Patriots

Tebow '11 = Brady '01? Some see similarities

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Tebow '11 = Brady '01? Some see similarities

DENVER - The 2011 Broncos were 1-4 when Tim Tebow made his first start for them this season. Eight games later, they are 8-5.The 2001 Patriots were 0-2 when Tom Brady made his first career start. After Week 13, they were 8-5. While Tebowmania is a national phenomenon, people in New England only need to look back a decade to realize the situation happened here first. An overlookedquarterback taking over a lagging team going nowhere and - by dint of his charisma, execution and smarts - turning it into a winner.

"You can't say enough about that kid. He has a tremendous amount of confidence. He has led this team. Maybe he doesn't have the most impressive statistics, but it doesn't matter. The kid knows how to win. He knows how to motivate other players. My hat is off to the guy."

That was Patriots wide receiver David Patten in 2001 after the Patriots won the Super Bowl. And it's just about the same party line being spouted on Tebow right now.

As Brady and the Patriots continued to roll up wins in 2001, his success actually became a controversy. Having gotten the chance to start because of Drew Bledsoe's severed artery suffered in Week 2 of that season, people believed Bledsoe was getting a raw deal. And the rush was on to discredit Brady's success as beginner's luck and talk about how he was running a dumbed-down offense that didn't reveal his weak arm.

But the team-wide confidence Brady seemed to somehow imbue an ailing organization with was palpable.

"We discovered how fierce of a competitor he is," Lawyer Milloy said before the 2002 season. "I'll never forget the time I spent with him in Pittsburgh before the championship game. We had dinner and just really had a chance to bond, to talk like we never had before. "Well, I walked away from that meal thinking, 'As long as he's leading us on offense and I'm leading the defense, we are going to be OK for a while.' "

Broncos coach John Fox won't try to pin down his quarterback's ability to raise his teammates' level of play, but he says it there.

Its hard to define," said Fox. "Theres no question that he has that spirit and that spark and the trusting of his teammates. To say its all him, I dont know that it would be fair, either, but hes a part of it. Theres no doubt.

Troy Brown was Brady's No. 1 receiver in 2001 and he's fascinated by Tebow's rise.

"We can talk about Denver and their playing sucky opponents . . . whateverTim Tebowhas said or speeches he's made, there's something about him right now that has this team believing," said Brown.

Similar to Brady?

"The same feeling," Brown insists. "Tom was always a confident guy. I remember talking with (fellow receiver Vincent Brisby) and Tom would interact with starting receivers and ask what we expected. At the time he was a third team guy and he was acting like he was playing tomorrow. This wasat OTAsand minicamps. You kind of saw something different about the guy. You'd think, 'This guy looks about 150 pounds. He's frail, thin but his compete level is through the roof.'

"Having Tom gave us that spark the way Tebow is having out in Denver. Some people have that in them to make people want to rally around them."

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

FOXBORO -- Stay low. Drive off the tight end's inside shoulder. And whatever you do, keep your feet. You don't want to be falling into kicker and picking up a penalty. 

Those were the kinds of things that were bouncing around somewhere in Cassius Marsh's subconscious as he lined up to try to block Falcons kicker Matt Bryant's field-goal attempt from 37 yards away at the end of the first quarter. Swimming past his blocker off the snap, Marsh got both arms extended and into the path of Bryant's kick, knocking it down and giving his team a boost. 

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"Guys work hard on that every week," Bill Belichick said after his team's 23-7 win. "Cassius has gotten some opportunities in practice. It’s hard to block Steve [Gostkowski]. Steve gets good height on the ball, gets the ball off quickly. I think this one with not quite as much height maybe as Steve's ball, or at least what Steve's balls were in practice, Cassius got a hand on it. 

"It was a big play for us because, again, we worked so hard on that and that’s everybody across the board. That’s all 11 guys, not just the guy that blocks it. The other guys have to do their job and if they block Cassius and take him away then that gives somebody else an opportunity so we never know how that’s going to go. We just want everybody to come hard and do their job right and wherever the opening is it is. That was a big play for us . . . 

"You can see the whole team – we were all excited. Sideline, players, guys on the field. That was a big moment for us. Our special teams units work very hard. They take a lot of pride in their job. The return teams, the coverage teams, the field goal and the field goal block team. It’s good to see that hard work pay off in a big play like that."

It was a big enough play that it earned Marsh a high-five from his coach. Marsh laughed about his reception on the sideline, remembering that the last time he got that kind of recognition from Belichick it came after a Week 4 sack.

"That's pretty much it that I can remember," Marsh said, beaming. "He only really smiles in situations like that so you've gotta cherish those moments."

The Patriots recovered at their own 26-yard line and embarked on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to get them on the scoreboard.

"With the defense playing as well as they were, to be able to preserve the shutout at the time was big," said special teams captain Matthew Slater. "Those are huge momentum plays when you're able to block a kick. It's not a traditional play that happens every game. Huge play. A UCLA guy stepping up, who would've thought? 

"You gotta tip your hat to those guys because they coach that, they work that and sometimes it seems like, 'Man, why do we continue to do this?' But it paid off for us tonight. You tip your cap to not only Cash but the rest of the guys on that unit." 

While Marsh's block was the highlight, it was a strong night overall for New England's special teams units. Every Falcons drive started inside their own 30-yard line, and Gostkowski had kicks returned to the 12, 19 and 18 before they were stopped.

Slater called it the most complementary game the Patriots played all season. Offense, defense, special teams. They all worked together to make Sunday perhaps their most dominating performance of the year. 

"That's the effort that we've been looking for and striving for all year," Slater said. "I think that's a good starting point for us. Lot of football left. Nine games left so we're going to have to continue to do it and be consistent week in and week out."

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Butler credits improved Patriots defense for 'playing smarter'

Butler credits improved Patriots defense for 'playing smarter'

As safety Duron Harmon emerged from the showers following the Patriots 23-7 win over the Falcons, he noticed a crowd gathered by his locker. As one of the captains of the team - and a man nicknamed by teammates as “The Voice” because of his ability to articulate the right words at the right time, the affable safety is a must listen postgame. But for a change, Harmon knew the mass gathering of media wasn’t there for him - at least not yet. We were there for Malcolm Butler, who had just played his best game of the season.

“You all want to talk to Malcolm?” Harmon sang. “I’d want to talk to Malcolm too.”

Devin McCourty got in on the act as well with some good-natured chirping in Butler’s direction. Both safeties were energized by the victory but also, it seemed, by the performance of a player they’ve come to rely on in games just like this. 

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“Awww man, Malcolm. . . Malcolm was great for us,” said Harmon later. “We need that.”

It's hard not to draw the parallel between Butler having his best performance of the season a week after making two of the biggest plays in the game against the Jets. He did all this while the man who indirectly caused so much of the 28-year old’s troubles - Stephon Gilmore - hasn’t been able to play because of a concussion. Meanwhile, an undrafted player in his 6th year, Johnson Bademosi, has emerged opposite Butler to play very sound football.

“Communication,” said Butler of the team’s defensive improvements. “Just playing smarter and better. That’s all.”

Butler himself didn’t want to spend much time analyzing his own performance. That’s usually not his thing. And it wasn’t as if that performance was perfect. Far from it. But Butler’s energy was evident right from the jump. He stuck his nose in there on running plays to his side, including a terrific submarine tackle of Tevin Coleman in the opening quarter. Butler also got his fair share of Julio Jones over the course of the night. Even though he surrendered that late touchdown to the Falcons wideout, he showed not only a willingness to play the big dog, but to go right at him. That is - after all - a Butler trademark. 

“Just competing,” said Butler. “Great player; you just got to compete.”

It’s not just competing, but it’s playing with confidence, something Butler said was an issue for him in the aftermath of his snap reduction in New Orleans. But now? That seems long gone and hard to find.

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