Brady continues to thrive in foul weather

191543.jpg

Brady continues to thrive in foul weather

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

They are the Greatest Show on Snow.

Sunday's 36-7 mauling of the Chicago Bears improved the Patriots' record to 10-0 in the snow during the Bill Belichick Era. And make no mistake, they did it behind offensive plow Tom Brady. The New England quarterback was stellar in the win. As expected.

Brady's personal mark is now 19-2 in games played in snow, ice or below-freezing temperatures. He's the best cold-weather quarterback in NFL history since 1960.

Remember last season's whiteout? Patriots fans, covered up on all but their eyeballs, hung tough during a 59-0 home-field mauling of the Titans. Despite a suffocating 45-0 halftime lead, they never retreated for warmer quarters because they wanted to be there for Brady. They wanted to witness him set an NFL record with five touchdown passes in a single quarter and six total.

"This is football,'' he said after 2009's winter weather win. "This is how it should be.''

More records were approached, reached and broken by Brady's arm this Sunday:

The Patriots scored the second-most first-half points in franchise history against the Bears in Chicago.

Brady now has six straight games with at least two TDs and zero picks, tying Don Meredith's record.

He has thrown 268 straight passes without an interception, 40 short of record-holder Bernie Kosar.

Deion Branch caught eight balls from Brady for a new career-high 151 yards.

Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski for the tight end's seventh touchdown reception of his first season. Gronkowski's now tied for third in NFL history among rookie TEs.

The scoring was impressive early. New England's first two touchdowns came from 12- and 11-play drives under the blustery, unclear skies. And Brady just kept going.

Against one of the NFL's toughest defenses -- against Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers -- Brady completed 13 of 21 passes for 195 yards in the first half. The Patriots posted 273 total yards and 12 first downs.

The second of his two touchdowns caught the Bears completely off guard. With four plays the Pats moved the ball from their own 20 to the 41 in 1 minute and 33 seconds. Only five seconds remained before the half and New England was up 27-0. One 59-yard bomb to Deion Branch later, the score was 33-0.

"I think at one point the coach was telling us to take a knee,'' Branch said with a laugh. "I'm looking at Tom like, 'Take a knee.' And he looked at me like, 'No.' He called a route and I was like, 'All right, good. That's a good route.' So, I'm thankful it happened. We took a shot at it -- it worked."

Nothing was working for Jay Cutler. His first half (against one of the league's worst-ranked defenses) amounted to just four completions on eight throws for 21 yards. The quarterback's Bears managed just 33 total yards and moved the chains twice in the game's first 30 minutes. Insult-to-injury? He got sacked twice.

And don't forget the context. This was the new-and-improved Jay Cutler. Chicago's QB entered Week 14 riding a five-game win streak where he was fantastic in that stretch. Yet Cutler couldn't get anything started on Sunday. He looked inept.

It was not easy to score at Soldier Field this weekend.

Not unless you were Tom Brady.

"I don't think it really bothers him what the weather is,'' Belichick said in the postgame. "Whatever it is, he does the best he can and tries to make it work."

The QB's final tallies were 27 of 40 passes completed for 369 yards. He had recorded his fourth 300-yard game of the year and third in a row with 15 minutes left to play. Same old, same old excellence.

The story would almost be more interesting if he hadn't played well. Can you imagine Brady throwing into triple coverage all night the way Cutler did? That'd be new and surprising. There's just no way it was going to happen Sunday, though. While it's true that Brady thrived again in bad weather, he was playing like the NFL's MVP coming into this game.

"It was a fun day," he smiled. "We'll remember that one."

The Bears will have a hard time forgetting it too, unfortunately. Images of Brady seem burned into their brains. "Check the stats, man,'' said matter-of-fact Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings. "He's very good, man. He threw it to every receiver he had."

They were contented receivers on Sunday night. Wes Welker took the podium postgame, his stat column brimming with 8 catches and 115 yards, and he joined Branch in the Tom Terrific love-in.

Good move by Welker. The last time two wideouts had 100-plus yards in a game was that Oct. 18, 2009 whitewashing of Tennessee.

"He's definitely playing well. I mean, I think it's pretty evident,'' the receiver said. "He's confident in the guys around him and confident in himself to spread it around and everybody doing the right thing and making plays and staying on top of everything. But he's definitely playing really well for us, which we need him to."

The coming weeks are especially important. With the win over Chicago, New England clinched a berth to the 2010 playoffs. And despite owning the NFL's best record, the Patriots still have work to do. Who better to believe than Brady?

"There's a long way to go,'' he said. "I don't think anything's really been accomplished yet. We're working hard to make improvements. I don't think we've got every problem solved. There's plenty of defenses that have kicked us around a bit this year, so we don't sit here and think we've got it all figured out.''

There's at least one thing for sure. Despite all other variables, it's a fact that Brady will be relied upon for stability as the Patriots continue their run. And he'll probably deliver, no matter who the opponent, where the arena, or what the weather.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Malcom Brown already considered a leader for Patriots in second year

patriots_malcom_brown_121315.jpg

Malcom Brown already considered a leader for Patriots in second year

FOXBORO -- Late last year, Bill Belichick went out of his way to explain just how far then-rookie defensive lineman Malcom Brown had progressed over the course of his first professional season. 

From the sounds of it, the first-round defensive tackle's on-the-field growth was atypical. 

"I think he’s really come on through the season, which isn’t always the case with first-year players," Belichick said on Dec. 30. "It took him a while to get to that point through training camp and the early part of the season, but he’s become much better and more consistent in every phase of the game – running game, passing game, play recognition, communication, adjustments – just everything. It seems like every week he just builds on it.

"He’s really hit a good slope, good incline. He’s worked hard. There is a lot on every rookie’s plate. There’s a lot on his plate as a rookie in the different situations that he plays in and the number of things that we do on the front, so it’s not easy, but he’s improved his techniques, his fundamental play and he’s improved his communication and overall understanding of the multiples that are involved. It’s been good."

Brown finished the year as the Patriots interior defensive lineman with the most snaps played (his 517 snaps trailed only Jabaal Sheard, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich among defensive linemen), and he established himself as a trustworthy option in the team's steady rotation on the interior of its front. 

According to one of Brown's newest teammates, free-agent acquisition Terrance Knighton, Brown is now serving as a leader on the interior of the defensive line. Though he's only in his second season, Brown's understanding of the Patriots defense gives him a leg up on players who may have more experience in the league but are new to New England. 

"Malcom Brown has basically been leading the group," Knighton said after an OTA practice last Thursday. "Being in his second year, he's probably the most experienced guy in it right now as far as this team. I'm picking his brain to see how things are done around here."

 

Knighton acknowledged that once the Patriots have Alan Branch back on the field -- Branch was one of 17 players missing from Thursday's OTA -- they'll get another player with a sound understanding of the defense. But right now, Brown is looked to as a source of information for veterans like Knighton and Markus Kuhn as well as rookie fourth-rounder Vincent Valentine. 

"Young guy, obviously played at a high level last year and you can tell he's feeding off of that," Knighton said of Brown. "He's only continued, from what I've seen on tape to now. That's one of the things I try to talk to about with the young guys is being on the up, and not going up and down in your career. That's something I've been through in my career so I just try to share knowledge and help guys out."

Brown, who turned 22 in February, certainly ended last season "on the up." In the early going this offseason, it seems as though he's on track to continue that trajectory.

Patriots making contract statements with OTA absences?

snc_butler_0530161464560931088_3450k_1280x720_695203907893.jpg

Patriots making contract statements with OTA absences?

Malcolm Butler was one of many not spotted during OTAs on Thursday when the media got a looksee at one of the practices.

Butler wasn’t the only one. But he did stand out as a missing player who hadn’t (to my knowledge) had a surgery but did have a contract that needs addressing. Another one? Rob Gronkowski. If we really want to extend it out, throw in Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan.

This is the point where it’s important to point out that these workouts are voluntary – VAW-LUN-TERR-EEEE! Players don’t have to be there. Additionally, I’m not even sure Butler or Gronkowski (or Ryan and Harmon) weren’t at the facility. All I know is they weren’t on the field. And, per usual, nobody’s tipping his hand as to why.

But we do have this, relative to Butler. ESPN’s Mike Reiss wrote Sunday that he “wouldn’t be surprised if it was related to his contract status.” Reiss said that Butler “told teammates and friends he plans to push for an adjustment to his contract before the 2016 season, and staying off the field in voluntary workouts would be a decision that limits injury risk and also could be viewed as a statement to the organization that he's unhappy with the status quo and/or the movement/specifics of contract talks.”

In the same vein, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gronkowski opted out as well for the same reason, especially since he threw out a tweet that signaled dissatisfaction with his pact in March.

But in terms of a statement, not going to OTAs is more of a throat-clearing than a noisy proclamation.

Not to minimize the move if Butler, Gronkowski or anybody else is actually staying away because of business. The Patriots usually enjoy almost perfect OTA attendance. Also, there hasn’t been much contract strife around here for the past five seasons.

Money matters were an annual issue for the Patriots from about 2003 through 2010. Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Ty Warren, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, Randy Moss, Adam Vinatieri, Mike Vrabel and – quietly – Tom Brady all had their contract dances back then. But the only one that got hairy in the recent past was Wes Welker.

It’s still too soon to know if any of these will get contentious. When will we know? When either a player or his agent spouts off. Or, when someone’s a no-show at mandatory minicamp beginning June 7.

That would amount to a shot across the bow. Of all the players likely to take that shot, Butler seems a reasonable bet. His base pay this season is $600K after a Pro Bowl campaign in 2015 that saw him check the opposition’s best wideout on a weekly basis. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of the year. He deserves longer-term security than he currently has. Gronkowski has a lot less to kick about. He may make less than lesser players, but he also was the league’s highest paid tight end when he was missing scads of games due to injury.

After Butler, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower would figure to have the strongest cases to want new deals and want them snappy. Ryan and Harmon would be right behind those two. Then Jabaal Sheard.

Sheard, Hightower and Collins were all on the field Thursday. 

Can the Patriots get all these guys reupped? Will they even try? How do they have them prioritized? If the guy who howls loudest gets to the front of the line, the time to make some noise is close.

But we have yet to hear any of these players loud and clear.