New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

While 64,000 others inside Gillette Stadium reached a crescendo, roaring as the all-time great who quarterbacked New England’s football team in 326 games declared himself “a Patriot for life,” a rookie halfway through his debut silently stuck to intentions.

Ninety minutes earlier, Chad Ryland had driven his career-opening kickoff beyond Gillette Stadium’s south end zone. Now, minutes away from the third quarter, he faced that same direction as one of a half dozen Pats and Eagles’ specialists getting loose again for the resumption of play.

Behind them, Tom Brady punctuated a speech spoken to express gratitude and exclaim the two defining virtues of the championship teams he was part of as a Patriot. You either cared about “each other” and “winning,” Brady, told the crowd, or you weren’t cut out for Foxborough. And if you landed elsewhere, Brady’s Pats couldn’t wait to play against you.

By turning his back to Brady, the rookie kicker wasn’t being disrespectful. He was, instead, acting out Brady’s words, readying himself for that possible instance in a tight game when teammates would rely on him — speaking of Patriot priorities — to simply do his job.

“Obviously, I have the utmost respect for what he’s done,” Ryland replied, when asked Sunday night if he at least took a peek at Brady or was taken by anything Tom said. “I was just trying to stay in tune with what I could do at halftime and have an intentional warmup.

“In a close game, where we know it’s going to finish close, you never know when you might be needed. That’s the biggest thing. With everything I did today, it’s just the intentionality of it all. That was my main goal, to be intentional with absolutely everything.”

It’s interesting that Ryland should repeatedly refer to being intentional.

In her latest book, “The Right Call: What Sports Teach Us About Work and Life,” The Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins writes a chapter on ‘Intention.’ It just so happens, the sports figure to whom she devotes the first dozen pages of the chapter is none other than, yep, Tom Brady.

Jenkins also cites words written by entrepreneur Richard Branson: “Intention in its very essence is a futuristic act.” Branson, who regularly blogs about business and advocacy, also wrote that a day devoid of intention “is a day wasted” and that productivity, leading to success, can’t occur “without intention.”

With intention, Branson founded a record company and expanded his interests to include a luxury airline. Ryland’s main intention is to get kicks off the ground with a repeatable leg motion that projects footballs on consistent flight paths.

He practiced intentionality last weekend first while undistracted by a pregame downpour. His ‘futuristic acts’ in the first half were three kickoff touchbacks and two extra-points.

Although there was no make-it, win-it opportunity in the opener’s final two quarters, halftime intentionality could set him up for his shot this week. Or the next week.

Watching Ryland in warmups, he followed every strike by walking in a small circle, looping away and back toward his spot. It was a way of resetting, as if he just stepped off the sideline and onto the field in-game.

“That’s just me trying to stick to my routine, how I would be in a game and not just rattle balls off,” Ryland says. “It’s just helping me to stay in a rhythm, part of my preparation for the game.

“It’s all the same to me, whether it’s a 50-yarder, a 20-yarder or a 33-yarder (PAT). I’m taking my same swing every time and I want to be consistent. The same swing every time. That’s consistency at its finest.”

Overall, Patriots special teams coordinator Cam Achord was pleased with how Ryland and rookie punter and holder Bryce Baringer prepared themselves for their first regular-season experiences. Especially considering the rainy conditions.

“I thought they did a real good job handling everything that was thrown at ‘em,” Achord said Tuesday in a video conference. “Being ready. Being alert on the sidelines. They’re starting to evolve and realizing what it’s like to be a professional.

“Every game you’re out there, I kind of tell everybody, you’re not a rookie once the first game’s over. You’ve just got to keep moving on. But there’s a long way to go, for sure.”

  • Sowing The Seeds


    After practicing extensively at tackle in training camp, Sidy Sow made his first NFL start at right guard (Photo by Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

    Announcement of Sunday’s inactives shortly before 3 p.m. produced an almost audible collective gasp across New England along with threads of laments on social media at the sight of two names: guards Mike Onwenu and Cole Strange.

    Yet to fully overcome injuries that made both unavailable throughout the preseason schedule, their absence was filled by Sidy Sow (right) and Atonio Mafi (left). Two rookies. One coming off a training camp spent mostly at tackle. The other coming off a college career started on defense.

    Oh, and they had to line up across from one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL. Philadelphia had a league-high 70 sacks in 2022, recording the third-highest total in league history. Then the Eagles added first-round pick Jalen Carter from Georgia to this year’s group.

    But on Sunday, they didn’t get their first sack until the final three minutes and finished with just two. Philly did hit Mac Jones seven times and forced him into two non-scripted runs. The Eagles also held the Pats to 3.5 yards a carry and had five tackles for loss.

    While results were mixed, the signs are encouraging. Both ‘kid’ guards became 60-minute men, playing every snap at varied paces. Between them, there was one penalty (a hold by Mafi) in 160 reps. They hung in there, giving offensive line coach Adrian Klemm a foundation to work from.

    “The one thing that I left with feeling good about was the competitive spirit,” Klemm said on Tuesday morning. “They were never broken. Sometimes you worry about that, a guy coming into his first as a rookie — I’ve been there before — where if things don’t go well a certain moment, they maybe snowball. Those guys kept truckin’ away.

    “They struggled a little bit at times, but for the most part, they were up for it. We made some adjustments a few times during the game. They were able to build up off of those things and carry that into the next series. There’s some things that are really encouraging. And they understand coming out of it, there are a number of things that we need to work on and they need to get better at, but there are some building blocks.”

    Offering a brief self-assessment without the benefit of a film review, Sow saw it similarly from his seat post-game at his locker.

    “There’s always some good plays (and) some bad plays,” he said. “It was my first game, obviously, against that kind of front, which is a big challenge. But I felt like I held my own a little bit out there.”

    Regarding his shift inside after practicing extensively at tackle, the soft-spoken Sow gave no hint of how much he repped at guard since training camp. Nor did Klemm.

    “I was in and out of whatever position (coaches) wanted me to play,” Sow said. “I didn’t really ask questions or count the reps. They put me out there and I just go to work.”

    “History here is always about ‘The more you can do,’” said Klemm, sounding a familiar Foxborough refrain. “So even though he’s been focusing primarily on tackle, we still reviewed things with him at guard so he could have it in the back of his mind. You just never know how things pan out.

    “He was asked to make that move and he went out there and tried to compete at a high level. He played at left guard in college, so he was actually playing on the opposite side (Sunday).”

    Despite all of the above, Sow felt he belonged.

    “I think I was pretty calm from the beginning,” he said. “It really hit me the first preseason game, with all the emotions. (This) one, I knew it was serious business and it wasn’t time for me to get all excited and flustered because it’s the first one.”

  • Going The Distance


    Despite missing training camp, Calvin Anderson went wire-to-wire at right tackle in Sunday’s opener. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    In addition to Sow and Mafi, veterans Calvin Anderson (right tackle), David Andrews (center) and Trent Brown (left tackle) lined up for every snap. All except Andrews blocked on Ryland’s two extra points.   

    Among the five, Anderson’s stamina is most surprising, considering his summer. Diagnosed with an undisclosed, self-described “serious” illness, Anderson wasn’t activated off the non-football injury list until Aug. 29.

    Still, the 300-pound ex-Bronco went the distance in his 13th career start. So how’d he do it? With plenty of help, hard work and a smart plan.

    “Going through something very difficult, missing all that time, if you’re going to get back, you really have to be really proactive about your recovery,” Anderson said before crediting the Pats’ conditioning and rehab team for his expedited recovery. “Luckily we’ve got really great guys in there.” 

    Head strength & conditioning coach Moses Cabrera and director of performance and rehabilitation Johann Bilsborough collaborated with Anderson to plot and push through his regiment. Given less than two weeks, he practiced his way into the lineup.  

    “There was talk when it started, ‘How are we going to manage this because of however many practices I got?’ It (wasn’t) a lot before today,” Anderson said on Sunday. “There’s no substitute for football. Anybody that plays will tell you that. There’s nothing like playing football to get in football shape. 

    “We just had to fast-track it. I got cleared super late. But that’s life sometimes. You have to overcome those things. And there’s no excuses in the league. We come here to do a job.”

    Finishing it is as important as starting it.

    “I didn’t want to go into the game or not go into the game while my guys were out there and do some partial thing,” Anderson said. “I was real clear about that in our preparation coming back. I want to be out there with the guys.

    “I’m going to grind it out and not just be out there and be a liability; but to be out there and help the guys win. I came here for a reason. That was really important to me.” 

    And very impressive to his position coach.

    “There was a point in time in the game that he was gasping (for air) and he was tired,” Klemm said. “But he pushed through it. I was like, ‘Hey, you okay?’ He said, ‘No coach, I got it. I’ll let you know.’ I was proud of him, just fighting and staying with it. He did a good job. As the weeks go by, he’ll get in better and better shape.

    “He’s working hard every day to get back to his normal self. I think he’s on the right path to doing so. I was pleased with him.”

    Andrews, the seventh-year captain, felt similarly.

    “I definitely made sure to let him know how much I appreciated his effort Sunday,” Andrews said in a Wednesday press conference. “It’s really hard missing a training camp. You need a training camp, (especially) in a new system.

    “It says a lot to his work ethic to get back out there and go wire-to-wire like he did Sunday for us.”

    As for a late-game holding penalty that nullified a two-point conversion run by Jones, Klemm noted that Anderson’s “hand carriage” dropped too much as he engaged defensive end Brandon Graham. Eventually, he lost his balance and forced Graham to the ground. 

    It provided Klemm a teaching moment, conveyed with a catchy phrase.

    “You never want to have your hands at your hips,” Klemm explained. “That’s like going into a fight with your hands in your pockets. You just always want to have them protect your chest. 

    “I always look at it like your breastplate is the steering wheel to your soul. If the defender gets their hands on your breastplate, you know you’re in trouble.”   

    Bob Socci is in his 11th season calling play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

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