Patriots

Notes: 'Foot' talk earns Welker an early benching

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Notes: 'Foot' talk earns Welker an early benching

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Wes Welker's subtle digs at Jets coach Rex Ryan's foot fetish during his midweek press conference apparently didn't go unnoticed by Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Welker sat out the Patriots' first offensive series, and CBS' Jim Nantz reported it was a benching because of his "foot" talk -- Welker made 10 references to feet or toes -- during his comments to the media.

After the game, Welker declined to talk about it.

"Thats a coachs decision," said Welker. "You can ask the coach about that stuff. Im not going to really comment on that stuff."

"I don't have any comment on that," said Belichick when asked.

Welker finished the game as the Pats' leading receiver with 7 catches for 57 yards.

Belichick met Ryan at midfield after the game and embraced him for several seconds, talking into his ear. When asked when he said, Belichick responded: "Whenever I have a conversation with somebody else, it's between me and the other person."

Ryan also declined to divulge what Belichick told him, except to say it was complimentary.

The Patriots have lost their last three postseason games, dating back to the 2007 Super Bowl, and have lost two in a row at home. It was their first-ever playoff loss to the Jets, whom they beat in the postseason in 1985 and 2006.

The Pats' last stretch of three straight postseason defeats came in a 10-season span from 1985 to '94, running from Super Bowl XX (loss to the Bears in the 1985 season) through first-round losses at Denver (1986) and Cleveland (1994).

They'd never lost two straight home playoff games prior to this.

Veteran running back Fred Taylor was inactive for Sunday's game, and admitted afterwards that he's mulling retirement.

"I've just got to probably take time to be realistic," said Taylor, who'll turn 35 later this month. "I kind of know what my body's telling me, and what my family's been telling me. But I also know that this is what I've been programmed to do the majority of my life."

Taylor had seven 1,000-plus-yard seasons in his 13-year career, the first 11 of which were spent with the Jaguars, but was limited by injuries to just 7 games and 155 yards this year.

"I really don't know," he said. "It's just a whole lot to take in right now. I don't know. I know what my body tells me. I know what I've been thinking. It's kind of hard to play a game you love so much with limitations. Last year, with the ankle. I couldn't do the things I know I can do. This year, with the toes."

Matt Light is now a free agent after 10 superlative seasons as the Patriots' left offensive tackle, and -- like Taylor -- doesn't know what the future holds. But in his case, it's contractual.

Light plans to play next year. He just doesn't know if it'll be in New England.

"I've had a great 10 years here, this has been a great organization . . . " said Light. "I hope like hell to be here and continue to do what I've done, but we'll have to wait and see if that works itself out."

Brady now has thrown a touchdown pass in 17 consecutive postseason games, the second-longest streak in NFL history (the longest: 20, by Brett Favre). He also has 30 career postseason TD passes, tying him with Terry Bradshaw for fifth place on the all-time list.

Jay Glazer of FOX Sports presented video evidence on the FOX pregame show of the Patriots engaging in sideline shenanigans aimed at upsetting opposing punt coverage -- the same thing for which the Jets were punished by the NFL -- during the Week 2 game between the Jets and Patriots. According to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, "Though they werent standing shoulder to shoulder and toe to toe like Sal Alosi and his North Jersey mob, six or seven Pats were up on the edge of the sideline, and one of them appears to try to trip the gunner." Glazer added that the Jets learned of the manuever from a former Patriots practice squad player who signed with the Jets. That could be either former Pats quarterback Kevin O'Connell or linebacker Shawn Crable. The Jets were fined 100,000 for Alosi's act and for special teams coach Mike Westhoff accusing the Patriots of similar deeds. "A number of teams do it," Westhoff said on Chicago radio in mid-December. "There is a pretty good team up north that lines their whole defense up when they do it, so it's something that just kind of happened . . . If you watch them -- their defense when the opponent's punt team is out there -- they're up there pretty close to the line so it looks like they are trying to do it. Now are they doing anything illegal? Are they tripping anybody? Heck no. I'm not saying that. That's not the point. But, yeah, they're lined up there. Is it making a difference? I don't know. I really don't know, because to tell you the truth, before this happened, I never really looked at anybody's sideline in all my years." It's not a huge leap of reason to presume the Jets were - in some way - involved in making sure the video (conclusive or not) saw the light of day.
Danny Picard and Tom E. Curran contributed to this story.Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

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.