Patriots smart to be wary of Buffalo's backup


Patriots smart to be wary of Buffalo's backup

By Mary Paoletti

FOXBORO -- For the second time in two years, 27-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick is being given the reins of the Buffalo Bills. But instead of replacing an injured Number One, this time he is being asked to perform better than the healthy-but-struggling Trent Edwards.

It would be a lot of pressure for the quarterback of the new-look Bills anyway, even if Fitzpatrick's first start of 2010 wasn't coming against the New England Patriots. But it is, so it's a good thing he's smart. Ivy League smart.

Tom Brady is just one of many people who is aware of it.

"I got a General Studies degree from Michigan, barely,'' Brady laughed. "He's one of those Harvard guys . . . we've had a few of those around here. We're not getting into a math contest, thank God.''

No, the two QBs won't be facing off on the Wonderlic this Sunday. But the best quarterbacks are smart -- they're quick thinkers and proficient problem-solvers -- and Fitzpatrick's Harvard education won't hurt in that capacity. It's also important to remember that his Finance degree isn't what's earned him a starting job in the NFL this week. Fitzpatrick is a good football player. He's the kind of guy Bill Belichick would never underestimate.

"Hes a strong-armed guy, can get the ball down the field. He has a little more experience. Hes been in a couple different systems,'' New England's coach remarked. "Hes a smart guy, handles himself well. He's a good quarterback. We had a hard time with him last year there.''

The Patriots did win that December game, 17-10, but Fitzpatrick didn't make it easy for them. The quarterback kept Buffalo in the game by finding Lee Evans for a fourth-quarter touchdown and some late-game agitation for New England's defense. It was impressive that Fitzpatrick stayed tough; the Patriots sacked him four times that day.

On Wednesday, Belichick didn't credit his team's pressure to any weakness of The Crimson Kid.

"I dont think it was specific to Fitzpatrick. If guys come free up front, then they come free. I think hes a relatively mobile, athletic guy. This week will be a new challenge,'' he said. "I dont think that's really an issue with him. He's a tough guy. He'll stand there in the pocket. Every quarterback gets hit sooner or later.''

Patriots safety Patrick Chung was also complimentary of Buffalo's backup.

"Obviously we know he's a running quarterback,'' Chung remarked. "He can run it, he can pass it, he's got a strong arm . . . He's smart. There's a lot of fast guys at Harvard; he was one of them. He's a good player.''

A smart player. A good player. A guy who will be playing to earn a starting role. The Patriots would be wise not to undervalue the geek on the gridiron this Sunday. It sounds like they won't.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

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.”

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivered a video message last week at the funeral of Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, a Maine native and former UConn track athlete killed in Somalia on May 5.

Bill Speros of The Boston Herald, in a column this Memorial Day weekend, wrote about Milliken and Brady's message.   

Milliken ran track at Cheverus High School in Falmouth, Maine, and at UConn, where he graduated in 2001. Milliken lived in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Erin, and two children.  He other Navy SEALs participated in a training exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011 where he met and posed for pictures with Brady.

Speros wrote that at Milliken’s funeral in Virginia Beach, Va., Brady's video offered condolences and thanked Milliken’s family for its sacrifice and spoke of how Milliken was considered a “glue guy” by UConn track coach Greg Roy.

Milliken had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning four Bronze Star Medals and was based in Virginia since 2004.  He was killed in a nighttime firefight with Al-Shabaab militants near Barij, about 40 miles from the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He was 38.

The Pentagon said Milliken was the first American serviceman killed in combat in Somalia since the "Black Hawk Down" battle that killed 18 Americans in 1993. 

In a statement to the Herald, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said: “It was an honor to host Kyle and his team for an exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011. It gave new meaning to the stadium being known as home of the Patriots. We were deeply saddened to hear of Kyle’s death earlier this month.

“As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by patriots like Kyle and so many others who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect our rights as Americans. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt appreciation are extended to the Milliken family and the many families who will be remembering lives lost this Memorial Day weekend.”