Belichick says it with feeling

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Belichick says it with feeling

After Sunday's Patriots game, I tuned in to Bill Belichick's press conference, hoping for a good laugh. I envisioned question after question from reporters trying to bait the coach into waxing on the AFC Championship Game followed Belichick stonewalling them in the most awkward way possible.

"I'm not really worried about which game it is," he'd mumble. "Just focused on the Ravens. They're a good team. Great competitors."

But in real life, Belichick took the stage and something was different. He was still far from cheerful, but unlike a typical Belichick presser, the coach was actually engaged. He was present. And while there was still a heavy helping of deflective cliches, many of his answers were filled with actual substance, perspective, and believe it or not, emotion.

"Of course were excited to be heading into the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens," he said. "Its a great honor, really, to participate in the game; to be playing for the right to represent the AFC the following week."

Excuse me. Did he just say excited?

"Tom has meant a lot to us since hes been here," Belichick said about Brady's setting the record for postseason wins. "He started winning playoff games the first year he really got a chance to participate in them. Tom is a great competitor. He had a great week of preparation as he always does for every game but especially the playoff games. Hes our leader and we all follow him, we all respect him and he led the team today, along with a lot of other guys but he certainly did his job, as hes done many times before. Theres no quarterback Id rather have than Tom Brady."

OK, maybe it's not out of the ordinary for the coach to throw praise on Brady, but this answer was heartfelt. It came from a deeper side of Belichick that's very rarely on display when he's standing at the podium.

And then this morning, during a conference call with the media, Belichick was asked about Sunday's struggles in kick off coverage.

"Overall our kickoff coverage has been one of the best things weve done all year," he said. "Were right at the top of the league in kickoff coverage. We didnt have a good play in the San Francisco game and then we had three bad plays yesterday, but overall thats been probably as consistent as anything weve done as a football team for the entire season."
Honestly, if I had shown you the above quote out of context and asked: "Which NFL coach said this?"

Would you have ever guessed Bill Belichick?

I wouldn't have, but after watching yesterday's press conference, it all makes sense. Belichick's honesty was reminder of something that I had very clearly forgot, even though it comes up every time the Pats are fortunate enough to make it this far.

That is: When it comes to the AFC Championship Game, not even Bill Belichick's immune to getting caught up in the excitement. After all, this is what it's all about. The act, the games, the secrecy, the cliches. It's all in the name of the opportunity that stands before the Patriots this Sunday. One win for a trip back to the Super Bowl. Even the coach has to smile.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Brady comes off the bench to throw TD in his preseason debut

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Brady comes off the bench to throw TD in his preseason debut

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - There will be a moment in the days between September 3 and October 3 when Tom Brady stops what he’s doing, sets his jaw and mutters, “*$%^## Derby…”

During his first – and perhaps only action of the 2016 preseason – Brady had some very good plays, was let down by a few drops (like Derby’s on a third-down toss) and had a near pick on a downfield throw to Martellus Bennett.

Brady was in for four possessions, entering the game after Jimmy Garoppolo ran the team on the Patriots first three series.

Brady missed the first preseason game then plunged trainer’s scissors into his thumb just prior to the second preseason game and missed that one as well.

With a fair amount of buildup to this game, Brady’s first pass was a deep in-cut to Aaron Dobson that went for 37 yards after Dobson stepped out of a tackle.

That was followed by a crossing pattern drop by Julian Edelman and a high throw to the end zone on third-and-5 that doinked off the left hand of tight end Bennett under the goalpost. Seemed like a mistimed jump on the high throw over the hands of a couple defenders.

On Brady’s next series, a pair of Tyler Gaffney runs gained 20 before Brady dropped a fade in to the hands of Chris Hogan for a 32-yard touchdown. It couldn’t have been placed any better if Brady had been allowed to walk to Hogan and hand it to him.

Brady’s conversion pass to Dobson was incomplete.

The Patriots got another chunk play from LeGarrette Blount to start their next drive and Brady then hit Edelman for 6. But his throw to the left sideline on third-and-4 was bungled by Derby, ending the drive.

Brady’s final series was bleak. His first throw was batted down by Kawann Short. His second one, a deep throw across the field to Bennett after Brady stepped up in the pocket, should have been picked by Kurt Coleman. Brady was sacked on third down.

Garoppolo came in for the final two series of the first half and started the third quarter.

Brady spent much of the first quarter apart from the offense when it was on the sidelines, standing with arms folded. When the offense was on the field, Brady mostly sat by himself on the bench. There wasn’t any significant interaction between he and Garoppolo, who huddled with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels after his series’ ended. Brady did the same after he came off the field with Garoppolo hovering nearby.

Brady finished 3-for-9 for 76 yards and a touchdown. As a team, the Patriots were 0-for-7 on third down in the first half. 

First half Patriots observations: Brady and Long up, Garoppolo and Solder down

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First half Patriots observations: Brady and Long up, Garoppolo and Solder down

The Patriots had their share of good and bad in the first half of their preseason game with the Panthers on Friday. Here's who we saw as some of the team's top performers, as well as some of the players who may have to make some corrections in the second half. 

* Tom Brady was only 3-for-9 in his four series, but he completed his passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown pass to Chris Hogan might have been the best throw of the preseason for any Patriots quarterback as he hit Hogan in stride, over the shoulder, for a 33-yard gain. Brady was close to having a second touchdown pass, but it glanced off the out-stretched hands tight end Martellus Bennett in the back of the end zone. Brady was nearly picked on his final drive, again trying to hit Bennett. He was sacked on his final play of the half.

* Jimmy Garoppolo had a difficult time early in this one. He was 5-for-9 for 37 yards, and he picked up an intentional grounding penalty. Garoppolo also was strip-sacked by Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, but James White recovered. Garoppolo was nearly picked by Luke Kuechly early in the first quarter when there was an apparent miscommunication between Garoppolo and Julian Edelman. 

* Chris Long had a standout half with two pressures, a pass-breakup that led to a Devin McCourty pick, and he drew a hold. The veteran defensive end has shown a good motor and a knack for getting to the quarterback in each of New England's first three preseason games. 

* Logan Ryan also had a strong first half in his preseason debut. His first five targets in coverage resulted in no completions, an offensive pass interference penalty and an interception. His former college teammate Duron Harmon also had a pick of Panthers backup Derek Anderson.

* Nate Solder allowed the pressure that eventually led to the sack of Brady by Kony Ealy. He also was flagged for a false start. Being that it's the third preseason game -- when starters typically go deep into the game -- he'll likely have a chance to redeem himself in the second half.