Patriots defense holds the line against Dallas

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Patriots defense holds the line against Dallas

FOXBORO -- Come clean: You didn't think they could do it.

You never thought that if Tom Brady and the Patriots offense was taken out of a game, the defense could hold the line.

But New England beat the Cowboys Sunday, 20-16 -- because of the defense, not in spite of it.

A win within the win.

"We wanted to stick together," said Kyle Arrington. " It's, 'We all we got,' that's what we always say defensively. I think we just all banded together and left it all out on the field."

Of all the statistics being fired at football fans this season, New England's 32nd-ranked defense always gets radio play. Largely because the flaw adds insecurity to long-term postseason plans. (It also makes lovers of The Other 31 giddy.) Average yards surrendered per game: 433.0. Total receptions surrendered: 154.

The numbers are those that teams like Dallas feed on.

Despite a 2-3 record, there are certain offensive dangers the Cowboys pose. Tony Romo's a gunslinger, and he's got some good targets in Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and Jason Witten. The trio of receivers had caught all of Romo's seven touchdowns going into Week 6. And, believe it or not, Romo's reputation as a self-saboteur isn't something you rest a game plan on.

The same way the Patriots can't plan to rest on Brady.

On Sunday, they couldn't. Brady was sacked three times and threw two picks on the night. DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee and the rest of the Cowboys 'D' loomed large on every play. First-quarter drives: field goal, interception, fumble. First-quarter time possession: four minutes, 38 seconds.

New England's defense was forced to mature.

It did.

The Patriots held Dallas to 33-percent efficiency both on third down and in the Red Zone. Contributions came from all over, whether in Gerard Warren drawing a hold and recovering a Vince Wilfork-forced fumble, Kyle Arrington picking off a pass, or Andre Carter putting Romo on the ground -- twice.

"You know what it does?" Arrington quipped. "It sets the standard, especially with an explosive team like the Cowboys . . . a very talented offense. That's a great outfit over there. For us to play 'D' like that, it just sets the standard. There's no reason why we can't do that week-in and week-out."

Andre Carter was more cautious in his postgame assessment.

"Lord willing, we're coming along," he said. "We still have a long way to go, especially on those long drives in the second quarter and a little bit in the third. So if we can eliminate those and be consistent then we're headed in the right direction."

They need to eliminate missed tackles, too. There were plenty, and some were costly. Like on Romo's final drive of the first half, when Bryant got the better of Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton and safety Patrick Chung for 33 yards up the sideline. The play grew into one of those long drives Carter bemoaned in the postgame: 11 plays, 93 yards, zero third downs and six points.

The missed and broken coverage, you'd better believe that will be a focus of this upcoming bye week. But for one night, the defensive corps could take pride in securing the win.

They earned it; there's been no bigger test in 2011 Dallas' third drive of the fourth quarter.

Romo got the ball with a 16-13 lead and three-and-a-half minutes on the clock. New England squashed the first two plays with tackles for a loss of three total yards. The Cowboys shot themselves in the foot with a five-yard false start penalty to wind up at third-and-18. Dallas then picked up just eight on the run and chose to punt.

They won the ball back for Brady. The offense returned the favor with a touchdown.

"As a defense, that's what you want: you want to have the confidence of the offense," said linebacker Rob Ninkovich. "If they go out there and have a bad play, have a turnover, they know they're going to get the ball back."

That's exactly what happened Sunday against Dallas. And that's exactly why the Patriots won.

How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

Ever since Derek Carr signed a five-year, $125 million extension with the Raiders to give him the highest average annual contract value in league history, some version of the same question has been posed over and over again. 

What does this mean for other quarterbacks looking for new deals? 

Despite the fact that Carr's average annual value surpasses the previous high set by Andrew Luck ($24.6 million), and despite the fact that Carr's contract provides him the security that alluded him while he was on his rookie contract, his recent haul may not mean much for the likes of Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins and other top-end quarterbacks.

They were already expecting monster paydays down the road that would hit (or eclipse) the $25 million range, and Carr's record-setting contract may not even serve as a suitable baseline for them, as ESPN's Dan Graziano lays out.

So if Carr's contract did little more for upper-echelon quarterbacks than confirm for them where the market was already headed, then does it mean anything for someone like Jimmy Garoppolo? 

Carr and Garoppolo were both second-round picks in 2014, but from that point, they've obviously taken very different roads as pros. Carr started 47 consecutive games in his first three years and by last season he had established himself as one of the most valuable players in the league. Garoppolo, by comparison, has started two games. 

Both players still hold loads of promise, but unless Garoppolo sees substantial playing time in 2017 and then hits the open market, he won't approach Carr's deal when his rookie contract is up.  

ESPN's Mike Reiss projected that a fair deal for Garoppolo on the open market might fall between the $19 million that was guaranteed to Chicago's Mike Glennon and Carr's contract, which includes $40 million fully guaranteed and $70 million in total guarantees, per NFL Media.

Perhaps something in the range of what Brock Osweiler received from the Texans after Osweiler started seven games for the Broncos in 2015 would be considered fair: four years, with $37 million guaranteed. Because Osweiler (before his deal or since) never seemed as polished as Garoppolo was in his two games as a starter in 2016, and because the salary cap continues to soar, the argument could be made that Garoppolo deserves something even richer. 

Though Garoppolo is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency following the 2017 season, there is a chance he doesn't get there quite that quickly. The Patriots could try to come to some kind of agreement with their backup quarterback on an extension that would keep him in New England, or they could place the franchise tag on him following the season. 

Either way, Garoppolo will get paid. But until he sees more time on the field, a deal that would pay him in the same range as his draft classmate will probably be out of reach.

Patriots release camp dates; open practices begin July 27

Patriots release camp dates; open practices begin July 27

Football is coming.

The Patriots announced on Thursday that veterans will report to training camp on Wednesday, July 26 and that the first public practice will take place the following day.

Each of the team's first four practices -- from July 27-30 -- are scheduled to take place on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium "in the nine o'clock hour," according to the Patriots. Updates to the training camp schedule, including more specific start times for practices, can be found at patriots.com/trainingcamp.

The Patriots Hall of Fame will hold its induction ceremony for former corner Raymond Clayborn on Saturday, July 29 around midday following that morning's training camp practice. Held on the plaza outside the Hall at Patriot Place, the ceremony will be free and open to the public.

The Patriots will host the Jaguars for two days of joint practices open to the public on Monday, Aug. 7 and Tuesday, Aug. 8. The preseason opener for both clubs will take place at Gillette Stadium on Aug. 10.