Third-quarter recap


Third-quarter recap

FOXBORO -- After three quarters, the Patriots have that "trapped" look.

From a trap game, that is.

Favored in most circles to beat the Cowboys, the Pats -- who once held a comfortable 13-3 lead in the game -- instead find themselves in a 13-13 tie heading into the fourth quarter. Dallas pulled even on a 22-yard Dan Bailey field goal midway through the third quarter.

The Cowboys tied it with two long drives. In the second quarter, they went 93 yards over 11 plays, never once losing yardage -- and, in fact, never even having to convert a third or fourth down -- during the drive. The two big plays were Tony Romo-to-Dez Bryant completions of 33 and 16 yards, and the drive was capped by a one-yard Romo-to-Jason Witten TD pass with 33 seconds to go in the half.

Then, in the third, they went 77 yards in 12 plays before Bailey's field goal. They might have had more, but 11-yard Andre Carter sack of Romo on a second-and-goal from the 7 pushed them out of touchdown range.

The teams traded interceptions, and subsequent field goals, to forge a 3-3 tie after one quarter.

The first Tony Romo mistake of the day -- an interception by Kyle Arrington at the Patriots' 47 -- led to New England points, though not as many as the Pats would have liked. Tom Brady needed only six plays to get them from the Dallas 47, where the drive started after Arrington's six-yard interception return, to the 8. But he couldn't find an open receiver on second-and-six and threw an incompletion, then was sacked by DeMarcus Ware for a five-yard loss on third down. Stephen Gostkowski came in and kicked a 31-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

Brady returned the favor on the Pats' next possession, getting picked by Terence Newman on a pass intended for Deion Branch and giving Dallas the ball on the New England 23. The Cowboys actually went backwards, losing seven yards on three plays, but Dan Bailey kicked a 48-yard field goal to tie the game.

After trading interceptions, the teams then traded fumbles. Matthew Slater lost the ball on the ensuing kickoff, and Dallas' Gerald Sensabaugh recovered on the Pats' 32. But five plays later, Tashard Choice coughed it up on a second-and-10 from the 21, and Gerard Warren recovered for New England.

The Patriots turned that into points as the first quarter turned to the second. A 45-yard completion from Brady to Branch on third-and-eight moved the ball to the Dallas 33, and the Pats eventually reached the 8 before a holding penalty on rookie Nate Solder pushed the Pats back to the 18. They had to settle for another field goal by Gostkowski, this one of 26 yards, and a 6-3 lead.

They finally got into the end zone on their next try, going 69 yards in 7 plays with Brady throwing five yards to Wes Welker for the score. Welker was originally ruled out on the 1, but a challenge by coach Bill Belichick showed that he got the ball over the pylon on the left sideline for the touchdown.

Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots


Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots

Marcus Cannon has had his run as a piñata. The Patriots offensive lineman is a frequent target when things go wrong up front and, usually, he’s deserved it.

A bit of anecdotal evidence? 

Sunday, I tweeted that every time I watched Cannon, he was making another good play.

On cue, about 10 tweets came back at me with variations of “Keep watching him!”

I asked Bill Belichick if he agreed with the layman’s assessment that Cannon’s playing well.

“I think Marcus [Cannon] has done a good job for us for quite a while,” Belichick began. “I mean he’s stepped in for Sebastian [Vollmer] and then last year when Nate [Solder] was out [and he substituted] for Nate. He has played a lot of good football for us.

“We extended our agreement with him off of his rookie contract which I think speaks to the fact that we want him on the team and we like what he’s doing and so forth and he’s continued to I’d say show with his performance [that he has] validated the confidence that we have in him.”

Cannon’s ending to 2015 – a poor performance (along with the rest of the line) against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game was followed by a performance against the Cardinals that was marred by late-game holding calls.

But with Sebastian Vollmer injured (and still injured) it was sink or swim with Cannon which had plenty of people rolling their eyes.

But – as I said – every time I see Cannon, he’s either holding off a defensive end in pass protection, steamrolling downfield in the running game or making really athletic second-level or cut blocks in the screen game.

“Like every player, as they gain more experience they do get better,” said Belichick. “I think our offensive line’s certainly improved over the course of the year and playing with more consistency than we did last year. But there’s always room for improvement and the continuity that we’ve had there since (right guard) Shaq [Mason] has gotten in the last few weeks – we had Shaq over on the right side a little bit at the end of the season last year and then this year most all of the year except when Shaq was out for a few weeks there at the end of training camp and the start of the season – but our overall consistency and communication on the offensive line has been better because we’ve had more continuity there so that helps everybody.”

It can’t hurt that the lineman whisperer, Dante Scranecchia, has returned to coach the group. Cannon’s conditioning and physique looks better. He just appears more athletic and explosive. And he’s seemed more relaxed in the limited time the media’s in the locker room.

All off that added up equals nobody really talking about Marcus Cannon.
“Like any lineman, the less you call his name probably the better he’s doing,” said Belichick. “It’s probably a good thing when you guys don’t talk about him. Then that probably means they’re not doing something too noticeably wrong, right?”