Patriots

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Butker's field goals send Chiefs to 29-20 win over Redskins

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MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Butker's field goals send Chiefs to 29-20 win over Redskins

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - After Harrison Butker missed the first field-goal attempt of his NFL career, Chiefs coach Andy Reid walked over to the rookie and prepared to instill a little bit of confidence.

"He said, `I got it. I got it. I was just off a tad,'" Reid recalled of their brief exchange. "He kind of gives you that feeling that everything's going to be OK."

Better than just "OK."

Butker responded to his first-half miss Monday night by drilling three field goals in the second half, the last a go-ahead 43-yarder with 8 seconds remaining that helped Kansas City beat the Washington Redskins 29-20 and remain the only unbeaten team in the NFL.

"I didn't have butterflies. I felt confident," said Butker, who was claimed off the Carolina practice squad to replace injured kicker Cairo Santos. "I knew it was going to come down to a field goal. I felt pretty calm. I was excited; I wasn't nervous."

The Chiefs (4-0) an exclamation point on the win when linebacker Justin Houston picked up a fumble as the Redskins (3-2) were trying to keep the game alive and returned it for a game-ending touchdown.

The last time there was only one unbeaten team through the first four weeks of the season was 2010, when the Chiefs were the final team standing. They went on to win the AFC West.

"I mean, it's the NFL. It's any given Sunday for a reason," said Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who had seven catches for 111 yards and a score. "All these teams are scheming everybody up. It's a testament to this team for especially not only being 4-0, but the way we've won."

Alex Smith threw for 293 yards with touchdowns on the ground and through the air, and his 37-yard strike to Albert Wilson on a broken play that set up Butker's go-ahead kick. Kareem Hunt added 101 yards on the ground for the rookie's fourth straight 100-yard effort.

"Winning is more meaningful," Hunt said with a smile. "I could have 50 yards as long as we win."

Kirk Cousins had 220 yards passing and two touchdowns for Washington, but his throw to the end zone with 50 seconds left was dropped by Josh Doctson and forced the Redskins to kick a field goal.

That missed opportunity came back to haunt them less than a minute later.

"We'll go back and try to look at different plays throughout the game that could have made a big difference," Cousins said. "A tough one to lose. Felt like we had a chance there and didn't get it done."

The Redskins stunned the Chiefs early when Cousins found Terrelle Pryor over star cornerback Marcus Peters for a 44-yard touchdown pass, then drove to the goal line before settling for a field goal.

But the plucky Chiefs slowly fought their way back into the game.

Smith started to find his athletic tight end down the seam, then hit Kelce with a 17-yard TD strike late in the first half. The two connected again on third down shortly after the break, and Smith scored a few plays later when he fooled the defense with a quarterback-keeper.

The Redskins needed fewer than 2 minutes to answer: Cousins' 69-yard pass to Vernon Davis set up a short throw to Ryan Grant, who also beat Peters, for a touchdown and a 17-14 lead.

But that's when injuries began to take their toll: The Redskins lost cornerbacks Josh Norman, Montae Nicholson, Kendall Fuller and Quinton Dunbar along with safety Deshazor Everett, and in the fourth quarter had just four available defensive backs.

"I was looking up and I'm like, `Man, we've got all backups in," Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger said. "If you're number is called, you've got to step up. We've got to get better at that as well."

It was 17-all after Butker made his first field goal, and his 32-yard kick gave Kansas City the lead back. The Redskins tied the game once more when Dustin Hopkins hit from 40 yards with 47 seconds left, but that turned out to be enough time to get Butker in position for the winning kick.

"He has a leg," Hunt said, "so I wasn't too worried. Just make it routine. He had a rough start but honestly, I believed in him, that he was going to bounce back."

Patriots-Falcons practice report: Gilmore (concussion/ankle) still out with Falcons, Jones on deck

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Patriots-Falcons practice report: Gilmore (concussion/ankle) still out with Falcons, Jones on deck

FOXBORO -- The Patriots are looking thin in the secondary as they head into their third and final day of practice before Sunday's matchup with the Falcons. 

Both Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle) and Eric Rowe (groin) sat out the session, as did linebacker Elandon Roberts (ankle). Undrafted rookie defensive end Harvey Langi was also a non-participant as he recovers from injuries sustained in a car crash last week. 

Asked if Friday's practice was a possibility, Gilmore said, "We'll see." He did not give any indications that his symptoms had improved or that he had been cleared for practice as he works through the league's concussion protocol. 

Rowe was spotted in the locker room on Thursday, but he has not practiced since aggravating his groin injury in Week 4. He was injured initially during a Week 2 win over the Saints. 

Roberts suffered an ankle injury when teammate Alan Branch landed on his lower leg during a loss to the Panthers in Week 4. However, he was healthy enough to play in Weeks 5 and 6. It's unclear as to whether or not his current ailment is related to what knocked him from that Week 4 loss to Carolina. 

Here is Thursday's practice participation/injury report for Sunday's game between the Patriots and Falcons:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
CB Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle)
LB Harvey Langi (back)
LB Elandon Roberts (ankle)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
RB Rex Burkhead (ribs)
WR Chris Hogan (ribs)
G Shaq Mason (shoulder)

ATLANTA FALCONS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
LB Jordan Tripp

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
OLB Vic Beasley Jr. (hamstring)
K Matt Bryant (back)
LB Jermaine Grace (hamstring)
LB Deion Jones (quadricep)
DE Takk McKinley (shoulder)
LB Duke Riley (knee)
WR Mohamed Sanu (hamstring)
DL Courtney Upshaw (ankle/knee)

Patriots' team personality changed by offseason moves, and not for better

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Patriots' team personality changed by offseason moves, and not for better

Bill Belichick has long been a proponent of altering his team's DNA from season to season. It cuts down on complacency, and also allows the head coach to be correct when he says last year doesn't matter to this year's Patriots. It can't, after all. What can players like Stephon Gilmore, Brandin Cooks or Lawrence Guy, who were on other rosters in other cities and -- in some cases -- other divisions or other conferences, know about last year's Pats? The answer is nothing, or next to nothing. Just the way Belichick prefers.

But last offseason's turnover may have done more harm than good, at least to this point in the year. Yes, the Pats have shown a toughness and an ability to overcome adversity -- see the start versus the Jets and the comeback against the Texans -- but there are clear indicators this group isn't gelling like Belichick believed it would. 

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Much of that points to the unusual approach taken by the coach and the front office in free agency. Whether it was the quick-strike signing of Gilmore to an expensive contract, to the surrendering of another first-rounder -- this time by choice -- in the trade for Cooks, or even the decision to walk away from fan favorite LeGarrette Blount in favor of younger, less proven backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, much of what Belichick was trying to do has yet to bear the necesssary fruit. And it's not just on the field where the Pats have shown deficiencies; it's in the locker room and meeting rooms as well.

Start with the bold move to get an in-his-prime Gilmore. Signing a player considered in some circles to be a No. 1 corner makes all the sense in the world. But what perplexed many was the decision to pay an outsider over Malcolm Butler, a proven player not only in this system, but in the biggest of games. Gilmore doesn't have that pedigree because his former team, the Bills, never made the playoffs, let alone a Super Bowl. 

Butler's anger at the decision and the way the rest of his offseason played out has been well-documented in this space. But what hasn't in many other spaces is the acknowledgement that it still wears on Butler to this day. 

His play is back on the uptick after a reduction of snaps in Week 2, but Butler has always been a player to whom the team has devoted extra attention to get ready week to week. That may have factored in the Pats' decision to only go so far in contract talks. Why then would Belichick assume Butler would be the perfect professional when Gilmore gets what Butler believes is his money? The thought seems to run counter with the argument against keeping Butler longterm in the first place. 

Butler says his relationship with Gilmore is good, that he's glad to have him as a teammate. Perhaps the 28-year-old has come to that now. Perhaps. 

As for Gilmore, he's soft-spoken. That has occasionally come off as though he's a player lacking confidence. His performance against Tampa Bay was a step in the right direction, but it was immediately followed by a day-before-the-game scratch against the Jets because of a concussion that was either suffered late in the week or was unreported until Saturday. His sudden absence put the Patriots in a bind. The fact that Gilmore spoke up was the right thing to do, but if it could have been communicated earlier it should have been, for the good of both player and team. Now he must reassert himself, whenever that opportunity comes.

"[You] grow together as team based on those experiences; some good, some bad, but learning from all of them," Belichick said when I asked him about a team's personality evolving over the course of the year. "I mean, we've only had one roster change since the start of the season but that's certainly on the low side. I would anticipate that there would be roster changes during the course of the year like there always are for every team and so that affects the makeup of the team, the interactions of the team. Maybe that's the personality you're talking about."

Belichick has a tendency to not only remember your last game, but -- if warranted -- hold it against you. Blount would be a prime example. He rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns last year but his play in the Super Bowl was poor. So despite his production on the field and his popularity off, the Pats had no inclination to offer LGB a raise. In fact, they were fine with him walking away, and that's exactly what he did. Gillislee and Burkhead were tabbed as replacement parts, and on paper it looked great. It still may end that way. But neither player has provided a) a level of play equivalent to Blount's and b) the energy that Blount brought. And that latter part of the equation is incredibly important. Just ask the Eagles, who get a jolt from Blount every time he lowers his shoulder and runs over a defender. 

The same could hold true for others who fled, were allowed to leave, or never got the chance to come back: 

-- Martellus Bennett could be a pain in the ass but there was never a dull moment around him, and no one can deny the loquacious tight end was an energy player both on and off the field. 

-- Logan Ryan had been through so much with the Pats, both good and bad. He had no problem talking, not just to his teammates but to the other side as well. He had earned his teammates' trust. 

-- Chris Long had an excellent relationship with so many guys on the team, and while he wouldn't be considered a "personality" in the same mold as Blount, he was incredibly well-respected for his professionalism and for his sacrifice, many times playing out of position. 

Then throw in the retirement of old standby Rob Ninkovich and, of course, the season-ending injury to Julian Edelman. If you didn't understand before, you should know now just how much each player is missed.

It's now up to the newcomers, and some of the holdovers, to elevate their level and find their voice, both on the field and in that room. And that may also be a part of the early issue. These "new" players -- Cooks, Gilmore, Gillislee, Burkhead, Guy -- are, for the moment, quiet. Perhaps they're concerned about stepping on toes, but at some point that may be needed.

"Look, everybody's a shareholder on the team," Belichick said. "It's not one person's team. It belongs to all of us and we try to make it as functional, as effective and as competitive as we possibly can. So, that's what the goal is, to win every game that we play and to have a good season and to make the most out of every day and every opportunity that we have. 

"I don't know if that answers the question or not, but I'm trying."

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