NFL Nation: Nate Solder

Three takeaways from ESPN's #NFLRank reveal of the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the league. Today: 71-80.

1. Money for nothing? The Baltimore Ravens got a Super Bowl victory out of quarterback Joe Flacco in 2012, and Flacco got an impenetrable contract that will pay him well beyond his current performance level. He'll take in $21 million this season, a year after the Ravens paid him $30 million, and almost certainly will be around for an $11 million payday in 2015. That'll take his three-year grab to $62 million, and because of the deal's cap structure, it's quite likely he'll get some kind of extension after that. (Releasing him after 2015 would trigger a $26 million cap charge.) And for what? #NFLRank tabbed him the No. 80 offensive player in the league, behind 14 quarterbacks, and that seems about right. Last season, Flacco's Total Quarterback Rating ranked No. 25 in the NFL. Don't blame Flacco. His team won the Super Bowl at exactly the right time -- for him.

2. A pair of veteran defenders: Did the Cleveland Browns plan it this way? Who knows? In the end, however, they signed two free agents this spring who were destined to be stacked on top of each other in #NFLRank. Linebacker Karlos Dansby is No. 72 among all defensive players, and safety Donte Whitner is No. 73. Dansby is 32 and Whitner is 29, and nothing about their #NFLRank seems out of place. As much as anything, the Browns are hoping Dansby and Whitner can add edge and aggressiveness to an otherwise faceless defense. Their best playing days are probably behind them, but the Browns will be happy with the attitude adjustment they're likely to bring.

3. Growing into a role: Nate Solder began his college career as a tight end and hadn't finished growing into a left tackle's body by the time he entered the NFL in 2011. But Solder, positioned at No. 72 in #NFLRank, has developed into a more-than-adequate left tackle for the New England Patriots. Soon it will be time for the Patriots to decide whether to commit long term, as the Dallas Cowboys recently did with left tackle Tyron Smith, or move on. Solder is a bargain in 2014 with a $1.7 million salary, but he will have a chance to dramatically increase his compensation in 2015 with a strong season. Left tackle is one of the more difficult spots to fill in the NFL, and the Patriots would be wise to let Solder continue to grow with them.

Solder and the fifth-year option

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
One of the popular topics at the NFL owners meetings was teams and their decisions to exercise -- or not -- the fifth-year option on players selected in the first round of the 2011 draft.

All of those players have the option built into their contract, though teams must decide by May 3 whether to exercise it.

The Panthers are expected to use the option on quarterback Cam Newton, the first pick in that draft, while the Lions will not use it on defensive tackle Nick Fairley, the 11th pick that year.

The Patriots haven't publicly announced anything on left tackle Nate Solder, the 17th pick.

From a financial standpoint, this is what the option entails, with an assist from friend of the blog and cap expert Brian McIntyre: It will be equal to the average salaries (the cap number minus workout/incentive clauses) of the third-25th highest paid players for those at the position at the end of the restricted free-agent signing period (May 2).

Though Solder has played at left tackle for each of the past two seasons, the calculation includes all offensive linemen. So, and this is a ballpark figure, exercising the fifth-year option on Solder would equate to an $8.6 million salary in 2015.

Solder has shown himself to be one of -- if not the -- premiere young offensive linemen in the game. He's a foundational-type piece who the Patriots may have an interest in extending at some point in the future, though the option buys them time. Though $8.6 million is a high number, it's a fair value given Solder's play and the importance of the left tackle position.

We'll continue to monitor whether the Patriots decide to exercise the option, with our contention that it makes sense to consider.

A look at the 16th, 17th pick

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys will not know until a coin flip at the NFL scouting combine if they or the Baltimore Ravens will pick 16th or 17th in the first round of the May draft.

The only time the Cowboys used the 16th pick in the draft came in 1961 when they selected E.J. Holub in the second round. They have not taken a player with the 17th overall pick since cornerback Kevin Smith in 1992. Before that? In 1990 they took Emmitt Smith, who is now the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.

What type of player has been available at Nos. 16 and 17? Here’s a look at the past 10 years.

2013 – EJ Manuel, Buffalo; Jarvis Jones, Pittsburgh
2012 – Quinton Coples, New York Jets; Dre Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati
2011 – Ryan Kerrigan, Washington; Nate Solder, New England
2010 – Derrick Morgan, Tennessee; Mike Iupati, San Francisco
2009 – Larry English, San Diego; Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay
2008 – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Arizona; Gosder Cherilus, Detroit
2007 – Justin Harrell, Green Bay; Jarvis Moss, Denver
2006 – Jason Allen, Miami; Chad Greenway, Minnesota
2005 – Travis Johnson, Houston; David Pollack, Cincinnati
2004 – Shawn Andrews, Philadelphia; D.J. Williams, Denver
2003 – Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh; Bryant Johnson, Arizona.

Polamalu is by far the best player selected in either spot. He will be in the Hall of Fame. There are quality players in there like Williams, Greenway, Rodgers-Cromartie, Iupati, Solder and Kerrigan. Andrews had a pretty good short run as well. Kerrigan is solid and has done some good things versus the Cowboys. Coples has showed some pass rush his first two seasons. I expected more from Kirkpatrick, who was on the Cowboys’ radar in 2012.

The Cowboys held the No. 18 pick in 2013 and traded down to No. 31 with the Niners where they took Travis Frederick. They felt they were in a position to trade down and still pick up a quality player. When they saw Eric Reid, Justin Pugh, Kyle Long and Tyler Eifert go off the board in the next four picks they were left sweating it out until they got Frederick.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing thoughts on the New England Patriots' 43-22 divisional-round playoff victory Saturday over the Indianapolis Colts:

What it means: The Patriots advance to the AFC Championship Game for the eighth time in Bill Belichick's 14 years as head coach, which continues a remarkable run of success for Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Many of the faces around them have changed over the years, but Belichick and Brady have been the constants, and one could make a case this has been their most impressive season as a tandem. The Patriots have been hit as hard by injuries as any team in the NFL, but they've willed their way to put themselves in position to win their first Super Bowl championship since the 2004 season.

Running game sparks attack again: For the third consecutive game, the Patriots' ground attack was the difference-maker, led by hard-charging LeGarrette Blount (franchise-record four rushing touchdowns). The Patriots split snaps at running back evenly among Blount, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, and sliced up the Colts with strong work up front by the offensive line -- left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Marcus Cannon -- as well as tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan and fullback James Develin. When the Patriots run it like this, it brings back memories of the 2004 Super Bowl championship team for which bruiser Corey Dillon was the lead back.

Injuries to monitor: Punter Ryan Allen left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski handled the punting duties, and Brady handled the holder responsibilities as part of the field-goal operation. If Allen is unavailable in the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots would almost certainly bring in another punter. Former Patriot Zoltan Mesko isn't an option, as he punted for the Bengals in the playoffs and isn't eligible to join another team. ... Elsewhere, rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins left the game in the fourth quarter with a head injury (presumably a concussion) and did not return. Veteran Austin Collie was his replacement.

Stock watch: Jamie Collins -- up. The Patriots' top pick in the 2013 draft (52nd overall) was thrust into an expanded role, in part because linebacker Brandon Spikes was placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier in the week. Collins had played just 25 percent of the defensive snaps during the regular season, but he didn't come off the field and made his presence felt as a tackler, pass-rusher and in coverage with an interception. He was all over the field in what was a coming out party for the ultra-athletic defender from Southern Mississippi.

What's next: The Patriots will play in the AFC Championship Game against the winner of Sunday's game between the visiting San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos (4:40 p.m. ET). If Denver beats San Diego, the AFC Championship Game will be played in Denver. If San Diego beats Denver, the AFC Championship Game will be played in New England. Regardless of location, the game will be played at 3 p.m. ET next Sunday.

W2W4: Five things for Colts-Patriots

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
After a weekend off, the New England Patriots are set to return to game action on Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts (8:15 ET).

The two teams squaring off reminds us of the days of Tom Brady-Peyton Manning in the postseason, as this will mark the fourth time the two franchises have played in the postseason (by the way: the winner of their three previous postseason matchups has gone on to win the Super Bowl).


What's your prediction for Patriots-Colts?


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The stakes are obvious for the game, with a spot in the AFC Championship Game on the line. During this same weekend last year, the Patriots found themselves playing a Divisional round game at home with a chance to ensure that the AFC Championship Game would be played inside of Gillette Stadium.

The top-seeded Broncos had been upset by the Ravens on Saturday night, leaving the Patriots and Colts as the highest seeds and thus turning their game into the right to play at home the following weekend.

A win this Saturday night for the Patriots or Colts would open up the door to hosting the AFC Championship Game, though it would take an unlikely upset by the Chargers on Sunday for that to be the case.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, as Saturday has the feel of a potentially memorable contest.

With kickoff drawing near, here’s a look at what we’ll be watching for.

[+] EnlargeRobert Mathis
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesRobert Mathis led the NFL with 19.5 sacks this season.
1. Solder-Mathis showdown. The Colts’ best defensive player, defensive end Robert Mathis, may just be the top pass-rusher in the NFL. That’s a big job for Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, who said earlier this week that Mathis reminded him -- in some ways -- of Saints defensive end Junior Galette. The Patriots are likely to give Solder some help from time-to-time on Mathis with the utilization of backs chipping and tight ends nudging Mathis before releasing into their patterns, but Solder will also need to be up to the task, as he has been for much of this season.

2. Shadow T.Y.? The Colts’ offense has been depleted by injuries this season, leaving T.Y. Hilton as the most fearsome target for quarterback Andrew Luck. Hilton is a terrific athlete with exceptional speed, which the Patriots have tried to simulate this week in practice by adding Reggie Dunn, who once ran a 4.24 forty. The question that lingers is whether the Patriots will turn to Aqib Talib to shadow Hilton, as he has done with many other wide receivers this season. Hilton doesn’t run exclusively out of the slot, but his role on the inside has picked up since Reggie Wayne went down. Might Talib follow him around the formation? Or will the Patriots turn to multiple defenders to slow him down?

3. The role of former Pats. The Colts brought aboard a familiar face this week in former Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch, adding to a group of former Patriots that now play in Indianapolis. That also includes kicker Adam Vinatieri, who will play in his 25th Patriots-Colts showdown. While Vinatieri’s role is defined, how Branch will be utilized will be interesting to monitor. Given that he was signed this week, it seems plausible Branch might not even be active for the game, but if he is, many eyes will be on number 86 (his jersey number with the Colts) to see how he performs on the field.

4. No safe leads. Every game is worth watching in its entirety, but this one in particular. If we learned anything about the Patriots this season and from the Colts last weekend, it’s that no lead is safe and no game is truly finished until the clock strikes zero. So if either team jumps out early, don’t presume the outcome is decided. The Patriots are fully aware of just how capable Luck is playing from behind, while the Colts know the Patriots have been as gritty as any other team in the NFL in close games this season.

5. Airing it out or ground and pound? Earlier this week, Mike Reiss and I debated over whether the Patriots should air things out against a vulnerable Colts secondary or continue what has worked of late -- the ground game approach led by LeGarrette Blount. The Colts' defense is probably better against the run than it is versus the pass, but that’s not to say the front seven is a dominant group (it allowed 5.1 yards per carry this season, second worst in the NFL). With potential rain in the forecast, slick conditions on the field could make throwing the football difficult, and could lead to a physical showdown at the line of scrimmage. If the Patriots do opt for a ground and pound approach, look for Blount and Stevan Ridley to both be relied upon heavily.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With larger than normal media crowds on hand at Gillette Stadium this week in advance of the Patriots' first playoff game of the season, the team has had several players address the media from the podium that normally is used just for Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady's press conferences.

On Wednesday, safety Devin McCourty and left tackle Nate Solder were among the talkers, and below are some of the highlights:

McCourty taps into brother for knowledge: McCourty has an X-factor of sorts on his side this week, as his twin brother, Jason, a Titans cornerback, has faced the Colts twice a season since the start of his career. Devin said that he checks in with his brother when the Patriots face an opponent the Titans have seen.

"Of course. He really just tells me the notes that they've got," he said. "I think it's big when you play someone twice a year, you understand more about them than I understand just from a personnel standpoint. He sends me everything he has and I texted him before and said, 'Whenever you've got time, send me over the Colts notes.' "

While the Patriots and Titans play different defensive schemes, Devin added that advanced knowledge of the Colts' tendencies can be beneficial.

"Tendencies, what they do as an offense," he said. "And then what we really talk about a lot is the players. How he felt a player was, what he felt he did well when he watched film."

Solder makes unique comparison: All eyes this weekend will be on Solder as he squares off against ferocious Colts defensive end Robert Mathis, who does his work from the right side of the Colts line.

Mathis led the NFL with 19.5 sacks this season, due in part to both his natural talents and his relentless pursuits, according to Solder.

"I think it's rare that you get a guy that has that much talent and then plays so hard every play and that's him," he said. "That's the challenge of him, I think."

Solder also passed along a unique player comparison for Mathis.

"Maybe [New Orleans Saints defensive end] Junior Galette, maybe but I would say he's kind of unique in the things that he can do, really unique, I'd say," he said.

Though they are similar in some ways, Solder didn't want to suggest they are carbon copies of each other.

"I wouldn't have gone too far with that," he said of the Mathis-Galette comparison. "But they have a real sharp quickness, they're quick off the ball, they have a nose for the ball, they play really hard. I think those are the things."

Solder did well to hold Galette without a sack back in a Week 5 meeting with New Orleans, something he hopes to replicate this Saturday against Mathis and the Colts.

Solder, Vereen, Thompkins active

December, 29, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Starting New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder and running back Shane Vereen are both active for today's game against the Buffalo Bills, which is the most notable takeaway from the team's list of inactive players.

Solder missed last Sunday's win against the Ravens with a concussion, and Vereen was limited to seven snaps with a groin injury in the game.

Also, receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) is active after missing the past three games.

The full list of inactives:

DE Jake Bequette
OL Chris Barker
DT Isaac Sopoaga
CB Alfonzo Dennard
S Devin McCourty
LB Steve Beauharnais
WR Josh Boyce

ANALYSIS: Sopoaga is a healthy scratch for the second straight week. He has slipped to fourth on the defensive tackle depth chart behind Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, and Joe Vellano, and the Patriots need the depth in other areas ... Dennard was a game-time decision last week (shoulder/knee) and he gets the rest today; hence the promotion of practice squad cornerback Justin Green on Saturday.

Bills inactives:

QB EJ Manuel (knee)
WR Stevie Johnson (personal)
WR Cordell Roberson
RB Ronnie Wingo
DB Brandon Smith
G Mark Asper
G Antoine McClain
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty (concussion) and wide receiver Josh Boyce (ankle) were the two players absent from Thursday's practice, while defensive end Rob Ninkovich was the only addition to the injury report, with an ankle issue that limited him on Thursday.

It is not known when the injury to Ninkovich occurred or how much it has limited him. He was seen in the locker room Thursday without any noticeable limp or hitch in his step.

If McCourty and Boyce are unable to practice on Friday, it would cast doubt on their availability for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Bills.

A total of 12 players were limited in practice Thursday, a list that included left tackle Nate Solder (concussion) and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), both of whom missed the Week 16 game in Baltimore.

McCourty, Boyce absent from practice

December, 24, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Starting safety Devin McCourty and rookie wide receiver Josh Boyce (ankle) were the two New England Patriots not spotted at the team's walkthrough on Tuesday morning.

McCourty left Sunday's game after tackling Ravens tight end Ed Dickson in the third quarter and did not return. The team officially announced it as a head injury, although it is unclear if McCourty suffered a concussion. Rookie safety Duron Harmon filled in for McCourty.

Boyce, meanwhile, suffered a Week 15 ankle injury against the Dolphins that kept him off the practice field all of last week and out of Sunday's game. The timetable for his return is unclear.

Running back Shane Vereen, who left Sunday's game with a groin injury, was on the field and taking part in team stretching. Safety Steve Gregory, who left the game Sunday with an undisclosed injury but did return, was present for the walkthrough but spent the media-access portion of it on the sidelines.

Left tackle Nate Solder (concussion) and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) were also present for the indoor walkthrough.

One additional note: Running back LeGarrette Blount was still wearing his AFC East Champions hat. He obviously likes the fit.

Solder, Boyce missing from practice

December, 18, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After leaving Sunday's game with his second head injury in as many weeks, Patriots starting left tackle Nate Solder was not spotted at the start of the team's practice on Wednesday morning.

Solder was forced to depart the Week 15 game in Miami early in the fourth quarter after appearing to be kicked or kneed, according to head coach Bill Belichick.

In his place, the Patriots kicked left guard Logan Mankins out to the left tackle spot and used rookie Josh Kline in Mankins' normal spot.

During his morning news conference Wednesday, Belichick indicated an update on Solder's injury would come via the team's practice report later this afternoon.

It's the second straight Wednesday practice that Solder has missed, as he sat out last week's as well as he recovered from the concussion suffered in Week 14. He practiced on a limited basis both Thursday and Friday and underwent a pregame workout on Sunday, indicating he was a true game-time decision.

Rookie wide receiver Josh Boyce, who left Sunday's game with what appeared to be a right foot or ankle injury, was also absent for the media portion of the practice. He posted four catches in the defeat, a career high.

The Patriots had perfect attendance otherwise at practice, including rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson (foot) and Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), who have missed the past three and two games, respectively.

Dobson returned to practice last Friday on a limited basis but did not travel with the team to Miami. Thompkins, meanwhile, has been limited in practice since suffering a Week 13 injury against the Texans.

The Patriots practiced in shells and helmets on the game field at Gillette Stadium, which has the same surface -- field turf -- as they'll play on this Sunday in Baltimore. The team may also have moved the practice inside the stadium due to the snow on the practice fields, which they may not have been able to remove in time for practice.

While it was chilly in Foxborough this morning, temperatures call for nearly 70 degrees on Sunday in Baltimore with a roughly 50 percent chance of rain.

Solder and Cannon active vs. Dolphins

December, 15, 2013
MIAMI -- New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, who missed Wednesday's practice and was listed as questionable to play in Week 15 due to a recently suffered concussion, is active for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.

Solder, who returned to practice on a limited basis for both Thursday and Friday, conducted a pregame workout with members of the team's medical staff in the hours leading up to the game.

He played every offensive snap in the team's Week 14 win over the Browns and has been a top performer on their line since assuming the left tackle role on a permanent basis to start the 2012 season.

The team will have its starting offensive line intact this week as right tackle Marcus Cannon, who has missed two straight games due to an ankle injury, is also active. The Patriots have relied on veteran Will Svitek in his absence.

The Patriots, who can clinch their fifth straight AFC East title with a win, announced that defensive ends Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan, linebacker Steve Beauharnais, guard Chris Barker and tight end D.J. Williams will be inactive today, joining receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, previously ruled out due to injury.

Below are the inactives for both teams:

Guard Chris Barker
Linebacker Steve Beauharnais
Defensive end Jake Bequette
Defensive end Michael Buchanan
Wide receiver Aaron Dobson
Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins
Tight end D.J. Williams

Offensive line David Arkin
Safety D.J. Campbell
Quarterback Pat Develin
Defensive tackle A.J. Francis
Defensive back Justin Rogers
Cornerback Jamar Taylor
Offensive line Danny Watkins

Analysis: Beyond the news that the Patriots will have their offensive line intact, they'll also return tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who has missed three games due to a knee injury. The fact that D.J. Williams is inactive, leaving the Patriots with just two healthy tight ends today, could be a sign that Hoomanawanui is ready for extensive action. While the Patriots are down to just three defensive ends with both Buchanan and Bequette inactive, it's been several weeks since Buchanan has played at all on defense. The Patriots will continue to lean on Andre Carter as the top reserve behind Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones at the defensive end spot.

Solder misses practice with concussion

December, 11, 2013
Patriots starting left tackle Nate Solder missed Wednesday's practice due to a concussion, according to the team's practice report.

Solder did not miss any snaps during the Patriots' Week 14 win over the Browns, and it is unclear when the injury took place.

He was one of two Patriots to miss practice on Wednesday, as rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson missed his seventh consecutive practice after suffering a foot injury during a Week 12 win over the Broncos.

Solder will need to pass NFL concussion protocols to return to practice. His status for this Sunday's game in Miami is not known at this time.

Tackle Marcus Cannon was limited in his return to practice, as he's sat out two weeks due to an ankle injury that has thrust Will Svitek into a starting role.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who has been previously limited by a knee injury, was also limited by a shoulder injury, which he suffered on Sunday against the Browns.

Cornerbacks Aqib Talib (hip), Kyle Arrington (groin) and Marquice Cole (shin) were also limited, as was quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder). Brady has been limited in practice during previous parts of the season, though the issue has not seemed to limit him at all during games.

Upon Further Review: Patriots Week 5

October, 7, 2013
CINCINNATI -- A review of four hot issues following the New England Patriots' 13-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanPatriots QB Tom Brady finished Sunday's Week 5 game in Cincinnati with 197 yards, no TDs and one interception.
Offensive struggles: In a script that has been flipped from recent years, it's the defense carrying the offense at this point. Quarterback Tom Brady was held to fewer than 200 yards passing for the second time this season, as the Bengals defense controlled the game at the line of scrimmage. "We scored six points; I don't even remember the last time we've done that," Brady said Monday morning on sports radio WEEI. The last time the Patriots scored fewer points was a 21-0 shutout loss at Miami on Dec. 10, 2006. Looking for a place to start when it comes to turning around the fortunes of the offense? Start up front with the offensive line, where all five starters return and a better performance than what was put forth Sunday in Cincinnati is expected.

Rob Gronkowski's potential return: The tight end has missed the first five games of the regular season, but he could return Sunday against the Saints. The Patriots couldn't convert in their one trip inside the red zone Sunday, and Brady threw incomplete to left tackle-turned-eligible tight end Nate Solder in the end zone. Gronkowski, who figures to be managed upon his return to the field, could at least help in the red zone.

Tommy Kelly and defensive tackle depth: The veteran defensive tackle left Sunday's game with a right knee injury in the fourth quarter and didn't return. Kelly said after the game that "everything was good" with the knee, and he wasn't walking with a limp or with the aid of crutches, although it's still a bit unclear what that means. The Patriots are thin at defensive tackle after losing Vince Wilfork to a season-ending Achilles injury, and if Kelly is sidelined for any period of time, it would further deplete the ranks. Rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones are the only other defensive tackles on the roster, while Marcus Forston and A.J. Francis are on the practice squad.

Banged-up running back group: With veteran Leon Washington leaving Sunday's game with an ankle injury and not returning, Shane Vereen on short-term injured reserve, and Stevan Ridley sidelined Sunday with a knee injury, the Patriots were down to just two running backs -- LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. Both had miscues that hurt the team -- Blount a second-quarter fumble and Bolden two drops. As the passing game struggles to produce consistent results, it would help to be able to turn to the running game. But it's a depleted group and we'll be interested to see if Washington's injury leads the team to consider injured reserve as an option.

Rapid reaction: Patriots 25, Bucs 21

August, 16, 2013

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the New England Patriots’ preseason game against the Buccaneers, a 25-21 Patriots win:

Brady doesn’t miss a beat. If there were any questions about quarterback Tom Brady and his injured left knee, they were answered with authority. In 12 pass attempts, there was just one incompletion (on a third-down throw to receiver Danny Amendola) as he carved up the Buccaneers’ defense on the team’s first drive, an impressive 15-play, 80-yard march that included a variety of formations and personnel groupings. Before the game, Brady was fired up as he entered for warm-ups, running from one end zone to the other and giving Buccaneers defensive end Adrian Clayborn a friendly fist bump. Clayborn, of course, had the bull-rush in Wednesday’s practice that pushed Patriots left tackle Nate Solder into Brady.

PatriotsBucsTop unit on defense produces four sacks. After a preseason opener in which the pass rush wasn’t as disruptive as desired, the Patriots swarmed against the Buccaneers, with the tone set by middle linebacker Brandon Spikes on the first play as he charged downhill and steamrolled running back Doug Martin to register a sack. Spikes added a second sack on the Buccaneers’ second drive, while ends Chandler Jones (nice rush against left tackle Donald Penn in which he got low and pushed Penn back) and Rob Ninkovich added sacks. If the pass rush can perform like that during the season, the Patriots’ D could be dangerous.

Amendola’s home debut a success. Playing the same role as Wes Welker in the team’s offense, free-agent signee Danny Amendola had a Welker-type performance (7 targets, 6 catches, 71 yards, TD). Here is one indication that reflects how the Patriots view Amendola as their No. 1 target: He was the lone receiver who played only the first two series (20 snaps). All other receivers were playing into the second half.

Sudfeld’s emergence continues. Patriots free-agent tight end Zach Sudfeld started and not only has he appeared to carve out a spot on the roster, he’s in position to contribute as the team’s “move” tight end. Sudfeld was on the receiving end of a thread-the-needle two-point conversion pass from Brady, and later made a very nice 22-yard touchdown grab on a Ryan Mallett pass that was tipped before Sudfeld showed excellent concentration and came down with it. At 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, Sudfeld has a big catch radius, runs well and currently looks like the team’s best “move” tight end (the old Aaron Hernandez role).

Injury report. There were no major injuries for the Patriots, although second-unit right tackle R.J. Mattes was knocked out of the game with a right ankle injury. Mattes is a long shot to earn a roster spot, but the Patriots have been managing a shortage along the line for most of training camp and this is another hit to be accounted for.

Tough night for Tebow. For the second week in a row, No. 3 quarterback Tim Tebow played the entire second half. It was a tough passing performance for Tebow, who fired an errant, high pass to receiver Kenbrell Thompkins early in the fourth quarter that was intercepted. Tebow also skipped a throw up the right sideline on his first pass attempt. His best success came when he was running, but there weren't many highlights when he was in the game in the second half.

Quick hits. The emergence of rookie free-agent receiver Kenbrell Thompkins continues. Thompkins played 36 first-half snaps (21 with Tom Brady in the game), compared to second-round draft choice Aaron Dobson, who had 17 first-half snaps (two with Brady). ... Defensive end Marcus Benard looks like he’s carving out a role for himself, as he was the first sub rusher to enter the game. That’s the role that Jermaine Cunningham opened the 2012 season playing. Cunningham is currently injured. ... Kickoff coverage was one downer for the Patriots, as they gave up returns of 63 and 40 yards.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers pushed Tom Brady around in a joint practice Wednesday. On Friday night, the New England quarterback hit back, carving up Tampa Bay’s first-team defense in a 25-21 New England win.

Brady had to leave Wednesday’s practice when Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn pushed New England tackle Nate Solder into Brady’s knee. Brady had to leave practice, but it quickly was discovered that no damage was done.

Solder and the rest of New England’s offensive line protected Brady to a near-perfect night. At one point, New England had run 23 offensive plays while the Bucs had run only three. Brady finished 11-of-12 for 107 yards and one touchdown before leaving at the end of the first quarter.

Granted, the Bucs were without cornerback Darrelle Revis. But this defense has to improve dramatically for Tampa Bay to have a chance when these teams meet again in the third week of the regular season.

Some other quick observations on the Bucs:
  • As I mentioned above, Brady was well protected. That’s not good news for a Tampa Bay defense that wasn’t able to generate anything close to a pass rush. Coach Greg Schiano has been challenging Da’Quan Bowers to be an every-down player, and the Bucs have some other good young players on the defensive line. But the pass rush has to improve by the start of the regular season if Tampa Bay’s defense is going to be any good.
  • Speaking of pass rushes, the Patriots had one. They sacked Josh Freeman three times before he left the game at the end of the first quarter. Freeman completed 2-of-3 passes for 8 yards. Freeman didn’t have much of a chance, but he could have avoided the second sack if he hadn’t held on to the ball so long. Freeman never got into any sort of rhythm as the Bucs failed to move the ball while he was in the game.
  • Rookie Mike Glennon took over when Freeman left the game, and he had a little more success. Glennon completed 12-of-22 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had an interception returned for a touchdown in the third quarter.
  • Running back Doug Martin got banged up in the first quarter and left the game with an unspecified injury. Rookie Mike James looked good at times after replacing Martin. The Bucs brought in veteran Peyton Hillis as insurance, and he showed he may have something left, meaning the Bucs have some quality depth in the backfield.