Patriots-Saints notes, Day 2: Brady shines


Patriots-Saints notes, Day 2: Brady shines

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- This was all Tom Brady, all the time today at the Pats joint practice sessions with the Saints in cloudy, comfortable conditions.

Brady took every single rep with the starting offense. Jimmy Garoppolo, who may be the team’s starting quarterback for four games, didn’t take one snap with the startrts, or throw a single pass.

Brady was once again saddled with an offense that was minus Julian Edelman and Aaron Dobson and today was also missing Brian Tyms. (Tyms and fullback Eric Kettani were the Pats' two new missing bodies today.) But that didn’t matter. He efficiently used all of his remaining targets, completing passes to 14 different players. Yes, I said 14. Even Zach D’Orazio and Jonathan Krause reeled in one pass each from Brady. Hell, Krause’s was a touchdown.

Brady’s best work was all of his work. I saw him throw only one ball that I found questionable: A low bullet slightly behind Rob Gronkowski on a crossing route. It clanged off Gronk’s hands. But other than that, it was one highlight after another.

In 7-on-7’s, Brady floated a beautiful pass that had both touch and incredibly accuracy, leading Matthew Slater open in the back left corner of the end zone for six. Later in that same drill, he saw Gronk gain a step on linebacker Henry Coley and put it perfectly on the spot for another score. Those two would hook up again on a fade along the opposite sideline, with the ball put only where the enormous tight end could get it. Even Jonas Gray hit paydirt, hauling in another perfectly thrown ball by Brady that led him away from the defender but kept him from running out of room in the back of the end zone.

When the teams jumped to 11-on-11, Brady twice dialed up long distance. First he connected with Slater, who’s been pressed into more receiver duties because of all the injuries, then to Josh Boyce. Boyce had to slightly adjust his shoulders and hand position to make the catch, but he'd be the first to tell you Brady made all the goodness happen.

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Marcus Cannon left practice early and I did not see him return. He had combined on an excellent double-team block with Nate Solder when the Pats went with that jumbo tight end set. Sebastian Vollmer also seemed to tweak an ankle but was back in no time at all.

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Defensively, Malcolm Butler rebounded from a bad day yesterday with a decent one today. Good to see him have the confidence to not let what happened Wednesday linger. He broke up a fade to Marques Colton during 11-on-11 after his fellow members of the secondary had issues. (Pat Chung beaten by Ben Watson; Brandon Cooks working on Devin McCourty, and Cooks again, this time catching a TD on Brandon Fletcher.) Later, Butler was a big reason the Pats got a coverage sack of Drew Brees, locking up Colton while Tarell Brown handled the super quick Cooks. A couple plays later, though, it was McCourty exposed in man-to-man, losing track of fellow Rutgers grad Brandon Coleman. It seems pretty clear to me that Brown is their best option at right corner, but they’ve also worked him in the slot.

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Post-practice, Brady and Garoppolo worked with resistance bands, while PGA golfer Bubba Watson watched the Saints QBs sling footballs at moving targets on golf carts.

Steelers lock up AFC North with 39-38 win over Ravens


Steelers lock up AFC North with 39-38 win over Ravens

PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Shazier was everywhere. His helmet rested on the Pittsburgh Steelers' bench. His jersey too. His face and #Shalieve stitched on specially-designed cleats. His familiar No. 50 printed in white in the middle of a gold circle on T-shirts worn by teammates searching for a way to let Shazier know he is never far from their mind as he recovers from a spinal injury that put the linebacker's blossoming career in jeopardy.

Shazier may never play football again. That doesn't make him any less of a Steeler. And the men who have taken so much from him over the last three-plus years decided it was time they gave him something back in return: the AFC North title he ordered them to lock down without him.

Chris Boswell made a 46-yard field goal with 42 seconds left and Pittsburgh's defense overcame a shaky night without their most dynamic player to shut down Baltimore's last-gasp drive and hold on for a 39-38 victory on Sunday night to capture their third division title in the last four years.

"We are riding with that guy," head coach Mike Tomlin said of Shazier. "He is strong. He is strengthening us."

Looked like it.

The Steelers (11-2) trailed by 11 points going into the fourth quarter but capped an emotionally draining week to rally for their eighth straight victory, one they couldn't wait to share with Shazier, who joined the giddy postgame celebration via Facetime.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to top 500 yards passing three times. Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards, including two long gains in the fourth quarter that allowed the Steelers to recover after blowing an early 14-point lead. Le'Veon Bell had 125 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns .

"We can win a shootout against anybody," Bell said. "I feel like we can score points whenever we need to."

Good thing, because Pittsburgh might have to. The Ravens (7-6) rolled up 414 yards against the NFL's fourth-ranked defense and recovered from a slow start to score on five consecutive drives and six out of seven to take a 38-29 lead on Javorius Allen's second touchdown with 6:44 left.

Not much time against most teams. Far too much against the Steelers.

Roethlisberger and Brown, who is mounting a legitimate MVP candidacy, hooked up on a 57-yard connection set up an 11-yard sprint by Bell with 3:29 to go. The Steelers forced the Ravens into a three-and-out and Roethlisberger calmly led Pittsburgh within field goal range, including a 34-yard lob down the sideline to Brown that set up Boswell's winner.

Baltimore's Joe Flacco threw for 269 yards passing with two touchdowns and one interception but was strip-sacked by rookie linebacker T.J. Watt on the Ravens' final snap.

"This one hurts," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We lose to them the same way we did last year. This one sucks, but we've got to get over it. Yeah, this one's going to hurt but it's best for us to have a short memory on this one because if we win out there's a good chance we'll be in (the playoffs)."

Shazier, who's been in the hospital since injuring his spine in the first quarter of last week's victory over Cincinnati, told his teammates to finish the work he helped start. Even as they celebrated an important step in a journey they hope will carry them deep into the postseason, they were making plans to keep Shazier involved, starting with a late-night trip to the hospital to deliver him his AFC North champions' swag.

"We are going to give him the hat and T-shirt tonight," good friend and fellow inside linebacker Vince Williams said.

When someone mentioned visitor's hours were probably over, Williams repeated "tonight." Then, it was home to rest before preparing for a showdown with New England next Sunday.

"That's the crazy part about the NFL, things constantly change and you've got to keep rolling," Williams said. "So you've got to find a way to roll with the punches even though it may be a haymaker, got to find a way to recover."


Linebacker James Harrison took to the field shirtless during warmups even as temperatures hovered in the low-30s, a nod to one of Shazier's pregame rituals. When Roosevelt Nix drilled Moore on the opening kickoff, Nix lifted his jersey to show the T-shirt most of the Steelers wore at some point during the night.


The Steelers fell to New England in a one-sided loss in the AFC championship game 10 months ago. They're not exactly intimidated by the prospect of facing Tom Brady and company.

"You act like they're coming in with Kryptonite, Superman and Batman and Avatars and stuff," Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey said. "Heck yeah, it's a regular football game, what do you mean? We're going to go out there, tackle the football and run the football."


Ravens: Visit winless Cleveland next Sunday. Baltimore beat the Browns 24-10 on Sept. 17.

Steelers: Will try to beat Brady and New England for the first time since 2011 next Sunday.