Paoletti: Patriots cornerbacks need to tighten up

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Paoletti: Patriots cornerbacks need to tighten up

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com Staff Reporter Follow @mary_paoletti

FOXBORO -- New England's defense had a lot to do with the team's 35-21 win Sunday evening.

But all the positive plays -- the second-quarter goal line stand, two interceptions, two sacks and two fumble recoveries -- must be digested along with a bitter pill: The secondary is not solid.

Last Monday in Miami, Chad Henne (30-for-49, 416 yards) connected with Brandon Marshall seven times for 139 yards. This weekend, Chargers wideout Vincent Jackson caught 10 balls for a career-high 172 yards. Though both are tough targets -- Marshall is 6-foot-4 and Jackson 6-5 -- the trend of letting passing yards slip shouldn't sit well with Leigh Bodden, Devin McCourty and the rest of the cornerbacks corps.

Bodden was visibly frustrated after the game.

"It's a challenge just like every week," he said, staring straight into his locker. "But those guys are tall and Rivers threw it pretty high a few times and they just came up with the ball. They just made plays. We're right there, but they just ended up making the play."

That description sums up McCourty's night.

As a rookie he thrived on being disruptive; his seven interceptions in 2010 marked the second best total in the league. But this year McCourty's having a hard time finding the ball in the air.

On San Diego's second touchdown of the fourth quarter McCourty was initially in position, but Jackson shucked him off for a 26-yard completion and six points. Rivers did have plenty of time on the throw as the Patriots pass rush appeared to be napping. Consequently, Jackson had a few extra beats to shake McCourty.

Bodden says there's no excuse for a missed assignment.

"The defensive line doesn't affect our coverage. We have a man, we have a zone; we have to cover that zone as long as we have to. Or if we're playing man, we have to play man as long as we have to. The pressure has nothing to do with us. We have our job to do and we have to do it."

Ah. Execution: The hard part.

Kyle Arrington, who's starting over Bodden as the third cornerback, had trouble matching up with Jackson in the slot. One point on film to watch, rewind, and watch again is that San Diego third down catch-and-run in the second quarter. Arrington got blown up by Jackson: 28 yards, first down.

You might not remember it. Five plays later, Arrington's flub and the drive were swallowed up by the Patriots' crowd-pleasing goal-line stand.

McCourty was in the fray, bounced up in that moment of his overall see-saw evening. He got aggressive on the goal line, working upfield to force 243-pound San Diego running back Mike Tolbert off his path. Jerod Mayo was there to stuff Tolbert's run.

"I'm just trying to help everybody else out," McCourty said. "On that goal line I'm probably the littlest guy in there. Whenever it's a run play I just try to read my keys and see if I can just make a play."

"Sometimes I think I went and I did a pretty good job of covering. And then there's plays when I just got beat. Right now I'm just trying to be competitive and get consistent. I feel like I played a little better this week and I'm just going to keep getting better week after week so this team can really depend on me down the stretch."

The Patriots need him. They need McCourty on par with those 2010 numbers: 82 tackles, two forced fumbles, 17 passes defensed. And they need Bodden, too. His playing time -- or lack thereof -- reflects his battling thumb and back injuries, but will likely rise out of necessity.

Rookie corner Ras-I Dowling left the game in the first half with a thigh injury. And Arrington took a big blow to the head late in the fourth quarter, so while there's time in the season to improve, that clock is ticking at an accelerated pace.

That means no more missed coverage. No giving up 41 first downs on the pass. And, for Bodden, no more penalties. Twice he was whistled for a hold away from incompletions on other side of the field.

Fine. He says he's ready.

"I'm 100 percent. I feel like the thumb is still hurting a little bit, but that's casted up game to game. Body feels good. I'm contributing wherever I need to contribute."

Buffalo would be a great place to start.

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is up next for the Patriots and he's throwing the ball well. Fitzpatrick passed for 208 yards and four touchdowns in Kansas City, and 264 and three TD's against Oakland. His favorite target? David Nelson, a 6-5 wideout.

It's going to be a busy week in Foxboro.

"That's key when you play defense," McCourty said, "your job is not to let them score. Of course, as defense, we want to be more consistent, but no matter what we do we've got to continue making those game-changing plays and that's our goal . . . make them kick field goals, make them line it up and see what we can do, going after the field goal there.

"We've got to keep them out of the end zone. That's something we talk about and we'll keep talking about that and get it done."

Another night, on another field, without a heroic defensive line effort to lean on, the secondary will be the difference in the game. Hopefully for the Patriots, it will be for the win.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti.

Giardi: Butler's offseason may cut deep, but it's time for him to battle back

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Giardi: Butler's offseason may cut deep, but it's time for him to battle back

This hasn’t been easy for Malcolm Butler. None of it. He’s never been given anything. Hell, at times he’s pissed his future away. But with a tenacity that reminds you of a certain 199th pick in the 2000 draft, Butler has fought his way back, into college, into the pros and, in 2015 and 2016, into the upper echelon of NFL cornerbacks. He’s a two-time Super Bowl champ, making arguably the most memorable play in the history of that game.

He should be drinking in the adulation, savoring an incredible start to his career and a very lucrative future. Instead, he’s in both professional and Patriots purgatory. Free agency beckons but there’s a season to play, and as this is the only professional team he’s known, a burning desire to be recognized as an important piece, not just in the present, but the future of this organization as well.
 
One of his closest friends on the team, Dion Lewis, calls Butler a warrior. “The game means so much to him.”

Another teammate, fellow defensive back Devin McCourty said of Butler, “This is what he does. He competes.”

Duron Harmon insists that the 27-year-old corner has been the same guy he’s always been. Actually, they all say that. But clearly, the coaching staff sees something different, leading to Butler’s demotion Sunday in New Orleans. 
 
Bill Belichick has been short when talking about Butler dating all the way back to the spring. That hasn’t changed now that the games count. He’s dismissed past performance. All that matters is how you’re playing now. Butler has not established that same level. Why? There is no easy answer.
 
The lack of a new contract cuts deeply. The unsettling offseason -- was he going to be a Saint? -- left quite a mark as well. But Butler came back to Foxboro with purpose, reporting for voluntary workouts. He was hell-bent on proving to all -- Belichick included -- that he was still the lead dog, not Stephon Gillmore, despite the $31 million dollars in guaranteed money the organization forked over to the former Buffalo Bill.
 
That strategy worked for a time. Butler was one of the Pats best players in training camp, right up until the joint practices with the Texans midway through August. What happened? Butler doesn’t know. But one mistake became two. His play in the preseason game with Houston was poor. His confidence suffered. He started pressing. That didn’t help. Butler was just as bad at Detroit. The kid that had always answered a knockdown with one of his own, instead wobbled to his feet. The inconsistencies were evident in practice but the "he's-Malcolm-he'll-fix-it" thought process that teammates echoed didn’t prove true, at least not entirely.
 
According to Eric Rowe, the cornerbacks were informed of the role change at the beginning of last week. But other teammates said they didn’t realize Butler wasn’t starting until the walkthrough Saturday. The ensuing fallout wasn’t surprising -- HE’S MALCOLM BUTLER, SUPER BOWL HERO, DAMMIT -- but the worry around the team has been justified because Butler takes things to heart. His swagger comes from the game. That was stripped away prior to the game against the Saints, and even at the beginning of this week, leading into the Texans game. Butler had to get his head right. If his meeting with the media Thursday is an indication, he has.

But the proof is in the play. Butler has always known that. And while his play didn’t warrant a role reduction, another message has been sent by the powers that be in Foxboro. What happens next is all on Butler. His future depends on it.

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Patriots place Vincent Valentine on IR, promote Geneo Grissom

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Patriots place Vincent Valentine on IR, promote Geneo Grissom

FOXBORO -- Anyone hoping to see Vincent Valentine make his season debut got some bad news Friday. 

Valentine, who has been inactive for both of the Patriots' first two games with a knee injury, was placed on injured reserve. ESPN's Field Yates was first to report the news.

With Valentine on IR, Geneo Grissom was added to the roster from the practice squad. ESPN's Mike Reiss had that one first:

Valentine, whom the Pats chose 96th overall in 2016, has not been practicing with the team as he's dealt with the knee injury.

A third-round pick of the Pats in 2015, Grissom was released by the team in September and signed to the practice squad a day later.