Pats' defense can't step up in do-or-die game


Pats' defense can't step up in do-or-die game

By Danny Picard

FOXBORO -- All season long, the Patriots said it themselves. They fully acknowledged, and at times accepted, the fact that they "bend but don't break."

Trouble was, on Sunday all that bending wasn't good enough.

At first glance, it's hard to fault the defense for Sunday's 28-21 loss. Two of the Jets' touchdowns came on short fields -- a 37-yard drive late in the second quarter after a botched fake punt by the Patriots, a 20-yard drive late in the game after a failed onside kick -- and a third was only for 49 yards as the Jets won the first-half battle for field position. Just one drive, a 75-yarder in the fourth quarter, could be pinned on the defense.

But that sort of bending wasn't what the Pats needed Sunday. There were times -- particularly on the 75-yard drive, which came after New England had scored to cut New York's lead to 14-11 and swung momentum back in its favor -- when they needed stops.

And they couldn't get them.

"They just came out and played more physical than we did," said Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo. "They were able to establish the run. They were getting four yards, three yards, four yards, four yards, and we just could never get on track.

"I think the coaches did a good job getting us prepared and getting us ready for the game. We just didn't go out and execute."

Like New England's offense, it all came down to a lack of execution on the defensive end.

After the Patriots' most successful offensive drive of the day -- an eight-play, 85-yard touchdown drive that cut New York's lead to 14-11 with 13 seconds left to play in the third quarter -- it was of the utmost importance that Bill Belichick's defense step up and get the ball right back in Tom Brady's hands.

The Jets responded with a five-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a Santonio Holmes seven-yard touchdown reception in the back-left corner of the end zone, giving New York a 21-11 lead in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.

It was a drive that saw the Patriots' defense bend a little too much on the second play of the drive, when Mark Sanchez found Jerricho Cotchery streaking over the middle from the left side of the field, for a huge 58-yard play that moved the chains down to New England's 13-yard line, setting up for the dagger.

"We knew we had to answer," said Cotchery. "We had to answer on that drive. On that play, Mark Sanchez and I were on the same page, and it just blew open. I stayed on the move. He expected me to stay on the move, and after that, I was just trying to make a play, and the guys did a great job of rallying around me to try and get me to the end zone. It ended up setting us up with seven points, and that was what we were looking for."

"I don't feel like they had us off-balanced, they just made some key plays," said Patriots safety James Sanders. "We were in a position to make plays at times. We didn't make the plays, and they did. They did what they had to do to come away with the victory."

Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard. You can listen to Danny on his streaming radio show I'm Just Sayin' Monday-Friday from 9-10 a.m. on

Felger: Sorry, Tom, but Jimmy G. and Brissett need to play Friday

Felger: Sorry, Tom, but Jimmy G. and Brissett need to play Friday

If there's any Patriots quarterback who should be getting meaningful time other than Jimmy Garoppolo on Friday in Carolina, it's not Tom Brady. It's Jacoby Brissett.

Brissett, obviously, will be the Patriots backup the first four games of the year, and the team has yet to go through the annual preseason exercise of subjecting him to the situation under which he's most likely to see time during the regular season. Typically, Bill Belichick will yank the starting QB out of the first half of an exhibition game unannounced and tell the backup to throw on his helmet and get out there. Brissett has yet to go through it, and you have to figure it's coming in the next two weeks.

Other than that, Garoppolo should see all the time while the starters are on the field. He's had little success going against the opposition's starters so far this month and needs every rep he can get. He needs to go through the routine of starting a prime-time game on the road, which will be the case Sept. 11 in Arizona.

Where does that leave Tom Brady? Stewing, probably. It's clear he wants to play. It's clear he wasn't happy missing last Thursday against Chicago and is pining for work Friday. If you were wondering how Brady would feel about losing time in training camp to Garoppolo as the Pats got ready for the regular season, you probably have your answer. He's not a fan.

There is a case to be made that the team and Belichick, in particular, owes Brady some love. Deflategate was dropped in Brady's lap from the start, and while the coach skated, the quarterback's sentence has finally become a reality. The Pats should want to make Brady happy. He deserves the respect.

But, ultimately, we ask the fallback Patriots question: What's best for the team? The answer isn't even close. Garoppolo deserves every snap, save for that potential emergency exercise with Brissett.

As for Brady's feelings? He'll get over it.

Email Felger at Listen to Felger and Mazz week days, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 FM. Watch the simulcast daily on CSN.

Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard


Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

FOXBORO -- Joe Thuney may not have won the starting left guard job officially, but Bill Belichick says he's on the right track. And for a rookie, that's feat in and of itself.

The third-round pick out of North Carolina State -- you may remember it as the Kevin-Faulk-in-the-No.-12-jersey selection -- has been the first-team left guard since the start of training camp, and he hasn't moved since. Thuney has occasionally taken snaps at center, and the Patriots have him learning multiple spots behind the scenes. But every time Nate Solder has run on to the field as the left tackle, Thuney has been there by his side at guard. 

Even going back to OTAs, held not long after he was drafted, Thuney was the top choice at that position. 

"Joe has done a good job with what we’ve given him," Belichick said. "There was a point where we felt comfortable making that, I’d say temporary move, It wasn’t permanent. But he has handled it well. I think he’s certainly moving towards being able to lock something down at some point. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think he is certainly gaining on it. He has had a good preseason, had a good spring."

What once may have been deemed a temporary move back in the spring -- perhaps due to players like Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson and Josh Kline dealing with injuries early in the offseason -- now seems like it should be a permanent one.

Thuney's run as the No. 1 left guard has been uninterrupted because his performance hasn't warranted a change. He's held his own against former first-round defensive tackle Malcom Brown in one-on-one practice drills, and he's been the highest-graded player on the Patriots offensive line through two preseason games, per Pro Football Focus. (The only players with higher grades on the team through two games are tight end AJ Derby and defensive end Trey Flowers.)

The man who went viral before the draft for his ability to solve a Rubik's cube in just over a minute has flashed an understanding of how quickly things move on the inside. Plus, playing under unretired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Thuney has been quick himself, both picking up pressures and working to the second level in the running game with aplomb.

Thuney will still have a preseason game or two to solidify his grasp on a starting role, but even for the brief period during which Mason and Kline were simultaneously healthy, Thuney was the choice on the left side of the interior offensive line. Now that Mason is dealing with what's been reported as a hand injury, Jackson remains on PUP, and Jonathan Cooper is still out after suffering a foot injury early in camp, the job seems like Thuney's to lose.

That Belichick even hinted Thuney is "gaining on it" is an indication of just how impressive he's been during his short time as a pro.