The Patriots' excellent adventure begins again


The Patriots' excellent adventure begins again

The Patriots have lost 42 regular-season games in the 11-year span since 2001. That's an average of less than four losses per season.

To put that in localized context, anyone over 30 can vaguely recall when the Patriots lost 61 games in five seasons (1989 to 1993). That's an average of 12 losses a year.

It's impossible to overstate how deeply entrenched the Patriots were as the NFL's laughingstock for most of their existence.

And now their excellence has become so routine that they've sucked the drama out of a question American sports fans obsess over at this time of year: "Can my football team make the playoffs; can it win the Super Bowl?"

Around here, the answers now -- and for more than a decade -- have been "Yes, definitely" and "Yes, maybe."

Like fall foliage and the Atlantic Ocean, the Patriots have become a regional privilege that we're aware and appreciative of, but no longer struck by. It's a fact of New England life.

Today, training camp opens.

The editorial staff at the region's paper of record, the Boston Globe, decided a soccer "friendly" between Roma and Liverpool at Fenway would be the centerpiece for their Thursday sports section. A scene-setting column for the London Olympics -- which begin Sunday -- was at the top of the page. Two Patriots stories -- including a column that referenced Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Bill Buckner and Hugh Hefner -- were wedged into the left rail.

The annual departure of the Red Sox equipment truck gets breathless coverage; the start of training camp for the AFC Champions gets a shrug and a "wake-us-in-January" feel.

Admittedly, there's a "chicken-or-the-egg" debate to why the Patriots don't rate.

They don't make it "fun." They believe in the "one-voice" theory, and that monotone and grunt-infused voice belongs to Bill Belichick. He believes a good day is one where his team is flying happily under the radar, and a scrimmage between European soccer teams gets center stage.

The 90 Patriots in training camp will sweat and run into each other from 1:30 until 4 p.m., and then come off the field and say they are "Happy to be back to work," "Working hard," "Taking it one practice at a time" and "Moving on from last year."

The actual stories are what happens on the field, not what the players and coaches don't say when they come off of it.

And there are stories. The addition of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd on offense. The pecking order at running back with BenJarvus Green-Ellis gone. The uncertainty on the offensive line because of injury and the absence of Brian Waters. The defensive transformation from one that favored wide-bodies up front to one that focuses on speed at the edges and depth in the secondary.

Watching the Patriots roll the rock up the mountain -- especially when they are at sea level -- may not be fascinating because the potential of the rock rolling back on them doesn't exist until they are near the peak.

But the process of getting the rock up there -- if you choose to look closely -- will never fail to be fascinating.

Ryan's 2 TD passes enough as Falcons hold off Seahawks 34-31


Ryan's 2 TD passes enough as Falcons hold off Seahawks 34-31

SEATTLE - Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons did enough through 3 1/2 quarters that even the best comeback attempt by Russell Wilson fell short this time.

A couple of yards short to be exact.

Ryan threw a pair of touchdown passes, Adrian Clayborn returned a fumble 10 yards for a score and the Falcons watched Blair Walsh's 52-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds fall short, holding off the Seattle Seahawks for a 34-31 win on Monday night.

Atlanta won its second straight to stay on the heels of New Orleans and Carolina in the NFC South, and handed Seattle a second consecutive home loss.

"What an absolute team win from the guys tonight," Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. "Coming here, in this environment, with the crowd, we thought it would be two competitive, tough teams that were going to battle for it in the biggest way."

Ryan threw TDs to Mohamed Sanu and Levine Toilolo, while Tevin Coleman added a 1-yard TD run on Atlanta's opening possession.

But it was Clayborn's fumble return that helped break the game open early in the second quarter and gave Atlanta a 21-7 lead. He scooped up a loose ball after Wilson was crunched by Takk McKinley and Courtney Upshaw.

"I think we're moving in the right direction. We keep proving we can finish games and beat guys. We have to take the momentum and keep rolling with it," Clayborn said.

With Seattle down 11 points, Wilson hit Doug Baldwin on a 29-yard TD with 3 minutes left and then threw to Jimmy Graham for the two-point conversion. Seattle got the ball back and moved in range for Walsh, whose attempt was on line but landed short of the crossbar.

"That was in our range, and in hindsight I would have just driven it more," Walsh said. "I would have driven it more and not left it short. I was too accurate and didn't have enough on it."

Wilson again was the entirety of Seattle's offense, throwing for 258 yards and two touchdowns, and running for another 86 yards and a TD.

But it was an awful night for the Seahawks, filled with more injuries and questionable decisions by coach Pete Carroll. He called for a fake field goal late in the first half rather than attempting a 35-yard kick. He also made a questionable challenge in the fourth quarter that didn't go his way and left Seattle with just one timeout.

That lack of timeouts came back to haunt Seattle on the final drive when seconds ticked away and rather than running one more play, Walsh was sent out to attempt the 52-yard kick. His long for the season is 49 yards.

The conclusion only amplified Carroll's baffling decision at the end of the first half, when Seattle ran a fake field goal rather than having Walsh attempt a 35-yarder that would have pulled Seattle within 24-20. Holder Jon Ryan completed his shovel pass to Luke Willson, but Grady Jarrett read the play and tackled Willson for a 4-yard loss.

Willson said Atlanta's defense on the play was different than what Seattle had seen on film.

"It would have been a really good call if we had made it," Carroll said. "Terrific opportunity right where we wanted it and the defensive tackle made a better play."

Seattle played a game for the first time since the end of the 2010 season without Richard Sherman. His streak of 99 consecutive starts in the regular season was snapped because of a torn Achilles tendon suffered against Arizona. The Seahawks were also without safety Kam Chancellor because of a neck injury, leaving their vaunted secondary with several new faces.

"Those two are phenomenal players. ... It was a lot different," Sanu said. "They did a lot of different things but we just had to take advantage of our routes."


Ryan was more than happy to pick on a defense without Sherman and Chancellor. He was 19 of 27 passing for 195 yards and rarely faced pressure. Seattle had one sack, and the Falcons went 9 of 14 on third-down conversions.

Sanu made a great one-handed grab for a 2-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Ryan found Toilolo on a 25-yard TD in the third quarter to give Atlanta a 31-20 lead. Matt Bryant added a 19-yard field goal with 3:49 left to put the Falcons ahead by 11, and Wilson's late heroics weren't enough.

Ryan's streak of 64 straight games passing for at least 200 yards was snapped.


Seattle's injury woes continued. The Seahawks lost rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin to a concussion on the second play of the game, forcing newly signed veteran Byron Maxwell into a more prominent role than expected.

Early in the second half, promising running back Mike Davis was lost to a groin injury after taking a screen pass 21 yards. Davis had two receptions and had carried six times for 18 yards before getting hurt. Seattle also lost starting guard Oday Aboushi in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.

Atlanta got a scare when safety Keanu Neal was checked for a concussion in the first half. He was cleared to return.


Falcons: Host Tampa Bay on Sunday to open a three-game homestand.

Seahawks: Travel to division foe San Francisco on Sunday.


EX-PATS PODCAST: How Belichick the perfectionist will find flaws in win vs. Raiders


EX-PATS PODCAST: How Belichick the perfectionist will find flaws in win vs. Raiders

0:55 - Patriots playing great as they stream roll the Raiders but Koppen explains that Belichick will knock them down as he strives for perfection. Also talk about how it takes a couple months into the season for the coaches and players to learn each other again.

5:40 - Stephon Gilmore playing excellent lined up against Michael Crabtree. Malcolm Butler bounces back but gives up the only score to Amari Cooper. Koppen suggest Butler’s contract situation might be affecting his play. 

7:50 - All in on the Patriots defense yet? Giardi and Koppen discuss the defensive play and the upcoming offenses the Patriots will be facing.

10:30 - Dan Koppen talks about job security in the NFL and if he ever worried about somebody else taking his job, and the cutthroat nature of the Patriots. 

13:50 - Tom Brady picking apart the Raiders and Jack Del Rio’s defenses throughout his career. 

17:45 - A debate about Patriots backup quarterbacks and if Matt Cassel was actually a good NFL QB. 

21:20 - A few game notes: Rex Burkhead’s fumble vs. the Raiders, LaAdrian Waddle filling in for Marcus Cannon.