Patriots

Here's what Bill Belichick might still want to correct after Dolphins blowout

Here's what Bill Belichick might still want to correct after Dolphins blowout

FOXBORO -- For an 18-point win, Bill Belichick's opening statement following his team's game with the Dolphins was loaded with qualifiers. 

"Well, I thought our team did a lot of good things out there today, but at the same time we left a lot of plays out on the field. We had some lapses in our play that we need to eliminate, but it was good to see the production we had in the running game, finish drives in the red area, had a couple of big plays in the kicking game . . . 

"Defensively, hit the passer, turned the ball over. We gave up 10 points on defense, so usually that’s pretty good in this league. We lost the ball on offense, could’ve tackled better, could’ve defended a couple of plays in the passing game better defensively."

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The message: For all the good that was there to be found in a 35-17 victory over a division opponent, there was plenty to clean up. 

It's often said by Patriots players that film sessions after wins are just as brutal as those following losses. Highlights are hard to find on Belichick's projection screen. Lowlights, on the other hand, are on a loop. 

Here are a few of the areas Belichick might be focusing in on this week as his team gets ready for Buffalo: 

PROTECTING TOM BRADY

Since Week 5, the Patriots offensive line had kept Tom Brady largely very clean. Even without Marcus Cannon -- arguably their best lineman -- for Weeks 10 and 11, the Patriots handled all-world rushers Von Miller and Khalil Mack. But against the Dolphins, Dante Scarnecchia's group had its hands full. Brady was sacked just once, but he was hit seven times, four of which came courtesy of Cameron Wake, who works off of the right edge and went against Cannon's replacement LaAdrian Waddle for much of the game. When Waddle left with an ankle injury, it was Cameron Fleming who was tasked with stopping the 35-year-old star. Brady took enough hits early on that he seemed to be wary of another when he forced a throw to Danny Amendola resulting in a rare interception -- just his third of the season. And it wasn't just protection issues that hurt the Patriots. Backup center Ted Karras had a snap go awry when he mistakenly thought Brady called for the shotgun toss. Instead, the ball floated past Brady, was recovered by the Dolphins, and promptly returned for a touchdown. Brady later dropped a good snap and was sacked. So even he was . . . off. Some of the continuity on the line has been impacted by injury and illness, but regardless of the available personnel, this is a group that will have its share of mistakes to remedy before heading to Buffalo.

CLEANING UP THE PENALTIES

After being called for just three penalties total in their Week 10 and 11 wins, the Patriots were flagged seven times for 70 yards against the Dolphins. Waddle, Nate Solder and Rob Gronkowski were all called for false starts. Brandin Cooks was penalized twice -- once for pass interference, once for a block in the back -- on the same play. The biggest faux-pas in terms of yardage came when Malcolm Butler was caught peeking into the backfield on a flea-flicker and then interfered with the intended receiver as he tried to recover. You can count on that being an area they'll work to clean up this week. 

SPECIAL TEAMS LAPSES

Danny Amendola's miscues in the return game are few and far between, but the Patriots almost lost possession when he tried to field a kick that he initially signaled to his teammates should be avoided. His muff was recovered by Jonathan Jones and the Patriots went on to score a touchdown on the drive. But had the Dolphins recovered, they could have changed momentum with a score. Ryan Allen got into the ugliness act when one of his punts bounced into the end zone for a touchback in the third quarter. The Patriots seemed to be within range of a long Stephen Gostkowski field goal -- at the Dolphins 34-yard line -- when they decided instead to punt. After accepting a delay of game penalty purposefully, Allen kicked from the 39-yard line and couldn't pin one down near the goal line. Instead, his kick resulted in a 19-yard net and a seemingly unhappy Joe Judge. 

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Cooks thanks Patriots for AFC championship ring in Instagram post

Cooks thanks Patriots for AFC championship ring in Instagram post

While Brandin Cooks' tenure with the Patriots was a short one, he's still "forever grateful" for his opportunity to play in New England.

The wide receiver thanked the Patriots while showing off his AFC championship ring in an Instagram post.

Cooks was huge in the AFC Championship Game, racking up six receptions for 100 yards in the Patriots' 24-20 victory over the Jaguars.

The Pats traded Cooks to the Rams in April in a package that sent a first-round draft pick to New England, which turned into offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn.

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Curran: Oprah interview underscores Brady's wavering devotion to football

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

Curran: Oprah interview underscores Brady's wavering devotion to football

The money quote from the first episode of Tom vs. Time caused massive swooning in the right-hand corner of the country.

“If you’re going to compete against me, you better be willing to give up your life,” warned Tom Brady. “Because I’m willing to give up mine.”

New England had to collectively lean against the headboard and smoke a cigarette after that.

“The guy’s got everything anyone could want and he’ll put it all on the back burner for football? And, by extension, for me, since I prefer to consume the football his team plays? Hold me . . . ”

Nobody knew then the unspoken sentences after that sentiment would have sounded like this . . . 

"But I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be willing to give up my life.

"Hell, I have three kids. They aren’t just little balls of flesh with eyes and mouths anymore, they are needy miniature humans. My wife is pretty much all set with me getting dropped out a two-story window every week and coming home in a crap mood when some 23-year-old who thinks he’s arrived runs the wrong route at practice for the 233rd time since August.

"I get paid half the dough of players half as good as me.  My boss has been wearing my ass out for almost two decades and when I try to get everyone to understand that, ‘Hey, there might be a different approach to training that’s worked great for me . . . ’ I’m Benedict Arnold. And sorry for being 40 and thinking about the rest of my life after football, advancing the ‘brand’ and not playing Fortnite. So giving up my life . . . I don’t know. Maybe next year I just try to give up a big portion of my life instead of the whole thing and see how that works out."

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That version of Tom Brady was right there. Right under the surface. The guy attached to another adult male by giant rubber bands so he could drag him around the backyard of a $5 million (or whatever) mansion while wearing a helmet and shoulder pads may actually have realized, “This seems odd.”

Judging from Brady’s 45-minute interview with Orpah Winfrey that aired Sunday, and a slew of other occasions this offseason, Tom Brady’s just not that into it the way he was.

I think you’d call the “give up my life” quote a case of whistling past the graveyard. Brady knew when he chest-puffed about sacrifice that there was an expiration date on that, but he didn’t want to acknowledge it.

Why? Horrible for the brand. Better to appear as if every cell in the organism was swimming  toward the same goal of domination without a single one of them saying, “Are you sure we’re going the right way?”

You could also call that quote a bait-and-switch. Brady’s entitled to be a complete human -- encouraged, even. But the 180 from the first episode of TvT to this offseason is nothing anyone could have anticipated based on the propaganda served. We’ve gotten a steady diet of mixed messages from Brady and those around him and responses that -- in their delivery -- invite more speculation than they douse.

With Oprah, Brady again tentatively pointed out that real life has increasingly encroached on football.

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Asked about retirement, he answered, “I think about it more now than I used to. I think I’m seeing there’s definitely an end coming sooner, rather than later. As long as I’m still loving it. As long as I’m loving the training and the preparation and willing to make the commitment.

“But it’s also, I think what I alluded to a lot in the docuseries, there’s other things happening in my life, too,” Brady added. “I do have kids that I love, and I don’t want to be a dad that’s not there, driving my kids to their games . . . my kids have brought a great perspective in my life. Kids just want the attention. You better be there. And be available to them.”

Gotham Chopra, who produced TvT, was the first to declare Brady as being year-to-year. Then, soon after, Brady’s agent Don Yee told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, "Tom's intentions have not changed. He's consistently said he'll play beyond this contract and into his mid-40s, or until he feels he isn't playing at a championship level. I understand the constant speculation, but this is one point he's been firm about."

Oprah, who despite the Harry Caray glasses just doesn’t seem that much fun anymore, did ask Brady if there is “something going on” with Bill Belichick.

Brady answered, “Umm . . . no. I mean, I love him. 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.”

The “ummmm . . . ” and averted eyes spoke a lot louder than the “no.”

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If you asked your kid, “Son, didn’t you see this pile of dog crap on the rug?” and he answered, “Ummmm . . . no . . . ” while looking away, you’d tell him to clean up the dog crap he tried to pretend he hadn’t seen.

There’s no sense turning this into another “Ah HA!” moment about there being friction. You all get it by now. I'm instead pointing it out because it’s another example of the dissembling Brady’s done this offseason, where he indicates one thing and then walks it back in the next breath.

If there is one spin-it-forward takeaway from this it might be this: Given his devotion to understatement, saying the end is coming "sooner rather than later" makes me wonder if my long-held belief Brady would retire after 2019 has to be reconsidered as being a year too aggressive. 

How was the interview overall? Fine, I guess. The two standout parts for me were actually from Oprah. The first came when she admitted being amazed that there was more depth to Brady than the person she’s seen playing football.

“Gee,” she noted, outing herself as one of a dwindling number of “gee” users. “Watching you play football, I wouldn’t have thought of you as a spiritual person or that spirituality was a kind of thing you were seeking or conscious about.”

Holy crap. It would be fun to be a speck in the Oprah universe, say a plumber fixing a drain and then mentioning aloud how much you like jazz.  

“You’re my plumber,” Oprah would say, “But you also think about things other than faucets and drains. Gee.”

The second came when Brady gave some fortune-cookie wisdom passed on to him by Gisele, saying, “We’re spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Oprah shot forward like she was hit with a cattle prod, clutched her chest and blurted, “YES! That’s one of my favorite phrases!”

Gee, she was real excited.

This post has gone on too long so I’ll chew on the other items a little later. I would have done it yesterday when the interview came out but as someone once said, “I do have kids that I love, and I don’t want to be a dad that’s not there, driving my kids to their games . . . my kids have brought a great perspective in my life. Kids just want the attention. You better be there. And be available to them.”

So I golfed. 

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