Patriots

Brady offers some protection for Patriots offensive line

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Brady offers some protection for Patriots offensive line

FOXBORO – Tom Brady took a proactive approach to protecting his offensive line on Wednesday. 

After 16 sacks and innumerable hits in five games landed him an MRI tube with a tender left shoulder, Brady made sure blame for his bludgeoning didn’t land at the feet of the five who block for him. 

“I think those guys have done a great job, I really do,” said Brady. “I think they’re fighting their butts off on every play. The ball’s got to come out on time and (I have to) find the open guy and cut it loose. You know, we’ve got to do a good job of that at the quarterback position. I love that group up front. We’ve got great tackles, great center, great guards. We’ve been in some competitive games and we’re going to keep fighting. That’s where it’s at.” 

Brady was at practice Wednesday but didn’t take any meaningful reps. He had a bemused look on his face as he fielded questions about his status, saying finally, “Yeah, I’ll be there Sunday. Don’t worry about that. I’ll be there.”

Brady then veered into a sometimes overlooked aspect of why he’s been taking a thrashing. Game situation. 

When asked about the upcoming challenges after Sunday’s game against the Jets – Joey Bosa of the Chargers, Von Miller of the Broncos, Khalil Mack from Oakland and the speedy Atlanta front-seven – Brady said that starting fast would be a nice way to neutralize the heat. 

“You’ve got to play the game on your terms,” said Brady. “I think we haven’t done a great job of that, and not playing great football early in the game doesn’t really get you the lead, so you’re trying to fight and claw back the whole way, throw the ball. You know, your run-pass ratio gets way out of balance, so you’re throwing it all the time, which we’ve been doing, and it just gives them more opportunity.”

Aside from the beating they gave New Orleans in Week 2 and the AFC Championship pantsing of Pittsburgh, the Patriots have been nip-and-tuck in six of their last eight games. And that's a departure from the norm of 2016 when they spent an ungodly amount of time in the lead and didn’t trail after Week 12 until they faced Atlanta. 

In that game, the Patriots trailed for 63 minutes and 57 seconds and didn’t hold a lead until the game ended. In the opener this year, New England was up 17-7 on KC but coughed that lead up and trailed the entire fourth quarter. In Week 3, the Patriots biggest lead was eight and they trailed almost the entire fourth quarter. They trailed the final 30:26 against Carolina. The biggest lead against Tampa was nine points. 

“If you have a three touchdown lead in the third quarter, it’s different,” Brady shrugged. “You’re probably much more balanced on offense, and we’ve been a part of those quite a few times. If you’re losing by two scores, you’re just throwing it every down. You’ve just got no choice, and that’s – again, they can’t sack you if you’re handing the ball off.”

Brady then switched lanes quickly before it sounded like he gave a damn about getting hit. 

“I’m not concerned about that. I’m really not,” he said. “We all want to do a better job. We’re all trying to play better. Certainly, no one feels great about where we’re at right now, but there’s a lot of football left and we’re going to keep battling. Like I said, I have so much confidence in our offensive line and what we do every week, their preparation, their effort, their toughness, how well they’re coaching, everything we’re trying to do up front. From my standpoint, I’ve got to find the guy that’s open and get rid of the ball. That’s what I’m going to do.”

Brady mildly disputed the link between downfield throws (of which the Patriots have had more than their norm) and the hits he’s taking. 

“I think correlation can be made between a lot of different things with statistics and so forth,” he cautioned. “We’ve been pretty efficient throwing it this year, so just had probably not great execution. I think that’s what we’re trying to improve. If you call a quick pass, you’ve got to get it out on time. You call an intermediate pass, it comes out on time. You throw a deeper pass – everyone knows, and that’s what we’re trying to do. So I just think it’s the overall level of execution. Certainly, if I play better, it will help all of us.”

Patriots win at same rate vs. rest of NFL as they do vs. AFC East

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Patriots win at same rate vs. rest of NFL as they do vs. AFC East

In his Football Morning in America column, Peter King shined a light on how much better the Patriots have been since 2003 compared to the rest of the AFC East. 

As King points out, the Patriots have gone 189-51 (.788 winning percentage) since 2003 while the Jets, Dolphins and Bills have won 109, 106 and 102 games, respectively, and have winning percentages of .454, .442 and .425.

King’s conclusion that the Patriots have been a crapton better than their divisional opponents for a 15 seasons is spot-on even if it isn’t a revelation.

But be careful of taking the next step and inferring that the Patriots have built that gaudy winning percentage because they’ve fattened up on the AFC East.

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Because the Patriots have won at almost the exact same rate against the rest of the NFL as they have against their division.

The Patriots are 71-19 since 2003 in the AFC East. That’s a .788 winning percentage. Outside the division, they are 118-32 (.786).

King goes on to add that, when the league realigned in 2002, it would have been so much more competitive if the Colts remained in the AFC East instead of shipping to the AFC South.

He’s right but only to a point. Since 2001, the Patriots are 14-5 against the Colts (.736). Throwing out the last six games since 2011 that Peyton Manning wasn’t there for, the Patriots were 8-5 (.615) against Indy (8-4 if you throw out the 2008 game when Matt Cassel started for New England).

The reason it’s important to give the full context of the Patriots domination inside their division and out is because the past 20 years have been a historic run. Historic runs deserve accurate historic perspective.

And too often -- particularly around here -- you get inch-deep analysis branding the AFC East as a parade of Tomato Canzzzzz the Patriots knock down like ducks in a shooting gallery when the truth is, the whole damn league’s been ducks in a shooting gallery for them since 2003.

Anticipating the reaction of “Butbutbut . . . J.P. Losman! Cleo Lemon! Geno Smith!”, the reality is the league is loaded with bum quarterbacks and slow-twitch head coaches. It’s not an AFC East thing.

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Most intense position battle: Wideouts to go at it

Most intense position battle: Wideouts to go at it

Third in our series looking ahead to the opening of Patriots training camp July 26.

Figure the Patriots will keep five wideouts (not including special teams ace Matthew Slater) when they enter into Week 1 of the regular season. Even with Julian Edelman scheduled to serve a four-game suspension to start the year, even with that slot opening up the potential for a receiver on the bubble to make the club, this figures to be one of the most competitive positions in camp. 

 

 

Chris Hogan will be relied upon thanks to his experience and versatility. And figure Cordarrelle Patterson has a place on the roster as the entire league ventures into a post-kickoff rules change world. 

 

After that? Hard to say. 

 

COUNTDOWN TO CAMP - Gimme s'more: New additions to keep an eye on

 

Jordan Matthews should have the inside track on a role for an offense that will likely be looking for some help on the inside. He's the most experienced slot receiver on the roster after Edelman, but Braxton Berrios and Riley McCarron could make a run themselves -- particularly if the punt-return work is up for grabs and they snatch it. 

 

On the outside, the competition is tougher. There may not be room for Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett and Malcolm Mitchell on the same roster even though their skill sets differ. Britt has the size and athleticism to make good on the potential he showed as a first-round pick in 2009. Will being paired with Tom Brady help him finally break through consistently? Dorsett's size and speed may make him the closest thing on the roster to Brandin Cooks. Do the Patriots feel there's room for him to grow now that he's back for Year 2? For Mitchell, the question is always the same: Will he be healthy?

 

 

How those three questions are answered could determine who has a place in New England and who doesn't. The way their contracts are structured, none of them are locks. It'll come down to how they look during what Bill Belichick annually refers to as a "competition camp." Spring practices were for learning. Now it's time to go.