Curran: Patriots were the only ones that believed

Curran: Patriots were the only ones that believed

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

BUFFALO - The script says to talk about Sunday being a step.

The clinching and the No. 1 seed, all well and good. But nothing's been won, nothing's been done, the accomplishment, well . . . it's kind of minor. No disrespect and all.

"I don't know if the hat and t-shirt (given out for winning the division) really mean anything, but we like to yell that we got a hat and t-shirt so we know we've accomplished something when we get that," said left guard Logan Mankins.

There'd be a parade in some cities over that. Here, though, it's the expectation.

Tom Brady said something revealing Sunday evening. It helps explain why - despite this team doing something arguably more remarkable than what the 2003, 2004 and 2007 editions did - it receives little more than a shrug.

Asked how, with all these new pieces, the Patriots can be this good - 13-2 and the No. 1 seed in the AFC - Brady answered, "The expectation is for the position, not the player. If you're an outside linebacker on this team, you're expected to play like Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel. If you're a running back, you're expected to play like Corey Dillon, Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk. It's just the way it is. I think coach Bill Belichick rides us all day and all night to get the job done in that sense. Like I said, the guys need to be able to respond to those things and we've shown enough mental toughness throughout the year to respond."

So while we (or I) may say, "Holy crap, that's Dane Fletcher making plays of significant magnitude!" Belichick sees a silver helmet and a Patriots uniform and thinks, "That's what it's supposed to look like."

And 13-2 is - when things are performed correctly most of the time - a very real possibility.

So taking stock of what his team accomplished Sunday in Buffalo?

"Not right now," said Belichick. "We're happy about it. It's great. But we'll just again, see what comes and take whatever the next step is."

So it's left to us to try and quantify what we're seeing. And it's been amazing.

The Patriots have no more business being 13-2 and the top seed in the AFC than I would have walking down a runway in Paris next to Giselle.

Yet here they are, with all their spare parts and new parts fitting together with an assured little click every time Belichick snaps them into place.

It's funny. Some of what they say doesn't make any sense.

For instance, Vince Wilfork was saying after the game that he knew what the Patriots had in the offseason during training. And it was special.

Really? So he knew Dane Fletcher and Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick and Jermaine Cunningham, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington, Ron Brace and Gerard Warren, Rob Ninkovich and Brandon Spikes would all work out just fine? He knew that, even if the defense lost Ty Warren, Leigh Bodden and Brandon McGowan it wouldn't be a big deal. And that the Patriots could pluck Eric Moore from the Florida Tuskers of the UFL sometime in December if they needed him?

Preposterous.

What Wilfork could have sensed, though, was the caliber of the people he was surrounded with, if not quality of player.

That seems plausible.

"We knew what we had in this locker room," said Wilfork. "The guys did a really good job all year of just staying focused and not even paying attention to the stuff that was in the papers or media, whatever it may be. The guys just did a really good job of staying focused. We have a sign coming out of our stadium saying, 'Dont believe the hype.' I think that speaks for itself. From being the greatest team and then being one of the worst teams, we heard it all.

"I think guys really buckled down and just trusted one another that we can be a really good football team if we just stay focused and outwork our opponents," Wilfork continued. "Half the time that just comes with practice. If you prepare well in practice, normally you play well. The times we didn't, it cost us. We've got a lot of work to do, but at the same time with this team, you've got to keep getting better. There's no doubt in my mind that we won't keep getting better. That's where we're at right now."

And if they're going to keep getting better, why would there be champagne popping over a division title and the No. 1 seed?

Deion Branch spent three long seasons in Seattle. They'd pop some corks there. So he was a little bemused by the lack of giddiness.

"I think its so mellow in here, you would think that we were in a weird situation, guys should be happy," he said. "The game wasn't as good as the score looked. It was 34-3? There were a bunch of plays that we messed up on that we're not proud of. Third quarter was terrible by the offense. The defense did a good job of keeping us in the game."

Too much work still to be done. Why be happy about an accomplishment that - no matter how much of a pipe dream it should have been - is just a step on the ladder toward something the Patriots, and only the Patriots, really expected to happen?

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

Flashback: Belichick breaks down lasting impact of Buddy Ryan's '46' defense

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Flashback: Belichick breaks down lasting impact of Buddy Ryan's '46' defense

When news broke on Tuesday of Buddy Ryan's passing, it wasn't very long before the NFL community at large paid tribute to one of the most well-respected defensive minds in the history of the league. 

Ryan, a longtime coordinator and head coach, leaves a legacy that includes two sons -- Rex and Rob -- who have carved out length careers spent on NFL sidelines. His legacy also includes a defensive scheme that confounded offenses, particularly in 1985, when the Bears '46' defense dominated all comers. With eight men in the box and just three defensive backs, Ryan's defense could be as confusing for quarterbacks as it was intimidating.

On the day of Ryan's passing, we can add to the list of Ryan rememberances a long quote from a Bill Belichick press conference back in 2012. The Patriots were getting ready to play Rex Ryan's Jets, but as the topic of conversation shifted away from the game itself and toward football philosophies, Belichick explained how Ryan's '46' defense changed the game, and where it can still be seen today. 

(To see the video of the press conference, you can head here. It's a bit slow for the first six or seven minutes, but when Belichick is asked about the idea behind being a "game-plan offense" and which coaches inspired him to take that mindset into his own career, things start rolling. Belichick rattles off the names of those who influenced him, including Annapolis High coach Al Laramore, Phillips Andover's Steve Sorota, Navy coach Wayne Hardin, Baltimore Colts coach Ted Marchibroda and several others. He calls the list of coaches who educated him -- including his father, of course -- a "menagerie." If you're into those types of Belichick responses about football philosophy and his own personal football upbringing, it's a video that's worth your time.)

Here is Belichick's response to a question from Sports Illustrated's Greg Bedard, then of the Boston Globe, concerning Ryan and his '46' scheme. A tip of the hat to Chris B. Brown of Smart Football for pointing out the quote on Twitter early Tuesday. 

Q: You mentioned Buddy Ryan earlier. How come we don’t see more 46 defense? I’m not talking about for a full season – not everybody is the ’85 Bears, but in a one-game situation. Is it because of the quarterbacks and the shotgun?

BB: "A lot of the success that Buddy had with the 46 defense came in the ‘80s when there was a lot of two-back offense. It was one of the things that probably drove the two-back offense out. If you remember back in the ‘80s when Buddy was in Philadelphia, he had a lot of trouble with the Redskins and their one-back offense, a lot of trouble. There were a lot of mismatches of Art Monk and Gary Clark on the middle linebacker and stuff like that.

"I think the 46 was really originally built for two-back offenses, whether it be the red, brown, blue and the flat-back type offenses and eventually even the I-formation. I think it still has a lot of good application; a lot of teams use it in goal-line situations. They either use a version of it like a 5-3 or cover the guards and the center and however you want to quite fit the rest of it, but that principle you see a lot in goal-line, short yardage situations. You see it and some teams have it as part of their two-back defensive package.

"As it has gone to one-back and it’s gotten more spread out, if you’re playing that, it kind of forces you defensively to be in a one-linebacker set. You lose that second linebacker and depending on where the back lines up and what coverage you’re playing, then there’s some issues with that. If you’re in a one linebacker defense and you move the back over and the linebacker moves over then you’re kind of out-leveraged to the back side. If you don’t move him over, then you’re kind of out-leveraged when the back releases and that kind of thing.

"There are some issues there that, I’m not saying you can’t do it, but you have to work them out. In a two-back set, I’d say it was probably a lot cleaner and it always gave you an extra blitzer that was hard for the offense. Even if they seven-man protected on play-action, there was always an eighth guy there somewhere. You didn’t have to bring all eight; if you just brought the right one and they didn’t have him or somebody would have to have two guys and that creates some problems.

"I think that’s what Buddy, really, where the genius of that was. He had by formation a different combination and group of blitzes so depending on what formation you were in, then he ran a blitz that would attack that formation and then when you changed formations, then he would change blitzes. Now, plus the fact [he] had Dan Hampton, Richard Dent, Mike Singletary, [Otis] Wilson, [Wilbur] Marshall, that was a pretty good group there. You could have probably played a lot of things and that defense would have looked pretty good, especially when they put Hampton on the nose. That was pretty unblockable."

Amendola forced Brady to break a ping pong paddle in first week with Patriots

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Amendola forced Brady to break a ping pong paddle in first week with Patriots

Tom Brady has never been one to hide his emotions when he's on the field, and it sounds like he's not much different at the ping pong table.

When asked about Brady during an interview on ESPN's NFL Insiders show, Patriots receiver Danny Amendola recalled one story from his first few days at Gillette Stadium back in 2013.

"He's the best teammate," Amendola said. "He's so competitive . . . I remember one story, it was my first week in the building and he wanted to play some ping pong. I didn't know how to go about it. I knew I was better than him, [but] I didn't want to beat him too bad because I wanted him to throw me the ball.

"I knew I was better. Needless to say, his competitive nature unleashed a broken paddle by the end of it. It's the reason we love him, and the reason why he's the best quarterback."

That first encounter at the ping pong table didn't seem to hinder Amendola's relationship with Brady in the least. In their first game together, Amendola fought a groin injury and still ended up with 10 catches for 104 yards in a win over the Bills. Since then, when healthy -- and particularly since New England's most recent run to a Super Bowl title -- Amendola has established himself as one of Brady's most trusted targets.

Amendola and the rest of the Patriots are facing a start to the regular season without their No. 1 quarterback as Brady awaits a decision from the Second Circuit on whether or not it will rehear his case against the NFL. Should backup Jimmy Garoppolo take the reins in Brady's place, however, Amendola said he'll be confident. 

"He's a great player," Amendola explained. "He's been in the system a couple of years now and he's learned a lot. He's picked up everything that Tom has taught him and then also what coach [Bill] Belichick has to offer him. So we're all excited to see where he goes and see what the future holds for him."

Amendola says he feels 'really good' following offseason surgeries

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Amendola says he feels 'really good' following offseason surgeries

Danny Amendola did not participate in OTA or minicamp practices that were open to reporters, but that doesn't mean he's ailing. 

"I feel really good," Amendola said while paying ESPN's NFL Insiders show a visit. "I had a couple minor procedures done after the season. Everybody knows how long the season can be. I wanted to go into next season feeling as fresh and ready as I can."

Amendola joined a relatively long list of Patriots regulars -- including LeGarrette Blount, Julian Edelman, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon -- who were not spotted during spring workouts. There exists, however, some optimism that he'll be ready to participate in training camp.

Though Amendola has battled nagging injuries in three seasons with the Patriots, he's often played through them rather than miss time. The 30-year-old wideout has played in all but six regular-season games since 2013.

Amendola is coming off of his best year in a Patriots uniform, finishing 2015 with 65 catches for 648 yards and three scores. He now helps make up a receiving corps that will include Edelman, newly-acquired wideouts Chris Hogan and Nate Washington, Aaron Dobson, DeAndre Carter, Chris Harper and rookies Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien.