Patriots

Spikes tries to make a statement with his hits

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Spikes tries to make a statement with his hits

FOXBORO -- Between the white lines, Brandon Spikes is as animated as they come. But for all of his mouthiness the cameras catch on the field, Spikes says it doesn't stop there.

"The whole time on the sideline I'm preaching," Spikes said Thursday. " 'Somebody make a play. Don't sit back and wait for the next man to do it.' Once one guy make a play, it goes through the whole defense. You feel the energy. You can see it."

Lately, he's answered his own call. Against the Bills in Week 4, Spikes laid game-changing hits to force two fumbles, both of which the Patriots recovered. One came on the goal line just before halftime, jarring the ball loose from Bills running back CJ Spiller. The next came in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots up seven, when Fred Jackson was knocked so forcefully that he let go of the ball.

Spikes finished the game with eight tackles in all, and his two forced fumbles were his second and third of the season, tying him for the league lead. It was a performance that inspired Patriots Hall of Famer and Comcast SportsNet analyst Troy Brown to call him the best run-stuffing linebacker in the NFL.

Generous characterization or not, it's clear Spikes is beginning to pop up on radars as one of the game's hardest hitters. And it's a reputation Spikes hopes to build upon.

"I just wanna kinda try to make a point," Spikes said. "When I hit a guy I want them to get him like, 'Oh that was Spikes who hit me. I know that already.' "

For those that don't know right away, they likely find out soon thereafter. All they have to do is listen, really. Spikes admits he's an excitable player, and after he makes a big play, he makes people aware. Oftentimes he'll yell or waive his arms or head-butt teammates.

His fellow Patriots don't seem to mind the young linebacker's energy, though.

"The way we try to play defense, you need someone like that," said Vince Wilfork, who singled out Spikes as the one Patriot by whom he'd never want to be hit.

"He gets us riled up off of hits, off of the things he says, the way he's bringing the game to him," Wilfork added. "He doesn't let the game slip away. He wants all the contact in the world. He's almost like a lineman, because of all the contact he looks for. That's a positive for us."

Spikes considers himself to be an old-school linebacker, big and unafraid. But he knows he needs to adapt his game to the here-and-now, especially when it comes to pass coverage. His performance against the Bills was a tale of two players, in a way. Yes, he showed impressive brute strength when he forced the two fumbles. But he also missed a chance to jam Bills tight end Scott Chandler before Chandler came down with a 20-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.

"Right now, as far as my performance, I've been inconsistent," Spikes said. "So if I can do all the little things and getting better each week, I feel like I'll have a great season."

Spikes has missed significant time in his short career due to injuries and a four-game suspension in 2010. He knows he's a big part of what the Patriots do on defense, and he believes that as he's matured, he's learned how to stay on the field.

"Whenever my number's called I wanna go out and play at a high level," he said. "But at the same time I gotta do all the smaller things when I'm not on the field as far as eating right, taking care of my body. When I was younger, when I first came into the league, I was still immature. I was trying to do it my way. I got a lot of great examples of guys on the Patriots I can learn from, great professionals. I just been watching them and just trying to just mimic those guys."

Something that's always been a part of his routine is playing basketball. Spikes, who fancies himself a finesse player on the court, claims it has helped his agility over the years.

And though he says hoops was his first love, it's clear by the effervescence with which he plays football that he's found his game.

"It's just something that comes natural," Spikes said. "I always have been like that. Ever since I was little I played with a lot of emotion, and I just love the game, as you can see. You can tell I'm having fun playing so it's just a part of me . . . I don't know any other way to play."

If his style continues to lead to big hits and game-altering plays, he'll never have to change.

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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