The Pats past won't change the present


The Pats past won't change the present

Heading into tonights showdown with the Texans, Tom Brady has a career record of 38-5 in December. He's also 12-4 on Monday Night Football. And as impressive as those records are, it's even better when you only consider games played in Foxboro where Bradys a career 22-1 in December and 4-1 on MNF.

Sorta strange that hes played 11 of his 16 Monday Night Football games on the road, no? Yes, yes it is. But that will be irrelevant once the ball goes up tonight. And really, so will the 38-5. So will the 12-4. So will the 22-1 and 4-1. So will anything and everything thats happened up until this point in time.

Truth is, while the Texans and Patriots recent histories could not fall farther apart on the spectrum of NFL success, tonight is about tonight. Tonight is about now. Tonight will tell us more about the present and future of the AFC than any game thats come before it regardless of month, location andor day of the week.

Unless the Patriots lose.

In that case, we'll find ways to justify what happened. We'll discover reasons to believe that the Pats still have a chance; that losing a prime time home game against Houston doesn't mean they can't eventually win a prime time playoff game in Houston. But that will all be speculation. In reality, tonight's outcome will define the rest of the regular season in the AFC.

If the Pats win, this is still their conference. Even if they lose next week to San Francisco. Even if they still have to travel to Houston in the postseason. Even if Denver's still getting better every week. With a win, the Pats will be everyone's pick. As I type, they're already favored to win the Super Bowl. They and the 49ers are both at 4-1, while the Texans and Broncos trail closely at 9-2. With a win, they'll take another leap. They'll be "the best team in the NFL."

A Patriots loss? And Houston is for real. This time, for really real. They'll have passed nearly every test that's been placed before them. They'll head into the playoffs with (most likely) home field advantage to go along with road wins in Denver and New England and a blow out victory over the Ravens. They'll be the favorites. Regardless of the fact that they've never experiences any kind of legitimate playoff success. Regardless of the fact that Matt Schaub has never even started a playoff game.

Unlike his QB counterpart, Schaub hasn't experienced any level of legitimate late-season success. While Brady's a career 38-5 in December, Schaub is 11-15. And as unimpressive as that record is, it's even worse when you only consider games played on the road where Schaub's a career 6-12 in December.

But tonight at 8:30, we'll throw out the past on both sides of the field, as we sit back and watch the future unfold.

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LeBlanc's ability to play the football could help him earn spot with Patriots


LeBlanc's ability to play the football could help him earn spot with Patriots

FOXBORO -- Not long after Cre'Von LeBlanc made a hard-to-fathom, one-handed interception in New England's preseason opener against the Saints, Patriots coach Bill Belichick labeled the play "special." Then he delved a little more deeply into LeBlanc's practice performances with the team to that point.

"Day in and day out, he's been pretty consistent for us going all the way back to the spring," Belichick said at the time. "I'd say his instinctiveness, his ability to be around the ball, his anticipation and ability to recognize routes maybe offset some of the testing numbers that aren't elite . . . Knowing how to play -- he has got some of that. He finds the ball. Or the ball finds him. However you want to look at it."

LeBlanc has seen more preseason targets (20) than any other corner in the NFL thus far, according to Pro Football Focus, and he's allowed nine receptions for 95 yards. His percentage of targets caught (45 percent) is the third-best of any corner with at least 15 targets, and he's allowed a quarterback rating of 38.5 when targeted.

The undrafted rookie out of Florida Atlantic has one pass breakup to go along with his eye-popping pick, and his ability to make plays on the football -- something he flashed in one-on-one drills throughout training camp -- is something that may allow him to earn a spot on the team's 53-man roster.

When asked to explain the value of a player who seems to have a knack for finding the football, Belichick said it can be a difficult skill to assess. It may seem, at times, like a player is fortunate to make those kinds of plays at first. But if they happen again, and again, you might just have something.

"It's a valuable skill," Belichick said. "Logan Ryan is another guy that did it in college. He has done it here. Some guys have a real knack for that, other guys not as much. Sometimes it's a little bit acquired, sometimes it's just instinctive.

"The best example I ever had was [former Giants corner] Everson Walls. He didn't technically do hardly anything right from a fundamental standpoint. You would never take another player and say, 'Look, do it the way Everson's doing it. This is the way you would want to do it.' But in the end [he had], I don't know, whatever it was, 56 career interceptions. It was a lot. It was over 50. He did things, but he could find the ball and he had a great instinct for quarterbacks, routes, pattern combinations and so forth. Certainly it wasn't a speed and measurable thing. You would have released him on those measurable. That's whyhe wasn't drafted. But as a football player he's productive.

"When I was in Detroit, Lem Barney . . . same kind of thing. Lem probably had better measurable skills coming out, but at that point he made a lot of plays and he made them on his instinctiveness, ball skills, awareness, etc.

"Ty [Law], I mean Ty was a first-round pick, but Ty had that too. There are a lot of first-round picks that don't have that and he had that.

"It's definitely an important skill, and it really probably separates good from great players or average to good players. It's not the easiest thing to evaluate, and sometimes some of those plays are circumstantial more than they are great instinctive plays. They're fortunate the way they happen. But when a guy starts making enough of them then you know it's something a little special."

Time will tell as to whether or not the Patriots believe LeBlanc has that something special. Final roster cuts are due on Sept. 3. He's been included in our latest 53-man roster projection, but he's competing in what appears to be a deep positional group that includes second-year players Justin Coleman and Darryl Roberts as well as fellow undrafted rookie Jonathan Jones.

Brady to serve as Michigan honorary captain Sept. 17


Brady to serve as Michigan honorary captain Sept. 17

Tom Brady will have some time on his hands the next couple of weeks. So, why not travel back to the ol’ alma mater to serve as honorary captain.

That’s what the Patriots quarterback will be doing Sept. 17 when Michigan hosts Colorado at the Big House in Ann Arbor.

Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh told the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, another Michigan alum, that Brady will be back in Michigan for the game. 

There has been speculation that Brady will find time to work out with the Wolverines to stay sharp while he’s away from the Patriots serving his four-game Deflategate suspension. His visit with the Wolverines will no doubt fuel more of that talk. 



Phil Perry’s Patriots Roster Projection 5.0


Phil Perry’s Patriots Roster Projection 5.0

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After Tuesday's cuts, the Patriots roster is down to 75 players. That number won't last for long, though, because by Saturday at 4 p.m. the list will have to be trimmed again to 53. 

One of the names that will be lopped off the active roster will be Tom Brady's as his four-game suspension will start soon after the Patriots take on the Giants for their fourth preseason game of the year. The rest of the moves to reduce the roster are up in the air, but here is our best guess at what the final 53 will look like.


Given the way Brissett has improved from week to week since the start of training camp, it seems as though the team should be comfortable with him as its backup beginning Week 1. There may be other more capable quarterbacks who become available after cuts have been made around the league, but there is no signal-caller on the list of current free agents -- which includes Matt Flynn, Ryan Lindley and Mike Vick -- who would be a sure thing as an emergency contributor.


This is one of the more difficult positions on the Patriots roster to project. Blount and White seem to be locks as the team's top "big back" and "sub back," respectively. After that? It's a tough call. Foster, to me, looks like the type of player another team would be willing to take a chance on if the Patriots released him. Rare is the late training-camp cut who catches on with another program to join their 53-man roster, but Foster could have the skill set to warrant such a gamble. He looked quick in New England's preseason win over Carolina -- Foster's preseason debut -- and he was highly sought after as an undrafted free agent. Sub backs are key components to the Patriots offense, and if Bill Belichick believes he has a good one on his hands, he may be reluctant to part ways. Gaffney, meanwhile, has had a strong camp, but he has practice squad eligibility, and could serve as the team's emergency call-up should Blount become unavailable. Brandon Bolden is also a late cut in this scenario. A talented special teams player, Bolden has had difficulty showing consistency as a running back in camp and preseason play, with his fumble against the Bears as a noteworthy error. Bolden's value in the past has been tied to his ability to serve as a dependable backup. 


Martin still seems to be the best option for the Patriots on the back end of their depth chart at this position. He has some special teams value as a returner if the Patriots choose to use him in that role, he can play both outside and in the slot, and he's developed a rapport with Brady that was put on display at times early last season. Though Martin has missed practice time due to injury, none of the challengers for that No. 5 receiver spot, including Aaron Dobson, have done much to seize the job. 


If the Patriots go with three running backs as opposed to four, that may leave them the roster room they need to keep Clay Harbor. In this projection, however, Harbor is one of the team's final releases. He's shown proficiency as a blocker, but he hasn't been much of a factor in the passing game, catching two of three targets for 23 yards in 41 snaps. Derby, on the other hand, has shown flashes of ability -- the Brady pass he dropped against the Panthers last week notwithstanding -- that make him worthy of a roster stash even though he may not contribute a great deal with Gronkowski and Bennett ahead of him on the depth chart. 


Cameron Fleming could wind up with a roster spot should the Patriots consider his abilities as a blocking tight end to be a vital part of their run-heavy packages. He's performed well in that role over the course of his career and into this preseason. If he's not on the club, however, that won't mean those packages will be removed from the playbook. In theory, Waddle could be subbed in for Cannon at right tackle and Cannon's athleticism could help him serve the role of the blocking tight end. 


At the moment, Thuney and Kline appear to be set to start at left and right guard, respectively, but the right guard spot could be fluid depending on the health of players like Mason and Cooper. Stork's release makes Andrews the go-to guy at center, and Karras (center/guard) provides the team with some versatile depth on the inside. Should Mason or Cooper end up on a reserve list to start the season, that could open a roster spot for someone like Gaffney, Bolden, Harbor or Fleming.


This is one of the more challenging positional groups to project. Valentine impressed with his snaps against the Panthers, and the third-round pick should factor into the rotation on the interior with Brown and Branch. Kuhn provides additional depth, especially while Valentine adjusts to the pro game. The Patriots used four big-bodied tackles on the interior last year with Brown, Branch, Akiem Hicks and Sealver Siliga. If Valentine isn't ready for much more than a Siliga-style workload (about 20 snaps per game in 2015), then Kuhn would help solidify things on the interior. Penetrating defensive tackle Anthony Johnson was left off in this scenario not necessarily because he didn't perform well this preseason. He did. But the Patriots have good depth at defensive end, and several of their edge rushers can be used on the interior in passing situations. Johnson's explosiveness inside might make him an ideal practice-squad candidate.


The projection at this position has been relatively consistent throughout the preseason. Grissom seems to be the only player who has had a difficult time establishing his value defensively, but he is a special teams staple with the athleticism and upside to potentially become a contributing player on the defensive line in the future. 


Freeny signed a contract extension recently so his spot as the primary fill-in at linebacker and core special teamer is safe. Grugier-Hill dealt with an illness that forced him to miss Friday's game in Carolina, but he returned to practice on Tuesday. His presence as a hybrid linebacker-safety type who can contribute in the kicking game makes him an interesting inclusion on the initial 53-man roster.


The Patriots could decide to go with just four players at this position due in part to their depth at safety, but LeBlanc has been impressive enough to warrant consideration for a spot. His ability to play the football -- a trait that can be difficult to evaluate, Belichick admitted recently -- has been impressive.


Perhaps the deepest position group on the roster top-to-bottom, each one of these six players will be leaned on for their special teams ability in addition to whatever roles big (McCourty, Chung) or not-so-big (King, Ebner) they have defensively. 


This group is set to begin its second season together as a three-man operation when the Patriots head to Arizona for Week 1.