FOXBORO - Youth over age. The promise of ascending players over those that are descending, albeit from a high level. Cost control over big dollars and over guaranteed dollars. Those were topic starters and conversations the Patriots player personnel department had with its boss this offseason, And by boss, I mean Bill Belichick. Duh.
In choosing Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and a bunch of free agents, the Pats chose to make the future the present and live with the consequences.
At 6-0, Belichick's team is the beast of the AFC East, again. So, exactly what consequences did the Pats suffer from those decisions to walk away from Darelle Revis and Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington (and Alfonzo Dennard, but that's a story not worth telling)? On the surface, zero. Zip. Zilch. But if you're actually paying attention, you know it's very much a work in progress. Injuries and poor performance have left the Pats rolling out Justin Coleman and some dude named Rashaan Melvin as their third and fourth corners. Recipe for success? Maybe, if you're the other team.
As for Butler, he was given the task of following Eric Decker for nearly the entire afternoon. It wasn't pretty, especially through the Jets second touchdown drive. Decker kept reeling in third-down pass plays, to keep the drive going and the clock running. But Butler kept at it, remained competitive, and when asked by our own Tom Curran if he was experiencing a loss of confidence, said, “No no no no no no no no no no no no.” Or something awfully close (I paraphrased because I was too lazy to cross check the quote). Butler seems to have the head and the confidence for this challenge.
“[Receivers] are going to catch balls," noted Butler. "It doesn’t matter who you are. You’re going to get a ball caught on you. But you try your best to limit them and not give up a catch almost every play. Some of those games come, but like I said before, I thought I played well, held them off long enough, and got the ‘W.’ That’s all that matters.”
As for the No. 2 corner, Logan Ryan, he helped to limit the beastly Brandon Marshall to a relatively quiet day by Marshall's standards. That Ryan had consistent safety help should not diminish what the ex-Rutgers standout did, or better yet, is doing. Ryan had interceptions in the previous two games and quarterbacks have found that they're better off attacking the top corner, Butler, than the "other" guy.
“You know, it’s a position that’s always pressured," said Ryan after the game. "You don’t want to make the wrong step. A lot can go wrong, a lot can go right as well, so it’s just a pressure position. It’s the NFL, so it’s a competitive league. It’s not going to be perfect, but you just want to finish with more points than they have.”
The Pats did, and Ryan played an important role. I asked him if he drew any satisfaction in preventing Marshall from doing to him as he's done to nearly every other corner this season.
“Yeah man, he’s a huge competitor and I had to match his energy level and just try my best with that guy," he replied. "I knew he’s not going to get completely shut down or anything like that. He’s too good. He’s too big..."
“He’s a guy who wants to ball. Good or bad play, he wants to ball again like any great competitor would, so I knew to keep bringing it because after the first quarter, after the second quarter, he’s going to keep wanting the ball. He’s going to demand the ball and they’re going to find a way to get that guy the ball. That’s why he’s been having those games – that 100-yard streak he’s been having – so he’s definitely a big part of their offense, so I knew the ball would be coming my way.”
But not very often and not very successfully. Marshall was upset following the game, yelling at a teammate as he exited the field, then accepting blame in the locker room. Ryan and company frustrated him. That's a win for the new No. 2 corner and, if he holds up, maybe for the decision-makers who chose young and cheap, and potentially ascending, players over older, and infinitely more expensive, ones. But only time will tell, and by that, I mean the months of January and - if all goes well - February.