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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.

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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

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

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.

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

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!

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

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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.

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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.

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