Competition about to get tougher for Patriots
By Howard Ulman
Mass. (AP) — With an unimpressive offense, the New England Patriots are
unbeaten after strong fourth quarters by the defense.
But what will happen when they don't play rookie quarterbacks?
They're about to find out.
squeaking out wins over the Buffalo Bills, with E.J. Manuel at
quarterback, and New York Jets, with Geno Smith under center, the
Patriots will face two of the NFL's top quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and
Drew Brees, in the next four games.
Rookie quarterbacks, though, aren't always easy to stop.
don't know if I'd call it easing" into the season against Manuel and
Smith, Patriots safety Steve Gregory said Friday. "Those guys are still
pretty talented guys. They can run. They can definitely create some
things when they get outside the pocket and present challenges."
the opener, the defense forced the Bills to punt on all three of their
fourth-quarter possessions before Stephen Gostkowski's 35-yard field
goal with 5 seconds left gave the Patriots a 23-21 win.
four days later on Thursday night, the Patriots had three interceptions
against Smith in the fourth quarter and beat the Jets 13-10 despite
being blanked in the second half.
Smith "did a pretty good job
throughout the game, but it's tough, you know, when you're seeing some
things for the first time," New England safety Devin McCourty said.
Talib's second interception of the game in the final minute clinched
the victory. Alfonzo Dennard also picked off a pass at the Patriots
31-yard line with 4:23 left when the Jets needed a field goal to tie
But he doesn't change his basic approach whether the opposing
quarterback is a rookie or a veteran.
"I just say we've got to work on ourselves no matter who we play,"
Patriots have extra time to prepare with nine days between their
home-opening win over the Jets and their next game, also at Gillette
Stadium, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quarterback Josh Freeman
on Sept. 22.
"I don't really see it as a break," coach Bill Belichick said. "It's not like we're going to go to Hawaii for a
vacation for a week."
The challenge gets tougher after that with
consecutive games against Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, Andy Dalton and
the Cincinnati Bengals and Brees and the New Orleans Saints.
matchup on Oct. 13 against New Orleans could be the day Tom Brady ties
Brees for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass. Brady's streak
is at 50, four less than Brees' run that ended last year.
extended it on his first series Thursday night with a 39-yard touchdown
pass to rookie Aaron Dobson, who was wide open down the right sideline.
But Brady showed his frustration later by raising his hands to his
helmet after a rookie receiver ran the wrong route.
"I have to do a better job with my body language," he said. "I wouldn't
say it's a real strong point of mine right now."
his 14th season, one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history is working
with a raw receiving group. Wes Welker signed as a free agent with the
Denver Broncos, Rob Gronkowski is sidelined after forearm and back
surgery and Aaron Hernandez is being held without bail after pleading
not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder.
signed veteran wide receivers Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones, but
both were cut in training camp. With Danny Amendola out with a groin
injury, the Patriots only receivers against the Jets were Julian Edelman, who caught 13 passes, and rookies Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins
and Josh Boyce.
"I don't really have any expectations for any rookie players,"
Belichick said. "We just coach them from the day they get here."
Last season the Patriots averaged 34.8 points per game. This season,
they've scored a total of 36 in two games.
the competition should get tougher. But until Brady and his new
receivers jell, the Patriots will have to keep relying on their defense.
welcome that," defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. "Whatever situation
we're in, it might have to be the defense that will win the game for