Patriots

Tom Brady on Patriots TEs after Ben Watson release: 'Whoever's out there, I gotta play with'

Tom Brady on Patriots TEs after Ben Watson release: 'Whoever's out there, I gotta play with'

FOXBORO -— Tom Brady has seen plenty of teammates released before. But Ben Watson, at 38 years old, is one of the few teammates Brady has had in recent years who was close to Brady in age. Watson is someone Brady has known for the better part of the last two decades. The two are friends. 

For the Patriots quarterback, that made yesterday's decision by the team to release Watson a difficult one.

"Pretty tough, you know? Pretty tough," Brady said. "It's tough for a lot of guys I've played with a lot of guys over the years. Ben's a great player. He's been a great player for this team, for other teams. He's had an incredible career. Hopefully he can keep playing. I know he was looking forward to playing. 

"I miss him. He was right next to me. For as great as a player he was, he was 10 times a better person. Just the highest integrity. I can't say enough good things about Ben, what he's meant to me, my family, our team. We're gonna miss him."

Watson was suspended for the first four games of the season after violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy in the offseason. He spent training camp with the Patriots, but through the first four weeks of the regular season he was not allowed to have any contact with the club.

The Patriots had until 4 p.m. on Monday to activate Watson to the 53-man roster, but they chose not to, making him a free agent. Bill Belichick left open the possibility of a Watson return earlier in the day on Wednesday, but for now the coach will roll with Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo as his top two options at tight end.

Brady was asked about his comfort level with LaCosse and Izzo in place to fill the team's tight end roles now that Watson is no longer in the mix.

"It's just . . . I'm the quarterback so I don't make those decisions," Brady said. "Whoever's out there, that's who I gotta play with. So . . . yeah."

Patriots tight ends did have their best game of the season in Week 5 against the Redskins, as Izzo caught two passes for 39 yards and a touchdown while LaCosse caught one for 22 yards. LaCosse had a drop on the first pass of the game, but he played 72 of a possible 77 snaps, showing that he was closer to full health than he has been since suffering an ankle injury in the first week of preseason play.

"Those guys are competing hard," Brady said. "I think they're trying. Matt hasn't been out there as much as we all would've wanted. Certainly what he would've wanted. Ryan's done quite a few things for us . . . 

"We're trying to get out there and utilize the reps in practice that we can to talk about things, communicate through the things that come up in practice so that we can execute when we need to in a game."

AFC Power Rankings after Week 5>>>>>

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Could trick-shot kicker return to Patriots in 2020 after practice squad release?

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USA TODAY Sports

Could trick-shot kicker return to Patriots in 2020 after practice squad release?

FOXBORO -- The New England Patriots' rare instability at kicker has forced them to get creative.

The Patriots raised a few eyebrows Wednesday by signing Josh Gable -- a "YouTube star" with no college football kicking experience best known for his trick shot videos -- to their practice squad.

Gable's tenure in New England was short-lived, as the Patriots released him Friday.

So, why use a practice squad spot on a kicker only to cut him two days later?

"We had a spot available on the practice squad, and it gave us an opportunity to look at a younger kicker," head coach Bill Belichick said Friday.

" ... Rather than just (have him) come in and do a workout, we were actually able to (have him) kick with the team and put him on the practice squad for a couple days."

Belichick said the Patriots have no plans to move away from Nick Folk as their starting kicker this season. 

But getting Gable in for essentially a multi-day tryout allowed New England to explore a potential kicking option for 2020.

"We'll worry about that next year," Belichick said. " ... Put that in the bank, and maybe it comes up later on at some point in time down the road. Maybe it doesn’t. I’m not sure."

Such is the reality for the Patriots, who lost Stephen Gostkowski to season-ending hip surgery in October and have cycled through Mike Nugent, Kai Forbath, Folk and Younghoe Koo (practice squad) since.

Gostkowski turns 36 in January and is entering the final year of his contract, so Belichick has good reason to get a head start on contingency kicking options for 2020.

That's assuming New England doesn't stick with Folk: The veteran has been the most consistent of Gostkowski's replacements this season, connecting on eight of 11 field goals and making all four of his extra-point attempts.

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N'Keal Harry using big play vs. Chiefs as a reminder of his potential

N'Keal Harry using big play vs. Chiefs as a reminder of his potential

FOXBORO -- At the moment, N'Keal Harry will take positive reinforcement wherever he can get it.

The New England Patriots rookie had just one reception in last Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He made the most of it, though, breaking multiple tackles and diving for what should have been ruled a touchdown.

For 21-year-old rookie with just five catches on 10 targets through four NFL games, the play was a reminder to himself and the Patriots of what he's capable of in space with the ball in his hands.

"Yeah, definitely," Harry said Friday when asked if that play was a confidence boost for him. "It kind of felt like some of the stuff I did in college, just getting the ball in my hand and being able to run with it.

"So, that definitely helped. Just seeing that I'm able to do the same things (I did in college)."

Harry averaged 13.9 yards per catch as a sophomore and 14.9 yards per catch as a junior at Arizona State, earning First-Team All-Pac-12 honors in both seasons as a playmaking deep threat.

Harry's NFL transition has been bumpy to date, as an ankle injury caused him to miss New England's first nine games. But the Patriots still are well aware of his talent.

"I need to do a better job of finding ways to get him in space, get him the ball, and let him have an opportunity to (make plays)," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels admitted earlier this week.

The red zone seems like a natural place to get Harry more involved; the 6-foot-4, 225-pound wideout is a matchup nightmare for smaller cornerbacks and scored 17 touchdowns over his final two seasons.

Even after the Week 14 confidence booster, though, Harry will defer to McDaniels on how the Patriots want to increase his workload entering Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"That's more of a Josh question," Harry said when asked about his role in New England's red zone offense. "I'm just ready whenever my name is called."

" ... Whenever I get onto the field, whether it's 50 snaps or one snap, whenever my name is called, I have to be able to contribute."

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