Spikes tries to make a statement with his hits

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Spikes tries to make a statement with his hits

FOXBORO -- Between the white lines, Brandon Spikes is as animated as they come. But for all of his mouthiness the cameras catch on the field, Spikes says it doesn't stop there.

"The whole time on the sideline I'm preaching," Spikes said Thursday. " 'Somebody make a play. Don't sit back and wait for the next man to do it.' Once one guy make a play, it goes through the whole defense. You feel the energy. You can see it."

Lately, he's answered his own call. Against the Bills in Week 4, Spikes laid game-changing hits to force two fumbles, both of which the Patriots recovered. One came on the goal line just before halftime, jarring the ball loose from Bills running back CJ Spiller. The next came in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots up seven, when Fred Jackson was knocked so forcefully that he let go of the ball.

Spikes finished the game with eight tackles in all, and his two forced fumbles were his second and third of the season, tying him for the league lead. It was a performance that inspired Patriots Hall of Famer and Comcast SportsNet analyst Troy Brown to call him the best run-stuffing linebacker in the NFL.

Generous characterization or not, it's clear Spikes is beginning to pop up on radars as one of the game's hardest hitters. And it's a reputation Spikes hopes to build upon.

"I just wanna kinda try to make a point," Spikes said. "When I hit a guy I want them to get him like, 'Oh that was Spikes who hit me. I know that already.' "

For those that don't know right away, they likely find out soon thereafter. All they have to do is listen, really. Spikes admits he's an excitable player, and after he makes a big play, he makes people aware. Oftentimes he'll yell or waive his arms or head-butt teammates.

His fellow Patriots don't seem to mind the young linebacker's energy, though.

"The way we try to play defense, you need someone like that," said Vince Wilfork, who singled out Spikes as the one Patriot by whom he'd never want to be hit.

"He gets us riled up off of hits, off of the things he says, the way he's bringing the game to him," Wilfork added. "He doesn't let the game slip away. He wants all the contact in the world. He's almost like a lineman, because of all the contact he looks for. That's a positive for us."

Spikes considers himself to be an old-school linebacker, big and unafraid. But he knows he needs to adapt his game to the here-and-now, especially when it comes to pass coverage. His performance against the Bills was a tale of two players, in a way. Yes, he showed impressive brute strength when he forced the two fumbles. But he also missed a chance to jam Bills tight end Scott Chandler before Chandler came down with a 20-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.

"Right now, as far as my performance, I've been inconsistent," Spikes said. "So if I can do all the little things and getting better each week, I feel like I'll have a great season."

Spikes has missed significant time in his short career due to injuries and a four-game suspension in 2010. He knows he's a big part of what the Patriots do on defense, and he believes that as he's matured, he's learned how to stay on the field.

"Whenever my number's called I wanna go out and play at a high level," he said. "But at the same time I gotta do all the smaller things when I'm not on the field as far as eating right, taking care of my body. When I was younger, when I first came into the league, I was still immature. I was trying to do it my way. I got a lot of great examples of guys on the Patriots I can learn from, great professionals. I just been watching them and just trying to just mimic those guys."

Something that's always been a part of his routine is playing basketball. Spikes, who fancies himself a finesse player on the court, claims it has helped his agility over the years.

And though he says hoops was his first love, it's clear by the effervescence with which he plays football that he's found his game.

"It's just something that comes natural," Spikes said. "I always have been like that. Ever since I was little I played with a lot of emotion, and I just love the game, as you can see. You can tell I'm having fun playing so it's just a part of me . . . I don't know any other way to play."

If his style continues to lead to big hits and game-altering plays, he'll never have to change.

Another big swing and miss from NYDN's Manish Mehta on the Patriots

Another big swing and miss from NYDN's Manish Mehta on the Patriots

Every few months, our buddy Manish Mehta gets suitably bored or his bosses at the New York Daily News get sufficiently impatient with him and he goes off with some prediction that winds up being the absolute direct opposite of what actually happens.

He would be like the drippy-nosed kid at his own birthday party trying to bust open the piñata for an uncomfortable length of time. Except, eventually, somebody takes pity on that kid. With Manish, nobody ever feels bad and he’s left out there swinging long after the party’s over and everyone’s gone home.

Tom Brady’s suspension has provided multiple opportunities for Manish to walk into screen doors.

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First, after Brady bailed in July on taking his suspension to the SCOTUS, Mehta spun it forward and said the Jets would be looking real good after four games with Jimmy Garoppolo driving the bus.

Brady will be in full-fledged F.U. mode by the time he faces the Jets for the first time in Week 12. But what if the Patriots start off winless or 1-3 with Garoppolo? Will Brady's greatness be enough to overcome such a sluggish start given that his team has the second toughest strength of schedule in the AFC (behind the Jets and just ahead of the Bills and Dolphins)?

"I feel like, in this division, you got to win 10-plus games, maybe 11-plus games," Decker said. "That means you almost have to go perfect the rest of the year (after a 1-3 start). You can be in a situation where you play a hard Sunday game and, all of sudden, you got a (quick turnaround) on a Thursday night. … You can factor those things in and make a case that it's more difficult to go on a run after starting 1-3."

After the Patriots started 2-0 and Garoppolo broke, Mehta waded in again.

Not even the greatest football mind of the generation will be able to wiggle out of this jam.

The Patriots face a new reality now that Jimmy Garoppolo wrecked his shoulder on Sunday: The Evil Empire will be looking up at the Jets in the AFC East standings when Tom Brady returns….

(Jacoby) Brissett has been a NFL player for FIVE MONTHS. He'll have THREE DAYS to prepare for his first start. Belichick is brilliant, but let's be realistic. He's not going to climb this mountain.

Friday, Manish made a Mehta Culpa in the New York Daily News and on CSN's SportsNet Central. His prediction of Brissett going bellyup and the Patriots being behind the Jets by the time Brady made his return was, “one giant swing and a miss,” wrote Mehta.

“I was wrong like pre-Socratic philosophers, who thought the world was flat. I was wrong like the Chicago Daily Tribune headline writer, who prematurely buried Truman in '48. I was wrong like Lex Luthor, who thought he could destroy Superman three or four hundred times.

Mehta got an avalanche of “You’re a ******* moooooorrrrrrooooonnnnn!!!!” tweets Thursday night. This was his blanket attempt to say, “Yes. Yes I am.”

And for a second, you worry. Is Manish done? Has he taken his blindfold off, put down his stick and gone into the house for good? No more wild swings and misses?

And then you realize it is his raison d’etre. He’ll be back. And – like this guy – he’ll be gloriously mistaken.