Patriots

Postcards from Pats Camp: Day 21

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Postcards from Pats Camp: Day 21

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Brandon Lloyd returned to practice Wednesday.
Breathing again? Good.
You'll probably also appreciate hearing Logan Mankins had his first day in full pads. But the good feelings on Day 21 were tempered -- Jabar Gaffney suffered an injury to his right quad just into the second hour and missed the rest of practice.
He giveth and He taketh away.
WEATHERThe sun was blazing. Weather.com tells me it was 83 degrees, but with almost 90 humidity, the heat index must have read higher. Mary Paoletti: Amateur meteorologist.
WHAT THEY WOREFull pads.
WHAT THEY DID1:30-2:00: Walkthrough.
2:01-2:12: Running, dynamic running and stretching.
2:13: Drills. Over on the left field it looked like deconstructed special teams work. In one group, Zoltan Mesko helped some guys with punt blocking; in another, the long snapper helped with punt coverage. Elsewhere, some receivers worked on routes, and quarterbacks practiced rollouts and drops. Members of the secondary practiced basic coverages.
2:35: 1-on-1s. This is when Gaffney got hurt. A ball was thrown long out toward the sideline and the receiver put on an extra burst to get there. The pass went incomplete and Gaffney walked gingerly up the sideline. After he met with a trainer, Gaffney took off his jersey and parked it on a big orange cooler for the rest of practice. It could be taken as a positive that he wasn't taken into the locker room.
2:39: 11-on-11. Tom Brady's offensive line looked a little like this: Nate Solder at LT, Nick McDonald at LG, Dan Koppen at C, Donald Thomas at RG, and Marcus Cannon at RT. There was one beautiful play worth noting in this set. Brady looked play-action and the defense bought it. Aaron Hernandz broke away and made it into the end zone with about 10-yards of separation.
2:57: Punt! The barrel also came out but went unused. What a tease.
3:04: 7-on-7. At the back of the field the offensive and defensive lines did tandem 1-on-1s. Over around on goal post Chris Koepplin was stuck shagging for Stephen Gostkowski. He actually tried to kick a ball back to Gostkowski at one point but drilled the top of the goal post instead. The task didn't appear entertaining. The next time Koepplin hit the post he actually looked excited about it. Ah, the life of a back-up kicker.
3:26: More special teams work.
3:35: More 11-on-11.
3:49: Field goals and beat-the-clock field goals. Mesko loves waving that towel around.
WHAT WE SAWWe already talked about the big three being back (Lloyd, Gronkowski, Hernandez). For absences we're left with: Eric Kettani, Alfonzo Dennard, James Ihedigbo (off again after coming back Tuesday), Spencer Larsen, Tracy White, Malcolm Williams, Markus Zusevics, Matt Kopa, Kyle Hix, Sebastian Vollmer, Visanthe Shiancoe, Daniel Fells, Myron Pryor, Jonathan Fanene. Larsen and White made their first appearances on the field, though in shorts and t-shirts.
Gronkowski missed a ball he's caught dozens of times before. During 11-on-11, Brady threw to the tight end right over the middle. The pass was a little high, but it hit off of both Gronkowski's hands. He should have had it.
Safe to say the defense had a better day overall and loved every second of it.
Jeremy Ebert got some work on punt today. He's returned plenty of kickoffs, but punt is a different animal. Ebert probably found that out when he muffed his first attempt.
A little shoving broke out during 7-on-7 and I do believe it was between Logan Mankins and Justin Francis. Tempers fizzled out as soon as they flared perhaps luckily for Francis.
Stevan Ridley continues to get rocked. Derek Martin lowered his shoulder on the running back and sent Ridley right to the ground. Kid always seems to take an extra hit.
During the second round of 11-on-11, Brady executed a pretty little trick play. Wish I could report it.
Shane Vereen caught a ball on the end of a crossing route, much to the frustration of Brandon Spikes. The linebacker went back to the line and immediately dropped down to do some pushups.
Hoyer made a beautiful lofted throw over a defender to Julian Edelman on the sidelines.
Mallett... Oh, Mallett. He was in on two bad plays in a row before getting yanked. The first was intended for Hernandez who was crossing the middle. Pass was thrown to 81's ankles -- incomplete. Next ball bounced off Edelman's hands.
Hoyer couldn't connect with Jeremy Ebert in the corner of the end zone. Probably because Francis would have sacked the stuff out of him before the throw if that was allowed.
WHO'S HOTI'm going to give a nod to Jeremy Ebert. Muffed punts and kicks aside, he's doing better than imagined at receiver. Ebert has good hands and it making a case for himself. It would help if he was consistent on special teams, but it's early yet.
WHO'S NOTThe offense struggled. Again. More dropped passes and poor throws.
WHAT THEY SAID"That's what practice is for: Push it. I think if you don't push it to that point, you don't know how far it can go.'' -- Bill Belichick

Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

FOXBORO -- Here are some quick-hitting thoughts on the Patriots' 23-7 victory over the Falcons on Sunday night.

1) If the Patriots attacked this game believing that the best defense is a good offense . . . they were right. 

They controlled the ball for more than 18 minutes in the first half and ran for 92 yards on 18 carries (a 5.1 yards per attempt average) with four backs sharing the load. Rex Burkhead gave the team a spark with his speed and vision in his first game back since suffering a rib injury in Week 2. The success the Patriots had running the ball had the added benefit of opening up the play-action pass game and it helped protect Tom Brady. After taking two sacks in the first quarter and a monster hit (penalized for roughing the passer) from Adrian Clayborn in the second, Brady was fairly well-protected. 

PATRIOTS 23, FALCONS 3

2) Tom Brady lamented the fact that he hadn't been more accurate in the red zone of late, but he was better in that area to help the Patriots pad their early lead. 

The Patriots went 2-for-3 in the red zone through the first half, with Brady hitting on touchdown passes to Brandin Cooks (which looked more like an end-around hand-off) and James White. Brady still had moments of inaccuracy. The pass he lofted before being croaked by Clayborn was a bad one that was intercepted. (The pick was wiped after the penalty was enforced.) He threw behind Chris Hogan on multiple occasions. He also had an odd throw float well out of bounds that was intended for Rob Gronkowski. But for the most part he was on point, completing 21 of his first 29 throws for 241 yards. 

3) The Patriots defense showed up in critical moments time and time again in this one. 

They stopped the Falcons twice on fourth down, and they allowed Matt Ryan and his offense to convert on just two of their first nine third-down plays. The Falcons coaching staff deserves plenty of criticism for going for it when they did, but with a banged-up secondary, going against the reigning MVP and one of the best receivers in the league, the Patriots responded.

4) Bill Belichick's run defense was particularly impressive in the first half on Sunday night, helping keep the Falcons from getting anything going until it was too late. 

They allowed just 30 yards on nine attempts in the first two quarters (a 3.3 yards per attempt average), with Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise all making impressive stops at, near or behind the line of scrimmage. 

5) The Patriots suffered a handful of injuries to key players that will be worth keeping an eye on moving forward. 

Malcom Brown left the game in the second half with an ankle injury. Their top defensive tackle this season, Brown's absence may be one reason for why the Falcons were able to pump up their rushing yardage to triple digits by midway through the fourth quarter. Dont'a Hightower also left the game and was announced as questionable to return with a shoulder injury. Hightower has had a history of shoulder issues and so perhaps this is an older injury that was re-aggravated. Chris Hogan also left the game briefly and was evaluated for a concussion, according to NBC's television broadcast. He later returned.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE