Brady leads Pats to 31-14 rout of Bucs

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Brady leads Pats to 31-14 rout of Bucs

By Jimmy Toscano
CSNNE.com

TAMPA BAY - Unlike last week, the stars came out to play for the Patriots Thursday night.

But just like last week, the Pats crushed the opponent early and often.

Summary and statistics

The Patriots, led by Tom Brady, scored three touchdowns on their first three possessions in the first quarter, and led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28-0 at halftime, en route to their 31-14 win.

And it wasn't even that close.

With the Bucs receiving first, the Pats defense took it to Josh Freeman and the Bucs offensive line -- and they took it to them hard.

It was Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, Kyle Love, and Andre Carter putting tons of pressure on Freeman at the start, and the Bucs punted after three downs and just one yard.

Consider that foreshadowing.

That one-yard drive would be the Bucs' longest drive of the entire first quarter. The Pats defense literally pushed the Bucs backwards on their next three drives (negative-three, negative-seven, and negative-nine yards).

Finally, Tampa Bay got some positive yardage early on in the second quarter -- five yards -- before they punted again.

All in all the Bucs punted six times in six possessions in the first half, accumulating a total of just 35 yards.

The Pats, on the other hand, almost doubled Tampa's total first half yardage on their first drive.

Brady found a wide open Aaron Hernandez streaking to the end zone for the 16-yard TD, after a well-executed 64-yard drive started by Brady to Welker, and continued by a Danny Woodhead 29-yard run.

But that wouldn't be it for Brady and the starters. On the very next drive, Brady, rarely under much pressure, threw the ball six times, connecting on four, and hitting Chad Ochocinco on the third pass attempt between the two on an eight-yard TD.

With the Pats up 14-0, the hurt was just setting in.

A pair of BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdowns would make it 28-0 at the half, and with the majority of the starters pulled for the second half, it was a job well done for the Pats in Tampa Bay.

Brady ended the night 11-for-19 for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Welker had 5receptions for 56 yards, Hernandez 3 catches for 42 yards and touchdown, and Ochocinco 2 receptions for 14 yards and a touchdown.

Steven Ridley led all rushers with 84 yards on 14 carries, while Green-Ellis added 51 yards on 11 carries.

As expected, Ryan Mallett took over for Brady to start the second half, and the results weren't great for the rookie QB out of Arkansas.

On his opening drive, an under-pressure Mallett lobbed a ball that ended up right in the hands of Buccaneers cornerback Elbert Mack. Mack took the ball to the house to get the Buccaneers on the board with 12.12 left to play in the third quarter.

On the night, Mallett went 9-for-14 for 71 yards and one interception in five drives with the Pats. They scored a field goal during his time as QB.

It wasn't until 9:34 left in the fourth quarter when the Bucs offense scored on a two-yard run by Allen Bradford that capped off a 12-play 84-yard drive.

Danny Woodhead rushed for 63 yards on five carries, but was hit hard covering a punt in the fourth quarter, and left the game with what appeared to be concussion symptoms.

The Patriots will play the Lions in Detroit next Saturday.

Easley on character concerns: 'It's all rumors' until sources step forward

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Easley on character concerns: 'It's all rumors' until sources step forward

When Dominique Easley was released by the Patriots this spring, it wasn't because he wasn't productive when he was on the field. In fact, on a per-snap basis, he was one of the most productive interior pass-rushers in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Instead, there were some off-the-field factors, as well as injury concerns, that led to the Patriots choosing to cut ties with their 2014 first-round pick. 

As our Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran put it, there were "philosophical differences" between Easley and the team.

Other, more scathing reports of Easley's impact in New England were released, including one report from the Boston Globe that included a quote from a former teammate saying he was a "locker room cancer."

Since then, Easley has landed with the Rams and has a chance to contribute to one of the most talented defensive lines in football. In an interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio with Phil Savage and Amber Theoharis, Easley said he hopes that his new team will get to see that he's a better person than some have indicated.

"Just really," Easley said, "just hopefully that the Rams get to see what a great person and a great hardworker I am, and really, just a great person."

Easley went on to say that he's not sure who would speak of him negatively or why. He explained that it's not his "main goal" to prove there's nothing to worry about with his character, but clearly it's somewhere on the list. 

"There's been, obviously, stuff said about me," Easley said. "We don't know where it came from. I would say the person doesn't want to come out and say it, neither. As far as I know, it's all rumors until that person comes out and say that it was from them, and they can prove that they actually know who I am, or been around me long enough to know who I am and how I am as a person."

PFT: NFL plans to interview Manning about Al Jazeera PED allegations

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PFT: NFL plans to interview Manning about Al Jazeera PED allegations

Peyton Manning is retired, but that doesn't mean he's exempt from the interviews that the NFL plans to conduct as it looks into the allegations made by Al Jazeera's December PED documentary. 

It was reported last week by USA Today that the league's senior vice president of labor policy and league affairs Adolpho Birch informed the NFLPA that players named in Al Jazeera's report would be interviewed in July. 

Among those scheduled to be interviewed are Packers linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews and Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Former Packers linebacker Mike Neal will also be interviewed.

(Harrison has taken issue with the league's request, and said on social media that he would only meet with the league if commissioner Roger Goodell showed up to his home.)

Manning was not mentioned in the letter obtained by USA Today detailing the league's interview plans, but Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk followed up on Monday to see if the NFL intended to speak with Manning. It does.

The former Broncos and Colts quarterback has been very vocal about just how strongly he denies Al Jazeera's claim that his wife, Ashley, received HGH for his use. Despite the fact that he's no longer playing, it will come as no surprise if, given his stance, Manning cooperates fully with the league as it seeks more information regarding the report. 

As Florio points out, if Manning hopes to return to the NFL at some point as an executive -- as many believe he will -- this is something he'll want to put to bed beforehand. That process will start with an interview.