Curran: Five thoughts from Patriots 31, Packers 27

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Curran: Five thoughts from Patriots 31, Packers 27

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

1. PATS VS. BACKUPS

Wow. That Matt Flynn. How often are you going to see something like that against the Patriots, a backup lighting up a Bill Belichick defense? Doesn't Professor Hoodie normally leave young, inexperiencedquarterbacks wailing at the moon andyearning for the warm, comfortable womb of the sidelines? Not exactly. The best performance of the season prior to Flynn's 24 for 37, 251-yard, three-touchdown, one pick evening was actually Colt McCoy's ultra-efficient 14 for 19 for 174 (one rushing TD) day in the Browns' upset of the Pats. In the past, it's happened that way as well. Matt Schaub stepped in foran injured Michael Vick back in 2005 and threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-28 loss. A.J. Feeley stepped in for Donovan McNabb in 2007 and threw for 345 yards and three touchdowns (and three picks) when the Eagles went toe-to-toe with the Patriots. The first time the Patriots saw Mark Sanchez, he went 14 for 22 for 165 and a touchdown in his second career start. Maybe it has something to do with the fact the Patriots prefer to sit back in coverage and make a quarterback think his way down the field and string together plays as opposed to bringing extra rushers and allowing the chance of getting beaten with a lucky punch (which the Pats kind of were on James Jones 66-yard touchdown catch). Whatever the cause, it's happened enough for it to be more than a coincidence. 2. DEFENSE CHEWEDAfter weeks of getting leads and then stepping on opponents' necks, the Patriots defense breathed life into the Packers offense by being godawful on third down. Green Bay finished the night 11 for 19 (58 percent). The Packers' scoring drives were 11, 3, 13, 13 and 11 plays. The Patriots' defense couldn't get off the field (40:48 time of possession to 19:12). "The little things," lamented inside linebacker Jerod Mayo. "We prepared well this week, we just didn't go out and execute like we had to. Usually in base we're pretty tough against the run (Green Bay ran for 143 yards). We have a lot of work to do. I felt like we prepared just as well this week as we have the last five weeks. How many missed tackles did we have? A lot of missed tackles and that extended drives. We can't play like this next week."3. BRADY PICK STREAKTom Brady dodged a few more interception bullets Sunday night but emerged from the game with his pickless streak intact. He's now gone 292 attempts without an interception. He now holds the record for most passes without throwing a pick in a single season. He passed Jeff George (279) Sunday night and will pass Bart Starr (294) if he can make throw three more without a pick. Bernie Kosar's all-time mark of 308 is just 16 throws away. The nearest Brady came to throwing an interception was on the Patriots' first drive of the game when he hit Charles Woodson in the hands and the Packers corner dropped it. A.J. Hawk also had a chance on a tipped ball in the fourth quarter and didn't come up with it. 4. FLAGS FLYINGThe Patriots entered the game with 55 accepted penalties in their first 13 games. That was the fourth-lowest total in the league. They got flagged seven times for 52 yards on Sunday night. Bill Belichick threw a little chum in the water when asked about what would have been the most costly penalty of the night, Tully Banta-Cain's hands-to-the-face flag. "Look, these guys (referee Ed Hochuli's crew) call the most penalties of any crew in the league and they called them. We knew it was going to be a tight game and it was. We've just got to do a better job of that. I've got to do a better job preparing the team."5. ARRINGTON, CONNOLLY CHIP INBIGCornerback Kyle Arrington keeps on making big plays. He didn't havea lockdown night on the right side of the Patriots defense, but his pick on a pass intended for James Jones early in the second half was a huge play. His 36-yard return put the Patriots out in front 21-17 just three minutes into the half. "I got beaten earlier in the game on a slant and I decided if I saw that again, 'I'm gonna go for it.' The ball was there and I was in the right place at the right time." Arrington punctuated his return by stepping around and through four differentPackers. "The goal line wasn't too far so I was happy I could get there," said Arrington, whose impressive strength packed into a small body helped him power through. If he looked a bit like a natural, it's because he's got experience with the ball in his hands from playing running back in youth football and high school. "It's like riding a bike," he said."It's like muscle memory, you know?" Meanwhile, the 71-yard kickoff return by Dan Connolly at the close of the first half was not likely foreshadowed by any reps at running back earlier in his football career. Connolly, a left guard, took a squibbed kick back to the Packers' 4. That, along with Arrington's pick-six, were the two plays that turned the game for New England. Or at least kept them in contact with Green Bay until the offense awoke.

Brady spikes his helmet in frustration during competitive day of practice

Brady spikes his helmet in frustration during competitive day of practice

FOXBORO -- It could have been that he's been splitting first-team reps with Jimmy Garoppolo. It could have been that he had just thrown a pass that was batted down by a ball boy holding a paddle. It could have been that he's simply operating at a low boil at all times knowing that he has to serve a four-game suspension. 

Whatever the reason, Tom Brady was hot. And he took it out on his helmet Friday, slamming it to the turf -- with ear pads exploding out upon impact -- after the final snap of the 7-on-7 period at Patriots practice. 

It was the most noteworthy show of frustration during what appeared to be a highly-competitive day of work for Bill Belichick's club. Just two days into practice, and one day before the first day of work in full pads, there was a visible emotional edge exhibited by several players on the team -- not only Brady. 

"That's just football," tight end Martellus Bennett said. "It is what it is. I like guys that have an edge, and I think a lot of guys on this team have an edge. When they have that edge, it makes you bring it up a notch, too."

Bennett may have helped to amp things up when he caught a touchdown pass over Patrick Chung from Jimmy Garoppolo. He used his 6-foot-7 frame to go up and over Chung and then kept his balance as he corralled the ball with Chung down around his feet. When the play was over Bennett almost dropped the ball on Chung while Chung was on the ground. 

Later in the practice, Rob Gronkowski caught a touchdown on a back-shoulder throw from Garoppolo with Jordan Richards in coverage. Gronkowski promptly threw the ball in the air in celebration, which seemed to irk Dont'a Hightower. The linebacker quickly retrieved the ball and chucked it at Gronkowski's back. 

Brady's helmet slam came on a short pass that was batted down by one of the paddles made to simulate long-armed defensive linemen. He hadn't looked very shaky leading up to that point, completing 7-of-9 passes, though one of those attempts resulted in a Duron Harmon interception. But two incompletions to finish his 7-on-7 stretch led to the helmet slam that drew an audible reaction from surprised fans in attendance. 

Brady's reps and their timing drew considerable attention yet again. In a switch from Thursday's practice, it was Brady who took the first-team reps during 11-on-11 work, while Garoppolo was the first on the field during the 7-on-7 portion of practice. Each player got 10 snaps in 7-on-7 work and seven snaps in 11-on-11 work, so the workload was once again split evenly. 

In analyzing the results for both quarterbacks, Garoppolo went 9-for-10 in 7-on-7 work, while Brady went 7-for-10 with an interception during the same period. In the 11-on-11 portion of practice -- after the helmet spike -- Brady went 5-for-7. Garoppolo went 4-for-7, and Jacoby Brissett went 4-for-7 with an interception made by linebacker Kevin Snyder on a deflection from corner Darryl Roberts. 

It's not unusual for competitive moments -- and accompanying emotional outbursts -- to transpire during camp. That it's happening already with the Patriots could foreshadow weeks of such moments, which, given the talent level the team currently boasts on its roster, perhaps should be expected. 

When both sides of the football have as many accomplished players as the Patriots do, and when both sides are executing, the level of play tends to rise. With that, the competitive juices often do the same. 

"Every single day I've been here since OTAs it's been very competitive," Bennett said. "Everyone here does their jobs so well, and everyone's competing. You just gotta bring it every single day."

That may not be good news for the equipment staff that has to deal with the fallout of busted gear. But for coach Belichick, who has long called training camp the "competition camp" (as opposed to OTAs and minicamp, which is more of a "teaching camp"), it's probably music to his ears. 

Bennett, Gronkowski are students of each other's games

Bennett, Gronkowski are students of each other's games

FOXBORO – It’s nothing but bliss so far for Martellus Bennett in New England.

The humongous and irrepressible Marty B. met with the media after practice Friday. Fresh off a workout in which he picked a red-zone pass off the top of Patrick Chung’s helmet and did a little, “Lemme just leave this right here . . . ” placement of the football at Chung’s feet, and otherwise continued to stand out in all the right ways, Bennett spoke about his developing relationships with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

Bennett, Gronk and Brady have been working as a unit during a few quick side sessions. It’s an annual occurrence with Brady and his leading targets. Bennett shared an interesting detail though that refers back to something Brady spoke of with Gronk in 2015:

Body language.

“I think for Rob it’s a little different than for me (working with Brady),” Bennett explained. “He’s been with Brady so long and he knows the body language. And we move differently. Even though people think we’re a lot alike, we run our routes different. Understanding the body language of how I go into my cuts and where I like the ball might be different than when he throws to Rob, so we’re just trying to build as much chemistry as possible. It’s just conversations in motion.”

Brady mentioned last year how he’s able to watch Gronk running with his back to him and still read subtle cues as to when Gronk is going to cut, slow down, accelerate, etc., and then time his throw accordingly. Brady is in the early stages of learning Bennett’s subtleties.

And Bennett is learning from watching the other two. Dripping sweat after the workout in humid, cloudy conditions, Bennett got animated talking about the process.

“I was able to play with [Jets receiver] Brandon Marshall for a long time and I learned a lot of my game from him,” said Bennett. “Now to be with another great player like Rob, he does so many things well, when you watch tape (you can’t see all of it) but when you’re right next to him, you’re like, ‘Man this guy’s really, really good. Hey Rob, how’d you do that? How’d you do this? Man, show me that. Come to the side real quick and show me how you did that move.’

“It’s just give-and-take, sometimes he asks me, ‘Hey man, you did this today, I like that. Show me that,’ " he explained. “So we’re just working trying to make each other better and I think that’s what the whole tight end room is trying to do.”

Bennett’s been pigeonholed a bit as a quirky guy with great talent but intermittent intensity. Right now, the intensity’s been flowing freely.

“I ended up on IR in like November [last season] so I really haven’t had that much football for a long time so it’s really, really good (to be on the field),” he said. “It’s like when you break up and get back with the girl that you love in the first place, so it’s been great to be back out there.”

Can Bennett, who has one year left on the deal he signed with Chicago before the Patriots traded for him, see himself sticking in Foxboro past 2016?

“Yeah,” he began before adding. “I’m not thinking about next year right now. I’m just trying to have as much fun as I can this year. Football can be taken from you at any time. I didn’t get to finish the season last year. To me it’s just a joy to be out there playing and enjoying the game and enjoying the process. I’m just worried about my todays.”