Patriots

Giardi: Elusive 2015 version of Dion Lewis has returned

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Giardi: Elusive 2015 version of Dion Lewis has returned

Dion Lewis has adopted a mantra this year, “I’m small but I’m not little.” If you’ve been paying attention over the past couple of weeks, the Patriots’ running back has spit that line back at reporters, usually doing it with a confident smile. 

His point is that people might be confused by his lack of height and think Lewis is a scatback-type. Hardly. That 5-7  (maybe…) body packs more power pound for pound then even backs 15 to 20 pounds bigger.

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“Yeah, I mean I agree with that,” said Bill Belichick on a conference call Tuesday. “I think there are a lot of backs that fit into that category, that are short but not small guys. They have good lower body strength, can take contact and run through arm tackles and can run through contact. I would definitely put him [Lewis] in that category. He’s got good balance, good lower body strength and good vision but when guys get a shot at him he’s able to maintain his balance and get through a lot of those hits. I think that’s a credit to his strength, power and balance. He’s short but he’s not a little guy. I agree with that.”
 
“Dion is not thin. That’s for sure,” noted offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “He’s got power, he’s got quickness, he’s got speed. He does a lot of things well and sometimes he can be difficult to find back there from the defense’s perspective.”
 
Sunday was the most recent example of good things coming in small but powerful packages with Lewis. He had 18 touches against Oakland and forced 10 missed tackles by my count. 10. That’s exactly what Lewis did when he burst onto the scene at the start of the 2015 season, becoming one of the league’s biggest surprises before blowing out his knee. His performance this season - starting in Week 5 in Tampa - shows that he’s back to being that same player.
 
“I don’t know where he’s at relative to what he was,” said McDaniels. “That’s really no one’s concern. He’s playing well and he’s got a good solid role on our team and does whatever we ask him to do to help us win each week.”
 
Lewis was ready to run long before the Pats made him the focal point of their backfield. His carries backed that feeling up. Yet his snap count was on the low end. Perhaps the Pats wanted to give Mike Gillislee first crack. Or maybe they wanted to see how Lewis’ knee responded to a long training camp during which he got so many touches and snaps some wondered if he was being shopped or in danger of being cut. Privately, the Pats insisted that wasn’t the case, that they were still bullish on the 27-year old’s ability. That faith is now being rewarded.

“He did a lot of good things for us in training camp,” said Belichick. “We gave him a significant amount of playing time in the preseason games, including kickoff returns, and so I think he’s done a good job all year. How he feels he can answer that better than I can, how it feels as compared to some other point in time. But he’s out there, he’s doing everything, I think he’s done well.”
 
The better he performs, the more it’s clear he’s the best option the Pats have at that position. Lewis can change a game and do it in a variety of ways.
 
“This guy is just a unique player with a unique skill set that we enjoy having around here,” said McDaniels. “I think Dion has proven over time he can do and contribute in a lot of different areas. We’ve seen him do it as a kickoff returner, as running back getting the ball handed to him, we’ve seen him do it as a blitz pick-up guy on third downs, we’ve seen him do it as a back catching the ball out of the backfield like he did the other day and we’ve seen him extend from the formation. He’s smart and he’s tough and he cares about playing hard...He’s a guy we’re fortunate to have.”
 

Curran: Brady's waffling is a little wearying

Curran: Brady's waffling is a little wearying

Somebody needs to tug on Tom Brady’s sleeve and let him know that fun’s fun, but he’s drifting into Brett Favre territory now.

Forty-eight hours hadn’t passed since the Oprah Orchard Interview in which Brady said his retirement was coming “sooner rather than later” and there he was on Instagram Tuesday afternoon insinuating in Spanish that he’s back to playing until he’s 45

Given that he’s 40 right now and his contract expires at the end of the 2019 season, 45 seems like later not sooner.

That’s standard fare this offseason.

There was Couch Brady in the Super Bowl aftermath, wondering what he’s doing it for anyway.

We had Robert Kraft in May saying that “as recently as two days ago [Brady)] assured me he’d be willing to play six, seven more years.

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Gotham Chopra, who produced TvT, said in March, “I think this idea that he’s going to play for four or five more seasons -- I mean, this is just me, the guy who has been around him for a while now -- I’d have a hard time envisioning that, to be candid. But we’ll see.”

Last month, Brady said he’s negotiated “two more seasons” with his wife, Gisele Bundchen.

During TvT, he said he was chasing “two more Super Bowls. That can be shorter than five or six years.” 

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."

I’m not feeling the firm. Nor, it seems, are most people who have grown weary of the ping-ponging expiration dates Brady keeps floating.

I think you have to be either absent-minded or amazingly entitled to say with a straight face that Brady “owes” the Patriots, the fanbase or the media a hard answer on his retirement.

The guy has generated billions of dollars for the franchise. He’s provided 37 games -- more than three seasons -- of postseason football for the fans to revel in. He’s created almost two decades worth of content for us in the media to gravy train off of.

Until this past calendar year, Brady hasn’t outwardly put his family or personal “brand” anywhere near the top of the pedestal where football and the Patriots resided.

Now that he’s done so, some people (read: “morons”) don’t merely consider it jarring, they feel it rises to a betrayal of the bygone Brady, of Simple Tom and The Patriot Way, which was always a naïve concept anyway.

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Fortunately, Brady has a ways to go to match Favre’s Hamlet routine.

The former Packers quarterback started noodling about retirement after the 2005 season. Same thing after 2006. After the 2007 season -- in March of 2008 -- he actually announced his retirement.

Annnnnd by July he’d changed his mind and wanted back in. The Packers, with Aaron Rodgers more than ready to succeed Favre, told Favre to screw. He did. Favre played three more seasons with the Jets and Vikings, then retired. The three-year post-Green Bay wandering hardly seemed worth it and the annual “is he in or is he out?” conversation was a tedious exercise.

By comparison, Brady has years of waffling to go. But he’s definitely come out of the blocks fast with crazy promises of longevity.

Last May, barely 13 months ago, Brady was telling ESPN’s Ian O’Connor that he didn’t see why he shouldn’t keep playing past 45 if he still felt good.

“I’ve always said my mid-40s,” Brady said. "And naturally that means around 45. If I get there and I still feel like I do today, I don't see why I wouldn't want to continue."

And 50? Why not?

"If you said 50, then you can say 60, too, then 70,” Brady said in the same interview. “I think 45 is a pretty good number for right now. I know the effort it takes to be 40. ... My love for the sport will never go away. I don't think at 45 it will go away. At some point, everybody moves on. Some people don't do it on their terms. I feel I want it to be on my terms.”

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That interview was one of a handful Brady did with the aim being to promote the TB12 Method. There was ESPN, Sports Illustrated, the book, the app and the Tom vs. Time docuseries, which began filming last summer. Having won his fifth ring, the time was right to maximize visibility. If that approach ran contrary to Patriots customs, well . . . sorry. What’s the worst that can happen?

How about a poorly-concealed, season-long pissing contest in which Brady was assailed for having changed and the coaching staff was assailed for being restrictive and unreasonable?

Which spawned Contemplative Tom, sitting on his couch during the final installment of TvT pondering what he’s doing it all for. 

I’m not sure Brady really appreciates how big this story -- his ultimate retirement -- truly is. Not just here but to sport in general. He should; he grew up rooting for Joe Montana. He understands Jordan and Tiger and Kobe.

Just before the Super Bowl, he was asked about retiring and he replied, “Why does everyone want me to retire?”

Was he being disingenuous? Or does he not get that his and the Patriots stranglehold on the NFL isn’t like Jordan’s on the NBA. It’s closer to Godzilla’s on Japan, and that every other NFL team and fanbase is counting the seconds until he walks.

That’s why every throat-clearing, every pause, every social media “like” is scrutinized for clues as to which way he’s ultimately leaning.

Maybe he doesn’t care. “Take Nothing Personal” is one of The Four Agreements. But the mixed messages -- over a period of time -- probably don’t help the brand.

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Trio of Patriots talk criminal justice reform in Dorchester

Trio of Patriots talk criminal justice reform in Dorchester

BOSTON -- Devin McCourty didn't want to waste any time. He sat down on stage at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester and made a quick joke about how the 200 people or so in attendance may not be able to distinguish him from his twin brother, Jason, who sat alongside. Then he launched right into why he was there.

"Our criminal justice system," Devin said, "is broken . . ."

It was the beginning of a long back-and-forth between three high-profile moderators -- the McCourty brothers and Patriots teammate Matthew Slater -- and five candidates for Suffolk County District Attorney. On the table were a multitude of topics focused on criminal justice reform and policy changes that might be made in order to help create a more fair justice system as well as a safer communities.

The event was organized by the Players Coalition, which under the leadership of the likes of Devin McCourty, Malcolm Jenkins, Anquan Boldin, Chris Long and others has tried to steer attention away from polarizing anthem demonstrations and toward making meaningful change for communities that need it.

"If you listen to what players are saying all along, you know, taking a knee was a protest to get people to understand what we were trying to do," McCourty said. "This is what we were trying to do. We're trying to make changes to the community . . . That has been our focus all along."

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Tuesday's back and forth between the trio of Patriots and the DA candidates for Suffolk County was was one of many nationwide Players Coalition "Launching Justice" events taking place during the NFL's offseason.

In early May, Jenkins, Richard Sherman, Doug Baldwin and former Patriots special teamer Johnson Bademosi spoke with DA candidates in Oakland. Jenkins headed up another similar event in Sacramento. Last week, Boldin and Carl Davis met with State's Attorney candidates in Capitol Heights, Maryland. On Wednesday, Long is scheduled to meet with prosecuting attorney candidates in Missouri for a public discussion.

"Us as professional athletes, we feel like we're citizens first," Devin McCourty said. "We're in these communities, we live in these communities, we get to be a part of them. Meeting people, greeting people. We felt like it was our right to worry about equality and how people are being treated in these communities . . .

"Hopefully us being here and what we do on the field brings a lot of people out here to get educated. They're the ones come sept have to come out and vote."

The Players Coalition has been recognized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and 501(c)(4) social welfare organization that is zeroed in on criminal justice, education and economic advancement, and community relations with police.

Democratic Suffolk County DA candidates Evandro Carvalho, Linda Champion, Shannon McAuliffe and Rachael Rollins were all in attendance on Tuesday, as was independent Michael Maloney. Democratic candidate Greg Henning was not present.

The McCourtys and Slater peppered all five with questions about how the next DA might be able to help roll back mass incarcerations as well as improve relations between police and their communities. All three players had notes, questions and statistics prepared, and they offered follow-ups for candidates when a particular response struck a chord.

The discussion got heated at times with attendees speaking out to take candidates to task or to go back and forth with the players. Jason McCourty took his microphone at one point to address the crowd, saying, "We love the passion, but . . . let's just try to be respectful."

Slater said beforehand that his nerves were about on par with what he feels before a game, and afterward he acknowledged that he had to maybe manage his own emotions a bit in part because of the energy coming from the audience. 

"I think that's what it's all about: passion," he told WBUR. "People are people that end up making a difference. I just kept telling myself I'm moderator, stay calm, stay cool and allow this thing to play out."

Devin McCourty was very clear before the discussion began that he was not there to answer questions about the anthem or how players would be handling the anthem moving forward. For him, that's a discussion that can cloud the ultimate goal for him and the rest of the Players Coalition: to bring attention to real issues for people in communities looking for real progress. 

But McCourty has acknowledged in the past that the anthem demonstrations did spark a conversation. That conversation has helped in part to lead to meaningful steps toward change. 

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There is the partnership established between NFL owners and the Players Coalition that resulted in $90 million being dedicated to programs combating social injustice. There are discussions like Tuesday's happening around the country.

"For us as athletes, it's important to see that you have an impact," Jason McCourty said. "People do want to hear your voice. To see different members of the community to come out, and to probably feel like they'll be heard, and maybe we're asking some of the same questions that they have. I think it has been exciting. And it's encouraging to know that you can make a difference and you do have an impact. 

"[It's important] to kind of roll up your sleeves, and continue to dig in, and continue to try to, for us, make strides and improve and do things that we can to help the communities that we play in." 

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