I don’t know how long Malcolm Butler’s going to be a very good cornerback or how long he’s going to be in New England, but while he is, enjoy it. He is absolutely cutthroat. How, in a game where guys were getting flagged for even thinking about holding, he and DeSean Jackson avoided getting flagged for their end-of-half fracas is beyond me. I wouldn’t be surprised if there ends up being a modest fine for Jackson, who latched onto Butler’s facemask and wouldn’t release, and for Butler who flailed a punch at Jackson that wound up hitting Duron Harmon. Lightly. 


But the bigger point is that – even though Jackson caught five balls for 106 yards, including a 24-yarder to start the Bucs final drive, Butler’s physicality on the tackle drove the slender Jackson from the game after that catch and he was a non-factor after that. There was nothing dirty about it. Butler merely took Jackson down hard and finished the tackle – the same way defenders do on Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Tom Brady whenever they get a chance. Despite the heightened consciousness for player safety, there is no way to excise the reality that whoever takes the beatings best often wins. Which brings me to …

*Tom Brady. After the Houston game, I pointed out the eye-popping rate at which he was taking punishment and figured the beatings would subside. At that point, he’d been sacked 10 times and taken (by NFL accounting) 20 quarterback hits. In the past two games (over five days), Brady was sacked six more times and hit another 14. So, 16 sacks and 34 hits through five games, which means the punishment has actually accelerated. Good thing the dude is hydrated because – from my perspective – there’s not another quarterback in the league who’d still be playing after taking the same thrashing. What’s the deal? It starts with Julian Edelman. Last night, it was exacerbated by Rob Gronkowski. 


Not having them out there means more coverage can be devoted to players who take time to uncover, which is what Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks are. So, Brady waits. And waits. And waits. And sometimes he gets sacked, sometimes he gets rid of the ball late and takes the hit anyway, sometimes he runs and gets folded over like a chaise lounge. Additionally, it doesn’t feel like they’ve yet settled into a groove with their rushing attack. They throw it 57 percent of the time on first-and-10. On third-and-2, they throw it 86 percent of the time; on third-and-3, they throw 100 percent of the time; on third-and-4, they throw 86 percent of the time. They are still too inconsistent running the ball to rely on it. 

Finally, there are inevitably plays on which the offensive linemen get beat. It’s alarming that a team which had a total of one sack through its first three games was able to get to Brady as often as it did. With the Falcons, Broncos and Raiders coming up – three very fast defenses – the beatings may continue.

*A few other quick hits...Kyle Van Noy, at first glance, got wheeled around the field like he had soap on his cleats. The Patriots are fortunate Tampa drifted away from Doug Martin and their running game in the second half. … So far this season, kickers are 20-for-96 outside 40 yards. Bill Belichick went in-depth on his decision-making prior to letting Stephen Gostkowski’s final field goal which pushed the lead from two points to five. Given the grass surface, the way the Patriots defense has yielded yards and the fact Tampa would get the ball at their own 37 if Gostkowski missed, needing just 33 yards (for a normal kicker) to be in reasonable range for a game-winner, you can see why Belichick weighed going for the first down or trying to pin Tampa near its goal line. As it was, the Bucs still had a shot at the end zone to win and if Jameis Winston hadn’t overheated on the final play and thrown it at the open back of Cameron Brate instead of waiting for him to turn, the Bucs would have had a shot to win. It was one of those 51-49 decisions where there’s no right or wrong. … Podcast coming up later today with (fingers crossed) comedian Bill Burr as the guest. We’ll also move the Friday Bag to Sunday so we can your questions in and answered and we can put something on the site for people to read so we can go apple-picking as a group on Sunday. Thank you for your support.