Patriots

Brady: 'I thought . . . my season can't end on a handoff in practice'

Brady: 'I thought . . . my season can't end on a handoff in practice'

FOXBORO -- There was a point in time during the week that Tom Brady wasn't sure he'd be able to play in the AFC title game. Because of a hand-off. In practice. 

Imagine that? Imagine if Brady had to check out of the biggest game of his 40-year-old season because of a botched exchange with a running back? Doesn't exactly scream "warrior spirit!"

PATRIOTS 24, JAGUARS 20

"I wasn’t sure on Wednesday," Brady said. "I certainly didn’t think -- I thought out of all the plays, my season can’t end on a hand-off in practice. We didn’t come this far to end on a hand-off. It’s just one of those things.

"I came in the training room and just was looking at my hand and wasn’t quite sure what happened, and everyone did a great job kind of getting me ready and the training staff and the doctors and Alex [Guerrero]. It was a great team effort. Without that, I definitely wouldn’t be playing."

One of the logical concerns, when it came to Brady's hand, was how it might hold up. Would he be able to take snaps under center? Would he be able to drive the football down the field for four quarters? Might a flukey hand-off rip him open again? 

But he played his best in the fourth quarter, going 9-for-14 for 138 yards and two touchdowns to Danny Amendola. For the game, Brady went 26-of-38 for 290 yards.  

Brady indicated that he should be able to have his stitches out mid-week, "and then I can just get out there and get normal treatment like I always do and be ready to go." Though Brady played well enough to orchestrate his 54th career fourth-quarter go-ahead victory, he did hint at some discomfort created by his cut, the stitches, and the wrap on his hand to protect it. 

"I’d rather not do anything with my hand . . . that’s kind of what I had to deal with," he said. "So, I just wrapped it up and tried to cover it up and see if [I could] go out there and play and be effective.

"I’d rather not wear it. But, I think it sounds kind of arrogant to say, ‘Oh yeah, it bothered me,’ when we had a pretty good game. So, I wouldn’t say that. Doesn’t that sound arrogant if I said that? It’s like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game,’ and he won the tournament."

But that's essentially what happened. The Patriots couldn't get anything going in the first half until the Jaguars gave away two huge chunks of yardage just before the end of the second quarter to put the Patriots in scoring position. Brady was accurate at times, but at others he sailed easy throws high, and even when he completed the short ones, the Jaguars speedy defense was swarming. 

Through three quarters Brady had an 87 rating and his team had rushed for a mere 25 yards -- including a 1-yard Brady run and a three-yarder from Amendola. They were one-for-eight on third down. It wasn't pretty. 

Then came the fourth quarter, when Brady did what Brady has done so often in his career. It was 11th postseason win when facing a fourth-quarter deficit or tie.

On his first fourth-quarter scoring drive, he drilled a deep comeback to Brandin Cooks, he hit Amendola for 21 yards on a third-and-18, he got Phillip Dorsett for 31 on a flea-flicker, and he hit "Steady Eddie" Amendola (as Matthew Slater calls him) on a shallow cross for the touchdown.

On Brady's second fourth-quarter scoring drive, he flipped a screen to James White that went for 15, he fit a squint-your-eyes-to-see-if-it-was-complete laser to Amendola over the middle, and he found Amendola for a toe-tapping touchdown to take the lead. 

"We played a lot better in the second half," Brady said. "We just couldn’t get the drives going, and obviously it wasn’t very good on third down and just got into a little tempo stuff in the second half and played a little bit better. So, it was a great win. Happy for our team and just a great, great game. So proud of all the guys, coaches, everyone. Amazing."

Brady's teammates were posed a relatively simple question about their quarterback after the fact: How? 

"Tommy’s the best," Amendola said. "He’s the toughest guy I’ve ever met physically, mentally. If there is anything that happens to Tom, I know he can handle it. It was unfortunate to see him get injured mid-week. I know mentally it probably stressed him out a bit and physically I know it’s hard to throw a football with stitches in your thumb.

"Everybody knows how tough he is. Everybody knows that he’s our leader. It’s a testament to his career, his personality, the man he is. Not only is he the best player in our locker room, but he gets everybody else to play well and step their game up and that’s why he’s the best.

"Tom Brady," Slater said simply. One of the most thoughtful and eloquent players in the Patriots locker room, a captain, Slater had little else. "Tom Brady."

Pushed a little further, Slater was still briefly at a loss. He paused before coming up with more. 

"The guy is one of a kind," he said. "We've seen a lot of clutch players in this league, over the history of this league, me being a historian of this league, I was raised to appreciate the history and the great players of this league. It's really hard to find a guy who's been able to help his team the way that he has consistently. And to play at the level he's been playing at 40 years of age . . . Tom Brady."

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NFL owners words not consistent with their actions with new anthem policy

NFL owners words not consistent with their actions with new anthem policy

Chris Gasper and Michael Holley talk about the inconsistent messaging from NFL owners to their teams' players after they unanimously voted to change the league's policy regarding the national anthem. Watch the video above. 

Rivers feeling good, could help provide Patriots an answer at left end

Rivers feeling good, could help provide Patriots an answer at left end

FOXBORO -- Of all the observations made at Tuesday's OTA practice, one that stood out as sort of an under-the-radar takeaway was that the defensive end position for the Patriots looked nothing like it did back in early February.

Seeing a good deal of the workload on the edges were two players who didn't play a snap for the Patriots last season: Derek Rivers and Adrian Clayborn.

From this, we can deduce a couple of things.

First, a few of the team's most experienced edge defenders weren't available. Trey Flowers' absence from Tuesday's work is worth monitoring as we progress through the spring and move toward training camp. Arguably the team's top defensive lineman, Flowers is headed into the final year of his rookie contract. Dont'a Hightower, who's coming back from a season-ending pec injury and has on-the-line/off-the-line flexibility, was also missing Tuesday.

Second, the participation level from both Rivers and Clayborn would serve as an indication that both are feeling healthy enough to take on a healthy amount of work at this point in the year. Clayborn reportedly tweaked his quad in workouts earlier in the offseason program, but he appeared to be moving fine. Rivers, meanwhile, is back for his second pro season after missing all of last year following an ACL tear suffered in joint training camp practices with the Texans.

Rivers availability is particularly interesting, if unsurprising, since he could be a stabilizing factor for the Patriots' front in 2018. A third-round pick last year out of Youngstown State, Rivers was used as an end, as a stand-up player on the edge, as a pass-rusher and as a coverage player in camp before getting hurt.

Though he missed all of last season, he was able to maintain a positive approach in the Patriots locker room, attending meetings and working diligently on his upper-body strength while his leg healed.

"Nobody ever wants to have an injury, but praise God. It’s all in his plan," Rivers said Tuesday. "My faith helped me get through it. It was a good rehab process. I was able to learn the defense, and I wasn’t away from the building, so I could do everything but be out here on the field. So it was a blessing. It actually made me a better player."

Rivers played on the left side - opposite Clayborn, a right end - in Tuesday's work. That's a position the Patriots had some trouble filling all of last season following Rob Ninkovich's retirement. It requires good athleticism, an ability to set an edge, an ability to rush...but also an ability to track backs out of the backfield.

"I’d say it’s different playing on the left than playing on the right from a responsibilities standpoint," Bill Belichick said last summer. "There’s certainly some similarities, but it’s different. Some guys can play both. Some guys, I would say, are better suited at one or the other. Sometimes that’s a comfort thing. Sometimes it’s really a scheme thing and what we ask them to do. They’re the same, but they’re different more so than say right and left corner or right and left defensive tackle or that type of thing. It’s defensive scheme. It’s a little bit different...

"I think it really becomes more of a coverage discussion – how much and what type of coverage responsibilities would you put them in? You know, Chandler Jones versus Ninkovich or Trey Flowers versus Ninkovich. There’s some differences in their coverage responsibilities. Especially most teams are, for us, defensively left-handed formation teams. Not that they couldn’t do it the other way, but more times than not, there’s a high percentage of situations that come up on the left side that are different from the right side, especially with a right-handed quarterback, which most of them are.

"I mean, look, they both have to know them, they both have to do them, but I’d say there’s definitely more – it’s kind of like left tackle and right tackle. You don’t really see the same player at right tackle as left tackle. Some guys can do both, but there are quite a few guys that are better at one or the other, and that’s usually where they end up."

The Patriots used Hightower off the left side early in the season but eventually moved him back to the middle in what looked like an effort to improve the unit's overall communication. Cassius Marsh got a crack at the spot at times. Kyle Van Noy could be seen there. Eric Lee saw work on the left. It was a revolving door. 

The rotation was heavy at both edge spots, really. Deatrich Wise saw extensive work as a rookie. Harvey Langi looked like he might earn regular snaps before a car wreck ended his season. Trevor Reilly, Geneo Grissom, Marquis Flowers and James Harris all appeared on the edge as the Patriots hoped to find answers. 

In the athletic Rivers, they could have a player who is big enough (6-foot-5, 250) to handle work in the running game on the left edge and athletic enough to both rush (his specialty in college) and cover. It's just a matter of Rivers showing the team he can do it. 

"Obviously, coming in here, your rookie year is almost like your freshman year in college," Rivers said. "So now, it’s just listening to the coaches, staying in the playbook and just getting ready to roll for each practice and just try to get better each and every day.”

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