Curran: Pats will take that as a complement

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Curran: Pats will take that as a complement

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - Let's clear this out of the way first. This is NOT a love letter to the Patriots defense. They've allowed 958 yards of offense to be rolled up on them, 762 through the air and 45 points. On Sunday, the Chargers went 10 for 12 on third down. Lotta work to do before all the new additions are making the expected impact. Long way to go before the secondary is something opposing quarterbacks don't have to wipe drool off their chins while watching game film. But there were signals Sunday that the ever-present question of, "Can this defense help Tom Brady when he has an off day?" may have a positive answer. They did it twice Sunday. The Chargers have a habit of gift-wrapping games for the Patriots. In the 2006 playoffs (Marlon McCree fumble after a pick), the 2007 AFC Championship (four red zone trips, seven points), the 2010 regular season (footballs left lying on the ground). Sunday was somewhat similar with four San Diego turnovers. But at least this time around they were forced errors. And the two biggies - one of which didn't count as a turnover - helped directly on the scoreboard. In the second quarter, the Chargers had first-and-goal at the Patriots 4, threatening to go up 14-10. On first down, Josh Barett knocked Ryan Mathews out of bounds after a gain of three. On second down, Mike Tolbert got stacked up for no gain by Kyle Love. On third down, Philip Rivers' scramble got jammed up by Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. And on fourth down, Mayo came up huge with a stop of the armadillo in shoulder pads, Tolbert. "Huge," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. "Spilled the ball outside, looked like we got a good push inside and the runner never really got turned up because he ended up going sideways and we were able to make the play. It was a huge play. It was a first-and-goal on the three or something like that; they were down there on all four plays, so it was huge for us."Asked about the play, Tolbert said, "It was just, things happened unexpectedly. I couldn't get around the corner."Hand the ball to Tom Brady, even with the goal line 99 yards away, and good things often occur. They did this time as well, as New England needed 10 plays before Brady stuck it in to Rob Gronkowski for a 10-yard score making it 17-7. The Patriots got it back for Brady again when Wilfork came up with a pick and long return just before the half that led to a 47-yard field goal as time expired before the break. "I think we stress complementary football and situational football, like the end of half situation that we got," said Brady. "Look, if the defense makes a huge stop like that, we have to do something with it. If they get us the ball, we have to do something with it. Honestly, there were times today that I thought we could have done a better job of that and we need to do a better job of that."The Patriots defense bailed out Brady and the offense again in the fourth. After San Diego trimmed the score to 20-14, New England was at midfield and driving with its no-huddle offense. But Brady made a quick decision at the line on third-and-4 thinking he could steal a first down with a quick throw to Wes Welker. Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips read the play and tipped the pass. Incomplete. With punter Zoltan Mesko nursing an injured left knee, the Patriots decided to go for it on fourth down. And when they didn't get it, Brady's impulse decision to go quickly on third down loomed larger as San Diego took over. But three plays later, Wilfork tripped Tolbert, Mayo stripped the ball and Rob Ninkovich recovered to get the ball back. Four plays later, Brady found Gronkowski from 17 yards out and - after the two-point conversion - it was 28-14. "It was a great challenge for us and we stepped out to the plate," Mayo said of the forced fumble. "Once again I just think it shows the confidence Coach Belichick has in us. We said that a couple of years ago with the Colts game (the infamous fourth-and-2). Same exact situation and we stepped up to the plate today."They didn't step to the plate against the Colts, though. And last season against the Chargers in a very similar situation - a failed fourth-and-1 from their own 49 with two minutes left while holding a three-point lead - they kinda failed too. San Diego picked up 17 yards and had a game-tying field goal attempt hit the upright with 27 seconds left. This time, the defense did make a play. "I tried to do too much," Tolbert lamented. "Get four yards, keep the ball in my hands. That's allI can do."But when you lose the way we did, on my hand - you got a good drive going, you can take the lead and I put the ball on the ground. You can't do that. I owe my coaches and my teammates better. I'll be better."The Patriots' defense has a long way to go. But one thing they can say they did "better" on Sunday was save the offense's bacon when it slipped into the fire. Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran.

Curran: To gauge Patriots' plans for Jimmy G, look to Brissett

Curran: To gauge Patriots' plans for Jimmy G, look to Brissett

When trying to figure out what the Patriots will ultimately do with Jimmy Garoppolo, forget about the speculation and instead focus on the little things the team does. 

Like how they are tending to Jacoby Brissett. 

After having thumb surgery on Oct. 7, Brissett was put on IR. But the team used its one "Get off of IR free card" on Brissett and he's been practicing with the team for the past couple of weeks while not taking up a roster spot. 

That alone isn't compelling evidence that he's the backup-in-waiting and Garoppolo's about to be packed up and shipped out, argued my compadre, Senator Phil Perry. The team had no other players on IR that they could use the designation on at the time. Why not use it on Brissett?

Prior to that, though, we've seen Brissett accompanying the team to away games including the cross-country junket to San Francisco. A reason? Since the Patriots played three straight at Gillette at the start of the season when Brissett was the direct backup to Garoppolo, he didn't get a good look at the road operation and the tempo of being the visiting team. How things work on flights, in meetings, at opposing stadiums and on the sidelines is worth getting a promising young players' eyes on. Also, getting his offensive teammates used to having him around is probably an even bigger benefit. It's not unprecedented to have IR players travel but its not conventional practice either. 

With so many quarterback-needy teams around the league, Garoppolo is perhaps the most attractive option out there. By the end of this year, he will have apprenticed three seasons behind the best quarterback of all-time in a sophisticated offense for a program that's as demanding as any in the league. In the 10 quarters he was able to play as a starter in place of Tom Brady, he was sensational.

He got hurt and that's not great. But any team making a deal for him that has concerns about his durability can take him for a spin for one season. Garoppolo is on the books for $825K in 2017 and then his contract is up. The team that dealt for him can franchise him if they need another season to think on it. 

I don't think the Patriots are itching to move Garoppolo. They know they are sitting comfortably with a stack of the most valuable commodity in the sport -- good quarterbacks (or at least one great one and two promising ones) - piled in front of them. They can let the game come to them. 

If it does, as former Patriots executive and Bill Belichick consigliere Mike Lombardi thinks it will, the Patriots can rest easy dealing Garoppolo knowing that they already did advance work getting Brissett up to speed. 

Brady, Harbaugh found common ground on plane ride back from Michigan

Brady, Harbaugh found common ground on plane ride back from Michigan

FOXBORO -- What could have been an awkward plane ride for Tom Brady and John Harbaugh was made less so thanks to a high school lacrosse player. 

Brady and Harbaugh shared a private plane back from Michigan where Jim Harbaugh and his University of Michigan program put on an event for National Signing Day. About a year earlier, Brady told a room full of reporters that Harbaugh and his coaching staff should study the rule book and "figure it out" after hearing that they were pretty upset about the unusual formations the Patriots ran during their AFC Divisional Round win over Baltimore. 

They may not have been on the best of terms.

"I was pissed off," he told ESPN's Ian O'Connor before the start of this season. "It was uncalled for. And the rules are deeper than that, and I know the rules, and I stand by why that play shouldn't have been allowed. ... So yeah, that should never have been said."

But on the flight was Harbaugh's daughter Alison, a high school lacrosse player. When Brady took some time to share a few thoughts on competitiveness with her, he and Harbaugh found common ground.

"We had a lot of fun," Harbaugh said of the flight. "I don't know if he's talked about that at all, but we ended up sharing a plane ride along with my daughter and a couple of his people, friends of his. We just had a chance to just talk for a couple hours. And really more than anything, Alison got a chance to listen to Tom Brady talk about competing and what it takes to be great at what you do.

"And one of the funny things about it was, he was so nice to her. He gets off and they go, and we get back on the plane and we're talking, and she says something like, 'Boy, Tom really is a nice guy.' And I look at here and go, 'Tom?' I'm thinking 'Mr. Brady' would have been more appropriate. She said, 'He said to call me Tom.' I got a kick out of that.

"It was good. Lot of respect for him and a lot of respect for what he's accomplished. He's very tough to compete against. The best quarterback that's played, certainly in this era, without question in my mind. That's how I would rank him. And it's just another tough challenge to have to play against him."