that we probably need around here. Congratulations on a tremendous career. You and your family have meant a lot of this team."

Belichick concluded with his favorite gesture of sincere gratitude -- the one that can only be earned. "And thanks for putting up with me."

Light rose and locked his former coach in a bear hug. Then he began his goodbye.

"There are few things that have brought me more joy over my carer than to be a part of the rebuilding of the Patriots organization. Being as incredible as it was, especially as a rookie that couldn't make it to meetings on time. Pretty much I didn't do anything right, as Dante Scarnecchia said, I didn't know if the ball w0as pumped or stuffed. I've come a long way, an incredible distance. But to be a part of it, I'm truly honored and blessed.

"To Coach Belichick for all the demanding, just hard-headedness and genius that you bring to each and every day, and even though we've had some differences in the way we look at things. All the fun, I can't begin to tell you how great this has been and for taking that chance on me, and for sticking with me on some of the rough times, the sickness, injuries, many issues, I appreciate it. It meant a lot for me and my family to have this experience."

Most of Light's former teammates on the offensive line stood in sweats on the crowd's perimeter. They were given warm acknowledgment.

"One of the things that gets lost for how we do things on and off the field -- there's more of a team and family concept than you will truly realize, or what young guys understand. The togetherness, it's the concept that really put us on the map. The reason why they'll always have continued success with this leadership, and the type of people they bring through this door, the coaching staff, it's an honor and privilege to be around.

"To all teammates whom I've upset and aggravated and laughed alongside with, and definitely fought in the trenches with, you guys made it all worthwhile. I'm not sure if I've had a real conversations outside of joking with any of you, in a while, but from the bottom of my heart, I played the game to be alongside guys like you. You have held me accountable to things I've done or said, pushed me each and every step, believed in me.

"To be honest, for a guy who doesn't have a lot of self-confidence" Here, Light broke off. He came back braced by humor. "It looks like I do, because I'm so dapper. Ultimately, my confidence came through your strength; it's meant a lot to me."

Through it all, Light never broke down. He shed no tears before he turned and walked away from football and those who endeared the game to his life.

"The excellence we all shared as an organization, teammates, friends, everyone else. It's not just as an act, it's a habit, it's how we live our lives. what we try to do day-in and day-out. I hope this habit continues. Thank you."

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

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The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.