Pats finally moving forward

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Pats finally moving forward

I wanted to write a little more about Tim Tebow this morning, but thats on hold because, well, Tebow wasnt the story yesterday in Denver.

The bigger news? The Patriots improved.

After back-to-back weeks spent running in place against the Colts and Redskins two of the least satisfying victories in recent memory the Pats strung together a performance that they can build on. That we can build on. That, for the first time in a while, has injected some much needed excitement and optimism into the NFL season.

Of course, the first few drives were concerning. Watching the Broncos running game dice the Pats 'D' like Sam Hurd carving up a kilo of coke, it was troubling. It's during stretches like that, which are a relatively familiar to this team, when we question if anything is possible. When all our insecurities about this defense are exposed. When we start to panic.

And that was certainly the case yesterday. It's hard to erase the memory of how the Patriots 'D' looked on those first few drives. The same way it's hard to forget the image of Roy Helu having his way in Washington or repeated bombs from Orlovsky to Garcon and Young to DeSean Jackson. Even with yesterday's victory, there exists legitimate concerns about this defense especially with the Andre Carter going down and this team.

But at the same time, given yesterday's impressive win against a tough team in an imposing atmosphere, there's no reason to put any restrictions on what the Pats can accomplish.

Why can't they reach the Super Bowl? They don't have to be the best team in Patriots history. They just have to be the best team in this AFC, a conference that features exactly zero dominant squads.

The Broncos are clearly beatable, regardless of where the game is played.

The Ravens are inconsistent and have only won two games on the road all season (at Cleveland and at St. Louis -- yikes).

The Jets have never been more dysfunctional under Rex Ryan, and that's saying something.

The Texans are finally living proof of a season's worth of awful luck.

The Steelers are still going strong, but Big Ben's hurt again. (Allegedly.)

I'm not saying that the Pats are perfect, obviously. Just that no one is. And if the Steelers lose tonight, at San Francisco (10-3), the Pats will be on the fast track to the No. 1 seed in the AFC. What more can we ask for? If that's not enough, what is?

As we learned the last two seasons, home field advantage isn't everything. But it sure beats the alternative. It still makes New England the favorites. And while New Orleans and Green Bay might present a greater challenge on the other side, we know (See: February 3, 2002 and February 3, 2008) that when is comes down to one game, anything actually is possible.

Likely? Maybe not. But after yesterday's performance in Denver, for the first time in a long time, the Patriots gave us legitimate reason to believe.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Curran: To gauge Patriots' plans for Jimmy G, look to Brissett

Curran: To gauge Patriots' plans for Jimmy G, look to Brissett

When trying to figure out what the Patriots will ultimately do with Jimmy Garoppolo, forget about the speculation and instead focus on the little things the team does. 

Like how they are tending to Jacoby Brissett. 

After having thumb surgery on Oct. 7, Brissett was put on IR. But the team used its one "Get off of IR free card" on Brissett and he's been practicing with the team for the past couple of weeks while not taking up a roster spot. 

That alone isn't compelling evidence that he's the backup-in-waiting and Garoppolo's about to be packed up and shipped out, argued my compadre, Senator Phil Perry. The team had no other players on IR that they could use the designation on at the time. Why not use it on Brissett?

Prior to that, though, we've seen Brissett accompanying the team to away games including the cross-country junket to San Francisco. A reason? Since the Patriots played three straight at Gillette at the start of the season when Brissett was the direct backup to Garoppolo, he didn't get a good look at the road operation and the tempo of being the visiting team. How things work on flights, in meetings, at opposing stadiums and on the sidelines is worth getting a promising young players' eyes on. Also, getting his offensive teammates used to having him around is probably an even bigger benefit. It's not unprecedented to have IR players travel but its not conventional practice either. 

With so many quarterback-needy teams around the league, Garoppolo is perhaps the most attractive option out there. By the end of this year, he will have apprenticed three seasons behind the best quarterback of all-time in a sophisticated offense for a program that's as demanding as any in the league. In the 10 quarters he was able to play as a starter in place of Tom Brady, he was sensational.

He got hurt and that's not great. But any team making a deal for him that has concerns about his durability can take him for a spin for one season. Garoppolo is on the books for $825K in 2017 and then his contract is up. The team that dealt for him can franchise him if they need another season to think on it. 

I don't think the Patriots are itching to move Garoppolo. They know they are sitting comfortably with a stack of the most valuable commodity in the sport -- good quarterbacks (or at least one great one and two promising ones) - piled in front of them. They can let the game come to them. 

If it does, as former Patriots executive and Bill Belichick consigliere Mike Lombardi thinks it will, the Patriots can rest easy dealing Garoppolo knowing that they already did advance work getting Brissett up to speed. 

Brady, Harbaugh found common ground on plane ride back from Michigan

Brady, Harbaugh found common ground on plane ride back from Michigan

FOXBORO -- What could have been an awkward plane ride for Tom Brady and John Harbaugh was made less so thanks to a high school lacrosse player. 

Brady and Harbaugh shared a private plane back from Michigan where Jim Harbaugh and his University of Michigan program put on an event for National Signing Day. About a year earlier, Brady told a room full of reporters that Harbaugh and his coaching staff should study the rule book and "figure it out" after hearing that they were pretty upset about the unusual formations the Patriots ran during their AFC Divisional Round win over Baltimore. 

They may not have been on the best of terms.

"I was pissed off," he told ESPN's Ian O'Connor before the start of this season. "It was uncalled for. And the rules are deeper than that, and I know the rules, and I stand by why that play shouldn't have been allowed. ... So yeah, that should never have been said."

But on the flight was Harbaugh's daughter Alison, a high school lacrosse player. When Brady took some time to share a few thoughts on competitiveness with her, he and Harbaugh found common ground.

"We had a lot of fun," Harbaugh said of the flight. "I don't know if he's talked about that at all, but we ended up sharing a plane ride along with my daughter and a couple of his people, friends of his. We just had a chance to just talk for a couple hours. And really more than anything, Alison got a chance to listen to Tom Brady talk about competing and what it takes to be great at what you do.

"And one of the funny things about it was, he was so nice to her. He gets off and they go, and we get back on the plane and we're talking, and she says something like, 'Boy, Tom really is a nice guy.' And I look at here and go, 'Tom?' I'm thinking 'Mr. Brady' would have been more appropriate. She said, 'He said to call me Tom.' I got a kick out of that.

"It was good. Lot of respect for him and a lot of respect for what he's accomplished. He's very tough to compete against. The best quarterback that's played, certainly in this era, without question in my mind. That's how I would rank him. And it's just another tough challenge to have to play against him."