Curran: A cast of characters

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Curran: A cast of characters

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Right about now, tapping the brakes is probably advisable.

Because after Sunday nights 37-16 humiliation of the Jets in front of their home fans, the temptation will be to anoint.

Before the game began, I wondered if this slumping team littered with defensive fill-ins like Jeff Tarpinian, Sterling Moore, Antwaun Molden and Philip Adams (combined NFL tackles, including last night: 48) could do what teams of Patriots past had done: Block out the doubt, trust the system, play with abandon, and steal a win nobody expected them to get.

They did. Now what does it mean? It means they have character. It means they have resilience.

Does it mean a division title, playoffs, an inside track to Indy in February?

Thats where the brake tapping comes in. They are 2-2 over their last four. They still have key defenders injured add Devin McCourty and his separated shoulder to Brandon Spikes MCL sprain and Patrick Chungs injured right foot.

But they are more a team than they were before the game began. And they took a chunk out of a team they hate, a team that has made its lifes work unseating the Patriots from their position of AFC East dominance. They may not be as talented especially on defense as teams from years past. And they will probably still be maddening at times.

But they are hard very hard not to like.

Its all about proving yourself, said safety James Ihedigbo, released by the Jets at the end of the preseason. Respect is never given, its earned, and as a defense we earned it today. You look across our secondary and its a bunch of guys that people said werent good enough or couldnt play. Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, I believe, are the only draft picks in our secondary. And then Dev goes down with a hurt shoulder, but Molden comes in and we dont miss a beat. Its a testament to what we got in the secondary.

"We still got half the season left to play. Whatever happened the first half doesnt matter. All we got is each other and we gotta just play the way were capable of playing and be accountable to each other and play the way we played today.

There was an urgency to the way the Patriots played Sunday night. A desperateness on the defense that, perhaps not coincidentally, wasn't apparent when guys like Leigh Bodden and Albert Haynesworth were here and apparently content to merely go through the motions until the coaching staff had seen enough.

It wasnt just the back-end guys in the secondary I mentioned. It was also Andre Carter, a guy who hasnt taken a play off all year, coming up with four sacks. And Mark Anderson, mostly a non-factor through the first half, playing like his head was on fire.

The sage of this defense, a pros pro, is Gerard Warren. Asked what he learned about the players summoned to step in Sunday night, Warren said, They showed their professionalism Their accountability. Everybody on this team and in this locker room takes pride in knowing what to do and being ready to play when their number is called.

There were big plays by no-names (and former no-names) all over the game book by the time it was over. From Rob Ninkovichs pick-six to seal it to Niko Koutoivides fumble recovery on a muffed punt. Koutouvides just re-joined the team on Friday.

The road for the Patriots gets somewhat easier from here, at least on paper. They play just one team with a winning record, the reeling Bills, in the season finale. The combined record of their opponents is 21-42.

Can the Patriots realistically expect a secondary of young castoffs to continue performing with abandon and smarts? Well, Bill Belichick says every player must establish his level of play. And on Sunday night, these often-overlooked players established that, in a critical game in prime-time, they were plenty good enough.

We battle, said Tom Brady. Some of the guys you dont really know. You know who they are, but you havent seen them perform under pressure. Some of the guys were up from the practice squad, playing scout team defense this week and then I see them in the game on our defense. A lot of guys really stepped up to the challenge tonight.

Added Warren: Its victory. Its always sweet. No matter what stadium or what trash has been talked. Any time you come out victorious at the end of the day thats the goal and the mission.

Curran: Jets' 2015 tampering with Revis more extensive than NFL revealed

Curran: Jets' 2015 tampering with Revis more extensive than NFL revealed

The Patriots obviously got it right when they pushed away from the table during the Darrelle Revis bidding war in 2015. 

The once-great corner spent the 2016 season languishing on the field. He’s spending the early part of the offseason reacting negatively to backpack journalism after midnight. 

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But the alleged double KO by Revis and his buddies isn’t what prompts this submission. 

It’s the revelation from Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News that the tampering the Jets engaged in when they were prying Revis loose from the Patriots was way, way more involved than what the NFL fined them for. And that Jets owner Woody Johnson knew all about it. 

Mehta leads his piece revealing that, long before free agency opened in 2015, Revis “was ready to squeeze more money out of [Johnson] who he knew would be willing to overpay for his services again.”

Mehta reports that, “back-channel discussions with the Jets in February set the foundation for a Revis reunion . . . 

“Team officials in stealth mode communicated with Revis, Inc., through private cell phones and face-to-face covert meetings at the 2015 Scouting Combine rather than make calls from the team's landlines at their Florham Park facility. No paper trails were a must.

“Johnson, the driving force behind bringing back Revis to right a wrong in his mind, endorsed all of it.”

The Patriots -- who were in the midst of the Deflategate colonoscopy that resulted in absurd-level discipline -- lodged a complaint with the league over the Jets tampering after Revis signed with the Jets in mid-March of 2015. 

The Jets were fined $100,000 but weren’t docked any draft picks.. The tender wrist slap came, ostensibly, because Johnson moronically stated at a December press conference that he’d “love” to have Revis return to New York. 

Maybe Johnson wasn’t being a dummy. That comment provided cover for the league office -- which has a documented history of treating the two NYC franchises with kid gloves -- to let the Jets off easy. 

Mehta’s article is the latest offering from him since completing his heel turn against Revis. 

Mehta did everything but fly the plane to bring Revis to New York once the 2014 season ended. And this is what he wrote the day the Jets penalty came down: 

The NFL’s attempt to uncover any dirt was an exercise in futility, a witch hunt driven by nonsense from a hypocritical organization with no reason to feel threatened by its competitor. 

You may wonder what’s the point? 

Clearly, the Patriots got it right while the Jets cheated, got what they wanted, and are now getting what they deserved. 

And everyone already knows the league office’s investigations and operations arms under the brutally incompetent leadership of Troy Vincent are a laughingstock. 

All true. But if I don’t write this now, I may have no recollection of this particular instance of league corruption given the absolute avalanche of other incidents
 

Five Patriots listed among Pro Football Focus Top 50 free agents

Five Patriots listed among Pro Football Focus Top 50 free agents

When the free-agency period officially begins on Mar. 9, it looks like there will be several newly-minted Super Bowl champions available for hire. And judging by the list Pro Football Focus published recently, the Patriots seem primed to lose more top-end talent via free agency than any other club in the league. 

Of the Top 50 free agents scheduled to be available next month, according to PFF, five are Patriots: linebacker Dont'a Hghtower (No. 11), safety Duron Harmon (No. 17), corner Logan Ryan (No. 26), defensive end Jabaal Sheard (No. 27) and tight end Martellus Bennett (No. 28).

Though the team doesn't have a single Top 10 player, per PFF, no other club has more than four (Cardinals, Redskins, Packers) in the Top 50. 

And the Patriots probably should have had at least one other player included. 

Not LeGarrette Blount, though he set a franchise record for rushing touchdowns last season. Not Chris Long, though he led the team in total quarterback pressures as he played out his one-year deal in New England. It's Alan Branch, 32, who is coming off of arguably his best season in 10 years as a pro. 

A powerful run defender, Bill Belichick called Branch the team's most consistent interior defensive lineman, and late in the season the coach made it clear just how much value there is in having a player with Branch's stature (6-foot-6, 350 pounds) and athleticism up front.

"Alan has done a great job for us," Belichick said. "And along with his play, which is certainly significant, one of the things that’s really been impressive about him has been his play time. So in addition to his overall production he’s played a lot more than he has in quite a while in terms of number of plays. 

"From a production standpoint he’s got, again, quite a few tackles, tackles for loss. It’s hard to measure the disruptive plays but he’s certainly got his share of those. He’s played very well for us in the running game. He’s given us a presence in the pass rush of a long, physical player in the middle. That’s all been really good, and he’s played more plays so all of that is good. 

"How unique is it? I mean, yeah, guys that weigh 350 pounds and are athletic and long like he is; I mean they don’t grow on trees. They’re hard to find. Ted Washington had that kind of length and size. Ted was 6-5, but Alan moves better than Ted does, or did at that point in his career. We’ve had some other longer guys like Richard [Seymour] or guys like that, but they weren’t 350 pounds. There’s not too many of them."

Though he may not make everyone's Top 50, Branch should certainly be mentioned on any list of impact players Belichick and his staff are at risk of losing in a few weeks. It's a long one.