Take your pick: Wes or Aqib? MORE: More Lakers laughs


Take your pick: Wes or Aqib? MORE: More Lakers laughs

In this corner . . .

One of the most prolific receivers in Patriots andor NFL history. He's 5-foot-9 and soon-to-be 32 years old. He's tough as nails, best buddies with your Hall of Fame QB and for the last five years has been at the center of the best offense in football. He also happens to be the man at the center of two of the biggest drops this region has ever seen.

And in this corner . . .

A 6-1, 27-year-old defensive back. A former first round pick with first round talent, but one that comes with all kinds of baggage. Still, there's no question as to what he can do for your defense. When he joined the team this year, the worst secondary in the league became passable. When he got hurt in the AFC Championship, everything fell apart.

I just finished reading Tom E. Curran's piece on the upcoming crop of Patriots free agents, and it's impossible to argue with his analysis of New England's three top priorities.

Sebastian Vollmer. Wes Welker. Aqib Talib.

For some reason, I want to put Vollmer in his own category here.

Why? I don't know. I just do, and I want to ask the question: If you could only bring back one of the other two guys, who would it be: Welker or Talib?

I'm really tempted to go with Talib, and to be honest, as much as I hate to type this, I think it has a lot to do with Welker's decreased reliability. This past year, in the aftermath of his drop in the Super Bowl, Welker let more balls go through his hands than we've ever seen. It got to the point where you could count on at least one drop a game, and last Sunday, that one drop was once again a huge factor in the Pats coming up short.

I write the above paragraph with unbelievable respect for what Welker has done, and total confidence that if he does return to the Pats, he'll be destined for another 100-catch season. But in the playoffs, when a shutdown corner (or at the very least a legit No. 1 corner) is so enormously important, and dropped passes are magnified 100 times over . . . Who's more important to the Patriots long term success?

Yeah, I'm falling victim to the temptation and going with Talib. In a perfect world, bring them both back. The Pats are a better team with Talib and Welker. But if there's only one, I'm in the corner's corner.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

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? 


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.