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Tate proves he has speed to burn

08.27.10 at 1:48 am ET
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FOXBORO — Fans who watched No. 19 for the Patriots do his work during training camp this summer couldn’t help but notice he was fast – very fast.

Sure he looked impressive in workouts and practices against his own teammates. But many wondered, as they looked down on their roster sheets, could Brandon Tate be an impact player for the Patriots this season? Could he produce big plays in the return game and be a game-changer?

On the first play of Thursday night’s preseason loss to the Rams at Gillette Stadium, they got their answer.

Tate was the deep man at the goal line in the south end of the stadium with Sammy Morris, in a mild surprise, serving as the up back and lead blocker. Sure enough, Josh Brown‘s kick came to him at the 3 and Tate did the rest of the work from there. He took off up the middle and then, as Morris cut a path off to his right, Tate read the gap perfectly, shot through it as if fired from a starting gun and was off to the races.

He easily blew past Brown and scored 12 seconds into the game and scored.

“My teammates were the ones blocking so without them it wouldn’t have been possible,” Tate said.

But Tate didn’t stop there. He said he was actually making good on a promise he made to his teammates.

“I kept saying, ‘I’m ready…this is going to be the one,’ so all the credit has to go to my teammates.”

He also knows that head coach Bill Belichick and the coaching staff, starting with special teams coach Steve O’Brien, believe in the talent he first showed at the University of North Carolina before being drafted in 2009.

“Every time I get to go out there and play, I try to put my best foot out there,” he said. “I go out there and compete every play and just play hard.”

He nearly made it two consecutive returns to the house after St. Louis kicked off after tying the game, 7-7, in the first quarter. Josh Brown tripped him up at the Patriots 41 after a 43-yard runback.

“I know, the kicker got me,” Tate said. “Everyone was laughing because the kicker got me but I tried. It’s alright.”

Alright indeed. Tate finished with three kickoff returns and one punt return and a total of 162 return yards.

But Tate’s big night didn’t end there. He played on the first-team offense led by Tom Brady. While the unit struggled in the first half, Tate was lining up on the outside, opposite Randy Moss and with Wes Welker in the slot.

That could be a sign of things to come, starting when the games actually count. Tate was targeted three times, caught two balls for 17 yards, including a long of 10.

“It felt good to play with whoever is out there,” Tate said of lining up with the likes of Brady, Moss and Welker. “It doesn’t matter who it is. I just thank the coach for giving me a chance to play.”

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Gostkowski ‘very appreciative’ of new deal

08.27.10 at 12:51 am ET
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Stephen Gostkowski

Stephen Gostkowski

FOXBORO — Stephen Gostkowski agreed to a four-year, $14 million contract with the Patriots on Wednesday, a deal that locks up the Pro Bowl kicker through 2014. He spoke to the media following Thursday’s preseason game with the Rams.

“It can be scary sometimes, not knowing what was going to happen,” Gostkowski said. “You never know, just one bad injury away from things being completely different, but you just have to work hard and show that you can be consistent.”

Gostkowski, who has totaled at least 100 points in each of his first four seasons, told reporters that his personal goals have not changed with his new contract.

“I want to be the most consistent [kicker],” said Gostkowski, who has connected on 103-of-121 career field goal attempts. “You know, just show up every game and score points and hit some good kickoffs and touchbacks for the team.”

The kicker signed a one-year tender offer in April, a situation that can lead to contention between player and team. But Gostkowski was determined not to let that happen.

“No, the rules were the rules for this year and you just decide to live by them,” said Gostkowski. “I don’t think there are too many kickers that have ever held out. I didn’t want to be one of those guys — even when I signed the tender I was very appreciative of what I had and now I’m very appreciative of what I’ve got.”

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Postgame chatter: Sammy Morris

08.27.10 at 12:46 am ET
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Sammy Morris

Sammy Morris

FOXBORO — The Patriots running backs were in focus Thursday, with Laurence Maroney getting zero carries for the second game in a row. Here’s what running back Sammy Morris had to say after the Patriots’ 36-35 loss to the Rams, courtesy of the Patriots:

On whether to read into who gets preseason carries:

“I think we have a lot of backs and we are trying to get everyone some work. It’s preseason and it’s tough. We are just trying different things.”

On the game:

“I really have to wait until tomorrow to see how I can be (on what went wrong). It could be any number of things. It could be one guy, it could be two guys, and it could be just that they beat us. I don’t know. I’ll just have to look at the film and figure out exactly what happened and where it happened.

On the first half:

“Terrible execution across the board. That’s the worst of it, really.”

On Tom Brady’s 65-yard yard touchdown pass down the seam to Randy Moss:

“I think it was really good for us. At the time, we were struggling to get some consistency. That was a huge play for us. At any point in the game, that would be huge but especially since we were struggling.”

On what the film should tell them:

“I think we didn’t play as well as we could have across the board and those kinds of games are always tough but there are a lot of things you can learn from it too.”

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Postgame Q&A: Rob Gronkowski

08.26.10 at 11:51 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski

Here’s the complete postgame Q&A between rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski and the media after Thursday night’s Patriots-Rams game:

Did you know you’d get as much time as you did?
No. I’m going out there and whenever coach puts me in, I’m just going to go out there and work hard. It’s great getting time out there. I’m just going to go out there — whenever he puts me in, I’m going to give them 100 percent.

On the first touchdown:
I’m about giving it 100 percent on each play. So just when I catch the ball, I just have to make sure I get up the field and tuck the ball away and get up the field and get as much yards as I can. That was just the end zone right there, and it was a touchdown.

On developing a rhythm with Brady:
I’m going out there every practice and working hard, running my routes and he’s throwing passes to me. I’m just working hard out there, getting a connection going hopefully, and basically practice hard, and everything will work out.

Feeling comfortable?
I definitely feel more comfortable from the beginning. I didn’t know a play coming in here. But I still have a lot to lean. I can study a lot more and learn a lot more defenses, learn how to run the routes perfectly. So I’ve got a lot to learn, but I definitely feel like there’s a lot of progress from when I first got here.

On the haircut:
It’s pretty cool. I kind of like it.

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Postgame chatter: Leigh Bodden

08.26.10 at 11:50 pm ET
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Leigh Boden

Leigh Bodden

There wasn’t a smiling face in the Patriots locker room following the team’s 36-35 loss to the Rams on Thursday night. From the rookies to the veterans, the loss seemed to take priority over individual accomplishments. Cornerback Leigh Bodden was among those who seemed a bit downtrodden in speaking to reporters. Here’s what he had to say:

On the defense’s play against the St. Louis offense:

“We played our defense. What we’ve been laying through the preseason. The penalties and just making the plays when we needed to make the plays. We just didn’t make the plays.”

On first overall pick Sam Bradford, who went 15-of-22 for 189 yards and a pair of touchdowns:

“I’m not surprised. I’m pretty sure he practiced all week and got prepared. He looked good out there. We just didn’t do anything to stop him. I’m not surprised. He’s an NFL quarterback. Just because he’s a rookie, doesn’t mean anything.”

On the attitude from the top down following the loss:

“You’re never happy with a loss. No matter if it’s preseason, regular season, playoffs, you definitely want to win a game. That’s what you step out there to do. We didn’t come out with the W, so everybody should be upset.”

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Belichick postgame quotes

08.26.10 at 11:02 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick didn’t have much to say following the Patriots’ 36-35 loss to the Rams on Thursday night. Most questions were met with similar answers, but here’s what the coach said:

On the game:

“We didn’t do well on anything. We just didn’t have a good night.”

“We didn’t perform well.”

“It’s concerning any time you don’t play well.”

“I think we need to play better and coach better. ”

On the impressive play from rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had two touchdowns:

“When you can’t make a first down in the first half it’s hard to find a lot of bright spots on offense.”

On first overall pick Sam Bradford:

“I’m only concerned about my team, I’m not really worried about anybody else.”

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No defense for shaky group

08.26.10 at 10:57 pm ET
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If you buy into the “third game of the preseason actually means something” theory it might not quite be the time to start looking at flights to Dallas in February.

First, the good (and it was really good). Tom Brady is looking very close to the guy we saw pre-Bernard Pollard. A slow start (more on that in a minute) but he rallied with a couple of TD passes — a Ben Coates-esque catch and drag job by Rob Gronkowsi and a vintage 65-yard bomb to Randy Moss. He was 18-of-22 with 3 TDs on the night and is 28-of-34 with 4 TDs and zero INT over the last two weeks. Gronkowski is the story of this preseason, and has the chance to be THE tight end that Brady has never had.

So the offense looks swell, midseason form, small hints of 2007, “wow, we have a tight end that catches passes,” all that good stuff.

But, alas, it is not offense alone that gets you to the final game of the NFL season. And that’s where reason for pause enters.

How’s this for alarming? With 7:02 left in the first half of Thursday night’s game the St. Louis Rams — coming off a 2-14 season — had 12 first downs. The Patriots? One. The Rams had 191 yards of offense, or 171 more than the Patriots. Time of possession was 17:03-5:55, Rams. Put it this way: At this time the Patriots had a 4-1 Punt to First Down ratio. Not the fastest way to a 13-3 season.

Sam Bradford — doing a nice impression of a 10-year veteran — carved up a pathetic Patriots secondary in his half of action, completing 15-of-22 passes for 189 yards, two TDs and zero picks. His passer rating was 125.0, or 17 points higher than his first two preseason starts combined. For a while you could almost understand why he makes more money than Brady (kidding).

It was shades of 2009 all over again, with Bradford playing the Chad Henne/Matt Schaub/Peyton Manning/Drew Brees role. Need a third-down conversion? Done. Want to turn a rookie tight end into Kellen Winslow? No problem, as Michael Hoomanawanui caught four passes for 53 yards, including a pair of TDs (and this has to be the first time in NFL history that two rookie TE’s caught two TD passes apiece in a preseason game, right? Right? Elias?).

There was no shortage of blame to go around among the defensive players. Jonathan Wilhite might be turing in the playbook to Belichick in the next few weeks, as it’s becoming increasingly clear that he simply cannot cover a competent NFL wide receiver. Derrick Burgess looked an awful lot like a guy who should be retired, as he failed to make any plays on the edge. Patrick Chung and Leigh Bodden (who really looked sluggish in his return) highlighted a night (OK, half) filled with miscommunication in the secondary on Hoomanawanui’s second TD catch. A shaky night for the first stringers and the backups (The Rams finished with 462 yards and a 30-12 first-down edge).

If you want to argue that this is the preseason and Belichick isn’t showing his hand (which I’m not buying, BB was extra testy in the post game  presser, you could tell he was more than a little shocked) and the defense will show up Week 1 ready to go, well, that’s a possibility, of course. What happened in the first half on Thursday night might turn out to mean nothing.

But we all know what Weakness No. 1 was for this team last year — a seriously deficient pass rush. And raise your hand, please, if you entered this preseason (or, better, walked out of Gillette Stadium or turned off your TV Thursday) thinking that the problem had been anywhere near solved.

So what’s the story from a game that might mean something or nothing, depending on where you stand on the third preseason game theory?

The offense is ready for the season.

And the defense looks stuck in last season.

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