Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

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Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

FOXBORO -- When the Patriots traded their first-round pick in the 2017 draft for Brandin Cooks, they gave Tom Brady one of the most productive deep-ball receivers in the NFL over the course of the last few seasons. 

The Cooks acquisition not only made the Patriots offense more versatile, it also may have signaled an acknowledgement that the team needed more pass-catchers who could produce down the field and outside the numbers.

In the playoffs last season, against Houston's and Atlanta's defenses -- both of which were effective at times in taking away the short-to-intermediate areas of the field -- the Patriots could have benefited from someone like Cooks. In both games, the Patriots were able to hit on throws deep and on the outside in critical moments with likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell. 

Now after three weeks, and after having faced two defenses in Houston's and Kansas City's that were intent on packing the middle of the field with defenders, it's clear that the move to grab Cooks is paying dividends. 

In Sunday's win over the Texans, 36-33, Brady threw eight passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, and he completed five for 185 yards and three scores, according to Pro Football Focus. On the season, Brady leads the league with 22 attempts of 20 yards or more, per PFF. He's completed 11 of those for 368 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating on deep attempts (135.4) is second in the league. 

Compare that to last season's totals for Brady on deep passes -- 23 completions for 834 yards and eight touchdowns -- and he's on pace to blow those numbers away. Whereas he only attempted deep passes on just over 11 percent of his throws last season, according to PFF, so far this year one in every five of his throws is traveling 20 yards or more.

The biggest beneficiary of the new approach? Cooks, of course, who Brady has dubbed "Cookie." 

PFF says Cooks is leading the league in deep-ball receiving through three weeks, with 187 yards on five deep catches. Three of those came on Sunday and they resulted in 111 yards and two scores. In Week 1, Cooks had three catches for 88 yards -- including a 54-yarder -- and he drew three penalties that resulted in an additional 38 yards. In Week 2, Cooks had two catches for 37 yards -- including a 22-yarder.

Last year? The leading receiver for the Patriots on passes that traveled 20 yards or more was Hogan (10 catches for 397 yards). 

One more indication that the Patriots offense has shifted with Cooks in and Edelman sidelined: Cooks leads the NFL in yards per catch through three games (25.6 yards per reception), while Danny Amendola (16.4 yards per reception, seventh) and Rob Gronkowski (14.9, 13th) are all found among the league leaders in that category.  

Opposing defenses may continue to play the Patriots as the Texans and Chiefs did this season: Flood the middle of the field and pressure Brady with just three or four linemen. They may be content with allowing Brady to attempt lower-percentage throws down the field as opposed to letting him slice them up with shorter tosses. 

It worked well enough for the Chiefs to win, and it nearly worked well enough for the Texans. Perhaps "the blueprint" is still the blueprint. But with the addition to Cooks, Brady and the Patriots have proven that they've evolved to more efficiently combat those schemes.

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Tom Brady on Donald Trump: 'I certainly disagree with what he said'

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Tom Brady on Donald Trump: 'I certainly disagree with what he said'

After beating the Texans on Sunday, 36-33, Tom Brady didn't want to delve too deeply into what went into his locking arms with teammates during the national anthem. 

"I just think," Brady said, "there's just a great love for my teammates."

He didn't want to get into Donald Trump's comments about players kneeling for the anthem, but he was willing to go there during Monday's Kirk and Callahan Show on WEEI.

"Yeah, I certainly disagree with what he said," Brady explained. "I thought it was just divisive. Like I said, I just want to support my teammates. I am never one to say, ‘Oh, that is wrong. That is right.’ I do believe in what I believe in. I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me. That is how I try and live every day.

"I have been blessed to be in locker rooms with guys all over the United States over the course of my career. Some of my great friends are from Florida, Virginia, New York, Montana, Colorado, Texas. The one thing about football is it brings so many guys together -- guys you would never have the opportunity to be around. Whether it was in college, and all the way into the pros. We’re all different, we’re all unique. That is what makes us all special."

Brady was one of several players locking arms on the Patriots sideline for the anthem. More than a dozen others, including Devin McCourty, took a knee. Just before and immediately after the anthem, fans booed the demonstration.

"I think everyone has the right to do whatever they want to do," Brady said of the response. "If you don’t agree, that is fine. You can voice your disagreement, I think that is great. It’s part of our democracy. As long as it is done in a peaceful, respectful way, that is what our country has been all about."

Belichick appreciates fourth-quarter 'situational football' from Patriots in win

Belichick appreciates fourth-quarter 'situational football' from Patriots in win

FOXBORO -- There's very little that Bill Belichick appreciates more than late-game execution. "Situational football," as he calls it, is something that the Patriots practice on a regular basis because it's often the difference between winning and losing. 

That work during practices -- in training camp Belichick often calls out downs, distances and time on the clock as he watches his players react -- paid dividends on Sunday. 

"Obviously," he said, "a lot of situational football at the end that was critical to the outcome of the game for us . . . The whole game really came down to the last -- call it three, three-and-a-half minutes. Fortunately, we were able to make the plays we needed to make to win."

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Let's start there, then. 

With 3:23 remaining and the Texans ahead, 30-28, Texans running back Lamar Miller ran for seven yards, giving Houston a second-and-manageable. But, realizing that the Texans would want to keep the ball on the ground to drain the clock, the Patriots were ready for the run and stopped Miller for a gain of two.

That brought up a third-and-one situation on the Patriots 18-yard line. Belichick called timeout. Big-time "situational football" play was coming and he knew it. 

The Patriots brought their goal-line defense onto the field and smothered Miller for no gain. Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy -- who played 46 and 52 snaps in the unseasonably warm weather, respectively -- were in on the stop. That forced a field goal and put the Texans up, 33-28. It also kept the Patriots a Tom Brady-led two-minute drive away from the win. 

Belichick brought up the play twice during his post-game press conference unprompted. 

"In the end it came down to a handful of plays and situational football at the end of the game," he said. "The third-down stop was our goal line defense against their three receiver set. We made the play there and then, again, we were able to overcome a couple of long-yardage situations on the last drive."

A couple of those long-yardage situations were of their own doing.

David Andrews was called for a hold with 2:20 remaining that gave the Patriots a second-and-20 at the Patriots 15-yard line. Brady picked up eight with a throw to Rob Gronkowski, and then came out of the two-minute warning to hit Gronkowski again for 15 and a first down. 

After Brandin Cooks hauled in an 18-yard toss, Brady was strip-sacked and Andrews recovered at the Patriots 48-yard line. An incomplete pass to Cooks, brought up a third-and-18. Not many plays in the playbook for that situation. 

Yet Amendola's leaping catch for 27 yards, against Houston's zone-turned-man defense, gave the Patriots their most crucial third-down conversion. That play was followed immediately by Cooks' game-winner. 

Situational football at its finest. 

"We were in a lot of situational football in that game on offense, defense and special teams," Belichick said. "Yeah, of course you’d like to play better so it doesn’t come down to the final play, but look, this is the National Football League and the Texans are an outstanding team and that’s what it’s going to take to beat them is to play 60 minutes and be able to make the plays that you’ve got to make at the end to win, whether you’re on offense, or defense, or the kicking game or whatever it is. That’s no surprise."

Maybe the way the Patriots finished the game shouldn't be surprising, either. Dramatic? Sure. But their quarterback's penchant for fourth-quarter execution is well-established, as is the coach's devotion to working on those situations in practice.

It's no wonder Belichick was as pleased as he was with the way things played out.

"The players went the whole 60 minutes, played hard, competed well and made enough plays at the end," he said. "Just barely, but made enough plays at the end to win. It was good. It was good."

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