Patriots

Patriots are stacking up wins, but are they improving?

Patriots are stacking up wins, but are they improving?

The 30,000-foot view of the Patriots is beautiful.

They are 5-2.

In a span of four games, they’ve scored 38, 38, 43 and 38.

They obliterated a Miami team that was 3-0 and in first place when the teams met on September 30.

They outlasted a Chiefs team last Sunday that was 5-0 and drawing favorable comparisons to the 2000 Rams and ’07 Patriots.

They’ve got Julian Edelman back. Josh Gordon’s been a weapon on the field and an ordinary, average guy off of it.

Gronk’s dinged and Sony Michel could be gone awhile, but can somebody send up a “Hallelujah!” to the offensive line and can I get an amen on that?

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LaAdrian Waddle . . . I still want to spell your name “L’Adrian Waddle” but that’s on me. Because the consistent work you do in stepping in for the consistently unavailable Marcus Cannon means you deserve to have me not have to double-check all the time. (I used to have the same issue with Le Kevin Smith but you are no Le Kevin Smith).

Nate Solder for Trent Brown could be the shrewdest move of the offseason by any team. James White does precisely what he is supposed to do. Every. Single. Time.

They have the Bills next Monday night and Buffalo is wandering through its season with a “KICK ME” sign stuck to its back.

After that, it’s home against the Packers then the bye.

Hi, we’re 7-2, what’s your name?

But spin the box around. Look at the ingredient list on the back of this delicious run of wins and see the empty calories and poisonous additives. (Yeah, I mixed that metaphor up but good. Carry on.)

The 1,200 yards and 92 points allowed over the last 10 quarters is the easy to spot high fructose corn syrup. But there’s other bad stuff.

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For the second game in a row, Tom Brady (on pace for more picks than he’s ever thrown) made a risky decision with the ball. The lollipop throw to a covered James Develin in the right flat on a third-and-2 with six minutes left was a 50-50 ball when it left Brady’s hand.

After self-flagellating last week about the strip sack he wandered into, it was surprising to see that kind of decision six days later.

Would the Patriots defense bail Brady out? Nnnnnnno.

Just like they didn’t bail out Cordarrelle Patterson after his unforced fumble on a kickoff return, or Michel after he fumbled while getting his knee corkscrewed. Turnovers = touchdowns for the Patriots.

Five straight times going back to the Colts game a Patriots turnover was turned directly into six points. Forget about forcing a punt. They aren’t even forcing field goals.

Defensively, some of the Patriots best players are failing to make routine plays.

I was sitting with former Patriot Rob Ninkovich on Sunday when Mitch Trubisky’s touchdown scramble happened. Ninkovich’s head almost popped off his shoulders because Adrian Clayborn’s rush angle allowed Trubisky to spin away into a pasture of unprotected land. Not only did Clayborn lose contain, he attacked Trubisky’s upfield shoulder, which was an invitation for a huge gain.

Stephon Gilmore dropped an end-zone pick. So did Elandon Roberts. Devin McCourty was on the scene for five touchdowns between the Colts and Chiefs games.

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Same deal with special teams. A punt bounced off Julian Edelman’s face mask. Ryan Allen booted it clean out of the end zone from the Bears 35 with 24 seconds left. (If that was the plan, it was as questionable as having Stephen Gostkowski smother-hook a kickoff last week against the Chiefs.) There was the Patterson fumble on Sunday and the 97-yard kickoff return the week before.

The Patriots took a five-yard delay of game penalty on a kickoff Sunday. At another juncture, they had to burn a timeout on defense because they had 10 men on the field.

You know what’s great about all these mean little nits I’m picking on a 5-2 team? Almost every single one of them is easily solvable.

When the least-penalized team in the league goes on an outside-the-rules binge as the Pats did Sunday, that’s an aberration.

When good players do dumb or ineffective things, you know those are the exceptions and not the rule.

The Patriots have been getting away with it but -- fortunately -- there won’t be any “Bottom line, baby! Survive and advance!” self-congratulations.

“How” the wins are earned is and always has been the standard Bill Belichick applies to his team. You don’t gloss over the dirty details just because you ended up with more points. You highlight them because they need to be eliminated.

It’s not jaw-dropping that there are still things for the Patriots to improve upon after seven games. That it’s the same things that need improving? That’s a surprise. 

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How Jimmy Garoppolo won his 49ers teammates over soon after Patriots trade: 'It was sick'

How Jimmy Garoppolo won his 49ers teammates over soon after Patriots trade: 'It was sick'

MIAMI -- George Kittle was dressed as a pirate. It was the day before Halloween of his rookie season. He was going to celebrate the holiday as any 24-year-old would. Then, as any 24-year-old would, he peeked down at his phone to check on a notification.

Jimmy Garoppolo had been traded by the Patriots to Kittle's 49ers. He had a new quarterback.

"I said, 'Wow, that's really interesting.' It was cool," Kittle remembered. "Jimmy G. Two Super Bowls. Hell of a leader. It's fun to have someone like that."

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Kittle and other Niners this week remembered the deal that sent Garoppolo to San Francisco and in the process changed the course of the franchise. They couldn't have known exactly what they had then. Garoppolo had only two NFL starts to his name. But now, sitting in front of microphones in Miami in the days leading up to Super Bowl LIV, they couldn't believe their good fortune that Garoppolo landed in their laps. 

The hints that they had something in Garoppolo came early. 

"Honestly, it sounds cliche but it's real, it was at the first practice," said fullback Kyle Juszczyk. "He ran the scout team the first day. And that first period he absolutely diced our defense. You could see it in his footwork, his mechanics, the confidence that he emitted. You could see that this guy was the real deal."

For Kittle, the sign came loud and clear that his offense had a new leader. It came before Garoppolo even made his first throw from under center. 

"It was funny, his first play under center, he has a really good cadence," Kittle said, referring to the quarterback's calls at the line of scrimmage. "He has a good voice for it. Right after he said, 'Hut! Hut! Hike!' for the first time, everyone was like, 'Whoa! Nice!' It was sick."  

"Very authoritative," offensive tackle Joe Staley said of Garoppolo's line-of-scrimmage vocals. The 13-year veteran smiled and added, "He's commanding. Lets you know he's there."

It came together quickly for Garoppolo in his second professional stop. He started five games after being traded, winning all five, and completing 67.4 percent of his passes at a clip of 8.8 yards per attempt. 

He tore his ACL after three games the following season, but rediscovered his 2017 form this season. The Niners went 13-3 with Garoppolo taking the snaps. He completed 69.1 percent of his throws (fourth in the NFL), threw 27 touchdown passes (sixth), and put up an 8.4 yards per attempt figure (third). 

"I didn't really know much, actually," Staley said of Garoppolo's days in New England. "I remember the one game he had in Arizona where he started and did really, really well. But didn't know much. Didn't have much of a reaction [to the trade] either way. Knew everyone was really high on him. 

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"Then he came in here and he really blew me away. In the huddle. All the little nuances of being a quarterback. The command that he had. His quick release. You could definitely tell that he was trained in that Patriots system as far as getting rid of the ball fast, which is awesome for an offensive lineman. He's continued to grow and develop since he's been here. It's been awesome to see him get to this point."

The Niners are back in the Super Bowl after a 4-12 record last season. Back in the Super Bowl with a chance to win one for the first time since January 1995. And thanks in part to Tom Brady continuing to play at an MVP level the season Garoppolo was dealt, thanks to the Patriots holding onto Garoppolo until midseason that year, all it cost the Niners to change everything was a second-round pick.

"I think," Juszczyk said, "we got him for a bargain."

Tom Brady reacts to Dante Scarnecchia's retirement with heartfelt message

Tom Brady reacts to Dante Scarnecchia's retirement with heartfelt message

On Tuesday, longtime New England Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia decided to call it a career.

Several Patriots players bid farewell to the soon-to-be 72-year-old via Instagram, including quarterback Tom Brady.

Brady left a comment on the Patriots' Instagram announcement, commending Scarnecchia's for his unmatched dependability:

Couldn't have been a greater man or coach! What a privilege to play and work with Dante for two decades. The definition of the Patriot Way - consistent and dependable EVERY DAY!!

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Five of the Patriots' six Super Bowl titles came with Scarnecchia coordinating the blocking schemes that protected Brady.

As for who will take on the difficult task of replacing Scar, assistants Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo appear to be the leading candidates.