Patriots

Belichick steps to podium wearing Air Force hoodie: 'I'll always be a Navy man'

Belichick steps to podium wearing Air Force hoodie: 'I'll always be a Navy man'

Bill Belichick stepped to the podium at Estadio Azteca on Sunday night following his team's 33-8 win over Oakland wearing a royal blue hooded sweatshirt (sleeves cut, of course) and a smirk. 

Emblazoned across his chest: Air Force. 

After spending last week in Colorado Spring preparing for the Raiders, the Patriots coach wanted to make sure he thanked those who hosted him and his team, including Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy Lieutenant General Jay Silveria. 

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"I'll always be a Navy man, all right. Always be a Navy man," Belichick said. "But I just wanted to give a shout out and a big thanks to General Silveria and his great staff at the United States Air Force Academy for his hospitality and the week that we had there. 

"This has been a three-leg trip for us: Denver, Colorado Springs and Mexico City. We really asked a lot of the players, asked a lot of our organization, and they all delivered. We had a great nine days. We really got better as a football team. But we met all the challenges that we needed to meet head-on and tried to work through them." 

Perhaps when Belichick looks back at the week, one of the memories he'll carry with him will be what he saw from kicker Stephen Gostkowski blasting kicks through the thin air of Colorado Springs. 

The Air Force Academy's facilities are close in terms elevation to Mexico City, and Gostkowski's kicks were flying during practice. That meant that his range was better than normal, which in turn allowed the Patriots to push the envelope a bit more at the end of the first half against the Raiders. 

After having taken over possession with 33 seconds remaining deep in their own territory, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense got Gostkowski set up for a 62-yard field goal that he drilled easily as time expired in the half. That bested Gostkowski's previous career-long and it sparked a team-wide celebration with the veteran kicker at the center. 

"Our players gave a great effort tonight," Belichick said. "They came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football. Thought the execution at the end of the half, when we were able to get the field goal, obviously a great kick by Steve, but to put ourselves in that position is very much the way we talked about it and really kind of practiced it this week. That showed up at our Friday practice at Colorado Springs."

It was a case of sound preparation playing out on the field when it mattered. But Belichick acknowledged that to make a three-leg trip like theirs a success, they needed more than good practices. 

"Credit to the team and the entire organization, all our support people that did such a great job planning this trip, and making all the accommodations, doing all the work so that the players and the coaches could devote their time and energy to beating Oakland. That's a good Raider football team that we saw. Really appreciate everything that they did. Good to be going home with two wins on this trip."

The win in Mexico moved Belichick one ahead of Hall of Fame Cowboys coach Tom Landry, whom Belichick tied last week against the Broncos with regular-season win No. 270. Belichick now is in sole possession of third place when it comes to career regular-season wins for a head coach. 

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Butler's exit signs continue to shine bright

Butler's exit signs continue to shine bright

FOXBORO -- Every Friday, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi will take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or Friday Bag, as they call it.

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, give the latest edition of the Bag a read.

Eddie!!! I’m putting the chances of his return at single digits and that was before this nonsense. His explanation seemed implausible to me. You could accidentally hit the retweet button but then you have to say yes to retweeting it. I don’t know. That’s never happened to me before and I tweet entirely too much. Liking something would have made more sense. Anyway, I think he’s been a pain in the butt and I think his play has suffered this year as he eyeballs free agency and a new contract.

Miguel checking in with a tough one off the bat. Let's eliminate specialists -- Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona -- from the equation. I think Gostkowski would be the clear winner if he was in the mix. He's impacted a lot of games in a positive way for them with his field goals and kick placement. If we go outside of that trio, the question gets tougher. Matthew Slater has been unavailable for much of the season. Nate Ebner is out. And the list of solid week-to-week contributors is long. I'm going to go with Jonathan Jones, who's been out there consistently and is one of their top players when it comes to covering kicks. The Patriots are among the best in the league when it comes to opposing starting field position, and it's because of players like Jones. Johnson Bademosi, Brandon King and Brandon Bolden all deserve honorable mention, but Jones is my choice. If Patriots opponents were more willing to allow the Patriots to return kicks, then Dion Lewis would be in the running as well. But he's taking a knee more often than not.

Rich, the Patriots ask their edge players to do a hell of a lot more than just set the edge. It’s why Rob Ninkovich was an ironman on that defense for a long time, why they drafted a player like Chandler Jones in the first round, and why they were quite confident in letting Dont’a Hightower expand his role in that regard before the injuries struck. The Pats also drafted Derek Rivers but lost him to a knee injury in the summer and made that ill-fated trade for Kony Ealy. One of the reasons Ealy didn’t work here was because he was unable/unwilling to handle some of those duties, which include dropping into coverage.

Let's set it at 6.5! Any more than two catches a game over the next three, I think, would be encouraging -- or it would mean someone's been injured. There's a lot to absorb for Britt, obviously, and he's competing with a pretty deep group of pass-catchers for looks. When Michael Floyd was here at the end of last season, he caught four passes in two games, and there were no Rob Gronkowski or Brandin Cooks to absorb targets. I'm taking the under.

The Malcolm Mitchell situation is a murky one. He's been in the building. He's been rehabbing. But as far as I understand it, even he's not entirely sure if there's a plan in place to bring him back this season. I think the Britt signing further muddies the picture.

He's nice depth if the Patriots are hoping to give Mitchell the full year off to heal and be an impact player for the foreseeable future.

Vincent Valentine is in a situation where he's also doing everything that's asked of him. He was encouraged by his progress midseason, and he stuck in Foxboro through the bye week to continue to stay on his rehab plan. What's happening now with Alan Branch -- who missed practice all week because of an injured knee and almost certainly won't be available Sunday -- could impact how the Patriots view a potential return for the second-year defensive tackle. Their defense has struggled against the run. They're allowing an average of 5.0 yards per carry, worst in the league. If Branch is going to miss some time moving forward, maybe that forces the Patriots to break glass on Valentine.

My answer might've been different a month or two ago. Back then, the concerns about Andrew Luck's shoulder weren't as alarming as they are now. Back then, Giants ownership hadn't yet made a big ugly mess of its quarterback situation. I still think there are going to be enough enticing opportunities out there for McDaniels to seriously consider taking one. His choice could be the Giants, who have talent in place and the perfect bridge quarterback ready to go. It could be the Bears, if he believes in Mitchell Trubisky. It could be the Browns, if McDaniels wants to go back to the Cleveland area, and if he can stomach the way ownership has handled things in recent years, and if he likes the idea of working with new general manager John Dorsey.

I don't think the opportunities are as shiny as they were earlier this season, but they are plentiful, and now may be as good a time as any for McDaniels to make his second run as a head coach.

Well, I’d say any quarterback who loses his top two options won’t be as good, right? Also, let’s give some credit to Miami. Defensive coordinator Matt Burke came up with a good plan and there were times where Brady was clearly unsure about what he was seeing. Combine that with receivers that had a hard time separating from press man coverage and you had the perfect storm Monday night. It’ll look a lot better this weekend in Pittsburgh. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict the Pats won’t go 0-for-11 on third downs.

I do think Derek Rivers will make an impact. First of all, if his knee can get right, and indications I've gotten are that rehab has gone well, he's athletic enough to make plays on the edge. Physically, his skill set should translate. We were starting to see flashes of that in training camp before he was injured. Second of all, it looks like he's going to have all kinds of opportunity. The picture on the edge could change depending on what the Patriots do in the draft and free agency, obviously, but after Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise and Kyle Van Noy, there aren't many edge defenders who look like locks for roles in 2018.

Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy have been very good of late, but they may be asked to play more if Branch can't go. How that impacts their legs late will be worth watching. Otherwise, the tackling at the second level needs to improve -- and it should. It's not often you see someone like Patrick Chung whiff in the hole to give up a big gain, which is what happened in Miami on one of Kenyan Drake's longest runs of the night. I don't think we'll see much in the way of drastic scheme change, especially since you can't sell out against the run and leave yourself vulnerable to the pass against the Steelers. If they clean up some technique, they'll improve. And remember, the Steelers haven't been very efficient running the football this year. Le'Veon Bell averages 3.9 yards per carry. That helps.

Jordan, you gotta figure this will be an area to address in the offseason, even with Rivers and Hightower coming back from their respective injuries. Also, Alan Branch hasn’t been the same player this year and Vincent Valentine has been on IR all season. I’d say depending on what happens at left tackle (Nate Solder’s in the last year of a two-year deal). this might be where a fair amount of resources are devoted.

The Patriots very rarely double with two corners unless it's a slot player and an outside guy. They also have been prone to using their second-best corner and a safety on an opposing team's No. 1. If they use Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler on Antonio Brown, they'd be using their top two outside corners. I don't see it. What I could see is Butler underneath with a safety over the top. And in the red zone? I wouldn't be shocked to see Butler with a linebacker or a slot player bracketing Brown. Butler hasn't been all that great when it comes to excelling leverage-wise when he has help this year -- there's an art to the double team -- so I also wouldn't be surprised if Jonathan Jones saw some work as the underneath player on Brown. I'd deploy Gilmore on JuJu Smith-Schuster (who has become Pittsburgh's No. 2) and Eric Rowe on Martavis Bryant.

Sebastian, what do you mean? African or European swallow? I’ll wait for your answer . . . 

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Johnson Bademosi returns to Patriots practice, Alan Branch still absent

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Johnson Bademosi returns to Patriots practice, Alan Branch still absent

FOXBORO — Johnson Bademosi is sick. Sick of missing practice!

The Patriots cornerback returned to the field Friday after being held out Thursday due to illness. That left Alan Branch as the only absence for Friday’s practice. 

Branch, who is dealing with a knee injury, has now missed three straight days of practice. That puts his status for Sunday’s game against the Steelers in doubt.