Patriots

Brady offers some protection for Patriots offensive line

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Brady offers some protection for Patriots offensive line

FOXBORO – Tom Brady took a proactive approach to protecting his offensive line on Wednesday. 

After 16 sacks and innumerable hits in five games landed him an MRI tube with a tender left shoulder, Brady made sure blame for his bludgeoning didn’t land at the feet of the five who block for him. 

“I think those guys have done a great job, I really do,” said Brady. “I think they’re fighting their butts off on every play. The ball’s got to come out on time and (I have to) find the open guy and cut it loose. You know, we’ve got to do a good job of that at the quarterback position. I love that group up front. We’ve got great tackles, great center, great guards. We’ve been in some competitive games and we’re going to keep fighting. That’s where it’s at.” 

Brady was at practice Wednesday but didn’t take any meaningful reps. He had a bemused look on his face as he fielded questions about his status, saying finally, “Yeah, I’ll be there Sunday. Don’t worry about that. I’ll be there.”

Brady then veered into a sometimes overlooked aspect of why he’s been taking a thrashing. Game situation. 

When asked about the upcoming challenges after Sunday’s game against the Jets – Joey Bosa of the Chargers, Von Miller of the Broncos, Khalil Mack from Oakland and the speedy Atlanta front-seven – Brady said that starting fast would be a nice way to neutralize the heat. 

“You’ve got to play the game on your terms,” said Brady. “I think we haven’t done a great job of that, and not playing great football early in the game doesn’t really get you the lead, so you’re trying to fight and claw back the whole way, throw the ball. You know, your run-pass ratio gets way out of balance, so you’re throwing it all the time, which we’ve been doing, and it just gives them more opportunity.”

Aside from the beating they gave New Orleans in Week 2 and the AFC Championship pantsing of Pittsburgh, the Patriots have been nip-and-tuck in six of their last eight games. And that's a departure from the norm of 2016 when they spent an ungodly amount of time in the lead and didn’t trail after Week 12 until they faced Atlanta. 

In that game, the Patriots trailed for 63 minutes and 57 seconds and didn’t hold a lead until the game ended. In the opener this year, New England was up 17-7 on KC but coughed that lead up and trailed the entire fourth quarter. In Week 3, the Patriots biggest lead was eight and they trailed almost the entire fourth quarter. They trailed the final 30:26 against Carolina. The biggest lead against Tampa was nine points. 

“If you have a three touchdown lead in the third quarter, it’s different,” Brady shrugged. “You’re probably much more balanced on offense, and we’ve been a part of those quite a few times. If you’re losing by two scores, you’re just throwing it every down. You’ve just got no choice, and that’s – again, they can’t sack you if you’re handing the ball off.”

Brady then switched lanes quickly before it sounded like he gave a damn about getting hit. 

“I’m not concerned about that. I’m really not,” he said. “We all want to do a better job. We’re all trying to play better. Certainly, no one feels great about where we’re at right now, but there’s a lot of football left and we’re going to keep battling. Like I said, I have so much confidence in our offensive line and what we do every week, their preparation, their effort, their toughness, how well they’re coaching, everything we’re trying to do up front. From my standpoint, I’ve got to find the guy that’s open and get rid of the ball. That’s what I’m going to do.”

Brady mildly disputed the link between downfield throws (of which the Patriots have had more than their norm) and the hits he’s taking. 

“I think correlation can be made between a lot of different things with statistics and so forth,” he cautioned. “We’ve been pretty efficient throwing it this year, so just had probably not great execution. I think that’s what we’re trying to improve. If you call a quick pass, you’ve got to get it out on time. You call an intermediate pass, it comes out on time. You throw a deeper pass – everyone knows, and that’s what we’re trying to do. So I just think it’s the overall level of execution. Certainly, if I play better, it will help all of us.”

With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we're looking at the position group that received more attention than any other during Super Bowl 52: Cornerback. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


No single position group experienced as many dips, climbs and dives as Patriots corners did during their rollercoaster season. In September alone, the communication was a mess, Malcolm Butler got benched, Stephon Gilmore got benched, and Eric Rowe suffered a serious groin injury that allowed Gilmore to quickly get his job back. Second-year special teams standout Jonathan Jones might've been the team's best cover man at that juncture. Then, as soon as Gilmore started to find his footing, he was diagnosed with a concussion. The group started to put it together in the second half with solid performances against the Raiders in Mexico City and the Bills in Buffalo. Gilmore was particularly strong as the season wore on, showing the man-to-man cover skills and the knack for getting his hands on footballs that made him one of the highest-paid players at his position last offseason. But in the end, in the Super Bowl, with Butler benched again, the group (outside of Gilmore, who played well against Philly) had too many letdowns in what was arguably the team's worst defensive performance of the season.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Gilmore, Rowe, Jones, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz

WHO ISN'T?
Butler, Johnson Bademosi

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?

The Patriots played Rowe in prominent roles in each of the past two Super Bowls and he seems to be first in line to take over No. 2 duties with Butler certainly headed on to a new chapter in his career. Jonathan Jones showed in spurts that he could be an effective slot corner, but he suffered a season-ending injury in the Divisional Round and it's unclear what the Patriots will be expecting from him in 2018. Cyrus Jones is coming off of a torn ACL, and even before his injury, it looked like he may have a hard time cracking the regular rotation. This is one position -  like tackle  - that the Patriots don't want to be left thin. If we had to rank it, the need for another capable body would probably come in at about a 7 out of 10. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There are a handful of relatively big names who will be on the market come March, including Butler. Trumaine Johnson of the Rams figures to be at the top of the class. Vontae Davis of the Colts is 29 and often injured, but in a corner-needy league, he shouldn't have much trouble finding a team. EJ Gains of the Bills could leverage his inside-out versatility to come away with a deal worth almost $10 million per year. Aaron Colvin of the Jaguars, Patrick Robinson of the Eagles, Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Rams and Leonard Johnson of the Bills give teams in need of slot help some options. Kyle Fuller of the Bears and Morris Claiborne of the Jets are two former first-rounders who've had up-and-down careers but showed last season they have still value on the outside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?

It feels like the best athletes at the high school and college levels are getting smarter. Or their coaches are. Once again, there's a deep group of athletes peppering the incoming draft class at corner, which is, of course, one of the highest-paying positions in football. (Why so many top-tier athletes are still playing running back, on the other hand, is beyond me.) Alabama's hybrid star in the secondary Minkah Fitzpatrick will be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. Same goes for Ohio State's undersized burner Denzel Ward and Iowa's ball-hawking 6-foot-1 cover man Josh Jackson, in all likelihood. At the bottom of the first round, though, players like Auburn's Carlton Davis (who has drawn comparisons to Richard Sherman because of his length and ball skills) and Colorado's Isaiah Oliver (a one-time Pac-12 decathlete with a 6-foot-1 frame) could be available. Would the Patriots want to invest a first-round pick at that spot? If they feel like they have good depth at the position already on the roster but want to take a flier on a mid-round selection, they could hope Louisville's Jaire Alexander (who dealt with injuries in 2017 that will probably hurt his draft stock) lasts into the third round. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


One name that's sort of intriguing on the free-agency market is Davis'. You've heard tales similar players ending up in New England before. He's spent the majority of his career without much of a shot at a title - though his Colts made the AFC Championship Game in the 2014 season. He should be low-cost. He had season-ending groin surgery last year, was released in November and went unclaimed. He'll be 30 before the start of next season, but he may be worth a roll of the dice to help a relatively young Patriots secondary. If he doesn't pan out, no harm done. Hard to envision Belichick and Nick Caserio investing big money into this position with Gilmore on the roster, but maybe they'll deem one of the free-agent slot options worth a shot if he's cost-effective. Otherwise, the Patriots may try to take advantage of a draft that seems - at least right now - as if it's deeper at corner than it is at some other spots on the defensive side of the ball, like on the edge.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Report: James Harrison could return to Patriots

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Report: James Harrison could return to Patriots

James Harrison was a larger than life figure during his time in Pittsburgh. 

It was as if God molded him to be a member of the Steelers: massive, physical, and an absolute bruiser.

But at the end of the day he is a football player. And athletes in this sport don't particuarly like time on the bench.

Mike Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers organization were reminded of this fact in a very harsh manner.

At the end of the December, Harrison made a late season move to sign with the Patriots. It left his former teammates in Pittsburgh frustrated, and his former fans confused.

But at the end of the day he just wanted to be on the football field again. And that's exactly where Belichick put him.

Harrison had the opportunity to appear in many more situations, and had several sacks at the end of the season.

Now there is a new report from Christopher Price of the Boston Sports Journal that he could re-sign with the Patriots in 2018.

A source close to Price and Harrison said "there's a reasonable chance" that he could be on the roster next year.

He will be playing this upcoming season at age 40, and has previously stated he'd like to play one or two more seasons.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE