Patriots still working it out at cornerback

Patriots still working it out at cornerback

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Darius Butler was in time out on Sunday.

The cornerback had a rough night at New Meadowlands Stadium versus the Jets in Week 2, missing half-a-dozen catches, giving Braylon Edwards a touchdown, and later letting Edwards catch a conversion over his head. Back-to-back pass-interference penalties added to Butler's troubles and earned him a seat on the bench this Sunday. Instead, second-year player Kyle Arrington got the start opposite rookie Devin McCourty. And when the Patriots used a nickelback, it was Jonathan Wilhite.

Butler only saw three plays in the game and neither helped his cause.

During Buffalo's second drive of the second quarter, the CB promptly surrendered a nine-yard completion to Roscoe Parrish that was good for a first down. It could have been worse had Brandon Meriweather not turned the juking receiver back toward Butler's direction.

Butler failed to set the edge again just two plays later and allowed C.J. Spiller to rip off a 19-yard run. Belichick yanked his struggling corner immediately.

And so Arrington -- who learned he would start just late Friday -- and McCourty were left to shoulder the load. They did all right. Right after Butler left the game, Arrington played a little jump ball against Lee Evans in Buffalo's end zone to successfully keep the ball away and six points off the board.

But the Bills got those points on the very next play. After showing such great awareness, Arrington got blocked next time out and allowed the Bills to run a touchdown in along the edge.

Belichick said after the game that divvying up minutes was simply about going with what works. "Kyle has been practicing well, so we thought we'd give him an opportunity there to get in the game," the coach said. "He made a couple plays, so we kind of stayed with it.''

Some things were definitely working for McCourty. The CB had a physical first half. As the clock ticked down in the second half, he posted a solid open-field tackle of Evans after a gain of four.

If nothing else, the Patriots needed to make sure there were no big gains after a Buffalo reception and McCourty did well to read routes and stay on his man to ensure this. A thunderous hit on Marshawn Lynch in the fourth quarter for no gain further asserted his skill as an open-field tackler. Only linebacker Jerod Mayo and safety Patrick Chung had more tackles than McCourty's five.

So while it's not surprising that Darius Butler was a no-show for the post-game media scrum, it's surprising that McCourty dodged reporters as well. Belichick praised the first-year player, however cautiously.

"Devin's playing hard," Belichick said. "He's a tough kid, really studies the material and tries to play the defense the way we want it to be played. There are things he or any rookie needs to learn but . . . he tackles well, runs well. He's done a good job, but there's a lot to learn and a long way to go."

The Patriots coach might have been thinking of Buffalo's fourth-quarter touchdown. It was McCourty, with Chung, whose coverage of Steve Johnson got blown for 37 yards and six points. Arrington agreed that he and the other corners have plenty of work to do this week.

"Our offense can't score 38-40 points a game so we'll just have to work hard this week, even harder than we have in the past weeks,'' he said. "Miami is a good team. They have good backs as well, they're going to run the ball and try to take their shots on us as well. ''

One place for the young defense to turn when looking to improve game-play is to veterans. Arrington said that, though Leigh Bodden can no longer lead by example, the veteran corner has given out advice.

"Bodden just told me the most important thing I could do is relax, let the game come to me and told me I've been doing this since I was in little leagues,'' he smiled. "At the end of the day it's still football. It was definitely great words of encouragement."

And Belichick is there for his guys as well, "We have confidence in all those guys; Darius, Jonathan, Devin, Kyle,'' the coach said.

I'm sure they're happy for the public approval, but Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington both know that a coach's confidence is truly translated into field time. Ask both who is really feeling the love and you'll probably get two different answers. The cornerbacks certainly had very different days.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

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Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

FOXBORO -- Alan Branch knew he had a good case, otherwise he wouldn't have appealed. It was just a question of when that appeal might be heard. 

As of Wednesday, the Patriots defensive tackle hadnt heard anything as it related to the appeal of his four-game suspension. But by Saturday morning, according to Field Yates of ESPN, Branch had won the appeal and been cleared of the league's ban. 

Branch's agent later confirmed the news on Twitter.

Word of Branch's punishment, which stemmed from what was reported as a positive marijuana test, became public when reported by ESPN on Nov. 21. Per the league's substance abuse policy, appeal hearings are typically scheduled for the fourth Tuesday after a player has been informed of his penalty. The policy notes that it is possible for appeals to be heard on another date should the two sides be able to work out different schedule, but Branch was not optimistic that would be the case earlier this week. 

Good news came quickly, though. 

Had Branch been forced to miss any time, it would have docked the Patriots arguably their top interior defensive lineman. Branch has started every game, and he leads all Patriots defensive tackles with 457 snaps played. 

The Patriots recently waived running back DJ Foster and signed defensive tackle Darius Kilgo, seemingly as a way to build some depth on the roster if Branch had been suspended. 

By having his four-game suspension wiped away not only are the Patriots saved from having to deal without one of their top players in the trenches, but Branch saved himself a relatively hefty financial penalty.

A four-game ban would have cost him nearly $300,000 in base salary as well as four game-day bonuses adding to $100,000. He also stood to lose as much as $750,000 in season-long playing-time incentives. In all, had the suspension stood, it could have cost him about $1.1 million. Patriots salary-cap expert Miguel Benzan goes into more detail about the potential financial impact of Branch's suspension here

Thankfully for Branch, he doesn't have to worry about that any longer. With this situation in the rear view, he can now focus on helping the Patriots win games during the stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs.