Patriots

Giardi: Patriots find a simple fix on defense

Giardi: Patriots find a simple fix on defense

NEW ORLEANS -- After giving up 42 points in the season opener, Bill Belichick gave the Patriots multiple days off. When they returned, they were given a simplified approach on defense designed to ease the mental burden on the players and allow them to play more free.

By and large, that formula worked Sunday in their 36-20 victory over the Saints.

“We just played fast and physical,” said safety Duron Harmon. “That was one of the main things: simplifying the game plan a little bit. We were getting lined up and playing. Just doing that got our confidence going early.”

PATRIOTS 36, SAINTS 20

Part of that simplification involved the defensive backs. Instead of having their cornerbacks flip sides or play almost strictly matchup football, Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia limited some of that movement, keeping Stephon Gilmore largely on one side and -- prior to his injury -- Eric Rowe on the other. Yes, Eric Rowe, who earned the start instead of Malcolm Butler.

“It really just helps if I’m nickel role -- whoever’s out there is out there -- I can just make my call and that’s the play we’re running instead of if we’re in a match mode and Malcolm could be inside (or outside). With [Drew] Brees, they go fast on offense. We just simplified the game plan so we could play faster.”

Butler wasn’t “benched.” He played quite a bit prior to Rowe’s departure and at times played very well, including separating the football from second-year wideout Michael Thomas on a deep crossing route. But he was also victimized on the Brandon Coleman touchdown that brought the Saints within 10 points in the second quarter, 20-10. 

Butler was not seen by this reporter following the game. This, after a week in which he was also not seen kicking around in the locker room during media availability. A source close to Butler told me not to read into it, “No distractions. And what is left to say? He's a Patriot right now.” That last part is an obvious reference the an odd offseason that saw then then-restricted free agent Butler visit the Saints and have both sides talk about a potential deal. A deal did happen between the two teams; it just didn’t involve Butler. Now, in Week 2, Butler doesn’t start? Rowe said he didn’t notice any issues with Butler leading up to the game.

“No, I didn’t feel through the week, or Malcolm didn’t feel that there was anything uncomfortable-wise,” he said. “I remember [switching roles] last year with Logan Ryan. It really doesn’t make a difference.”

That remains to be seen, but Butler played with energy and his usual passion, indicative of him being “the same guy” that he’s always been, according to teammates. And clearly, though Brees ended up getting his yards -- he always does -- his team only scored two touchdowns and converted just 33 percent of its third-down conversions (4-of-12). That’s another example of improved play from Week 1 to Week 2, and the efforts made to clean up some communication issues that plagued the Pats in that loss to the Chiefs.

“Oh yeah, definitely a lot smoother, a lot better than last week, but like you said, it’s not where we want it to be,” noted Harmon. “It’s the second game. We know we’re going to have some mistakes out there on the field that we can learn from. i’d rather learn from them this way than the last week.”

“We pretty much know on the sideline if we get a certain situation how we’re going to play it, so that’s not really the issue,” said Gilmore. “We just gotta keep getting comfortable with each other, know where our help is and where each other is and make plays.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Brady to Oprah on Belichick: 'We don't agree on absolutely everything'

Brady to Oprah on Belichick: 'We don't agree on absolutely everything'

Most of the highlights of Tom Brady's sit-down with Oprah Winfrey were released here and here last week before the interview was broadcast Sunday morning on Winfrey's OWN channel.

Also, in the hour-long interview, the Patriots quarterback was asked by Winfrey, amid an offseason filled with reports of tension between him and coach Bill Belichick, “Is there something going on with you and Belichick?”

“Umm, no. I mean, I love him," Brady said. "I love that he is an incredible coach, mentor for me. He’s pushed me in a lot of ways. Like everything, we don’t agree on absolutely everything, but that’s relationships.”

When Winfrey asked about his "separate training place" - the TB12 Sports Therapy Center next to Gillette Stadium that Brady and business partner and trainer Alex Guerrero have run for five years - Brady said he wouldn't characterize it as separate.

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” said Brady, who stayed away from Patriots voluntary workouts this spring, has worked out on his own with teammates, but did report for mandatory mini-camp June 5-7. “I probably do some of my own techniques a little differently than the rest of the team. The team, I would say, like most teams, is very systematic in their approach. What I learned, I guess, is different than some of the things that are systematic, but that work for me.”

Brady said he's talked about those techniques with Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Belichick restricted Guerrero's access to the Patriots sideline and team flights last season. 

“It’s nothing that I don’t talk about with my coach and owner,” Brady said. “It is what I want to do and is what I need to be the best player I can be. Hopefully, you can support that.”

More highlights from the Brady interview: 

On why he gave up his court fight in the Deflategate case and served his NFL-imposed four-game suspension:

"Too much anxiety," Brady said. "And I realized I couldn't win." Watch that clip here: 

[embed]

How this Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in February was a little easier to take than his others, watch here: 

[embed]

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

James Harrison on Patriots' culture: 'I didn't have a problem with it’

James Harrison on Patriots' culture: 'I didn't have a problem with it’

As adversaries and former players openly wonder if the football culture in Foxboro is "fun" enough, recently-retired Pittsburgh Steelers legend James Harrison is asking, why does it matter?

In an interview with CBS Sports Network earlier this week, the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year reflected on the final stop of his 15-year career, the Patriots, who signed him late in the 2017 regular season after Pittsburgh released him, as insurance for New England as they geared up for their run to Super Bowl LII.

The biggest takeaway from his time with the Patriots?

"Discipline. That’s the big thing," the five-time Pro Bowler said. "They’re not going to ask you to do anything that is outside of what you’re capable of doing. And it’s, you learn the system and you go out there and you play it. And like I said, it's very regimented, so if you’re a guy that’s not used to discipline, you’re not going to like it there."

Harrison said it was even stricter than his years with former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, with whom he won his first Super Bowl in 2006.

"Cowher wasn't as regimented as Bill [Belichick] was," Harrison said. "Like I say, I didn’t have a problem with it. You know, I enjoyed my time there, you know, I thanked them for the opportunity they gave me to continue to play."

Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson has repeatedly mocked the Patriots since his team them in Super Bowl LII, calling them "arrogant" and a "fear-based organization", even telling the Pardon My Take podcast, "I'd much rather have fun and win a Super Bowl than be miserable and win five Super Bowls."

Meanwhile, 49ers defensive end Cassius Marsh, who was released after eight games with the Pats in 2017, says he hated his time in New England and didn't have fun, telling the San Francisco Chronicle, "I confronted [Belichick] about all the things that were going on. I won't get into detail, but it was B.S. things they were doing. It just wasn't a fan."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE