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Pregame Thoughts and Analysis: Patriots Host Lions Sunday Afternoon

Patriots Offensive Coordinator, Josh McDaniels, has his hands full facing the Lions top-ranked NFL defense this Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots will host the Detroit Lions Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots, now 8-2 on the season, return home after defeating the Indianapolis Colts 42-20 last Sunday. The Lions, 7-3 this year, lost on the road 14-6 against the Arizona Cardinals last week.

The Patriots have won 13 straight games against NFC North teams, including a 2-0 record in 2014. Here are a few thoughts on the upcoming game.

Pregame Thoughts¬†—¬†

First Impressions:¬†The Lions are the NFL’s top ranked defense this season. While their defense has shined, the offense has struggled. Despite several weapons, Matthew Stafford and Lions offense are averaging just 18.8 points-per-game. Star wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, has battled some injuries this year, but is a full-go for a potential head-to-head battle against Pats cornerback, Darrelle Revis.

Protecting Brady is Biggest Key to Victory: The Lions have an attacking front seven on defense, making it hard for opposing quarterbacks. Detroit has invested heavily on their defensive line; drafting Ndamukong Suh, Ezekiel Ansah and Nick Fairley in the first round.

The Lions have registered 26 sacks through 10 games this season. While the Patriots have settled down on the offensive line, they face a big test this week. If they can keep Brady upright, he should find success. However if the Lions can generate pressure, New England’s high-powered offense could be derailed.¬†

Pats May Shy Away from Balance, Pass to Win: Even though Detroit’s pass rush and interior pressure is the biggest concern for the Patriots Sunday, New England should pass to win this week. In part because the Lions have allowed a NFL best 68.8 yards-per-game to opposing offenses. Better yet, teams facing the Lions have rushed for no greater than 37% less than their team rushing average.

What does this mean? With pressure from the Lions defense inevitable, expect Brady and the offense to do a lot of quick passes, screen plays and if they choose to run, draws in order to slow down the pass rush. Don’t expect another 200-plus yard rushing performance from New England. Instead, Brady and the passing game will be the focus of this week’s contest.

Revis Island for… Tate?: While many expect Revis to cover Johnson Sunday, the Patriots might switch things up for the upcoming contest. Revis could potentially cover Golden Tate, double-teaming Johnson — perhaps with Brandon Browner and safety help — in order to neutralize a threatening aerial attack.

With Revis on Tate, Johnson covered by two defenders, Bill Belichick could use Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan on the running backs or others. Stafford will still attempt passes to Tate and Johnson, as well he should, but slowing¬†those two receivers would hurt¬†Detroit’s chances Sunday afternoon.

Of course if Revis shadows Johnson, it will be a treat for all those watching the game. Two of the best at their respective positions going head-to-head.

Final Thoughts: This matchup will come down to strength versus strength, the Lions stout defense against the Patriots offense. The Lions have kept opposing offenses in-check for the majority of the season, but the offense has not been able to generate as many points as projected.

While the Lions present a tough challenge on defense, the Patriots have been too strong offensively in recent weeks. In their last six games, New England is averaging 40.5 points-per-game. Detroit is in a tough spot, traveling to face the NFC leading Arizona Cardinals in week 11, before coming across the country to face the AFC leading Patriots. It may be close early, but look for New England to build momentum as the game moves along and eventually hold a commanding lead in the fourth quarter.

Prediction: Patriots 31, Lions 20

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Mid-Season Patriots Grades and Awards

The Patriots are rolling midway through the season, led by Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowksi on offense. (USA TODAY Images)

The 2014 NFL season is at the halfway mark. The Patriots have played nine games and sit atop the AFC East with a 7-2 record.

While the team started slow, 2-2 through the first four weeks, New England won five-straight and rested during week 10 as they prepare for the second half of the year.

Here’s how the team graded out through the first nine games. —

Offense: B +

The last five weeks, the Patriots have been on fire offensively. Tom Brady has been incredible, tossing 18 touchdown passes and only one interception. The offensive line has settled down, finding a starting five, and overall improved after a bumpy start.

Rob Gronkowski is playing on another level. His impact on the offense is incredible; whether it’s making big catches, run blocking or creating space for other receivers with opposing defensive backs gravitating towards him. As he’s gotten healthier, the team has been more deadly on offense, no coincidence.

While Julian Edelman has been pretty consistent, Brandon LaFell has emerged as a threat in the passing game. He’s struggled with drops at times, but also made some athletic plays after the catch and become a third option (after Gronkowski and Edelman) for Brady to rely on.

There are some negatives, too. Let’s not forget the struggles at the beginning of the season. The offensive line was a revolving door, the passing game was somewhat out-of-sync and the team lost Stevan Ridley for the year to a knee injury.

With Ridley sidelined, the running game has been inching along. Shane Vereen is inconsistent and third-year tailback Jonas Gray has underwhelmed. Without a more consistent rushing attack, the offense is somewhat limited. Something which needs to be addressed moving forward.

Defense: B 

Coming into the year, expectations were high for the Patriots defense. It hasn’t been perfect, but the unit has improved as the season goes along.¬†The loss of defensive captain, Jerod Mayo, definitely hurts the team, but the Patriots have made adjustments over the past few weeks.

The additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner has given the secondary flexibility, depth and the ability to play more physical with opposing offenses.

The Patriots pass rush has been fairly inconsistent, but stepped up in recent weeks as the defense has gotten more aggressive. While Chandler Jones has been sidelined with a hip injury, Rob Ninkovich and recently acquired Akeem Ayers have turned up the heat. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff utilizes all three players down the road.

New England must improve in run defense, as they’ve allowed an average of 120 yards-per-game on the ground, as well as tackling. Overall, however, the unit has done a good job forcing opposing teams to settle for field goals and getting off the field on third downs.

Special Teams: A -

The Patriots special teams play has been solid most of the season. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has missed just one field goal, 24-of-25, and second-year punter Ryan Allen is averaging 46 yards-per-punt.

Matthew Slater and Don Jones have been incredible on kick coverage, as the duo consistently beats their match-ups throughout each contest. Brandon Bolden also deserves an honorary mention for his standout play and keep an eye out for Jonathan Casillas in the second half of the season.

Danny Amendola has given New England a spark on kick returns, averaging 25.4 yards-per-return. Amendola along with Julian Edelman have New England ranked as the second best punt return unit in the NFL.

While special teams can often be a forgotten phase of an NFL game, the Patriots have outplayed many of their opponents and it’s showing up week-in-and-week-out.

Coaching: B +

Perhaps my biggest criticism of the Patriots coaching staff is aimed more towards the beginning of the season. It seemed they could not settle on a starting offensive line and the unit looked out of sync.

The Patriots also have 91 penalties through nine games, and will likely break the franchise record of 111 set during the 2003 season.

All that put aside, it’s been business as usual for New England. Bill Belichick has been able to overcome key injuries on both sides of the ball and the team focused on the task at hand. At 7-2, the Patriots are two wins away from an incredible fourteenth consecutive¬†winning season.

Patriots Awards:

MVP: Tom Brady

A case could be made for Rob Gronkowski, but as Brady goes, the Patriots offense goes and they’re on fire. The talk of his “decline” highlighted the off-season, but Brady’s showing why he should still be considered one of the NFL’s best players.

Offensive Player: Rob Gronkowski

As he got healthier and more involved in the offense, the unit started pouring on more points. Gronkowski creates space for other receivers, makes impact blocks in the run game and his unbelievable receiving ability makes him one of the most dangerous players in the league.

Defensive Player: Darrelle Revis

The Patriots paid him $12 million this season to help transform their defense into a legitimate threat. While it hasn’t been perfect, Revis has made New England’s secondary one of the best statistical units in the NFL. His presence gives Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff the ability to game plan week-to-week for opposing offenses.

Rookie of the Year: Bryan Stork

You might not¬†think a fourth-round center would be the “rookie of the year”, but Stork has helped solidify the offensive line. There have been ups-and-downs, as there is with all rookie players, but his future is promising.

Most Surprising Addition: Brandon LaFell

When LaFell was signed, it wasn’t expected to have the type of role or impact he’s had this season. LaFell has matched his career-high in touchdowns (5); needs only 13 catches to tie his career-high in receptions (currently at 36); and is 163 yards shy of his career-high in receiving yards with eight games to play.

Most Disappointing Player: Aaron Dobson

Dobson faced an uphill battle after off-season foot surgery and his lack of special teams value has him sidelined on game days. The former second-round pick has been an afterthought this season.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Reaction: Patriots Dominate Broncos, Take Lead in AFC

Tom Brady and the Patriots were too much for Peyton Manning’s Broncos in week nine. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots defeated the Denver Broncos 43-21 at Gillette Stadium Sunday evening.

The Patriots scored first, taking an early 3-0 lead after a Stephen Gostkowski 49-yard field goal, but then fell behind 7-3 on the following drive.

The second quarter, however, was all New England. The Patriots outscored Denver 24-0, taking a commanding 27-7 lead going into the half. Peyton Manning looked frustrated throughout the contest, ultimately suffering his worst loss (22 points) since joining the Broncos.

Despite allowing 472 yards, the Patriots defense stood tall against an explosive passing attack. New England’s defenders played physical, clearly disrupting the timing of Denver’s passing attack.

Here are a few thoughts on Sunday’s contest. —

“Brady’s Better!” - Gillette Stadium chanted loud and clear, “Brady’s better!” in the second half. Fans¬†knew how big this contest was going in, Brady versus Manning sixteen. And it was sweet, if you’re a Patriots fan.

Brady went 33-for-53, for 333 yards, four touchdowns and an interception Sunday. He threw his first interception — off a receiver deflection — since Sept. 29, against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The pocket wasn’t always clean, but Brady was able to push the ball downfield, despite strong winds, consistently finding receivers to sustain drives. New England’s offense continues to roll, putting up nearly 40 points on a regular basis over the past five weeks.

The Broncos defense has been praised as a much improved unit, but the Patriots offense, led by Brady, proved to be too much to handle in this game.

Incredelman - Julian Edelman was incredible Sunday, taking over the contest at times in two different phases of the game.

He hauled in nine passes on 10 targets for 89 yards and a touchdown. Edelman added a momentum-turning play, returning an 84-yard punt back for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Edelman’s production had dipped in previous weeks, including a combined four drops against the Jets and Bears, but he came back with a vengeance in week nine. Between he, Brandon LaFell and Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots have found a tremendous rhythm in the passing game.

Pats Flex Muscles in Secondary - When the Patriots signed Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the offseason, it was clear they wanted to upgrade their defense on the back end.

Browner has shown good-and-bad through his first three games with New England. While he’s been able to match-up with bigger receivers, he’s also been penalized seven times for his play.

Revis was targeted earlier in the game, allowing three catches and looking lost in coverage. After that, his side of the field was quiet for the contest. Revis did a great job collapsing on screen plays to Demaryius Thomas, forcing Manning to look at other options.

As an honorable mention, Patrick Chung may have been the best defensive back on the field for the Patriots Sunday. He was outstanding in coverage, emerging in his limited role and doing a superb job tackling in the open field. After being washed out in Philadelphia, he’s returned to New England providing an upgrade in their big nickel package.

Revis said after the game, “We felt like we matched up with their receivers across the board… We just wanted to go out there and out-physical them.”

They did just that Sunday.

Final Thought:¬†This isn’t the Super Bowl, the Patriots did not win a championship because they beat the Broncos in week nine. With that being said, you have to feel good about this team beating their toughest AFC opponent and rolling into the bye week on a five-game winning streak.

The Patriots looked mediocre to start the year, but have improved each week and now should be considered one of the NFL’s best teams. With the Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers on the schedule over the next four weeks, they’ll continue to get tested as the season moves forward.

For now, the Patriots are 7-2 and atop the AFC. Hopefully the team enjoys this victory, recharges and can carry the momentum in two weeks.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Reaction: Patriots Manhandle Bears, Offense Soars in Fourth Straight Victory

Wide receiver Brandon LaFell has emerged in the Patriots offense, setting career highs in receptions and yards Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots blew out the Chicago Bears 51-23 on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots started the game quickly and never took their foot off the gas. After deferring to Chicago to start the game, New England’s defense was able to get off the field in just six plays.

Then, the fun began… if you’re a Patriots fan.

Touchdown, field goal, touchdown,  touchdown,  touchdown. New England scored on all five possessions of the first half, putting up 31 points in a hurry.

The Bears highly touted offense barely showed up Sunday. Matt Forte had a quality game, but Chicago’s offensive unit couldn’t get into a rhythm. With the loss of Chandler Jones last week, already without Jerod Mayo, New England’s defense rose to the occasion. Overall, a quality game with contributions from all three phases.

Here are a few thoughts on Sunday’s contest. —

Gronk is Back: While Rob Gronkowski started the season for the Patriots, it looks as if “Gronk” is back in full form. Gronkowski was a force to be reckoned with Sunday, hauling in nine passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns. The Bears defense had no answer for no.87, consistently picking up chunk yards down the seam and throwing defenders to the ground.

It’s incredible what Gronkowski is able to do when healthy. In 58 career games, he’s scored 56 touchdowns. Gronk opens up the offense, creating space for other receivers to make plays. Whether he’s catching a lot of passes or not, Gronkowski makes an impact each week. Right now, he’s as good as he’s ever been.

Brady Continues Hot Streak: Tom Brady was masterful Sunday, with a quarterback rating of 148.3. He went 30-35, 354 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The last four weeks, Brady has been playing at another level. In October, Brady has gone 100-144 for 1,268 yards, 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Patriots are 4-0 in that stretch.

Brady’s efficiency Sunday, kept the offense rolling and the unit put up 44 points overall. He’s developing a nice chemistry with several players and the offense has formed an identity.

Fifty-Seven Seconds: While an NFL game is played for 60 minutes, it took just :57 seconds to define Sunday’s victory.

After Brady hit Gronkowski for a two-yard touchdown, the Patriots kicked to the Bears and forced them to punt in three plays. Chicago, pinned deep in their own territory, punted to Julian Edelman who returned the kick for 42 yards. One play later, Brady found LaFell for a touchdown.

Chicago got the ball back and the bottom fell out. Dont’a Hightower and rookie Zach Moore hit Cutler, forcing him to lose the ball.¬†Rob Ninkovich was in perfect position — as he seems to have the knack for being in the right spot at the right time — ¬†to recover the ball and return it for a touchdown.

In less than a minute of gameplay, the Patriots put 21 points on the board and closed the door on any comeback attempt.

LaFell, Wright Settling into Roles: Going into the season, Edelman and Gronkowski were clearly the focal points of the offense. Now eight games in, we’ve seen Brandon LaFell and Tim Wright settle into roles and both are contributing on a weekly basis.

LaFell set career highs Sunday, catching 11 passes for 124 yards. He’s developed a nice rapport with Brady, making plays outside the numbers and winning one-on-one matchups on a consistent basis.

While Wright isn’t in a full-time role like LaFell, he’s still maximizing opportunities. Better yet, he gives New England the ability to use a two-tight end set, pairing him with Gronkowski to create mismatches. He caught seven passes for 61 yards and a touchdown in the contest.

Brady was perfect when targeting Gronkowski, LaFell and Wright Sunday: 26-26, 317 and four touchdowns.

Revis Island: Darrelle Revis played great Sunday. While Chicago had Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery lined up at receiver, Revis was able to neutralize whoever came his way.

Bears QB Jay Cutler targeted Revis five times Sunday, resulting in zero receptions, a pass breakup and an interception in man coverage down the field. Revis allowed two catches in zone coverage, a screen pass and a four-yard catch to Forte.

Revis lined up primarily on the left side, with Brandon Browner starting across from him on the right side of New England’s secondary. Browner played a strong game as well, his physicality and attitude brings an edge to the defense.

Quick Takes: 

¬†– Akeem Ayers debuted for the Patriots after the team acquired him via trade earlier in the week. Ayers saw some action on special teams and received a few¬†snaps on defense. Despite limited action, he registered his first sack of the season and pressured Cutler a couple of times throughout the game. Hopefully, he can build off Sunday’s performance.

 РDominique Easley took over for Chandler Jones at the right defensive end spot. The rookie was able to set the edge consistently and was credited with half a sack in the contest. While expectations were tempered with Easley, being a rookie and coming off an ACL injury last year, his presence will be needed with Jones sidelined indefinitely.

¬†– Bryan Stork had an up-and-down day, which is expected from a rookie player at times. While he was penalized three times Sunday and had a bad snap to Brady under center, Stork also had some nice interior push blocking. Between he and Dan Connolly’s return to the starting lineup, New England’s offensive line had their best performance of the season.

Final Thought: Great win for the Patriots Sunday, lifting the team to a 6-2 record halfway through the season. Now they must quickly prepare for the Denver Broncos, as they visit Gillette Stadium for a week nine showdown.

After the win Sunday, Revis said, “We’ll probably move on to Denver fast because we want this one. We really do. We’re a team on a mission.”

Get ready for a fun week.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Pregame Thoughts and Analysis: Patriots Host Bears Sunday Afternoon

Darrelle Revis and the Patriots secondary will have their hands full Sunday against the Bears. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots will host the Chicago Bears Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots, now 5-2 on the season, last played on Oct. 16 when they defeated the visiting New York Jets 27-25. New England has won three straight games.

The Bears, with a 3-4 this year, lost against the Miami Dolphins 27-14 last week at home. Chicago has now lost three of their last four games. Here are a few thoughts on the upcoming game.

Pregame Thoughts¬†—¬†

First Impressions: The Bears have struggled the past month, but will present a tough challenge for the Patriots this Sunday. Jay Cutler has a gun-slinger mentality and certainly has the weapons to make any defensive coordinator sweat before kickoff.

Running back Matt Forte, tight end Martellus Bennett along with receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery will test New England in various ways. While Marshall and Jeffery might be the best wideout duo in the NFL, Forte and Bennett cannot be overlooked.

Defensively, the Bears are not the feared unit they once were. While Chicago is banged up, they’ve been a middle of the pack defense so far this season. Chicago has allowed an average of 24.4 points and 356 yards-per-game in seven contests.

Forte, Bennett Matchup Concerns: While many will look at Marshall and Jeffery first, rightfully so, Forte and Bennett will present matchup problems for the Patriots defense. After allowing 218 yards on the ground to the New York Jets in week seven, facing a talent like Forte is obviously worrisome.

Forte has averaged 4 yards-per-carry this year, totaling 448 yards and adding 52 receptions for 436 yards through the air. He’s a weapon out of the backfield.

Bennett, listed at 6’6 265, will be a tough cover as well. Bennett has been productive this season, hauling in 41 passes for 422 yards and four touchdowns. It seems the Patriots have struggled with opposing tight ends this year, so Bennett could be an under-the-radar threat.

Patriots Must Dial Up Pressure: With defensive end Chandler Jones is expected to miss “about a month” with a hip injury, New England will be without their best pass rush threat. With that being said, the Patriots cannot¬†sit idly by, letting Cutler sit in the pocket to make plays downfield.

Cutler isn’t a running QB, but has mobility and can take off for a few yards when allowed. The Patriots have been tentative when facing opposing mobile quarterbacks, but this week they should turn up the heat. The best defenses can bring pressure with four rushers, New England has not shown the ability to do that. Instead of letting receivers break free from coverage, the Patriots should bring five and, at times, six players to attack Cutler in order to force a turnover.

Is there a risk with bringing extra pressure? Of course, but the payoff can be enormous. Cutler has not thrown an interception in a game the Bears have won this season. Forcing him to make a mistake might be the biggest key to the contest.

Brady Should Attack Chicago’s Secondary: The Bears are weak on the back-end of their defense and just suffered another injury to one of their most promising young players. Rookie CB Kyle Fuller, whose status is not yet known for Sunday, has a hip injury and a broken hand. After already losing Charles “Peanut” Tillman earlier in the year, Chicago is without two of their best defenders.

The Bears have had problems in the middle of their defense, which is a big advantage for New England. Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell should be able to eat up chunk yardage in the heart of Chicago’s defense. Brady has been hot the past three weeks and will need to continue his strong play to win this contest.

Final Thoughts: This won’t be an easy game and New England’s defense will certainly be tested. Offensively, keeping Brady upright is key, allowing him to attack the middle of Chicago’s defense. On the flip side, New England must¬†tighten up their run defense and get after Cutler before he can connect with his many weapons down the field.

There are a lot of questions surrounding Chicago’s locker room and team chemistry after another loss last week. This game is big for the Bears, looking to turn their season around and get back on track, so a fast start could send them into a tailspin. With a tough six game stretch ahead for New England, this being the first of the gauntlet, it will be interesting to see how the team looks after a 10 day break from action.

After losing Stevan Ridley and Jerod Mayo two weeks ago with season-ending injuries, now reportedly without Chandler Jones for a few weeks, it’s the “next man up” mentality for the Patriots. We’ll see if they’re up to the challenge Sunday.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Bears 24

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Reaction: Patriots Survive Jets Comeback Attempt, Block Field Goal as Time Expires

Tom Brady and the Patriots continue their winning ways in October, now 40-9 since 2003. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots defeated the New York Jets 27-25 on Thursday night.

The Patriots and Jets traded scores and lead changes throughout the contest, but New England won in dramatic fashion as defensive lineman Chris Jones blocked a 58-yard attempt by New York’s kicker, Nick Folk.

While the offense was putting up points, the Patriots defense allowed the Jets to move the ball on the ground. Nevertheless, the Patriots move to 5-2 on the season, with three-straight wins and back-to-back inside the division.¬†Here are a few thoughts on the game. —

Poetic Justice for Chris Jones: The second-year defensive lineman preserved New England’s victory Thursday with a blocked field goal.¬†Jones was penalized last season for pushing a teammate in an attempt to block a game-winning kick in overtime against the Jets.

The penalty was widely criticized, especially by Patriots fans, because of the timing and the call had never been made in a regular season game before. For Jones to make that play, given the similarities, it was almost unbelievable.

After the game Thursday Bill Belichick said, “Really happy for Chris (Jones). After what happened last year, it was fitting.”

It was fitting. The Patriots needed to make a play at the end of the game, Jones did, and the team moves on with a victory.

Brady Continues Hot Stretch: What a three-week stretch by Tom Brady. After an embarrassing loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in week four, the Patriots quarterback has been lighting it up.

Brady the last three weeks: 70-109 (64%) for 914 yards, 9 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.

With production like that from no.12, it’s no surprise the Pats have won three-straight. Brady is moving in the pocket with more confidence, spreading the ball around to different targets and putting points on the board.

Defense Gashed by Jets Ground Game: The Patriots pulled out a victory, but the Jets rushing attack nearly changed the outcome of the contest. New York rushed for 218 yards on 43 attempts, averaging 5.3 yards-per-attempt.

New England was over-powered throughout the game, unable to shed blocks and tackle on initial contact. It didn’t appear to be a scheme flaw, but a lack of execution by the Patriots defense. Given the injury to Jerod Mayo, a limited Dont’a Hightower and a short week, perhaps the performance is somewhat forgivable.

Then again, there’s no way the Pats should be allowing that kind of production with such regularity on any week. Adjustments need to be made going forward. The week eight match-up against Chicago Bears’ tailback, Matt Forte, is looking very scary right now.

Amendola Redemption: Danny Amendola has been the whipping boy of New England this season. While many have criticized him, including myself, for his lack of production, Amendola made a big impact Thursday night.

It was a feel good story for Amendola. His only catch was an incredible 19-yard touchdown reception on third and goal, contorting his body to make the play. He also recovered the Jets onside kick attempt late in the fourth quarter and played a huge role on kickoff returns, averaging 26 yards-per-attempt.

Hopefully this helps Amendola’s confidence moving forward. It looks like he potentially earned a new role returning kicks, which New England has lacked a consistent threat for several years. While Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski remain the focal point of the offense, it’s great to see others get involved.

Vereen Steps Up with Ridley Sidelined: After losing starting running back Stevan Ridley for the season last week, Shane Vereen stepped up in his absence. Vereen was kept in-check on the ground by a stout Jets run defense, but made a big impact in the receiving game throughout the contest.

Vereen finished with 43 yards rushing on 11 attempts, adding 5 receptions for 71 yards and two touchdowns. His 49-yard catch on the opening Patriots drive was incredible, taking advantage of a blown coverage in New York’s secondary.

After that play, Vereen paid tribute to Ridley, mimicking his “kicking in the door” touchdown celebration. Post game, Vereen said, “When a brother goes down, it takes a toll on everybody… I tried to play for him.” Love hearing that from two close teammates.

Long Weekend Much Needed for Pats: After two division games in a five day stretch, the Patriots have 10 days before their week eight contest, hosting the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium.

New England ¬†is banged up at the moment, with several players in need of some extra time to recover. While it’s tough for NFL teams to play Thursday night, with such a short turnaround, the benefit of a “mini bye week” will be big for the Patriots.

Hopefully players such as Dont’a Hightower, Dominique Easley, Bryan Stork and Dan Connolly (to name a few) can get healthy over the next week and a half.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Pregame Thoughts and Analysis: Patriots Host Division Rival Jets in Primetime

With Jerod Mayo sidelined for the remainder of the season, second-year linebacker Jamie Collins must step up in his absence. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots return home this week to face the New York Jets on Thursday Night Football.

This is the third-straight season these two teams have met on Thursday night. The Patriots are coming off a 37-22 victory against the Buffalo Bills, lifting New England to first place in the AFC East.

The Jets hosted the Denver Broncos in week 6, losing 31-17 at home. New York has lost five games in a row, currently last place in the division.

Pregame Thoughts¬†—¬†

First Impressions: The Jets have struggled this season, with their last win on opening weekend against the Oakland Raiders. They have faced a tough schedule, going against the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos in a six week stretch.

While the Jets defense is very strong up front, the secondary has been exposed this year. The Jets are thin at defensive back and just lost cornerback Dee Milliner for the season with a torn achilles.

They are no doubt at their best when the defense can generate pressure, registering 19 sacks on the season, and also running the ball effectively, averaging over 121 yards-per-game. Scoring has been an issue during their five-game losing streak, averaging just 15.4 points-per-game and allowing opponents to average 28.8.

Jets Defensive Line: The biggest challenge for New England this week will be defending a big, physical and talented Jets defensive line. Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardon are some of the league’s best defensive lineman, wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lineman.¬†

Given the mediocre play by the Patriots offensive line this season, it’s fair to be concerned. With Bryan Stork and Dan Connolly questionable with head injuries, the middle of the line could be without two starters. While New England has improved in pass protection over recent weeks, this could be the matchup that tells the overall story of the game.

Stopping the Run is Priority One: The Jets offense is a mess. Geno Smith has been sporadic, the receivers have underwhelmed, the offensive line is shaky and the unit struggles to put points on the board.

What New York does well is run the football with tremendous consistency. Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson are a solid one-two combo, giving the Jets the sixth best rushing attack in the NFL.

With Ivory emerging as the lead back, averaging 4.9 yards-per-carry and 325 yards on the season, New England must focus on shutting him down. With the loss of defensive captain Jerod Mayo, how the Patriots respond this week will be key. Taking away the run game and forcing the Jets to throw could be a big advantage for New England.

The Pats Must Adjust Without Ridley: After leading New England in rushing the past two seasons, the Patriots lost starting running back Stevan Ridley to a torn ACL and MCL last Sunday. While the Pats have leaned on Ridley for their ground attack, they must adjust on the fly with such a short turnaround this week.

The Jets rush defense has allowed only 92.2 yards-per-game this year, so running up the gut isn’t necessarily how you want to attack New York. With a depleted secondary, however, the Pats might be more inclined to spread the Jets defense out and use a quick passing game to move the ball. Look for Shane Vereen, Brandon LaFell and Tim Wright to be used in a variety of ways in order to create the most personnel mismatches.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Jets 13

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Game Rewind: Patriots Win Physical Division Showdown with Bills

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski connected seven times Sunday, as the Patriots came away with a 37-22 victory against the Bills. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots defeated the Buffalo Bills 37 – 22 on Sunday, lifting the team to first place in the AFC East.

The Patriots showed a lot of mental toughness, playing on the road in an emotional environment. Buffalo came out with a lot of energy, trading scores with New England throughout the afternoon. In the end, however, the Patriots were able to put the Bills in the rearview mirror, coasting to their second win in a row.

After reviewing the game, here¬†are a few thoughts on Sunday’s win. —

Patriots Answered When Called Upon: I know some people might say, “It’s just the Bills”, but Buffalo has played some pretty good football so far this season. Coming off a big win in week 5, defeating the Lions 17-14 in Detroit, along with their first home game under new Owner Terry Pegula, the Bills had momentum going into the contest.

The Bills players came out with a lot of energy, feeding off an intense crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium. While Buffalo put up a tough fight, New England proved to be too much to handle throughout the contest. While it wasn’t perfect by any means, given the emotion on Buffalo’s sidelines, and what was at stake early in the year, this victory was big for the Patriots.

Pats Superstars Shined: Back in training camp it was clear the Patriots season came down to three players: Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Darrelle Revis. All three were key in Sunday’s victory, putting together strong performances in a physical battle.

Brady had a monster game, throwing for 361 yards and four touchdowns on the afternoon. Despite some leaky offensive line play, Brady was able to get the ball downfield and exposed a weak Bills secondary. Brady completed passes to 10 different New England receivers Sunday.

Gronkowski added 94 yards on seven catches, and the Bills did not have an answer for the Buffalo-native. It’s not the first time Gronk has put together a strong performance against Buffalo, in fact, it’s pretty routine. In his seven career games against the Bills, Gronkowski has 37 receptions for 543 yards and nine touchdowns.

Revis shadowed Sammy Watkins on the afternoon, limiting the Bills rookie receiver to only two catches for 27 yards. Revis was so much of a threat, Buffalo QB Kyle Orton did not even attempt a pass in his direction in the first half.

Second Half Adjustments: At the end of the first half, the Patriots led 13-7. New England had some success, but was not able to finish drives with a touchdown.

On the opening drive of the third quarter, the Patriots marched 80 yards down the field and scored a touchdown in six plays. Do you think Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels figured out what the Bills were doing at halftime? It sure seamed like it.

Brady completed 12-of-20 for 87 yards in a touchdown in the first half. In the second half, Brady went 15-of-17 for 274 yards and three touchdowns. The Patriots offense was firing on all cylinders.

Injuries Put Damper on Victory: While this was a solid win for New England, it came with a heavy price tag. The Patriots lost starting running back Stevan Ridley and defensive captain Jerod Mayo for the season with knee injuries.

Ridley, in the final year of his rookie contract, has an uncertain future with the team and a long road of recovery ahead of him. New England has three healthy tailbacks on the 53-man roster including Shane Vereen, James White and Brandon Bolden. Practice squad running back Jonas Gray could be an option moving forward.

Mayo’s injury leaves an already thin linebacker position very weak. With Dont’a Hightower recovering from a knee injury suffered in week five, there’s more pressure on Bill Belichick to make adjustments without his defensive signal-caller.

While it’s doubtful the Patriots make any major corresponding moves before their next game, the team may have to look at bringing in veteran help from free agents or trades before the Oct. 28 deadline.

How the Patriots will respond to these key losses is important, but the team doesn’t have a lot of time to figure out how to replace the lost production before their next contest. With kickoff ¬†on Thursday Night Football in less than 72 hours, the Pats will have to take the “next man up” mentality, as they prepare for another division showdown with the New York Jets.

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On To Buffalo: What the Patriots Must Carry Over from Sunday’s Win

The New England Patriots dismantled the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night 43-17.

After four weeks of fairly inconsistent play, the Patriots put together their best overall performance in week five. While the victory was just what the doctor ordered, it’s important the team continues to do many of the things that made them so successful last week.

Here are a few elements of last week’s contest the team should implement, not only in Buffalo, but as the season goes on. —

More Ridley, Less Vereen: The Patriots were committed to running the ball Sunday, handing the ball off 39 times in Sunday’s victory. Even when the team struggled to gain chunk yardage in the middle of the game, they continued to feed the ball to Ridley and ultimately wore down the opposing defense to find success.

Ridley has been solid this season, rushing for 317 yards at 3.8 yards-per-attempt. His ability to run between the tackles and keep defenses honest, helps Tom Brady orchestrate the passing game. Shane Vereen was much more effective in week five than previous weeks, despite seeing far less action. Relying on Ridley and using Vereen as more of a change-of-pace back, plays to the strength of the players and if Sunday is any indication, Vereen will find more success in this role.

The Wright Thing to Do: Tim Wright only played 19 snaps Sunday, but you wouldn’t have thought that during Sunday’s contest. He caught all five targets for 85 yards and a touchdown. He may not be the elusive athlete, Aaron Hernandez was in his time with the team, but Wright gives the Patriots another dimension to the offense.

Pairing Wright with Rob Gronkowski creates mismatches for opposing defenses. New England should continue to incorporate Wright down the seam, similar to last week, even if he isn’t on the field for every offensive snap. It’s clear he needs to be involved given his skill set and the team’s need for playmakers.

Attack: Through four week’s the team played too tentatively and reactionary, but that all changed last Sunday. We saw the Patriots attack on offense, play more aggressive on defense and this needs to continue moving forward. The offense would seem to benefit from imposing their will on defenders, allowing the line to push forward and not fend off defenders. This comes with running the ball, which can open up receivers in the passing game.

The defense also played more aggressively, having the secondary jam Bengals receivers at the line and disrupting their routes. While the plan was not to flush Dalton out of the pocket, it would have been interesting to see the linebackers used in more exotic blitz schemes. Perhaps we’ll see that versus a less mobile player like Buffalo’s Kyle Orton in week six.

Let Revis be Revis: When the Patriots signed cornerback Darrelle Revis in the offseason, paying him $12 million for the 2014 season, it was expected he would help take New England’s defense to the next level. While Revis has played primarily man in the past, he acknowledge that the Patriots play zone in their defensive scheme as well.

While the Patriots didn’t lock him on one receiver through the first four weeks quite like they did Sunday, the results speak for itself. Revis had his best game as a Patriot, blanketing Bengals receiver A.J. Green for the majority of the contest and minimizing his impact. This should be the game plan moving forward.

Whatever player the coaching staff deems is the biggest receiving threat for the week, put Revis on that player and let him do his thing. His ability to use his hands at line of scrimmage and play aggressively maximizes his talents. While Revis is on the opponent’s number one priority, New England can roll their defensive coverage to help the unit get off the field.

Revis will be key in the next few weeks. With Sammy Watkins (Bills), Eric Decker (Jets), Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery (Bears) and Demaryius Thomas (Broncos) all on New England’s schedule before the week 10 bye.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Reaction: Patriots, Brady Respond to Critics with 43-17 Dismantling of Bengals

Tom Brady responded to critics Sunday night, delivering his best performance of the season. (USA TODAY Images)

Statement made.

The New England Patriots defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 43-17 on Sunday night. A week removed from an embarrassing loss on Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, Tom Brady and the Pats responded with their best performance on the year.

New England started the game fast, taking their first offensive possession down the field for a touchdown. The Patriots were committed to the run, racking up over 200 yards on the ground and worked in some passes down the field.

While the offense was putting up points, the Patriots defense kept the Bengals in check for the majority of the contest.¬†Here are a few thoughts on the game. —

Vintage Brady: What a difference a week makes. For the last six days Brady and the Patriots were under fire, some questioning if the franchise QB was still able to play at an elite level. Brady took the first drive down the field for 80 yards on 10 plays in under five minutes of play.

Brady played with a lot of emotion, stood tall in the pocket and spread the ball around. He finished the game 23-of-35, for 292 yards and two touchdowns. His 110.7 QB rating was the highest of the season.

“Brady! Brady! Brady!”: One of the game’s best moments was the crowd chanting Brady’s name. The atmosphere at Gillette Stadium was rocking Sunday night. The fans were fired up and the players were feeding off the intense energy from the stands, it was great to see.

You could see it was an emotional moment for Brady and some of the Patriots players that undoubtably heard the negative commentary on their play prior to tonight’s victory.¬†While fans may have been frustrated at times through four games, there’s no doubt they love their quarterback.

Green Lost on Revis Island: The premier match-up between A.J. Green and Darrelle Revis did not disappoint. Green had some success on a few plays, one with the team in zone coverage and he scored a touchdown with Revis off the field, but Green was blanketed by Revis for the majority of the contest.

This is¬†why the Patriots signed Revis, to lock him up one-on-one with an opposing team’s top receiver and limit him. Obviously Green is one of the NFL’s best, but Revis’ play was a big part of the Patriots dominating win on Sunday.

Offensive Line Stands Tall: The Patriots offensive line has been under a microscope throughout the first quarter of season. New England struggled to control the line of scrimmage and allowed Brady to be sacked nine times during that span.

On Sunday, however, the offensive line stood tall against a physical Bengals front seven. From left to right: Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer started for New England Sunday night. The unit surrendered one sack, but kept a clean pocket for Brady to operate and opened up rushing lanes on the ground.

It was imperative the Patriots settled on a starting five up front and it looks like they found the best combination moving forward.

Credit to McDaniels, Coaching Staff: A lot of people, including myself, criticized the Patriots coaching staff last week. After a strong performance Sunday, though, it’s time to give credit when credit is due. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had a great mix of run and pass, getting a lot of players involved along the way. Tight end Tim Wright’s presence in the passing game was key and he should be involved the rest of the season.

Defensively, Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia had a sound game plan, containing¬†the high-powered Bengals offense. New England’s defense was flying around and the unit did a great job taking away Cincinnati’s top playmakers. The first few weeks the team was too tentative and their aggressiveness on both sides of the football was a sight for sore eyes.

Dynamic Duo: While the Patriots struggled to find their identity on offense through the first four weeks, it seemed like relying on the ground attack would be the best remedy. Stevan Ridley has run the ball well this season, but had his best game Sunday night. He carried the ball 27 times for 113 yards and a touchdown.

Shane Vereen was worked in as a change-of-pace tailback for the Pats. He added 90 yards on the ground off nine carries. Ridley’s tough running and Vereen’s elusiveness made for a tremendous one-two combo. The Bengals couldn’t stop it.

Pats Respond like Champions: After losing like they did last week, how the Patriots would respond was critical for the rest of this season. New England rose to the occasion and silenced critics in their 26-point victory. The team showed a lot of emotion and heart throughout the evening, perhaps turning the narrative around.

The frustrating part of the first four games, we knew this team was capable of performing much like they did Sunday. It was about putting together a complete game, which they certainly did on both sides of the ball. Whether or not they can build off this win and carry the momentum to Buffalo next week will be the story line over the next few days.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

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