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Nitpicks and Nitwits: TB12 is back, and not a moment too soon

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(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

The penalty tally was five flags accepted for 61 yards, which is a slight improvement from the previous four weeks.  Two defensive holding penalties early allowed Cleveland to gain momentum at home and an ultimate 7-7 score in the 1st quarter.  New England is also dead last in the AFC (tied for 30th overall) in red zone defense, allowing 10 scores (8 TD's) on 10 chances.  

With all due respect to the Browns, these are lapses that can be tougher to overcome as you play on the road elsewhere this season.  The defense, right now, is a mere 14th in the AFC in 3rd down efficiency.

New England has 32 penalties for 284 yards in walk-offs thus far, which is right at the NFL average per team through five weeks.  Which means, half of the teams are better, and half are worse.  At least it appears to be trending in the right direction.

Jonesing on Cyrus

To say it has been an adventure thus far for the Patriots' top-drafted rookie would be understating things.  Nevertheless, much (more) is expected from players selected in similar slots.

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Were lessons learned from his ill-advised kickoff returns against Buffalo a week ago?  Undoubtedly.  But Sunday in Cleveland, there were more lessons up on the chalkboard for him after being removed from those duties.  Jones was the picked-on defender by Cody Kessler, finding Andrew Hawkins well behind him for the Browns' first score of the game.

In the 3rd quarter, the rookie learned a valuable lesson in restraint, when he showed none against Hawkins.  Whatever the case may have been, even if Hawkins struck the first blow, Jones was caught by the officiating crew striking back as Hawkins blocked him away from the actual play, and he was ejected from the game.

Referee Bill Vinovich explained after the game, "it was deemed that he threw a punch.  Punch and connect, you are ejected."

Jones' pro football education appears to have a steep learning curve right about now.

What is the Ghost missing?

You know you're one of the best at what you do, when a rare missed opportunity occurs.  But miss two kicks in two weeks?

Is that a trend, or simply the law of averages trying to play a cruel game of catch-up?

"I'm obviously not playing up to my standards," Stephen Gostkowski told the Boston Herald before Sunday's game, "but I'm not too worried about things like that.  Our team is 3-1 (now 4-1), and that's all I really care about."

gost.jpg

Gostkowski carries a career 87% success rate on field goals through 11 seasons, but is 7-for-10 thus far this season.  He pushed a 50-yard attempt wide right against the Browns, pushed a 48-yard try wide against Buffalo and missed a 39-yarder against Miami which could have put that game away.

"No one puts more pressure on themselves than me as far as an individual thing," Gostkowski said.  "One thing I'll never do is panic."

That's been true now, for more than a decade, as Gostkowski has emerged as one of the NFL's top placekickers with almost automatic accuracy.   But miss a couple more anytime soon, and he'll find others willing to push that panic button for him.

No matter how bad…

In case you missed it, there was plenty of punishment to go around during Week 5.

Within the AFC East, Miami lost at home to Tennessee 30-17, dropping the Dolphins to an inglorious 1-4.  First year head coach Adam Gase, already feeling the South Florida heat, told the Miami Herald he's not making a QB change from Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 191 yards and two interceptions against the Titans.

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Yet.  Perhaps that comes at the end of the season, if the Dolphins continue to flop like fish out of water.

In New York, the Jets were scorched 31-13 Sunday by Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, who threw for 380 yards and four touchdowns against a wounded (grounded?) secondary.  Perhaps most surprising was Pittsburgh's ability to sustain drives against a Jets' defense that couldn't pressure Big Ben into any mistakes, forcing the secondary into having a tough day at the office.

In Baltimore, the Ravens fired offensive coordinator Marc Trestman following a 16-10 loss to Washington.  It's the second time in four years Baltimore has fired an offensive coordinator in the middle of a season.  The last time they did it, the Ravens actually went onto win the Super Bowl in 2012.  Baltimore is currently 3-2, and Marty Mornhinweg takes over the play-calling duties.

And then, there is San Diego.  The Chargers have lost four of their five games by a total of 14 points, which certainly tells you they're in position to win.  But it's the way they're losing that stands out.  

After building an eight-point second half lead against Oakland Sunday, the Chargers lost that lead and then battled back with a chance to tie the game at the two-minute mark.  They then fumbled the snap on a field goal try, and the attempt never got off of the ground or into the air.  The Raiders prevailed, 34-31.

San Diego has held a lead in the 2nd half of each of their losses, and the Chargers have now lost 10 straight games to AFC West opponents.  "I don't know how people do it," QB Philip Rivers told the San Diego Union-Tribune.  "If I didn't have my faith or my family, I would literally be a lunatic.  I know I get crazy some, but I would be out of my mind."

What's next for SD?  A home date Thursday night with the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, who lost their own shocker at home to Atlanta this week.

The lunacy is just getting started.

*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is beginning his 24th season as the Patriots' stadium voice.  Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 28 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *

Before the Patriots kicked off in Cleveland Sunday, the most debated question of the past week in New England had absolutely nothing to do with Presidential politics.

It had everything to do with Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, and how long it might take him to shake off any rust from a four-game hiatus.  Could he be Tom Terrific again?

After all, he's now 39 years old.  Would it take him some time to acclimate to his receivers, or to get used to the physical demands of playing football again at all?

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Never fear, Superman is still here.  The Fortress of Foxboro has its commander in place, and all is right with the world, again.

Whether or not TB12 can deliver these Patriots to the Promised Land by seasons' end is, naturally, debatable.  So much depends on week-to-week preparation, and week-to-week survival in the untamed world that is professional football.  

But if his 28-of-40 for 406 yard-three-touchdown-and-no-interception performance in Ohio Sunday is any indication, Patriot fans can once again look to the immediate future with the calm, soothing confidence and influence that only Brady can deliver with his presence on the sideline.

And with his presence in our minds.  

Twenty-one months ago, Patriot fans lost some of the fun that football can bring as the sports world lost its' collective marbles within a pound of air pressure.  An innocence - even naiveté - was also lost during that time, which may never return.  What is fair, unfortunately, can often be lost.  

When someone points accusingly at you, says you cheated and must pay a price regardless of evidence pointing to the contrary, you begin to question what the truth really means.

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Or wonder if those in charge understand what the truth really is.

This wasn't just Brady's battle for truth and justice.  It was ours, too.  Over an excruciating, maddening period of time, the NFL managed to take truth and turn it, twist it and illogically mangle it to the point of unrecognizability.  Despite pleas for justice to prevail, and the ridiculous need for real justice to enter the picture in the first place, real truth never mattered as this chapter in Patriots' history finally came to a conclusion in Cleveland Sunday.

New England's character - right alongside TB12's - had been impugned.  Character isn't an easy thing to fix these days, as evidenced by the current tribulations within Presidential politics in this country.  

So how do you go about getting your "rep" back?  

In the NFL, ultimate truth is in performance.  Truth is in the ability to perform better than the guy staring across the line at you.  Truth is in winning, and losing.  Brady knows this, and ultimately decided to control what he can - without worrying about what others may think or believe.  It's a tough lesson to learn, until the actual results start rolling in.

If his performance in a win over the Browns is any indication, TB12 has begun trending well.  There is work still ahead, and the final count won't be tallied until February, of course.  But the early returns are solid, if there was any doubt.

This much, we already know.  Brady is back.  And our collective psyche is soothed again.

Hiccups along the way

Sunday's 33-13 win sure started out like the scorched earth tour was in full swing, right from the opening possession of the game.  But alas, whatever vengeance the Patriots will ultimately extract on their opponents this season is still very much a WIP - a Work In Progress.  

browns.jpg

The penalty tally was five flags accepted for 61 yards, which is a slight improvement from the previous four weeks.  Two defensive holding penalties early allowed Cleveland to gain momentum at home and an ultimate 7-7 score in the 1st quarter.  New England is also dead last in the AFC (tied for 30th overall) in red zone defense, allowing 10 scores (8 TD's) on 10 chances.  

With all due respect to the Browns, these are lapses that can be tougher to overcome as you play on the road elsewhere this season.  The defense, right now, is a mere 14th in the AFC in 3rd down efficiency.

New England has 32 penalties for 284 yards in walk-offs thus far, which is right at the NFL average per team through five weeks.  Which means, half of the teams are better, and half are worse.  At least it appears to be trending in the right direction.

Jonesing on Cyrus

To say it has been an adventure thus far for the Patriots' top-drafted rookie would be understating things.  Nevertheless, much (more) is expected from players selected in similar slots.

jones.jpg

Were lessons learned from his ill-advised kickoff returns against Buffalo a week ago?  Undoubtedly.  But Sunday in Cleveland, there were more lessons up on the chalkboard for him after being removed from those duties.  Jones was the picked-on defender by Cody Kessler, finding Andrew Hawkins well behind him for the Browns' first score of the game.

In the 3rd quarter, the rookie learned a valuable lesson in restraint, when he showed none against Hawkins.  Whatever the case may have been, even if Hawkins struck the first blow, Jones was caught by the officiating crew striking back as Hawkins blocked him away from the actual play, and he was ejected from the game.

Referee Bill Vinovich explained after the game, "it was deemed that he threw a punch.  Punch and connect, you are ejected."

Jones' pro football education appears to have a steep learning curve right about now.

What is the Ghost missing?

You know you're one of the best at what you do, when a rare missed opportunity occurs.  But miss two kicks in two weeks?

Is that a trend, or simply the law of averages trying to play a cruel game of catch-up?

"I'm obviously not playing up to my standards," Stephen Gostkowski told the Boston Herald before Sunday's game, "but I'm not too worried about things like that.  Our team is 3-1 (now 4-1), and that's all I really care about."

gost.jpg

Gostkowski carries a career 87% success rate on field goals through 11 seasons, but is 7-for-10 thus far this season.  He pushed a 50-yard attempt wide right against the Browns, pushed a 48-yard try wide against Buffalo and missed a 39-yarder against Miami which could have put that game away.

"No one puts more pressure on themselves than me as far as an individual thing," Gostkowski said.  "One thing I'll never do is panic."

That's been true now, for more than a decade, as Gostkowski has emerged as one of the NFL's top placekickers with almost automatic accuracy.   But miss a couple more anytime soon, and he'll find others willing to push that panic button for him.

No matter how bad…

In case you missed it, there was plenty of punishment to go around during Week 5.

Within the AFC East, Miami lost at home to Tennessee 30-17, dropping the Dolphins to an inglorious 1-4.  First year head coach Adam Gase, already feeling the South Florida heat, told the Miami Herald he's not making a QB change from Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 191 yards and two interceptions against the Titans.

gase.jpg

Yet.  Perhaps that comes at the end of the season, if the Dolphins continue to flop like fish out of water.

In New York, the Jets were scorched 31-13 Sunday by Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, who threw for 380 yards and four touchdowns against a wounded (grounded?) secondary.  Perhaps most surprising was Pittsburgh's ability to sustain drives against a Jets' defense that couldn't pressure Big Ben into any mistakes, forcing the secondary into having a tough day at the office.

In Baltimore, the Ravens fired offensive coordinator Marc Trestman following a 16-10 loss to Washington.  It's the second time in four years Baltimore has fired an offensive coordinator in the middle of a season.  The last time they did it, the Ravens actually went onto win the Super Bowl in 2012.  Baltimore is currently 3-2, and Marty Mornhinweg takes over the play-calling duties.

And then, there is San Diego.  The Chargers have lost four of their five games by a total of 14 points, which certainly tells you they're in position to win.  But it's the way they're losing that stands out.  

After building an eight-point second half lead against Oakland Sunday, the Chargers lost that lead and then battled back with a chance to tie the game at the two-minute mark.  They then fumbled the snap on a field goal try, and the attempt never got off of the ground or into the air.  The Raiders prevailed, 34-31.

San Diego has held a lead in the 2nd half of each of their losses, and the Chargers have now lost 10 straight games to AFC West opponents.  "I don't know how people do it," QB Philip Rivers told the San Diego Union-Tribune.  "If I didn't have my faith or my family, I would literally be a lunatic.  I know I get crazy some, but I would be out of my mind."

What's next for SD?  A home date Thursday night with the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, who lost their own shocker at home to Atlanta this week.

The lunacy is just getting started.

*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is beginning his 24th season as the Patriots' stadium voice.  Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 28 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *

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