Felger: Take it and run

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Felger: Take it and run

By Michael Felger

Four from Felger following the Patriots' near-collapse in San Diego . . .

Overall a very good win. It didn't feel that way in the immediate aftermath of the Pats' fourth-quarter collapse, of course, but when you step back, you have to be pleased. The Pats were ripe for a letdown following last week's war with Baltimore (see how the Ravens struggled at home against winless Buffalo?) while the Chargers were poised for their usual October breakout. The Pats had schlepped cross country and the Chargers were back at home playing for their season. Then Tom Brady and the offense came out and played like crap for most of the early going. It was just shaping up as one of those days.

So to come out of that circumstance with a victory and remain tied for the best record in football . . . take it and run.

Yes, the Chargers are pathetic. With any sort of coaching or composure they win that game going away. But this is nothing new. AFC teams have been taking advantage of Charger ineptness dating well back into the Marty Schottenheimer Era. The Pats used it to make the AFC title game in 2006. The Jets did the exact same thing last year. It's what the Chargers do.

The Pats just aren't talented enough to go on a deep playoff run this year without some luck. In fact, there may not be a single team in the NFL this year that is. So the Pats were handed some good fortune on Sunday.

In hindsight, given the opponent, that wasn't all that surprising.

Bill Belichick dodged the biggest bullet, of course. He never got past the fourth-and-2 in Indianapolis last season (the Pats went 4-5 after the call, including the Colts loss), and the comparisons to what happened in San Diego are just too hard to ignore.

Once again he showed little faith in the defense. Once again, he put the game in the hands of the offense. Once again, the move backfired (thanks in large part to BenJarvus Green-Ellis missing the hole), only this time he was saved by San Diego's ineptitude.

I would have punted, because I think at some point the defense is going to have to win you a game. But it wasn't a terrible decision; just a questionable one. And if the Pats had lost it would have been questioned hard.

Or at least harder. Something tells me I'll still be getting a few calls on it.

To me, the bigger coaching faux pas came when the Pats were caught napping on San Diego's fourth-quarter onside kick. It was hardly an automatic situation, but it was close enough (San Diego down 10 points with 7:23 remaining) that the Pats should have been more alert.

If it was too early for the hands team, then fine. But the up-men should have been waiting for it. Instead, the front line began its retreat as Kris Brown approached the ball -- and it cost them.

Call it a teachable moment for special-teams coach Scott O'Brien and Belichick. And once again, thank the football gods it came against Norv Turner.

The first half was the worst 30 minutes of football I've seen Tom Brady play in a long time. He was 6-of-16 for 35 yards while the Pats offense was 0-for-6 on third down, numbers that accurately portray the futility. Yes, the protection was bad (three sacks in the first half). And yes, his receivers weren't exactly getting separation (Deion Branch's bus must have been late). But Brady still threw some balls that just defied explanation.

He threw flat on a double-reverse to Branch on the first series. He made a bad decision going to a blanketed Sammy Morris on the second series, then drilled a ball at Brandon Tate's feet the next snap. He knuckled a hellacious little pass to Wes Welker early in the second quarter, after which he sailed one wide to Hernandez over the middle. He threw way behind Welker just before the half. Even the balls he completed, such as the touchdown to Rob Gronkowski and an earlier ball to the big tight end, were off the mark.

But as was the case last week, Brady and the offense got better as the game went on. They marched down the field and reached the end zone on a 17-play drive to open the third quarter and again went down the field (nine plays, 59 yards) to kick a field goal early in the fourth. Their third series ended in the failed Green-Ellis run.

And, once again, Branch didn't turtle. He kept working to get open and eventually broke through for four catches for 39 yards, all in the second half.

Meanwhile, Randy Moss caught three balls in the Vikings' loss at Green Bay.

The Vikings are now 1-2 since Moss got there while the Pats are 2-0 since the trade.

Just saying.

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

Brady nutritional manual goes on sale, features avocado ice cream

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Brady nutritional manual goes on sale, features avocado ice cream

It was only a matter of time, right? You can finally eat the way Tom Brady does now that his nutritional manual has gone on sale. 

The Patriots quarterback excitedly shared the news with his fans Wednesday on Facebook, directing them to his website TB12store.com. There they could find a few snap-shot looks of the laser-etched maple cover -- natural maple, obviously -- and its contents.

I wanted to share with you guys another step toward achieving your peak performance. Check it out you will love it! #ididntcomethisfartoonlycomethisfar

Posted by Tom Brady on Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Brady's description of the $200 manual explains: "TB12™ Nutrition Manual is a limited-edition 'living document' containing information about our core TB12 nutritional philosophies and featuring a library of 89 seasonally-inspired recipes that you can use to support your TB12-aligned nutrition plan.

"The TB12 Nutrition Manual is designed to be modified and expanded over time using its unique screw post binding: as we periodically update this manual with new or modified recipes, we will send additional pages to all purchasers of the manual."

The recipes inside teach readers how to make such dishes as sweet potato gnocchi with escarole, carrot cake and avocado ice cream, the last of which has become one of Brady's most well-known indulgences ever since his "body coach" and business partner Alex Guerrero told the New York Times about it for a profile that was published last year. 

Patriots contract dance is a daunting one

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Patriots contract dance is a daunting one

We are in the Patriots’ silent spring. Aside from the ongoing mud wrestle Tom Brady’s engaged in with the NFL and the noise surrounding that, it’s quiet with the football team.

Minimal personnel outflow. An interesting haul of B-list free agents. A workmanlike draft of players who won’t likely make much impact in their rookie seasons.

But this calm precedes a roster storm the team is facing over the next nine months.

Nine players of major consequence are entering the final year of their contracts. On offense, it’s not a crisis. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is the only expiring contract.

Defensively? Different story. Linebackers Donta Hightower and Jamie Collins, defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard, defensive backs Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and Malcolm Butler (restricted free agent) are all expiring. As is special teams ace and captain Matthew Slater.

But wait, there’s still more. A bunch of the free agent/trade imports the Patriots made are here on one-year deals: tight ends Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor, defensive linemen Chris Long and Terrance Knighton and guard Jonathan Cooper.

Add in OL Marcus Cannon, RB LeGarrette Blount, DL Alan Branch, WR Aaron Dobson, RB Brandon Bolden, LB Jonathan Freeny, FB James Develin, WR Chris Harper, TE Michael Williams, G Cameron Fleming and lower-tier free agent signings like DT Markus Kuhn, WR Nate Washington, LB Ramon Humber, CB E.J. Biggers and DE Frank Kearse and overall there are 30 (!!) players with expiring deals.

A few of those players won’t even make it through the summer with the team. And the fact others, like Bennett, Long, Knighton, Cooper, Blount and Washington, are on one-year “show us” deals isn’t bad. It’s smart.

But the volume of consequential players – especially on defense – who’ll be looking for new deals means there’s an interesting dance for Bill Belichick and Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio to engage in.

The Patriots have to do what’s best for their football team. But some of the players whose contracts are up are obligated to do what’s best for themselves business-wise.

And a lot of them are in line for their second contracts. They are facing what will probably be the most pivotal financial period in their lives over the next few months.

Consider a player like Jamie Collins. A second-round pick in 2013, his initial contract was for $3.76M. You take out taxes, agent fees, expenses, etc. and how much money do you think Collins has to show for the three seasons in which he’s been a rising star in the league? Certainly not enough to feel financially comfortable for the rest of his life.

But – barring catastrophic injury – Collins’ next contract is going to be a huge financial haul that should set up him and his family for decades.

By comparison, Lavonte David of the Buccaneers signed a five-year $50M contract with more than $25M guaranteed last August. Both play outside linebacker at a high level. Both were initially second-round picks (David, No. 58 in 2012; Collins, No. 52 in 2013).

Then there are players like Harmon and Ryan – good rising players who are not going to be paid like stars and may never be Pro Bowlers but are going to play in the league for a long time. Last season, Ryan took a huge step forward, starting opposite Malcolm Butler, putting up some outstanding advanced statistics and increasing his profile around the league. Harmon had a similar year. Ryan will have made $2.77M by the end of his rookie deal; Harmon will make $2.71M.

Unlike Collins, who is a freak talent and is going to get teams throwing tens of millions at him, Ryan and Harmon have a little more uncertainty. If the Patriots present them with offers prior to this year, do they take the security of knowing they are program mainstays or do they wait it out and test the market.

Ryan can look at a player like Buster Skrine who signed a $25M deal with the Jets last year and say, “Whoa… that could be me.” Harmon will have to see the offer he gets from the Patriots and compare it to the one the team gave his good friend Devin McCourty last year ($47.5M). Is Harmon half the player McCourty is? One-third? Will another team see in Harmon the potential to be comparable to McCourty?

Hightower, a former first-round pick, is more financially set than the other guys staring at second contracts. Hightower was down to make $7.724M from 2012-15. The Patriots picked up his fifth-year option for 2016 which will pay him $7.75M. So he’s in position to make more than $15M by the end of the season. He’s another player who could command more than $50M in a new deal if he goes to free agency. Would he be willing to take the security of staying in New England for a deal that may not be as lucrative as what he could command on the open market?

That’s what Jerod Mayo did and it proved to be the right move. Mayo – who came into the league under the previous CBA that was more lucrative for rookie first-rounders – agreed to a five-year extension in December of 2011 before his fourth NFL season was up, 15 months before he would have become a free agent. The extension was worth $48.5M. Mayo wound up on season-ending IR in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and he renegotiated his deal a couple of times but there was good security built into that deal. He retired recently having made more than $42M in the NFL.

We could go on with individual situations – Malcolm Butler could reasonably expect to make more than Janoris Jenkins who signed with the Giants for $62M this offseason, but Butler’s two years from unrestricted free agency and making less than $1M in salary this year; Jabaal Sheard needed to prove himself after a slow start to his career in Cleveland led him to a the two-year, $11M deal he signed with the Patriots. He’s en route to doing that and is – thanks to signing that short-term deal – in line to get another crack to cash in while in his prime.

And nobody should begrudge these players for doing so. We all know by now the future physical peril they put themselves in and we will never run out of stories related to young men who blew their money thinking it would never dry up. The players owe it to themselves and their families to make sure they are compensated as well as they can be.

Belichick, Caserio and the Krafts are aware of that too. Their chore is to do right by as many of these guys as they can against a hard salary cap and make sure the team isn’t mortgaged to its eyeballs.

It’s as complex a contractual puzzle as I can recall.

Stork: 'So far so good' working with Scarnecchia

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Stork: 'So far so good' working with Scarnecchia

CAMBRIDGE -- Brian Stork and several of his teammates on the Patriots offensive line will have to deal with a new voice in their positional meetings this season.

As a fourth-round draft pick in 2014, Stork is one of a handful of Tom Brady's personal protectors who've never played for Dante Scarnecchia before this season. Now that Scarnecchia is back on staff as Patriots offensive line chief after two years of retirement, the third-year center and his teammates are getting accustomed to their new boss. 

"So far so good," said Stork, who spoke to reporters at Harvard Satdium following a football clinic for disabled students run by AccesSportAmerica. "Just do what I'm told and try to get better."

Patriots offensive tackles Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon as well as guard Josh Kline were all on the team during Scarnecchia's last season in 2013 so they have some sense of what they're in for.

The others -- including Stork, center David Andrews, guards Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson, Joe Thuney and Ted Karras and tackles LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming -- will find themselves following orders from someone other than Dave DeGuglielmo, whose contract wasn't renewed at the end of last season, for the first time in their pro careers. 

It might be a bit of a wakeup call, according to one former Patriots offensive lineman who knows Scarnecchia well.

“[Scarnecchia will] just [bring] a demanding style, which he coaches with," Logan Mankins told the Providence Journal earlier this offseason. "He’ll always have his guys prepared and if they’re not prepared he’ll find someone that is prepared. That’s the best thing about Dante. Those young guys have a rude awakening coming. They have never had anyone like him. They better be in shape because he’s going to test you."

Though many of the offensive linemen on the Patriots haven't played for Scarnecchia, they knew who he was before he was re-hired. Even in retirement, he helped the Patriots during the pre-draft process in each of the last two years, working out linemen and reporting back to coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio. 

Scarnecchia is close with Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett so both Stork and Jackson have interacted with him in the past. He also worked out Mason during Mason's pro day last year. 

Phase Two of the Patriots offseason training program began on Monday, meaning that coaches and players are now able to work together on the practice field to perform drills and do some instruction. While offense versus defense sessions are prohibited, it's the first time Scarnecchia will be able to teach some of his new pupils. 

From the sounds of it, Stork likes the way it's going.

"It's nice to be home," he said. "I definitely missed it. It's great to be back with all the guys and just getting ready for next year. Definitely really excited."