Third-quarter recap

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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.

Patriots make Floyd a healthy scratch for AFC title game

Patriots make Floyd a healthy scratch for AFC title game

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will go with four receivers against the Steelers as Michael Floyd has been listed as a healthy scratch for the AFC title game. 

PATRIOTS-STEELERS PREGAME

The Patriots had all five of their wideouts -- Floyd, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola -- available to them for Sunday's matchup, but they're opted to use the four who are most experienced in the team's offense. 

Hogan (thigh), Mitchell (knee) and Amendola (ankle) were all listed as questionable going into the weekend, but all have been deemed physically ready to play as their team vies for a Super Bowl berth. 

Floyd had his worst game as a member of the Patriots last week in the Divisional Round against the Texans. On two routes, both slants, Floyd ran the pattern in such a way that there appeared to be some miscommunication between him and quarterback Tom Brady. One was picked off and the other was almost picked. 

Floyd admitted as much last week, saying that there are still intricacies to the Patriots offense that he needs to pick up -- including exactly how Brady wants certain routes run.

Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans last week but felt optimistic soon thereafter that he'd be good to go for the conference championship. Mitchell hasn't played since suffering a knee injury against the Jets in Week 16. 

Other Patriots inactives for Sunday include quarterback Jacoby Brissett, running back DJ Foster, offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, safety Jordan Richards and corners Justin Coleman and Cyrus Jones.

Curran: Pats already winning the mind game

Curran: Pats already winning the mind game

FOXBORO -- There’s this book called “The Obstacle is the Way,” written by an author named Ryan Holiday.

PATRIOTS-STEELERS PREGAME

Therein, the 29-year-old author explains how many highly successful people use adversity as a springboard. Holiday explains that dwelling on impediments to success -- whether they be personal shortcomings, daily challenges that confront us or just bad luck -- hinders our ability to accept them and move on undeterred . . . which is critical to success.  

It’s a book I first became aware of when reading a feature on John Schneider, the Seahawks GM. Schneider said he was told about the book by Bill Belichick confidante and former Patriots executive Mike Lombardi in 2015.

“[Lombardi] said, 'That's really where you would get a great vibe for what [Belichick] is like and what his philosophy is and how he approaches life and his football culture and all. I went out and purchased it right away, and it was awesome.”

The book came to mind last week when Mike Tomlin, in his postgame address to his team, lamented that the Patriots were “a day-and-a-half” ahead of Pittsburgh in prep time and that the Steelers wouldn’t be back in Pennsylvania until 4 a.m.

Already there was that “I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’ . . . ” woe-is-me approach that gave not just Tomlin an issue to fixate upon, but his players as well. Kind of like the idle intimation Tomlin made after the 2015 opener that the Steelers headsets gave them issues.

Of course, by Monday morning, the Steelers had more to deal with, as Antonio Brown broadcast live 17 minutes of locker-room footage. The Steelers fixated on that through Wednesday. Then the flu descended on their locker room and reportedly affected 15 players. Early Sunday morning, the Steelers had the fire alarm pulled at their hotel and -- even though they didn’t evacuate -- it’s shaping up as something the Steelers will be muttering about for weeks.

Or even years. They still think they got jobbed out of a Super Bowl by “Spygate” even though the 2001 Patriots beat them because of two special-teams touchdowns more than anything having to do with alleged taped signals.

Contrast that with the Patriots. After they sat on the tarmac in Providence for three hours on New Year’s Eve waiting to take off for the finale in Miami, Tom Brady talked about the opportunity the delay afforded the team to catch up on rest or preparation.

It’s just the way the Patriots have been hard-wired since Belichick took over. Screw the mottos, like “Do Your Job” or the hokey “One More”. (Can someone tell me that if “One More” occurs, what's next year’s saying? “One More One More?”) If there’s been a mantra for success that underpins everything the Patriots have been about it would be: “It is what it is.”

Quarterbacks coach passes away? (Dick Rehbein in 2001.) Very sad. But it is what it is. Starting quarterback has artery sheared? (Drew Bledsoe in 2001.) Is what it is. A league-sponsored witch hunt is carried out prior to the Super Bowl with the starting quarterback in the crosshairs? (Deflategate/Tom Brady in 2015.) It is what it is. That quarterback’s ultimately yanked off the field for four games? (Brady's suspension, 2016.) Is what it is.

Bill Parcells once said, “If you give a team an excuse they will take it every time.”

So it was with that in mind when the Patriots in 2003 boarded a plane for Miami and Belichick told them they were going down there to win and that he “didn’t want to hear about the heat or the plane ride or the f****** orange juice.” The Patriots got the point and extracted a 19-13 overtime win -- the first time they’d won there under Belichick.

The Patriots have had plenty of fire alarms pulled on them over the years -- three times during their week in Indy prior to Super Bowl 46, at least once in Arizona prior to SB49 -- and never did those cause the outcry that this minor disturbance caused.

That has to do with the mythology around the Patriots and Belichick that’s grown and festered for a decade-and-a-half.  The rest of the paranoid NFL imagines a KGB-style intelligence agency and wound up more concerned with the Patriots than readying a great team tto unseat them. Which is handy when explaining to your owner why the Patriots routinely win at the rate that they do. They cheat. What better way to cover your ass?

It can work for a while, right Ryan Grigson?

Another pro sports dynasty that enjoyed the kind of long-term dominance New England's in the midst of also won a lot of games because opponents got spooked by dead spots in the floor, hot locker rooms and cold showers in the original Boston Garden.

In other words, this mental tenderness exhibited by teams that choose to rage at the unfairness of it all rather than laugh and soldier on is nothing new.

Today, the ill-feeling, sleep-deprived, Steelers -- who had to cram their preparation around the distraction caused by a great player -- will play their most important game in six years.

God willing, the headsets work.