Patriots training camp notes: Day 4

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Patriots training camp notes: Day 4

Last day of practice before the Patriots get a day off. You can get your fill of the action right here.
No Tracy White (undisclosed injury) and no Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring) for Sunday's session.
Pepper Johnson kept a close eye on Brandon Spikes yet again.
OL Jamey Richard left practice with a concussion, as confirmed by Curran. Richard took a wobbly walk over to the sideline and conferred with a trainer before leaving the field.
Blitz pickup (1-on-1's between LB's and RBFB) got a little heated. Stevan Ridley tried to get tough with Jerod Mayo on one rep, but the veteran took exception and shoved Ridley. On the same drill, Bobby Carpenter dispatched Spencer Larsen, Dan Fletcher just wrecked Ridley, and Danny Woodhead handled Tony Fiammetta. Shane Vereen stood strong on more than one run through.
Ivan Fears might have gotten the worst of it on that drill whenDont'a Hightower bullrushed Eric Kettani, hooked his facemask and launched him into the running backs coach. Fears went toppling to the ground. Words were exchanged.
More laps: Today Trevor Scott, Jermaine Cunningham, Ryan Mallett, and Robert Gallery had to take half-hearted punishment runs.
Sebastian Vollmer made a cameo, walking in a cutoff tee-shirt to auxiliary field for rehab work. He was seen for all of the time it takes an offensive lineman with a wonky back to cover about 130 yards.
Rob Gronkowski missed three passes today. It goes without saying this is unusual. On one play, a Tom Brady ball traveled right down the pipe but bobbled between Gronkowski's hands. Patrick Chung came up with the bouncing interception.
Noticed rookie defensive end Justin Francis having a long conversation on the sideline with Gerard Warren. Both were miming different D-line technique during the chat. Considering Warren is entering his 12th NFL season, Francis is probably thrilled to have such a resource.
Brady flashed his sense of humor during 11-on-11s. The quarterback led a reverse on one play and when he ran into the open field, he beckoned safety Patrick Chung with his index finger to come at him. Brady is lucky Chung knew he was kidding; that fight would not be an even matchup.
Patriots special teams coach Scott O'Brien was sentenced to speak with the media on Sunday. "I think any time youre a ball handler, one of the hardest things to do is to catch punts. Its not only a great drill for any receiver, as well as punt returners, to focus in on trying to catch a ball that normally is tougher to catch than a quarterback throwing you a ball."
O'Brien also addressed the work of Jeff Tarpinian, and undrafted rookie in 2011 who made the team based in large part on his special teams work. "Jeff came in from the University of Iowa (and) had a little bit of experience for some of the things we did. For example, like punt protection where we got to watch him play the left tackle at Iowa; similar footwork and rules and that kind of stuff that we use. Had the mentality we were looking for, had the physical skills that gave him a chance that we were looking for. He came in and worked hard and showed improvement and got better and it worked out where were able to keep him and then eventually got him an opportunity to play." Tarpinian has competed well throughout the camp when I've focused on him both on special teams and in some of the linebacker drills.
When Patrick Chung went down last season, Danny Woodhead stepped in as the personal protector right in front of Zoltan Mesko on punts. The reason? "Hes had some experience doing it before," said O'Brien. "You always like the threat of any type of skill guy to handle the ball. You like the speed element he brings out of the middle of the field in coverage. I can tell you this you never have enough of them. You try to train as many guys as you can because we all know from week to week, some guys you have, some guys you dont. Thats one position, you have to have enough guys and Danny stepped up and did a really good job."
There's no practice Monday and no public access to Gillette so you can scratch that off the "keep kids entertained tomorrow" list.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.