These Pats have a near-perfect feel

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These Pats have a near-perfect feel

By Michael Felger

This is getting a little scary.

The Patriots aren't just beating good competition anymore. They aren't just winning on the road, or in the elements, or in big games -- although they are doing all those things.

They're getting to a point where they aren't even letting teams compete with them.

Sunday's rout in Chicago was just the latest stop on the Pats' NFL Domination Tour. The 36-7 final was impressive in all three phases, but it was hardly unusual. It's actually become the norm for a Patriots team that is now the odd-on favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The last bump in the road was in Cleveland, a 34-14 defeat on Nov. 7.

Since then the Patriots have gone 5-0 while outscoring opponents 196-88. They've averaged 39.5 points per game over that stretch, which isn't even their most impressive stat. Guess how many turnovers they've had since that Browns loss?

Zero.

Not a fumble, not a pick, not a single solitary mistake that resulted in a lost ball.

Nobody is perfect. But over the last five games the Pats have come as close to playing perfect football as you can expect in the NFL nowadays.

And they've done it against the iron. At Pittsburgh. Indianapolis. The Jets. The Bears. Even their one bunny, the Lions, came with a special circumstance -- on Thanksgiving, just four days after their yearly epic with the Colts. No one can say they did it against unworthy competition.

Did you say "competition"? If only the Pats' opponents had been offering some.

The Pats began the run at Pittsburgh, where they led, 23-3 entering the fourth quarter. A garbage-time flurry by Ben Roethlisberger tightened the score, but the game was never in doubt after Brady spiked the ball in the face of Steelers fans following a QB sneak in the third quarter.

Then they returned home to face Indianapolis, where they burst out to a customary 31-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. Of course, Peyton Manning made them sweat, as he always does. It's why he and the Colts are the only things that scare me right now if I'm the Patriots.

But after that the Pats have won going away each of the last three games.

They scored the last 28 points in Detroit and won by 21. They were never threatened by the Jets and won by 42. They dominated from the opening kick in Chicago and led by 36 before ultimately winning by 29.

Remember, the Steelers were supposed to be the best team in football when the Pats showed up. The Jets were the top team in the conference. The Bears were one of the NFC's best. The Colts were the Colts. And outside of the Colts finish, the Pats were barely threatened.

Pretty good.

At varying points this year the Pats have been compared to their 2001 Super Bowl predecessor. They've also drawn comparisons to the 2003 squad. But this year is really starting to feel like 2007, when the competition was scarce and the only thing left to determine in the second halves of games was how long Tom Brady would stay in and whether Bill Belichick was running up the score or not.

That may be an uneasy comparison for many fans given how that year ended, but these Patriots are leaving us with no other choice.

They're that good right now.

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

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 mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. 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

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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.