Pats win ugly over Colts, 31-24

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Pats win ugly over Colts, 31-24

FOXBORO -- The atmosphere at Gillette Stadium was about what you'd expect for a game between a team that came in with an 8-3 record and a team that came in 0-11: More August than December. And in August you worry more about process than result.

So the Patriots' 31-24 victory over the winless Indianapolis Colts Sunday wasn't without its New England concerns.

The Colts moved the ball with disconcerting regularity, putting together scoring drives of 86, 86, 93 and 90 yards. The New England defense once again couldn't get off the field on third down, allowing the hapless Colts to convert 10-of-15 attempts. The Pats seemingly had the game in hand with a 31-3 third-quarter lead, and couldn't put Indy away.

Scoring, summary, statistics

But this is December, not August. In December, it's results that count.

And this result raised the Patriots' record to 9-3, keeps them two games up on the Jets in the AFC East race (the fading Bills lost again and are now four back with four to play), and kept them in the hunt for a first-round bye -- and perhaps top seed -- in the playoffs.

"It's good to be 9-3," Bill Belichick said at the start of his press conference. "I think we put our team in decent position here. Hopefully we can improving here through the last quarter of the season."

Bottom line: New England appeared to put just enough effort into this one to guarantee victory. When asked if he thought his team had eased off the gas pedal -- and, in fact, had found it hard to get emotionally invested from the start against their once-bitter but now overmatched rivals -- Belichick responded with a non-answer that would do a politician proud:

"I think we did some good things today. There are other things we didn't do as well. That's the way it is every week."

Uh huh.

The Patriots even seemed to treat the game like a late-August exhibition, using wide receiverspecial-teams specialist Matthew Slater at safety for most of the afternoon and also giving Niko Koutovides plenty of reps alongside Jerod Mayo at inside linebacker. On offense, Nick McDonald was the starting center . . . but that may have been more a case of Ryan Wendell -- the main fill-in for the injured Dan Connolly -- being banged up himself and unable to go.

Belichick, of course, shed no light on the topic.

"We tried to put the best people out there we could out to be competitive," he said when asked about the, ah, different personnel packages. "That's the way it is every week."

For three quarters, none of it seemed to matter. The defense made a goal-line stand, holding the Colts to a field goal after a first-and-goal from the New England 1, and also stopped an Indianapolis drive by forcing a fumble. (Later, in the fourth quarter, they also got an interception from Jerod Mayo.) The offense was, in the words of Tom Brady, "awesome" in the second and third quarters, scoring touchdowns on four consecutive possessions in turning a 3-3 tie into a 31-3 lead.

But they couldn't slam the lid, on either side of the ball. The offense went three-and-out on its last three full possessions. (The Pats took a knee the final time they had the ball.) The Colts torched the defense for three TDs in the last quarter and, strange as it sounds, came within a recovered onside kick of having a chance to force overtime. Deion Branch was able to snare the kick at the Colts 49 with 36 seconds left, ending the game.

"We've obviously got to do a better job of finishing the game," said Belichick. "That was disappointing . . . "

"We have to do a lot better job finishing than we have been the past few weeks," agreed Wes Welker, who caught 11 passes for 114 yards.

Even though Welker was Brady's main target, it was tight end Rob Gronkowski who came away with the headlines. He caught 5 passes for 64 yards and two touchdowns -- tying the NFL record for single-season TD receptions by a tight end (13) -- and scored a third time on what originally was called a five-yard touchdown pass (and a new record) but was later changed to a lateral, and technically a running play.

The scoring change also meant Brady, who completed 29 of 38 attempts for 293 yards, only had two touchdown passes instead of three. But that was hardly on his mind afterwards.

"We played good for 45 minutes and then didn't do anything offensively in the fourth quarter," said Brady. "We'll hear about that from Belichick tomorrow."

More vehemently than they'd hear about it in August, too.

Patriots waive Stork after trade with Redskins falls through

Patriots waive Stork after trade with Redskins falls through

It's been a wild week for Bryan Stork. 

On Wednesday, news broke that Stork had been informed of his release. Then before that move became official, the Patriots and Redskins worked out a trade to send the third-year center to Washington. After that, indications were that Stork was retiring, and the Redskins were unsure as to whether or not he would even report.  He eventually decided to report, but ended up failing his physical, voiding the trade. 

Monday, Stork was returned to the Patriots, but the team has announced that they've waived the veteran center.

More to come...

 

Does Garoppolo need to play Thursday? ‘It’s not my call,’ he says

Does Garoppolo need to play Thursday? ‘It’s not my call,’ he says

FOXBORO - Hard to put a shine on the clunker that Jimmy Garoppolo submitted Friday night in Carolina. Another red zone interception dropped, a fumble recovered by a teammate and almost half (four) of his nine completions caught behind the line of scrimmage. 

Not exactly what the Patriots were hoping for in the third, and perhaps, last preseason outing for their Week 1 starter. Which raises the question: does Garoppolo need to play Thursday in the Jersey swamp?

“It’s really not my call,” he said. “You always want to be out there with your guys. It’s just the nature of the beast; you’re a competitor, you want to be out there, but whatever Coach [Bill Belichick] asks me to do, I’ll do.”

Were Belichick to decide to keep Garoppolo on ice, that would mean the third-year pro would go 16 days between his ugly appearance in Carolina and opening night at Arizona. That is less than ideal. In fact, it seems like a bad idea for an unproven player in dire need of as many reps as can be afforded him (which is why playing Tom Brady last week still makes no sense in this man’s opinion).

“We have to take that into consideration, too,” admitted Bill Belichick. “Again, whether that overrides something or it doesn’t, we’ll just have to see, but yeah, it’s definitely a consideration.”

“I really don’t even think about it like that, to be honest,” said Garoppolo. “Whatever they ask me to do, they ask me to do. “

Garoppolo insists he found out he was starting against the Panthers with only slightly more lead time than he was given the week prior against Chicago. So, there’s a good chance if he plays this week that he won’t know until the day of, which is certainly an acquired taste.

“At first it was a weird - I can remember back in my rookie year it was a weird thing not knowing,” he said. “You just get used to it after a while, mixing and matching with all the different guys, knowing guys’ tendencies and how they play, and you just react to it, really.”

If Garoppolo does get that chance, the Pats need him to react more decisively and more confidently than his last time out. In a summer of unknowns, that’s one thing we can be sure of.

 

 

Branch: 'I ain't saying a damn thing' about reason behind suspension

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Branch: 'I ain't saying a damn thing' about reason behind suspension

FOXBORO -- Alan Branch was suspended by the Patriots for about a week, a period spanning from before the team's second preseason game against the Bears to just before its third preseason game against the Panthers. When asked about Branch's time away from the field, Patriots coach Bill Belichick called it "a club matter." 

Branch was back in the Patriots locker room on Monday following his first practice since being reinstated, and he followed his coach's lead when it came to shedding light on the reasoning for his week-long departure.

"If Bill ain't telling ya'll, I ain't saying a damn thing, I guarantee that," Branch said. "If ya'll looking for something from me, it ain't happening. I'm just happy to be out here and get ready to play against the Giants. Glad to be out here with my teammates. We're all grinding for the same goal so that's where we're at right now."

Branch was asked if his team-issued suspension was the source of any embarrassment now that he's back.

"I ain't got nothing to be embarrassed about," he said. "Everything's copacetic. My teammates are good. The coaches are good. There's no reason for me to be embarrassed at all."

Branch did acknowledge, however, that the time he missed could have been better spent. While the Patriots practiced without him, he worked out on his own in order to try to stay in shape. At Monday's practice, he was not part of a group that went down to a separate field to do conditioning following warm-ups -- perhaps an indication that his conditioning was where the team expected it to be upon his return. 

"Everything in life is a learning experience," Branch said of his suspension. "I could definitely say it's a learning experience. Every snap on the field is valuable. Every one I missed out there, you know, other people are getting better while I was, you know, staying stagnant or going down with the personal workouts I was doing. I missed some valuable time out there."

Branch is a a big personality on a team that typically takes a business-like approach to the field. Oftentimes during training camp or pre-game warm-ups, when there is music playing within earshot, Branch is not afraid to break out a dance move or two. He also is one of the few Patriots who chooses not to participate in organized team activities in the spring, opting instead to show up for mandatory minicamp before returning home until having to report for training camp. 

Might his seemingly care-free style wear on teammates or coaches, he was asked?

"You gotta ask them, man," he answered. "I'm out here to have fun. I don't want to play football and be mad. If someone else has an issue, you gotta ask them. It ain't my problem."

Signed as a free agent after he was released by the Bills in 2014, Branch has made an impact as a consistent contrbutor on the interior of New England's defensive line. He made 17 starts for the Patriots last season, including both playoff contests, often lining up next to former first-round pick Malcom Brown. 

A second-round selection out of Michigan back in 2007, Branch has had a long and productive career, providing teams with an impossible-to-teach 6-foot-6, 350-pound frame. With the Patriots, though, he's had a bit of a revival as 2015 was his second-highest season-long grade he's ever received from Pro Football Focus, behind only the season he had in 2011 as a member of the Seahawks.

"I love it here," he said. "Love the guys in the lcoker room. Love everything. The atmosphere, the winning attitude. Everything about being here is awesome so I love this place."

The fourth preseason game is traditionally a game that's used by teams to get a look at players vying for final roster spots. Branch seems to be a safe bet to make the roster based on his skill set and experience, but he said he's hoping to play against the Giants on Thursday after having missed each of the last two preseason games.

"Definitely. Like I said before, every snap on the field is valuable experience and time missed if you don't get it," he said. "Every rep I get out there, I'm going to use my full ability to make sure I get everything I can out of it."