Another week, another Pats bounce back


Another week, another Pats bounce back

FOXBORO - In the Dolphins locker room Saturday evening, players were talking about the character their team showed by competing even though Miami was eliminated from the playoffs weeks ago.

"It just speaks to the character of the men in this room," said Miami guard Richie Incognito. "We dont quit.We just fight and keep swinging.That has been our mentality all year. Just keep swinging and try to clock as many wins as possible.

Said linebacker Karlos Dansby, We are resilient, we have a lot of pride. We dont lay down. We will never lay down. We have proud men in this locker room. We will never lay down."

There is something to be said for that, no doubt. There are teams across the league that are just punching the clock now. But it is a hollow bow those players take.

In the Patriots locker room, their resilience has led them to a 12-3 record. And while the Dolphins started the season 0-7, the Patriots have now won seven straight in the crucible of NFL crunch time. Simply competing and playing hard when there's nothing but pride on the line does show mental toughness. But being able to take blows, correct and commandeer wins in the span of 60 minutes shows a lot more resilience.

And the team on the turf at Gillette Stadium that was most resilient on Saturday was the one in the dark blue jerseys.

For the third straight week, the Patriots erased a deficit and overcame a poor start to win. It's remarkable. This may not be the most talented team , but it has backbone of steel.
Why are they able to take the shots and come back?

One thing they say from the day you come in here is just do your job," explained guard Brian Waters. "And I think that we trust each other in that fact. There are no special things around here that are any different from anybody else, outside of everybody is just wondering about what they need to do and they take care of their business.

"The end result is we never panic," he said. "We never panic. There was no panic on the sideline. More people will probably think, You guys were too calm. There wasnt any yelling, there wasnt any screaming, it was just about getting to the things that we knew we could do well and going after it after that.

There was yelling and screaming, linebacker Jerod Mayo said. From coaches who demanded things get better in the second half. But there are coaches on every sideline screaming non-stop whether their team is leading or trailing.

The onus is on the players to hear the message in the high decibels and then carry out the commands.

"We said we only needed one play to get it started as a team," said Vince Wilfork, who helped provide that "one play" with a big fumble recovery early in the second half that led to a touchdown which narrowed the Miami lead to 17-10. "All the while, we never gave up on one another and never said anything negative to one another. Going down 17-0 is a pretty big deficit but once again, this team showed its character. We believed in one another and stepped up and once we got going, it seemed that all we needed was that one play. Once we got it, it opened up everything else on offense, special teams and defense. It was a great win for us and we still have room for improvement. Each week we are going to get better.
That's been a promise that's been scoffed at throughout the season. But it's a promise that's being backed up weekly.

During the course of the season, you learn a lot of things, right?" asked Waters. "We had some situations where we got off to bad starts and didnt come back and didnt play particularly well in the end. And weve had some things happen for us where weve gotten off to bad starts and end up finishing well. Today is just another lesson learned.

When the 2009 Patriots - a truly soft team that couldn't muster wins in the face of even the adversity of a plane ride - got behind in the playoffs against Baltimore, they were toast. No character.

This team? It has a survivor's mentality. Which will serve it well in the postseason because - the way the defense often plays - a deficit in the playoffs is a guarantee.

"Theres nobody playing perfect football right now," said Waters. "So were no different from any other football team outside of the fact that weve got an extended season that we know we have in front of us and next week is a great opportunity for us to get even better going into that part of the season.

While the other teams that pass for elite in this weird 2011 season are still riding the roller-coaster in terms of wins and losses, the Patriots - who ride the roller-coaster in 60-minute snippets - keep reeling off wins. Building confidence. And strengthening a resliency that's already proven remarkable.

Patriots get explosive plays, key blocks from combination of Gronkowski and Bennett


Patriots get explosive plays, key blocks from combination of Gronkowski and Bennett

Earlier in the week, Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler did an interview with the team's website and found himself in some hot water for suggesting that the Patriots straddle the line of fair play. That video has since been taken down, but Butler said something else during that discussion that may have furrowed a few eyebrows. 

He said that he believed that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was more of a receiver than a blocker.

On its face, that's not exactly an insult. Gronkowski is one of the best receiving tight ends to ever play. It's the stronger part of his game.

However, the implication was that there wasn't much to worry about when it came to Gronkowski's blocking ability. 

The All-Pro tight end may have helped jog Butler's memory that he's more than a pass-catcher during Sunday's 27-16 win over the Steelers. He and Martellus Bennett teamed up to help clear space for LeGarrette Blount in the running game, physically overwhelming Pittsburgh's defense at times. For example, during Blount's touchdown run in the second quarter at the goal line, Gronkowski and Bennett led the way, sealing off safety Mike Mitchell and defensive end James Harrison, respectively.

"That's part of the game, too," Gronkowski said. "That's part of being a tight end, too. I take pride in my blocking, too. That's part of my position. Marty did a really great job today, too, in the running game."

Part of the reason the Patriots offense has been as effective as it has with Tom Brady behind center over the last three weeks has been because of the his ability to share the football. There are stretches when Gronkowski is the go-to target, there are moments when Bennett is Brady's best option, and there are times -- like Sunday -- when Julian Edelman will be the focus. 

When the Patriots weren't running behind their two tight ends, they were sending them up the field, occupying safeties and leaving Edelman in one-on-one coverage underneath. The 5-foot-11 wideout finished with nine catches for 60 yards on 10 targets, while Bennett and Gronkowski saw just six targets combined. 

"It doesn't really matter who makes the plays, just as long as we make 'em," Patriots coach Belichick said. "So if they take somebody away or they do something to neutralize one player, then that's why we have other players on the team. It's not about featuring one guy. It's about the team winning."

"I just go out there and roll with it," said Bennett, who finished with one catch for five yards. "Wherever Tom throws the ball at, that's where he throws it. We're all just trying to get open. I thought today they took the seams away a lot so the middle of the field was open for Julian. When we got chances we came down with the ball so that's all we try to do any time we're out there.

"But today they relied a lot on us blocking. We did a great job blocking. A lot of poeple always looking at the pass catching or how many receiving yards we get, but what makes us dymanic is our ability to block and open up holes for LeGarrette."

Once the Patriots had established the run, and once they had gashed the Steelers in the short-to-intermediate range with Edelman, that's when things opened up for Gronkowski. He finished the game having caught four passes -- one in the first half -- for 93 yards and a score. 

"It's a team game," Gronkowski said. "You take away the top of an offense running down the field, Julian does a great job underneath, which is his game, which is his specialty. He does such a great job at it that you just can't let that be." 

Perhaps the Steelers had an extra set of eyes on Edelman with 6:19 left in the third quarter, when Brady hit Gronkowski for a 36-yard score on what Gronkowski called "a little bender" down the seam in single coverage. 

The Patriots got 37 more yards on a deep crossing route to Gronkowski early in the fourth quarter. That set up Blount's second touchdown run of the night -- an easy one thanks to Gronkowski and Bennett's work caving in the left side of the Steelers line.

"They were certainly aware of [Gronkowski] and Martellus, and then Julian got a lot of opportunities today," Brady said. "He hasn't got a ton the last few weeks, but today he had a lot of opportunities with the ball . . . We just gotta keep putting pressure on the defense.

"If you do that, either you're gonna make some plays or they're gonna kind of over-adjust to something. Then we got Gronk down the middle. Got Gronk back going down the opposite way, and LeGarrette punched it in. It was good to score like that."

The Patriots can score using Gronkowski in a variety of ways. Receiver. Blocker. After Sunday, no one knows that better than Butler.