Patriots

Belichick did indeed write letter to Trump

Belichick did indeed write letter to Trump

CSN New England confirmed this morning that Bill Belichick did indeed drop a note to Donald Trump on Monday. 

The Republican presidential hopeful, speaking in Manchester, New Hampshire on Monday night said he had the backing of both the Patriots head coach and quarterback Tom Brady. 

Trump, then read the Belichick letter onstage:

"Congratulations on a tremendous campaign. You have dealt with an unbelievable slanted and negative media, and have come out beautifully – beautifully. You’ve proved to be the ultimate competitor and fighter. Your leadership is amazing. I have always had tremendous respect for you, but the toughness and perseverance you have displayed over the past year is remarkable. Hopefully tomorrow’s election results will give the opportunity to make America great again. Best wishes for great results tomorrow.

Bill"

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Given the nationwide loathing of the Patriots, it's hard to imagine the Belichick backing will help Trump carry assorted states that hate all things Patriot. But the imprimatur certainly won't hurt in the land of Live Free or Die. 

Whenever you hear 'Rob Gronkowski' and 'back' in the same sentence, be concerned

Whenever you hear 'Rob Gronkowski' and 'back' in the same sentence, be concerned

The Patriots aren’t a “just rest him . . . ” kind of team.

As such, if the notion takes root on Sunday that Rob Gronkowski didn’t make the trip to Chicago because the Patriots thought they’d be cool to beat the Bears without him, discard it.

Bill Belichick takes great pains to point out that he doesn’t make medical decisions, the medical staff and trainers do. If a player is cleared, he’ll play. Gronk apparently wasn’t cleared so, no go. It’s not about beating the Bears with a Gronk tied behind their back. It’s about making sure he is healthy enough to play football and he wasn’t this week.

That’s why the back injury that popped up on Friday’s injury report and the fact that -- less than a day later -- Gronk was left behind is more than a mild concern.

The words “Gronk” and “back” in the same sentence are troubling given the issues he’s had with it since he was at Arizona. The last back surgery Gronk had was in 2016. His first was in 2009. He also had one prior to the 2013 season.

We don’t yet know the extent of this injury, but Gronk’s always been attuned to his football mortality. There were multiple reasons he considered retirement after last season, but health was definitely one of them.

There’s a vulnerability to Gronk that’s easily overlooked because of his goofy demeanor and the fact that he looks like the biggest kid on the playground when he’s on the field.

The injuries, the criticism he took during training camp last year, his staying away from camp and the Patriots interest in trading him, all of it seems to prey on his security in the NFL and here in New England.

After last Sunday’s win over Kansas City, when Gronk came out of mothballs in the fourth quarter and made two huge plays to put the Patriots in position to win, he thanked Tom Brady for going to him late in the game.

You saw the clip where Gronk approached Brady and said something and Brady took Gronk’s head in his hands and said, “You kidding me? Forever. Forever. You know that.” Gronk then said, “I appreciate it.” 

While there was some thought that Brady was referring to how long they were going to play, Gronk confirmed to our Phil Perry late in the week that the brief exchange was about Brady believing in Gronk late.

You and I would expect Brady to trust Gronk always. And Brady, clearly, felt the same way.

But Gronk -- who was uncommonly subdued after the game and didn’t speak to the media from the podium as he told me he would -- obviously wasn’t feeling the same certainty.

Gronk has really never felt certain about how long he’d be able to play. The specter of his body making that decision for him has been with him since he was a teenager. He’s had a bad ankle for a few weeks and now his back will keep him out of this one. The trade deadline approaches and -- for a guy who was on the block in April -- that also has to be in the back of his mind (although it’s unlikely any team would deal for him since he made clear he’s only playing with Brady).

Nobody knows better than Gronk that playing football “forever” isn’t a likely scenario.

* * * * *

It was jarring to hear Bill Belichick on Friday publicly lay the blame for three Chiefs touchdowns squarely at the feet of Devin McCourty.

Belichick will dress players down in front of the team, sure. But not from the podium. But McCourty -- who was in coverage on two (almost three) Colts touchdowns two weeks ago and another two last week when he was covering Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill -- wasn’t spared when it was mentioned to Belichick that McCourty seemed to be taking his performance hard.

“Devin's still -- he's one of our best players,” said Belichick. “We had three bad plays that cost us 21 points. Two on defense, one in the kicking game (a 97-yard fourth-quarter kickoff return). I mean there were plenty of other plays, too. But you throw 21 points up there on three plays; it's hard to have a good day when you do that.”

McCourty would be the first to admit that he hasn’t been terrific the past two weeks and he did so on Quick Slants after each of the last two games.

Belichick does nothing by happenstance. There was a reason that question wasn’t met with the standard, “We all have to play better. Coach better. Execute better . . . ” response.

It will be interesting to see how McCourty performs against the Bears who have a player similar to Hill -- Tarik Cohen -- at their disposal.

* * * * 

It was also amusing to see Belichick having no real desire to play along when asked at the outset of his Friday press conference about the Red Sox.

Q: How about those Red Sox?
 
BB: How about them?
 
Q: Any words of encouragement for them?
 
BB: I don't think they need any. Whatever they need to do, they can do. Hit, pitch, run, play defense, take pitches. They're good.
 
Q: Any message for Alex Cora? It was his birthday yesterday.
 
BB: Yeah, happy birthday.
 
Q: He turned 43 years old.
 
BB: He's doing pretty good.

It’s not Belichick’s job to pump the Red Sox’ tires. But he has in the past. So why not this time?

Could be he just didn’t feel like it. Or it could be that Red Sox owner John Henry also owns The Boston Globe, which last week dedicated a multipart series to the life, death and -- as it was framed in the stories -- exploitation of Aaron Hernandez.

Regardless of the quality of the reporting, suffice to say it’s not something the Patriots or Belichick would applaud as a journalistic triumph.

It’s been a longstanding lament in Foxboro that -- relative to the Red Sox -- the Globe gives the Patriots short shrift when it comes to coverage, story placement, tone, you name it.

No matter how many times certain Patriots walk across the outfield grass at Fenway on Opening Day with a Lombardi Trophy aloft, there’s an adversarial relationship between the two franchises.

Aside from that, Belichick has always been close with former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who took a thrashing from the Globe on his way out of town in 2011.

So maybe Belichick’s tepid Sox reaction isn’t really a big surprise. Or maybe he was just on to Chicago.

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Josh Gordon beginning to develop the right chemistry with Tom Brady

Josh Gordon beginning to develop the right chemistry with Tom Brady

CHICAGO -- You can look at completions, yards and touchdowns. You can look at snap counts. You can look at target numbers.

It's hard, though, to get a good grip on just how in sync a quarterback and his receiver are until you watch them. For Tom Brady and his outside-the-numbers pass-catchers, there's one play in particular that can provide a pretty good sense of just how far along their chemistry has developed.

The back-shoulder throw.

There's a lot involved on those. How the coverage is viewed by both receiver and quarterback matters. Timing is critical. It requires snaps upon snaps together before it's down.

But once it's refined, it can be hard to stop. Defenders want to respect the speed of the receiver while staying close enough to disrupt that in-one-motion, pivot-and-snare reception along the sideline. Yet if the rhythm is right between Brady and his target -- he and Brandin Cooks connected on multiple back-shoulder plays in 2017 -- there's little a corner can do.

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Josh Gordon is the perfect candidate to see back-shoulder attempts from Brady. He's big. He's physical at the top of his route. He uses his hands well. He has the type of speed that opponents have to be wary of.

But the back-shoulder throws Brady has sent Gordon's way haven't come close to being completed.

"I think it’s a lot of playing together and I think over a long period of time and I think the longer you play with guys, you just learn body language and they know when to expect it and look," Brady said Friday. "I think those plays -- I think timing and accuracy are important on all those ones. 

"I’ve just got to do a better job giving him opportunities to catch them. I think he’s got great hands. He’s got a great awareness and feel. I’m just so impressed with how he’s come in and learned everything and the role that he’s taken on. So I’ve got to do a better job of putting the ball in his position where he can just go up and make the play."

There were two back-shoulder tried to Gordon last week against the Chiefs. Both in the first quarter. 

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The first came on a first-and-10 play at the Kansas City 47. Gordon got an outside release off the line against press coverage. Brady eyed him off the snap and let one rip when Gordon got about seven yards from the line of scrimmage. The throw went out of bounds at about the 35. Gordon was at the 20 before he realized the play was over and stopped running. He'd looked behind him. He'd looked to the heavens. He never found the football.  

The next came later in the quarter on a fourth-and-three. Once again, Gordon got an outside release on press coverage. This time he was late to break back to the football in part because of physical coverage from the Chiefs. It looked like Gordon was about to complain for a hold after the play, but if he did it wasn't dramatic plea. He'd floated to 12 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Brady's throw -- after he'd stared down a shorter route by Julian Edelman -- went about nine. Another incompletion.

Brady and Gordon tried their first back-shoulder throw of the year against the Colts. Again, it wasn't close. Again, outside release on press coverage. Brady stared him down and waited for Gordon to make his break backwards. Gordon got to about 16 yards beyond the line in the end. At 10 he started to look back for the football. Brady was ready to throw it sooner. Eventually Brady, after motioning to Gordon to come back, threw it away well short of his target.

Though Gordon has been a significant boost to an offense that needed receiver help. He has nine catches on 15 targets for 124 yards and a touchdown in three games. He's caught slants, posts, receiver screens, comebacks, and he broke free on a scramble drill for a 34-yard score. And what he's done is certainly impressive after such a short amount of time in Foxboro.

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The back-shoulder piece is one area that Brady and Gordon can obviously sharpen, however, and Gordon feels like they have.

"I think that comes with more experience with Tom," Gordon said this week. "Certain situations, certain looks. But moving forward I think we got a good grasp on that right now. [If] the opportunity presents itself, I think we can take advantage of it this Sunday."

Whether it's been in practice, the game reps they've put in, or the conversations they've had as neighbors in the Patriots locker room, something has Gordon feeling better about where he and Brady sit when it comes to their back-shoulder opportunities. 

Maybe it's that Gordon's feeling healthy. He was running full speed for the first time in practice last week, and on Friday he indicated that he continues to feel strong despite being listed on the injury report. 

If teams know he can put it in high gear, they may be more reluctant to try to stay stride for stride with him early in routes, potentially opening themselves up to get beat long. 

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"Feels great to open up again," he said. "Full strength. Full speed. I'm able to do more, be a part of more. Show what you can do. It's been a process. Trusting the strength staff, the training staff here. Coaches [are] getting me involved and keeping me safe. It's been a great process so far."

As far as Brady's concerned, whether the improvement on their back-shoulder shots is noticeable Sunday against the Bears or not, it's bound to get better. 

"I think we’re working on it, and I think every day we’re working on it," he said. "I just think the longer we go, the better it’s going to get. It’s going to get better over the course of time and it’s not going to be one week or two weeks, it’s going to be every week. And if you just keep building, it just gets better and better and better."

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