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Patriots Survive Brutal Struggle With Jets

FOXBOROUGH – No matter how bad the Jets are, when they play the Patriots, they always seem to play their best – or two best – game(s) of the year.

After a season opening victory over Oakland, the Jets have lost five straight games, the worst losing streak in the Rex Ryan era.  The Patriots did make it six, but barely, as a last second field goal attempt by Nick Folk from 58 yards out was blocked by Chris Jones, sealing a 27-25 Patriot win on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.  The Jets played a solid game and battled the Patriots tooth and nail, and in the end the better team (stop us if you’ve heard this before) found a way to win.

It seemed all game long that the Patriots were giving the Jets all they wanted on the ground while literally daring Geno Smith to beat the Patriots through the air.  The stingy Jet defense almost made the Patriots pay for that strategy, but an incredible touchdown catch by Danny Amendola with 7:49 left gave the Patriots an eight-point margin that held up in the end.


Danny Amendola caught the winning touchdown pass and recovered an onside kick to help the Patriots beat the Jets on Thursday night.
(USA TODAY Images)

The night seemed like a Patriot blowout was in the offing right from the start.  On their second offensive play, Tom Brady hit Brandon LaFell for 24 yards after a missed tackle by Phillip Adams.  Two plays later, Shane Vereen lined up at wideout on the right side.  Two Jet defensive backs, especially safety Antonio Allen who was most responsible for coverage, let Vereen run uncovered down the right sideline.  Brady hit Vereen and almost overthrew him, but Vereen made the catch and stumbled into the end zone for a 49-yard touchdown catch and a quick 7-0 lead for the Patriots.

Ryan and his defense were embarrassed, and the Jets struck back.  The Patriots played primarily a 4-2-5 base defense to make up for the loss of Jerod Mayo, with man coverage on the outsides and zone up the middle.  On the third offensive play for the Jets, Smith was able to hit tight end Jeff Cumberland on a slant route for 28 yards with Devin McCourty playing a soft zone.  Chris Ivory, the top offensive weapon for the Jets, ripped off a 15-yard run amidst a hail of missed tackles.  Folk would later hit a 23-yard field goal to put the Jets on the board.

The Jets had the ball four times in the first half, and each drive ended in a Folk field goal.  The Patriots seemed to concede a ton of yardage between the 20s, especially on runs by Ivory.  Eric Decker, the free agent pickup from Denver, drew former Jet Darrelle Revis in coverage.  Decker wound up with four catches for 65 yards to lead the Jets.  Late in the first quarter, Smith threw perhaps his prettiest pass of the night as he lofted a lob pass just over the leaping Revis and into Decker’s hands for 24 yards to help set up Folk’s second field goal.

Time of possession in the first half was lopsided in favor of the Jets, 22 minutes to eight for the Patriots.  But the Patriots led 17-12, as Brady was able to hit Vereen for a second touchdown pass, this time from 3 yards out with 4:22 left in the first half.  The plan to allow Jet movement from between the 20s was working up to that time.

The Jets got the ball to begin the second half and proceeded to take the lead, eating up six minutes of time in the process.  Ivory began the second half with a 17-yard run on a nice cutback move.  Two plays later, Ivory burst up the middle for 12 yards.  On third and four, Decker caught a slant pass for 14 yards, but Alfonzo Dennard was on him and not Revis.  Three plays later, on third and 12, Decker beat Revis for 18 yards on a slant route.  On first and goal at the eight, Ivory ran twice to cover the eight yards and the Jets led 19-17.  The Patriots would get the lead back on the next drive thanks partly to two defensive penalties on the Jets.  Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on both his field goal attempts, and this 36-yarder gave the Patriots the lead for good at 20-19.

The Jets’ next drive resulted in their first punt of the night as their first five drives resulted in scores.  The teams traded three-and-outs until a bad Ryan Quigley punt went only 30 yards to the Jet 46 with 10:51 left.  Brady was able to shake off two consecutive dropped passes by Julian Edelman and drove the Patriots the 46 yards to give them the winning margin.  Brady hit Gronkowski for five yards, then Edelman for 14, and then a nice seam pass for 24 yards to put the Patriots at the Jet 3.  Vereen lost a yard on first down, then an illegal pick call on LaFell put the Patriots back at the Jet 19.  On third down, Brady dropped back, rolled to his left, then hurled the ball towards the end zone.

Amendola, perhaps the most maligned Patriot, ran a slant route against Allen, then curled back inside and made a leaping grab of Brady’s pass in the end zone.  The Patriots led, 27-19 with 7:49 left.  It was a remarkable catch by Amendola, his best in a season where he was literally no offensive factor at all.

The Jets had only one timeout left at this time.  Through either Jet stupidity or Patriot savvy, the Patriots gave the Jets a ton of yardage over the middle and despite giving up a touchdown, the Jets were forced to eat up 5:18 of playing time.  The Jets haven’t converted a two-point try in four years (the last one was against New England, of course).  Smith overthrew Jace Amaro in the end zone, and the Patriots kept the lead.  Amendola added to his heroic evening by smothering the onside kick which took a funky bounce and didn’t look like the solid lock play it has looked like over the years.

The Patriots could have iced the game with one first down, but managed only one net yard on their brief possession.  The Jets got the ball back with 1:06 left, and once again ran plays that mostly stayed inbounds.  Folk was left to try a 58-yard field goal with four seconds left, and Chris Jones, who was at the epicenter of that strange penalty in the loss to the Jets last year, was able to burst in from the middle and block the kick to end the game.

Ivory finished with 107 yards rushing on 21 carries and an average just over five yards.  The Jets as a team rushed for 218 yards and a 5.1 average per carry.  Smith was 20 of 34 passing for 226 yards and an 88.6 rating.  Despite the game being a nailbiter to the finish, the Patriots’ game plan worked perfectly, but the team does need to do more to replace Mayo with tougher competition coming up on the horizon.

Brady was 20 of 37 for 261 yards and three touchdowns, and a passer rating of 103.5.  Vereen and Gronkowski each had five catches for 139 combined yards.

The Patriots get the Chicago Bears at home in a week and a half.  The rest will do them well, but this 4-2-5 base that worked against the Jets won’t cut it for the rest of the season.  Jay Cutler is better than he has been in years past, and the next quarterback after him is someone named Peyton.

But a win over the Jets is nice no matter how pretty or ugly.

Patriots Show Bills How To Win, Again

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – It was a glorious day in Western New York, as new Bills owner Terry Pagula was unveiled to the adoring crowd.  No chance that the Bills will be relocated to Los Angeles.  The beloved Bills are staying put, and thank goodness.

What Pegula got a firsthand look at was one of the ongoing issues with his new team which has been going on down and through the years.  The Bills simply don’t have the material or the know how to take down the Patriots, and once again the Patriots showed the Bills that they know how to win better than they do.  The Patriot defense forced three turnovers, and Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns to lead the Patriots to a 37-22 over Buffalo on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

With the win, the Patriots take over sole possession of first place in the AFC East.  That is richly satisfying for Patriot Nation given that after Week 1 the Patriots were in sole possession of last place.

The Patriots won despite a hail of key injuries throughout the game.  Jerod Mayo, Dan Connally, Stevan Ridley and Rob Gronkowski all suffered injuries during the game, and only Gronkowski was able to return later in the game.  The offensive line also had some rough moments, playing without Bryan Stork and enduring another bad game from Nate Solder.  But as they always seem to do against Buffalo, they found ways to win, and Buffalo found ways to lose.

Offensively, the game was all about Brady.  Any reporter who wondered if Jimmy Garoppolo should take over for Brady two weeks ago ought to be ashamed of themselves.  Brady carved up Buffalo’s defense for 367 yards passing on 27 of 37 passing and a passer rating of 139.6.  Ten different Patriot receivers caught passes, with Julian Edelman catching nine passes for 91 yards and Gronkowski had seven catches for 94 yards.

Brady’s performance was even more remarkable given how badly the Patriot rushing attack was stifled.  This was one area where Buffalo had a clear victory, as Ridley was held to 23 yards on 10 carries, Shave Vereen had four yards on five carries, and Brandon Bolden had six carries for ten yards.  As a team, the Patriots averaged less than two yards per carry.

Brady’s first touchdown pass was to Tim Wright.  Following a stupefyingly awful pass interference penalty on Duke Williams, who pushed Edelman out of bounds in the end zone as the ball was sailing in, Brady play faked to Ridley and Buffalo completely bit on the fake.  Wright had nobody within five yards of him in the end zone.

Brian Tyms, playing his first game of the season after his suspension, morphed from August artificial star to legit player with a 43-yard touchdown pass on the first drive of the second half.  In triple (yes, we did say triple) coverage, Brady was able to find Tyms deep down the middle and fought his way through Corey Graham, Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore to make the catch.  Brady often times overthrows this ball, but this time he laid it in right there and Tyms made a great play to haul in the pass.


Brandon LaFell had two touchdown catches in the Patriot victory over Buffalo on Sunday.
(USA TODAY Images)

Brandon LaFell had two touchdown catches in the second half.  In the fourth quarter, two plays after a holding call on Jordan Devey negated a Gronkowski touchdown, Brady hit LaFell over the middle on a crossing pattern, and LaFell was able to beat Da’Norris Searcy to the ball and to the end zone.  The play covered 18 yards and it gave the Patriots a 30-14 lead at the time.

Needing one more score to make things comfortable, on the next drive Brady was perched at the Patriot 44 facing second down and 12.  Brady found LaFell in the right flat, and he was able to beat McKelvin to the ball.  Racing down the right sideline, LaFell was able to stiffarm McKelvin and take it 56 yards to complete the scoring.

If you want to make any complaints about the Patriots, the offensive line, minus Connally and Stork, had some shaky moments, and the defense gave up some long gains, mostly on passes from Kyle Orton to tight end Scott Chandler. Chandler finished with six catches for 105 yards, but had a key dropped pass late in the game to somewhat offset his otherwise great afternoon.

In addition to the holding penalty on Devey, Solder once again endured a rough afternoon.  Solder had a rough time with linebacker Jerry Hughes, who in one stretch in the second quarter gave up a sack to Brady and another Brady scramble for two yards which was almost a sack.  Marcus Cannon had to come in for a time at left tackle before Solder came back in in the second half.

The Bills’ three turnovers yielded 13 Patriot points.  On the first play of the second quarter, Orton tried to hit Marquise Goodwin on the right sideline but threw the ball right to Jamie Collins, a simply awful throw.  Later in the second quarter, Chandler Jones strip sacked Orton at the Buffalo 20, and recovered the fumble.  Right at the end of the first half, Fred Jackson ripped off a 15-yard run but was stripped by Devin McCourty, and Stephen Gostkowski was able to nail a 53-yard field goal at the halftime gun.

Gostkowski kicked field goals from 40, 42 and 53 yards.  He yanked a 36-yarder wide left to break up a string of 12 straight field goals, but it was a bad snap which affected the placement by Ryan Allen which caused Gostkowski to miss the kick.

Orton finished 24 of 38 passing for 299 yards and two touchdowns for a 94.1 passer rating.  Robert Woods had the most catches for Buffalo with seven catches for 78 yards.  Chris Hogan chipped in with 72 yards on five catches.  The Bills made a little more hay rushing than the Patriots did, but the Patriots, without Mayo for most of the game, managed to hold Jackson and C.J. Spiller to a combined 49 yards on 17 catches, a nice job when either back could drop 100 yards on the Patriots.

It’s now a short week for the Patriots, who will turn around and play the Jets at home on Thursday night.  The Patriots will play with the division lead for the first time in the season, a position they are very familiar with.  The key injuries sustained today, especially for Mayo who may be done for the year, will hurt the Patriots moving forward.

May the Bills stay in Buffalo forever.  And may the Patriots continue to enjoy the success they seem to always have against the team that Ralph Wilson founded and now hands off to Pagula.  All is right with both the Bills and Patriots for now.

Patriots Strike Back With A Vengeance

FOXBOROUGH – Listen to coach.  We’re on to Cincinnati.

And “on to” is putting it mildly.

New England was rife with unsettling feelings towards the Patriots all week long.  The lopsided loss at Kansas City on Monday night set Patriot Nation off on a Chicken Little mentality all week long.  Tom Brady was questioned as to his fitness to continue to lead this team.  Bill Belichick might have become the author of the newest catch phrase.  The Bengals came into Gillette Stadium on Sunday night as a one-point favorite.  It was the second time since the Patriots’ last Super Bowl win that the Patriots were a home dog.

Fortunately, Cincinnati is still a team that cannot win a prime time game or a postseason game.  And all of New England can collectively exhale.  Brady threw two touchdown passes, Stevan Ridley hit triple digits in rushing, and Rob Gronkowski looked somewhat like his old self with six catches and a touchdown.  The Patriots ran up a big early lead and made it stand up with a 43-17 win.


Rob Gronkowski caught six passes and a touchdown in the Patriot win over Cincinnati on Sunday night.
(USA TODAY Images)

Belichick bluntly and relentlessly refused to answer questions about the loss last Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium with his now-famous “We’re on to Cincinnati” retort.  The coach, as always, proved that he is all omniscient in that his team was the most focused all season long, and took it to the Bengals with an intensity not seen at all this year.  Belichick made a ton of terrific adjustments in this game, and may have finally found the right offensive line combo in the process.

Lost in the shuffle was a noticeable undercard which might prove critical over the course of the season.  During the week, Darrelle Revis seemed to call out Belichick by stating that the Jets, one of his former teams, played a more aggressive style of defense.  Revis had been hamstrung in soft zone coverages up to this point, and it seemed to frustrate him.  On Sunday night, Revis was in man coverage with A.J. Green all night long, and Patriot Nation finally got to see the better side of Revis.

Even more telling was that Revis left the game in the third quarter with what might have been a hamstring injury.  On the very next play, Green was able to shake Logan Ryan and haul in a 17-yard touchdown pass, but that only made the score 34-17 Patriots at the time and proved to be nothing serious.  Revis would return later in the game.

The key to the Patriot win, though Revis helped greatly, was the performance of the offensive line.  The inside three of Dan Connally and Ryan Wendell at guard and Bryan Stork at center was the biggest positive of the night for the Patriots.  They enabled the Patriots to gash the Bengal defense with runs up the middle (the Patriots totaled 152 yards rushing on runs up the middle).  It also enabled tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer to perform better in pass protection.  Brady was able to be comfortable in the pocket all game long, was sacked only once, and found a rhythm with old reliable Gronkowski.

The Bengals were hurting without starting linebacker Vontaze Burfict.  But this was still a great job by the Patriots of opening up holes and allowing Ridley and Shane Vereen big gains all game long.  Ridley finished with 113 yards rushing on 27 carries.  But the best indicator of how great the blocking was was the fact that Vereen, known for his receiving more than his rushing, tallied 90 yards on nine carries.  He was incredibly consistent in that his longest rush was 19 yards.  But when Vereen nearly gets 100 yards instead of or in addition to Ridley, the run game is at peak proficiency.

One other area that helped the Patriots was their overall intensity.  This was displayed best in their reliance on the hurry-up offense.  They dictated the tempo of the game on offense for pretty much the entire evening.  The Patriots were able to keep the Bengal defense on their heels, showed tremendous push off the line of scrimmage, and Brady looked like he could complete passes without breaking a sweat.  The defense was more about execution and a lackluster Bengal offense than it was intensity, but it still played a sound game, and Revis playing man coverage was the best element of the defense for the game.

If you can complain about anything, it would be about finishing drives and penalties.  Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect five for five on field goals, but two of them were under 25 yards, meaning that the Patriots knocked on the door of the goal line but could not break down the door.  Five field goals for a team that was manhandling the Bengals all night long will catch Belichick’s attention this week.

The Patriots finished with 12 penalties for 114 yards.  There was one maddening stretch in the second quarter where the Bengals drove the ball on the Patriots aided by three questionable penalties.  Alfonzo Dennard was flagged for holding on Mohamed Sanu, but replays showed that he perhaps laid his hand on the back of his jersey instead of grabbing it.  On the next play, Dominique Easley was called for a “blindside block” which put the ball at the Patriot 38.  Five plays later, Dennard was again called for holding on Sanu, which resembled the previous play on this drive.  The Bengals managed only a 23-yard field goal by Mike Nugent.

Brady finished 23 of 35 for 292 yards and a 110.7 passer rating.  A 27-yard pass to Gronkowski in the first quarter put Brady over 50,000 passing yards for his career, another milestone to bring up when he enters Canton someday.  Gronkowski had six catches for 100 yards, but especially pleasing was that Tim Wright, the man acquired from Tampa Bay for Logan Mankins, caught five passes for 85 yards and a touchdown, making his hay mostly on left seam routes.

To his credit, Andy Dalton’s numbers weren’t that bad.  His passer rating of 117.4 was actually higher than Brady thanks to 15 of 24 passing for 204 yards and two touchdowns.  Giovanni Bernard rushed for 62 yards and a 4.8 average per carry.  Dalton’s top receivers were Green and Sanu, who both hauled in five catches and each caught a touchdown pass.

The Patriots don’t usually play well on Sunday nights, but on this Sunday night they caught a Bengals team coming off a bye week which cannot handle the bright lights at all.  It formed a good combination for the Patriots to serve notice to the league, and to the rest of the division, and pardon the cliché, that reports of the demise of the Patriots are greatly exaggerated.

This Patriot win was richly satisfying.  Belichick and Brady did what they had to do to shut up all the reporters who asked some of the most unbelievable questions all week long.  The fan base can rest easy for at least one more week. All is well once again on the Boston Post Road.

This has been going on for over a decade.  Have faith, folks.

Patriots Suddenly Look Like Red Sox

KANSAS CITY – Yesterday at Fenway Park was all about Derek Jeter and nothing at all about the now-defrocked World Champion Red Sox.

Their 71-91 season came to a pitiful yet merciful end with a 9-5 loss to the Yankees in front of mostly Yankee fans at the Grande Dame at Yawkey Way.  The Red Sox disappointed everyone in 2014 with lousy offense and suspect pitching.  They became the first team in MLB history to go last place to world champs and then back to last place again.

So, the Red Sox are finally put to sleep.  Whew.  Finally, now we can concentrate on the Patriots and their fantastic new defense.

The Patriots may have served notice to the good people of New England, as well as the rest of the NFL, that this is a Red Sox-esque season in the offing.  The Patriot offense is just plain offensive.  The defense looked like Brandon Workman started tonight instead of Joe Kelly.  Kansas City is full of excitement, thanks to the fact that the Royals are about to play their first postseason game since 1985.  The Chiefs added to that excitement with a 41-14 pasting of the Patriots on Monday Night Football at Arrowhead Stadium.

If this wasn’t the worst Bill Belichick-Tom Brady game, it is in the bottom three.  Brady got benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Jimmy Garoppolo after throwing two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.  The Patriot defense surrendered 303 yards of offense in the first half, most in the Belichick era.  Brady looked like he can no longer find receivers consistently, and that includes Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.

Kansas City is a place the Patriots rarely win in.  The Patriots are now 1-5 all-time at Arrowhead Stadium and 3-11-1 in Kansas City against the Chiefs.  The Patriots went from 1964 to 2004 between wins in western Missouri.  The Arrowhead crowd is notorious for being incredibly loud, and judging by how off kilter the Patriot offense was all evening long, it seems that the crowd gets another notch in its belt as it readies itself for Jon Lester and the Oakland A’s at Kauffman Stadium Tuesday night.

The game was basically this in a nutshell:  Brady and the offense never got into a rhythm except for one quick third quarter drive, and the defense was continually bedeviled by terrific edge blocking by the Chiefs, incredible play design and execution especially on bubble screens, and Patriot defenders falling down and missing tackles.  The Patriot offensive line continues to stink out the joint, with the low water mark being Nate Solder playing matador to Tomba Hall, resulting in a strip sack of Brady with Hall recovering the fumble.

Give Andy Reid credit for a terrific coaching job.  Not often does Belichick get outcoached, but in this game, to quote Belichick’s mother Jeannette, he got “wopped” by Reid.  Reid may have laid out a blueprint for other teams to follow for the season in dealing with the retooled Patriot defense by attacking the flanks instead of the middle, but Reid had the manpower to pull it off as the Chief offense managed to pull off some plays that looked like masterpieces in design and execution.

To illustrate this further, the top offensive weapon for the Chiefs was arguably the tight end, Travis Kelce.  Kelce was Alex Smith’s top receiving target with eight catches for 93 yards.  Most of his receptions were quick hitches to the sidelines with Kelce lined up between either two wideouts or a wideout and an outside tackle.  He was able to play off that blocking and turn a 4-yard gain into a double-digit gain.  The Patriots had literally no answer for Kelce, not that they had an answer for most anyone wearing a red uniform.

Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, the two running backs for Kansas City, combined for 199 yards rushing.  Both rushers averaged over five yards per carry, and despite Davis’ numbers being somewhat skewed by a 48-yard run on a fake end around, the Patriots fared poorly in trying to stop these guys.  Many of their runs were on left end runs with edge blockers sealing off Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.  Jones missed a chunk of the game with an injury, and despite getting one sack of Smith, was not a factor at all in this game.

Brady finished 14 of 23 passing for 159 yards, one touchdown and two picks for a miserable 59.9 passer rating.  Brady’s first interception was more the result of Edelman breaking off a route instead of a bad throw, and Sean Smith had an easy interception which he was able to return 34 yards to set up a third quarter field goal.  The second one was a bad throw over the middle that Husain Abdullah picked off and returned 39 yards for a touchdown to make it 41-7 Chiefs in the fourth quarter.  It was after this second interception that Garoppolo came into the game to finish up.


Rookie QB Jimmy Garoppolo saw his first NFL action Monday night and threw his first NFL touchdown pass.
(USA TODAY Images)

Garoppolo fared much better.  He led the Patriots on a touchdown drive immediately, driving the Patriots 81 yards in seven plays and hitting passes with a crispness that Brady was never able to achieve.  He found Gronkowski from 13 yards out for a touchdown, with Gronk fighting off tacklers and finding his way into the end zone.  The rookie was 6 of 7 for 70 yards and a 147.9 passer rating in his NFL debut.

What was most puzzling about the Patriot offense is that they used three running backs (Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and James White) with the seeming intent to attack the somewhat substandard Chief run defense.  Vereen, normally a receiver first and rusher second, led the team with eight carries and the team totaled only 75 yards rushing.  Instead of pounding the ball with Ridley, the Patriots instead chose to try and pass to win, with disastrous results.

The Patriots are fortunate to be in a relatively weak division, but have to be questioning themselves for not being the team everyone thought they would be.  This leads to similarities between the Patriots and the Red Sox, as the Sox had offensive problems all season long, mostly in hitting with runners in scoring position.  The Patriots are countering that with continued bad offensive line play, and it’s amazing to watch Brady’s confidence diminish with each passing week.

Things don’t get better as the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals come to town next weekend.  The Bengals took the Patriots last year in the Queen City.  A change of venue might not matter if the Patriots don’t fix a lot of things and quick.

And, for Heaven’s sake, fans are even tweeting that the Patriots now have a quarterback controversy.  No.  Things aren’t quite right at the moment.  But they aren’t that bad.

Bumbling Patriots Manage Win Anyway

FOXBOROUGH – Yeah, these really were the 0-2 Raiders with the worst run defense in the league and a team which “sucks” as per their future Hall of Fame cornerback.

The Patriots, 14-point favorites at home against the Oakland Raiders, had an easy win staring them in the face, and played exactly like it.  Both teams spent the afternoon spitting the bit in the red area, but in the end an interception off of a muffed pass catch gave the Patriots a 16-9 win at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.  You expect the Raiders, led by rookie quarterback Derek Carr, susceptible to not finishing drives against a supposed elite team on the road.  But the Patriots are still horribly out of sync on offense, and one has to wonder if this Patriot team is really a Super Bowl contender like everyone thought they would be over the summer.

To their credit, the Raiders devised the perfect offensive game plan for Carr, the second round draft pick out of Fresno State.  Carr bedeviled the Patriots all game long with short passes that took very little time to develop, not that dissimilar to the quick screen-oriented offense he ran out at Fresno.  The Patriots helped out a great deal by giving Carr all day to throw much of the time, and had zero sacks of Carr.

What did the Raiders in in the end was an inability to finish drives, and Sebastian Janikowski nailed all three of his field goal attempts for the Raiders’ scoring on the afternoon.  The game-sealing interception was not Carr’s fault, but the game still goes in the books as a loss for the Raiders.  It was a game the Raiders could have stolen from the Patriots, but they are still far away from being the kind of team that can finish what would have been a titanic road upset.

Now, for the Patriots.  The offense is still way off kilter.  Scoring 16 points at home against the worst run defense in the league is hardly awe-inspiring.

Tom Brady trusts only Julian Edelman.  Stevan Ridley could have bucked for 150 yards rushing against this team.  The offensive line is still a mess.  Rob Gronkowski dropped a touchdown pass.  Brady was sacked twice, once by familiar Super Bowl foe Justin Tuck.

In all, the Patriots are fortunate that they happened to draw two of the lower-tier teams in the NFL following their season opening loss at Miami.  Oakland is not the kind of team that can take these offensive shortcomings by the Patriots and exploit them.

The Patriots did not score until 4:14 left in the first half.  On their opening possession, Brady misfired on short passes to Brandon LaFell and Shane Vereen and went three and out.  The second possession featured five runs and two passes, but died thanks to a holding call on rookie Cameron Fleming.

Finally on the third drive, Brady gave the fans hope that an easy win over a bad team would be in the offing.  A 15-play, 70-yard drive featured four completions to Edelman for 33 yards.  A fifth ball thrown to Edelman resulted in a pass interference call on Tarell Brown which was more of an inducement by Edelman than an over-aggressive play by Brown.  Gronkowski scored on a six-yard touchdown pass on a crossing route with linebacker Kaluka Maiava in futile pursuit.

The next drive, the last of the first half, seemed like a second easy touchdown drive.  With first down and goal at the 5-yard line, Ridley was stopped at the 2, then Vereen was stuffed for no gain.  With eight seconds left, Brady tried to take one quick shot at the end zone.  He muffed the low snap and wound up throwing the ball away to avoid a sack.  Stephen Gostkowski, who matched Janikowski field goal for field goal, nailed a 21-yarder to make it 10-3 Patriots at the half.

The first two drives were impacted by linebacker Khalil Mack.  He stuffed Ridley for a three-yard loss on the first drive which was finished off by a sack of Brady by Tuck.  Jordan Devey allowed the sack and looked just like Logan Mankins in his two Super Bowl appearances in doing so.  Mack killed the next drive by beating Fleming off the line of scrimmage and pressuring Brady into a throwaway.

The next two drives for the Patriots resulted in field goals, but the first one resembled the last drive of the first half in that the drive stalled just short of the goal line.  Facing first and goal at the Oakland 2, Vereen was stopped for a one-yard gain.  On second down, Brady found Gronkowski open in the back of the end zone.  Woodson managed to tip the ball slightly, but the ball still found its way to Gronkowski.  He suddenly grew a pair of stone fingers and dropped the ball.  Brady tried to hit Danny Amendola at the pylon on third down but led him too far, and Gostkowski hit his second short field goal, from 20 yards to make it 13-9 Patriots.

Brady began to find a rhythm on the next drive, hitting Edelman on a touch pass for 15 yards, Gronkowski over the middle for 22 yards, then hit Vereen and LaFell on flat passes for 12 yards each on consecutive plays.  The drive died at the Oakland 17 when Miles Burris dropped a pick and Brady underthrew LaFell in the left flat.  Gostkowski completed the scoring with a 36-yard field goal.


Vince Wilfork sealed the Patriot win over Oakland with an interception in the final minute.
(USA TODAY Images)

On their final drive, Carr led Oakland from their 38 to the Patriot 12.  Leon McFadden ran for ten yards, then James Jones beat Darrelle Revis for an 18-yard gain to the Patriot 33.  A pass interference call on Logan Ryan defending Andre Holmes put the ball at the Patriot 6 with 1:02 left.

But then the Raiders showed their inability to close out the game.  McFadden burst off tackle for 6 yards and a tying touchdown, but the play was nullified when Gabe Jackson was called for holding.  On the next play, Carr, with all day to throw, was able to find Demarius Moore on a crossing route.  Moore sidestepped Rob Ninkovich and took the pass thrown right between his number one and seven.  But the ball deflected up in the air and was picked off by Vince Wilfork to seal the win.  The Raiders had the game tied up with a minute to go, but a penalty and interception took away the chance at overtime.

Carr finished 21 of 34 passing for 174 yards.  The pick, which wasn’t Carr’s fault, and no touchdown passes brought his rating down to 62.6.  McFadden had 59 yards rushing and led the Raiders with four receptions (Jones had the most yardage with 43 yards receiving).  Brady was 24 of 37 passing for 234 yards and a touchdown and a 91.5 rating.  Ridley and Vereen both averaged under three yards per carry against the worst rush defense in the league.

The Patriots will take the win, and now have an extra day to prepare for Kansas City.  Sooner or later, the Patriots will need to debug the offense, synch up Brady with all of his receivers, and to sort out the offensive line and get some sort of cohesion.

As Al Davis used to say, “Just win, baby!”  For the Raiders, it’s still more of the other guy doing that than them.

As The Ball Bounces: Week 2

He remains the last surviving active Oakland Raider still with the team who played in the Snow Bowl in 2001 at Foxborough Stadium.  To look at Sebastian Janikowski, he doesn’t look like your prototypical kicker.  But his standing the test of time speaks well for the former Florida State Seminole.  He has a 63-yard field goal to his credit, no longer tied for the longest, but still a nice feather in his cap.  He is far and away the leading scorer in Raider history, and at age 36, has many more years left in him.  He booms one out of the end zone and makes it look completely effortless.  He could have done the same in a raging blizzard, a fact we all know in these parts.

Different focus this week.  We will devote the entire article to all that is currently going wrong with the NFL off the field.

Charles Barkley reiterated his “I am not a role model” stance on the CBS pregame show this past Sunday morning.  He said parents are the role models, not the athletes.  Good place to begin.

So, what did Ray Rice’s parents do to turn him into a wifebeater?  Or what didn’t they do?

And what of Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy?  How in the world did they turn into alleged child abusers?

And you cannot forget a former Patriot who allegedly committed three murders last year.  How was his upbringing?

Now, what about the NFL?  Is this a case of the league trying to protect its star players?

It is beyond execrable as to how the NFL has handled the Rice case.  The damage control is out of bounds.  The interviews, the explanations, everything, just plain sickening.

Which leads us to the…

Geek of the week:  It’s bad enough that Roger Goodell has come out of this whole affair with egg on his face and his commissionership in jeopardy.  But if Rice gets reinstated because it is proved that he cannot be punished twice for the same crime, this is the ultimate indignity to both the league and to Rice’s wife, even though she continues to defend him with all her might.

Let’s get back to Barkley’s assertion of who kids should look up to.

This author is a full time teacher.  I have seen 31 years of many children.  They represent the entire spectrum of a child’s talents, emotions, strong points and weaknesses.

Some kids are easy to work with, some are high maintenance.  Some kids are respectful, some are not.  Some kids are boy/girl scouts, some are unavoidably headed for prison some day.

Here is one thing that binds all of them together:  the quality of the family unit.  If a student has any adverse issue, odds are that you will find the root of the problem at home.

There is not enough, if any, education out there about parenting skills.  You have plenty of advisories on staying celibate until marriage and the prevention of STDs, though teen pregnancies happen anyway.  Even if you wait until you’re married, then decide to begin a family, that’s only half the battle.  Knowing what to do with that bundle in your lap is another story.

Barkley is right.  Parents need to step up and show kids the right way.  What you do as a parent influences your child more than you realize.

And athletes aren’t the only high profile people out there.  Actors and actresses.  Musicians.  Politicians.  Anyone with any kind of celebrity.  Why just single out athletes?

Parents have to do everything in their power to make sure their children are seen after properly.  Whether they stay together or divorce, the kids come first.  Love the kids with your heart and always show them the right way.

Back to school:  How well did you know your school counselor?  Oops, did your school have a counselor?

Here’s a big shout out to perhaps the most valuable person in any school.  The job a school counselor does is vastly underrated and so vitally important to schools in general and students in need of help in particular.

Counselors have stated on numerous occasions that troubled children can tell stories about their life at home that would make you sick to your stomach.  In many cases, the school counselor is all that the child has to come and talk to.

So, this begs this rhetorical question:  Was any counseling available to students who might one day go on to beat up a woman?  Or a kid?

There are lots of other problems in addition to spousal/child battery, of course.  All these kids need help, someone to talk to.

Schools cannot do enough to provide these services to students who need it.  The schools I teach at have always had expert and wonderful counselors, and I have spared no expense in letting them know how important they are.  My only gripe is that in our district, they are also responsible for scheduling.  It’s too bad that there isn’t someone else who can do that so they can concentrate all their energies on what they are really there to do.

Remember them:  My mother and my late father.  Other relatives.  Teachers.  Professors.  Counselors.  Everyone who has helped me become the teacher, husband and father I am.  I don’t have the words to thank you.  I’m not perfect, but thanks to you all, I am proud of what I became.

It’s not like Rice, Peterson and Hardy are the only miscreants the NFL has produced.  It’s just that these guys are dominating the news and sports headlines so much that everyone’s awareness of troubled athletes is at its highest right now.

Let’s begin at home.  Enlighten parents, young and old, to what really makes a good parent and make ways to learn parenting skills more accessible.

Let’s have schools step up and identify problematic children better, and get them the help they need if they require it.  No child should ever be made to feel that they have no means towards inner peace and happiness.  My school district is a great model for all to follow.

There may be some people out there who do receive great parenting and a nice home life and still cannot handle adulthood properly.  Nothing is foolproof.  You won’t prevent everything bad that can happen.  But good parenting is the place to start no matter what.

When celebrities are outed as criminals, the issues involved and the inherent problems become magnified.  If you have never been a celebrity, you cannot imagine what causes some of them to snap, commit crimes, or simply turn into people whom you would never want as your best friend.  Being a celeb engenders pressure and expectations that ordinary people will never know.

Rich or famous?  I choose rich any day.

Let’s get to them when they’re young.  If that doesn’t happen, let’s get them help when they get grown up and they can’t handle life as well as they think they can.

And instead of being just pariahs, let’s let Rice, Peterson and Hardy be agents of change in our society.  Then maybe some good will finally come of all this.

Back to football next week, folks.  As always, thanks for your time.

 

Defense Gets Patriots Back On Winning Track

MINNEAPOLIS – In the fourth quarter, the fans at TCF Bank Stadium started chanting “Teddy!  Teddy!  Teddy!”  Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer wouldn’t bite.

One of these days, Zimmer might have to.  Matt Cassel, very familiar around these parts as Tom Brady’s long time former understudy, threw four picks and made Viking Nation pine for Teddy Bridgewater, their top draft pick from Louisville.  The Patriot defense bedeviled Cassel all game long after recovering from a bad first series, and the Patriots coasted to a 30-7 win on Sunday to even their 2014 record at 1-1.

The Patriots so dominated Cassel and the Viking offense that it didn’t matter that other phases of the game sputtered at times, and that most of the Patriot points came off of Viking turnovers.  The Patriots incurred 15 penalties, the most in the Bill Belichick era.  Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect three for three in field goals, but that was more about unfinished drives rather than clutch kicking.  Julian Edelman had a nice day, but no other Patriot receiver was of any consequence and Stevan Ridley turned out to be the big offensive juggernaut.

The defense rendered any “problems”, if you want to refer to that as such, pretty much moot.  Cassel didn’t look much like the quarterback he was when he led the Patriots to an 11-5 record in 2008.  Matt Asiata, the replacement for the sidelined Adrian Peterson, who was arrested in Texas last week on child abuse charges, was nothing at all like his All-Pro teammate after the first offensive series for the Vikings.

Wipe out that first series for Minnesota.  Three long gains, which were later reduced to fluke status thanks to terrific adjustments, got the Vikings an early 7-0 lead.  Kyle Rudolph beat Deontae Skinner, a practice squad linebacker, on a crossing pattern for 16 yards.  Another tight end, Rhett Ellison, beat Jerod Mayo on a 24-yard pass play in the left flat.  On the next play, the Patriot defense, particularly Patrick Chung, bit on a fake end around to Cordarelle Patterson, leaving Asiata wide open in the right flat.  Cassel hit him and he took it in for a 25-yard touchdown.

That would be it for the Vikings offensively.  On the next series, facing second down and 16 at his own 15, Cassel tried to lob a deep ball to Jarius Wright into double coverage.  Devin McCourty made the pick and nearly returned it to the house, turning out of bounds at the pylon where he might have run it in the end zone.  Two plays later, Ridley pounded it in from the one to tie the score at 7.

Two drives later, a holding penalty on Darrelle Revis negated a sack of Cassel.  Revis made up for it five plays later by picking off perhaps the worst throw on the afternoon for Cassel.  Cassel was trying to hit Greg Jennings in the right flat, but the pass went right to Revis for his first pick as a Patriot. Brady cashed in that pick with a seven-play, 61-yard drive punctuated with a nine-yard fade pass to Edelman, who beat Captain Munnerlyn in the corner of the end zone to give the Patriots a 17-7 lead.


Chandler Jones blocked a field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown Sunday at Minneapolis.
(USA TODAY Images)

The last drive of the half saw Cassel lead the Vikings from the Minnesota 18 to the Patriot 31.  Patterson beat Logan Ryan for 26 yards on a crossing route, but an offensive interference penalty on Jennings put the ball on the Patriot 31.  Blair Walsh lined up for a 47-yard field goal attempt, but Chandler Jones burst through a weak block and smothered the kick.  Jones picked up the loose ball and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown and it was 24-7 Patriots at the half.

The second half was again underwhelming for the Patriot offense, but it didn’t matter at all.  On their first offensive possession of the second half, Cassel drove the Vikings 22 yards in six plays.  He then tried to hit Patterson over the middle, but Logan Ryan undercut the pattern and made the pick at the Vikings 45.  The Patriots only went four and out, but Gostkowski drilled a 47-yard field goal to make it 27-7 Patriots. On their next offensive possession, the Patriots enjoyed a ten-play drive which was marred with penalties, including three on two plays by Nate Solder, and a 27-yard field goal by Gostkowski completed the scoring as the game went into the fourth quarter.

There was one more pick, as Cassel tried to drill Asiata with a right flat pass.  The pass deflected off his helmet and the ball fell into the arms of rookie Dominique Easley.  Fans at this time were booing Cassel and calling for Bridgewater to come into the game, which he never did.

Brady was downcast in his postgame press conference.  He commented that “we have a lot of work to do”, and that “I wish that we could go out there and play like we are capable of.”  Despite finishing with a decent passer rating of 102.3, you came away with the impression that this game could have and should have been far worse than 30-7.  Rob Gronkowski did have four catches for 32 yards, but that is still far below what Gronk is capable of.

The Patriots used the run to control the clock and the game offensively.  Ridley finished with 101 yards rushing, and Shane Vereen averaged over six yards per carry.  Again, Brady didn’t need to have a spectacular day.  He was downcast because he believes the offense can do better, he is right.  But in a game like this, the defense was terrific and Cassel was lousy.

Without Peterson in the backfield for the Vikings, the Minnesota rushing attack was a non-factor.  They rushed for 54 yards and a 2.8 average as a team.  Cassel finished with only a 39.1 passer rating thanks mainly to the four interceptions.

With the win, Belichick earned his 200th victory as a head coach.  He spent a great deal of time in his postgame press conference giving praise to his former players who helped him reach that coaching milestone.  It was a sharp departure from the usual laconic style Belichick is famous for.  The Patriots have now won 12 straight games versus the NFC North, and this was their second straight win in a college stadium (the Patriots beat the Bears in 2002 at the University of Illinois while Soldier Field was being renovated).

The Patriots will play their home opener next week against Oakland.  The defense will get to test their newfound confidence against rookie quarterback Derek Carr.  Belichick usually does well against rookie quarterbacks, and the Raiders have a lot of rebuilding left to do alongside trying to find the quarterback of their dreams.

Meanwhile, the Vikings are left with some time to deal with Peterson.  Baltimore seemed unaffected by the Ray Rice situation on Thursday night.  Maybe Zimmer should give John Harbaugh a call.

As The Ball Bounces: Week 1

Fred Cox is one of eleven Minnesota Vikings to have played in all four Super Bowls in their history, all of them losses.  Cox was one of the last straight-on kickers, from an era where soccer-style hadn’t yet come into vogue.  He is the Vikings’ all-time leader in points scored and field goals made, remarkable since he retired in 1977.  He steps into one and it comes down at about the six-yard line.

Nice to see the long time cable TV show Inside The NFL come to the NFL Network.  It is the longest running show in cable history.

So, speaking for all of us who don’t do movie channels, it will be nice to finally see what gives this show such staying power.

How long ago was the merger?  You mean to tell me that this past Sunday was the first win ever by Buffalo at Chicago?

NFL officials told defenders to adapt to tighter calls in the preseason.  Looks like the adapting process is going well if not stunningly well.

Looks like the loss of Dante Scarnecchia may turn out to be worse than the loss of Logan Mankins.

By the way, the latter messed up his knee pretty bad in his Tampa Bay debut.

You can scream all you want for Johnny Manziel in Cleveland.  If I were a Jacksonville fan, I’d be screaming louder for Blake Bortles.

Geek of the week:  Rob Gronkowski can’t be that big a doofus.  Coach says if you play or not, big guy, not you.

Derek Carr left a high octane offense in Fresno for Oakland.  Hope he realizes that he only throws the ball and that he doesn’t play defense.

Let’s just hope that he gets better blocking than his older brother got.

Andy Dalton won his first game ever in Baltimore.  Good job, but talk to me when that sort of thing happens in January, too.

The Hall of Fame roster in Canton lists one punter and one placekicker.  Ray Guy just got in this year, Jan Stenerud about 20 years ago.

Stenerud won’t be alone as the only kicker for long.  Sooner or later this guy who is the leading scorer in Patriot history and second in Colts history will join him.

CBS’s The NFL Today got a fresh makeover.  Shannon Sharpe is gone, which now makes the show watchable.

Despite this, two facts still remain.  CBS still wishes it had the NFC.  And Fox still does it way better.

Andrew Luck.  Colin Kaepernick.  These guys have great upside.  But quit putting them into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks until they actually do something real special.

Job one for Bill Belichick this week:  Bury the game ball from Sunday like 2001.  Job two:  Find out quick who this Cordarrelle Patterson guy is.

Back to school:  Oh, goody.  A playoff system finally for the FBS.  No more BCS anymore.  Will it stop the arguments?  Heck, no.  They argue like crazy over March Madness.  But at least it’s a start.

CHN.  You’ll see those three letters on Steeler uniforms this year.  You see this sort of thing all the time.  The C is for Chuck and the N is for Noll.  This one’s pretty clear and very appropriate.  The guy won four Super Bowls in six years.  Only some guy named Lombardi did better.

The World Champion Red Sox are in last place.  Whew, thank goodness the Patriots are finally back on for real.

Except that the Pats are 0-1 and the rest of the AFC East is 1-0.  No. Please.  Them too?  So, when does hockey start?

CBS is finally countering Fox and their Mike Pereira act.  They brought in recently retired referee Mike Carey.  When he settles in and is more comfortable on the air, he will be fine.

And he, not Ed Hochuli, was actually the most eloquent referee in the league.

Also new for CBS this year is their taking over on Thursday nights.  You’ll still see the games on the NFL’s eponymous network.  But CBS will produce it and toss Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in the broadcast booth.

Okay.  Fine. Were Brad Nessler and Mike “Ryan Mallett is awesome!!!” Mayock that bad?

You want the Washington Redskins to change their name?  We need more than just a handful of enraged Native Americans to complain.

By the way, the Redskins were based in Boston when they acquired that name.

Remember him:  Former Steeler running back Rocky Bleier was a teammate of Alan Page when the two were at Notre Dame in the mid-1960s.  Page was part of that terrific Fighting Irish defense back then, but Bleier noticed back then how scholarly and well learned Page was.  After his Hall of Fame career as a defensive lineman for mostly the Vikings, along the way being selected NFL MVP in 1971, he eventually wound up as an Associate Justice on the Minnesota State Supreme Court.  He has been in that position since 1993.  Some ex-NFL players wound up in Congress (Jack Kemp, Steve Largent, Heath Shuler).  But Justice Page’s accomplishments perhaps stands a bit taller.  Hall of Fame plus State Supreme Court equals something to be mighty proud of.

Did you know that the Phoenix Cardinals are older than the Boston Red Sox?  Yes, by three years.

The Chargers have the best uniforms (as selected by NFL Network) and the worst touchdown music in the league.

I love my wife.  We just hit 25 years of marriage in August.  On occasion, we have had disagreements, as do most couples.

But I have never, ever, ever, come anywhere near striking her or hitting her.

The NFL will do what it has to do, we think.  Keep Ray Rice out of the NFL forever, terminate Roger Goodell, whatever.

Nothing of which will lessen the impact of that horrific scene in the elevator.  That is how Rice will be judged for the rest of his life.  Playing football or not is the least of his worries.

And his wife needs to be aware of two gripping facts.  We’ve seen battered women blame themselves and defend their men all too often.  And chances are he’ll do it again.

 

 

 

 

Patriots Open Season With Another Miami Stinker

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – It began with a blocked punt, and it ended with something that hadn’t happened in 11 years.

True to form, the Patriots completely wilted in the heat and humidity of Miami.  The Dolphins dominated the game in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and powered their way to a 33-20 victory over the Patriots on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.  The Dolphins overcame turnovers on three consecutive drives in the first half to completely dominate the AFC East favorites, and the Patriots would up losing their first season opener since the Lawyer Milloy game against Buffalo in 2003.

At one point, the Patriots had a 20-10 lead, the Dolphins were giving the ball away on offense with regularity, and Tom Brady and the offense was in mid-season form.  But the Dolphins turned things around in the second quarter following the third turnover, and the rest of the way it was complete and total Dolphin domination.

All sorts of things contributed to this Patriot loss, which is even more deplorable given the 3-0 turnover advantage for the Patriots in the first half.  Knowshon Moreno, who gashed the Patriots for 224 rushing yards last year as a Bronco, was again problematic for the Patriot defense.  Cameron Wake was again a dominant force on defense, like he was in the Miami win in south Florida last year.  Key penalties, including an illegal pick on Brandon LaFell and two roughing the passer calls on Chandler Jones, hurt the Patriots in inopportune moments.  The Patriots had their first punt blocked in two years.  The offensive line, which could have badly used Logan Mankins and Dante Scarnecchia, was a shambles in the second half.

Right off the bat, things looked ominous for the Patriots.  On their opening drive, the Dolphin defense forced a three-and-out.  Chris McCain blew in from the right side and smothered Ryan Allen’s ensuing punt.  Ryan Tannehill took the Dolphins in on a four-play, 15-yard drive, finishing with a four-yard dump pass to Lamar Miller with Rob Ninkovich five yards away in futile pursuit.

But the Patriots roared back and took control of the game for a time.  Brady led the Patriots on a 13-play, 74-yard drive, featuring a lot of runs to the left side, where Mankins would have been in the past.  The biggest run was a 17-yarder on an end around by Julian Edelman, and Shane Vereen finished it with a two-yard touchdown run to tie the game.

Miami’s next possession lasted only three plays.  Mike Wallace caught a four-yard dump pass in the right flat and was clobbered by Jamie Collins.  Jerod Mayo picked up the fumble and the Patriots cashed it in with a Stephen Gostkowski 47-yard field goal.

The next exchange seemed to portend a dominating afternoon for the Patriots.  Tannehill drove Miami from the 26 to the Patriot 37, then threw an ill-advised bomb over the middle.  Alfonzo Dennard picked off the pass at the Patriot 6, then Brady took the Patriots on an 11-play, 94-yard drive.  Brady found Edelman for 45 yards while being illegally contacted, then Rob Gronkowski finished it off by catching a 6-yard touchdown pass on a crossing route mismatch.  It was 17-7 Patriots, and when Miller coughed the ball up on the following drive on a nice stick by Logan Ryan, the Patriots had the ball at their own 34 and a chance to put the Dolphins away in the first half.


Tom Brady suffered another disappointing loss at Miami on Sunday.
(USA TODAY Images)

The game turned here.  Over the next eight offensive possessions for the Patriots, the Patriots were held to five plays or less seven times.  Brady was able to manufacture one more scoring drive late in the first half which resulted in a 45-yard field goal by Gostkowski.

The key to the turnaround was the shift in domination from the Patriot front lines to the Dolphins’.  Suddenly, Brady no longer had time to throw the ball and establish a sustained passing rhythm.  Tannehill now had more time to throw and stopped making mistakes, helped greatly with the establishing of a running game from Moreno and Miller.  Both running backs averaged five yards or better for the game, and the two of them gashed the Patriot defense so badly that Tannehill was able to get completely comfortable and settle in in the second half.

The Dolphins scored on six of their last eight possessions which did not result in a half ending.  Opening the second half, the Dolphins struck quick on a screen toss to Charles Clay which went for 24 yards thanks to several missed tackles.  Jones was called for the first of two roughing the passer penalties, then three runs of 26 yards total by Moreno led to a 24-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis to make it 20-13 Patriots.

Wake strip-sacked Brady to give the ball back to Miami four plays later, and Wallace beat Darrelle Revis in the end zone four plays after that with a leaping 15-yard touchdown catch to tie the game at 20.  Two hurries, one by Wake, ended the next Patriot drive quickly and Sturgis capped the next drive with a 22-yard field goal to give Miami the lead at 23-20.

The next Patriot drive seemed to be working well until a 20-yard Steven Ridley right end run was wiped out on a holding call on Michael Hoomanawanui at the point of attack.  A McCain sack ended that drive, but the teams exchanged punts over the next three possessions.  The first Patriot drive was done in by a sack of Brady by Olivier Vernon.  The next drive was killed by an illegal pick penalty on LaFell which injured Dolphin safety Jimmy Wilson.  The third drive was simply three misfires by Brady with an overmatched offensive line in no position to give him time to throw.

Moreno finished with 134 yards rushing and a 5.6 yards per carry average.  Miller had 59 yards rushing and a lost fumble, but averaged 5.4 yards per carry.  This turned out to be perhaps the key in the game, as it allowed Miami to take full control of the game.  Moreno has always done well against the Patriots, but this was a case where giving up the run didn’t work like it did last fall at home against Denver.

Wake had two of the four Miami sacks of Brady, and led a defense which was dominant despite losing top linebackers (Dannell Ellerbe, Koa Misi) to injury in the first half.  The Patriots will obviously be scrutinized for trading Mankins last week, but it is hard to imagine that they would have done much better with an aging Mankins than without.  This was the first Patriot game since 1980 without Scarnecchia on the sidelines, so a huge adjustment period is in order for the offensive line.  Still, Wake is a matchup problem for the Patriots no matter what.

Brady finished 29 of 56 passing for 249 yards, a touchdown, and a 69.7 passer rating.  Tannehill was 18 of 32 for 178 passing yards and a 79.9 rating despite the interception.

The nice omen is that despite the opening day loss in 2003 at Buffalo, the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that year.  If the Patriots have to get over the loss of Mankins this year like they did in 2003 with Milloy, then the Patriots should be much better next week at Minnesota.

Once again, the Patriots show that they usually don’t play well in south Florida.  A lot of season is left, but thank goodness this one is now in the rear view mirror.

South Florida Problematic For Patriots

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Honk if you’re old enough to remember The Jinx.

It’s never fun for the Patriots to head to Miami.  Be it the old Orange Bowl or the stadium now currently known as Sun Life Stadium, when the Patriots come down to sunny, hot and humid south Florida, the Dolphins usually come away with a win.  It was here in 2013 where it was determined that the Patriots would play the AFC Championship Game in Denver and not Foxborough, and that’s only one game in a long line of disappointments for the Patriots.

This isn’t as bad as Denver, but it’s definitely not a gimme win for the 2014 Patriots in their season opener on Sunday.  Bill Belichick elected to bring the team down here a day earlier than normal so the team can adjust to the heat and humidity of the area.  It’s too bad that the Patriots don’t take the high altitude in Denver that seriously and head there early when they have to play there.

Expectations for the 2014 Patriots are perhaps the highest they have been since their last Super Bowl win a decade ago.  The defense is bolstered with newcomers like Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner (who won’t play until Week 5 thanks to a suspension), and the return of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.  Tom Brady has a rich arsenal of receivers to throw to, none the least of which is Rob Gronkowski, assuming he is really cleared to play.

But the schedule maker put the Patriots here for the opener.  On paper, the Patriots should have their way with the Dolphins.  But this is at Miami, and it’s during the hottest and most humid time of the year.  It’s bad enough that Brady has had some of his worst games here in Miami.  Now here, you have the euphoria of opening day and the promise this season brings, and the Patriots could very well be looking at 0-1 come Sunday night.

Naturally, no one wants to hear about this.  So, we’ll let the record plead our case.


Tom Brady has had his share of frustration in Miami over his great career.
(USA TODAY Images)

2001:  This was Brady’s first road start and second overall of his career.  But this was also the “bury the football” game, as Miami steamrolled over New England, 30-10 to drop the Patriots to 1-3.  Brady threw for only 86 yards passing.  Belichick was so disgusted over this game that at the first practice the following week, he took the game ball and buried it, a symbol of putting the game behind them.

2002:  Dolphins overpower the Patriots, 26-13, the game played in early October.  Brady was 17 of 31 for 240 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

2003:  This was a struggle for the eventual Super Bowl champs.  The Patriots won thanks to lousy field goal kicking by Olindo Mare and Brady hitting Troy Brown with an 82-yard touchdown bomb in overtime.

2004:  This game was to Brady the equivalent of Koji Uehara Thursday night against the Yankees.  This game didn’t cost the eventual Super Bowl champs home field throughout the playoffs, but it did spare the Patriots from being the first 15-1 team to play a road playoff game in league history.  Up 28-23 with 1:52 left, Brady threw a lousy interception to Brendon Ayanbadejo, which led to a touchdown pass from A.J. Feeley to Derrius Thompson to give the Dolphins the lead.  Brady had 1:17 to get in position for a game-winning field goal, but on consecutive plays he is sacked by David Bowens and picked by Arturo Freeman to clinch the win for Miami.  To this day it remains one of the more shocking losses of the Brady era.

2006:  Ugh.  This game was in December.  When it’s balmy.  Yet the Dolphins shut out the eventual AFC runner-up Patriots, 21-0.  The Miami defense was stifling, not the weather.  Brady was 12 of 25 for 78 yards and was outdueled by (gulp) Joey Harrington.

2009:  This game is not included in the NFL Network’s A Football Life profile of Belichick.  Good thing, the Patriots went down to Miami, again in December when it’s nice out, and lost 22-21.  Brady threw for 352 yards and two touchdowns, but also suffered two picks.

2011:  We’ll take this result.  2007 would be nice also.  Brady goes completely nuts, throws for 517 yards and four touchdowns on opening night.  Wes Welker caught two of the touchdown passes, one of which went for as long as it can go, the only 99-yard touchdown pass in team history.  With all this offensive dominance, the Patriots still won by only two touchdowns.

2013:  Denver had given the Patriots an early Christmas present.  A Thursday night loss at San Diego put the top playoff seed for the AFC in the hands of the Patriots, who would win a tiebreaker with Denver based on head-to-head.  Win out and the road to the Super Bowl goes through Foxborough.  Instead, the Patriots stumble and bumble their way to a 24-20 loss at Miami three days later, and Denver would wind up the conference champs by beating the Patriots at home.  This game was the most damaging loss at Miami in the Brady era.

For those of you who don’t know about The Jinx, it really has no bearing on Sunday, but it is worth mentioning for the sake of how hard it is for the Patriots to win in Miami.  In their first ever meeting, in 1966 at the Orange Bowl, the Boston Patriots beat Miami 20-14.   The Patriots would not win again in Miami until the 1985 AFC Championship Game, beating the Dolphins 31-14 on their way to Super Bowl XX (The Patriots did win at the Dolphins in 1969, but that game was played in Tampa).  The Patriots lost 18 straight at Miami, including postseason.  Following the AFC Championship Game win, the Patriots came back the next year and clinched the 1986 AFC East title with a 34-27 win in the last game the Patriots would play at the Orange Bowl.  The Patriots did indeed pick a good time to finally end that darned jinx.

The Patriots overall are 15-34 at Miami in their history.  They are 11-16 at Sun Life Stadium.  They are 46-51 all-time against Miami.  On the plus side, Belichick is 18-10 versus Miami as Patriots head coach.  And yes, despite all this negative history in Miami, the Patriots can dial it up on occasion down south.  From 2007 to 2011, the Patriots were 4-1 in Miami and scoring 176 points in the four wins, an average of 44 points per game.

But with expectations so high for 2014, this is a crummy place to begin the season, especially when you recall 2013.  You could do worse, just ask a Packers fan.  Or the Patriots could be opening up in Denver.

It’s really quite simple.  If the Patriots don’t wilt in the heat and play like they did against Carolina two weeks ago, they should win.  If they play like last year, well, it might not ruin this season like last year, but it won’t help.

At least it’s time for football, Patriots style.  One world champ is about to be put to sleep up yonder in Boston.  It’s time for another one to arise and begin its season on a winning note.