Brady consistent in search for improvement

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Brady consistent in search for improvement

There's something you have to understand about Tom Brady: The man plays for perfection.

"I thought it was okay."

This, the reaction to his own performance in New England's 38-20 win over the Eagles. Brady completed 24 of 34 passes for 361 yards, three touchdowns and a 134.6 quarterback rating.

Yeah. That's all right.

Of course, the Patriots were supposed to win this game. Philadelphia, missing its 100 million Michael Vick, was led by backup QB Vince Young for the second straight week. No. 1 receiver Jeremy Maclin was out with shoulder and hamstring injuries. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was active but hampered by a knee injury. Despite the league's best rush, it still doesn't exactly add up to a Dream Team.

So where was the worry?

New England -- Brady in particular -- has been starting slowly of late. There was fear that if the Eagles came out firing, the Patriots could get in too deep a hole to climb out of. And it almost happened that way.

It took Philadelphia two minutes and 17 seconds to put seven points on the board. Brady's answering drive -- leaning heavily on BenJarvus Green-Ellis -- ended on a punt. It was the fourth time the Patriots booted on their opening drive in their last five games. Eyebrows raised after the Eagles tacked on three more points.

But Brady stayed cool.

"There was a ton of football to play," he said. "Even their first touchdown drive was probably two-and-a-half minutes, it wasn't like it was an eight-minute drive, so there was a ton of football left."

New England "stemmed the tide."

BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored the team's first two touchdowns, on four- and one-yard runs. It was the first time he reached the end zone since the Patriots' October 9 game against the Jets. And with the revival of the ground game came resurrection for Patriots' play action.

Guys found gaps, they got open. Brady had options and the offense was clicking.

"I thought we ran the ball pretty effectively. That first drive I thought we did a good job running it . . . we just kind of sputtered out. We didn't make some plays in the passing game. I thought we played with a little power today. We ran the ball to really balance out the passing game, but there's plenty of yards that we left out there, too."

His debriefing doesn't match up with the stat sheet.

Deion Branch finished with 125 receiving yards. It was his best performance since Week 2 against San Diego (before Philip Rivers and San Diego spiraled into the abyss). In fact, Branch's 63-yard reception broke the game open for the Patriots.

Branch had a comeback route. As he ran, Brady scrambled. Branch stepped up then wheeled inside -- the defensive back lost him. Brady jammed it inside to Branch, who took off, cut back at around the 15, and dove headfirst to the 1.

Any momentum Philadelphia had was halted after the ensuing Patriots touchdown; after Young's interception on the following play, it was slaughtered. Yet Brady wasn't content. On the next New England drive, he started bawling about a missed third-down connection to Wes Welker. The string of sideline expletives he fired off after kicker Stephen Gotskowski's missed the 39-yard field goal attempt were as sincere as they were ugly.

"We want to score touchdowns every time we step out on there on the field," Welker said in the post-game. "I'd rather Brady be that way than, 'Aw, shucks.' "

No wonder they work so well together.

Welker had eight catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Second-year tight end Rob Gronkowski caught his 11th touchdown pass. Their contributions helped Brady tie the NFL record for most games (eight) with 350-plus passing yards, at least three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

You can't set those kinds of records and be passionless.

"I thought it was more balanced today . . . That's how it needs to be," said Brady. "You've got to run it, you've got to throw it to everybody, you've got to keep them off balanced, you've got to screen, you've got to draw, you've got to trap, you've got to downhill run, you need quick-hitters. You need all levels in the passing game."

Such thorough expectations. It's not that New England's offense will never be good enough, it's just that it can be better. For Brady, the Patriots can always be better.

Branch on reduced role vs. Saints: "Ask Bill"

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Branch on reduced role vs. Saints: "Ask Bill"

FOXBORO - If Alan Branch is worried about his spot with the Patriots, he isn’t acting that way. A notorious slow starter, Branch played just six snaps in Sunday’s win at New Orleans. And to hear him talk, it’s business as usual.

“It’s not like you can practice 3 technique on a store clerk,” said Branch late Wednesday afternoon. When informed that he probably could if he wanted, Branch smiled and noted “you’d probably get arrested for that.”

All kidding aside, it was stark to see Branch’s ample behind stapled to the bench. He earned a two-year contract this offseason, and his presence on the interior has been critical to the defense’s success. But after getting pushed around a bit too often in that opening night loss to the Chiefs, Branch spent a lot more time watching then playing. Did he know that he wasn’t a big part of the plan?

“That’s another question you gotta ask Bill, man” said Branch. “That’s not something I can talk about.”

Branch has - at times - come off as nonchalant about the game. Wins, losses, big plays, no plays, none of it seems to change his demeanor. Knowing that, I asked him if he was frustrated by his lack of playing time.

“I mean every player wants to be on the field so it is what it is,” he responded. 

Does he think that he’ll be more involved Sunday against the Texans?

“I don’t know what they plan to do with me,” he said. “i just need to go in there and keep my head to the grindstone and work.”

That may be Bill Belichick’s plan: sitting the player to motivate him. It would also seem to be potentially the last resort, and with someone who clearly marches to the beat of his own drum, it’s unclear how he’ll respond.

Patriots-Texans practice report: Gronk sits out; Gilmore limited

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Patriots-Texans practice report: Gronk sits out; Gilmore limited

Wednesday's practice participation/injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Texans game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
RB Rex Burkhead (ribs)
OT Marcus Cannon (ankle/concussion)
TE Rob Gronkowski (groin)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
WR Danny Amendola (concussion/knee)
WR Phillip Dorsett (knee)
CB Stephon Gilmore (groin)
LB Dont'a Hightower (knee)
WR Chris Hogan (knee)
LB Elandon Roberts (thumb)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)
WR Matthew Slater (hamstring)
DT Vincent Valentine (knee)

HOUSTON TEXANS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
G Jeff Allen (ankle)
CB Kevin Johnson (knee)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
TE Stephen Anderson (concussion)
RB Alfred Blue (ankle)
WR Will Fuller V (shoulder)
CB Jonathan Joseph (shoulder)
G Xavier Su'a-Filo (knee)
DE J.J. Watt (finger)

FULL PARTICIPATION
CB Marcus Burley (knee)
T Chris Clark (wrist)
WR Bruce Ellington (concussion)
TE Ryan Griffin (concussion)