Patriots

Patriots lose a leader with Mayo's retirement

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Patriots lose a leader with Mayo's retirement

When Bill Belichick rolled the dice in Indianapolis back in 2009 and failed, you knew there was going to be howling.
 
Fourth-and-2? From your own 28? With 2:08 left and Peyton Manning on the opposing sideline?

Joining in the criticism that week was Tedy Bruschi, newly-minted as an ESPN analyst. Bruschi said that Belichick’s decision was rooted in a lack of confidence in his defense.
 
When us media types showed up in the locker room and dutifully asked players, “What’s your reaction to what Tedy Bruschi said?” one voice forcefully but diplomatically pushed back at the Patriots’ legend.
 
“I have the ultimate respect for Tedy and everything he’s done for this organization, but he’s not in this locker room at this point in time so he doesn’t know the feeling that this defense or this team has,” said Jerod Mayo. “We still have our confidence, we still have our swagger and we’re gonna go out Sunday and show . . . the media, I guess.”

At the time, Mayo was a second-year linebacker out of Tennessee. But nobody wondered who the hell he thought he was countering Bruschi. Instead, Mayo’s willingness to say something that galvanized was one of the few positives of an otherwise sloppy, rudderless year.
 
The 10th overall pick and Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008 was assuming the mantle of leadership in the locker room.
 
He would lead differently than Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison did. He was more inclusive, less judgmental and his sense of humor was bigger and less biting.
 
Mayo – and Vince Wilfork – were the right guys at the right time to lead the Patriots after the 2001-2007 chapter of the New England dynasty ended and a leadership void emerged. The 2008 and 2009 seasons were bleak – at least for these parts – but the 2010 to 2016 reboot and the team’s defensive resurgence is at least in part, thanks to Mayo.
 
I got a Facebook message from a Patriots fan on Thursday. It read, “Was wondering how u felt about Mayo's career as a whole. My opinion: average to slightly above average player, who was a good guy in the locker room. Wasn't the playmaker the 10th pick in the draft should be.”

That feels like the prevailing opinion on Mayo’s career right now. He should have been better. I would counter that being the near-unanimous DROY (49 of 50 votes), an All-Pro after leading the NFL in tackles in 2010 and a two-time Pro Bowler is a helluva resume. But I also understand the sentiment that, compared to Bruschi, Vrabel or Harrison, there just weren’t the same kind of memorable, seminal moments authored by Mayo.
 
The thing about Mayo is that the value he added was almost all done behind closed doors. In meeting rooms where he sponged what Matt Patricia and Belichick told him and then passed it on to his teammates. At his home where he welcomed and mentored so many of the young Patriots like Dane Fletcher, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Donta Hightower. He and Wilfork made sure the notion of teammates as family was taken to another level under their watch.
 
And that’s hard for me to really testify to even though I spent more time with Mayo than any other player I’ve covered. For four years, he and I would get together every Tuesday during the season to tape a segment for Quick Slants. He didn’t need the money we gave him. Or the food. He didn’t look forward to leaving his wife, Chantel, and his children at home on the team’s only day off to spend 40 minutes doing TV. But every week, there he was, on time and upbeat, willing to interact with anyone trying to ambush him for an autograph or handshake, generally the guy in the best mood in the whole group. Why? Because he committed to it. Because, as a captain, he was expected to be a public face and a voice for the team.
 
But my anecdotes are irrelevant. It’s the reverence his teammates had for him that speak the most about what he brought. From Devin McCourty  to Vince Wilfork, current and former teammates saluted Mayo on Tuesday night.
 
Belichick hasn’t made a statement yet, but he articulated a number of times his high regard for Mayo. Whether it be saying Mayo was untradable, praising Mayo’s blue-collar approach by lauding him for buying a condo near the stadium and a pickup truck with his rookie paycheck or by stating in 2014 that the team “revolves around” Mayo.
 
“He’s really the guy that the team probably revolves around more than any other player,” said Belichick. “Not that there aren’t other players that are instrumental in that. But I think that he really touches pretty much everybody. Not just the defensive players, but all the guys. Not just the older guys, but the younger guys. He’s got a great work ethic, great presence on the football field, and great personality. In a very good way, professional but he also has a good rapport with all the players and coaches. As respected as any player in the locker room. One of the best overall team leaders, players, kind of glue chemistry guy.”
 
As fate would have it, Mayo missed four games in 2011 and – in the Super Bowl that season – every bounce went the Giants way. In 2012, he was a Pro Bowler but in 2013, 2014 and 2015, he finished the year on IR. He has a ring from 2014 but never got the chance to be an on-field part of that win over Seattle. He’s a player that deserved to be out there, but as Clint Eastwood famously said in Unforgiven, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”
 
With his salary cap number climbing higher, his on-field reps likely to shrink even more and the prospect of having to relocate if he wanted to keep playing, Mayo decided, “Enough.” At age 29.
 
Usually, you hear “29” and think, “My God, the kid just got here.” In Mayo’s case, he’s been a fixture and a leader so long, he seems closer to 39.
 
One last thing? Even if Tedy Bruschi was right back in 2009 – and he probably was – I’m sure that hearing Mayo defend his teammates let Bruschi know that he’d left his old team in very capable hands.
 
Bruschi would have been happy to hear it. Even if he was right.

Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

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Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

The first came in the second quarter, when Brandin Cooks turned on afterburners to beat a Raiders double team and glide underneath a Tom Brady heave for 52 yards. The second came in the third quarter, on the third play from scrimmage of the second half, when Cooks faked an out-route, jetted past rookie corner Obi Melifonwu, and sped into the end zone to make the score 24-0. 

Both deep completions in New England's 33-8 win over Oakland just added to cumulative effect that Cooks has had on the Patriots offense since arriving before the season to become their top deep threat. 

Paired with Brady, Cooks has actually become the most productive deep threat in the NFL. 

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According to Pro Football Focus, Cooks leads all receivers with 431 yards on deep passes (throws that travel 20 yards or more down the field). In second place is Houston's DeAndre Hopkins with 313 yards. 

And Brady, who has long been more effective in the short-to-intermediate range than he has been deep, is now among the league leaders in creating explosive plays from the quarterback position. The Patriots are third in the NFL with 41 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and they are tied for second with nine plays of 40 yards or more. 

"You're always trying to work on that," Brady told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show of his team's deep passing game. "It's not one particular year [you work on it]. I think that's been a concerted effort by our entire offense, trying to make more explosive plays in the pass game. 

"Sometimes your offense is built differently. We actually have some guys now that can really get down the field so that becomes more of a point of emphasis. The way Brandin runs, the way that Chris Hogan runs, the way that Phillip Dorsett runs, they're very fast. You need to be able to take advantage of their skill set . . . 

"When we had David Patten we were throwing it deep. I mean, but David Patten didn't run a lot of short routes. I would say Brandin Cooks, in general, he doesn't run a lot of short routes. Everyone has a different role. If we can get by you, I think that's a good place to throw the ball. if we can't, we gotta figure out ways to throw it underneath and different weeks are going to call for different things based on the strengths of the defenses we're playing, too."

A week before beating the Raiders, against the Broncos and their talented corners, the Patriots had less luck pushing the ball down the field -- though they tried to hit Cooks deep multiple times. In Mexico City, Cooks matched up with a weaker secondary, and he wasn't at all slowed by the altitude, catching six passes in all for 149 yards and a score. 

Per PFF, Cooks has seen almost one third of his targets (30 percent) come on deep passes, which is the ninth-highest rate in the league. He's caught all 11 of his catchable deep passes, three of them accounting for scores.

"Obviously when you're throwing the ball 50-60 yards down the field," Brady said, "your chances of completion go down, but if you hit it, it ends up being a very explosive plays and you can change a lot of field position and get a defense really on their heels if they have to defend every blade of grass on the field." 

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Belichick remembers Glenn: 'A good person with good intentions'

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Belichick remembers Glenn: 'A good person with good intentions'

Terry Glenn, the Patriots' top draft pick in 1996, died early Monday morning in a one-car accident in Irving, Texas. He was 43. 

Bill Belichick coached Glenn as an assistant with the Patriots during Glenn's rookie season. He was later Glenn's head coach in 2000 and 2001. Belichick traded Glenn to the Packers before the 2002 season after a tumultuous run in New England that involved legal trouble, injuries and clashes with the coaching staff.

During a conference call with reporters soon after the news of Glenn's death was published, Belichick remembered Glenn for his natural physical ability and "a good heart."

"I was pretty close with Terry," Belichick said, "and his rookie season was my first year here in '96, and so I had a lot of interaction with him and other people that were involved in his life and his upbringing separate from the Patriots. Terry's a very smart individual. Had a lot of, obviously, a lot of physical skill and talent. Could do a lot of things on the football field very naturally. And I think he was deep down inside a good person with good intentions and, you know, a good heart. Obviously it's very unfortunate. Very unfortunate passing. I mean, it's a sad day. Sad news."

According to reports, Glenn was with his fiancee at the time of the accident. She's being treated at a local hospital for unspecified injuries.