Hoyer makes most of second chance in second half

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Hoyer makes most of second chance in second half

FOXBORO -- When Ryan Mallett replaced Brian Hoyer, mid-possession, on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, it looked as if maybe Hoyer's night would have been over.

Instead, Mallett finished the first half at quarterback for the Patriots, but he didn't start the second. Hoyer did.

And getting thrown back into the game was the second chance Hoyer needed to get his game in order, following a lackluster, three-and-out start in the opening minutes of the second quarter.

Right now, I havent watched the film yet, but I can tell there are definitely some things I wish I would have done better," said Hoyer after the Patriots' 7-6 win over the New Orleans Saints in Thursday night's preseason opener. "You know, getting the ball batted isnt something that usually happens, so youve got to find a way to get it through. And some of the throws, youve got to get on the same page as some of the guys.

"To go out in the second half and have a 97-yard drive, that was definitely a positive, but youve got to do that more often.

Hoyer replaced the guy who replaced him -- Mallett -- and began the second half with a 14-play, 97-yard drive, which resulted in a three-yard touchdown pass to Britt Davis. Hoyer finished the drive 3-for-7 for 20 yards and a touchdown, but it was running back Shane Vereen that carried the load, accounting for 73 of the 97 yards on that drive.

The touchdown ended up being the game-winning score, and Mallett returned in the fourth quarter to close the game out.

Hoyer said that Belichick's quarterback strategy on Thursday night was just part of the everyday competition to see who will be Tom Brady's backup.

Theres always competition," said Hoyer. "I mean, Im always trying to compete with Tom Brady so, and you know, obviously Ryans a good player too, so were competing at the same time. And I think the competition always brings out the best in everyone. You never want to lag off or anything like that, so theres always competition and youre always trying to improve and I think me trying to chase Tom and trying to be as good as he is, that obviously sets a pretty high standard and I try to strive to get to his level every day.

Brady only played the first two possessions on Thursday night. He finished 4-of-7 for 30 yards. No touchdowns. No interceptions. But he was sacked once, by Saints defensive end Will Smith, in the Patriots' opening possession. Smith got bumped to the outside of the pocket by Nate Solder, but as Brady held onto the ball, Smith was able to eventually get back into the play and take Brady down hard, forcing him to lose the football at his own 40-yard line.

The Saints recovered, and ended up hitting a 46-yard field goal to take the early 3-0 lead.

Brady had one more possession, but it resulted in a punt.

It gave Hoyer and Mallett a chance to try and top one another. Hoyer finished 8-of-15 for 45 yards and a touchdown, while Mallett finished 8-of-19 with 89 yards and an interception.

Hoyer -- in his fourth year -- knows what to expect this preseason. And he knows that in order to beat Mallett for the No. 2 quarterback spot, he's going to need better starts that Thursday night. Because Belichick might not always give him a second chance.

"You know how games are played," said Hoyer. "But that first one out, you've always kind of have to get your feet underneath you, and get a few throws in, and get feeling comfortable. And I didn't feel like I did a good job of that tonight. I've got to do a better job of taking a few easy throws in the beginning, and get a good rhythm.

"There's sometimes, where instead of trying to wait on a deeper throw, you take a check-down and get the drive going," added Hoyer. "You try to get a positive play to start it off. And that can kind of get you in a rhythm. And once you're moving the ball, you can kind of keep the defense guessing. Obviously like that drive with Shane, he started to run the ball, and kind of opened things up in the passing game a little bit too. So, if you can just go out there and try to get a good rhythm going, with a check-down or a diagonal to the tight end, or something like that, I think that can help."

Patriots make Floyd a healthy scratch for AFC title game

Patriots make Floyd a healthy scratch for AFC title game

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will go with four receivers against the Steelers as Michael Floyd has been listed as a healthy scratch for the AFC title game. 

PATRIOTS-STEELERS PREGAME

The Patriots had all five of their wideouts -- Floyd, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola -- available to them for Sunday's matchup, but they're opted to use the four who are most experienced in the team's offense. 

Hogan (thigh), Mitchell (knee) and Amendola (ankle) were all listed as questionable going into the weekend, but all have been deemed physically ready to play as their team vies for a Super Bowl berth. 

Floyd had his worst game as a member of the Patriots last week in the Divisional Round against the Texans. On two routes, both slants, Floyd ran the pattern in such a way that there appeared to be some miscommunication between him and quarterback Tom Brady. One was picked off and the other was almost picked. 

Floyd admitted as much last week, saying that there are still intricacies to the Patriots offense that he needs to pick up -- including exactly how Brady wants certain routes run.

Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans last week but felt optimistic soon thereafter that he'd be good to go for the conference championship. Mitchell hasn't played since suffering a knee injury against the Jets in Week 16. 

Other Patriots inactives for Sunday include quarterback Jacoby Brissett, running back DJ Foster, offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, safety Jordan Richards and corners Justin Coleman and Cyrus Jones.

Curran: Pats already winning the mind game

Curran: Pats already winning the mind game

FOXBORO -- There’s this book called “The Obstacle is the Way,” written by an author named Ryan Holiday.

PATRIOTS-STEELERS PREGAME

Therein, the 29-year-old author explains how many highly successful people use adversity as a springboard. Holiday explains that dwelling on impediments to success -- whether they be personal shortcomings, daily challenges that confront us or just bad luck -- hinders our ability to accept them and move on undeterred . . . which is critical to success.  

It’s a book I first became aware of when reading a feature on John Schneider, the Seahawks GM. Schneider said he was told about the book by Bill Belichick confidante and former Patriots executive Mike Lombardi in 2015.

“[Lombardi] said, 'That's really where you would get a great vibe for what [Belichick] is like and what his philosophy is and how he approaches life and his football culture and all. I went out and purchased it right away, and it was awesome.”

The book came to mind last week when Mike Tomlin, in his postgame address to his team, lamented that the Patriots were “a day-and-a-half” ahead of Pittsburgh in prep time and that the Steelers wouldn’t be back in Pennsylvania until 4 a.m.

Already there was that “I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’ . . . ” woe-is-me approach that gave not just Tomlin an issue to fixate upon, but his players as well. Kind of like the idle intimation Tomlin made after the 2015 opener that the Steelers headsets gave them issues.

Of course, by Monday morning, the Steelers had more to deal with, as Antonio Brown broadcast live 17 minutes of locker-room footage. The Steelers fixated on that through Wednesday. Then the flu descended on their locker room and reportedly affected 15 players. Early Sunday morning, the Steelers had the fire alarm pulled at their hotel and -- even though they didn’t evacuate -- it’s shaping up as something the Steelers will be muttering about for weeks.

Or even years. They still think they got jobbed out of a Super Bowl by “Spygate” even though the 2001 Patriots beat them because of two special-teams touchdowns more than anything having to do with alleged taped signals.

Contrast that with the Patriots. After they sat on the tarmac in Providence for three hours on New Year’s Eve waiting to take off for the finale in Miami, Tom Brady talked about the opportunity the delay afforded the team to catch up on rest or preparation.

It’s just the way the Patriots have been hard-wired since Belichick took over. Screw the mottos, like “Do Your Job” or the hokey “One More”. (Can someone tell me that if “One More” occurs, what's next year’s saying? “One More One More?”) If there’s been a mantra for success that underpins everything the Patriots have been about it would be: “It is what it is.”

Quarterbacks coach passes away? (Dick Rehbein in 2001.) Very sad. But it is what it is. Starting quarterback has artery sheared? (Drew Bledsoe in 2001.) Is what it is. A league-sponsored witch hunt is carried out prior to the Super Bowl with the starting quarterback in the crosshairs? (Deflategate/Tom Brady in 2015.) It is what it is. That quarterback’s ultimately yanked off the field for four games? (Brady's suspension, 2016.) Is what it is.

Bill Parcells once said, “If you give a team an excuse they will take it every time.”

So it was with that in mind when the Patriots in 2003 boarded a plane for Miami and Belichick told them they were going down there to win and that he “didn’t want to hear about the heat or the plane ride or the f****** orange juice.” The Patriots got the point and extracted a 19-13 overtime win -- the first time they’d won there under Belichick.

The Patriots have had plenty of fire alarms pulled on them over the years -- three times during their week in Indy prior to Super Bowl 46, at least once in Arizona prior to SB49 -- and never did those cause the outcry that this minor disturbance caused.

That has to do with the mythology around the Patriots and Belichick that’s grown and festered for a decade-and-a-half.  The rest of the paranoid NFL imagines a KGB-style intelligence agency and wound up more concerned with the Patriots than readying a great team tto unseat them. Which is handy when explaining to your owner why the Patriots routinely win at the rate that they do. They cheat. What better way to cover your ass?

It can work for a while, right Ryan Grigson?

Another pro sports dynasty that enjoyed the kind of long-term dominance New England's in the midst of also won a lot of games because opponents got spooked by dead spots in the floor, hot locker rooms and cold showers in the original Boston Garden.

In other words, this mental tenderness exhibited by teams that choose to rage at the unfairness of it all rather than laugh and soldier on is nothing new.

Today, the ill-feeling, sleep-deprived, Steelers -- who had to cram their preparation around the distraction caused by a great player -- will play their most important game in six years.

God willing, the headsets work.