Curran: Pats playing with fire with bad starts

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Curran: Pats playing with fire with bad starts

FOXBORO -- In every quarter but the first, the Patriots have scored more than 140 points this season. It's uncanny. In the second, 148. In the third, 141. In the fourth, 142.

In the first quarter? Just 82. It's the only quarter in which they've been outscored (87-82).

Why, why, why, why, why?

The only coach in NFL history to coach his team to 13 or more wins in five seasons has no idea what the common thread might be.

"If we knew, we would have done something about it today," said Bill Belichick. "I guess not. We weren't trying to start that way."

In five of the Patriots' final six games, they fell behind. They were down 10-0 to the Eagles, 20-17 against Washington, 16-7 against Denver, 17-0 against Miami and 21-0 Sunday against the Bills. In the one game they didn't fall behind, they gave up 21 fourth-quarter points against the Colts.

Going back further? Against the Chiefs and Tyler Palko, the game was 3-0 deep into the first half. The Jets got up on New England, 9-6. The Giants were ahead 10-0 in the third after a scoreless first half; the Pats eventually took the lead in the final two minutes but lost in the closing seconds. The Patriots didn't erase deficits of 10-0 and 17-7 in their 25-17 loss to the Steelers. The Cowboys led the Patriots 16-13 in the fourth, but New England rallied for the win.

You have to go all the way back to Weeks 4 and 5, when the Patriots never trailed against the Raiders and Jets, to find consecutive games in which New England never trailed.

Maybe this all speaks to this team's resilience and unflappability that they can continually erase deficits. Maybe they can live like this despite all the proclamations that "This won't cut it in the playoffs." Maybe this is their identity.

"Its really lack of execution more so than anything," Tom Brady explained. "Theyre not doing anything special or Wow, we werent prepared for that. Its just theyre executing and were not. Id love to be able to see what it looks like when we put together 60 great minutes of football. Today was 45 but it was better than 30 last week, so maybe were trending toward that."

Maybe they are. The reality is, the Patriots' defense is extremely vulnerable. That's not a changeable situation. They are what they are and they are going to allow points and yards.

It's the offense that carries this franchise as it turns toward the playoffs and conventional wisdom says that it's going to be imperative for them to go score-for-score with the top-tier teams it will see in the playoffs.

The reason? Talent.

The top three teams in the AFC in points per game allowed are the Steelers, Ravens and Texans (14.2, 16.6 and 17.4). They are the fifth, second and third seeds respectively behind the Patriots in the AFC playoffs.

The Ravens, Bengals, Texans and Broncos are the top four teams in sacks. Again, all playoff teams. If the Patriots' defense allows points and New England falls behind, here comes the pass rush and the jamming at the line for the Patriots receivers as the timing of the Patriots' offense gets upset.

That's the concern going forward. Flat defensive starts in 2009 against the Ravens and 2010 against the Jets are what helped waylay the New England offense.

"Its the playoffs now," said Rob Gronkowski. "We got the best teams coming in the house, so we got to start in the first quarter, we got to start fast, we got to start strong and we cant be getting down like that. We were lucky enough to even come back against Buffalo losing by that much 21. We got to start fast for sure and we got to play all four quarters.

The early execution offensively has been puzzling. Against the Bills, it was a pair of quick possessions that gave Buffalo a chance to pillage the Patriots secondary.

Bad football by us," said Brian Waters. "Its the players. Were going to look at the film and figure out its one guy here, one guy there, one guy here, guys just not doing their jobs and not doing it well enough. The Bills are one of those teams that really are trying. I mean look at their team. They were going for it on fourth down, fake punts. They were really trying to win the game. We allowed them, by not staying focused and paying attention to details, to get off to a great start against us.

In the first quarter this season, Tom Brady went 63-for-102. That puts him 15th in the NFL in completion percentage in the opening quarter. Entering Sunday, he was 12th in first-half completion percentage. He's second in second-half completion percentage and fourth in fourth-quarter completion percentage.

Having turned deficits into leads has imbued this team with the confidence they can turn it on, that they'll figure it out.

We started off slow and lackadaisical with a lack of detail, but once we get the detail down and our playmakers start making plays, we can get it going," Aaron Hernandez said Sunday. "We just start slow. It has been like that all season but it has to change now coming into the playoffs. If we change the pace up and start going faster it will be hard to stop since we have so many weapons.

The strength of the weapons, though, is the diversity of the attack. Slot receiver. Classic tight end. Hybrid tight end. Scatback. Slashing running back. Possession receiver. The effort will be on to take away the tight ends and Welker in the playoffs. If the Patriots fall behind, the running game may become an afterthought.

It all gets harder, then. Never has a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed been earned by a team so fundamentally flawed on defense. The Patriots allowed an average of 411.1 yards per game. They gave up 293.3 passing yards per game. They were last in the league in yards per game allowed by 42 yards. Yardage-wise, they are the worst pass defense in NFL history, allowing a record 4,727 yards passing. The previous record was 4,541 set by the 1995 Falcons.

That Brady threw for 5,325 yards helped offset the damage opposing offenses did but the defenses will be tougher in the playoffs.

Falling behind in the postseason could be flirting with disaster even if that is this team's M.O.

Despite discord, Goodell's reign may not be nearing end

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Despite discord, Goodell's reign may not be nearing end

Monday may have marked a low point in the relationship between the NFL and its on-field employees.

The fight between the league and its best player of the past two decades was in the headlines again. Tom Brady, tied to the NFL’s bumper and dragged around for almost 500 days, had his NFLPA legal team baring its teeth again in the Deflategate mess. The eye-gouging and hair-pulling in that imbroglio over a puff of air allegedly being removed from footballs has cost the league and the PA about $25M so far.

Meanwhile, NFLPA President Eric Winston was saying the league "cannot be trusted to do the right thing when it involves players.” That comment flowed from a Congressional report alleging the NFL tried to exert influence over who would conduct studies regarding Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the condition that’s been blamed for a myriad of former players winding up addled, incapacitated or dead.

I say “may have marked” because the relationship between the two sides has cratered so frequently over the past two years, it’s hard to know exactly what the low point has been. Or how much lower it can go.

And, with the 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement only half done, there is ample opportunity for things to get worse. Because, really, why would they get better?

With the NFL’s owners safe knowing that their emperor/puppet/human shield is still in place to take the hits and do their dirty work, there’s seemingly no groundswell among that group to relieve Roger Goodell of his duties. Despite reports of growing owner discontent over Deflategate, the Ray Rice investigation, and an appeal of a case in which the league was found to have withheld $100M from players, there is no Sword of Damocles dangling over the league to cut ties with Goodell.

He was able to oversee the league’s re-entry in Los Angeles (though that “triumph” was fraught with owner acrimony), is going to get a game played in China, keeps edging closer to getting a franchise based in Europe and may even land one in Las Vegas, has enhanced the league’s reach on social media (the announcement of some games being aired on Twitter) and keeps making billions hand over fist.

Goodell’s presence won’t be an impediment to a new labor deal getting done for another five years. By then, when the issues of Goodell’s role in player discipline, drug testing and his relationship with the union come to the fore, the owners might feel compelled to cut him loose after 15 seasons in charge.

But even then, the league’s owners will be in the business of pointing out to the players how good they’ve had it under the current CBA. The league’s salary cap structure – decried as a disaster in the first years of the deal – has seen the cap grow from $120M in 2011 to $155M this year. Players’ practice time and the wear and tear on their bodies has been reduced thanks to the new limits on contact enacted. Benefits are better. Retired players are getting better care. Players have more off-field marketing opportunities with companies that want to affix themselves to the most popular sport in the United States.

As bad as the headlines have been for Goodell, in five years (or probably fewer since negotiations on a new CBA will begin in 2020) who will remember the disaster that’s been Deflategate? How inspired will players be to miss games and paychecks for the satisfaction of knowing Goodell can’t be his own arbitrator anymore?

To sum it up, Goodell’s dark disciplinary reign may well continue unabated for a few more seasons. But as long as the league rains money on its players through the end of this decade, the clock isn’t ticking on Goodell and the owners in the form of labor strife.

Smith: Brady made an 'incredibly generous offer' to settle Deflategate

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Smith: Brady made an 'incredibly generous offer' to settle Deflategate

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith joined the Dan Patrick Show -- hosted by Ross Tucker on Monday -- to discuss the petition that was eventually filed to the Second Circuit requesting a rehearing for Tom Brady's case. 

During the discussion, Smith insisted that Brady made a settlement offer long ago that might've resolved things. But because the NFL wanted more, a deal was never struck. Now here we are, almost 500 days since the AFC Championship Game in January of 2015, and Deflategate is still a living, breathing thing. 

"Tom's a standup guy," Smith said. "And I think he made a settlement offer to resolve this. The league chose not to take it, and that's where we are . . . I don't want to go into details, but it was an incredibly generous offer to resolve this. The league asked for something that no man should agree to do."

Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran explained on Monday's episode of Quick Slants that Brady was willing to accept a one-game suspension for a lack of cooperation at the outset of the investigation. But the league was looking for a face to take the blame, Curran explained. 

Both Jim McNally and John Jastremski were willing to take the heat off of Brady, but Brady insisted that he would not throw anyone else under the bus because he believed that there was no wrongdoing on his part or anyone else's when it came to the preparation of game footballs. 

With no one offered up to shoulder the blame, the NFL declined to agree to any proposal from Brady's camp. At that point, it would have been almost impossible to predict that this case would one day be only a step or two from getting the US Supreme Court involved. 

Yet here we are.