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.

Tom Brady will play Friday night vs. Panthers

Tom Brady will play Friday night vs. Panthers

CHARLOTTE - Tom Brady didn't merely fly to Carolina because he likes having his ears pop. 

The Patriots quarterback will indeed play Friday night against the Carolina Panthers. Given Bill Belichick's stated objective of making Jimmy Garoppolo's preparation for the season's first four games a priority, it was uncertain whether Brady would be on the field even though he traveled. But with Brady a late scratch last Thursday against the Bears after gouging his thumb just before kickoff, his chances for game reps before his exile were waning. 

Brady made it very clear this week that he doesn't just want the game reps for tuning up and getting knocked around but because he believes it's his job and responsibility to be out there leading the team, regardless of where he'll be the first four weeks of the year. With him feeling that strongly about playing being important for his preparation and for his standing within the team, it makes sense for Belichick to give him reps. 

It's not known whether Brady or Garoppolo will start or how many series either quarterback will play Friday night. 

Branch reinstated by Patriots after week-long suspension

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Branch reinstated by Patriots after week-long suspension

Alan Branch has been reinstated by the Patriots after the team suspended him prior to last week's preseason game with the Bears, according to Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran. 

When Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Branch's absence last week, he replied, "It's a club matter."

What got Branch suspended by the team is still unknown, but he is expected to be a contributing player on the interior of the Patriots defensive line in 2016. He started in 17 games last season, including both playoff games, often lining up alongside fellow defensive tackle Malcom Brown. 

Through training camp the Patriots have also used Terrance Knighton, Vincent Valentine, Anthony Johnson and Joe Vellano on the interior of their defensive front. Branch, however, has consistently been used with the team's first defensive grouping. It's unclear how a week away from the team might impact his spot on the depth chart. 

Field Yates of ESPN was the first to report the news that Branch had been reinstated.

Brady makes trip with Patriots to Carolina

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Brady makes trip with Patriots to Carolina

Tom Brady traveled with the Patriots to Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, ahead of the third preseason game Friday night against the Carolina Panthers.

Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald was first to report the news. 

There’s no word on if Brady will play. He missed the opener against the Saints and, after cutting his thumb with scissors, missed the second exhibition game last Thursday against the Bears, both at Gillette Stadium.

Brady, of course, will miss the first four games of the regular season serving his NFL-imposed Deflategate suspension.