Where do you go from Pittsburgh?


Where do you go from Pittsburgh?

By Rich Levine

Where do you go from Pittsburgh?

Well, if youre one of the Patriots, you go home to your house in the suburbs or your lavish penthouse in the Back Bay and enjoy a nice day offcourtesy of The Sweatshirt.

You take the day to revel in the fact that the night before, you went on national TV and essentially wiped your you-know-what with a stack of Terrible Towels. That you flat out embarrassed the sleazy, trash-talking Steelers in front of their home fans. That youll spend the upcoming week as the toast of the NFL.

The next day, you come back to work and start worrying about Peyton Manning. Hey, Tuesdays the new Monday. Good times.

But what if youre a Patriots fan?

Where do you go? In the aftermath of New Englands ruthless beating of Big Ben and the boys, to what places do you to let your imagination wander?

In the short term, well obviously soak it all in. The mere thought of this game will be like a glorious drug. Sundays was probably the most impressive win the Patriots have had since Brady busted his knee. Why shouldnt you get a little crazy? Why wouldnt you want to? For the next few days, Patriots Nations excitement will be contained about as well as Rob Gronkowski in the red zone.

But eventually, once the glow of Pittsburgh has faded, and the date with Peyton (much safer than a date with Big Ben) looms, that excitement will wear off, and well be faced with reality. Real questions; questions that, not too long ago, seemed too far-fetched to ask.

Im talking long term. Big picture. Im wondering, after Sunday night, how high we should raise our expectations for the 2010 Patriots? Should we start to truly believe that this teamthe same one that supposedly didnt have a defense, or a running game, or enough depth and experience to contendis in fact a major contender?

When the Power Rankings (however stupid they may be) come out this week, and the Pats are either first or second in every case, will we be convinced that they belong?

Can the terms BenJarvis Green Ellis, Kyle Arrington and Super Bowl really co-exist?

On one hand, its dangerous to think that way only nine games into the season, because we know how quickly it can come crashing down.

Remember Cleveland? Of course you do. Youve still got a hole in the wall next to your TV as a reminder. Regardless of all the positives vibes blasting out of Foxboro this morning, we know that it only takes a clunker against the Colts on Sunday or a Thanksgiving disaster in Detroit, to destroy any Super Bowl buzz.

In either case, a loss wont break the Pats season, the same way Sundays win didnt make it, but its fair to say that in either case, a loss would take us down a few pegs. If we buy into this team now; if we decide that Sunday night was real, and not a one-night stand with greatness, then a loss in either of the next two gamesleading up to the Jetswill feel a little stupid.

Well look back on this week and say, Damn, we over reacted. Why do we always over-react!? If the Pats lose to Indy or Detroit, well remember the week after Pittsburgh with the same disdain we now do the week after Cleveland. Well despise the time and energy we wasted stressing and contemplating a misguided opinion, and thats reason enough to just take last nights win with a grain of salt, appreciate it for what it was, and remember that theres so much football left to play.

But on the other hand

Didnt they just look unbelievable?

Isn't there something about the way they playedabout the way that Bradys regained his super human focus, Logan Mankins has so seamlessly re-entered the fray, Chung and McCourty have developed (alongside Mayo and Wilfork) into legitimate defensive weapons, Arringtons now holding his own, the Law Firm's looking more like Antoine Smith, Danny Woodhead's looking like far more than a tiny novelty, or the way that both rookie tight ends have faced serious adversity, and are now better and stronger for itthat makes you want to believe.

Even though its too early to say that the Pats will achieve anything of substance this season, isnt Sundays win a sign that, at the very least, theyre capable of it?

If you can go into Heinz Field, and not only beat the Steelers, but dominate them; dwarf them in every aspect of the gameaside from cheap shotsthen you can win anywhere, against anyone. Your potential is greater than it was before. As the legendary German pop duo Snap! once said, Youve got the power! Actually, Snap said, Ive got the power, but youve got the point.

These last two games were a lesson in the roller coaster ride that is the NFL season.

Last Sunday in Cleveland, we learned of the depths to which this Patriots team can sink.

But last night in Pittsburgh, we were witness to their potential greatnessand it was much higher than most anyone could have imagined.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

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


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


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.