Some good, some bad for Patriots secondary

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Some good, some bad for Patriots secondary

FOXBORO -- The Patriots allowed 300-plus passing yards for the third-straight game on Sunday. This time, it was Peyton Manning doing the damage.

Manning also threw for three touchdowns. And while the end result is really all that matters, the spotlight was once again on cornerback Devin McCourty, who failed to make the big plays when those big plays came his way.

McCourty didn't speak to the media after the game. But if he did, the questions would have been mostly about the plays he didn't make, regardless of the outcome.

It helps, of course, that the Patriots won. But that's because any comeback that the Broncos were attempting in the second half was stopped by Rob Ninkovich and his two forced fumbles.

Before that, the finger could be pointed at McCourty for Denver's first two touchdowns.

The first tied the game at 7-7, nearly a minute into the second quarter. It was a one-yard play-action pass to Joel Dreessen. But it was set up with the help of a Devin McCourty pass interference call, as he covered Eric Decker deep down the right sideline. McCourty has tight coverage in the back-right corner of the end zone, but he never turned around to make a play on the ball, forcing the official to throw the flag, and give the Broncos a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

Had McCourty turned and made the play cleanly, the Broncos would have had to kick a field goal on fourth down. But Denver's touchdown instead tied the game at 7-7.

The Patriots took a 31-7 lead in the second half, but the with a minute left in the third quarter, Manning went to Decker once again in the right corner of the end zone. This time, Decker made the catch, as McCourty once again didn't turn around to play the ball.

The result was a 31-14 game, with plenty of time left.

Denver added another touchdown in the fourth quarter to cut new England's lead to 31-21, and Manning wasn't done picking on McCourty.

With under five minutes left in the game, the Broncos were driving. And on 4th-and-1 from the Patriots 42-yard line Manning went deep down the right sideline to Demaryius Thomas, who was being covered by McCourty.

Thomas came back to make the catch at the Patriots' 14-yard line, mainly because McCourty out-ran the route. Fortunately for the Patriots, Ninkovich forced his second fumble of the game two plays later, essentially ending the game.

"Obviously, you never want to give up big plays," said Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo after the win. "But at the end of the day, it's all about winning the game."

As the end result shows, the Patriots' secondary wasn't all bad on Sunday. Rookie safety Tavon Wilson made his first career start, as Steve Gregory was held out with a hip injury.

Wilson held his own, for the most part, along with fellow rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who made his NFL debut, and made a couple big plays himself.

"Those guys came in and played well," said Mayo. "And it's always good to see that. Those guys practice hard each and every week. They put the extra film time in. They do a good job for us."

Sterling Moore also can't be overlooked for his contributions in the patriots' secondary on Sunday against the Broncos.

Moore got burnt by Thomas deep down the left sideline during Denver's opening-game possession. Manning found Thomas for a 43-yard completion, and the only thing in sight after the catch was the end zone.

But Moore never gave up on the play, and used a right-handed uppercut to punch the ball out of Thomas' hands for the fumble, which Moore also recovered, preventing an early Denver touchdown.

"It was a big play for them that turned into a big play for us," said Mayo. "And that's always huge. We strive to get turnovers. And any time we get the ball back over on that side, it's a good thing."

Thursday's Patriots-Bills practice report: Garoppolo, Brissett practice again

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Thursday's Patriots-Bills practice report: Garoppolo, Brissett practice again

FOXBORO -- The Patriots held a walkthrough on the field behind Gillette Stadium one day after both Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder) and Jacoby Brissett (thumb) tested their arms during the team's practice in full pads n Wednesday.

Both quarterbacks were back on the field, but for the second consecutive day they were limited, according to the injury report. That injury report was, in fact, unchanged from Wednesday's, meaning tight end Rob Gronkowski (hamstring) and linebacker Dont'a Hightower (knee) were also limited. 

There was one significant alteration to the Bills practice report, however, as tight end Charles Clay (knee) was back on the field Thursday. Receiver Sammy Watkins (foot) remained out. 

Patriots coach Bill Belichick described Watkins' explosive abilities in Buffalo's passing game earlier this week. 

"Watkins is big, he is good after the catch, he’s obviously good on the deep balls," Belichick said. "But he is good on catch-and-run plays. He can take those intermediate routes or crossing routes and turn a 10, 15-yard catch into 40. So, a hard guy to tackle, big, fast, very athletic."

If he can't go, the Bills will have to find other ways to try to manufacture yardage. 

Here's Thursday's practice participation report for the Patriots and Bills.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
QB Jacoby Brissett (right thumb)
OT Marcus Cannon (calf)
G Jonathan Cooper (foot)
LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder)
TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring)
LB Dont'a Hightower (knee)
CB Eric Rowe (ankle)

BUFFALO BILLS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
OL Cyrus Kouandjio (ankle)
OL Patrick Lewis (knee)
DB Jonathan Meeks (foot)
WR Greg Salas (groin)
WR Sammy Watkins (foot)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
DB Colt Anderson (foot)
TE Charles Clay (knee)
DB Ronald Darby (hamstring)
OL Cordy Glenn (ankle)
QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder)
DB Aaron Williams (ankle)

Blount: Belichick has had my back from the beginning

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Blount: Belichick has had my back from the beginning

FOXBORO -- During the week, there are times when Bill Belichick and LeGarrette Blount will walk out to practice together, chatting, laughing, looking like old pals. On Sundays, Belichick will coach Blount like any other player, calling Blount by the same nickname Blount's teammates use for the 250-pound bruiser: "LG." After Thursday's win over the Texans, Blount ran for over 100 yards and two scores and earned special recognition from the head coach.

From the outside looking in, they are the Patriots version of the Odd Couple. One is a Hall of Fame, old-school, buttoned-up disciplinarian. The other is a care-free 29-year-old who spends chunks of his free time on Snapchat and Instagram, often taking pictures of his sneaker collection.  

But with Belichick, Blount's career has taken off. Undrafted in 2010 due in part to off-the-field issues, Blount bounced from the Titans to the Buccaneers, and in Tampa Bay, he found early success. He ran for over 1,000 yards as a rookie and followed that up by starting all 14 games in which he played during his second season. Having fallen out of favor with the coaching staff in 2012, he was traded to New England for return specialist Jeff Demps the following offseason. 

With the Patriots, Blount ran for 772 yards and a career-high seven scores, setting him up to sign a free-agent deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers before the start of the 2014 campaign. It was a turbulent few months for Blount, who was arrested for marijuana possession, served a one-game suspension, and then walked off the field during a game against the Titans, leading to his release. 

Who was there to scoop him up? Belichick, of course.

The Patriots moved quickly to re-sign Blount to a two-year deal, and Blount was very open about how thankful he was that the Patriots offered him another chance. Though it may seem like a head-scratching match, Blount enjoys playing for Belichick and he appreciates Belichick's frankness. There are no promises made, but expectations are laid out, and the onus is on the player to earn his role. At other stops, Blount felt as though he may have been misled. 

Belichick has leaned on Blount over the course of the first three weeks of this season much in the same way Blount leaned on the Patriots organization when he was looking for another chance to play in 2013 and 2014. With Tom Brady suspended, the Patriots have run the football more than any other team in the NFL, and Blount has recorded more carries than any other back in the league, helping them get out to a 3-0 start. 

On Thursday he was named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Month for posting 298 rushing yards and four touchdowns, and he shed some light on the relationship he shares with his head coach.

"I have a really good relationship with Bill," Blount said. "I love Bill to death. He’s always had my back from the beginning, from the first time I met him. I think he’s probably going to have it forever. We just have a really great relationship. I like everything that he does, I respect him a lot. I think he’s going to go down in history as the best coach to ever coach this game."

And what about having your boss call you by a nickname? 

"Can’t complain if he calls you that," Blount said. "Because what’s LG stand for? Life’s good, right?"

Right now, for both Blount and Belichick, it can't get much better.