Patriots turn up tempo to new level in win over Broncos

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Patriots turn up tempo to new level in win over Broncos

FOXBORO The Denver Broncos said they knew it was coming. They said the tempo of the Patriots offense was something theyd worked on all week.

Yet when it came time to defend it, the Broncos got run over.

To make it short, we worked on it all week, said Broncos corner Champ Bailey when asked about dealing with the Patriots fast pace. That lets you know right there. You gotta translate things from the meeting room and practice field to the game. Coaches cant go out there and play for us. We gotta make sure we put ourselves in position to make plays and get off the field on third down. We worked on everything they did to us. There wasnt no surprises. They just hit us in the mouth and we didnt hit back hard enough.

Truth be told, Champ, the Patriots were hitting faster than Pacquiao on Sunday. This wasnt the Patriots normal hurry-up. This was turbo.

New England ran a total of 85 plays, 45 in the first half.

By way of comparison, heres what they ran in the previous four games of 2012: 76 plays, 34 in the first half against the Bills; 75 plays, 38 in the first half against the Ravens; 74 plays, 28 in the first half against Arizona and 66 plays, 27 in the first half against the Titans.

In the Super Bowl last February they ran 60 plays, 27 in the first half. In the AFC Championship they ran 67 and 38 against Baltimore; in the Divisional Round against Denver they ran 64 and 39 and in the regular-season finale against Buffalo, they ran 75 and 27.

That was fast, said Broncos tight end Chris Gronkowski (yeah, same family). I dont think Ive seen anybody play that fast before and Ive watched a lot of their games.

The Patriots ripped off a team-record 35 first downs on Sunday. In the second quarter, they held the ball for 11:09 and ran 30 plays, picking up 12 first downs six on the ground and six through the air.

It was a little bit faster for whatever reason, said Denver corner Tracy Porter. We had to adjust on the fly. They had two plays going in so it allowed them to play that much faster. We had to adjust to that but overall, they made the plays and we didnt.

What was interesting about Josh McDaniels game plan was that the Patriots threw the ball on four of their first five plays then when Denver got their nickel defense on the field full-time the Patriots ran at them over and over.

The Patriots ran the ball on seven of their next 10 plays en route to their first score. On their next drive, they evened it out more. But the speed and the playcalls were ever-changing so that Denver was completely on its heels.

Thats what they do, said Broncos safety Jim Leonhard. They go uptempo and make you have to communicate as a defense and the biggest thing is mixing up the tempo too. Theyll go fast for a couple plays and get you on your heels and then slow it down and smoke you out and see what youre coming with. Its all about the matchups and they won too many of them today.

That they did. Mainly by targeting the middle of the field in the passing attack. Weve seen games where theyve banged it to the outside receivers, but on Sunday their plan was to work Wes Welker in the middle every time he had a matchup. He won on almost all of them (13 catches on 15 targets).

Thats why hes one of the best slot guys in the game, said Broncos linebacker Joe Mays when asked about Welker. He gets in and out of his cuts like none other. He catches everything and gets yards after the catch. Hes one of the best and theyre one of the best teams. They caught us off guard. We wasnt ready for the tempo, we werent ready for the speed of it.

What this performance does is put that much more on tape for defensive coordinators to prepare for. Do they stick with their nickel package and have a Patriots running attack thats put up 498 yards in two games plow over them. Or do they stay conventional and let Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Deion Branch and Brandon Lloyd win against bigger slower players.

Theyve been stopped, said Bailey. Its not like its impossible. We just gotta do better at stopping them. We made some plays late in the game but we gotta do better at stopping them.

That will be the chore for defenses in the coming weeks and it will get harder as the Patriots get players like Aaron Hernandez back.

You prepare for it the best you can but until youre in the game and see itthey played great, said Broncos defensive lineman Justin Bannan. They did what they came out to execute and we didnt stop it. Theyve done that system for a long time. Theyre pretty damn good at it.

Would Brady's training regimen help Gronkowski avoid injury?

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Would Brady's training regimen help Gronkowski avoid injury?

There are times during Tom Brady's Monday morning interviews with WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show when he feels like opening up about some of the things that have helped him stay on the field as long as he has. In those moments, when his passion for nutrition and position-specific training comes through, he provides insight into an approach that he says he has tried to share with others. 

On this particular Monday, Brady was asked if one of his teammates might benefit from a similar focus on hydration and muscle pliability.

Rob Gronkowski has been the best tight end in football for several years due in part to his size and strength, but he had season-ending back surgery on Friday, making this the third year that he will finish on injured reserve since 2012.

"I think it’s always up to the individual," Brady said when asked if it would help Gronkowski to work more with Brady's body coach Alex Guerrero. "He’s dealt with certain things that are almost impossible to avoid on the football field. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. For me, I try and do all the things I can do to avoid as many things as possible and be as proactive as possible so that I can try to be out there every week. I believe that if you have a great foundation, it ends up being a lot harder to get hurt. That’s kind of where I focus my time and energy over the course of the week so that . . . you know you’re going to get hit, you know you’re going to sustain these impacts, and how can your body be prepared to withstand those things?

"I've definitely gone about it a different way than probably 99 percent of the people that have played in the NFL. And I have a lot of belief and conviction how I feel, and I try to instill that in the guys that I am with, but some guys definitely understand it, and work hard at it, and want to do the right thing. Sometimes when you’re young you don’t feel anything, so why do I need to put time and energy into something that I really don’t feel is a problem?

"It probably took for me to be 30 years old to really understand, ‘Wow I really notice a difference.’ I noticed it a little younger than that, but not on a really catastrophic scale. Guys are working hard at feeling as best they can. I think that is important. Every step of the way, every year you try and improve on different things."

Gronkowski has openly discussed that he likes to have fun off of the field, but he has also insisted that he understands when it is time to put in the work to prepare for an upcoming season. He spent part of last offseason training at Jay Glazer's Unbreakable Performance Center -- the same gym where fellow Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett worked out -- where improving mobility and flexibility are part of the regimen along with building strength, speed, power and explosiveness.

But might Gronkowski find himself avoiding some of the injuries he's experienced if he focused more of his time on pliability? Brady didn't want to take the conversation in that direction, acknowledging that Gronkowski works hard on staying in shape, but he did say that in his opinion there isn't enough focus on flexibility in athletics in general.

"I mean Gronk is so hard working, and Gronk has spent a lot of time with Alex at different points," Brady said. "Gronk has his rehab and he’s going to do it, and I have no doubt he’s going to come back stronger and better than ever. All of us learn every year about things that work and don’t work. And it’s really up to the individual. Gronk, it depends what all the . . . I don’t want to single out Gronk because he’s the only one that's injured. There's a lot of players that get injured over the course of the year, and then you go about changes in your routine because you think this may work and this may not work.

"To me, I feel like it’s very touch-and-feel with how you do take care of your body. Some weeks it is a little more strengthening. Some weeks it’s a little more conditioning. Some weeks it’s a little more pliability depending on how your body feels. I don’t think people spend enough time on pliability at all. I think that is the missing third leg to what athletes in high school should be learning and college athletes. We learn at a young age it’s all about strengthening and conditioning. And strengthening at the expense of pliability, to me, gets you injured. If you’re injured you can’t play. If your body is your asset and you’re injured, you’re not going to have much of a career for any athlete. Every team is trying to incorporate the things they see and they feel and they want to do a better job of. I think, I feel like that is part of what I want to teach people is how I've done it."

Brady said he has had conversations with Gronkowski about his training and that Gronkowski has been "committed." But one wonders if there's any more that a physically-gifted 27-year-old with a long injury history can learn from a 39-year-old who has withstood physical ailments over the course of his career and still seems to improve with age.

Brady admitted that the physical needs for a player at his position are different than the ones for someone who plays tight end and is expected to execute blocks or break tackles. Going with longer, softer muscles may not work when you have to block down on a 320-pound defensive tackle.

"It’s great to have that. It’s great to be a very strong physical person," he said. "That definitely helps you in your field, especially whatever your job is. For me, strengthening is really just to withstand the hits. I don't need . . . You guys saw me block last week, I don’t really strength train so I can go block people. It requires a different level of strength for certain positions, and a lot of people need to put a lot of strength for their positions.

"Whether it's baseball players or hockey players . . . so much of what you guys have seen me do is try to replicate playing quarterback when I work out. Over the offseason I work on my drops and my mechanics so that I can be the best quarterback. Those functional exercises are what's important for me. I don't want to do anything that's going to throw my timing off, and my throwing mechanics, by slowing down or densening certain parts of my body -- my hips or my core -- I need to be really pliable so I can maintain the timing and mechanics of my throwing motion so that I can throw the ball accurately because ultimately that's what my job is." 

Brady added: "You can't help the team if you're not out there. Different positions require different levels of strength and conditioning. I think that the key to sustaining the impacts is having your muscles pliable and that's soft and long and the ability to absorb the hits and really balance. That’s what I focus on. I’ve spent a lot of time with Alex keeping my muscles long and soft. Along with that goes the nutrition and feeling my inflammation rates down and keeping my muscles really hydrated. You go on these cross-country flights and you do a lot of things to dehydrate you. I stay very hydrated so it’s a combination of things that I feel put me in a great position to take those hits. Again, there are some that you can’t avoid and that is part of football. The ones I feel that you can avoid, those are the ones I want to avoid, and I think that's how I have stayed out there as long as I have."

The work he has put in with Guerrero, the changes to his diet, the commitment to rest and recovery -- it doesn't feel like a sacrifice to him, Brady went on.

Take Saturday's celebration of the 2001 Patriots that team owner Robert Kraft threw, for example. It sounded like the kind of thing any player would have built their schedule around, but Brady could only check in briefly before getting to bed. 

"I think there will be a time to sit back and reflect and enjoy those experiences," he said. "I take them for what they are . . . It's important for me to get my rest. It was nice to see a lot of the guys that I played with, but I couldn’t stay that long because my meetings finished at 8:30 at night, and I wanted to stop in because it’s important for me to see those guys. And Mr. Kraft, he put on a great event and I wanted to just make sure I was supportive of that. But I wanted to get home and to get to bed. Then to get up the next day and to be focused on the game, that’s where my energy was at.

"It’s not a sacrifice because I love it. At the end of the day I love what I do. I love the experiences that I’ve had. That is what I enjoy. I always feel my motivation is that I could have, should have done better.

"After every game that is what I think. 'God, I could have done this. I should have done this.' I think it’s a little maniacal because you do and you deal with so much stuff, sometimes the games, there’s a lot of imperfection in football, and there’s a lot of imperfection of what you do out there, especially when you’re making split-second decisions. It’s gratifying to come out of a game and go, 'Man, that was pretty good game.' And that’s happened, definitely. That is what you’re always trying to strive for. For me, I just want to try and put myself in that position every week to be the best I can be for my team."

As Brady said, some of the things Gronkowski has dealt with have been unavoidable. But one has to wonder, given everything he's been through, if he might not consider a real change in how he takes care of his body -- his "asset," as Brady put it -- in order to more consistently put himself in position every week to be the best he can be for himself and his team.

Belichick on keeping Brady in: 'Seen those double-digit leads evaporate'

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Belichick on keeping Brady in: 'Seen those double-digit leads evaporate'

With 5:52 remaining in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game between the Patriots and Rams, and with the hosts up 26-3, quarterback Tom Brady was back on the field to lead the Patriots offense. 

It was a decision that had some scratching their heads. Why risk the health of your Hall of Fame quarterback in a game that's essentially been decided? Particularly at this point in the year? Particularly just days after the team lost it's most dynamic offensive weapon to season-ending back surgery?

"Well, after the game turns out, it's easy to go back and make those suggestions," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on a conference call Monday. "I've seen a few games in this league. Seen those double-digit leads evaporate in a minute or two. I know that's not a big concern when it does happen and then when it does happen it's a major crisis and [there's] a lot of second-guessing about what should've been done or what shouldn't have been done. Trying to win the game."

The Patriots held the ball for a little over two minutes before punting it back to the Rams. By the time the Patriots got the ball back for the final time with 1:15 remaining, Brady was on the field to take two kneeldowns and wipe out the clock. 

He told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show on Monday morning that he wasn't looking for an early hook. The Rams have been accused of dirty plays in the past, and their coaching staff has a reputation for encouraging a reckless style, but Brady explained why he wanted to remain in the game late.

"All these games are close. I know yesterday, 26-3 at one point, but we’re playing for a lot here," he said. "i don’t think it’s ever right to take your foot off the gas pedal. We could use as many reps as possible, all the guys out there. There are different situations that come up in every game. You only get 16 weeks a year to try them out. You try them in practice, but there’s not the speed. There’s not the urgency. It’s not the decision-making because it’s unscripted.

"In practice you go and talk about these are the plays you’re going to run, these are the defenses you can get. Then you go into the game and they it’s all about decision-making really under pressure with everything on the line, so the more reps you can get with Malcolm [Mitchell] and [Chris] Hogan and Martellus [Bennett], guys that I haven’t played with, the better it gets."

Brady escaped his late-game reps no worse for the wear -- he completed three of four passes for 14 yards on his team's second-to-last drive -- but he did take one shot earlier in the game that had him ticked. Rams safety TJ McDonald got into the Patriots backfield untouched and drove Brady into the ground during a second-quarter drive. Brady got the ball away, but he was walloped, and when he got up he sought out McDonald for a few words.

"I think it was pretty emotional," Brady told Kirk and Callahan. "I didn’t see the replay yet, but he made a good clean hit. They were blitzing us. I knew we didn’t have him picked up and he put a little extra something on.”

Asked if the threat of a play like that late in a lopsided game bothered him, Brady said no.

"I said to my wife as I was driving home, she was like, ‘What was that?’ She wants to know about all these things and I was like, ‘I think it is all fair on the football field.’ You put yourself out there," Brady explained. "You’re up 20, you’re down 20. Everyone is playing hard and whatever happens out there is on the football field. I don’t think it was a dirty play.

"Guys love going in there and hitting the quarterback. They’ve been trained to hit the quarterback their entire careers, especially on defense. They get paid more hitting the quarterback. Their team is 4-8 so they are going to play hard 'til the end no matter what. They haven’t been in a lot of games this year so they are going to play hard to try and set them up for next year. I had no problem with that hit. I thought it was a real clean play. I was pretty pissed off for the most part yesterday because we weren’t executing as well as we could and that probably had something to do with it as well."