Patriots defense didn't bend or break vs. Jets


Patriots defense didn't bend or break vs. Jets

By Danny Picard

FOXBORO -- Bend but don't break.

That's been the phrase which has labeled this year's Patriots defense. It's not the sexiest slogan on the face of the earth, but entering Monday night's AFC East showdown with the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium, it had worked.

And it worked on nine different occasions.

But regardless of what they tell you, no NFL defense wants to go through an entire 17-week regular season plus-playoffs with a "bend but don't break" mentality. No matter how good your offense may be, that usually doesn't result in a hoist of the Lombardi Trophy at season's end.

The Patriots, regardless of what they tell you, are no exception.

Tom Brady and the rest of New England's offense put up 45 points on Monday night. It was good enough for a win against the Jets. On most nights, 45 points is good enough for a win against anybody.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that the Patriots offense is the team's biggest strength, and that it's the aspect of New England's game that has to step up and carry the load each and every week, if the Pats want to be playing in Dallas in February.

That was the thought, at least, entering Monday night. Hell, Patriots players were the first to tell you that.

"Bend but don't break," their defensive players would say, after each and every win this season.

But each and every time a Patriots defender would respond in those words, they'd imply that that slogan wasn't meant to be a permanent staple for this young defense.

On Monday night, they took that next step, and played their first 60-minute defensive game of the season, forcing Mark Sanchez to throw three interceptions, and allowing only three points in what was undoubtedly the biggest game of the year.

"That's something we've been talking about since the beginning of the year, 60 minutes," said Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington. "And I think today we finally put it together, a complete game for 60 minutes. We had one of the best weeks, the team felt, of practice all year. If we keep practicing like that and playing like that, we'll be in good shape."

"We used our time wisely," said safety James Sanders, who made New England's third interception of the game. "We prepared extremely well. Like coach Bill Belichick said after the game, we had our best week of practice of the whole year. And we put it together for 60 minutes. It was the first time all season we put it together for 60 minutes.

"Each week we're getting closer, we're getting closer, we're getting closer, and I think we went out there and made a nice statement tonight."

The Jets scored their only three points on a 49-yard field goal in the opening minutes of the second quarter. From there, it wasn't as if the Jets didn't have chances to put more points on the board. They did, but the Patriots' defense made three huge plays in the second half that killed any rallies that New York was going to make.

The first came on a Brandon Spikes interception, which ended a 60-yard drive on 2nd-and-8 inside the New England 10-yard line. Sanchez was looking for Braylon Edwards in the middle of the end zone, but Spikes leaped up and picked off the pass at around the 2-yard line, ending the threat, and leading to a 93-yard Patriots drive which resulted in a Wes Welker touchdown and a New England 31-3 lead.

On New York's very next possession, and just the second play of that possession, Sanchez tried to go deep down the right sideline to Edwards, and Devin McCourty picked off the underthrown ball at the New England's 6-yard line. The Patriots drove 94 yards, resulting in an Aaron Hernandez touchdown for the 38-3 Patriots lead.

Sanchez was intercepted for a third time on his next possession, when he threw a ball right into the hands of Sanders at New England's 44-yard line, who ran it down to the Jets' 28. It resulted in a 28-yard Patriots drive and a BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown run for a 45-3 lead.

"We got our butts whooped tonight," said Sanchez. "Flat out, that's the way you got to say it.

"They did a great job," added the Jets' quarterback. "McCourty made a great play on the underthrown ball. Spikes made a good play on a ball I threw a little too flat. And then, I don't even know who picked the other one, Sanders, he had a good play there. We didn't get the route communicator right, and I was throwing to a spot, and we weren't quite there, and then their pass rush did a really good job. So, across the board, they had a really good game. It looked like they played mistake-free, and then our mistakes really hurt us."

The Patriots hadn't played mistake-free football on the defensive end, for a full 60 minutes, all season long. Their goal was to get to that point slowly but surely.

Until they did so, they believed that the "bend but don't break" mentality was good enough -- given their high-powered offense -- to get into the playoffs.

On Monday night, New England's defense, once again, refused to break. This time, in the biggest game of the year.

But unlike the previous 11 games, there wasn't even a bend.

Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comdannypicard

Report: Patriots sign LB Jonathan Freeny to two-year extension


Report: Patriots sign LB Jonathan Freeny to two-year extension

The Patriots have signed backup linebacker and special teamer Jonathan Freeny to a two-year contract extension through 2018, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported.

Freeney, 27, was originally signed by the Patriots to a one-year free-agent deal in March 2015 after spending the first four years of his NFL career with the Miami Dolphins. He then earned a one-year extension last September and played 13 games, seven starts, with 50 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. 

"Jonathan is a very dependable player," Bill Belichick said on a conference call Saturday. "He is able to do a lot of different roles for us. He can play inside, outside, on the line of scrimmage and off the ball defensively. He has been a very valuable player for us in the kicking game, obviously with some size, a four-phase special teams player.

"He is one of our overall top workers in terms of the offseason program, preparation, training. He always does things right. He works hard, doesn't really say a lot, but is very dependable and consistent. I think everybody in the organization looks up to him."


49ers' Colin Kaepernick refusal to stand for national anthem ignites controversy


49ers' Colin Kaepernick refusal to stand for national anthem ignites controversy

Colin Kaepernick was already a noteable NFL player as the one-time, and now apparently former, face of the San Francisco 49ers.

The quarterback likely will gain even more notoriety for his stance on refusing to stand for the national anthem at a preseason game on Friday:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told Steve Wyche of NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

In a statement released Saturday, the NFL said players "are encouraged but not required to" stand for the anthem.

More here from Mike Florio of's Pro Football Talk on Kaepernick and Florio on the NFL's statement in response.



Curran: Impact of Brady's suspension already being felt on field

Curran: Impact of Brady's suspension already being felt on field

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It’s an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth that can’t just be blissfully ignored.

The pound of flesh Roger Goodell extracted from the Patriots in the form of Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension is starting to hurt.

Friday night, we watched the less-than-ideal quarterback rotation between Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo unfold. 

Garoppolo completed a 17-yard dart to Aaron Dobson on his first throw of the night. He completed eight of his next 14 for 40 yards – an ugly yards per attempt average of 3 – took a sack, threw a would-be pick and had a fumble. He looked skittish, indecisive and a thousand miles away from being in total command.

The Brady suspension was designed to punish the Patriots and it is.

Garoppolo played three ineffective series at the start of the game. He got the hook after that and the predictable power surge that came when Brady was on the field instead of the guy who – on this night – couldn’t get anything done was almost tangible.

Garoppolo’s first pass went to Dobson went for 17? Brady dialed up the same player and the play went for 37. Three of Brady’s six incompletions were drops (one was a near pick) and his 33-yard touchdown throw would have given every quarterback in the league except maybe Aaron Rodgers inadequacy issues.

I asked Garoppolo earlier in the week about trying to take command of the team while still remaining deferential to Brady’s status as TFB, future Hall of Famer. Garoppolo admitted it was tough.

How can it not be when the reminders are everywhere, including the pregame exit from the locker room and the trot onto the field. 

Brady is the leader. Jimmy is the long-term substitute. Substitutes don’t have it easy.

There is no solution for what’s going on. It is the ultimate, “Is what it is…” scenario. Can’t do anything about it, so everyone’s got to deal with it.

For Brady on Friday night, that meant staying apart from pretty much everyone for most of the first quarter.

When the Patriots offense was on the bench, he stood with arms folded and jaw set staring onto the field with the occasional glance up at the replay board or over at the area where Garoppolo, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and rookie Jacoby Brissett were going over plans.

When the Patriots offense took the field, Brady retreated to the bench and sat alone. There were two interactions during the first three series came when strength coach Moses Cabrera went to Brady and clapped him on the shoulder pads then rubbed his head as Brady sat on the bench. The other came when Brady sidled up to Brissett and asked him to play catch.

This is not open hostility. This is not Brady trying to undermine Garoppolo. But anyone expecting to see Brady putting an arm around Garoppolo every time he came off the field and publicly lend an ear to Jimmy isn’t getting that. Who knows, maybe Garoppolo doesn’t want that, maybe Brady thinks it’d be counter-productive, maybe McDaniels wants there to be one voice in Garoppolo’s ear during games. The fact is, it’s not cozy.

And you shouldn’t expect it to be. Brady is a quarterback who – while still at the height of his powers – is being forever reminded that the party for him is almost over.

Belichick himself did it the day he drafted Garoppolo. Consider again what was said: 

“The situation we have at quarterback, I think that we felt as an organization that we needed to address that to some degree in the future, so we’ll see how all that works out,” Belichick said during the 2014 draft when Garoppolo was taken in the second round. “I think we’re better off being early than being late at that position. We know what Ryan [Mallett’s] contract situation is. We know what Tom’s age and contract situation is. I don’t think you want to have one quarterback on your team. I don’t think that’s responsible to the entire team or the organization."

Age? Contract? Rather be early at that position than late?

Brady’s best method for combating speculation about when he’d be put out to pasture has been to own his position with peerless play and turn in – in my opinion – the best Super Bowl performance a quarterback’s ever had.

Not only is Brady miles away from being ripe for the picking, the only reason Garoppolo’s playing at all is because of a BS investigation and punishment that turned Brady’s life upside down and besmirched his name.

Garoppolo taking Brady’s reps, taking Brady’s team for a month is the punishment for Deflategate. Watching Jimmy G. play is the punishment Brady was handed. No wonder he’s standing with arms folded and jaw set.

If you simply look at the dynamics between players of Brady’s ilk and their would-be successors you realize that expecting Brady to go merrily along and show no signs of agitation is absurd. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, Joe Montana and Steve Young, Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. In each, the incumbent wasn’t real keen on wet-nursing the new guy.

Garoppolo’s case is a little different, though. He has no illusions about being better than Brady (that little 25-for-25 day from Brady in the intrasquad scrimmage earlier this month probably helped put that to bed). 

Garoppolo just wants to come in, play well, do his job and not step on any toes. He’s not looking to create a quarterback controversy. But he can’t afford to be deferential anymore or concerned about how the legend in his shadow feels or how he feels about the legend in his shadow.

He just has to go play. Something that Brady – very soon – won’t be able to do.