Fix was in for Pats offense


Fix was in for Pats offense

FOXBORO - It looked like bye-bye to the bye and hello to hand-wringing that was going to have nervous hands in New England worn down to the bone by Wednesday.

And then the Patriots offense got right. Methodically erasing a first-half that featured six punts, three sacks of Tom Brady and a 17-0 deficit, the Patriots ran the Dolphins out of the gym in the final 30 minutes Sunday, scoring 27 straight points en route to their 27-24 win.

The Big Digout wouldn't have happened if the New England defense hadn't settled in and started getting the ball back in Tom Brady's hands. But Brady needed to do a 180 himself and rebound from an inaccurate half of throwing (7 of 19 for 87 yards) and general pocket jumpiness.

He did. And the prescription for the offensive woes was to hurry things up and work the middle of the Dolphins defense down.

We knew they would (go no-huddle in the second half), I mean thats what they do," said Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell. "When you watch these guys on tape they do it throughout games. Its nothing new. We knew at some point it was going to come. We were prepared for it but at the same time they slowed our pressure package down by going no-huddle. Theyd run a play and then theyd get right back on the ball trying to get the huddle call and the pressures not as good then because you cant really set up."

The heat Brady was subjected to behind a makeshift offensive line virtually disappeared because Miami couldn't sub its pass-rushers in.

"We didnt have time to set up our pressure package," explained Bell. "They were going to make sure we didnt have time to mess around in the second half so they were getting up on the ball going quick keeping us on our toes. They were snapping the ball quick and doing things like that."

Things like pounding the ball to Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Between them, they were targeted 15 times in the first half. By game's end, they'd seen 34 total throws. And Welker, who caught two of the seven passes thrown his way in the first half for 20 yards, caught 10 of the 12 thrown to him in the second for 118 yards.

"That was a pretty poor first half on myself," Welker said of the first 30 minutes. "That was pretty bad. I just wanted to let them know that that was bull on my part and in the second half, I wanted to come out and play the way we needed to play to win the game and thats what we were able to do. We were able to make some plays and everyone chipped in, and thats what its all about and thats how you win games. It takes a full effort from the whole team and nobody really was holding us back and I felt like in the first half, I really did that."

When asked to talk about Brady after the game, Miami corner Nolan Carroll said, "It was Welker and Gronkowski. He just worked the middle and that is what he is good at. He knows how to get the balls to his receivers and he is smart. He recognized a lot of stuff that we were doing and just attacked it."

In two of the past three games (Washington being the other), accuracy has been an issue for Brady early in games. On Sunday, he struggled not just with the Miami pass rush but also the Dolphins simply getting their hands up and forcing tipped passes or altered deliveries.

"We just had a hard time getting going," said Brady. "We obviously didnt play very well in the first half. I think we made a pretty big commitment at halftime to each other to go out and everyone do their job and quit worrying about everybody else and go out and play better and we did that."

The no-huddle isn't an elixir. The Patriots used it a little in the first half and the only result was quicker three-and-outs.

"We use it, it seems, like every game," said Brady. I dont think we go into every game thinking, This is what were going to do. If it works, we stick with it. We tried it early we tried it in the first half and it didnt work very well, but based on our personnel we thought maybe we should just stick with it and we certainly executed a lot better."

The reason it works better, Hernandez explained, is matchups.

"It just makes the defense hurry up and make a decision," explained Hernandez, who now has 72 catches for 772 yards and six TDs. "We play so fast and we can do so many things that cause a lot of problems to a defense... They cant really put who they really want on me, Gronk Rob Gronkowski, and Wes Welker and they kind of have to just play, so if theres linebackers on me or Gronk, theres a lot of mismatches.

"Wes Welker and Tom Brady started clicking and when theyre clicking everyone starts clicking, so they got it going and we just followed their lead," said Hernandez.

Brady isnow within 187 yards of the NFL record for passing yards in a season (5,084). Welker, who has 116 catches for 1,518 yards, needs eight receptions in the season finale against Buffalo to have the second-highest pass-catching year in NFL history. He'll surpass the 123-catch season that is currently second-highest accomplished by... Welker in 2009 (and Herman Moore who had 123 for the Lions in 1995).

With the first-round bye secured and the No. 1 seed in their back pocket if they win next week against Buffalo, the Patriots are playing for seeding and records.

But that wouldn't have been the case if New England hadn't done its about-face against the Fins.

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

LeGarrette Blount knows where he wants to be for 2017. Ever since he re-joined the Patriots in 2014 following a short stay in Pittsburgh, the 250-pound back has been very open about how he wants to play out the rest of his career in New England. 

Those feelings haven't changed, even as he faces free-agency after having recorded the best season of his seven-year career.

"I just want to make sure that I go to this free agency with an open mind, knowing that I definitely want to go back to New England," he told NFL Total Access on Monday. "I love it there. I love the culture. I love the players. I've become close with a lot of the guys. Obviously you know how my running back group is.

"We'll cross that bridge whenever we cross it. On that point, I feel great. I'm in amazing shape. I feel like I could play 100 more years if I have to."

Blount finished 2016 with career-highs in attempts (299) yards (1,161) and touchowns (18). His ability to help the Patriots close games in the fourth quarter was notable throughout the course of the season, and he was among the most effective goal-line backs in the league. His 18 rushing scores are a franchise record.

Toward the end of the season, as Dion Lewis worked his way back into the Patriots offense, Blount had his workload cut into, and his fumble in the Super Bowl was a near-catastrophic moment -- his devastated reaction to which was caught expertly by NFL Films. But a big-picture view of Blount's year would reveal that he  posted the most prodictive "big back" season the Patriots have had in more than a decade.

Blount signed a one-year deal with the Patriots last offseason after seeing his 2015 prematurely ended by way of a hip injury. He turned 30 in December.

Garoppolo's mom keeps him apprised of trade rumors: 'She's all over that stuff'

Garoppolo's mom keeps him apprised of trade rumors: 'She's all over that stuff'

Jimmy Garoppolo can't help but hear trade rumors that involve his name. He heard all about them during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. Now his mom's keeping him up to date. 

"My mom loves telling me the news updates," Garoppolo told ESPN's Adam Schefter, "so she’s all over that stuff, but it’s been working really well . . . 

"I’m telling you, she could be your assistant. She’s all over the place. Her and my dad on Twitter and stuff like that. I don’t even think they know how to tweet, but they always have something going on . . .

"They know what to hit me with and what to keep quiet. They know me so well that they know what I’d like to hear and what I don’t need to hear. There’s a couple slip-ups here and there, I’m not going to lie to you, but they’re just so excited about it. It’s an exciting time, and they’re loving it."

Garoppolo tried his best to deflect questions about his future as he prepared for Super Bowl LI, but he could only insulate himself so much from those conversations. After six quarters of well-played football, he's chummed the waters for quarterback-starved franchises. As the draft nears, offers are expected to hit the Gillette Stadium offices, and it will be up to Bill Belichick and his staff to determine whether they should part ways with Tom Brady's backup. 

Schefter asked Garoppolo about one team in particular that could be interested: the Chicago Bears. Their general manager Ryan Pace is an Eastern Illinois alum, like Garoppolo, and Garoppolo is a Chicago-area kid. 

"I get asked about [that possibility] all the time from my friends and family back in Chicago," Garoppolo said. "They’re good reporters, my family. But I keep telling them I really don’t know how it would feel until . . . if it was to happen, I wouldn’t know how I’d feel until it did, you know? So it’s kind of one of those things, it’s hard to say right now."

Garoppolo added: "For the most part I am just trying to stay level-headed, trying not to think about it, over think it too much because at the end of the day I am still under contract. It is not my decision if I get traded or if I don’t, so I am just trying to take it all in stride. At the end of the day, you just have to enjoy it. The NFL, it is a hard place to be, hard place to succeed and when you get an opportunity you have to go and take advantage of it."

The idea of getting an opportunity, though, is an enticing one. Before the 2016 season, Garoppolo was very open about how he looked forward to his opportunity to start with Brady suspended for the first four weeks of the season. And with Schefter, he acknowledged that there are times when it's hard not to be impatient when you're the guy behind the guy.

"There’s times," Garoppolo said. "Obviously the kickoff happens and you are ready to roll. The juices get flowing again. You get the adrenaline, the butterflies. It’s football, you have to love the atmosphere . . . 

"We all play the game. We all want to be out there on the field and get an opportunity to play. I guess we will cross that bridge when we get there is probably the best way to put it. We’re competitors at the end of the day. We want to be out there, I want to be out there competing and playing with my teammates.”