Curran: A cast of characters

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Curran: A cast of characters

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Right about now, tapping the brakes is probably advisable.

Because after Sunday nights 37-16 humiliation of the Jets in front of their home fans, the temptation will be to anoint.

Before the game began, I wondered if this slumping team littered with defensive fill-ins like Jeff Tarpinian, Sterling Moore, Antwaun Molden and Philip Adams (combined NFL tackles, including last night: 48) could do what teams of Patriots past had done: Block out the doubt, trust the system, play with abandon, and steal a win nobody expected them to get.

They did. Now what does it mean? It means they have character. It means they have resilience.

Does it mean a division title, playoffs, an inside track to Indy in February?

Thats where the brake tapping comes in. They are 2-2 over their last four. They still have key defenders injured add Devin McCourty and his separated shoulder to Brandon Spikes MCL sprain and Patrick Chungs injured right foot.

But they are more a team than they were before the game began. And they took a chunk out of a team they hate, a team that has made its lifes work unseating the Patriots from their position of AFC East dominance. They may not be as talented especially on defense as teams from years past. And they will probably still be maddening at times.

But they are hard very hard not to like.

Its all about proving yourself, said safety James Ihedigbo, released by the Jets at the end of the preseason. Respect is never given, its earned, and as a defense we earned it today. You look across our secondary and its a bunch of guys that people said werent good enough or couldnt play. Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, I believe, are the only draft picks in our secondary. And then Dev goes down with a hurt shoulder, but Molden comes in and we dont miss a beat. Its a testament to what we got in the secondary.

"We still got half the season left to play. Whatever happened the first half doesnt matter. All we got is each other and we gotta just play the way were capable of playing and be accountable to each other and play the way we played today.

There was an urgency to the way the Patriots played Sunday night. A desperateness on the defense that, perhaps not coincidentally, wasn't apparent when guys like Leigh Bodden and Albert Haynesworth were here and apparently content to merely go through the motions until the coaching staff had seen enough.

It wasnt just the back-end guys in the secondary I mentioned. It was also Andre Carter, a guy who hasnt taken a play off all year, coming up with four sacks. And Mark Anderson, mostly a non-factor through the first half, playing like his head was on fire.

The sage of this defense, a pros pro, is Gerard Warren. Asked what he learned about the players summoned to step in Sunday night, Warren said, They showed their professionalism Their accountability. Everybody on this team and in this locker room takes pride in knowing what to do and being ready to play when their number is called.

There were big plays by no-names (and former no-names) all over the game book by the time it was over. From Rob Ninkovichs pick-six to seal it to Niko Koutoivides fumble recovery on a muffed punt. Koutouvides just re-joined the team on Friday.

The road for the Patriots gets somewhat easier from here, at least on paper. They play just one team with a winning record, the reeling Bills, in the season finale. The combined record of their opponents is 21-42.

Can the Patriots realistically expect a secondary of young castoffs to continue performing with abandon and smarts? Well, Bill Belichick says every player must establish his level of play. And on Sunday night, these often-overlooked players established that, in a critical game in prime-time, they were plenty good enough.

We battle, said Tom Brady. Some of the guys you dont really know. You know who they are, but you havent seen them perform under pressure. Some of the guys were up from the practice squad, playing scout team defense this week and then I see them in the game on our defense. A lot of guys really stepped up to the challenge tonight.

Added Warren: Its victory. Its always sweet. No matter what stadium or what trash has been talked. Any time you come out victorious at the end of the day thats the goal and the mission.

Garoppolo on Kaepernick, anthem: 'To each his own, I guess'

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Garoppolo on Kaepernick, anthem: 'To each his own, I guess'

Jimmy Garoppolo joined WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show on Wednesday as the Patriots readied themselves to travel to New Jersey for their preseason finale against the Giants. During the interview, Garoppolo was asked for his thoughts on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who opted not to stand for the national anthem during a recent preseason game in order to express his political beliefs.

"It’s a touchy subject, but to each his own, I guess," Garoppolo said. "It’s not my idea of doing the right thing. But it’s his personal opinion, I guess. You’ve just got to let him stand by that. But I think we have a great thing going on in this country. Everything about America, it’s a great thing. We’re all very blessed to be here. And it’s good to realize that."

NFL teams have been required to be on the field for the anthem since 2009. Garoppolo said that he uses those moments as a time to soak in the chance he's been given to play football at the highest level.

"I can’t tell you what exactly is going through my mind, because it’s right before the game, you’ve got a lot of emotions rolling and everything," he said. "But it’s kind of one of those moments you get to sit back and really appreciate where you are and the opportunity that you have. The NFL is a tough gig to get into and a tough gig to stay in. I feel blessed to be in it. It’s a great opportunity. It’s one of those moments you get to just sit back and realize where you’re at -- then go kick some ass after that."

Belichick: Players don’t have time to be coaching each other

Belichick: Players don’t have time to be coaching each other

FOXBORO - It's been an ongoing conversation/fascination this summer. With Tom Brady's four-game suspension looming, how much knowledge, support and coaching was he going to give to Jimmy Garoppolo?

Bill Belichick was asked by Phil Perry on Thursday how much he expects from veteran players when it comes to coaching up teammates. 

The answer? Be an example, but let the coaches coach. 

"I think veteran players can be a good example for younger players in terms of their preparation, and their attitude, and their work ethic, and the way they go about things," said Belichick. "We have a lot of guys that I would put in that category that when you watch them do things they do them right and it’s easy to say to a younger player ‘Do what that guy does’, and you’d be off to a good start. 

"But you know, that being said, I think everybody on the team, really their number one focus is to get ready to play football. Our players aren’t coaches, they’re players, and they need to get ready to play, and as I said, I think every player needs to get ready to play. I don’t care how long you’ve been in the league, I don’t care what positon you play, I don’t care how long you’ve coached, I don’t care what position you coach. We haven’t done it for a long time, a number of months, and now we all need to sharpen those skills up. That’s every player, that’s every coach, so I don’t really think players have a lot of time to run around and be telling everybody else what to do."

The answer is not surprising. As much as the "Do Your Job" mantra is espoused in New England, to think Belichick or his mostly veteran staff of coaches would want players monkeying with the message is a little naive. Certainly, there are things players can impart to teammates who play the same position. Things coaches might not see from the sidelines or from upstairs. And Belichick's made a point of saying that in the past: there are things players on the field know and have experienced that the coaches may not be able to articulate as clearly. Junior Seau was a resource and touchstone for defensive teammates during his time in New England. 

But there's a difference between giving helpful pointers when they are sought or being a locker room sage and coaching. 

"Honestly, there is enough that all of them need to work on individually, and that would be every single player, that’s a full plate for them," added Belichick. "I don’t really think that’s their job, and I don’t think any player has enough time to do that because they all have things that they need to do to prepare for the season. But as far as being a good example and doing things right and all of that, I mean we have a lot of guys that fall into that category and that’s definitely a good thing. But, you know, that’s what they should be doing."

For two seasons and three offseasons, Garoppolo's had a chance to observe how Brady prepares, studies, interacts and leads. No doubt they've had countless conversations about the Patriots offensive philosophy and the throws and checks that need to be made in certain situations. But the job of actually coaching Garoppolo falls to Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. 

Any successes of failures Garoppolo has during the four weeks Brady is off campus will belong to him and his coaches. And that's how it should be. 

 

Slater signs one-year contract extension with Patriots

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Slater signs one-year contract extension with Patriots

The Patriots have their special-teams captain locked up through 2017.

Matthew Slater and the team have come to terms on a one-year contract extension that will keep him in New England for the next two seasons. He's due base salaries of $1 million and $900,000 in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Slater was made a fifth-round draft pick by the Patriots back in 2008, and since then he has established himself as one of the top soecial teams players in the NFL, making each of the last five Pro Bowls. He's also been a durable player, seeing action in all but nine games over the course of his eight-year career. 

The Patriots have a handful of young and talented special teams players on their roster, including Nate Ebner and Brandon King, but during training camp practices Slater continued to show his prowess when it comes to tracking down kick and punt returners. He's also taken on a well-defined leadership role in the Patriots locker room -- he's been a captain each year since 2011 -- and he serves as the team's NFLPA player representative.