FOXBOROUGH — Statistically speaking, the Patriots are finding their offensive stride against some of the best defenses in the NFL. That trend — at least the part about the stout defense — continues Sunday, when the Browns bring the league’s fourth-ranked unit to Gillette Stadium.
In recent weeks, the Patriots have scored 55 points against Pittsburgh, whose defense was ranked No. 4 at the time; 20 points at Carolina (No. 2); and 34 points at Houston (No. 1). They also scored 34 points against Denver, whose defense was ranked 23d at the time.
“I feel like every week I’m about to talk about a top-10 defense, but they’re like fourth or fifth in all the categories, and really good,” said Tom Brady after Wednesday’s practice. “Stout up front, and [cornerback] Joe Haden’s one of the best cover guys in the league, so it’s a good group.
“We’ve got to somehow put together 60 good minutes. Hopefully, we can do that.”
However, it was pointed out to Brady, the Patriots have not been able to put together 60 good minutes lately, despite all the points scored. They’ve fallen into a pattern of starting slow: 3 first-half points at Carolina, no first-half points against Denver, and 7 first-half points at Houston. They trailed by 7, 24, and 10 at halftime of those games before coming back and winning two of them.
“We’ve started slow too many times this year, and it’s hard to keep playing from behind,” said Brady. “We talk about it, we’re trying to get better at it.
“There’s no magic formula, just like there’s really no magic formula to what we’re doing in the second half. The execution needs to be a lot better at the start of the game, and really we’ve got to have great execution for the entire game. That’s the most important thing.
“We’ve played some really good teams, really good defenses that have put a lot of pressure on us, so it’s hard sometimes to play 60 good minutes of football, but we’ve got to start doing that at some point.”
Brady was also asked about the two security guards at Reliant Stadium who reportedly lost their jobs after asking for — and getting — their picture taken with the quarterback Sunday.
“I don’t have any comment on that,” Brady said. “It’s unfortunate, but I don’t make the rules.”
Old home week
Bill Belichick has worked for seven franchises in an NFL career that started in 1975, with this Sunday’s game against the Browns holding a special distinction: It pits the team Belichick has coached since 2000 against the organization that gave him his first head coaching gig. And while he said he’s had positive experiences at the places he’s been before, he did make an exception, taking a playful swipe at the New York Jets in the process.
With respect to Cleveland, where he guided the Browns from 1991-95, Belichick said, “I was there for five years, five important years in my life, for myself and my family. Obviously we’ve all moved on, and I have a job to do here, and that’s where my loyalty is, to Robert [Kraft] and the Patriots organization and this football team.”
Belichick then added, “No different than how I feel, honestly, about the Colts or the Lions or the Broncos. I feel differently about the Jets. I wouldn’t put them in that category.”
That unexpected comment drew laughter.
Belichick was a Jets assistant coach from 1997-99, then was named head coach, a job he held for exactly one day before abruptly resigning. He took over the Patriots soon thereafter, and his teams have gone 20-10 against the Jets since then.
But Belichick cut his head coaching teeth in Cleveland, and he went out of his way — before he was even asked a question — to mention the respect he has for the organization.
“It was good experiences with all those teams, we learned from them, grew as a coach and as a person and as a family, but it was a very different time and a different place, and this is where we are now, so we’re trying to make the most out of this one,” Belichick said.
Seven days after being signed and three days after he made his Patriots debut, tight end D.J. Williams was waived.
Williams played a limited number of snaps against the Texans and did not have a pass thrown his way. He spoke to the media after practice, offering no hint that his time with the team was about to end.
Michael Hoomanawanui was back at practice after missing two straight games with a knee injury, giving the Patriots four tight ends on the field, including Rob Gronkowski and Matt Mulligan.
Prior to being released, Williams had what he termed the longest week of his professional life. After being signed by the Patriots Nov. 27, he had three days to learn the playbook and get ready to face the Texans.
“This team has had a lot of success, and it’s really hard to pick up this offense in just one week,” he said, “but the coaches have done a great job preparing me, and Ryan Mallett, my college quarterback [at Arkansas], has been a real good helping hand in helping me get prepared.
“As far as learning, the biggest part in the learning process is when you break the huddle, you know where to go, that’s the starting point, and I had to figure that out last week.”
Cut to the quick
Cornerback Aqib Talib, almost always entertaining, spoke highly of Browns receiver Josh Gordon, who just became the first player in NFL history to have back-to-back games with 200 receiving yards. Gordon torched the Jaguars for 261 this past Sunday, one week after going for 237 against the Steelers.
At 6 feet 3 inches, 225 pounds, Gordon reminds Talib of some other big-name receivers.
“He reminds you of those names, the Calvin Johnsons, the Andre Johnsons, it’s bigger guys with little guy speed and quickness,” Talib said. “He can turn an 8-yard curl into a touchdown in a heartbeat.
“You get a guy who’s 235 pounds” — actually 225, according to the Browns — “and running like he’s 35 pounds, that’s definitely a challenge.”
Talib also was born in Cleveland.
“Yeah, yeah, East Cleveland, baby,” Talib said.
So he grew up a Browns fan?
“No, definitely not. I was a Cowboys fan.”
Dennard due in court
Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who has missed two of the last three games with a knee injury, was one of nine Patriots who were limited in practice. It remains to be seen whether Dennard attends practice Thursday or Friday, because he has a pair of legal matters to attend to in a Nebraska courtroom.
Dennard is scheduled to appear in Lancaster District Court Thursday afternoon for a sentencing after he admitted to violating the probation that was part of his initial sentence on a felony assault conviction. A probation revocation determination was found following Dennard’s arrest in July on a charge of driving under the influence. Dennard is scheduled to appear Friday afternoon in Lancaster County Court regarding the DUI charges.
Hearing dates for both cases have been pushed back multiples times, and according to a report in the Lincoln Journal Star, Dennard has already requested another continuance on the probation sentencing, until after the football season.
Dennard’s attorney, Alan Stoler, told the Journal Star that Dennard has already completed 65 hours of community service, and would like to show the judge that he can comply with the terms of his probation, which include 100 hours of community service.