Bleak week at SB45 will be saved by game

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Bleak week at SB45 will be saved by game

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

DALLAS - One team joined the NFL in 1921. Its name - Packers - was derived from a local meat-packing company that sponsored them. The other team joined the NFL in 1933. Its name - Steelers - came from the industry that was the lifeblood of the city of Pittsburgh for so many years. Both teams have basic, no-frills uniforms. The Packers are a community-owned franchise. The Steelers are owned by the Rooney family, a crew that so well represents the sensibilities of Western Pennsylvania that they may as well be community-owned as well. The Steelers led the league in rock-ribbed defense this season, allowing 232 points. The Packers were second, allowing 240. There will be, for the first time in the 45-year history of the Super Bowl, no cheerleaders on the sidelines Sunday when the Packers and Steelers get it on. It will be about football. It will be glorious. And it will be a beautiful departure from what Super Bowl week has been about so far. The runup to the planet's biggest one-day sporting event has been somewhat joyless. The threat of this being the final NFL game for a while has cast a pall on the proceedings, as owners and players wrangle over how to divide 9 billion or so in annual revenues between the 32 teams and 1,800 players. Beyond that, the locale's been a bit of a disaster. Temperatures most of the week have made it feel more like North Dakota than North Dallas and the whole region's response to several inches of snow and sheets of ice has been criminally negligent - "Wow, snow! AND ice! Hope it all melts soon!" On Friday, six people were injured when ice slid off the roof of Cowboys Stadium. A billion dollars spent on a building and nobody wondered what would happen if snow got stuck on the top?To be frank, the way good, old-fashioned American capitalism gets bastardized by a guy like Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the schlock, schtick and look-at-me attitude that pervades every Super Bowl is a turnoff. But then the game finally gets here. And this one could not be any more football-based. The only distractions the two teams provided were ones that would never have occurred pre-Internet. Two injured Packers players whined on Twitter about not being included in the team Super Bowl photo (a decision later rescinded) and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sang and drank at a piano bar (video courtesy TMZ)Now it's about two of the best young coaches in the NFL. The Steelers' Mike Tomlin is trying at 38 to become the youngest coach to ever win two Super Bowls; the Packers' Mike McCarthy, a man who had 15 players land on injured reserve, guided his team to a 10-6 record and has won three road games in the playoffs to get the Pack in here. Neither man received a single one of the 50 votes for NFL Coach of the Year. Neither man cares right now. It's also about the quarterbacks - Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. Rodgers is more technically refined and fundamentally sound. He's a discreet smartass who seems eminently likable. Roethlisberger plays quarterback like a tight end, is trying hard to bury the loutish image he cultivated in his first seven seasons in the league and could win his third Super Bowl title Sunday. Your friends who come over and watch one football game all year will remember the wonderful hair of Troy Polamalu and will be enthralled by the almost-equally wonderful mane of Clay Matthews. You can also tell them they were the best two defensive players in football this year. In the end, those two and their 'dos are a kind of weird metaphor for this game. The packaging is outrageous, over-the-top and distracting. But at their core, they are brilliant football players. The game will save us all. Bart Scott, what say you?
Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Knighton on future after DNP vs. Panthers: 'If I'm here, I'm here...If I'm not, I'm not'

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Knighton on future after DNP vs. Panthers: 'If I'm here, I'm here...If I'm not, I'm not'

When Terrance Knighton was signed by the Patriots as a free agent this offseason, many assumed he would factor into the rotation that the Patriots would use on the interior of their defensive line in 2016. After not seeing a single snap against the Panthers on Friday night, it seems as though Knighton's roster spot in New England is no sure thing. 

"Everybody wants to play. I didn't get a chance to," Knighton said after the game. "That's the decision they made . . . I have faith in my ability. I have faith in, you know, the coaching staff's decisions -- whatever the decision was. I'm not looking for an explanation or anything. [I'll] show up to work tomorrow. I still got a lot of ball left in me so it is what it is."

The Patriots opted to go with rookie third-round pick Vincent Valentine as the defensive tackle starter next to Malcom Brown in Carolina. Even so, because Alan Branch -- who was re-instated from a week-long team suspension on Thursday -- was not in uniform it would have made sense for Knighton to see playing time. 

He admitted it was disappointing that he didn't. 

"It's disappointing just because I've played a lot of ball in this league," Knighton said. "I've seen a lot of things. I'm not gonna make too much of it. It is what it is. Whatever happens happens. If I'm here, I'm here. If I'm not, I'm not. I'm just taking it a day at a time."

Knighton is vying for a role alongside fellow defensive tackles Markus Kuhn, Joe Vellano, Anthony Johnson and Woodrow Hamilton -- all of whom saw some action in Carolina. The former Jaguars, Broncos and Redskins defensive tackle saw playing time against the Bears last week, but he was in the game late, and when he was on the field, he had difficulty holding his ground at times. 

After the Panthers game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Knighton's lack of playing time, and he alluded to the fact that Knighton is still trying to pick up some of the techniques he's being taught in New England, where defensive tackles are expected to two-gap effectively. 

"Some new techniques, some new things...different things than what he's used to doing," Belichick said. "We played the younger guys tonight. We didn't get as much of a look at him as some other players. He played a little more last week. I think there's good competition at that position. We'll just have to see how it all plays out."

Brady comes off the bench to throw TD in his preseason debut

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Brady comes off the bench to throw TD in his preseason debut

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - There will be a moment in the days between September 3 and October 3 when Tom Brady stops what he’s doing, sets his jaw and mutters, “*$%^## Derby…”

During his first – and perhaps only action of the 2016 preseason – Brady had some very good plays, was let down by a few drops (like Derby’s on a third-down toss) and had a near pick on a downfield throw to Martellus Bennett.

Brady was in for four possessions, entering the game after Jimmy Garoppolo ran the team on the Patriots first three series.

Brady missed the first preseason game then plunged trainer’s scissors into his thumb just prior to the second preseason game and missed that one as well.

With a fair amount of buildup to this game, Brady’s first pass was a deep in-cut to Aaron Dobson that went for 37 yards after Dobson stepped out of a tackle.

That was followed by a crossing pattern drop by Julian Edelman and a high throw to the end zone on third-and-5 that doinked off the left hand of tight end Bennett under the goalpost. Seemed like a mistimed jump on the high throw over the hands of a couple defenders.

On Brady’s next series, a pair of Tyler Gaffney runs gained 20 before Brady dropped a fade in to the hands of Chris Hogan for a 32-yard touchdown. It couldn’t have been placed any better if Brady had been allowed to walk to Hogan and hand it to him.

Brady’s conversion pass to Dobson was incomplete.

The Patriots got another chunk play from LeGarrette Blount to start their next drive and Brady then hit Edelman for 6. But his throw to the left sideline on third-and-4 was bungled by Derby, ending the drive.

Brady’s final series was bleak. His first throw was batted down by Kawann Short. His second one, a deep throw across the field to Bennett after Brady stepped up in the pocket, should have been picked by Kurt Coleman. Brady was sacked on third down.

Garoppolo came in for the final two series of the first half and started the third quarter.

Brady spent much of the first quarter apart from the offense when it was on the sidelines, standing with arms folded. When the offense was on the field, Brady mostly sat by himself on the bench. There wasn’t any significant interaction between he and Garoppolo, who huddled with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels after his series’ ended. Brady did the same after he came off the field with Garoppolo hovering nearby.

Brady finished 3-for-9 for 76 yards and a touchdown. As a team, the Patriots were 0-for-7 on third down in the first half. 

First half Patriots observations: Brady and Long up, Garoppolo and Solder down

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First half Patriots observations: Brady and Long up, Garoppolo and Solder down

The Patriots had their share of good and bad in the first half of their preseason game with the Panthers on Friday. Here's who we saw as some of the team's top performers, as well as some of the players who may have to make some corrections in the second half. 

* Tom Brady was only 3-for-9 in his four series, but he completed his passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown pass to Chris Hogan might have been the best throw of the preseason for any Patriots quarterback as he hit Hogan in stride, over the shoulder, for a 33-yard gain. Brady was close to having a second touchdown pass, but it glanced off the out-stretched hands tight end Martellus Bennett in the back of the end zone. Brady was nearly picked on his final drive, again trying to hit Bennett. He was sacked on his final play of the half.

* Jimmy Garoppolo had a difficult time early in this one. He was 5-for-9 for 37 yards, and he picked up an intentional grounding penalty. Garoppolo also was strip-sacked by Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, but James White recovered. Garoppolo was nearly picked by Luke Kuechly early in the first quarter when there was an apparent miscommunication between Garoppolo and Julian Edelman. 

* Chris Long had a standout half with two pressures, a pass-breakup that led to a Devin McCourty pick, and he drew a hold. The veteran defensive end has shown a good motor and a knack for getting to the quarterback in each of New England's first three preseason games. 

* Logan Ryan also had a strong first half in his preseason debut. His first five targets in coverage resulted in no completions, an offensive pass interference penalty and an interception. His former college teammate Duron Harmon also had a pick of Panthers backup Derek Anderson.

* Nate Solder allowed the pressure that eventually led to the sack of Brady by Kony Ealy. He also was flagged for a false start. Being that it's the third preseason game -- when starters typically go deep into the game -- he'll likely have a chance to redeem himself in the second half.