No Huddle: Patriots too much, Texans not enough


No Huddle: Patriots too much, Texans not enough

FOXBORO -- There were a lot of happy guys in the Patriots locker room Sunday night.

The team's 41-28 win over Houston in the Divisional Playoff seemed to loosen lips. Guys talked with reporters a little longer, laughed a little more. There was a general looseness about the locker room.

No, no -- there's no place here for a 'No kidding!' comment because this is New England, place where football players do not emote joy unless they're at the Super Bowl.

Well, they're certainly getting closer, aren't they?

Next weekend the Patriots will play Baltimore in the AFC Championship. The game is 2012's last between them and a trip to New Orleans for Super Sunday.

Let's digest the Texans first, though.

Quarterback Tom Brady on passing Joe Montana for most postseason wins in NFL history:

TB: "Well, I hope I'm around for a few more years. I know this was an important win for our team and that's always the number one goal for me."

You didn't expect Brady to beat his chest, did you? It might mean the world that he surpassed his childhood idol. The thought might have inspired a small, secret smile while he drove home from Gillette Stadium. Brady's just not going to talk about it -- not now. The Baltimore Ravens are waiting anxiously on the other end of this week. There's still a Super Bowl to shoot for.

Brady is all business right now.

On seeming subdued after the big win:

TB: "I'm tired, man. There was a lot of emotional energy spent. It's a big build up to the week and we had four days of practice and you're up and you're down, you're up and you're down. I'm tired. I'm ready to go home."

There's a simple reason why I liked this quote: Sincerity. Brady is so good at saying the right thing, at being diplomatic or reserved, that it's refreshing when he sounds like a human being.

Hey! The quarterback who passed Joe Montana for the most playoff wins in NFL history is tired! Suddenly, you remember that he has a newborn at home, that he's 35-years old, that game days are physically and mentally punishing.

Running back Shane Vereen on whether or not expected to play so much:

SV: "I don't come into the game knowing how much anyone is going to play. I come into the game ready to go and if my number is called I do my best for the team.

Brandon Bolden said the same thing after New England's September 30 game against the Bills. The rookie had seven carries for 15 yards in his first three games before blowing up 137 yards on 16 carries in Buffalo's face.

But what impresses me about this running back corps isn't just the fact that anyone can shoulder the load at any time. I'm thinking about how supportive they are of each other.

Stevan Ridley, New England's No. 1 back, spent last week obsessing over ball security. Ridley is a talented back, but sometimes suffers from fumblitis (four fumbles, two lost this season).

Ridley finished with 82 rushing yards on 15 carries to Vereen's 41 on seven runs, but he played second fiddle to Vereen in the first half. Did he stew on the bench? Nope. I distinctly remember seeing the pair laughing together after Vereen ran in an 8-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

There are no divas in that group and I don't doubt it fosters success.

Receiver Wes Welker on if there's a silver lining in that players stepped up when Rob Gronkowski missed time earlier in the season:

WW: "I think we've shown that guys can step up and play that role. Everybody kind of upped their game and knows that we've got to step up."

Here are some Gronk-related numbers, courtesy of SI's Peter King:

Patriots in 11 regular season games with Gronkowski: 35 points, 433 yards per game.

Patriots in five regular season games without Gronkowski: 34 points, 417 yards per game.

The point: This is not 2011. When Rob Gronkowski sprained his ankle in last season's AFC Championship, the game plan changed. New England, for the first time in two years, had to figure out how to live without its super tight end.


Of course, Brady and the rest would prefer to have Gronkowski available. Of course. But entering Sunday's game against Baltimore, they have enough experience to know how to make the machine go without him.

Texans safety Danieal Manning on what it means to him to have a big day in the kick return game:

DM: "Right now it doesn't mean anything. Maybe later it will, but right now it doesn't mean crap."

It should mean a lot to the Patriots.

New England allowed 216 yards on Manning's four kickoff returns. That's 54.0 per return. Houston averaged a 23rd-ranked 21.7 yards in the regular season.

Know what team was best in the NFL? Baltimore. The Ravens gouged opponents for 27.3 yards per kickoff return. They also brought in two for touchdowns, another leauge-high. Deonte Thompson is wily. He got 81 yards on three kickoffs when Baltimore and New England last met in September.

Special teams will have to tighten up before Sunday's conference championship game.

Teans defensive end J.J. Watt on the most frustrating aspect of the game:

JW: "Losing, I can't stand it. I can't stand any aspect of it. The taste in your mouth is terrible. We lost, we are going home, and we are not moving on. Congratulations to the Patriots and they deserve all the credit. It's frustrating."

Yet another glimpse at NFL humanity.

J.J. Watt was a defensive giant this year. His 20.5 sacks led the league. He was dynamic, disruptive, and sometimes impossible to pin down. Much was made of the Patriots bringing out rackets to simulate 'J.J. Swatt's' reach and bother Brady. Rackets! Mere mortal practice squad players were not enough on their own.

But strip away the Thor-glory and you've got another guy who hates to lose. He was sick over it. All athletes probably feel that way, it's just good to hear. You want to think Watt could win the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year award, but bury it in a closet because it reminds him of what Houston didn't win.

Love of the game.

Texans quarterback Matt Schaub on if his third quarter interception was one of those, "Oh no" moments:

MS: "Yeah, when they ultimately get the ball, that's definitely an, 'Oh no' moment. You want to get your guy a chance to make a play."

Tough question for Schaub. How is he supposed to answer? 'Actually, I was excited when I threw the interception. I like to give defensive backs opportunities to feel good about themselves.'

Schaub completed 34-of-51 passes for 343 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception Sunday night.

My colleague Danny Picard best summed up the performance: "But those two touchdown passes came way too late, the timing of the interception was devastating, and at the end of the day, he didn't make as many plays as Tom Brady."

You know what Not Good Enough does in the playoffs? It forces your coach to defend you.

Texans head coach Gary Kubiak on what makes him believe Schaub can be great if he's not at this stage at his career:

GK: "I don't have any doubt if that's what you're asking me. This guy's won a lot of football games. So if you're asking about our quarterback, I've got a ton of confidence in him. I think he's one of the top quarterbacks in football. He's had his team in great position for the last two years. He was a big part of last year. You don't get over that hump unless you're willing to keep going back there and keep putting yourself in that position. It's very, very difficult. I do not take anything for granted, where we are tonight. Because it's hard to get there.

"But I believe in our quarterback whole-heartedly, and my point is that we are going to continue to push him to a new level as a player. And that's all of us. He's definitely the one leading the way."

Schaub is 31-years old. He's been in the league since 2004 and has been a starting quarterback since 2007.

His quarterback record (team record in games he started) is 44-38-0. He's been voted to the Pro Bowl twice (2009 and 2012), ranked in the Top 10 for passer rating five times, ranked in the Top 6 for passes completed per game four times, and ranked in the Top 10 for yards per pass completion five times.

It's not foolish for Kubiak to say his quarterback is a really good one. The trouble is, big losses can corrode a legacy to Not Good Enough. After too many, nobody will care what the coach says.

Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots


Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots

Marcus Cannon has had his run as a piñata. The Patriots offensive lineman is a frequent target when things go wrong up front and, usually, he’s deserved it.

A bit of anecdotal evidence? 

Sunday, I tweeted that every time I watched Cannon, he was making another good play.

On cue, about 10 tweets came back at me with variations of “Keep watching him!”

I asked Bill Belichick if he agreed with the layman’s assessment that Cannon’s playing well.

“I think Marcus [Cannon] has done a good job for us for quite a while,” Belichick began. “I mean he’s stepped in for Sebastian [Vollmer] and then last year when Nate [Solder] was out [and he substituted] for Nate. He has played a lot of good football for us.

“We extended our agreement with him off of his rookie contract which I think speaks to the fact that we want him on the team and we like what he’s doing and so forth and he’s continued to I’d say show with his performance [that he has] validated the confidence that we have in him.”

Cannon’s ending to 2015 – a poor performance (along with the rest of the line) against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game was followed by a performance against the Cardinals that was marred by late-game holding calls.

But with Sebastian Vollmer injured (and still injured) it was sink or swim with Cannon which had plenty of people rolling their eyes.

But – as I said – every time I see Cannon, he’s either holding off a defensive end in pass protection, steamrolling downfield in the running game or making really athletic second-level or cut blocks in the screen game.

“Like every player, as they gain more experience they do get better,” said Belichick. “I think our offensive line’s certainly improved over the course of the year and playing with more consistency than we did last year. But there’s always room for improvement and the continuity that we’ve had there since (right guard) Shaq [Mason] has gotten in the last few weeks – we had Shaq over on the right side a little bit at the end of the season last year and then this year most all of the year except when Shaq was out for a few weeks there at the end of training camp and the start of the season – but our overall consistency and communication on the offensive line has been better because we’ve had more continuity there so that helps everybody.”

It can’t hurt that the lineman whisperer, Dante Scranecchia, has returned to coach the group. Cannon’s conditioning and physique looks better. He just appears more athletic and explosive. And he’s seemed more relaxed in the limited time the media’s in the locker room.

All off that added up equals nobody really talking about Marcus Cannon.
“Like any lineman, the less you call his name probably the better he’s doing,” said Belichick. “It’s probably a good thing when you guys don’t talk about him. Then that probably means they’re not doing something too noticeably wrong, right?”


Dombrowski, Red Sox making adjustments in wake of recent departures


Dombrowski, Red Sox making adjustments in wake of recent departures

In recent days and weeks, the Red Sox have lost their general manager, their vice president of amateur and international scouting, an assistant director of amateur scouting, a member of their analytics department and their mental skills coach.

But Dave Dombrowski, the team's president of baseball operations, insists that the team is not in danger of "brain drain.''

"No, not at all,'' said president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in a conference call with reporters. "We've lost some good people, but it's also a situation where we have a lot of good people and I think when you have a good organization, if you're winning and you expose people to situations, (a certain amount of exodus) happens. I think the other part of it is that we're more than capable of filling some of those roles from an internal perspective. We've got some quality people and I think the thing that's great about it is, it allows people to grow.''

Dombrowski announced that, in the wake of the departure of Amiel Sawdaye, the former VP of amateur and international scouting who left Monday to become assistant GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Sox were promoting Eddie Romero, formerly the vice president of international scouting, to the position of senior vice president/ assistant GM.

Romero, the son of former Red Sox utility infielder Eddie Romero Sr. will help Dombrowski in personnel matters and player development, while Brian O'Halloran, who has the same title as Romero, will continue to handle administrative matters including salary arbitration and contactual negotiations.

After the departure of Mike Hazen, who left to become GM of the Diamondbacks last week, Dombrowski interviewed Sawdaye and Romero as Hazen's potential replacements before determining that neither had the necessary experience yet to become a major league GM.

Dombrowski said there would be additional internal promotions and adjustments to announce in the coming weeks. He added that senior advisors Frank Wren and Allard Baird, each former general managers, would see their responsibilities increase when it comes to conducting trade talks with other organizations.

Sawdaye's departure is one of several this off-season for the front office. Earlier this month, Steve Sanders, who had been the team's assistant director of amateur scouting, left to become director of amateur scouting for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Also, Tom Tippett, a longtime member of the team's statistical analysis staff, will leave soon too pursue other opportunities. The team recently informed mental skills coach Bob Tewksbury that his contact would not be renewed, according to the Boston Globe.

Dombrowski indicated that Laz Gutierrez would be promoted to take the place of Tewksbury.

In other news, Dombrowski revealed that the entire coaching staff -- hitting coach Chili Davis; assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez; first base coach Ruben Amaro Jr.; third base coach Brian Butterfield; bullpen coach Dana LeVangie; pitching coach Carl Willis; and bench coach Torey Lovullo -- had all agreed to return for 2017.

That, of course, is subject to change since Lovullo is believed to be a target of Hazen for Arizona's managerial vacancy.

Dombrowski said the Diamondbacks had yet to request permission to speak with Lovullo, though that may happen soon now that Hazen has hired Sawdaye to fill out his front office.

When Hazen was hired by the Diamondbacks, he was limited to hiring just one member of the Red Sox' Baseball Operations staff. But, Dombrowski added, that limit didn't apply to uniformed staff members such as Lovullo, who would be leaving for a promotion.