Michael Bennett miffed by lack of playing time in Patriots-Giants

Michael Bennett miffed by lack of playing time in Patriots-Giants

The New England Patriots have been historically dominant on defense this season. Must be because of the Pro Bowl defensive end they traded for in March, right?

One would think. But Michael Bennett was mostly a spectator Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, playing just 11 defensive snaps and failing to record any defensive stats in New England's 35-14 win over the New York Giants.

That snap total, Bennett's lowest of the season, continued a curious trend of decreased playing time for the talented veteran. Here's a look at Bennett's defensive snap totals by week, via Pro Football Reference:

Week 1: 37 (55 percent of total defensive snaps)
Week 2: 25 (40 percent)
Week 3: 19 (38 percent)
Week 4: 24 (30 percent)
Week 5: 14 (25 percent)
Week 6: 11 (22 percent)

Bennett has played in a lower percentage on New England's snaps every week since starting in the season opener. So, what gives?

Even Bennett isn't sure.

"I don’t know what’s happening,” Bennett told Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal after Thursday's game. “You have to ask (head coach) Bill (Belichick). I wish I knew. If I had a better answer, I would tell you."

“You’ve got to ask them, man. I’m just trying to do what they ask me to do."

That doesn't sound like a guy who's thrilled with his current role.

Belichick commended Bennett earlier this week for "embrac(ing) what we've asked him to do," and suggested Bennett's reduced role is simply a byproduct of the team's deep defensive depth chart.

"We rotate a lot," Belichick told reporters Tuesday. "I mean, we’ve played 20 players on defense the last four or five weeks. So naturally, when you start splitting it up between 20 guys, that’s what you’re going to get. Show me how many teams play 20 players on defense."

Defensive ends Deatrich Wise Jr., Chase Winovich and John Simon all out-snapped Bennett on Thursday night. And in truth, the Patriots' defense hasn't really needed him: The unit has allowed just three defensive touchdowns amid a 6-0 start.

It's possible New England is keeping Bennett fresh for its much more challenging schedule down the stretch. Bennett probably is hoping that's the case, as he's not really earning his two-year, $16.75 million contract from a statistical standpoint right now.

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Joe Montana: Tom Brady hinted at displeasure with Patriots at Super Bowl LIV

Joe Montana: Tom Brady hinted at displeasure with Patriots at Super Bowl LIV

Joe Montana has wondered aloud how the New England Patriots could let Tom Brady get away to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Based on the conversation he had with Brady in February, though, maybe he should have seen the QB's exit coming.

During an interview Wednesday on ESPN 97.5 Houston's "Jake Asman Show," Montana revealed he talked with Brady at Super Bowl LIV and got the sense the 20-year veteran didn't like his situation.

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"I spoke to Tom while we were back at the Super Bowl," Montana said. "I don't think he was happy with the way things were progressing there and his ability to have input, and I think that was a big decision for him to make to leave there."

Our Tom E. Curran and others have reported that Brady wasn't thrilled about having less of a say in the Patriots' offensive game plan last season, especially after New England mustered just 13 points in a Wild Card Round loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Montana's recollection of his conversation with Brady -- the two QBs were part of an "NFL 100" pregame ceremony at Super Bowl LIV -- certainly lends credence to those reports and suggests Brady was ready to move on from the Patriots after 20 seasons.

It sounds like the 43-year-old quarterback picked the right destination, too: Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich apparently joked that all he has to do with Brady under center is "get out of the way."

Here's Joe Montana's advice for Tom Brady about Patriots-Bucs transition

Here's Joe Montana's advice for Tom Brady about Patriots-Bucs transition

There's plenty of hype around Tom Brady and the new-look Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season. But there are also those who wonder whether Brady can find success without New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick -- especially at age 43.

Joe Montana has heard that line of criticism before.

Like Brady, Montana left a team he won multiple Super Bowls with (the San Francisco 49ers) at the tail end of his career to join an unexpected new club (the Kansas City Chiefs).

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Montana only lasted two seasons in Kansas City before retiring, but he actually had a strong first year, earning a Pro Bowl nod while leading the Chiefs to an 11-5 record.

So, what advice would the legendary quarterback give Brady as he gets going in Tampa Bay?

During an appearance Wednesday on NFL Network's "Good Morning Football," Montana said Brady should start with earning his teammates' trust.

"Obviously it's a little different right now with the virus in the U.S. and what they're able to do and how he was able to communicate with his new team when he got there. And I think the biggest thing is just finding a way.

"No matter what, there will always be those guys that are even a little skeptical," Montana said. " .. Until you prove that you can do it with them, there will always be (people) skeptical about it. The same thing happened (with me) in Kansas City.

"Once that happens, once you get totally accepted into there -- which I don't think will take long. Tom's not the kind of guy that makes something like that difficult, so I think it's going to be fun to watch."

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Montana's point: Brady's impressive résumé with the Patriots won't matter unless he proves he's bought in with the Bucs and committed to winning with a new group of players and coaches.

Brady started working out with his new Bucs teammates back in May (despite the COVID-19-associated risks) and is drawing rave reviews from Tampa Bay players, so it appears he's off to a good start with his new club.

With a talented group of skill players that includes ex-Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, Brady should have no trouble pulling a Montana, according to the man himself.

"They've got a pretty good team down there," Montana said. "They put up some big numbers last year, and when you add Tom and Crazy Gronk down there, I think it will be interesting."