Brady: Not much of a break during bye week

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Brady: Not much of a break during bye week

Well, here they are again. After eight weeks, the Patriots are 5-3, just as they were last year. Easy to say that Tom Brady and Friends should be 8-0 considering their three close losses, but they're not. They're 5-3. Not perfect, but still good enough for first place in the AFC East.

Brady made his weekly call in to WEEI's Dennis and Callahan Show on Monday to explain that the Patriots are what their record says they are.

"We're at where we really deserve to be," Brady said. "I don't think we've played any better than our record. We don't deserve to be anything better than we are. Look, every team can go, 'Wow, without these plays we could be undefeated.' Every team can say that. But we're not, and there's a reason why. It's not like we've played great football over these last eight weeks. There is a lot of improvement we need to make. There is a lot of things we can do better. We need to get some guys healthy. We have to get everybody moving forward and make a big push here in the second half because this is where the best teams really start to show themselves."

The Patriots seemed to make their push early with a 45-7 drubbing of St. Louis in London on Sunday.

"Thats what were hoping every week," Brady said. "We played pretty well. I thought all the guys contributed. The guys were really focused. We had a good week of practice there and went over there and executed against a good team, a team that beat Arizona and beat Seattle. They have quite a few good players on their team. It just wasnt their day and we capitalized on some of their mistakes. It ended up being, certainly not an easy game, but in the second half it was well under control."

Brady was 23-for-35 for 304 yards and four touchdowns against a normally-stout Rams pass rush. He credited his tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer for keeping him clean.

"Phenomenal job on two guys who can rush, who can really do the job, and guys that are really the heart and soul of their defense," Brady said of Rams ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn. "Nate and Sebastian have done that all year. Ive never had to worry about the defensive end or a pass rush. Its just something Ive never really had to think about. It seems like we play good ends every week, and they really step up to the challenge. They did a great job."

Now the Patriots go into their bye week. Time for some rest, right? Actually, no, not really.

"There's not much of a break, to tell you the truth," Brady said. "It's hard when you play quarterback to get away from of it. I'll talk to Josh McDaniels 50 times these next three days and then we practice on Thursday and I'm not sure what we have planned after that. This is still football season. This isn't mid-February, so I'm still thinking about what we need to do better, what I need to do better, my role on the team and things I can improve on."

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

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Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- There are plenty of damn good running backs in the NFL but there is only one Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers star shuffles, darts and then dashes, often with bodies crashing all around him, many of them intent on doing serious bodily harm . . . but often failing.

“He’s very unique,” said linebacker Shea McClellin. “I don’t think anyone else runs quite like he does, but it’s efficient and it works.”

Defensive end Chris Long concurred: “His style is so unique, his patience, what he’s able to do with his vision. And as far as breaking tackles, being a complete player, catching the ball, he can do all that stuff.”

Now don’t get it twisted. The Pats respect the hell out of Bell, but they’d prefer they weren’t in charge of corralling him Sunday because everyone has failed during Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak. Bell, who played in eight of those games, has piled up over 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage during that stretch -- 1,172 yards rushing, 336 yards receiving -- while scoring 9 touchdowns. 

“He’s really fun to watch unless you’re getting ready to play him,” said Long.

The respect Bell commands in Foxboro is evident when talking to the Pats running backs, who spoke glowingly about the former first-rounder and in LeGarrette Blount’s case, former teammate.

“No one can do what he does,” Blount told me. “They can try, but it won’t work.”

“That’s his style,” added Dion Lewis, himself a shifty fella. “You can’t try to do that. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy that can do that.”

So how do the Pats accomplish something no one has been able to do over the last two-plus months? How do they slow Bell down, as they did back in Week 7, limiting him to 81 yards rushing (only 3.9 yards per carry)? 

“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” said Pats coach Bill Belichick. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles. [He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps.”

“If there’s space or if there’s a gap in the defense or if there’s an edge in the defense, he’s quick to take advantage of that,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told us during a conference call earlier this week. “He’s going to be able to get into that open space pretty quickly so you can’t really -- I don’t think you want to sit there and guess.”

If the Pats defenders, especially at the linebacker level, do that -- guess and attack a gap aggressively in attempt to make a splash play -- they may fill one gap but open two others. And that’s where a four-yard gain can turn into 40.

“Everyone on the field, it’s their job to get to him, gang tackle and be aggressive,” said Rob Ninkovich. “It can’t be just one time but every time you’re on the field.”

“There’s no one guy that can stop him,” added Belichick. “You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”

The Pats are a terrific tackling team, and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season (actually, not since November of 2015), but the red-hot Bell will put recent history to the test. 
 

Report: Bennett playing with cracked bone, bone chips in ankle

Report: Bennett playing with cracked bone, bone chips in ankle

FOXBORO -- Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett admitted last week that he has been dealing with a variety of physical ailments throughout the course of his first season with the Patriots. "I've been fighting through [expletive] the whole year," he said, "and I'm not gonna stop now."

PATRIOTS-STEELERS PREGAME

Bennett suffered a knee injury against the Texans last week that limited him in practices leading up to the AFC title game, but he's also had to cope with ankle and shoulder issues for much of the season.

On Sunday, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport tweeted: "Patriots love Martellus Bennett's toughness. Example: He plays with a cracked bone [and] bone chips in his ankle. Surgery likely this spring."

Bennett initially showed up on the Patriots injury report with an ankle issue after having his leg twisted awkwardly during a win over the Browns in Week 5. It hampered him for much of the regular season, and he seemed to aggravate it further while being tackled during a Week 12 victory at Met Life Stadium over the Jets. The following week, a win against the Rams, Bennett admitted he had what was probably his worst game of the season.

Bennett has continually played as the top tight end on the Patriots roster since Rob Gronkowski landed on injured reserve. He played in 64 of a possible 69 offensive snaps against the Texans in the Divisional Round, and he has played at least 43 snaps each week since the Patriots' bye in Week 9. For the season, he has played in 78 percent of New England's offensive snaps.

Bennett is due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. He'll turn 30 years old in March.