Patriots

NFL Alphabet Preview

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NFL Alphabet Preview

With Week 2 of the NFL season set to dominate your Sunday, Im debuting a new feature here at Standing Room Only.

Its called the NFL Alphabet Preview, and its pretty self explanatory, so here we go:

NFL Alphabet Preview, Vol. 1

A is for Arian

With Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles still working their way back to 100 percent, Maurice Jones-Drew still finding his sea legs and Barry Sanders still unwilling to come out of retirement, Arian Foster and Ray Rice have emerged as the cream of the NFL running back crop. But if I had to choose one right now, Ill take Foster especially this week against the Jags. In four career games against Jacksonville, Fosters averaged 103.3 yards and 1.25 touchdowns a pop. (And dont worry about him missing Wednesdays practice with an illness. Youd get sick too if you were forced to sit through game film of the Dolphins.)

NFL Alphabet Trivia: Can you name the six active NFL running backs, under the age of 28, with at least 30 career rushing touchdowns?

Answer: Peterson (66), Jones-Drew (62), Chris Johnson (38), Marshawn Lynch (35), Foster (31) and . . . BenJarvus Green-Ellis (30)

B is for Blackout

Earlier this summer, the Jaguars promised their fans that this season would be void of TV blackouts. But the folks in San Diego received no such promise, and with the 1:25 pm (PST) deadline to sell the remaining tickets fast approaching, it appears more and more likely that Sundays home opener against Tennessee will not be televised in the local market.

Asked for comment, Chargers coach Norv Turner wore his frustration on his sleeve: You know, I just dont get it. Its like . . . I really . . . wait, what were we talking about?

C is for ChampsChumps

Sunday at MetLife, the Giants host the Bucs, and will look to avoid becoming the first defending Super Bowl champ in 13 years to start the season 0-2.

As is customary when youre up against NYG, the Bucs know that theyll have to put a lid on the pass rush to have any chance of coming out on top. Said Bucs WR Mike Williams: With that front four, you could have a baby playing secondary and it might make the Pro Bowl.

Never one to back down from a challenge, Tom Coughlin announced this morning that the Giants have signed Pee Wee safeties Alonzo Cromartie and Antonio Cromartie Jr. Both will start on Sunday.

NFL Alphabet Trivia: Can you name the last four defending Super Bowl champs to miss the playoffs?

Answer: The 2009 Steelers, the 2006 Steelers, the 2002 Pats and . . . Brian Grieses 1999 Denver Broncos, who are the last defending champs to start 0-2. (They started 0-4, and finished at 6-10.)

D is for Deja Vu

The New Orleans Saints season got off to a rocky start last week, as they were exposed by the Redskins young, athletic gunslinger, Robert Griffin III.

But things get better this week, as the Saints go toe-to-toe with classic pocket passer Cam Newton.

I mean . . .

"I think (Newton and Griffins) skill sets are similar to the degree that they both have good arms, they're very athletic and they both run very well, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said this week. The difference obviously being the physical difference. Our guy is 6-5 and he's 6-2. There's that difference and about 40 pounds."

Dont mind that faint grumble.

Its just Joe Vitt throwing up in his mouth.

E is for Eight

As in the St. Louis Rams eight-game losing streak, aka the longest current losing streak in the NFL. Over the course of the streak, the Rams (who host Washington on Sunday) have been shut out twice, have never allowed fewer than 23 points and have lost by an average of 13.5.

But on the bright side: Jeff Fisher caught you this delicious bass.

F is for Fined

On Thursday afternoon, Maurice Jones-Drew denied an NFL.com report that he was fined 800,000 for his pre-season holdout.

"Make sure you guys report that was false," he told the Jacksonville media, before angrily driving off in his new car a used 2007 Dodge Stratus.

G is for Guarantee

And we wont be 0-2, Steelers Lamar Woodley told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in reference to Sundays game against the Jets. Every week the mindset is to go out there and win a football game, and not start the season off bad. So far were 0-1, and well manage to not go 0-2.

Responded Rex Ryan: Hey! Theres only one guy in this league who makes pointless and idiotic guarantees and thats Ol Rex! I guarantee it.

H is for Handshake

I believe Jim Harbaugh when he says that hes over the drama that stemmed from last years post-game handshake with Jim Schwartz. (The Lions and Niners play again on Sunday).

However, I dont believe for a second that Schwartz is over it. The guys a Belichick disciple, which means hes not in the business of letting bygones be bygones.

"That's long in the past," he said this week. "That just seems so long ago that that occurred. When two teams take the field, that's not going to be on one player's mind."

Note: The players minds.

I is for Ice, Matty Ice.

From looks of his Week 1 performance (299 yards, three TDs, no INTs and a rushing TD) it appears that Matt Ryan is ready to build off the momentum of last years 4,000-yard campaign and take things to another level. And what better way to re-iterate that notion than at home on Monday Night Football against Peyton Manning and the Broncos?

Although, at this point, dont we need to see Ryan win that first playoff game (hes 0-3) before anointing him with next level status?

I think so, but either way, one things for sure: The dude knows how to get it done on his home turf. Ryans 26-4 in 30 career games at the Georgia Dome.

By the way, Tom Brady's record in his first 30 starts at Gillette? You got it, 26-4. He improved that record to 28-4 before falling to the Chargers on October 2, 2005.

J is for Jamaal

Worse sign for Jamaal Charles ownersChiefs fans: That Kansas City used a diverse three-running back attack against the Falcons last Sunday, or that coach Romeo Crennel doesn't sound ready to change up that strategy any time soon?

"It's just by how we feel and how it's going," Crennel said about his running back plans. "You can't say how a game is going to go. The good thing about that is that I've got this guy named Hillis, who also could go into the game. I don't think we'll be disappointed when Hillis goes into the game."

K is for Kevin Kolb

Hairspray and an open flame.

Microwaves and aluminum foil.

Diet Coke and Mentos.

Bill Belichick and Kevin Kolb.

Stuff's gonna 'splode.

L is for Luck at Lucas

I understand how much it must have hurt Colts fans to see Peyton Manning conquer the world on Sunday night, but the post-game reaction in Indianapolis was a little ridiculous, no? A lot ridiculous? Like maybe they need to engulf the entire city in a cloud of hippo tranquilizer ridiculous?

I shouldn't generalize, I guess. I'm sure that there are a ton of less vocal Colts fans who realize why it made so much sense to move ahead with Luck, instead of squeezing a few more years of juice out of a 36-year-old QB who'd already undergone multiple career threatening neck surgeries . . .

But I'll generalize anyway:

What's wrong with you, Indianapolis?!

M is for Mario

As if things weren't bad enough for the Buffalo Bills with their Week 1 beat down at the hands of the Jets and the loss of Fred Jackson it's been recently revealed that 100M Man Mario Williams is already battling a nagging wrist injury. (Which might explain his Week 1 no-show).

Of course, Williams had a reputation in Houston for always "dealing" with some sort of injury, so the Buffalo media has been quick to criticize.

But Williams claims that he hasn't heard a thing: "I don't watch TV, man," Williams told the Buffalo News. "Never have, never will. I think I've said that about a million times in my last seven years."

On that note here's a joke that Mario won't get, and thus, won't track me down and devour my unborn children:

Mario Williams is a bigger hypochondriac than George Constanza.

N is for No. 1 Pick

In some ways, its impossible not to feel blindsided by Alex Smiths maturation into a not only viable, but straight up dangerous NFL quarterback. Then again, once you remember that he was the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, taken ahead of guys like DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman and a fellow out of Cal named Aaron Rodgers, it makes sense. You cant really be shocked. But you can be happy for the guy. It was a long road, but he made it.

Last week, Smith broke Steve Youngs franchise record with his 185th consecutive pass without an interception, and with the way things are going, its fair to wonder: Is this the first of many YoungMontana records that will fall by way of Alex Smiths arm?

Answer: No. Probably not.

NFL Alphabet Quiz: On Sunday, Smith became the 12th quarterback in history to throw a touchdown to Randy Moss. Can you name the other 11?

Answer: Daunte Culpepper, Tom Brady, Randall Cunningham, Matt Cassel, Jeff George, Kerry Collins, Gus Frerotte, Todd Bouman, Andrew Walter, Brett Favre and Brad Johnson.

O is for O-fer

Its a little crazy to suggest that the Dolphins will go winless on the season, but theres no getting around the fact that their chances to score one in the win column will be few and far between. (Note: If youre response to that was: Wellll, technically, they have 15 more chances. Then we are mortal enemies.)

Anyway, if there was ever an opportunity for the Dolphins to prove that they arent a truly horrendous team, it would be on Sunday, when they host the fresh-off-a-late-Monday-night-game-on-the-other-side-of-the-country Oakland Raiders and the venerable Carson Palmer.

Here's to you, Joe Philbin.

P is for Pierre

Isnt it always?

A major factor in RGIIIs dominant debut against the Saints was his relationship with former Colt Pierre Garcon, who caught four passes for 108 yards and a touchdown before exiting with an injured foot.

Unfortunately for the rookie QB, it looks like hell take the field in Week 2 without his favorite target.

"I really don't know," Mike Shanahan said when asked about Garcon's status. "He was very limited. We'll have a better idea tomorrow."

When asked a follow up question on the teams running back situation, Shanahan kicked the reporter in the groin and skipped out of the room cackling.

NFL Alphabet Quiz: Name the seven running backs who have scored a touchdown in Mike Shanahans 33 games as head coach of the Redskins.

Hint: One of them is named Darrel Young (figured wed just get that out of the way).

Answer: Ryan Torain, Keiland Williams, Clinton Portis, Roy Helu, Tim Hightower, Darrel Young and Alfred Morris

Q is for Quintorris Lopez Jones

Or as hes better known, "Julio" Jones.

You would have thought it would be difficult to live up to the expectations of a team trading five draft picks for the rights to acquire you. You would have thought that it was damn near impossible to make Roddy White look like a mere NFL mortal.

You would have thought a lot of things before old Quintorris arrived on the scene.

R is for Raider Receivers

With Denarius Moore hurting, Jacoby Ford hurt and Darius Heyward-Bey still looking to make the leap, the Raiders could use a little help at receiver. But yesterday, GM Reggie McKenzie confirmed that the team has no interest in veteran free agents Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson and Plaxico Burress.

"It's not just (their) age," McKenzie said. "If the right player could add to the group ... we just didn't feel that those three were the right ones.

He was non-committal when asked whether the team might pursue a deal for Rae Carruth.

NFL Alphabet Quiz: 71 players in NFL history have caught 60 or more touchdown passes. Nine of them including TO (153), Chad (67) and Plaxico (63) are still active. Can you name the other six?

Answer: Randy Moss (154), Tony Gonzalez (96), Antonio Gates (76), Reggie Wayne (73), Larry Fitzgerald (73) and . . . Donald Driver, who caught No. 60 last night against the Bears.

Note: Steve Smith only needs one more to reach 60.

Note 2: Rae Carruth only needs 56 more.

S is for Sad

Isnt there just something so depressing about the BengalsBrowns rivalry? I mean, I know theres history. I know theres hatred. But while most inter-division rivalries leave me at the edge of my seat, BengalsBrowns makes me want to lock myself in a dark room and blast Elliot Smith.

T is for Tupa

How long has it been since the Cardinal beat the Patriots? Well (and I know Ive mentioned this before, but I literally can't get enough), it was on September 29, 1991 and the Cardinals quarterback was none other than punter extraordinaire Tom Tupa. (Tupa was 17-28 on the day for 312 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.)

And this just in: Ever the historian, Bill Belichick has announced that he plans to even the score by starting Zoltan Mesko at quarterback on Sunday.

Early line: Pats -8.

U is for Uniforms

Remember when everyone made such an unbelievably big deal out of the NFL switching their jerseys over from Reebok to Nike?

Yes, Id like those few days of my life back, too.

V is for Vick

Michael Vick had a pretty historic game in Week 1s win over Cleveland, setting a career high with 56 pass attempts and, not-so-coincidentally, also tying a career-high with four interceptions.

Whether or not Vick is still struggling from the beating his ribs took against the Pats in the pre-season is insignificant. Why? Because were talking about Michael Vick. If we made excuses every time he was playing through an injury, excuses are all wed ever have.

Bottom line: Unless Philadelphia can find some offensive balance and Vick can limit his completions to the other team, the Ravens are going to straight cannibalize the Eagles on Sunday.

NFL Alphabet Quiz: Since 1975, only six quarterbacks have amassed more rushing TDs than Michael Vick. Name them, please?

Hint: Oddly enough, 50 percent of them are name Steve.

Answer: Daunte Culpepper (34), Steve Grogan (35), Randall Cunningham (35), Steve McNair (37), Kordell Stewart (38) and Steve Young (43)

W is for Witten

Cowboys tight end (and Tony Romo binky) Jason Witten lacerated his spleen in the pre-season, but says hes finally feeling like his old self heading into Sundays game in Seattle:

The good news is unlike an ankle or a hamstring or some things where it can linger in there for weeks this is something that I feel good when I'm out there practicing and running around, he said.

The bad news? Its his (& spleen!

X is for X-Factor

The Falcons were already going to have their hands full with Peyton Manning 2.0 on Monday night, but the degree of difficulty was taken up a few notches when Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes popped his Achilles in Week 1 against the Chiefs.

That leaves former third round pick Chris Owens to fill the void.

Is he up to it? Time will tell, but for now Owens is looking forward to the challenge: "This is like facing Mike Tyson in a 12-round bout, but I'm excited for the opportunity," he said.

Manning, who recently shocked fans by showing up to practice with an enormous facial tattoo, couldnt be reached for comment. Said Broncos coach John Fox: Last time I saw Peyton, he was on the roof tending to his flock of pigeons.

Y is for Your Fantasy Team

Just a reminder: Its only fantasy.

Its not worth the anger. Its not worth the depression. Its not worth screaming NO! YOU dont get it! YOURE the crazy one! at your girlfriend and then running out of the apartment in tears.

Eh, who I am kidding.

Of course it is.

Z is for Zebras

Listen, I dont have a huge problem with the replacement refs. Have they been perfect? No. But neither are the real refs. At the end of the day, my only problem is with the lack of Ed Hochuli.

Come on, Easy E. We need you, buddy!

Seriously, this might sound crazy, but what about launching a live web cam? It doesnt have to be anything special. Just a feed of you sitting on your couch watching the games in full uniform, screaming incessantly about the incompetence of the replacements. (Note: The more you refer to them as scabs the better.)

And thats all for now.

Enjoy the games.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

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. 

MORE PATRIOTS

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.

Brady enjoys 'unique experience' of road trip

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Brady enjoys 'unique experience' of road trip

While being away from home isn’t uncommon for the Patriots - just think about all those Super Bowl trips - Tom Brady believes each excursion takes on its own feel, its own flavor and - eventually - its own meaning.

Back in 2014, the Pats went from playing in Green Bay and losing to the Packers straight to San Diego for a week on the West Coast prior to a rousing victory over the Chargers. That week, many players said in the aftermath, helped propel the team to great heights,.  You’ll recall, that season ended in grand fashion, a triumph in Super Bowl 49 over Seattle, at the time - and maybe still - the greatest Super Bowl ever played.

“I think all these experiences are pretty unique,” Brady said Friday from Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy. “That was a very unique experience. This is different.”

Brady spoke about the number of stops the Pats have and will have to make on this trip - from Denver to Colorado Springs then on to Mexico City Saturday before a Sunday night return to Foxboro and their own beds for the first time in 10 nights.

“When you’re on the road like this, there’s less to do,” he said. “You know my family is not here, my kids aren’t here. There’s nobody telling me what I did wrong in the house. It’s just being at home and now it’s being here and trying to figure out a way to win a game.”

Brady quickly smoothed over any possible ill-will at home - why make Gisele mad? - smiling and saying “I didn’t mean that so I’ll take it back.”

Kidding aside, the 40-year old signal caller seemed pleased with the work the Patriots have put in during this long trip. A week of team-bonding can’t be a bad thing, especially for a group that seems to be hitting it’s stride both on and off the field. There’s the five wins in a row and also a locker room that has a better understanding of one another than it did during the first month of the season. But Brady is not ready to make any grand proclamations. That just wouldn’t be his style.

“I think it’s still work in progress,” he said of team chemistry. “You look at still adding a player like Marty (Bennett) last week. Things are always changing and evolving. We’re still trying to figure out what we’re doing well and after 8 or 9 weeks, you start to figure those things out. Now we have to work hard at those things, try to really own them, and use them going forward to try and win the most important games. We have a lot of important games coming up, starting with this one. Hopefully we can play our best football going forward.”

Brady said he’s been fired up for this game with the Raiders south of the border ever since the schedule was released all those months ago.

“I’ve never been to Mexico City,” he said. “It’s been a game you kind of look forward to. We’re playing against a really good football team in a pretty cool environment. It will be very memorable. I think everyone is excited.”