Patriots aren't Super Bowl bound yet


Patriots aren't Super Bowl bound yet

Theres no point in making any crazy proclamations after a game like last night, because at this point we all know better.

We all know that theres a good chance that the Patriots will see the Texans again, and that theyll most likely do so on the road down in Houston. And in that (or any) case, we know that any number of crucial elements from Mondays blowout may not necessarily exist.

We know that Arian Fosters tone-setting 12-yard-run on the first play from scrimmage may not get called back on a penalty. We know that Stevan Ridleys goal-line fumble on the opening drive might not find its way into Aaron Hernandezs gut. We know that the 5050 pass interference calls may not fall in the Patriots favor and that Matt Schaub will probably look a little less like Matt Leinart in the pocket.

We know that regardless of what happened last night, that the Patriots and Texans are much closer than the 28-point spread would indicate. We know that for all the talk about how the Pats taught Houston what its like to be a champion, that in reality there are only two guys in the New England locker room Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork who have any idea what that feels like, and that the rest of the roster (and this team on the whole) still has room to grow.

Did you know that before last year, the Patriots were eliminated in three straight playoffs by a team whom theyd defeated in the regular season?

Yes. Of course you did. We all know. Weve all been here before. So anyone using last nights game as definitive proof that the Pats are headed to New Orleans is either crazy or just trolling. In any event, lets ignore them. Lets remember that this isnt the end of the line for these Patriots, but just the beginning.

And now . . . lets get back to obsessing over that ridiculous game.

First of all, just a quick reminder that the Pats are doing all of this without Rob Gronkowski. How crazy is that? Was he even mentioned on the telecast last night? Was there any point when you found yourself pining for Gronk or even making note of the fact that the Patriots offense was without its No. 1 weapon? Or maybe, does this just prove that Gronk isnt the No. 1 weapon? And that its not Welker, Hernandez or Ridley, but the man under center 'ol No. 12. Honestly, at this point Im convinced that the Pats could pick up Terrell Owens, re-sign Ochocinco, coax Rod Rutledge out of retirement and still put up 30 points a night.

Hell, they might even be able to pick Donte Stallworth up off the scrap heap and turn him into a legitimate deep threat oh wait.

One more thing on Brady: Through 13 games, he's now thrown a total of four interceptions on the season, and short of a total meltdown will likely post the third single-digit INT season of his career. For a little perspective of how ridiculous this is, consider that Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, John Elway and Dan Marino have only two single digit interception seasons COMBINED.

Enough about the offense for now. After all, 42 points just comes with the territory for this unit. Plain and simple, they're the best offense in the NFL, and maybe, just maybe, the best offense of all time. But like I said, enough about the offense. Let's get to the real core of this latest Patriots resurgence: The defense.

Have we all learned our lesson now? Next year, when the Pats are 4-2 after six weeks and are giving up 600 passing yards a game, are we still going to lose our minds? Claim that this team doesn't have a chance? That the game has passed Belichick by? That the organization is wasting the prime of Brady's career?

Or will remember this year . . . and last year . . . and the year before . . . and realize that the first month of the season doesn't define any team, never mind a squad even more, a defense coached by Bob Belichick?

Eh, probably not. But it won't change the end result.

As for the specifics:

At this point, the folks over in Canton might as well start setting aside some extra mold for Vince Wilfork's Hall of Fame bust. At 31 years old, Vince may very well be having of the best season of his life. He's already doubled his previous career highs for passes deflected (6) and fumble recoveries (4) in a season. He's tripled his previous career high in fumbles forced (3). He's also a sack and a half short of tying his previous best in that category.

But with Wilfork, it's never really about the raw numbers. He effectsdominates games in a way that doesn't necessarily show up in the box score. And this year, he's doing that more than ever.

I don't ask for much, but here's hoping the "Devin McCourty: Corner back or Safety?" discussion is dead and buried for the rest of McCourty's Patriots career.

Is he capable of playing CB? Yeah, sure. But you can find plenty of guys who can play that position with McCourty's efficiency. However, good luck finding a safety with DM's athleticism, hands and overall nose for the ball. As the season goes on, it's looking more and more like Patrick Chung's days in New England are over, and if that's the case, you can do a lot worse than having Devin McCourty patrolling the field at safety.

Speaking of cornerbacks, how's that Aqib Talib for a fourth rounder trade looking these days? Now obviously, this might change depending on the extent of the injury he suffered last night (I'm sure Belichick will clear that up this week), but since joining the team, Talib's presence has played a major role in the development of the Pats D.

Last night, Jon Gruden commented that much of the Pats success in stopping Arian Foster (they held him under 50 yards for only the third time this year) stemmed from their ability to go with one-on-one coverage against Andre Johnson and stack the box vs. the run. Hard to imagine there's anyone else in that secondary that Belichick would have felt confident leaving on an island with AJ.

Staying with the rhetorical secondary-related questions: How's that seventh round pick the Pats used to snag Alfonzo Dennard looking these days? The kid may not be an angel off the field (or, I should say, "may not have been") but he's a second-to-third-round talent who's playing like it so far, and continues to get better every snap that he's out there. Could he be this year's Sterling Moore?

Nope. He can be better.

And really, so can the Pats. They'll need to be better in order for Monday's big win to ever amount to more than just one regular season win. But for now, things are certainly looking up. With another huge test on tap for Sunday.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Belichick headlines big-name crowd in attendance at Ohio State pro day


Belichick headlines big-name crowd in attendance at Ohio State pro day

Bill Belichick has counted both Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano among the list of coaches he trusts. On Thursday, the Patriots coach was in attendance at Ohio State's pro day to watch players who've been coached by both. 

Belichick has been closely tied to both Meyer and Schiano over the years, drafting multiple players from their programs when Meyer was at the University of Florida and Schiano was at Rutgers University. The Schiano connection has been particularly strong in recent years as Belichick's son, Steve, played for Schiano, and the Patriots had three key players in their secondary -- Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan -- for the last four seasons who studied under Schiano. 

Now the head coach and associate head coach/defensive coordinator, respectively, Meyer and Schiano have tutored some of this year's top draft prospects. Here's a quick breakdown of some of the top-tier talent hailing from Columbus this year . . . 

Malik Hooker, safety: The 6-foot-1, 206-pounder is expected to be the first true free safety off the board. His impressive ball skills made him a turnover waiting to happen in the Big Ten. 

Marshon Lattimore, corner: With a 38.5-inch vertical and a 4.36-second 40-yard dash time, Lattimore is one of the best draft-eligible athletes this year. He was hampered by hamstring injuries in college, but he's still projected to be one of the first defensive backs taken. 

Gareon Conley, corner: Among the draft's fastest risers after putting together a strong combine (4.44 40-yard dash, 6.68-second three-cone), Conley will give his next team good size (6-feet, 195 pounds) and length (33-inch arms). He may not be as polished as Lattimore, but still could very well be a first-round pick.

Pat Elflein, center: This smart, hard-working pivot may not have the world's best footwork, but he should be among the first players taken at his position. Elflein (6-foot-3, 300 pounds) is a former wrestler who has experience at both center and guard. 

Curtis Samuel, receiver: A true all-purpose threat in college (AP All-American, first-team All-Big Ten), he could have trouble adapting to life as a full-time receiver in the NFL. At 5-11, 196 pounds that's probably where he'll end up.

Raekwon McMillan, linebacker: At 6-2, 240 pounds McMillan was a second-team All-American and a first-team All-Big Ten choice. He's instinctive, but there's some concern as to whether or not he has the strength to hold up inside at the next level. The Patriots, as we've noted, have been looking at the linebacker position throughout the pre-draft process.

FBI returns Brady Super Bowl jerseys to Gillette

FBI returns Brady Super Bowl jerseys to Gillette

The FBI returned Tom Brady’s Super Bowl XLIX and Super Bowl LI jerseys to Gillete Stadium Thursday, days after recovering the stolen items. 

After the FBI’s visit, Robert Kraft issued the following statement:  

"We want to thank the FBI, the Mexican authorities and the many different local agencies that were involved in the investigation and ultimate recovery of Tom Brady's Super Bowl LI jersey. Working along with the Patriots and NFL security, those agencies collectively coordinated an investigation that also led to the recovery of Tom’s missing Super Bowl XLIX jersey. It was great to have both jerseys returned to Gillette Stadium today. I don’t know that any agency could have accomplished this independently, but collectively multiple agencies -- both in the U.S. and in Mexico -- worked together to achieve the goal of retrieving the stolen property. It is another example of the importance of teamwork and what can be accomplished when everyone works together. We appreciate the effort of everyone involved and look forward to returning these jerseys to Tom when he gets back to New England."

Brady’s jersey was reported missing shortly after the Patriots’ Super Bowl LI victory over the Falcons, with it being learned in recent days that Martin Mauricio Ortega Camberos of Mexican newspaper La Prensa was the culprit. Video emerged Tuesday of Ortega illegally entering the Patriots’ locker room and leaving with the jersey.