Pats can restore the faith

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Pats can restore the faith

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

So far this season, the Patriots have beaten an average NFL team at Gillette Stadium. They've lost to a very good team on the road. They've struggled with, but eventually beaten, a very bad team at Gillette.

Not exactly the greatest sample when you're trying to gauge the quality of an NFL contender. They won both games they should have won, they lost the one they should have lost, and over the course of those three games we didn't learn much.

Seriously, what do you know about the Patriots now that you didn't already know by the end of training camp?

That the defense has issues? That the secondary is undersized and often overmatched? That they struggle on the road? That unless Tom Brady plays out of his pigtails, there's a very good chance that they'll lose?

We already knew that stuff. The issues are nothing new.

What we still haven't learned, or what, at this point, we're still left to ponder, is whether those issues are something the Patriots can overcome. Because let's face it every team has issues. The question is whether, over time, a team can gel around those shortcomings; either improve them, or develop some kind of scheme that best masks them. OK, that's pretty obvious. But that's where we are with the Pats. We know the problems; we're just not sure if there's a solution.

Common sense says there's not. I mean, even in victory, there was something so fishy about the way the Pats played last Sunday. That was reinforced by how easily the Jets ran train on Buffalo yesterday afternoon. Throw in the fact that the Bengals lost to the Seneca Wallace-led Browns and the significance of both Patriot wins took a huge hit.

It's just looking more and more like it's not the Pats year. That doesn't mean they can't sneak into the playoffs, or have a couple games that leave us saying, "You know, these guys can be a pretty good team!" But at the same time, try and picture Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington lined up across from Greg Jennings and Donald Driver four months from now in Dallas. Doesn't that feel wildly out of reach?

But it is early. We still can't be sure. As of right now, despite every instinct and ounce of logic in my brain, I'm not ready to count out the Pats. This team has significant strengths. They have weapons and playmakers and the football minds to find something that clicks. You'd be crazy to cash in all your faith. If you did, you wouldn't be a fan.

And that brings us to tonight.

A win over the Dolphins won't make the season regardless of how the game plays out, the Patriots problems will still exist but a win will mean that they CAN win; that they can go on the road, within the division, and find a way to defeat a solid defensive team, with a strong running game, quality quarterback and one of the biggest, most athletic and talented receivers in the game. With a win, we'll take a step back from the ledge, and take a longer, closer look at what we have in Foxboro.

Last week the Jets showed us that a good team can go into Miami and come out with a victory, and if the Pats can follow suit, we'll have no choice but to believe, or at the very least cautiously extend our faith. A win, especially heading into the bye week, would be bigger than Vince Wilfork's ass.

But as beneficial as a victory would be to the psyche of Pats fans, a loss would be 10 times more crushing.

A loss reinforces all our insecurities. It takes those questions that have lingered since the start of training camp Can they overcome the lack of defensive depth? Can the secondary handle a legitimate passing attack? Can they win on the road? Can they win if Brady isn't more perfect than Curt Henning? and brings us ever closer to conceding that there are no answers; or just that the answer's "no" across the board.

With a loss, the Patriots become the 2010 Red Sox; a team that we know, deep down, doesn't have what it takes, but that we keep giving every chance in the world to prove us wrong. We make excuses and extend once firm deadlines for them to turn it all around, only to be left disappointed and dissatisfied.

With a loss, it becomes a lot easier to gauge the Patriots status as a realistic Super Bowl contender, and a lot harder to take them seriously.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

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.”