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.

Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

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Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

PHOENIX - The Arizona Cardinals, in an anticipated move, have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Chandler Jones after failing to reach a long-term deal with the player.

The non-exclusive tag allows the Cardinals to continue negotiating with Jones through July 15. If another team makes him an offer, Arizona can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks.

It's unlikely that any team would express interest in Jones, however, given what it would cost.

Under the franchise tag, Jones would receive about $15 million for the coming season.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season

Jones has 25 1-2 sacks over the past two seasons, third-most in the NFL over that span.

The Cardinals' move came two days before the NFL deadline for making franchise designations.

It also came on Jones' 27th birthday, prompting teammate David Johnson to tweet "Happy BDay to `The Man,' `Mr. Franchise' himself.....The one and only."

The franchise tag move came as no surprise.

Club President Michael Bidwill has stated all along that Jones would not be going anywhere, that the team didn't make the trade - sending guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick to New England - to keep him just for one season.

"We're not going to mess around with that," Bidwill said in a recent interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "He's a great pass rusher, but if we can't agree to terms that work for us, we're just going to franchise him, and his people know that."

Jones immediately upgraded what had been an average Cardinals pass rush at best. His fellow outside linebacker Markus Golden had 12 1-2 sacks and seven tackles for loss. Together they form one of the better outside pass rush combinations in the NFL.

By all accounts, the contract talks with Jones have been cordial and Jones has said he wants to stay in Arizona.

"I love it here," he said near the end of last season. "I love the vibe that the people give off and I can see myself being here for a long time."

Chandler heads a long list of free agents that the Cardinals must either re-sign or let go. That group includes starters defensive tackle Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson and inside linebacker Kevin Minter.

Mayock: If I'm Cleveland, I'd be 'stoked' to land Garoppolo for No. 12 pick

Mayock: If I'm Cleveland, I'd be 'stoked' to land Garoppolo for No. 12 pick

NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock quarterbacked a marathon conference call with reporters from around the country on Monday in order to shed some light on the prospects who will compete at the combine later this week. One thing that stood out? He's not ready to crown anyone in this year's crop of draftable signal-callers.

As a result of the dearth of pro-ready talent at quarterback, Mayock recognized Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo as perhaps the top target for any quarterback-needy team. Garoppolo might interest the Cleveland Browns in particular, Mayock noted, because of the number of picks they have near the top of the draft.

"In my opinion," Mayock said, "if I'm the Cleveland Browns and I've got No. 1 and No. 12, if I came away with either [defensive end Myles] Garrett or [defensive tackle] Jonathan Allen at No. 1, and gave up the 12th pick in the draft to get Garoppolo? I would be stoked.

"I would feel like I had a difference-maker on defense and we had a quarterback on offense. Now let's get to work. We got five in the first 65 picks. Let's get to work. From my perspective, especially looking at the quarterbacks this year, if they gave up No. 12 and could get Garoppolo, I'd be all over that."