Patriots hold on for 31-28 win over Colts

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Patriots hold on for 31-28 win over Colts

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Say what you will about the Patriots defense -- and there's plenty to say after yet another fourth-quarter meltdown -- but don't say it didn't come through at the absolute critical time Sunday.

A tumbling interception by James Sanders on the New England 6-yard line with 30 seconds left halted what was shaping up as a game-winning Colts drive, in what was shaping up as another monumental New England collapse against Indianapolis, and clinched the Pats' 31-28 victory in a showdown of AFC powers.

The Patriots had jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first 17 minutes of the game and led, 31-14, after a Shayne Graham field goal with 10:23 to play in the fourth quarter. And if that sounds familiar, it should: The Pats had a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter at Indianapolis last November but wound up losing, 35-34, in a game that set the tone for the disappointing limp to the finish -- and quick playoff ouster -- of the '09 Patriots.

Those memories stirred when the Colts needed only 2 minutes and 26 seconds to drive 73 yards in 7 plays for the touchdown -- a five-yard Peyton Manning pass to Blair White -- that cut the lead to 31-21.

They became stronger when the Pats' offense, which had had its way with the crippled Indianapolis defense all afternoon, went three-and-out for the first time all afternoon and wiped less than a minute off the clock.

And Indianapolis 2009 was all anyone could think of when the Colts again went 73 yards in 7 plays -- this time in only 2 minutes and 18 seconds -- and again scored on a Manning-to-White hookup, this one of 18 yards, that made the score 31-28 with 4:46 still left on the clock.

The Patriots' second collapse in two years seemed inevitable when the offense again was unable to put together a time-consuming drive and punted the ball back to the Colts with 2:25 left. Within four plays, Indianapolis had the ball in New England territory, and seemed in such control that Manning was calling running plays for Donald Brown . . . so confident he would score, it seemed, that he was also working the clock to make sure the Patriots would have no time to respond once the Colts tied the game or took the lead.

With 36 seconds left, they were in Adam Vinatieri field-goal range on the Patriots' 24.

And then Manning launched a pass down the right sideline intended for Pierre Garcon. Sanders, at the 6-yard line, leaped as high as he could, snared the ball, and fell backwards onto the turf. The drive was ended, the collapse was averted, and the game was New England's.

"I thought I had a chance for the ball," Sanders said. "Linebacker Gary Guyton and I had a double team on the tight end Jacob Tamme and looking through Tamme to Peyton, I saw that he saw that once I stepped down that he had Garcon one-on-one with the corner. So I tried to drop back at the last second and help.

"Luckily, I got enough depth to make the play."

"We were going for the win," said a rueful Manning afterward. "We had some time and a good play call. Just a poor throw."

Nowhere in the first 50 minutes did such an ending seem in the offing.

The Pats intercepted Manning on the Colts' first possession -- Brandon Meriweather doing the honors -- and a 39-yard return had the Pats in business at the Indianapolis 32. Four plays later, Tom Brady hit Wes Welker with a 22-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead.

They made it 14-0 with 1:25 elapsed in the second quarter on an eight-yard Brady-to-Aaron Hernandez pass, which capped a 15-play, 82-yard drive. They added another TD -- on a five-yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis -- sandwiched around a pair of Manning touchdown passes, of 1 yard to Gijon Robinson to 11 yards to Reggie Wayne, and led 21-14 at halftime.

Their defense stopped Manning in the third quarter and they upped their lead to 31-14 on an electrifying, 36-yard touchdown run by Danny Woodhead and the Graham field goal.

And then came the garrison finish.

"We just knew we had to make a play," said Sanders. "We knew that if we sat back and didn't make a play that we'd probably lose the game because Manning is just that good at running the offense. We had to go out there and take that victory and we did at the end."

"We've got a quick turnaround here to play Detroit Thursday, so we can't stay on this very long," saidcoach Bill Belichick of the victory, which improved their record to 8-2and keeps them tied with the Jets for first place in the AFC East. "But well enjoy it here for a couple hours."

You might not think there'd be a whole lot to enjoy, considering how it played out.

But it sure beats how they felt last year.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot

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Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot

FOXBORO -- When a new player arrives to the Patriots, there's a familiar refrain that's recited from behind the podium at Gillette Stadium: "Football is important to him."

Whether the subject is a rookie or an established veteran, those five words can serve as Bill Belichick's stamp of approval. It means the player cares. It means the player is willing to put in time.

Belichick hasn't gone on the record on any of the members of this year's class of undrafted free agents just yet, but linebacker Brooks Ellis seems to fall into that category of players to whom football is important.

If it wasn't, he would probably be putting all of his energy into getting accepted into medical school right now.  

Ellis was a two-year captain at Arkansas and one of 12 finalists for the Campbell Trophy, also known as the "Academic Heisman." He maintained a 3.82 grade point average as a pre-professional exercise science major with a minor in biology, he was the first two-time Academic All-American in program history, and he was the SEC's Scholar-Athlete of the year for 2016.

All that is to say, Ellis had options upon graduation.

Football won out. He agreed to a deal with the Patriots soon after the draft, and he's spent the better part of the last month trying to learn defensive terminology and special-teams techniques. 

But eventually Ellis hopes to be an orthopedic surgeon, and later this summer he'll submit his applications to medical schools in order to kick-start that process for whenever it's time to pursue his next plan full-throttle.

"I'm putting my all into this right now," Ellis said, wearing Patriots gear while standing on the Gillette Stadium turf last week. "But when I get some spare time, I'm finishing applications, and then when I get back in July I'm sending those in.

"If I get accepted somewhere, I'm going to tell them I need to defer until I know for sure what the football situation is going to be. So I'm all in on football, and just in case, I'm going to have that ready to go when I get out of it."

If all goes well for Ellis this spring and summer, it could be a while before he's taking the Hippocratic Oath. The Patriots have a long history of giving worthy undrafted players a shot at the 53-man roster, and Ellis plays one of the few positions on New England's loaded roster that might have room for a newcomer or two.

On paper, he certainly looks like their type.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder was his team's leading tackler for two seasons. He played all three linebacker positions in Arkansas' defense -- strong-side, middle and weak-side -- and he started 31 consecutive games to finish his career. Ellis also has extensive special teams experience, and he recorded one of the quickest three-cone drills among linebackers at this year's NFL Scouting Combine.

That he learned under Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema can't hurt his chances, either.

Bielema began his coaching career at Iowa under former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz, and Belichick has dipped into Bielema's programs at Wisconsin and Arkansas several times over the course of the last few seasons. Running back James White, defensive end Trey Flowers and former tight end AJ Derby all played for Bielema, and Ellis joins fellow Arkansas rookies Deatrich Wise (fourth-round pick) and Cody Hollister (undrafted) on this year's squad.  

"He came in, started about halfway through his true freshman year -- we weren't a really good football team, we were 3-9 -- threw him in the middle of it, didn't bat an eye, and he got better every game," Bielema said of Ellis on Quick Slants the Podcast. "Sophomore year, [he] really began to mature, develop. He's another guy that the potential -- because we never redshirted him -- to grow in this year is going to be huge . . .

"He's just truly very, very intelligent, compassionate. And the value that he brings is he could be an unbelievable role player. I'm not saying he's going to be a four-time All-Pro or anything like that, but he'll be reliable, dependable, in every phase of the game."

Robb Smith, Arkansas defensive coordinator from 2014-16, believes Ellis landed in the perfect spot. Prior to his time at Arkansas, he worked under Greg Schiano at Rutgers, where he coached Patriots safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, former Patriots corner Logan Ryan, Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny and safeties coach Steve Belichick.

"He's one of those guys that's not only going to know his job, but what the other 10 guys around him are supposed to do," Smith said of Ellis. "He'll be able to be a leader from that standpoint in terms of helping guys with the system and the scheme. He's very good instinctively . . ."

"This guy's going to be replacing my knee someday. I'm serious. He's going to be an orthopedic surgeon that's outstanding. I know that's what his goals are. But hopefully he gets to play a lot of football between now and then."

There's one more Patriots link connecting Ellis to New England. His agent, Neil Cornrich, has counted Belichick as a client and also represents Bielema, Ferentz, Flowers, Derby, undrafted Patriots rookies Cole Croston and LeShun Daniels (both of whom played under Ferentz at Iowa) and Patriots running back Rex Burkhead. 

It may come as no surprise then that when Ellis signed with the Patriots, no one knew. He didn't announce it on Twitter, as is the norm for undrafted players when they come to an agreement with a team. And the news wasn't leaked. Instead, he waited for the team to announce it, which his new employers probably appreciated.

Ellis, who according to the Boston Globe received the fifth-most guaranteed money of the 19 undrafted rookies the Patriots signed, said he received some simplie advice from Cornrich before making his way to New England.

"He just said that you'll fit in well there," Ellis said. "You're the type of guy they like, and you're the type of guy that succeeds in that organization. Don't do anything special. Just go out there and work like you do every day, and it'll turn out for the best."

Even if it doesn't, Ellis will have medical school. But he acknowledges there's some unpredictability with that path, just as there is being an undrafted player in the NFL. He still has to be accepted. His application, including personal statements, interviews and MCAT results -- "It was horrible, I don't want to take that ever again," Ellis said -- still has to be deemed up-to-snuff.  

Whenever Ellis starts, it will be the beginning of almost a decade of training between schooling and residency. It will be a challenge, he knows, and it's one that he looks forward to. But he's hoping it can wait because football is important to him. 

"It just makes you work harder," he said of his uncertain future. "It makes you really focus on right now, and make sure that you're doing all you can in this area because even the next area might not be there.

"That's what I've done. I'm just working as hard as I can on this, and if that doesn't work out, then I've got the next thing, and I'm going to work as hard as I can in that area."

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.”