Felger: Everything old is new again for Patriots

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Felger: Everything old is new again for Patriots

By Michael Felger

That was an old-school Patriots win.

Old school as in special teams carrying the day.

Old school as in undrafted andor unheralded players making game-winning plays.

Old school as in maintaining composure on the road.

Old school as in playing well in the second half.

Old school as in feeling disrespected and actually doing something about it.

Not that I'd recomend making travel plans to Dallas (site of the Super Bowl) for February just yet. But at least the next two weeks should be a pleasant stretch for the Patriots and their fans after Monday's 41-14 thumping of the Dolphins on Monday Night Football.

There's nothing worse than spending two weeks bemoaning a loss. Instead, the Pats gave themselves something to build off while silencing their critics for at least the next 12 days.

Guess we'll have to spend the next two weeks ripping the Red Sox.

As for Monday, it was a vintage, 2001-era victory.

That's what was going through my head as I watched the Pats return a kickoff for a touchdown (Brandon Tate to open the second half), block a punt (by Patrick Chung) to set up a score, and block a field goal (again by Chung) to give them another touchdown return (by Kyle Arrington). Sort felt like the 2001 AFC title game in Pittsburgh. Remember?

That was also the feeling after witnessing the performances of Rob Ninkovich (two interceptions, sack), Danny Woodhead (36 rushing yards; 11-yard touchdown catch) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (76 rushing yards; touchdown). Future Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss, meanwhile, didn't even catch a single pass. It was fitting. Sort of felt like the days of David Patten, Bobby Hamilton and Jermaine Wiggins all over again.

When it comes to winning on the road and playing well in the clutch -- forget 2001. Coming up big in hostile environments was a hallmark of the Patriots right up through 2008.

And, finally, that element returned on Monday night, as the Pats outscored the Fish, 38-7, after halftime and recorded their biggest road win since beating the eventual AFC East champion Dolphins in Miami in November of 2008.

Remember, that game was under the direction of Matt Cassel.

For Tom Brady, you'd have to go back to Week 17 of 2007 for his last feel-good road win.

And you could tell he felt good about it. The shots ESPN got of Bill Belichick and Brady celebrating in the final two minutes constitute what I call Patriots porn for the footy-pajama crowd. It was quite a sight. And it was deserved. Belichick reportedly spent much of the past week letting his players know how much heat they were taking in the media, and the players were able to turn that around and use it as motivation.

The Pats used to do that, too. A lot.

Remember?

Felger's report card will post Wednesday. Email Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursday. Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Report: Patriots fill open roster spot with former Browns DL Hughes

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Report: Patriots fill open roster spot with former Browns DL Hughes

The Patriots opened a roster spot by waiving defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, but they won't be adding a quarterback to take his place. 

According to Field Yates of ESPN, the team has swapped one defensive tackle for another by adding former Browns big man John Hughes, a 6-foot-2, 320-pounder who played under former assistant to the Patriots coaching staff Mike Lombardi when Lombardi was Cleveland's general manager in 2013. 

Hughes was released last week after spending just over four years with the team that drafted him in the third round in 2012. He signed a four-year extension with the Browns last season that was worth $12.8 million. 

With the Patriots, Hughes figures to work in as part of the rotation on the interior of the defensive line along with Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and rookie third-round pick Vincent Valentine. Unlike Johnson, who was more of a penetrating pass-rusher, Hughes should factor in as more of a space-eating type. He has 5.5 career sacks in 53 games. 

Johnson is the latest in a long line of Browns who played under Lombardi to end up in New England. The two most notable Patriots who spent 2013 in Cleveland are defensive end Jabaal Sheard and running back Dion Lewis. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who arrived in New England in a trade this summer, was drafted by Lombardi's front office as the No. 6 overall pick in 2013.

Pats exploit 'element of unknown' with Garoppolo or Brissett at QB

Pats exploit 'element of unknown' with Garoppolo or Brissett at QB

There’s no way to spin rookie Jacoby Brissett starting a game rather than three-year NFL veteran Jimmy Garoppolo or future Hall of Famer Tom Brady as preferable.
 
But can the disadvantages be mitigated? Can the fact there is no “book” on a player be helpful?
 
“I think there’s always an element of the unknown when you’re dealing with a player or something you haven’t seen or scouted as much,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on a conference call Monday afternoon. “I don’t know if there’s an advantage there, it’s just that you don’t have as much information on a player or on some scheme that they may use, which then forces you to figure some things out as the game goes along and do some quick self-scouting as you move through the first cquarter, the first half, whatever it is, just to make sure that if it is something new you haven’t seen before, if it is a player that you haven’t played against and don’t have a lot of volume of tape on, that you have an opportunity to evaluate quickly what is going on.

"What’s happening in the game? How much of an impact is that player having? Are they trying to  do something that’s disrupting what you’re trying to do with their scheme? I think that happens a lot of weeks during the course of the year based on health and availability, new players, guys being called up, someone that just got signed and you don’t really have a lot of experience watching them play in their system. I would say that’s a common occurrence for us.”
 
With a fullback or UDFA guard pressed into duty, there’s not a helluva lot that will be altered in terms of scheme. With players like Garoppolo and Brissett, though, the Patriots' long-established offense can take on an entirely different look if different areas are emphasized.
 
For instance, jet sweep is a play the team won’t use much with Tom Brady except as a “keep ‘em honest” on the edges kind of play. With Garoppolo, quickness when he gets outside the pocket has to be respected so if he fakes that jet sweep and rolls to the outside, he’s a run-pass threat with speed and downfield accuracy. With Brissett, he’s a threat with elusiveness, size and power as a runner. Additionally, if the Patriots wanted to try the old Elway Throwback to the opposite sideline, Brissett may have more arm power than either Brady or Garoppolo.
 
McDaniels said the Patriots aren’t looking necessarily for ways to “surprise” opponents as much as they are looking for ways to accentuate players’ strengths.  
 
“We’ve got to take the guys that we get to play with, based on health and other factors, and then we consider the defense that we’re getting ready to play against, and the great players and the scheme that they use, and then we try to formulate the right plan to allow our players to go out there and play fast, play well, and do the things that suit their talents the best,” McDaniels explained. “I don’t think that our mindset has changed.

"Some of the variables have changed from one week to the next, which is always the case,  and of course, when you get a group of guys a plan and then you work so hard to get ready for Sunday or Thursday night and go out there and watch them play and execute and take care of the ball and do the things you need to do to try to win, and then they enjoy it so much, that’s really the thing that you take the most satisfaction from as a coach.”