Curran: Pats playing with fire with bad starts

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Curran: Pats playing with fire with bad starts

FOXBORO -- In every quarter but the first, the Patriots have scored more than 140 points this season. It's uncanny. In the second, 148. In the third, 141. In the fourth, 142.

In the first quarter? Just 82. It's the only quarter in which they've been outscored (87-82).

Why, why, why, why, why?

The only coach in NFL history to coach his team to 13 or more wins in five seasons has no idea what the common thread might be.

"If we knew, we would have done something about it today," said Bill Belichick. "I guess not. We weren't trying to start that way."

In five of the Patriots' final six games, they fell behind. They were down 10-0 to the Eagles, 20-17 against Washington, 16-7 against Denver, 17-0 against Miami and 21-0 Sunday against the Bills. In the one game they didn't fall behind, they gave up 21 fourth-quarter points against the Colts.

Going back further? Against the Chiefs and Tyler Palko, the game was 3-0 deep into the first half. The Jets got up on New England, 9-6. The Giants were ahead 10-0 in the third after a scoreless first half; the Pats eventually took the lead in the final two minutes but lost in the closing seconds. The Patriots didn't erase deficits of 10-0 and 17-7 in their 25-17 loss to the Steelers. The Cowboys led the Patriots 16-13 in the fourth, but New England rallied for the win.

You have to go all the way back to Weeks 4 and 5, when the Patriots never trailed against the Raiders and Jets, to find consecutive games in which New England never trailed.

Maybe this all speaks to this team's resilience and unflappability that they can continually erase deficits. Maybe they can live like this despite all the proclamations that "This won't cut it in the playoffs." Maybe this is their identity.

"Its really lack of execution more so than anything," Tom Brady explained. "Theyre not doing anything special or Wow, we werent prepared for that. Its just theyre executing and were not. Id love to be able to see what it looks like when we put together 60 great minutes of football. Today was 45 but it was better than 30 last week, so maybe were trending toward that."

Maybe they are. The reality is, the Patriots' defense is extremely vulnerable. That's not a changeable situation. They are what they are and they are going to allow points and yards.

It's the offense that carries this franchise as it turns toward the playoffs and conventional wisdom says that it's going to be imperative for them to go score-for-score with the top-tier teams it will see in the playoffs.

The reason? Talent.

The top three teams in the AFC in points per game allowed are the Steelers, Ravens and Texans (14.2, 16.6 and 17.4). They are the fifth, second and third seeds respectively behind the Patriots in the AFC playoffs.

The Ravens, Bengals, Texans and Broncos are the top four teams in sacks. Again, all playoff teams. If the Patriots' defense allows points and New England falls behind, here comes the pass rush and the jamming at the line for the Patriots receivers as the timing of the Patriots' offense gets upset.

That's the concern going forward. Flat defensive starts in 2009 against the Ravens and 2010 against the Jets are what helped waylay the New England offense.

"Its the playoffs now," said Rob Gronkowski. "We got the best teams coming in the house, so we got to start in the first quarter, we got to start fast, we got to start strong and we cant be getting down like that. We were lucky enough to even come back against Buffalo losing by that much 21. We got to start fast for sure and we got to play all four quarters.

The early execution offensively has been puzzling. Against the Bills, it was a pair of quick possessions that gave Buffalo a chance to pillage the Patriots secondary.

Bad football by us," said Brian Waters. "Its the players. Were going to look at the film and figure out its one guy here, one guy there, one guy here, guys just not doing their jobs and not doing it well enough. The Bills are one of those teams that really are trying. I mean look at their team. They were going for it on fourth down, fake punts. They were really trying to win the game. We allowed them, by not staying focused and paying attention to details, to get off to a great start against us.

In the first quarter this season, Tom Brady went 63-for-102. That puts him 15th in the NFL in completion percentage in the opening quarter. Entering Sunday, he was 12th in first-half completion percentage. He's second in second-half completion percentage and fourth in fourth-quarter completion percentage.

Having turned deficits into leads has imbued this team with the confidence they can turn it on, that they'll figure it out.

We started off slow and lackadaisical with a lack of detail, but once we get the detail down and our playmakers start making plays, we can get it going," Aaron Hernandez said Sunday. "We just start slow. It has been like that all season but it has to change now coming into the playoffs. If we change the pace up and start going faster it will be hard to stop since we have so many weapons.

The strength of the weapons, though, is the diversity of the attack. Slot receiver. Classic tight end. Hybrid tight end. Scatback. Slashing running back. Possession receiver. The effort will be on to take away the tight ends and Welker in the playoffs. If the Patriots fall behind, the running game may become an afterthought.

It all gets harder, then. Never has a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed been earned by a team so fundamentally flawed on defense. The Patriots allowed an average of 411.1 yards per game. They gave up 293.3 passing yards per game. They were last in the league in yards per game allowed by 42 yards. Yardage-wise, they are the worst pass defense in NFL history, allowing a record 4,727 yards passing. The previous record was 4,541 set by the 1995 Falcons.

That Brady threw for 5,325 yards helped offset the damage opposing offenses did but the defenses will be tougher in the playoffs.

Falling behind in the postseason could be flirting with disaster even if that is this team's M.O.

Trump says NFL should fire players who kneel during anthem

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Trump says NFL should fire players who kneel during anthem

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — President Donald Trump says National Football League owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem. And he’s encouraging spectators to walk out in protest.

In an extended riff during a freewheeling rally speech in Alabama Friday night, Trump also bemoaned that football games have become less violent.

“They’re ruining the game,” he complained.

Several athletes, including NFL players, have refused to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest of the treatment of blacks by police.

Trump says those players are disrespecting the flag and deserve to lose their jobs.

“That’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” he said, encouraging owners to act.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ’Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,” Trump said to loud applause.

Trump also predicted that any owner who went through with his encouragement would become “the most popular person in this country” — at least for a week.

Trump, who was in Alabama campaigning for Sen. Luther Strange, also blamed a decline in NFL ratings on the nation’s interest in “yours truly” as well as what he described as a decline in violence in the game.

He said players are being thrown out for aggressive tackles, and it’s “not the same game.”

The NFL has made several efforts to reduce violence in the sport, particularly hits that may cause damage to the head. A July report on 202 former football players found evidence of a debilitating brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them. The league has agreed to pay $1 billion to retired players who claimed it misled them about the concussion dangers of playing football.

During his campaign, Trump often expressed nostalgia for the “old days” — claiming, for example, that protesters at his rallies would have been carried out on stretchers back then. He recently suggested police officers should be rougher with criminals and shouldn’t protect their heads when pushing them into quad cars.

It’s also not the first time he’s raised the kneeling issue. Earlier this year he took credit for the fact that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the trend of kneeling during the anthem, hadn’t been signed by an NFL team.

Trump said the protest was the top reason NFL viewership had waned this season.

“You know what’s hurting the game more than that? When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem,” he said.

Trump encouraged his supporters to pick up and leave the stadium next time they spot a player failing to stand.

“I guarantee things will stop,” he said.

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Bill Belichick: Patriots 'spent quite a bit of time' with Texans rookie D'Onta Foreman leading up to draft

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Bill Belichick: Patriots 'spent quite a bit of time' with Texans rookie D'Onta Foreman leading up to draft

FOXBORO — As the Patriots make final preparations for Sunday’s matchup against the Texans, they’ll keep an eye on rookie running back D’Onta Foreman. It won’t be the first time they’ve taken a look at him. 

Foreman, a big back out of Texas, appears to be pushing Lamar Miller for the Texans’ starting job. Bill Belichick said Friday that the Pats worked heavily with him leading up to the draft. 

“I spent quite a bit of time with him at Texas last spring,” Belichick said, likening Foreman to a LeGarette Blount type who can also contribute as a pass-catching back.

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The Patriots didn’t like (or need) Foreman enough to draft him in the third round, where he was chosen. They had three cracks at him in the third round (at No. 72, where they traded down, and then at Nos. 83 and 85) and passed all three times. 

Instead of taking Foreman with one of the picks, they came away with Derek Rivers at No. 83 and Antonio Garcia at No. 85. The Texans grabbed Foreman at No. 89. 

When the teams met in the preseason, Foreman rushed for only 17 yards on seven carries, but had a rushing touchdown and 66 receiving yards on two catches, one of which went for 63 yards.

“He's an impressive guy. He can run through guys,” Belichick said. “He can run around them. He’s got good quickness in space, a good receiver. He’s a big back with some little back skills, so he's got a very good overall skill set. He can be used on all three downs, but he can get tough yards and he can be tough in space, as we saw in the preseason game.”

Of course, the Pats had already loaded their running back group by adding Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead to a crowded depth chart by then, so it’s no surprise they opted against taking a back with one of their first picks. 

While there wasn’t a spot for Foreman in New England, the opportunity seems plentiful in Houston. He received just one carry in Houston’s season-opener but cut into Miller’s workload with 12 carries in last week’s win over the Bengals. 

With fellow rookie Deshaun Watson making his second NFL start at quarterback, the Texans may have to rely on the running game more than usual Sunday. If that means more touches for Foreman, the Pats will at least know who they’re dealing with. 

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