Felger: Take it and run

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Felger: Take it and run

By Michael Felger

Four from Felger following the Patriots' near-collapse in San Diego . . .

Overall a very good win. It didn't feel that way in the immediate aftermath of the Pats' fourth-quarter collapse, of course, but when you step back, you have to be pleased. The Pats were ripe for a letdown following last week's war with Baltimore (see how the Ravens struggled at home against winless Buffalo?) while the Chargers were poised for their usual October breakout. The Pats had schlepped cross country and the Chargers were back at home playing for their season. Then Tom Brady and the offense came out and played like crap for most of the early going. It was just shaping up as one of those days.

So to come out of that circumstance with a victory and remain tied for the best record in football . . . take it and run.

Yes, the Chargers are pathetic. With any sort of coaching or composure they win that game going away. But this is nothing new. AFC teams have been taking advantage of Charger ineptness dating well back into the Marty Schottenheimer Era. The Pats used it to make the AFC title game in 2006. The Jets did the exact same thing last year. It's what the Chargers do.

The Pats just aren't talented enough to go on a deep playoff run this year without some luck. In fact, there may not be a single team in the NFL this year that is. So the Pats were handed some good fortune on Sunday.

In hindsight, given the opponent, that wasn't all that surprising.

Bill Belichick dodged the biggest bullet, of course. He never got past the fourth-and-2 in Indianapolis last season (the Pats went 4-5 after the call, including the Colts loss), and the comparisons to what happened in San Diego are just too hard to ignore.

Once again he showed little faith in the defense. Once again, he put the game in the hands of the offense. Once again, the move backfired (thanks in large part to BenJarvus Green-Ellis missing the hole), only this time he was saved by San Diego's ineptitude.

I would have punted, because I think at some point the defense is going to have to win you a game. But it wasn't a terrible decision; just a questionable one. And if the Pats had lost it would have been questioned hard.

Or at least harder. Something tells me I'll still be getting a few calls on it.

To me, the bigger coaching faux pas came when the Pats were caught napping on San Diego's fourth-quarter onside kick. It was hardly an automatic situation, but it was close enough (San Diego down 10 points with 7:23 remaining) that the Pats should have been more alert.

If it was too early for the hands team, then fine. But the up-men should have been waiting for it. Instead, the front line began its retreat as Kris Brown approached the ball -- and it cost them.

Call it a teachable moment for special-teams coach Scott O'Brien and Belichick. And once again, thank the football gods it came against Norv Turner.

The first half was the worst 30 minutes of football I've seen Tom Brady play in a long time. He was 6-of-16 for 35 yards while the Pats offense was 0-for-6 on third down, numbers that accurately portray the futility. Yes, the protection was bad (three sacks in the first half). And yes, his receivers weren't exactly getting separation (Deion Branch's bus must have been late). But Brady still threw some balls that just defied explanation.

He threw flat on a double-reverse to Branch on the first series. He made a bad decision going to a blanketed Sammy Morris on the second series, then drilled a ball at Brandon Tate's feet the next snap. He knuckled a hellacious little pass to Wes Welker early in the second quarter, after which he sailed one wide to Hernandez over the middle. He threw way behind Welker just before the half. Even the balls he completed, such as the touchdown to Rob Gronkowski and an earlier ball to the big tight end, were off the mark.

But as was the case last week, Brady and the offense got better as the game went on. They marched down the field and reached the end zone on a 17-play drive to open the third quarter and again went down the field (nine plays, 59 yards) to kick a field goal early in the fourth. Their third series ended in the failed Green-Ellis run.

And, once again, Branch didn't turtle. He kept working to get open and eventually broke through for four catches for 39 yards, all in the second half.

Meanwhile, Randy Moss caught three balls in the Vikings' loss at Green Bay.

The Vikings are now 1-2 since Moss got there while the Pats are 2-0 since the trade.

Just saying.

Felger's report card will post Tuesday morning. E-mail him HERE and read the mailbag on Thursday. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

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.”

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL


Tom Brady delivered a video message last week at the funeral of Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, a Maine native and former UConn track athlete killed in Somalia on May 5.

Bill Speros of The Boston Herald, in a column this Memorial Day weekend, wrote about Milliken and Brady's message.   

Milliken ran track at Cheverus High School in Falmouth, Maine, and at UConn, where he graduated in 2001. Milliken lived in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Erin, and two children.  He other Navy SEALs participated in a training exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011 where he met and posed for pictures with Brady.

Speros wrote that at Milliken’s funeral in Virginia Beach, Va., Brady's video offered condolences and thanked Milliken’s family for its sacrifice and spoke of how Milliken was considered a “glue guy” by UConn track coach Greg Roy.

Milliken had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning four Bronze Star Medals and was based in Virginia since 2004.  He was killed in a nighttime firefight with Al-Shabaab militants near Barij, about 40 miles from the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He was 38.

The Pentagon said Milliken was the first American serviceman killed in combat in Somalia since the "Black Hawk Down" battle that killed 18 Americans in 1993. 

In a statement to the Herald, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said: “It was an honor to host Kyle and his team for an exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011. It gave new meaning to the stadium being known as home of the Patriots. We were deeply saddened to hear of Kyle’s death earlier this month.

“As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by patriots like Kyle and so many others who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect our rights as Americans. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt appreciation are extended to the Milliken family and the many families who will be remembering lives lost this Memorial Day weekend.”