Brady: Offense slowed by negative plays

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Brady: Offense slowed by negative plays

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady's first pass Sunday ricocheted off a helmet and was intercepted on a diving one-handed play by Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. It was an inauspicious start to what finished up as a forgettable afternoon for the quarterback.

Sure, it was the 34th consecutive game in which he threw for a score, the fourth-longest streak of all time. And, yeah, he also locked up the fourth spot on the NFL's all-time passing yardage list, surpassing Johnny Unitas.

But after finishing 28-for-46 for 316 yards, a touchdown and an interception, one look at the scoreboard -- a 20-18 win for the Cardinals -- was enough for Brady to know that he left points on the field.

Particularly unnerving for him were the "negative plays" -- penalties, sacks, tackles behind the line of scrimmage -- that stalled New England's offense.

"Offensively, when you dont play well and you dont play consistently, if youre not going to get a big play, then you have to drive the ball," Brady said, "and you cant drive the ball if you're always two steps forward, one step back. Thats the way it felt today. Wed get the drive going and then there would be a negative play and wed be forced to try to make a miraculous play to get back on track. It just wasnt a very good day in that sense."

Through three quarters, Brady was 14-for-25 for 150 yards and a pick. He had also been sacked three times. Without Aaron Hernandez, who left in the first quarter with an ankle injury, the game plan was changing, and Brady looked off.

It wasn't until New England's penultimate drive in the fourth quarter -- its only touchdown drive of the day -- that Brady appeared to be in rhythm. With just over five minutes remaining in the game, he completed five consecutive passes in a no-huddle attack that quickly moved the Patriots from their own 18 yard line all the way to Arizona's 28.

They were fast, they were efficient. And Tom Brady looked like Tom Brady. He was on time with his throws and he fit passes in to tight windows to Rob Gronkowski, who before that drive had just one catch for nine yards.

Brady capped the series with a five-yard touchdown strike to Gronkowski, finishing the drive 8-for-10 for 82 yards.

Wes Welker noticed the offense began to click when it went into hurry-up mode.

"We work on that a lot," Welker said. "We practice it and it was effective for us, especially late in the game. It was crunch time and we were able to make some plays and get down the field and score. We just have to finish a lot of those drives on touchdowns instead of field goals."

Of course, one more field goal would have won the game. But Brady explained that if he and the offense had played more efficiently leading up to Stephen Gostkowski's missed game-winning attempt, a win would have been in hand long before that wayward boot.

"Its a team game and certainly we shouldnt have been leaving it up to that particular situation . . . We just came up short," Brady said. "We have opportunities to make plays and were just not making them. Just too inconsistent throughout the day to really put enough points on the board."

Curran's Sunday 4-pack: So, what HAS Tom Brady been up to?

Curran's Sunday 4-pack: So, what HAS Tom Brady been up to?

Six days – four quarters of football – remain in Tom Brady’s four-game suspension.
 
The fact the Patriots are 3-0 and have gotten a long – and enjoyable – look at their quarterback depth behind Brady. Brady, meanwhile, has gotten a chance to shave one-quarter off the season-long wear-and-tear he takes.
 
But highlighting silver linings and pointing out there’s not much sand left in the suspension hourglass is no real consolation. Said one team source Thursday night, “It’s never going to go away.”
 
What’s Brady been up to? Mixing family time and working out. He’s routinely spent four hours a day training, I’m told, presumably with his body coach Alex Guerrero at TB12 Sports Performance at Patriot Place. Also, aside from his Sunday session with Wes Welker, Brady’s been throwing to young college players at undisclosed locations, eschewing the opportunity to bring in some of the “name” former players who’ve reached out and offered their services.
 
Spotted in Italy with wife Gisele Bundchen last week, Brady’s also been back home in San Mateo visiting with his family.
 
Speaking to two people close to him, I was told he succeeded in making peace with the time off and avoiding the creep of too much bitterness. I was also told he’s unbelievably motivated to return at a high level and wants his transition back to be seamless in terms of performance and conditioning. That last part is, of course, to be expected. But it will be interesting to see how Brady does perform out of the gates after a month’s forced exile.
 
NINKOVICH RETURNS, TOO

The lesser of the two suspended prodigal sons set to return next week – Rob Ninkovich – is no doubt going to benefit physically from the quarter-season vacation as well. And the defensive ends who’ve performed well in his absence – Jabaal Sheard and especially Chris Long – will do well to have Ninkovich back in the mix. Mention should also be made of Trey Flowers who has shown up in opponent’s backfields on a weekly basis. It depends on what your personal cup of tea might be, but through three games, Long seems to me a much better defensive fit for this team than Chandler Jones. Jones was the more explosive pass-rusher but Long’s ability in the running game, and his play-in, play-out impact in applying pressure on the tackle in front of him makes it seem so far as if he’s an upgrade.
 
NEW DEALS AHEAD?
 
Still no word on which Patriot may be in line for a new deal since the team restructured Devin McCourty and freed up some cap space.

Donta Hightower, Malcolm Butler and Jamie Collins have been seen as the most likely targets for extensions and a redo of Hightower at this point would whittle down his $7M cap number and possibly allow another extension to be executed for either Collins or Butler, as our Phil Perry pointed out.  Jabaal Sheard, meanwhile, is the Patriot who flies under the radar when extension talk starts. He may be every bit as important to the success of the Patriots defense as the other three.
 
REX WRECKS
 
The Bills are 0-2, the natives are beyond restless in Buffalo and the Cardinals are in Western New York on Sunday. The Bills are expected to play without wide receiver Sammy Watkins and are a team staring into the esophagus of 0-3 with a visit to the Patriots coming next week. Have a gander at the Bills Mailbag in the Buffalo News.  Seems like years since Rex was all giddy about the paint job on his new truck. It was less than 19 months ago.