Patriots

Butler earns praise from Belichick, Patricia after wire-to-wire performance

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Butler earns praise from Belichick, Patricia after wire-to-wire performance

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler left Sunday's win over the Texans feeling pretty good about himself. One week after being relegated to the No. 3 corner role on the Patriots defense, he played every snap and allowed just two catches for 10 yards.

“I think I’m building,” Butler said afterward. “I think I’m taking it a step at a time. There’s a lot of football to be played, so whatever you see, judge me.”

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And we have. There was the pass-interference penalty in Week 1. There was the botched pick-play coverage with Patrick Chung in Week 2. But even with those mishaps mixed in, Butler's energy and effort did not seem to wane on film.

He caught Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill for a tackle from behind to prevent a first down in the season-opener. Against the Saints, his hard pass breakup on top Saints wideout Michael Thomas was a bright spot for the Patriots secondary.

In Week 3, that effort was there again. Targeted twice while in coverage on DeAndre Hopkins, Butler did well to jam Hopkins at the line of scrimmage and then limit the game's highest-paid receiver to zero yards after the catch.

When asked about Butler on Tuesday's conference calls, both Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia struck tones that were strikingly different than the ones that made headlines when discussing Butler the week prior.

"Yeah, I think Malcolm did a good job," Belichick said. "I mean, all of our defensive backs I thought were pretty competitive. We had some scramble yardage and loose plays and things like that. But I mean, the normal passing game we were pretty competitive on. But like anything else, there are certainly a lot of things we can do better."

That goes for Butler, too, who admitted last week that he hadn't been playing up to his standards.

On one of those scramble-drill plays Belichick referenced, Deshaun Watson found tight end Ryan Griffin for a 35-yard gain, which included several yards after the catch when Butler was among the defenders who missed the chance to try to wrestle Griffin to the ground.

There were occasions though -- like Watson's first-quarter third-down scramble that Butler helped to stop, forcing the Texans to kick a field goal -- when Butler's want-to was evident.

"I thought Malcolm played really well," Patricia said. "We certainly didn’t play great at all as a defense. I’m not saying that but I think the guy really tried to go out and play extremely hard. 

"This is a very competitive guy. Malcolm steps up to the challenges that you place in front of him. He goes out and competes, he works hard, he tries to do it the right way and he really tries to get better every week. Look, we had a productive week last week for him and working through. But it’s a new week and we’re going to try to get the same consistency every single week and that’s what we’re trying to do."

A week ago, when asked about Butler's performance, Belichick and Patricia weren't quite as glowing.

"I don’t think anybody’s performance this season is really where it needs to be or where it will be," Belichick said at the time. "We all need to do a better job."

"I think with Malcolm, he’s kind of in a boat with everybody else," Patricia said. "We’re trying to get better."

Part of the reason Butler may have been relied upon as much as he was could have been due to the fact that fellow corner Eric Rowe -- who started in Week 2 opposite Stephon Gilmore -- was inactive with a groin injury. 

How Butler will factor in against the Panthers in Week 4 remains to be seen, but if his work against the Texans improved his confidence, then that would seem to benefit the Patriots defense as a whole. 

"Things that we're confident in," Belichick said, "we do more aggressively, we do quicker, we do with probably better overall execution than things we're not confident in . . . 

"It’s a fine line there between confidence and overconfidence and taking it for granted, as opposed to just being right in that sweet spot of having an edge, having confidence, being alert and aggressive."

Curran: A look back shows how much Brady yearns for sixth ring

Curran: A look back shows how much Brady yearns for sixth ring

I spent some time last week trying to reconcile Tom Brady’s “sooner rather than later” statement to Oprah and the ensuing Instagram comment where he re-asserted -- in Spanish -- that 45 was his target retirement date, Brady said a lot last offseason. In more aggressively marketing the TB12 Sports Therapy, he did more national interviews that I recall him ever doing

One was with ESPN’s Ian O’Connor last May

Their conversation was stuffed with interesting quotes, but one that stuck out to me was his open pining for a sixth Lombardi.

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"The great part is the next one for me is No. 6," Brady told O’Connor. "And I'm not on No. 1. I'm trying to reach No. 6 and I'm on No. 5. If I got to No. 6, that would have great meaning to me.

“It's not trying to keep up with my idols,” he added. “It's not Magic, Jeter, Mariano [Rivera], Kobe, Duncan, guys more my age who I always admired. I just want to win because I owe it to my teammates. I'm working this year like I have none, and hopefully it results in a magical season."

While behind-the-scenes friction may have sapped enjoyment from 2017, the chance to get No. 6 was right there in Minnesota. Brady opened up his life in an unprecedented way in 2017 with the Tom vs. Time documentary and myriad interviews like the one with O’Connor in which he seemed to take more stock of what he was in the midst of accomplishing. It was all building to a climax.

And the Patriots didn’t win. And Brady -- despite throwing for 505 yards and three touchdowns -- was stripped with 2:16 left and the Patriots trailing 38-33.

That might be his first lament if he spoke candidly about how crushing it is to get so close and fall short. He had the ball with a chance to go down and score and the Eagles stopped his offense. Stopped him. But at some point, you have to believe he’d get to the absurdity of having to put up 40 on the Eagles to even have a chance at winning. That the Patriots couldn’t get off the field defensively, yet they still left Malcolm Butler holstered all night.

As angry as Patriots fans remain about that game and the lack of explanation for Butler’s benching, imagine Brady’s bitterness. It meant everything to all of them, but Brady -- in his comment to O’Connor -- indicated that No. 6 would have held special meaning for him.  

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Brady bristled when O’Connor suggested he was the greatest player the league’s ever seen, saying, "I don't agree with that. I know myself as a player. I'm really a product of what I've been around, who I was coached by, what I played against, in the era I played in. I really believe if a lot of people were in my shoes they could accomplish the same kinds of things. So I've been very fortunate.”

Still, his resume with No. 6 and a 6-2 record in Super Bowls would have been unassailable and, quite likely, an unbreakable record. Think about it. As brilliant as Aaron Rodgers is, he’s played in one Super Bowl. John Elway, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre combined for six Lombardis. Six Super Bowl wins would have looked like Cy Young’s 511 wins and Wilt’s 50.4 points per game.  

Another quote from the O’Connor interview that caught my eye was this one. “I don't like conflict,” Brady said. “It's just inherent in who I am."

That was May. He had no way of knowing what the next 10 months would bring. Or that he’d ultimately come tantalizingly close to No. 6, fall short and then realize he’d have to start all over again and play just as well at 41 to even get in position for another shot at a half-dozen. 

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Julian Edelman's appeal of suspension taking place Monday

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Julian Edelman's appeal of suspension taking place Monday

Julian Edelman's suspension appeal hearing is being heard on Monday, more than two weeks after news broke that he was facing a four-game ban for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy.

Dan Graziano of ESPN was the first to report the date of Edelman's appeal hearing. 

Per Graziano's report, Edelman's defense will be focused on the recognizability of the substance that triggered the positive test. (The MMQB's Albert Breer reported that the substance was not recognized by league drug testers.) Another aspect of Edelman's defense, according to Graziano, "involves a mishandling of the documentation and delivery of Edelman's test results." 

Edelman will lean on the counsel of attorney Alex Spiro during his defense. Spiro is a New York-based partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan, LLP with plenty of New England connections. 

Spiro graduated from Wellesley High, Tufts University and Harvard Law, and he's handled a number of high-profile cases. He helped indict and convict Rodney Alcala, the "Dating Game" killer. Spiro was a member of Aaron Hernandez's defense team -- along with Jose Baez and Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. -- in Hernandez's double homicide trial. Spiro also represented Utah Jazz forward (then a member of the Atlanta Hawks) Thabo Sefolosha when Sefolosha was found not guilty of misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest stemming from an incident in 2015. Sefolosha eventually earned $4 million from New York City in a settlement.