Flag Day for Pats
Team Prepares to Focus on Penalties
New England Patriots defensive back Logan Ryan (26) celebrates his interception and touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with teammates Justin Green (41) and Justin Francis (94) in the third quarter of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Foxborough, Mass. — Tom Brady quieted concerns about his knee and the Patriots defense got four sacks in a preseason game on Friday night. Now about those penalties.
“We have to tighten that up,” New England coach Belichick said Saturday on a conference call with reporters, a day after New England was flagged 10 times. “In the end it ended up being a very competitive game.”
After leaving practice earlier in the week with an injured knee, Brady put to rest any lingering concerns about his health, completing his first 11 passes of the game and finishing with just one incompletion and a touchdown in the 25-21 win for New England.
Rookie cornerback Logan Ryan returned an interception 53 yards for a touchdown.
The kicking game still needs work.
After converting on 29 of 35 field goal attempts last year, Stephen Gostkowski is just 2 of 5 through two preseason games, including a missed 50-yarder that hit the upright Friday.
“I think our overall field goal operation needs to be better, and he’s a part of that, but so is the snapper and so is the holder,” Belichick said. “We’ve had three different snappers and two different holders in camp and in the preseason games.
“As it relates to Steve specifically, I think he’s had a good camp,” he added. “He’s worked hard and he’s in good condition. He’s kicked the ball well and hit the ball very solidly and consistently. ... I’m confident that he’s one of the best kickers in the league.”
Another concern, although unaddressed by Belichick, was the poor play of third-string quarterback Tim Tebow, who is fighting just to make the 53-man roster.
Tebow completed one of seven passes for minus-1 yards and rushed six times for 30 yards. He also threw an interception that sailed well over the head of intended target Kenbrell Thompkins.
“I worry about what I can control, not listening to outside influences,” he said. “It’s my attitude and my effort and getting better every day and just staying focused.”
A couple of rookies certainly stood out.
Ryan, drafted in the third round this year, stepped in front of a pass from Mike Glennon and walked untouched into the end zone midway through the third quarter. One of three players drafted by New England this year out of Rutgers, and nine overall on the roster, Ryan even impressed Belichick.
“I think he’s improved in a lot of areas,” he said. “His technique, his recognition, and of course in the secondary, communication is such a big part of the game. No matter who you’re playing for or what you’re playing, being able to communicate with your teammates back there in the secondary — there’s not much margin for error.
“He’s worked hard, he’s been durable, he’s been out there and gotten a lot of snaps and he continues to improve with those repetitions, so he’s definitely making progress.”
Tight end Zach Sudfeld’s performance also went a long way toward solidifying his spot on the team. With Rob Gronkowski sidelined indefinitely and Aaron Hernandez released after he was jailed on a murder charge, the rookie from Nevada caught two passes for 32 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Mallett that he juggled before hauling in while diving to the ground between a pair of Tampa Bay defenders. Sudfeld also caught a two-point conversion pass from Brady following a touchdown on the opening drive.
“It’s been such a great experience. The game today was pretty incredible,” Sudfeld said. “I am a rookie and have a long way to go and a lot to learn and a lot to improve on, but so far it has been a great experience.”