Curran: On Cutler and Ochocinco

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Curran: On Cutler and Ochocinco

By TomE. Curran
CSNNE.com

On his final play of the 2010 NFC Championship game, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler walked up behind his center without a noticeable limp. He took the snapand dropped back on a third-and-4 play. He tried to hit Devin Hester on a little flip, hopping in the air as he released. The ball short-hopped Hester and Cutler trudged off the field and into the teeth of a great debate.Hurt or not hurt was the initial issue. But other topics have been swept into the cyclone now. Toughness, pain thresholds, the propriety of NFL players criticizing peers, the propriety of anyoneholding an opinion on whether a player is too hurt to play,the need to protect players . . . all are subjects that have been sucked up and swirled around in the mouth of the NFL watching world like so much gargle.
NFL players -- current and former -- lined up to skewer Cutler for "tapping out" (Deion Sanders' description) of a game so meaningful. The avalanche buried Cutler's reputation alive. And since then, the Bears organization -- coaches and teammates -- has been digging Cutler out. It was their decision to take Cutler out, they maintained. He wanted to go back in. "You never want a player to be on the field if he can't protect himself," said Chicago coach Lovie Smith.Let's hitthe pause button on the entire discussion. What did we see? Isn't that what matters instead of the words of an organization bent on saving its franchise quarterback's tattered psyche and torn reputation? When exactly did Cutler appear in danger of being unable to move nimbly enough to elude pressure? Which throw announced thata damaged Cutler was a lesser option than fossilized Todd Collins or untested Caleb Hanie?Itsure didn't look like the last throw. Nor did it look like Cutler couldn't protect himself on the preceding play, a handoff toMatt Forte on which Cutler turned and actually threw a pretty solid block on a Green Bay defender coming off the edge. Was it the pick that he threw with 37 seconds left in the half to Sam Shields, a ball that traveled 40 yards downfield with the flick of a wrist? On none of those plays did Jay Cutler look like a player who needed to be rescued. Now, if the Bears want to say he looked ineffective because he was favoring his knee, that's one thing. That's plausible. Even if he didn't appear to be limping much (or at all), the pick and the short-hop were weak throws. But so were several others before Cutler was sacked by Shields just after the two-minute warning, the play that likelycaused the MCL spraintearowie.What isn't plausible is the idea that Jay Cutler was in imminent danger on Sunday. And what we saw means a whole lot more than what everyone else says. Or it should. AS THE OCHO TURNSRecently, Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco cooed via Twitter about the possibility of being wedded football-wise to the Patriots. In a tweet directed to The Herald's Ian Rapoport, Ocho said "PePe and Bill EPIC." Rap, like a good Rap should, stomped over to Bengals coach Marvin Lewis down at the Senior Bowl on Monday and asked Lewis about Ocho (who still has a year left on his Bengals contract) playing for the Patriots. "Belichick's smarter than that,"Lewis said to Rapoport. Rap mentioned the Patriots' trading for Randy Moss in 2007. Lewis countered with a "How's that working out for them . . ." response. Meanwhile, Ocho was showing some leg to another would-be AFC East opportunity. On this week's episode of the T. Ocho Show, Ochocinco said of the New York Jets, "They will make it to this point deep in the playoffs every year. Id do anything to play for someone like Rex Ryan, or anyone who has that type of mentality.T.O., never one to merely nod and regard thoughtfully, said (in short), "Hey, me too!"How Belichick is "someone like Rex Ryan" is a mystery. But the simple fact that Ryan's approach serves as bait for "me-first" players like T.O. and Ocho certainly will make it interesting for Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum. "If you build it, they will come . . . "

Tom E. Curran canbe reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Foster playing catch-up, could help his cause vs. Panthers

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Foster playing catch-up, could help his cause vs. Panthers

FOXBORO -- When DJ Foster took the field for Patriots OTAs, he looked as advertised: quick, a crisp route-runner, and the owner of a pair of dependable hands. But that was back when players wore shorts to every practice. Since then, the undrafted rookie running back out of Arizona State hasn't had the opportunity to do much other than work on his conditioning while the majority of his teammates practiced. 

That could soon change. Though Foster has dealt with what he calls a "nagging" injury throughout much of training camp, he felt well enough this week to return to practice, and on Friday night he is likely to see preseason game action for the first time this summer.

The reason Foster's preseason debut could carry some importance is that he happens to play a position that may qualify as the thinnest on the Patriots roster right now. Because sub back extraordinaire Dion Lewis will not be healthy enough to start the season, and because coach Bill Belichick opted to part ways with veteran Donald Brown recently, the team is low on numbers in their running back room.

If Foster can capitalize on the opportunities he's given, he may make a case for a roster spot. James White, who is expected to be Lewis' primary replacement, is the other lone true sub back on the roster. Brandon Bolden can fill in at that role on an emergency basis, and Tyler Gaffney has shown he can catch the football when asked, but neither has the kind of pass-catching upside of Foster, who played receiver for the Sun Devils as a senior and racked up 222 receptions during his four-year college career. 

Foster has only so much time to prove he's worthy of a job. The Patriots have to reduce their numbers to 75 by Aug. 30. They need to be down to 53 by Sep. 3. Foster could be a tantalizing prospect to stash on the practice squad, but surely he'd like to make a push for a greater role. 

He explained this week that, despite his recent physical limitations, he won't be holding back whenever he does get a chance to prove himelf. 

"The coaches do a great job at just kind of making sure I'm OK and stuff," he said. "For me, when I'm in there, do what I can, give everything I got -- every rep, every chance I get with the reps. Stay in the playbook, stay involved in the meetings, and just try to learn as much as I can. Whenever I do get an opportunity, go out there and make the most of it."

Against the Panthers, the Patriots coaching staff will have to balance the need to evaluate players like Foster against good competition versus getting the entire team ready for Week 1. For example, they'd like to get a good look at Foster, whose practice reps were next to nil before this week. They'd also probably like to get White as many reps as possible so that he's prepared for the Cardinals. 

Who should play when? And how many snaps do they need? 

"You can’t see D.J. Foster play in this league. You have Arizona State film but that’s all you have, and some of the spring work that he did which is obviously encouraging," Belichick said earlier this week. "We still have him, but there’s just no body of work. Donald Brown, you can see Donald Brown . . . Players like D.J., it’s hard. You don’t have much to go on. But maybe he’ll be able to do more. We’ll get an evaluation of him soon, hopefully."

Friday night could be the night. 

Patriots vs. Panthers: Five things to watch

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Patriots vs. Panthers: Five things to watch

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HOW LONG FOR TOM?

Somehow, Tom Brady’s stated desire to play this preseason devolved into discussion of whether he’s selfish, whiny and power-mad. Eh, it’s a living. How much will practice-game reps in August help him in October? I don’t know. You don’t know. But he apparently thinks they’ll help so let the guy prepare to do what you pay him a lot of money to do – play quarterback for a little while. “How little?” is the question. In my opinion, letting Jimmy Garoppolo take the first two drives then turning it over to Brady for 20 plays would give Garoppolo the chance to see the Panthers early, make adjustments after the first drive and then yield to Brady. My impression is that there’s nothing etched in stone as to who will play how long, rather, it’s something Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels will let develop as they see fit.

CAN MINGO MAKE A GO

Will the Patriots unveil their brand-new Barkevious? Barkevious Mingo did reportedly make the trip to Charlotte so he’ll be on the sidelines at least soaking up some of what the Patriots do defensively. What will Mingo do defensively is a bigger question. He’s 6-4, 250 and built more like an NBA small forward than a standard edge defender. His strength lies in his burst and moving upfield, though, so giving Mingo some of Geneo Grissom’s late-game reps on the edge would give the team some early impressions on which to work.

WHICH SHIFTS DO KNIGHTON/BRANCH GET

Seeing Terrance Knighton on the field late in the fourth quarter last week against the Bears was a bit of an eye-opener. Did it signal that he is a down-the-roster player like most of the other players on the field at that juncture in the preseason? Or was he out there because the Patriots needed someone at DT and Knighton was the guy. Phil Perry contemplates Knighton’s role on the roster here. Meanwhile, Branch is just back from a week-long team suspension for undisclosed agitations. He may not be ready to go, having missed a few days of practice, but if he is I wouldn’t be stunned to see the Patriots playing him right up until the final gun as a test of his willingness to play in 2016.

SECONDARY CHALLENGES

Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn all bring something to the table which will test the Patriots secondary. Benjamin is a huge and athletic wideout that brings the size component into play; Olsen is one of the league’s faster, more surehanded tight ends and Ginn is a jet. The Patriots have let up some plays on the perimeter in each of the first two preseason games. The Bears’ first two drives last week were 10 plays and 11 plays long. Getting off the field on third down early against Carolina’s potent offense would be an encouraging sign. 

BETTER TEST FOR RUNING GAME

Last week, the Patriots ground attack showed some life against the Bears. It had been a long time coming. Tonight, the test will be much more stiff. The Panthers have the league’s best linebacker in Luke Kuechly, another outstanding one in Thomas Davis and a front that features Star Lotuleilei, Kawann Short, Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy. While the progress made against Chicago was nice, make some headway against this group and then you can really get optimistic.