Curran: Five thoughts from Patriots 38, Dolphins 7


Curran: Five thoughts from Patriots 38, Dolphins 7

By Tom E. Curran

FOXBORO - It was an exclamation point on a season that nobody could have predicted. A 38-7 win chock full o'milestones that put the Patriots at 14-2 and made Bill Belichick the first coach in NFL history to have 14 wins in four different seasons. Enclosed herein, find The 5:1. MORE GRONK, PLEASEThe Patriots' tight ends as a group finished this season with 93 catches for 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns. That's three seasons of work for the tight ends in years past. Putting the exclamation point Sunday on the tight ends' performance from 2010 was Rob Gronkowski. He had 6 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown. It was his 10th touchdown catch of the season, setting a Patriots' rookie record for receiving scores. "That's cool," Gronkowski smiled uncomfortably. "Records really don't matter but at the same time, it's cool. I just need to stay focused and hopefully great things keep happening." Gronkowski's rookie season didn't come without bumps. At Cleveland, he had two drops and a fumble at the goal line just before halftime that killed the modest momentum the Patriots were trying to build. But he bounced back tremendously from that game."I learned a lot from it," Gronkowski acknowledged. "That's whyI need to take the positive out of a game like that. You gotta look at thepositive and keep on moving forward." Alge Crumpler had a touchdown in his second straight game. Aaron Hernandez didn't play for the second straight game with a hip injury. Hefinished the regular season with 45 catches for 563 yards and six scores. 2. WOODY SHOULD BE OKIn the locker room after the game, a Patriots official approached Danny Woodhead about talking to the media. "I can talk," he said. "I'm fine to talk." It was decided that the Patriots' third down back would stay quiet, but the fact he was ready to talk is a good sign after he took a solid blow to the head in the first quarter and left the game with a head injury. Those two words are usually code for concussion and Woodhead was seen on the sidelines getting checked out by team doctors for what appeared to be that. The fact he didn't return was an indication he'd been ruled out although his return was officially deemed "questionable." When asked about Woodhead's availability in the postgame, Belichick demurred and said that "it didn't come to" Woodhead having to return. The bye week is a boon for all the Patriots nursing bumps and bruises and Woodhead joins that group. 3. McCOURTY'S DONE ALL HE CANRookie cornerback Devin McCourty came up with his seventh interception of the season in the first quarter, tying him for the league lead with former Patriot Asante Samuel of the Eagles. It's been a remarkable season for McCourty, taken 27th in the first round of April's draft and selected for the Pro Bowl earlier this week. He's a tremendous combination of smarts and athleticism, said fellow corner Kyle Arrington. "My first impression meeting him was - smart. He's very intuitive. He just gets it. To come in as a rookie, he's playing like a veteran. It doesn't take long for him to get it down and it shows. As a rookie, at the beginning of the year, he made some mistakes like all of them do, but he learned. And he's playing like he's in little league out there. Having fun and playing at a high level." Whether or not McCourty winsthe AP's Defensive Rookie of the Year award is now up for debate. What was a layup for Detroits' Ndamukong Suh now seems a two-horse race. Despite all he's done, McCourty sees himself as merely a foot soldier. "I am a rookie and I will find outwhen we come back and Coach Belichick tells us what the game plan is (for the rest of this week.)"The final bit of praise for McCourty (and for Arrington) came from Dolphins coach Tony Sparano. "The thing I have been most impressed with when watchign their tape has been their corners. In other words, never mind Tom Brady and the offense, that's where they have made great improvement. Those two guys go out there and compete at a pretty high level. I've seen great growth out of them since the last time we played."4. FISH FLOUNDERINGSparano's job may be in jeopardy as the Dolphins wrapped a 7-9 season. Asked what he told his team in the locker room, Sparano said, "I told them you never want to be in this position again. I never, ever, ever do . . . We shouldn't forget what just happened to us out there. Not a good place to be. We did it to ourselves coming into this game, having nothing to play for other than the pride thing . . . You don't want to be in that position. It's not what we aspire to be." Wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who at one point was openly irritated about misfires from starting quarterback Chad Henne, was more pointed. "We're not close to where we need to be," he lamented. "Receivers and quarterbacks, we're on several different pages. You can't have that. We just didn't get it done this week or this whole year." Asked about his apparent disgust with Henne, Marshall said, "Next question." As for whether he believes changes are coming, Marshall said (smartly), "My job is to catch balls. When I try to get into that business side of things, then I'm on my way out of the league. I don't think I'm in a position to be in the front office. I don't know if I'm that smart."5. CLEARING THE BENCHBill Belichick stressed the importance of getting as many players as he could some reps on Sunday, saying, "It will be a couple of weeks before we play again, so the guys that played got a good opportunity and some other people that hadn't played as much got a chance to play." Among those players was defensive lineman Myron Pryor who'd been sidelined with a back injury. He got several snaps and made a nice stop at the line of scrimmage in the first half. Ryan Wendell, in at right guard once again for Dan Connolly, got some snaps as did little-used linemen Mark Levoir, Quinn Ojinnaka and Rich Ohrnberger. Sebastian Vollmer took snaps at left tackle after Matt Light sat down and rookie Taylor Price - who'd been inactive all season - had three catches for 41 yards.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Postcard From Camp, Day 3: Patriots in pads for physical practice


Postcard From Camp, Day 3: Patriots in pads for physical practice

FOXBORO -- Every day from Patriots training camp, we'll be providing you news and observations from what occurred on the field with Bill Belichick's club. Day 3 of on-the-field work was the first day of work in pads. Here's what we saw...

* The Patriots had a few new absences on Saturday. Rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell was not present, nor was rookie defensive lineman Vincent Valentine, who traveled to Nebraska for a friend's funeral. Running back Brandon Bolden was also a new absence. 

Running back Dion Lewis (on the physically unable to perform list) was not present, though other players on PUP (Sebastian Vollmer, Tre' Jackson, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Clay Harbor) were around as spectators. Defensive lineman Alan Branch (on the non-football injury list) was also not spotted. Nate Washington, who became ill at the end of the first day of practice, did not participate for the second consecutive day but he was present. 

* Soon after the start of practice, offensive lineman Shaq Mason and running back DJ Foster went to a lower practice field for some conditioning. 

* Guard Jonathan Cooper went down about an hour into practice during a drill where offensive linemen worked on finding their blocking assignments and hit other offensive linemen carrying foam pads. Trainers tended to what appeared to be his right foot or ankle area. He walked slowly off the field with the help of the training staff. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Cooper is battling plantar fascia.

* The first contact drills of camp appeared to focus on the running game. While at one end of the field tight ends and fullback James Develin blocked defensive ends setting the edge, at the other end, corners tried to get by run-blocking receivers. Edge defender Chris Long put a good pop on tight end Bear Pascoe to start the drill. 

* After a set of one-on-ones between receivers, corners and safeties, Tom Brady congratulated Aaron Dobson for an impressive grab. Chris Hogan went airborne to give Dobson a congratulatory bump and Matthew Slater went out of his way to give both Dobson and Hogan a fist-bump. 

* The first good collision of camp came when LeGarrette Blount took a handoff from Tom Brady and ran hard into Jamie Collins. Collins felt the brunt of the impact, but Blount did fall down. One snap later, Dont'a Hightower filled a running lane and pushed rookie guard Joe Thuney back behind the line of scrimmage. Later, during the same drill, Long had another noticeable rep where he set a firm edge and ripped rookie tight end Steven Scheu to the ground. 

* During a kickoff period, Brady and Garoppolo worked a side session with Rob Gronknowski, Martellus Bennett and Aaron Dobson. Nate Washington and Julian Edelman watched closely. 

* During a half-field period, Keshawn Martin had a perfectly-placed deep ball from Jimmy Garoppolo slip through his hands with Justin Coleman in coverage. Martin, who beat Coleman in a one-on-one drill earlier in the day, had a step on his defender but couldn't convert. 

* Joe Thuney stood out as one of the top performers in 1-on-1s between offensive linemen and defensive linemen. He matched up well with Malcom Brown, Frank Kearse and Trey Flowers. Fellow rookie lineman Ted Karras also held his own in that period. 

* Rob Ninkovich looked quick in 1-on-1s. Now in his 11th season, he ripped by Marcus Cannon twice relatively easily. 

* During a non-competitive 7-on-7 hurry-up period, Brady had a pass deflected by a paddle. It was the second straight day Brady had a pass blocked by a ball boy, and he was audibly not happy. Fans may want to rip out the earmuffs next time that happens. 

* Jacoby Brissett was picked off by Vinnie Sunseri later in that non-competitive 7-on-7 drill. 


* During 11-on-11s, James Develin put a sound block on Dont'a Hightower to clear a hole for LeGarrette Blount. 

* Garoppolo (who took the first reps), made a high throw to Chris Hogan that was dropped. On that rep, Jabaal Sheard got around Marcus Cannon and would have put a hit on Garoppolo.

* Terrance Knighton showed good mobility down the line of scrimmage to put a thud on James White for no gain.

* Chris Hogan, who had a good day catching the football on Friday, showed up as a blocker at one point Saturday. He sealed off Jordan Richards to open a running lane for Blount. Harper later beat Cyrus Jones over the middle for a diving catch on a Brady throw. Jones made what may be considered a rookie mistake, running by Harper without touching him down while Harper was on the turf. Harper alertly got up and ran for extra yardage. That may be a teaching point for the rookie second-round pick later in meetings. 

* Cre'von LeBlanc came up with a nice pass breakup on a Jacoby Brissett pass to Harper.

* During the 11-on-11 period, Blount fumbled, and the ball was recovered by Ninkovich. Hard to tell who forced the fumble, but Blount was sent for a lap after his turnover. 

* Perhaps the play of the day came on a well-thrown corner route from Brady to Gronkowski. The big tight end reached in the back corner of the end zone, reeled in the pass, and fell to the turf. Patrick Chung, perhaps the team's top defender of tight ends, was in coverage. Brady went out of his way to give Gronkowski an attaboy after the play, which had fans roaring. 

* Malcolm Butler couldn't believe it when Chris Hogan caught a touchdown in the back of the end zone. It looked like Butler had a hand on the ball as Hogan brought it in, but he couldn't knock it out. 

* Call it a draw between the offense and the defense during goal line work. Blount got in the end zone twice for offensive wins. Shea McLellin showed up with a run stuff on the goal line, and Chris Long was held by Bryce Williams on the final rep, giving the defense the win there, in my opinion. 

Phil Perry can be followed on Twitter: @PhilAPerry

Will Dobson finally change the storyline this year?


Will Dobson finally change the storyline this year?

FOXBORO - Aaron Dobson is like the tide. Hitting a predictable high-water mark around the same time every season then gradually receding to a predictable low.

At least that’s how it’s seemingly gone for the first three seasons of the wideout’s NFL career. In truth, it’s not really been as bleak as we’ve all intimated it to be.

There have been bright spots for the 2013 second-rounder and there is upside to his game. But the combination of injuries, inconsistencies and annual drops into obscurity have obscured the very notion that anything he does between May and August should be taken seriously.

Saturday, Dobson was back at it again with the summertime fun making two terrific early-practice grabs on the first day in pads. That was a continuation of what he put out there in May and June when he looked nothing like the guy who pattycaked so many passes in 2015.

When the team’s key skill players broke off to a separate field midway through practice it was Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett and Dobson working out.

Dobson knows the party line on him. He basically summarized what folks feel has been lacking with his game.

“I’m just trying to keep improving and stay consistent and show my teammates that I can stay consistent and dependable,” Dobson told me Friday.

We’ve done the Dobson Propaganda “This may be the year…” piece before. Like last summer when Josh McDaniels gushed about Dobson and we dutifully talked him up. It wasn’t without cause. The guy does things nobody else on the roster at the wideout position can do because of his height and leaping ability.

I asked Dobson if he’s yet shown the best of what he can do.

“I feel like I can play football,” he said. “It’s up to me to show my abilities to everybody. It’s hard to really say. For me, I’m just trying to get out and get better every day, every day, every practice.”

He couldn’t have envisioned this, though. Fourth season and still with some nitwit standing in front of him talking about his football mortality in New England.  

“Going through what I’ve gone through has been difficult but you just have to stay grounded,” he said. “You can’t let it hold you back, you can’t let it keep you down, you can’t worry about the past, you just gotta worry about the future and what I can do to help myself.”

There are things beyond Dobson’s control that have intervened. A stress fracture in his foot in 2013 that bled over into 2014 when surgery was deleted then performed in the spring.

But there are things which seem preventable too that keep arising. Like the number of times Dobson is unable to catch the ball cleanly and double-catches the ball.

I asked him about that.

“You gotta let the ball in,” he said. “Regardless. When it comes to double-catching, you just gotta make the catch, when it comes to you.”

You hear the things he’s said before – all said with a self-deprecating smile. No ego. You see the things he can do in the air. And you think…this year?

Then you watch that drill with Brady and Garoppolo, Bennett and Gronkowski. And throw after throw, when Dobson could either catch the ball out front with his hands or let it come into his chest or cradle it into his stomach, he chooses the latter. The less safe, less polished, easier way to catch.

And you know the coda to this Dobson story like the ones in the past comes with the caveat, “we’ll see…”

Tom E. Curran can be followed on Twitter: @tomecurran