Patriots make Gates a complete non-factor

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Patriots make Gates a complete non-factor

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn FOXBORO When you're as big as Antonio Gates, every week you expect to get your share of attention.

But this?

If you didn't know better, you would have thought the San Diego Chargers tight end was traded to the New England Patriots the way he was draped all game by Patriots jerseys.

While San Diego racked up 470 yards of total offense against New England, not a single yard was gained by Gates as the Patriots pulled away for a 35-21 win.

"They made it difficult for me to get off the ball," said Gates, who had zero catches and just one ball thrown his way all game. "They made it difficult for me to make a play on a ball. Every time I looked around, there were two guys around me. They had a game plan. They wanted to take me out of the game, and that's exactly what they did."

The Patriots used a number of players to defend Gates, including defensive back Sergio Brown, whose interception came in the third quarter while he was defending Gates.

"We hit him as much as we could because we knew we couldn't let him get started on his routes," Brown said. "Because as he builds up speed, he runs better routes as he gets up the field. So we try to get him as close to the line of scrimmage as possible."

Gates added, "They did a wonderful job re-routing me. You can't say enough about their game plan."

San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers is known for spreading the ball around, particularly to his tight end and his running backs.

In San Diego's 24-17 Week 1 win over Minnesota, Rivers connected with eight different receivers. His top three targets? Running back Mike Tolbert (9 catches, 58 yards), Gates (8 catches, 74 yards) and running back Ryan Mathews (3 catches, 73 yards).

Despite shutting Gates out completely, Pats coach Bill Belichick said the game plan was to simply "compete against him."

Belichick added, "The guys that covered Gates, Patrick Chung, Sergio -- the linebackers tried to jam them. We tried to make it hard for them, but you just try to compete against him. You can't really stop him."

The attention given to Gates opened things up for Vincent Jackson, who had 10 catches for 172 yards -- both career highs.

Gates said there wasn't really anything the Patriots did that totally caught him off-guard other than the steady dose of attention they paid to him from the opening kick-off until the game ended.

"I felt they were going to make it hard for me to release," Gates said. "But they did that, and more. They made it difficult for me to get off the ball. They made it difficult for me to make a play on a ball. Every time I looked around, there were two guys around me. They had a game plan."

Gates added, "I thought I would still have opportunities to make a play. I tried to stay patient, but they had a terrific game plan."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Does Garoppolo need to play Thursday? ‘It’s not my call,’ he says

Does Garoppolo need to play Thursday? ‘It’s not my call,’ he says

FOXBORO - Hard to put a shine on the clunker that Jimmy Garoppolo submitted Friday night in Carolina. Another red zone interception dropped, a fumble recovered by a teammate and almost half (four) of his nine completions caught behind the line of scrimmage. 

Not exactly what the Patriots were hoping for in the third, and perhaps, last preseason outing for their Week 1 starter. Which raises the question: does Garoppolo need to play Thursday in the Jersey swamp?

“It’s really not my call,” he said. “You always want to be out there with your guys. It’s just the nature of the beast; you’re a competitor, you want to be out there, but whatever Coach [Bill Belichick] asks me to do, I’ll do.”

Were Belichick to decide to keep Garoppolo on ice, that would mean the third-year pro would go 16 days between his ugly appearance in Carolina and opening night at Arizona. That is less than ideal. In fact, it seems like a bad idea for an unproven player in dire need of as many reps as can be afforded him (which is why playing Tom Brady last week still makes no sense in this man’s opinion).

“We have to take that into consideration, too,” admitted Bill Belichick. “Again, whether that overrides something or it doesn’t, we’ll just have to see, but yeah, it’s definitely a consideration.”

“I really don’t even think about it like that, to be honest,” said Garoppolo. “Whatever they ask me to do, they ask me to do. “

Garoppolo insists he found out he was starting against the Panthers with only slightly more lead time than he was given the week prior against Chicago. So, there’s a good chance if he plays this week that he won’t know until the day of, which is certainly an acquired taste.

“At first it was a weird - I can remember back in my rookie year it was a weird thing not knowing,” he said. “You just get used to it after a while, mixing and matching with all the different guys, knowing guys’ tendencies and how they play, and you just react to it, really.”

If Garoppolo does get that chance, the Pats need him to react more decisively and more confidently than his last time out. In a summer of unknowns, that’s one thing we can be sure of.

 

 

Branch: 'I ain't saying a damn thing' about reason behind suspension

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Branch: 'I ain't saying a damn thing' about reason behind suspension

FOXBORO -- Alan Branch was suspended by the Patriots for about a week, a period spanning from before the team's second preseason game against the Bears to just before its third preseason game against the Panthers. When asked about Branch's time away from the field, Patriots coach Bill Belichick called it "a club matter." 

Branch was back in the Patriots locker room on Monday following his first practice since being reinstated, and he followed his coach's lead when it came to shedding light on the reasoning for his week-long departure.

"If Bill ain't telling ya'll, I ain't saying a damn thing, I guarantee that," Branch said. "If ya'll looking for something from me, it ain't happening. I'm just happy to be out here and get ready to play against the Giants. Glad to be out here with my teammates. We're all grinding for the same goal so that's where we're at right now."

Branch was asked if his team-issued suspension was the source of any embarrassment now that he's back.

"I ain't got nothing to be embarrassed about," he said. "Everything's copacetic. My teammates are good. The coaches are good. There's no reason for me to be embarrassed at all."

Branch did acknowledge, however, that the time he missed could have been better spent. While the Patriots practiced without him, he worked out on his own in order to try to stay in shape. At Monday's practice, he was not part of a group that went down to a separate field to do conditioning following warm-ups -- perhaps an indication that his conditioning was where the team expected it to be upon his return. 

"Everything in life is a learning experience," Branch said of his suspension. "I could definitely say it's a learning experience. Every snap on the field is valuable. Every one I missed out there, you know, other people are getting better while I was, you know, staying stagnant or going down with the personal workouts I was doing. I missed some valuable time out there."

Branch is a a big personality on a team that typically takes a business-like approach to the field. Oftentimes during training camp or pre-game warm-ups, when there is music playing within earshot, Branch is not afraid to break out a dance move or two. He also is one of the few Patriots who chooses not to participate in organized team activities in the spring, opting instead to show up for mandatory minicamp before returning home until having to report for training camp. 

Might his seemingly care-free style wear on teammates or coaches, he was asked?

"You gotta ask them, man," he answered. "I'm out here to have fun. I don't want to play football and be mad. If someone else has an issue, you gotta ask them. It ain't my problem."

Signed as a free agent after he was released by the Bills in 2014, Branch has made an impact as a consistent contrbutor on the interior of New England's defensive line. He made 17 starts for the Patriots last season, including both playoff contests, often lining up next to former first-round pick Malcom Brown. 

A second-round selection out of Michigan back in 2007, Branch has had a long and productive career, providing teams with an impossible-to-teach 6-foot-6, 350-pound frame. With the Patriots, though, he's had a bit of a revival as 2015 was his second-highest season-long grade he's ever received from Pro Football Focus, behind only the season he had in 2011 as a member of the Seahawks.

"I love it here," he said. "Love the guys in the lcoker room. Love everything. The atmosphere, the winning attitude. Everything about being here is awesome so I love this place."

The fourth preseason game is traditionally a game that's used by teams to get a look at players vying for final roster spots. Branch seems to be a safe bet to make the roster based on his skill set and experience, but he said he's hoping to play against the Giants on Thursday after having missed each of the last two preseason games.

"Definitely. Like I said before, every snap on the field is valuable experience and time missed if you don't get it," he said. "Every rep I get out there, I'm going to use my full ability to make sure I get everything I can out of it."

Belichick taking wait-and-see approach with Stork's status

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Belichick taking wait-and-see approach with Stork's status

FOXBORO -- Bryan Stork has had a whirlwind few days. 

On Wednesday, news broke that Stork had been informed of his release. Then before that move became official, the Patriots and Redskins worked out a trade to send the third-year center to Washington. After that, indications were that Stork was retiring, and the Redskins were unsure as to whether or not he would even report. 

Stork eventually made up his mind, tweeted that he was ready to start a new chapter in his career -- a tweet he has since deleted -- and made his way to the Redskins.

The latest update on Stork's saga is that he failed his physical and that his right have reverted back to the Patriots. When asked about the situation, Bill Belichick chose to wait on illuminating the media of his plans since the picture was still a bit hazy.

"I don’t know if that’s official," Belichick said of Stork's rights. "That sounds like the way it is going to go."

Asked if the Patriots would be releasing Stork, as they originally intended, Belichick replied, "Well, we’ll find out exactly what the story is and whenever that is we’ll make the best decision that we can."

Stay tuned.