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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.

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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!

Five Thoughts on the Patriots Sunday Night Showdown Against the Bengals

Tom Brady and the Patriots look to quiet the critics Sunday night. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots return home to host the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots and Bengals will meet for a second straight season. Last year, Cincinnati defeated New England 13-6 in week five at Paul Brown Stadium.

Since 2003, the Patriots have a 22-1 record at home during the month of October. They also look to extend their 32-game winning streak against AFC opponents at home during the regular season. Here are a few thoughts on the upcoming game. —

First Impressions: The Bengals are off to a hot start, winning their first three games of the year and coming off a week four bye. Cincinnati has one of the most complete teams in the NFL, balanced and aggressive on both sides of the football.

At first glance, this will be a particularly difficult match-up for New England in the trenches. The Bengals have a solid offensive line that has not allowed a sack so far this season. Defensively their front seven is big and physical, which could pose some problems for a struggling Patriots offensive line.

Brady, Offense has to get in Rhythm Early:¬†The Patriots offensive struggles are known and have been discussed at nauseam over the past few weeks. With all of the criticism, fair or not, New England has started slow every game this season. In fact, the team has started with four-straight three-and-outs. What a shot to the team’s confidence? The first possession of each game and it lasts three plays.

This week, the Pats must get in gear right away, putting a drive together to not only build their own confidence, but also put pressure on the Bengals. The last two weeks, New England opened up the game with three passes. Getting Stevan Ridley some touches on the ground early would allow the offensive lineman to impose their will, slow down the Bengals pass rush and get some rhythm on offense, which they desperately need.

AJ Green vs Darrelle Revis:¬†This will be the best one-on-one match-up to watch throughout the game. Bengals wide receiver Aj Green is one of the league’s best and will be a tough cover for Patriots cornerback, Darrelle Revis.

While Green has had some injury trouble this year, he has gone over the 100-yard receiving mark in each of the two games he’s played. In the Bengals last game against the Tennessee Titans, Green caught six passes for 102 yards. He’s a downfield threat with tremendous leaping ability.

Revis should be assigned to cover Green on every snap. Allowing Revis to play physical, man-coverage would be New England’s best game plan. Obviously the team must be cautious of deep passes, but this match-up is exactly why they paid Revis $12 million in the offseason.

Expect the Bengals to Blitz: Cincinnati is an aggressive team on both sides of the ball. On defense they like to do a number of things, but primarily play a 4-3 base. Defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther, usually has his secondary play zone, occasionally sending a defensive back to pressure opposing QBs on the edge. 

The Bengals also like to use their linebackers to rush the passer. Whether it’s Rey Maualuga or Vontaze Burfict, both have shot through the middle of the offensive line in their first three games this season. With the Patriots struggling to protect Tom Brady, expect Cincinnati to bring some pressure early and often.

The Patriots have a lot to Prove: After a 29-point loss and 2-2 start on the season, New England is under a lot of pressure going into this contest. While the Bengals are undefeated and coming off a week of rest, the Patriots look to regroup after their devastating loss on a national stage.

New England has shown over the past decade they respond well after falling to an opponent in the previous week, but will the Bengals be too much to handle? Cincinnati is not a great match-up for a team looking to rebound and gain confidence moving forward. When the Patriots have faced opponents with stout offensive and defensive lines, they have had issues. How the Patriots fight and compete Sunday will tell us a lot about what to expect the rest of the year.

Prediction: Bengals 24, Patriots 20

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

Clearing the Air: Belichick Releases Statement on Dobson

On Friday afternoon, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick released a statement on wide receiver Aaron Dobson.

“In my year and a half with Aaron Dobson,¬†he has always been respectful to me and to the rest of the coaching staff. He has never once been argumentative or confrontational. The suggestion and reporting that his playing time was in any way the result of a ‚Äėloud disagreement‚Äô with a coach is completely false.”¬† Release from the team’s website.¬†

The Boston Globe reported earlier in the week that Dobson had, “at least one loud disagreement with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.”¬†This is the full story on the Boston Globe’s website.

Quick Take: 

Dobson had foot surgery in March, limiting his participation in Organized Team Activities, training camp and the preseason. He was unavailable in week one, but suited up against the Minnesota Vikings in week 2, catching one pass for 13 yards in the 30-7 victory.

Week three versus the Oakland Raiders and week four against the Kansas City Chiefs, the second-year receiver was inactive. With no listing on the injury report, the decision to have Dobson inactive was head-scratching.

When the Globe’s story first broke, it made some sense, but still brought about some serious questions. Was it really necessary to sit him out for two games? What was the argument about? When will he be available again?

However, Belichick’s statement refuting that report, brings new questions into the fold. If the initial report is false, then why was he not in the game plan? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to his development to be on the field? The offense has certainly struggled and Dobson seems like he could help.

Whatever the situation might be, this story could quickly become a distraction. If Dobson is not performing in practice, I would argue the players on the field have not performed well enough on offense throughout the first four weeks to keep him off the field. If Dobson is healthy, which he said Friday, “I think I’m good”, then he should be on the field Sunday.

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

Game Rewind: Leftover Takeaways from the Patriots Loss Monday Night

With only three receptions for 16 yards this season, Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola has been almost invisible. (USA TODAY Images)

In 2001 the New England Patriots suffered a 20-point loss to the Miami Dolphins, dropping them to a 1-3 record. Head coach Bill Belichick decided the following day to bury the football, in an attempt to motivate the team moving forward. Of course, we know how the rest of that season played out — the team hoisting their first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.

Perhaps Belichick should employ the same tactics this week, after a crushing 41-14 defeat on Monday Night Football against the Kansas City Chiefs.

There’s no magic fix, though. Plain and simple, a lot of changes need to occur if this team wants to have success this season. After reviewing the game, here are some leftover takeaways from Monday night’s performance. —

Pats Must Settle on Starting Five: The offensive line has been an issue for the first quarter of the season. We’ve seen pressure from all angles, with the Patriots consistently rotating lineman up front. This isn’t high school football, it’s not going to work in the NFL. Continuity is important and it is imperative New England settles on a starting unit.

While there weren’t a lot of bright spots Monday, rookie center Bryan Stork stepped in and did a solid job. The team has praised his communication and he looks comfortable with the starting role. Cameron Fleming, the rookie lineman who started at right guard on Monday, struggled a bit in his first game at right guard. That being said, the team was trying him at a new position and it will be curious to see if he gets another shot in week five.

Left tackle Nate Solder has seemingly regressed and it’s hurting the team in a big way. Protecting Tom Brady’s blindside is priority one and without that protection the offense is doomed to fail. In the third quarter, Chiefs edge rusher, Tamba Hali, shot off the line, slapped Solder’s hands down and stripped Brady, causing a turnover. Hali versus Solder was my “matchup to watch” going into the game and Kansas City had success.

If the line can get to a more consistent level, it will alleviate a lot of other issues on this team. That, however, is easier said than done.

Ridley, Not Vereen, Needs to Get Bulk of Carries: Stevan Ridley has been in the Belichick doghouse before, but not sure why he hasn’t been featured more this season. With the offense looking to find a rhythm and identity, you would think New England would want to run the ball. For the second week in a row, though, they opened their first series with three straight passes, resulting in a three-and-out.

Ridley only had five carries Monday night, gaining 28 yards on the ground. While Vereen has shown to make some plays in the passing game, he’s been running too tentative and not exploding through running lanes. On several occasions in week four, Vereen was caught running side-to-side and not up the field. Time to make a change and feed Ridley. If they don’t trust him to secure the football, he shouldn’t be on the team.

Where is Wright?: When the Patriots traded Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins, they acquired second-year tight end Tim Wright. While he had 54 catches as a rookie, he’s only been targeted five times, hauling in four receptions in four games. New England had only three true receivers active Monday — Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell — so the opportunity was there. Yet, he wasn’t involved throughout the contest.

Add this to the list of head-scratching moves by the coaching staff. It appears a two tight end formation, featuring Rob Gronkowski and Wright, would be beneficial.

McDaniels Deserves Criticism: The play calling has been frustrating throughout the season, but Monday’s offensive performance deserves serious questioning. The team sits receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, but then uses a spread offense against Kansas City. Why? As aforementioned, the team had three receivers — no, not including special team captain Matthew Slater — but to utilize the personnel this way is mind-boggling.

Third down has also been a huge problem. New England converted 2-of-9 Monday and are currently 27th in the NFL with a 36% success rate. It’s hard to score points and have success when the offense cannot sustain drives. Obviously, being more efficient on first and second down is key, but converting third downs was a big reason the team lost.

Run Defense Gashed: The Patriots has been relatively stout throughout the first three weeks, but were dominated Monday night. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich struggled to set the edge, with the front seven on defense consistently out of position, falling for the Chiefs’ misdirection plays.

Kansas City tailbacks Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis were eating up yards on every carry, getting up field for big gains all night. The Chiefs racked up 207 yards on the ground, averaging 5.4 yards-per-carry. The defense had problems getting off blocks and bringing down the opposing ball carries at first contact. 

Tackling An Issue (Again): It’s always amazing to see pro football players struggle with tackling, something taught to¬†Pee Wee teams across the country. But it’s been a problem this year, especially in Arrowhead. Players were over-pursuing, slipping all over the field — something I thought the equipment managers would adjust at halftime; i.e longer spikes — but when first contact occurred, Chiefs players shook free for extra yards.

Nothing is more frustrating than seeing players in position to make a play, but coming up on the losing end time-and-time again. That was the case Monday, and if this defense is going to improve they need to focus on this fundamental immediately.

Revis Needs to Play Press: The Patriots aggressively pursued cornerback Darrelle Revis in the offseason, a move that many thought would transform the unit to one of the league’s best. But on Monday, we saw more of what we’ve seen far too often this year, Revis playing off coverage and not on the line of scrimmage,

Going back to my time at training camp, I praised Revis’ ability to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, taking them out of the play with excellent hand technique. He’s not being used in the most effective way, which has made him look mediocre for back-to-back weeks.

Defense Can’t React, Must Attack:¬†Belichick has used his read-and-react, two-gap style of defense for the majority of his time as a head coach. While there are benefits to that scheme, it could be time for a change. As the defense is currently constructed, this personnel seems more built for an aggressive, gap-shooting defense. No more reacting, it’s time to be proactive.

Put the cornerbacks on the line to jam opposing receivers, bring some extra pressure with linebackers and force opposing teams to make quick decisions under pressure. If you get beat, you get beat. There’s no downside really, because right now they’re getting toasted anyways.

Slater’s Really, Really Good: Covering punts isn’t exactly the end-all-be-all, but Slater was exceptional again Monday night. In fact, he was one of the only Patriots players to have a strong game. He fires off the line, sprints down the sideline and tackles the return man before they can gain any positive yardage. He’s so fun to watch and an absolute weapon on special teams. He showed why he’s a Pro Bowl talent Monday.

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

Reaction: Patriots Dominated on National Stage by Chiefs, Sent Home Looking for Answers

Tom Brady finished the game on the sidelines after a disappointing blowout loss Monday night. (USA TODAY Images)

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, it did.

The New England Patriots were defeated  by the Kansas City Chiefs 41-14 on Monday Night Football. The team was dominated in every phase of the game, in one of the ugliest team performances in recent memory. The 27-point loss was the second worse in the Bill Belichick era.

Safety Devin McCourty said post game, “This was probably the most embarrassing game I’ve ever been apart of.”

Hard to disagree, Devin. The Patriots were outplayed, outcoached and looked lost at Arrowhead Stadium Monday night. The Chiefs had a great offensive game plan, mixing up the run and pass to keep the New England defense off-balance. It didn’t seem to matter what Kansas City did, it worked.

Going into the game, it was expected the Patriots would try to make the Chiefs offense one-dimensional and take away the running game. New England was unable to contain the Kansas City tailbacks, as Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis gashed the defense throughout the contest. The Chiefs racked up 207 yards on the ground, averaging 5.4 yards-per-carry. Kansas City’s misdirection run plays had the Pats over-pursuing and tackling was yet again an issue for New England.

The Patriots offense was abysmal Monday, unable to gain any traction and could not get into a rhythm. Tom Brady had a forgettable performance, finishing 14-of-23, for 159 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. No. 12 wasn’t the only problem — or necessarily the biggest — the offensive line cracked multiple times, disrupting New England’s offense on several occasions.

The Patriots entered the game with only three true wide receivers active — Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola — Matthew Slater also considered a fourth option, though mainly a special teams player. With second-year receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins inactive, others were called upon and did not rise to the challenge.

New England’s pass-catching options have failed to create separation and win one-on-one match-ups throughout the season. That was again the case Monday night, with Brady and the offense coming up short on nearly every opportunity.

One of the few bright spots on offense, however, was wide receiver Brandon LaFell. While the Patriots couldn’t get much going through the air, LaFell finished the night with his best performance since joining the team this offseason. He hauled in six receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown. The offense needs to get more players involved besides Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, perhaps LaFell can be more involved moving forward.

Is the problem playcalling on offense? Execution? Communication? Could be a combination of the three. In any case, a serious shake-up has to occur if this team wants to have success this season.

When you look at the Patriots right now, they seem too tentative on both sides of the ball. Offensively they are struggling to find any consistency or develop an identity. Defensively, they are not playing up to their talent level. A more aggressive style seems to suit the current personnel. The unit played with no energy or tenacity on Monday.

Are the Patriots as bad as they looked Monday? Simply put, no. The game went Kansas City’s way and they deserve credit for their performance. There’s a lot of problems in New England right now, though. How they respond moving forward will tell us a lot about what kind of character this team has on the roster.

It doesn’t get any¬†easier next week¬†for New England. The team returns home to host the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday Night Football. Much more on this game and next week’s contest coming soon.

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Patriots QB Tom Brady hopes to get the offense on track in a hostile environment Monday night. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots go on the road this week to face the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football. This is the Patriots third road game in four weeks, coming off a 16-9 victory against the Oakland Raiders.

The last time these two teams played was Nov. 21, 2011, when the Patriots defeated the visiting Chiefs 34-3 on (coincidentally) Monday Night Football. New England has not traveled to Kansas City since the 2005 season.

The Chiefs are coming off a dominating 34-15 performance against the Miami Dolphins. Kansas City is off to a 1-2 start this season and have lost the last four straight home games dating back to last year. Patriots QB Tom Brady is 4-1 all-time against the Chiefs, 1-1 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

Pregame Thoughts¬†—¬†

First Impressions: The Chiefs have some talent, but look incomplete at some areas on the roster. When head coach Andy Reid took over the team at the beginning of last year, they started 9-0, but have been a combined 3-7 to this point during the regular season.

Star tailback Jamaal Charles’ health situation, is obviously a big factor to monitor, but there’s no question the Chiefs are a run-oriented offense. Defensively, they are suspect in the middle of their defense, especially after losing linebacker Derrick Johnson to injury earlier this season. They do have an outstanding pass rush, though, which is a big concern since New England has struggled along the offensive line.

Chiefs Pass Rush Trio:¬†Kansas City has a solid defense, which is highlighted by three terrific players in the front seven. Pass rush duo Tamba Hali and Justin Houston on the edge, with penetrating lineman Dontari Poe in the middle. All three could have an impact Monday night and will have to be accounted for throughout the contest. Given New England’s offensive line troubles, this will be a huge challenge. All three players had a sack last week in the team’s win against Miami.

Communication will also be key for the Patriots. Arrowhead stadium is one of the most hostile environments in the NFL, the loudest documented with Seattle a close second. One of the hot-button topics throughout the week for New England was who will start at center?

Dan Connolly has struggled and Ryan Wendell has been removed from the injury report. Would the team consider rookie Bryan Stork? A tough spot for his first career start, but players and coaches have praised the Florida State product for his communication since his arrival. The offensive line will be under a microscope throughout the game.

Defending the Run a Priority:¬†Jamaal Charles may be hobbled with an ankle injury, but that didn’t slow down the Chiefs rushing attack in week three. Knile Davis stepped in for 132 yards on 32 attempts and a touchdown. Kansas City had 174 yards on the ground as a team.

Whether it’s Charles, Davis or another Chiefs’ taliback, New England has to focus on taking that element away and making them one-dimensional. The Patriots currently rank 11th in the league in run defense, with opponents averaging 104 yards on the ground through three games.New England has not let up a run bigger than 15 yards and allowed only one running touchdown.

Captain Jerod Mayo and the front seven will have their work cut out for them in this contest and fellow linebacker Jamie Collins’ availability could be huge facing so much speed in Kansas City’s backfield.

Third Down Battles: On both sides of the ball, the Chiefs play well on third-down. In fact, both units are currently ranked 7th; 48% offense and 36% defense. Obviously the Patriots will have to covert on third-down to find success offensively and also get off the field defensively in order to win this game.

Opposite Ends of Turnover Spectrum: Turnovers are huge in a football game and both teams this week are on opposite ends of the spectrum to start the season. The Patriots are first (tied with the Cincinnati Bengals) at plus-six. On the flip side, the Chiefs are dead last at minus-five. Kansas City has yet to force a turnover this season, which is surprising considering they were second in the NFL a season ago.

Players To Watch:

Patriots Center –¬†Sounds weird, but a big focus of this contest will be New England’s offensive line. How will they handle the loud environment in Kansas City and the Chiefs strong front seven. Who starts at center? Will there be a change made along the offensive line? Can they effectively communicate with Brady and the other lineman? We’ll see.

Tom Brady¬†–¬† There’s been a lot of criticism on the Patriots offense and Brady. Fair or not, there’s no doubt Brady has heard fans and analysts all week. What better time to silence the critics than on Monday Night Football? He is 216 passing yards shy of eclipsing 50,000 for his career and has thrown the third most touchdowns in MNF history (42). Look for the Patriots offense to adjust and Brady to have a big game this week.

Chandler Jones¬†–¬†After losing Brandon Albert in free agency, Kansas City moved 2013 no.1 overall pick Eric Fisher to the left side during the offseason. Chandler Jones has played pretty well and Fisher has struggled so far this season. Jones needs to win this match-up and pressure Chiefs QB Alex Smith.

Key Matchup:¬†Tamba Hali vs Nate Solder —

This will be one of the most exciting and pivotal match-ups of the game. Hali brings an incredible amount of power and tenacity in his game. Patriots left tackle, Nate Solder, has struggled so far this season. Hali has 29 career forced fumbles and the Chiefs have had four sacks in two of their three games this year.

Prediction: Patriots 23, Chiefs, 16

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Five Takeaways from the Patriots Victory Over the Raiders

Tom Brady and the Patriots offense must make big adjustments moving forward. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots defeated the visiting Oakland Raiders 16-9 Sunday, lifting the team to a 2-1 record on the year.

Despite the victory, getting New England above the .500 mark for the first time this season, Sunday was not the Patriots’ best performance. There are a lot of issues right now for the Patriots, starting with the offense.

Expectations are high, so naturally Sunday’s performance was uninspiring to say the least. There’s a lot to digest after this game, but let’s start with these five thoughts on the contest. —

Offensive Line Woes a Major Concern:¬†It’s not time to panic (yet), but there are some serious deficiencies along the offensive line. The unit struggles to run block, protect in the passing game and their inconsistent play is hurting the offense’s momentum.

During training camp and into the preseason, the Patriots were shuffling lineman on a regular basis. That trend has continued somewhat into the season, with some personnel changes happening in each of the first three games. With the shuffling and trade of Logan Mankins, it’s hard not to question the coaching staff. You have to wonder if they have confidence in their best five players and¬†if these problems can be resolved.

Nate Solder is not playing like a first-round,¬†franchise¬†left tackle. Marcus Cannon and Jordan Devey are missing blocks and allowing too much pressure up the middle. Dan Connolly has made some mistakes at center and perhaps would be better suited to play guard. Whatever the solution is, something needs to change. Tom Brady has taken way too many hits and it’s hard not to be concerned about his health if this continues. He was sacked twice and hit six times Sunday.

Passing Game Out of Sync:¬†The Patriots passing game is limited right now, to say the least. It’s Julian Edelman, with a dash of Rob Gronkowski, and nothing else. With no inside knowledge of the specific reads in passing plays, it’s hard to pinpoint the blame of Josh McDaniels or Tom Brady. Maybe both.

Danny Amendola has not caught a pass since the fourth quarter of week one’s loss to the Miami Dolphins. Brandon LaFell has caught only four passes of the fourteen targets his direction through three weeks. Tim Wright has four catches this year, only targeted once Sunday. Aaron Dobson was a “healthy scratch” (since he wasn’t on the injury report) and Kenbrell Thompkins wasn’t involved either.

Plain and simple, they need a shakeup. The weapons aren’t stellar, but more than capable of being a productive unit. After all, the team has not scored a touchdown in the second half through three games. Unacceptable with no.12 at the helm.¬†It’s ok to target your best weapons, Edelman and Gronkowski, but you need other players to get involved.

Dont’a Hightower Continues to Impress: Who has been the best defensive player for the Patriots this season? Not Jerod Mayo or Darrelle Revis, but Dont’a Hightower. The third-year linebacker has been terrific through three weeks, playing with confidence and tenacity. Run or pass, Hightower has made an impact and clearly playing closer to the line of scrimmage is more in his comfort zone.

The 6’3, 270 linebacker had seven tackles, one for a loss, a QB hit and a pass breakup 30-yards down the field defending Raiders tailback, Darren McFadden, in Sunday’s contest. Through three games he’s had two sacks, five Qb hits and 14 pressures. His play has stood out on film in each game and his continued development is a great sign moving forward.

Patriots Must Stick with Ground Attack: One of the most disappointing results from Sunday’s game, was the lack of success on the ground against Oakland’s defense. Going into week three, the Raiders were the worst run defense in the NFL, allowing an average of 200 yards in the first two games.

New England attempted 29 rushes, but came up with only 83 yards on the day. Stevan Ridley, who had 101 yards in week two, had 19 carries for only 54 yards and 11 of those runs were for two or fewer yards. Not only did the Pats’ offensive line fail to get push up front, New England’s tailbacks were unable to make much happen in the process.

Despite the mediocre performance, the team cannot abandon the ground attack all together. In fact, they should lean upon the run game to start opening up more plays down the field and utilize play-action passes. For instance, it was surprising to see the team open up week three with all passes on the first series. A balanced offense would alleviate some of the pressure on the offensive line and help get the unit into a rhythm.

Special Teams Play Rebounds: The third, and often forgotten phase of the game, special teams, can often have a big impact on games. The Patriots had relatively poor performances to start the season, particularly to open the year against the Dolphins in Miami, but rebounded big Sunday.

Team captain, Matthew Slater, put on an absolute clinic in Sunday’s contest. If you have the ability to re-watch games or plays, watch Slater covering punts. Despite double-teams, he was able to make two huge plays.

Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on the day, making all three attempts from relatively close range. Punter Ryan Allen, placed two of his five punts inside the 20 and had a booming 58-yard kick that flipped field position.

The one critique, that has been a big issue for several years, is the lack of a threat in the kick return game. Slater’s 26-yard attempt was the lone-highlight, but the team does not have anyone who excels in that area of the game. On the bright side, the Patriots were not penalized on special teams in week three, which had not been the case in each of the first two contests.

Overall, it’s always nice to get a win in the NFL, but the correct adjustments need to be made moving forward. Back to the film room — and the drawing board — before the team travels into a hostile environment, at Kansas City to play the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, in week four. More on that game shortly.

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

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