Another week, another Pats bounce back

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Another week, another Pats bounce back

FOXBORO - In the Dolphins locker room Saturday evening, players were talking about the character their team showed by competing even though Miami was eliminated from the playoffs weeks ago.

"It just speaks to the character of the men in this room," said Miami guard Richie Incognito. "We dont quit.We just fight and keep swinging.That has been our mentality all year. Just keep swinging and try to clock as many wins as possible.

Said linebacker Karlos Dansby, We are resilient, we have a lot of pride. We dont lay down. We will never lay down. We have proud men in this locker room. We will never lay down."

There is something to be said for that, no doubt. There are teams across the league that are just punching the clock now. But it is a hollow bow those players take.

In the Patriots locker room, their resilience has led them to a 12-3 record. And while the Dolphins started the season 0-7, the Patriots have now won seven straight in the crucible of NFL crunch time. Simply competing and playing hard when there's nothing but pride on the line does show mental toughness. But being able to take blows, correct and commandeer wins in the span of 60 minutes shows a lot more resilience.

And the team on the turf at Gillette Stadium that was most resilient on Saturday was the one in the dark blue jerseys.

For the third straight week, the Patriots erased a deficit and overcame a poor start to win. It's remarkable. This may not be the most talented team , but it has backbone of steel.
Why are they able to take the shots and come back?

One thing they say from the day you come in here is just do your job," explained guard Brian Waters. "And I think that we trust each other in that fact. There are no special things around here that are any different from anybody else, outside of everybody is just wondering about what they need to do and they take care of their business.

"The end result is we never panic," he said. "We never panic. There was no panic on the sideline. More people will probably think, You guys were too calm. There wasnt any yelling, there wasnt any screaming, it was just about getting to the things that we knew we could do well and going after it after that.

There was yelling and screaming, linebacker Jerod Mayo said. From coaches who demanded things get better in the second half. But there are coaches on every sideline screaming non-stop whether their team is leading or trailing.

The onus is on the players to hear the message in the high decibels and then carry out the commands.

"We said we only needed one play to get it started as a team," said Vince Wilfork, who helped provide that "one play" with a big fumble recovery early in the second half that led to a touchdown which narrowed the Miami lead to 17-10. "All the while, we never gave up on one another and never said anything negative to one another. Going down 17-0 is a pretty big deficit but once again, this team showed its character. We believed in one another and stepped up and once we got going, it seemed that all we needed was that one play. Once we got it, it opened up everything else on offense, special teams and defense. It was a great win for us and we still have room for improvement. Each week we are going to get better.
That's been a promise that's been scoffed at throughout the season. But it's a promise that's being backed up weekly.

During the course of the season, you learn a lot of things, right?" asked Waters. "We had some situations where we got off to bad starts and didnt come back and didnt play particularly well in the end. And weve had some things happen for us where weve gotten off to bad starts and end up finishing well. Today is just another lesson learned.

When the 2009 Patriots - a truly soft team that couldn't muster wins in the face of even the adversity of a plane ride - got behind in the playoffs against Baltimore, they were toast. No character.

This team? It has a survivor's mentality. Which will serve it well in the postseason because - the way the defense often plays - a deficit in the playoffs is a guarantee.

"Theres nobody playing perfect football right now," said Waters. "So were no different from any other football team outside of the fact that weve got an extended season that we know we have in front of us and next week is a great opportunity for us to get even better going into that part of the season.

While the other teams that pass for elite in this weird 2011 season are still riding the roller-coaster in terms of wins and losses, the Patriots - who ride the roller-coaster in 60-minute snippets - keep reeling off wins. Building confidence. And strengthening a resliency that's already proven remarkable.

Film review: Burkhead provides Patriots combination of power, quickness

Film review: Burkhead provides Patriots combination of power, quickness

Rex Burkhead knew he was staring at a rare opportunity.

Going into Cincinnati's 2016 season finale, the 5-foot-10, 210-pound back was averaging just three carries per game. But with both Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard injured, the fourth-year player out of Nebraska understood he had a chance to put something on tape that would help him land a job in the offseason. 

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"Can't lie," Burkhead told his college teammate Adam Carriker. "Going into free agency, I knew that game was huge. It was a good opportunity for me to show what I could do. I guess it kind of helped me out."

It certainly didn't hurt. 

Burkhead ran 27 times for 119 yards and two scores against the Ravens, showing off an intriguing blend of toughness and elusiveness in the process. 

Burkead was already an accomplished special-teamer -- he led the Bengals in special-teams tackles last season -- but his performance against the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing defense made it clear that he could be leaned upon for more than just a few carries every week.

The Patriots must have taken notice. 

They signed Burkhead earlier this month to a one-year deal that will pay him $1.8 million in base salary and carry what some considered a relatively surprising maximum value of $3.15 million. That's more than the $1 million LeGarrette Blount was offered on his one-year deal last year, and it's enough to make Burkhead the highest-paid running back on the roster. 

What did the Patriots see from Burkhead that made him worth that kind of money? Let's take a closer look at his film -- particularly what he did in Week 17 last season -- to get a sense of what he might be able to do in New England. 

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The Patriots have long had a "big back" on their roster. Most recently, that's been Blount, who has been complemented by sub back James White and all-purpose runner Dion Lewis. 

Before Blount it was Stevan Ridley. Before Ridley, it was BenJarvus Green-Ellis. You can go all the way back to Corey Dillon and Antowain Smith. Belichick likes runners who can get what's blocked, protect the football, then create their own yards in the secondary by punishing defensive backs.

Burkhead doesn't quite tip the scales as those players listed above -- though he comes close to Green-Ellis (5-11, 215) -- yet he's currently the biggest back on the Patriots roster, and he seems to run with a bruiser's mentality. 

On his very first carry against the Ravens, when he got through the line of scrimmage and into the secondary, he saw that safety Matt Elam had him lined up. Instead of trying to spin away from Elam or hurdle him, Burkhead lowered his shoulder and became the aggressor. 

Elam, who was thought to be one of the biggest hitters to enter the league four years ago, had to give himself a moment before popping back up to his feet after the collision. 

Statement made. 

Burkhead's strength, it seems, is his strength. Just ask Eric Weddle and the rest of the Ravens how he turned this play into a nine-yard gain to help the Bengals bleed the clock late in the fourth quarter. 



Burkhead consistently fought through first contact and fell forward to pick up maximum yardage snap after snap versus Baltimore's stingy run defense. On his first touchdown of the game, he was tripped up near the line of scrimmage but showed good balance by stumbling into the end zone from five yards away. 

Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of Burkhead's performance against the Ravens was his ability to keep the Bengals out of negative plays. On multiple occasions, he was hit at the line of scrimmage or behind it and consistently made his way back to the line or beyond it. 

Early in the fourth quarter, he was hit for what looked like it would be a three or four-yard loss yet somehow he was able to twist and dive back for no gain. Midway through the second, he was hit at the line and turned it into a four-yard pickup. 



One of the reasons Lewis has been so valuable to the Patriots when healthy the last two seasons is that when things break down up front, and when it looks like Tom Brady is about to be looking at second-and-11, he cuts and knifes forward for a yard or two or more. 

Those aren't big plays in the box score, but they're critical when it comes to extending drives. It seems like Burkhead has the ability to submit the same kinds of small-but-important gains with a hard-charging style all his own.

VISION, QUICKNESS TO FIND RUNNING ROOM
For someone who seems to enjoy imposing his will on would-be tacklers, Burkhead has a good amount of wiggle to his game. His vision and lateral quickness helped him make Ravens defenders look silly at times. 

As opposed to burrowing into a pile of bodies at the line of scrimmage early in the third quarter, his jump cut to the right helped him find space in the open field for an eye-opening eight-yard run. 



On the very next down, he was stopped a yard behind the line of scrimmage but was able to pick up three thanks to another jump cut that allowed him to stretch the run out wide.

In the fourth, Burkhead showed good patience by stalling behind the block of receiver Brandon LaFell, picking a path, and running decisively once he did. 



Burkhead may not be Lewis when it comes to his elusiveness, but he has the ability to mix in some off-speed stuff in between snaps spent trying to bowl over tacklers. 

Asked by Carriker if he preferred powering through defenders or bouncing around them, Burkhead said he'd actually go with the latter. 

"I think making a guy miss just because I feel like they don't expect that from me a lot of times," Burkhead explained. "But growing up I always took good pride in that. Just my quickness, my ability to make my guy miss."

MR. VERSATILITY
Part of what makes Burkhead's signing so interesting is that he doesn't fit tightly into the definition of either "big back" or "sub back." He seems somewhat like a larger version of Lewis -- an all-purpose runner who he can be used in a variety of packages and deployed in a variety of positions.

Burkhead has run out of the I-formation and the shotgun. He's caught the ball out of the backfield and lined up as a receiver, where he spent most of Cinci's 2014 Divisional Round game against the Colts. He caught three passes that day for 34 yards and ran a reverse for a gain of 23. 

"He has tremendous short-area quickness," then-Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said during training camp two years ago. "His 10-yard times were off the charts; his three-cone was off the charts. He's very talented [as a receiver]."

However Burkhead is used, he'll very likely continue to see time as a contributor in the kicking game. Not only does he have a wealth of experience when it comes to covering kicks, but he's served as a kick-returner in the past as well. 

So to recap: Running back...receiver...special-teamer.

Sure sounds like someone Belichick would be willing to invest in.

Ohio State LB on Belichick: 'When you first meet him, you're scared'

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Ohio State LB on Belichick: 'When you first meet him, you're scared'

Even for some of the nation's top athletes, confident 20-somethings with the rest of their (perhaps very lucrative) lives ahead of them, there's a feeling you just can't shake when Bill Belichick walks into the room. 

"When you first meet him, you're scared," said Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan, per WBZ. "He's quizzing you. It's like a little test. But after you get done with the test, the quiz or whatever, drawing up the defense, it's pretty cool. They're real down to earth people. Really cool."

Belichick was spotted at Ohio State's pro day getting a closer look at McMillan and his teammates on Thursday. He then headed off to Ann Arbor, Michigan for the Wolverines showcase Friday.

During various scouting trips across the country, the Patriots appear to be showing significant interest in the incoming class of linebackers. Belichick spent some extra time with Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham -- who's projected to be a first-rounder -- at his pro day. The team reportedly scheduled a meeting with a speedy linebacker from Cincinnati. And Matt Patricia caught up with Notre Dame linebacker James Onwualu once his workouts finished up on Thursday. 

As for McMillan, the 6-2, 240-pounder was a second-team All-American and a first-team All-Big Ten choice. He's instinctive, but there's some question as to whether or not he has the strength to hold up inside at the next level.