Too much blame being put on Brady

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Too much blame being put on Brady

There was a time (about 13 years ago) when the Patriots were not special. They were not Goliath, they were not a powerhouse, they were not "Brady's Bunch."

Then, one fateful day, Tom Brady came onto the field and changed all that.

Playoff runs. Magic. Super Bowls. 10, 12, 14 and even 16 win seasons became the norm. Lots of hair tosses and commercials. Dramatic comebacks. Record-breaking seasons. One of the most dominant franchises in sports history. A culture change in New England.

On Friday, Felger and Mazz debated whether the 2012 version of Tom Brady is being blamed too much for not living up to the other-worldly performances we've come to expect of him.

Some say Brady's age is getting to him and he's going to have more "off performances" like we saw in Seattle last week as part of that aging process. Don't tell that to Felger.

"For the love of God, the reason the Patriots knock on the door every year is because of Tom Brady," said Felger.

But there's also the group of people who refuse to believe the infallible Brady could ever succumb to something as mortal as age.

"That's just denying reality," said Felger. "That's just denying the condition of the human body in that sport.

The middle ground is acknowledging he's not quite what he was, but he's still damn good enough. And I think that's the middle ground and it feels like there's too many people on either side of it."

Both Felger and Mazz admit that Brady's performance has started to slip, but both note that it's not that pronounced, and when you consider how much better he was than every other quarterback in the league, his "slip" still has him above most every other quarterback in the league.

But there's one thing that's driving Mazz crazy.

"How much are they going to ask this guy to cover for? How long is this going to go on? He's been covering their ass for five years. He got them to two Super Bowls. But the point is, they've been asking him to cover up their shortcomings for four years. And now he's starting to slip and it's 'I'm tired of Brady'?

When you ask one guy to cover up all your mistakes, year after year after year... how much can he do?"

One thing is clear, there are about 30 other teams in the league who would love to have a quarterback like Brady leading their team, and both Felger and Mazz think the fans who already have Brady should be both realistic and grateful.

Watson's scrambling frustrates Patriots...and now, here comes Newton

Watson's scrambling frustrates Patriots...and now, here comes Newton

FOXBORO -- Trey Flowers sat in front of his locker after Sunday's win over the Texans and shook his head as he looked down at his feet. It was almost as if he was wondering how he could've made himself quicker in order to better track down quarterback Deshaun Watson.

"Yeah," he said, "he's slippery, man."

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The Texans arrived in New England with a terrific defense. That much was well-known. The Patriots understood they'd have a lot to handle on that side of the ball in JJ Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney and Bernardrick McKinney -- a group Bill Belichick called "The Big Four" after the game. 

And while the Patriots respected Watson's athleticism after seeing him up close in joint practices in West Virginia last month, the rookie out of Clemson caught them off guard with how he was able to use his escapability in order to extend plays and pick up key gains with his arm. 

"He’s tough, man," said Devin McCourty. "When you’re in the secondary, you look back there and it looks like you got him a couple times, and then he breaks out, he goes left, he goes right. He made a lot of plays, and I think it was kind of the next step for him because, you know, we watched his Cincinnati film and it was kind of like . . . no one open. He tucked and then he made a play with his legs, which he did a little bit of that today, but he was able to kind of move left and right a little bit and then get his eyes back downfield, which puts a lot of pressure on us defensively. That guy is going to be a great quarterback."

Watson went 22-for-33 with 301 yards passing, two touchdowns and two picks (one of which came on a Hail Mary on the game's last play). He also ran for 41 yards on eight carries. Along the way, Watson put together a handful of eye-popping plays that had Patriots defenders wondering what they could've done better.

SECOND QUARTER, 9:40 REMAINING, 3RD AND 5, 6-YARD SCRAMBLE

Working on right guard Greg Mancz, Patriots rookie defensive tackle Adam Butler learned just how quickly Watson moves in and out of the pocket. After hitting the deck on initial contact, Butler got to his feet and looked like he might have a shot at tackling Watson for a sack. 

Instead, Watson blew by Butler to convert a first down. 

"He's just a talented player, man . . . He's just one exceptional guy out of all the quarterbacks," Butler said. "He's similar to Cam Newton. A little bit more shifty. The guy made plays on his feet. Can't take anything away from him."

SECOND QUARTER, 7:52 REMAINING, THIRD AND 10, 4-YARD PASS

Watson wasn't able to keep the chains moving on this third-down play, but it was impressive nonetheless. After buying himself some time in the pocket, Watson found running back Tyler Ervin in a one-on-one situation with Patrick Chung. 

His only problem was that Patriots rookie end Deatrich Wise was draped on his legs. It didn't seem to matter as Watson hit Ervin for a gain of four, keeping the subsequent field-goal attempt at the 40-yard range. Had he taken the sack, Ka'imi Fairbairn would have been lining up a kick that was more in the range of 50 yards.

Two plays before this one, Watson dropped more than 20 yards straight behind the line of scrimmage to avoid the rush and found Ryan Griffin back at the line for no gain. Chalk it up as another play that saved the eventual field-goal attempt.

"It does get frustrating at times," Wise admitted later. "You see that you have him in vision and all of a sudden he’s somewhere else and everybody is hopping over each other. It kind of gets frustrating, but you just have to be more technically sound."

Fairbairn's eventual field goal made the score 14-13.

SECOND QUARTER, 1:50 REMAINING, 2ND AND 6, 5-YARD SCRAMBLE

Flowers earned his third sack of the season in the fourth quarter, shoving Watson out of bounds while racing from his spot in coverage in the flat. Flowers probably thought he had his fourth with 1:50 left in the second quarter. 

The third-year end out of Arkansas won off the snap and muscled his way into the Texans backfield. He had a free shot at Watson. Despite getting a good grip on him (pictured above), Flowers couldn't wrestle him to the ground. And to make matters worse, Flowers collided with Wise and was spotted limping after the play. 

"That’s just football these days," Flowers said when asked about chasing Watson. "You got a lot of athletic and mobile quarterbacks, so you think your job is done once you defeat the offensive lineman, but you got another job just to get a guy like him down and kind of chase him. We knew what he was capable of coming into this game. We were just trying to put as much pressure on him and make him look at us as much as possible. You know when he’s looking at us [the defense], he’s not looking downfield."

THIRD QUARTER, 9:53 REMAINING, 2ND AND 22, 35-YARD PASS

Part of the reason Watson is playing so early into his rookie season is that the Texans offensive line is so porous that it rarely gave pocket-passer Tom Savage an opportunity to sit back and make a comfortable throw. That's still the case with Watson, but his legs allow him to find wherever the open space exists and play from there. 

With just under 10 minutes left in the third quarter, after being quickly flushed from the pocket, that open space was about 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage and outside the tackle box, near the Gillette Stadium turf's painted numbers. 

Despite having Lawrence Guy in his face -- and taking a bone-rattling hit from Guy immediately after he threw -- Watson found tight end Ryan Griffin on the opposite side of the field for a 35-yard gain and a first down. 

"He scrambled left one time and threw all the way across his body back to the right, which everyone says you shouldn’t do, and he threw a perfect pass," McCourty said. "We’ve got a lot of work because next week, I mean, that guy coming in here can do that better than anyone in the NFL. That’s something, obviously, we’ve got to keep working on. We talked about it, but it’s tough. He’s a good player."

McCourty, like Adam Butler, saw shades of Cam Newton in Watson's game. They weren't the only ones.

"He’s a handful," said Malcolm Butler. "Running around, people diving at him, missing him . . . That’s an [up-and-coming] Cam Newton."

FOURTH QUARTER, 5:21 REMAINING, 1ST AND 20, 31-YARD PASS

Perhaps Watson's most impressive play was one of his last. Running for much of the afternoon in near 90-degree temperatures in Foxboro, he still had enough gas left in the tank to make four Patriots miss on a first-and-20 play late in the fourth quarter. 

First, it was Malcom Brown who was robbed of a sack. Adam Butler, Kyle Van Noy and Guy all had their shots as well. But Watson got away, he found running back D'Onta Foreman in open space, and he let the rookie running back rumble for 31 yards. 

"It's frustrating when he just does that little head fake," Butler said after the game. "That's enough to make you stutter for that quick second for him to escape. It's definitely frustrating. You have the whole job of defeating the offensive line in the first place. Then you have a whole other job to get this guy down."

The Patriots admitted after the game that Watson's talent was unmistakable, but they also acknowledged that many of his big plays were because of mistakes they made, and they know they have plenty of work ahead of them before seeing the Panthers in Week 4.

"It’s just a constant work in progress," McCourty said. "We’ve just got to keep after it. No plays are the same. We gave up some big plays on this guy scrambling and throwing it back, which is not the drop back, throw it down the field, pick play or something like that -- which, we fixed that today -- but that’s the NFL. It’s always going to be something new. 

"I think today, obviously, was a tough test with Watson, but it doesn’t get easier next week with Cam Newton. So, I think the good thing is we’ll get to break this film down and we have to be highly critical of how we played against Watson because we’re going to see something similar next Sunday."

Butler earns praise from Belichick, Patricia after wire-to-wire performance

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Butler earns praise from Belichick, Patricia after wire-to-wire performance

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler left Sunday's win over the Texans feeling pretty good about himself. One week after being relegated to the No. 3 corner role on the Patriots defense, he played every snap and allowed just two catches for 10 yards.

“I think I’m building,” Butler said afterward. “I think I’m taking it a step at a time. There’s a lot of football to be played, so whatever you see, judge me.”

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And we have. There was the pass-interference penalty in Week 1. There was the botched pick-play coverage with Patrick Chung in Week 2. But even with those mishaps mixed in, Butler's energy and effort did not seem to wane on film.

He caught Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill for a tackle from behind to prevent a first down in the season-opener. Against the Saints, his hard pass breakup on top Saints wideout Michael Thomas was a bright spot for the Patriots secondary.

In Week 3, that effort was there again. Targeted twice while in coverage on DeAndre Hopkins, Butler did well to jam Hopkins at the line of scrimmage and then limit the game's highest-paid receiver to zero yards after the catch.

When asked about Butler on Tuesday's conference calls, both Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia struck tones that were strikingly different than the ones that made headlines when discussing Butler the week prior.

"Yeah, I think Malcolm did a good job," Belichick said. "I mean, all of our defensive backs I thought were pretty competitive. We had some scramble yardage and loose plays and things like that. But I mean, the normal passing game we were pretty competitive on. But like anything else, there are certainly a lot of things we can do better."

That goes for Butler, too, who admitted last week that he hadn't been playing up to his standards.

On one of those scramble-drill plays Belichick referenced, Deshaun Watson found tight end Ryan Griffin for a 35-yard gain, which included several yards after the catch when Butler was among the defenders who missed the chance to try to wrestle Griffin to the ground.

There were occasions though -- like Watson's first-quarter third-down scramble that Butler helped to stop, forcing the Texans to kick a field goal -- when Butler's want-to was evident.

"I thought Malcolm played really well," Patricia said. "We certainly didn’t play great at all as a defense. I’m not saying that but I think the guy really tried to go out and play extremely hard. 

"This is a very competitive guy. Malcolm steps up to the challenges that you place in front of him. He goes out and competes, he works hard, he tries to do it the right way and he really tries to get better every week. Look, we had a productive week last week for him and working through. But it’s a new week and we’re going to try to get the same consistency every single week and that’s what we’re trying to do."

A week ago, when asked about Butler's performance, Belichick and Patricia weren't quite as glowing.

"I don’t think anybody’s performance this season is really where it needs to be or where it will be," Belichick said at the time. "We all need to do a better job."

"I think with Malcolm, he’s kind of in a boat with everybody else," Patricia said. "We’re trying to get better."

Part of the reason Butler may have been relied upon as much as he was could have been due to the fact that fellow corner Eric Rowe -- who started in Week 2 opposite Stephon Gilmore -- was inactive with a groin injury. 

How Butler will factor in against the Panthers in Week 4 remains to be seen, but if his work against the Texans improved his confidence, then that would seem to benefit the Patriots defense as a whole. 

"Things that we're confident in," Belichick said, "we do more aggressively, we do quicker, we do with probably better overall execution than things we're not confident in . . . 

"It’s a fine line there between confidence and overconfidence and taking it for granted, as opposed to just being right in that sweet spot of having an edge, having confidence, being alert and aggressive."