Brady-led offense fails to execute

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Brady-led offense fails to execute

By Danny Picard
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- It's hard to believe.

Those were the words out of Matt Light's mouth following Sunday's 28-21 season-ending playoff loss to the New York Jets. What's hard to believe is that New England's offense didn't execute like it has all season long.

That offense starts with Tom Brady.

The Patriots' quarterback finished the game 29-of-45 for 299 yards while throwing two touchdowns and one interception. In the process, he moved into a tie with Terry Bradshaw for fifth on the NFL's all-time playoff touchdown pass list, with 30.

But on this day, two touchdowns just wasn't enough.

"It's like you're on the treadmill, running at 10 miles an hour, and then someone just hits the stop button," said Brady of the season's abrupt ending. "So I think we certainly expected to play better today. I think we're a pretty good football team, but not when we played like we did today."

From the start of training camp, questions about a young and inexperienced defense led to the popular belief that Brady's offense would have to carry the load this season.

As the weeks went by, it became more and more evident that the "bend-but-don't-break" defense, while competent enough, needed help from its offense.

So often this season, the Patriots were able to sustain their defense "bending" because they averaged 32.4 points per game, more than any other team in football. And they scored those points early and often.

Brady led that regular-season offensive outburst with 36 touchdown passes and only four interceptions.

So to see him with only one touchdown through three quarters, as well as an interception in the team's first possession, was, as Light said, hard to believe.

"We just didn't make the plays," said Light. "When we had a little rhythm, we stopped short. When we needed to convert, we didn't do it. We didn't help out our defense. I just think, overall, we didn't execute the way we have in the past. It's kind of hard to believe."

For the second straight playoff game, Brady turned the ball over in his team's first possession of the game. Last year, Terrell Suggs forced a Brady fumble on the offense's third play from the line of scrimmage. This year, Jets linebacker David Harris picked off an overthrown Brady screen pass, intended for BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

"Fortunately, Brady overthrew his back, and I was in the right place at the right time," said Harris. "I was just trying to get as much out of it as possible, but I ran out of gas. It's a long way to the end zone."

Harris ran from his own 30-yard line to the Patriots' 12 after the interception. The Jets then missed a field goal, so the mistake wasn't costly. But after the Pats took a 3-0 lead in their second possession, they punted two straight times, and failed to convert on a fake punt attempt, going into the half trailing 14-3.

"We talked all week about fast starts, and getting ahead of these guys, and playing from ahead," said Brady. "We had some opportunities there in the first quarter, and we really let those slip away. We made it a dog fight, and ultimately, couldn't really dig ourselves out of the holes we made."

Brady was sacked five times in the loss, but even during plays in which he had all the time in the world, his execution wasn't what it was throughout the regular season.

His first touchdown pass of the game came with 13 seconds left in the third quarter, on a two-yard pass over the middle to Alge Crumpler. The two-point conversion cut New York's lead to 14-11.

Brady's second touchdown pass came in the final minute of the fourth, when he found a wide-open Deion Branch in the back of the end zone to cut the Jets' lead to 28-21. But by then, the Patriots would have needed a miracle to send it to overtime.

It was too little, too late for a Brady-led offense that looked out of rhythm from the opening possession for the second straight postseason game at home, including last year's loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium.

That even included a fourth-quarter drive, while still trailing by two scores, in which there seemed to be zero sense of urgency. They chewed up eight minutes on the clock before giving up the ball on downs with a little more than five minutes remaining, sealing their fate.

"We thought that if we could get it in the end zone, it's a three-point game," said Brady.

"I thought we had an opportunity there, but . . . we just couldn't get the ball in the end zone when we needed to."

It was something they were able to do all season long. And in return, it took a ton of pressure off their defense.

And as hard as it is to believe, the Brady-led offense didn't show up on Sunday, in the biggest game of the year.

"We've seen Brady play poorly before," said Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. "We saw it in the first game when we played him. In the second game, he seemed more focused. This game, he was a little confused out there."

"Just a lack of execution," said Brady. "In order to score points, you have to consistently be able to put together plays, and we could never really do that or find a rhythm. They made a lot of plays. They didn't make many mistakes. We made too many mistakes. There were too many plays that weren't the way we drew them up."

Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard. You can listen to Danny on his streaming radio show I'm Just Sayin' Monday-Friday from 9-10 a.m. on CSNNE.com.

Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot

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Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot

FOXBORO -- When a new player arrives to the Patriots, there's a familiar refrain that's recited from behind the podium at Gillette Stadium: "Football is important to him."

Whether the subject is a rookie or an established veteran, those five words can serve as Bill Belichick's stamp of approval. It means the player cares. It means the player is willing to put in time.

Belichick hasn't gone on the record on any of the members of this year's class of undrafted free agents just yet, but linebacker Brooks Ellis seems to fall into that category of players to whom football is important.

If it wasn't, he would probably be putting all of his energy into getting accepted into medical school right now.  

Ellis was a two-year captain at Arkansas and one of 12 finalists for the Campbell Trophy, also known as the "Academic Heisman." He maintained a 3.82 grade point average as a pre-professional exercise science major with a minor in biology, he was the first two-time Academic All-American in program history, and he was the SEC's Scholar-Athlete of the year for 2016.

All that is to say, Ellis had options upon graduation.

Football won out. He agreed to a deal with the Patriots soon after the draft, and he's spent the better part of the last month trying to learn defensive terminology and special-teams techniques. 

But eventually Ellis hopes to be an orthopedic surgeon, and later this summer he'll submit his applications to medical schools in order to kick-start that process for whenever it's time to pursue his next plan full-throttle.

"I'm putting my all into this right now," Ellis said, wearing Patriots gear while standing on the Gillette Stadium turf last week. "But when I get some spare time, I'm finishing applications, and then when I get back in July I'm sending those in.

"If I get accepted somewhere, I'm going to tell them I need to defer until I know for sure what the football situation is going to be. So I'm all in on football, and just in case, I'm going to have that ready to go when I get out of it."

If all goes well for Ellis this spring and summer, it could be a while before he's taking the Hippocratic Oath. The Patriots have a long history of giving worthy undrafted players a shot at the 53-man roster, and Ellis plays one of the few positions on New England's loaded roster that might have room for a newcomer or two.

On paper, he certainly looks like their type.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder was his team's leading tackler for two seasons. He played all three linebacker positions in Arkansas' defense -- strong-side, middle and weak-side -- and he started 31 consecutive games to finish his career. Ellis also has extensive special teams experience, and he recorded one of the quickest three-cone drills among linebackers at this year's NFL Scouting Combine.

That he learned under Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema can't hurt his chances, either.

Bielema began his coaching career at Iowa under former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz, and Belichick has dipped into Bielema's programs at Wisconsin and Arkansas several times over the course of the last few seasons. Running back James White, defensive end Trey Flowers and former tight end AJ Derby all played for Bielema, and Ellis joins fellow Arkansas rookies Deatrich Wise (fourth-round pick) and Cody Hollister (undrafted) on this year's squad.  

"He came in, started about halfway through his true freshman year -- we weren't a really good football team, we were 3-9 -- threw him in the middle of it, didn't bat an eye, and he got better every game," Bielema said of Ellis on Quick Slants the Podcast. "Sophomore year, [he] really began to mature, develop. He's another guy that the potential -- because we never redshirted him -- to grow in this year is going to be huge . . .

"He's just truly very, very intelligent, compassionate. And the value that he brings is he could be an unbelievable role player. I'm not saying he's going to be a four-time All-Pro or anything like that, but he'll be reliable, dependable, in every phase of the game."

Robb Smith, Arkansas defensive coordinator from 2014-16, believes Ellis landed in the perfect spot. Prior to his time at Arkansas, he worked under Greg Schiano at Rutgers, where he coached Patriots safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, former Patriots corner Logan Ryan, Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny and safeties coach Steve Belichick.

"He's one of those guys that's not only going to know his job, but what the other 10 guys around him are supposed to do," Smith said of Ellis. "He'll be able to be a leader from that standpoint in terms of helping guys with the system and the scheme. He's very good instinctively . . ."

"This guy's going to be replacing my knee someday. I'm serious. He's going to be an orthopedic surgeon that's outstanding. I know that's what his goals are. But hopefully he gets to play a lot of football between now and then."

There's one more Patriots link connecting Ellis to New England. His agent, Neil Cornrich, has counted Belichick as a client and also represents Bielema, Ferentz, Flowers, Derby, undrafted Patriots rookies Cole Croston and LeShun Daniels (both of whom played under Ferentz at Iowa) and Patriots running back Rex Burkhead. 

It may come as no surprise then that when Ellis signed with the Patriots, no one knew. He didn't announce it on Twitter, as is the norm for undrafted players when they come to an agreement with a team. And the news wasn't leaked. Instead, he waited for the team to announce it, which his new employers probably appreciated.

Ellis, who according to the Boston Globe received the fifth-most guaranteed money of the 19 undrafted rookies the Patriots signed, said he received some simplie advice from Cornrich before making his way to New England.

"He just said that you'll fit in well there," Ellis said. "You're the type of guy they like, and you're the type of guy that succeeds in that organization. Don't do anything special. Just go out there and work like you do every day, and it'll turn out for the best."

Even if it doesn't, Ellis will have medical school. But he acknowledges there's some unpredictability with that path, just as there is being an undrafted player in the NFL. He still has to be accepted. His application, including personal statements, interviews and MCAT results -- "It was horrible, I don't want to take that ever again," Ellis said -- still has to be deemed up-to-snuff.  

Whenever Ellis starts, it will be the beginning of almost a decade of training between schooling and residency. It will be a challenge, he knows, and it's one that he looks forward to. But he's hoping it can wait because football is important to him. 

"It just makes you work harder," he said of his uncertain future. "It makes you really focus on right now, and make sure that you're doing all you can in this area because even the next area might not be there.

"That's what I've done. I'm just working as hard as I can on this, and if that doesn't work out, then I've got the next thing, and I'm going to work as hard as I can in that area."

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”