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Stat Check: Brady’s Red Zone Numbers Have Dipped a Bit

Brady should be fired up for this rematch with the Jets on Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)

After a midseason tear, things have cooled a bit down in scoring territory for the the Patriots passing game in recent weeks, which will be something to keep an eye on over these final two games.

Over the past four games quarterback Tom Brady hasn’t quite been himself down in the red zone compared to the previous four weeks, which has seen him throw about half the number of touchdowns and has also included a couple of interceptions.

Here’s a quick look at the numbers:

PREVIOUS 4 WEEKS: 16-of-23 (70%) 11¬†TD’s¬†and no INTs.
LAST 4 WEEKS:¬†10-of-23 (43%) 6 TD’S¬†and 2 INTs

Overall¬†Brady’s¬†41-of-69 (59%) with 24 touchdowns and 2 interceptions inside the opponents’ 20-yard line at this point in the season, and actually ahead of where he was at this point in the year in this category in 2013. ¬†Last season through 14 games he was 36-of-76 (50%) with 18 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

In their previous meeting earlier this season against the Jets at Gillette Stadium, Brady completed 3-of-6 passing with two touchdowns inside the 20 during their week seven 27-25 win.

The bigger concern is the fact the Patriots have obviously struggled down in New York, where Brady is 2-2 overall at MetLife Stadium and where New England lost 30-27 in overtime last season. ¬†Brady didn’t have a red zone attempt in that game,¬†which¬†was also Rob Gronkowski’s first game back after missing the first six weeks. ¬†The two were out of sync for most of the contest after Brady finished just 8-of-17 targeting him, including a miserable 3-of-7 looking his way in the fourth quarter. ¬†That contributed to the paltry¬†7-of-18 (39%) Brady finished with¬†in the final quarter of regulation, and the Patriots ended up with the loss.

The good news is that Brady’s recent red zone struggles haven’t necessarily kept them from scoring points. New England was 11-of-18 (61%) overall in red zone efficiency over the last four weeks and 3-of-5 in the Red Zone on Sunday, which included a 27-point second half against the Dolphins.

The one thing to consider is the fact that the Patriots have played some pretty strong teams over that span with some pretty good defenses, and even more important is obviously that they still managed to win three out of those four games. ¬†The hope now is that New England starts hitting their stride and that they start playing more consistent football, as both of these games should be tough and they’re still in a battle for the number one seed.

It won’t be long before the postseason arrives, and with two games left hopefully we’ll see this team iron out some of their remaining issues before they start facing teams that will require better efforts.

STAT CHECK: Rob Gronkowski Making Big Plays For Patriots

Gronkowski currently leads the Patriots in big plays for 2014. (USA TODAY Images)

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has certainly settled back into where he had been prior to the devastating knee injury he suffered in 2013, and as the Patriots head into the final two weeks of the season the veteran is starting to hit his stride just in time for the postseason.

Going back over the numbers following Sunday’s win over Miami, Gronkowski has been the guy who has made things happen in recent weeks, especially when it comes to making big plays in the passing game.

Gronkowski had three plays of 2o-yards or more on Sunday, bringing his overall total to a staggering 15 on the season. ¬†That’s nearly double from that of the next closest player, which is Brandon LaFell, who has seven.

Here’s a quick run down of players who have caught passes from that distance or beyond at this point in the season:

Rob Gronkowski: 15
Brandon LaFell: 7
Julian Edelman: 6
Shane Vereen: 4
Tim Wright: 2
Danny Amendola: 1
Michael Hoomanawanui: 1

Gronkowski also leads the team in passes of 30 yards or more with five on the season. ¬†From there it’s Edelman (4), LaFell (3), Vereen (2) and Tyms who round out that list. You can also see the full breakdown of Patriots receivers by distance and more in our Patriots Stats Database.

Needless to say while it would be nice to have a receiver who could stretch the field on the perimeter, at least they have a guy who is athletic enough to make them a threat down the field. ¬†Hopefully we’ll see him make some plays over these final weeks, as well as even more during the playoffs.

Gostkowski Sets the Mark For Future Players to Reach in New England

Replacing an elite player is never easy. It’s even safe to say that it’s probably a little tougher when you’re an NFL kicker, especially considering all the responsibilities that go along with it.

After all, they’re the guys who are in the spotlight more so than many other positions and have the most pressure on them to perform essentially kick-to-kick. It’s not like other positions where even a quarterback can have a series of bad throws. If a quarterback misses five or six straight passes, they generally have an opportunity to battle through it and bounce back. If a kicker misses five or six straight kicks, they’re usually looking for work.

When Stephen Gostkowski arrived in New England he was replacing an incredibly consistent player in Adam Vinatieri, who had already made enough clutch kicks to endear him to a fan base that had seen him come through in so many key situations. Those were some big shoes to fill, and after battling his way into the league as an undrafted free agent in 1996, the former standout from South Dakota unseated a well-known kicker for the Patriots at the time in Matt Bahr, who was also a yet another consistent kicker for then head coach Bill Parcells.

Vinatieri was with New England for a decade, amassing 1158 career points as the Patriots’ all time leading scorer before leaving via free agency in 2006 and signing in Indianapolis. It was a good move for Vinatieri, who moved to a team where he could kick indoors and it likely helped extend his career, as he’s still there today at the age of 41.

Losing Vinatieri meant the Patriots needed someone to replace him, and the team selected Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth round of the NFL draft with the 118th overall pick. At the time it was hard to imagine someone taking over the kicking duties and performing any where near the level of Vinatieri, yet here he is all these years later and he’s now eclipsed Vinatieri as the all-time leading franchise scorer with 1,160 points following his 35-yard field goal in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over Miami.

Gostkowski is now the Patriots all-time leading scorer.
(USA TODAY Images)

A lot of coaches in the league generally don’t have the luxury of having two guys who played so well for so long, and Bill Belichick acknowledged after the game Sunday how fortunate he is to have Gostkowski on his roster.

‚ÄúSteve‚Äôs done a great job for us,” said Belichick. “We all know that this area of the country and this division‚Äôs certainly not the easiest to kick in. He does a very good job of handling the conditions, he‚Äôs got a good leg so he‚Äôs got range on kickoffs and long field goals, with good height on the ball. Good team player, always there to support his teammates, everybody in the locker room likes him, he has a good rapport with everybody.

“You‚Äôre right, I‚Äôve been really lucky. Adam [Vinatieri], Steve, Shayne [Graham] came in here, didn‚Äôt miss a kick the half a year that he kicked or whatever it was. Since I‚Äôve been here they‚Äôve all done a great job, but Steve, those are big shoes to follow there with Adam and he‚Äôs never blinked. He‚Äôs always kicked with a lot of confidence, a lot of poise, a lot of focus. He‚Äôs kicked with a lot of different holders, different snappers, not the easiest conditions, but he does his job. He‚Äôs very focused, and he‚Äôs been a really dependable player for us. I love having him on the team. He‚Äôs a great asset to this football team both on and off the field, the locker room and productively when we need him, of course.‚ÄĚ

Gostkowski told ESPN Boston following Sunday’s win that his family was on hand to see him achieve the milestone, and that they don’t generally come to many games. Fortunately they picked a good one to be at on Sunday.

‚ÄúIt was cool. It was a special game for me,‚ÄĚ Gostkowski said. ‚ÄúIt is my son‚Äôs birthday tomorrow. The whole family is in town. Just a coincidence of something like that happening at home with a lot of people in town. It was cool because my family doesn‚Äôt come to many games, just happened to come to this one and made it a little more special.

‚ÄúI looked over [at my family] after they announced it and my family was really excited and they were jumping up and down.‚ÄĚ

It’s an incredible achievement and Gostkowski has certainly been a valuable player since he’s been here. At the age of just 30-years old he likely still has plenty of football left in front of him, which is good news for Patriots fans who will hopefully see him continue to add to his franchise point total in the years ahead. It’s amazing when you consider the fact that all the talk centered around how he’d be able to fill Vinatieri’s shoes when he got here and live up to those expectations. Now he’ll someday be the player mentioned each time the Patriots bring in someone else when his days of kicking here come to an end.

For now the recognition is something he said he appreciates, and he also said he’ll be more excited about what he’s done once his career is over.

‚ÄúSomething like that doesn‚Äôt really set it,‚ÄĚ Gostkowski said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve said this before, any accomplishment that I make will be something that I will look back on when I‚Äôm done playing and be excited about and probably brag to my kids and grandkids about.‚ÄĚ

Hopefully for the team’s sake, that won’t be for a long time.

Brady’s Bad Mood Helped Spark Patriots 24-Point 3rd Quarter

Heading into the locker room at the half, the Patriots were coming off of having just allowed what could have been a game-turning play to the Dolphins after Miami scored a quick touchdown with eleven seconds left in the 2nd quarter.

After punting away the football with just twenty-five seconds to go in the first half, Miami made two key plays that got them back into the game. ¬†The first came after the Dolphins returned Ryan Allen’s punt 32-yards, which seemingly put them in field goal range with a chance to cut the Patriots lead to 14-9.

Looking back, that’s probably what the Patriots would have preferred. ¬†Instead, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill¬†hit a perfect throw to Mike Wallace over the outstretched arm of Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler in the corner of the end zone, with Wallace¬†making¬†an unbelievable one-handed grab where he¬†somehow managed to stay in bounds as he came down with the football. ¬†After initially being ruled incomplete, the play was reviewed¬†and¬†overturned, with the officials ruling it as a touchdown.

Tom Brady arguably made the play of the game thanks to his 17-yard run that helped begin their 24 point third quarter.
(USA TODAY Images)

Just like that it was a one-point game as the Patriots clung to a 14-13 edge heading into the half, which likely had Miami feeling pretty good about their chances heading into the second half.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady admitted after the game that inside the locker room at halftime there was a lot of frustration about how they had played, and he didn’t have the best half of football himself. ¬†He finished 8-of-15 for 82 yards along with an interception, while Tannehill and the Dolphins had put up nearly 200-yards passing as well as 74-yards rushing to that point. ¬†

The only solace for New England was the fact that despite their struggles offensively, the Patriots’ defense had kept them in the game. Now it was up to Brady and the offense to get something going after being frustrated by a Dolphins’ defense that only yielded only one offensive touchdown in the first half.

That frustration boiled over for New England when they got the ball to start the third quarter and Brady had seemingly had enough. ¬†He looked like a different player as they started the drive, firing¬†a strike on their first play from scrimmage to Rob Gronkowski that picked up 34-yards, and then a couple of plays later he hit another one for 14-yards to Brandon LaFell that got them deep into Dolphins’ territory at Miami’s 19-yard line.

On first down Jonas Gray was caught for a one-yard loss, and on 2nd-and-11 he fired a perfect strike to Julian Edelman, who was all alone on the right side of the field at the first-down marker, but the ball went right through his hands and off his chest before falling to the ground for the incompletion.

On the play, Brady took a good shot from linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, knocking him to the ground.  At that point facing a 3rd-and-11 and in need of a spark, the veteran took matters into his own hands.

On the snap Brady dropped back and after seeing the Dolphins drop into coverage, he looked to the right and found a massive opening and began to take off downfield.  With Shane Vereen five yards in front, Brady faked a throw to Vereen which spun around linebacker Philip Wheeler, and Brady darted past him for the first down.

But he wasn’t done.

After getting the first down, Brady could have slid. ¬†He could have given himself up and went out of bounds. ¬†Instead, the veteran was looking for a little contact and opted to drop a shoulder and take on defensive back Walt Aikens. ¬†The two collided pretty hard and Aikens got the better of the exchange, knocking Brady down but not before he had gotten the ball down to the 3-yard line after the 17-yard gain. A fired up Brady got up and exchanged some words with Aikens before heading back to the huddle, and the crowd on hand at Gillette Stadium erupted after the collision as well as Brady’s intensity.

Brady admitted afterward that he was riled up coming out at the half, and that was the reason he was looking to hit somebody.

“I think it was a play we needed to make so it was good to make it at that time,” said Brady. “I was going to slide, but I was pretty pissed off at that time, so I figured I wouldn‚Äôt slide and wish I wouldn‚Äôt have gotten knocked down, but that‚Äôs the way it goes.‚ÄĚ

One play later LeGarrette Blount was in the end zone and the Patriots were up by eight points, leading 21-13. ¬†They wouldn’t look back from there after scoring a total of 27 unanswered points, 24 of which came in that third quarter.

However, that run seemed to be what got everything started, and despite the shot he took Brady has no regrets.  Although the quarterback said that had he not gotten into the secondary and had been taking on a bigger guy, he might have thought differently.

‚ÄúNo, I could have slid. [Laughs] But I wasn‚Äôt in the best of moods at that time,” said Brady. ¬†“I think if it was a bigger guy I would have thought really hard about sliding, but once I was in the secondary ‚Ķ things happen pretty quick for me out there, I‚Äôm not the fastest guy out there so things close down pretty quick.‚ÄĚ

Fortunately it ended up being the play that got everything started, and as a result the Patriots walked away with their sixth straight AFC East title while improving to 11-3 on the season. ¬†This is obviously just the beginning as the team has loftier goals, but it’s not one that Brady said they’ll take lightly.

“Every year is a different year for us and every year we have a great opportunity to try to accomplish something,” said Brady. ¬†“It doesn‚Äôt start this morning, it started back in March. There‚Äôs a lot of hard work that goes into it and I don‚Äôt think you ever take winning for granted, I certainly don‚Äôt because I know how hard it is to win. I think we appreciate it.”

With two games to go they’re right where they want to be. ¬†The road has been a tough one and this team has faced a lot of adversity over the course of the season, but as usual they appear to be peaking at the right time. ¬†The good news is they were able to get a little redemption against the team that was part of their rocky start. ¬†Now they just have to finish the job over these final two games.

“We had a great opportunity to go out there and play a lot better than we did the last time,” said Brady. “It‚Äôs great to win, it‚Äôs a great feeling.”

Stat Check: Darrelle Revis in a Class All His Own

It’s no secret that Darrelle Revis has been an important part of New England’s secondary this season, and looking at the numbers it’s hard not to be an awe of what he’s done¬†up to this point.

The most incredible number that stands out is the amount¬†of passes he’s prevented, racking up 14 passes defensed. ¬†That total is good for the sixth highest total in the league and is more than double of any of his teammates:

Revis has obviously been a difference maker in his first season in New England.
(USA TODAY Images)

Here are the top seven players for the Patriots in that category:

Darrelle Revis: 14
Logan Ryan: 6
Brandon Browner: 5
Devin McCourty: 5
Patrick Chung: 5
Kyle Arrington: 4
Malcolm Butler: 4

As far as how the numbers¬†look when you look at how he’s performed on each¬†down, here’s a quick look:

First Down: 2
Second Down: 7
Third Down: 4
Fourth Down: 1

His totals on all but first down as the highest on the team. ¬†On first down it’s Chung who currently has the edge with 3¬†compared to Revis’¬†2.

Revis is also 7th on the team in tackles with 41 including two tackles for a loss.  He also has two interceptions.

Back in week one the Patriots defense allowed 23 second half points en-route to a 33-20 loss to Miami. ¬†At that time Revis was just getting started and this secondary has obviously grown a lot since that football game. ¬†Revis told the Miami media in a conference call on Wednesday that he’s looking forward to getting a shot at redemption.

“You know what, that game was so long ago,” said Revis. “You’ve got to give them credit. Like I said it was the first game of the season, they came out fast and they had us on our heels. At that point we couldn’t stop the run and definitely we struggled in the passing game on defense. Now we get another stab at this ‚Äď a second opportunity ‚Äď and we can change that this week about preparing and being prepared for them this week.”

Bolden Says Film Study Helped Set Up Punt Block

Bolden’s punt block helped set up Gronkowski’s first touchdown Sunday night. (USA TODAY Images)

Patriots running back Brandon Bolden has become quite a player on special teams for New England, and it appears that his work in the film room is starting to pay off.

According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Bolden’s punt block Sunday night stemmed from a tendency that he spotted on film by Chargers¬†Mike Windt, which allowed him to catch the timing off the snap and helped set up an opportunity for him to make a play.

‚ÄúWe‚Äôve been working on timing the snap because we knew what kind of snapper we had,‚ÄĚ Bolden told the newspaper. ‚ÄúHe likes to move the ball. He likes to look up and give you a little false movement idea. But we timed it up perfectly. I actually got off right as he snapped the ball, got off before he got back to where he wanted to block me, got up under (Donald Brown). And as I‚Äôm coming up under him, I just remembered looking down and was like, ‚ÄėOh, there‚Äôs (Scifres‚Äô) leg. There‚Äôs the ball. There‚Äôs my hands.‚Äô And I looked up and the ball was on the sideline. I realized I blocked it, but I didn‚Äôt realize it went way to the sideline.‚ÄĚ

Bolden’s block ended up with an unfortunate injury to Chargers punter Mike Scifres, who got spun around and landed awkwardly on his shoulder and knocked him out of the game. ¬†That lead to the Chargers being forced to turn to kicker Nick Novak, who ended up playing fairly well in his absence.

The block ended up being a key play in the game as it gave the Patriots the football at the Chargers’ 25-yard line. ¬†Four plays later, Tom Brady found Rob Gronkowski in the endzone for a touchdown, which at the time pulled the Patriots to within a point at 14-13 with three minutes left in the first half.

The bad news for Scifres is according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the team fears the punter¬†may have fractured his collarbone. ¬†At the time the injury took the fun away from Bolden’s first career punt block, and he was more concerned about the well-being of Scifres who after the play was down on the turf for a while.

‚ÄúIt wasn‚Äôt an exciting moment for me anymore,‚ÄĚ Bolden told the Herald¬†when he realized the injury occurred. ‚ÄúMy first blocked NFL punt, I was very excited at first, and when I looked back and saw when they had to bring the cart on the field, it was a totally different story. All that excitement went out the window. I had to go out there and check on him and tell him it was nothing intentional. I was not trying to hurt him.‚ÄĚ

The play was big for the team and one his teammates were pleased that he made because it helped give the Patriots some momentum, which got them going enough to eventually come away with a win.

“Special teams can be a big momentum shifter for any team,” said Bolden. ¬†“For this team it was that boost we needed, and when that happened everything picked up. That momentum shifted and we rode that wave, so I think we did a good job offensively and defensively after that play to stay in the ball game.”

Gronkowski continues establishing himself as one of the best in the game. (USA TODAY Images)

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady leaned pretty heavily on Rob Gronkowski in San Diego on Sunday night, and after his performance the veteran tight end is closing in on another 1,000 yard season.

He finished Sunday night having been targeted 11-times by Brady against the Chargers, with 8 receptions for 82-yards on a night where every play counted against a tough San Diego defense.  That gives him 73 receptions on the season, trailing Julian Edelman who currently has 85.

He has 997 yards receiving, putting him just three yards away from the 1000-yard mark on the year. After his 14-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, the veteran also has 10 touchdowns on the season which set a team record for the Patriots and it’s now the most of any player with 10 plus touchdowns in team history as it’s the fourth time he’s done it, moving him ahead of Randy Moss and Corey Dillon, who each had three.

He’s also the first tight end in the NFL to ever record 10 or more touchdown receptions in four separate seasons.

It was a terrific night overall for a team that battled hard, and is now 10-3 on the season as they get set to come home to face the Dolphins.

“We battled and I knew it was going to take 60 minutes,” said Tom Brady after the game. “This team has been in more close games than anyone else in the league and they fought hard. It was a physical game and it is great to come out with a win. It‚Äôs always tough winning on the road, especially against a team that‚Äôs 8-4, so it was a big win.”

It’s been a terrific season for Gronkowski, who after a slow start has settled in and appears to be at the top of his game as he continues marching his way up the NFL record books. ¬†Not bad for a player who at just 25-years old still has plenty of football left in front of him.

Another Disappointing Finish For Patriots WR Dobson After Being Placed on IR

Dobson hasn't looked like the amazing player fans saw when he was at Marshall.
Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson hasn’t looked like the amazing player fans saw when he was at Marshall. (USA TODAY Images)

After an offseason spent trying to get healthy, Aaron Dobson’s season never really got started and on Thursday it came to an end, with the 2nd-year Patriots receiver having been¬†placed on injured reserve.

The move comes after Dobson seemingly suffered a hamstring injury on just his fourth snap¬†of Sunday’s loss to Green Bay, with Dobson pulling up lame on a deep route. ¬†He left the game at that point and didn’t return.

When it was over Dobson took some criticism after both Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell valiantly fought through injuries of their own in the loss to the Packers. The bad news is, it appears rather than having another opportunity to battle through it, the team made the decision to shelf him for the rest of the season. Now he’ll have plenty of time to get healthy before he tries again in 2014.

Prior to the game he was awarded the coveted black “Practice Player of the Week” jersey, which ultimately ended up being his final accolade of the year. ¬†Many hoped that would be a sign of things to come after five straight weeks of being inactive, and in the third quarter while the team was trailing 23-14, Tom Brady took a shot at giving him an opportunity to make a big play to get his team back in the game.

<a href=Aaron Dobson showed flashes in 2013 that haven't carried over into this season." WIDTH=250>
Dobson showed flashes in 2013 that haven’t carried over into this season.
(USA TODAY Images)

But on the attempt Dobson couldn’t catch up to the football and pulled up short, hopping up the sideline in apparent agony before coming out of the game for good.

It more or less was symbolic of his season, which is now over.

The former 2nd round pick out of Marshall was a dynamic receiver in college and his selection was welcomed by Patriots fans who were hoping New England was finally developing a talented long-term piece of Tom Brady’s offense.

Prior to the draft, the team held their annual Pre-Draft Event Presented by ESPN Boston and Dobson was one of the more featured prospects, so when the Patriots took him in the second round there was a lot of hope that there would be more moments like this amazing catch by Dobson.

After missing the first week of his rookie season, Dobson kicked his NFL career off with a bang thanks to a 39 catch and run for a touchdown on his first career reception against the Jets last season in week two.

He peaked in the middle of last season over a three game span against Miami, Pittsburgh and Carolina while scoring a team-leading 3 touchdowns over that stretch and made some big plays, including an 81-yard touchdown against the Steelers during a 9-catch, 130 yard two touchdown performance in week nine, his only 100+ yard game of his career thus far.  He also finished as the only player with two receptions that went for over 50 yards last season.

For now that¬†performance against Pittsburgh has¬†been his best game, and it’s hard not to wonder if we’ll ever get to see what else he’s capable of.

Dobson told Mike Reiss last December that he was no stranger to adversity.

“Just dealing with adversity,” Dobson told Reiss when asked what he had learned the most from football. “You go through a lot of it — the whole game is like life, you have ups, downs, interceptions, dropped passes. You have to learn how to shake it off and move on to the next thing, whatever it is, and embrace it.”

Given what he’s faced so far, it will be interesting to see how he responds heading into 2015.

Despite Loss to Packers, Patriots Prove They’re Contenders

Sunday’s game in Green Bay was a tough battle for Brady and the offense, and they simply came up short. (USA TODAY Images)

When the Patriots took on the St. Louis Rams during the 2001 regular season, it was a hard fought game which, at the time, was Tom Brady’s biggest test as a starter and the Patriots’ biggest litmus test as they started their streak toward the post season.

In that game they battled hard against a Rams team that put forth a pretty solid effort but by the time it was over, the Patriots simply came up short in a 24-17 loss.

When given another shot against St. Louis a few months later, the outcome ended up being different as New England got redemption when it mattered most, beating them in front of the entire world and winning their first championship.

Sunday’s match-up against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers had a similar feel. ¬†Having won seven straight games prior to Sunday, the Patriots came into Green Bay looking to make a statement in what many felt could be a Super Bowl preview given how the two teams were playing. ¬†New England held up their end of the deal, playing fairly well against a Packers team that simply played a little better.

Neither team committed a turnover, and it was more or less a pretty solid effort from both sides. ¬†The biggest problem with Sunday’s loss for New England was simply the fact that it came down to just a couple of plays they didn’t make that Green Bay did, and that’s the reason why they came up on the wrong end things.

“We just couldn’t quite make enough plays in the end to come out on top, and they did. ¬†So give them credit.” – Bill Belichick
(USA TODAY Images)

“That’s a good football team,” said Belichick after the game. ¬†“In the end they made a few more plays than we did tonight. ¬†I thought both teams competed hard. ¬†[I’m] really proud of the way our guys hung in there, fought right to the end. We just couldn’t quite make enough plays in the end to come out on top, and they did. ¬†So give them credit.”

One of the biggest problems was the Patriots couldn’t get to Aaron Rodgers, who had all day in the pocket and frustrated a defense that on one play¬†chased him around for 12 seconds before forcing him to throw it away. ¬†They did manage to sack him three times, but for the most part he moved forward and backward like a video game, eluding oncoming defenders in what was one of the best performances by an opposing quarterback that we’ve seen all season. ¬†He finished with 368 yards passing along with two touchdowns and helped the Packers offense move the chains while holding the football for 36:35 and keeping it out of Tom Brady’s hands.

He also made some big plays against a defense that had done a decent¬†job of not allowing that many¬†in recent weeks. ¬†The Patriots allowed five pass plays of over 30 yards Sunday, the most they’ve given up all season.¬† Rodgers¬†was calm and cool all afternoon, despite a few plays where New England was able to get to him and there were quite a few times where the Patriots brought pressure and had a shot at him, but Rodgers’ quick feet allowed him to get away as he either slid away laterally or moved up in the pocket and made the throw.

It was like that all afternoon, and the absence of Chandler Jones was glaring for the Patriots as they struggled to get any consistent pressure on him. ¬†To make matters worse,¬† Rodgers¬†was nearly flawless throwing the football on third down, completing 10-of-13 (77%) passes¬†including eight first downs. ¬†Overall Green Bay converted 10-of-17 on the afternoon, including one that was set up coming off of a 2nd-and-17 play that Rodgers scampered 17 yards to set up a 3rd-and-1, which they converted and later lead to a 35-yard field goal. ¬†Those plays make for a frustrating day, but Belichick acknowledged that it’s not like they didn’t have their chances. ¬†The Packers were simply the ones who made the most of them.

“Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback,” said Belichick. ¬†“Coach [Mike] McCarthy does a good job with this football team. ¬†They’re tough to beat. ¬†We had our chances, we just couldn’t quite get enough¬†plays there at the end, or throughout the game. Got¬†to take my hat off to the Packers. ¬†That’s a good football team.”

If nothing else, Sunday’s loss is one of those games that proves that New England is right where they need to be in terms of being able to play with the NFL’s best. ¬†They’ve come a long way since being embarrassed in their loss to Kansas City that kicked off their seven game winning streak. ¬†Brady admitted that one of their other problems was the fact they didn’t capitalize on each possession, which lead to them putting up just 21 points on the road in a place where the Packers hadn’t been beaten all season.

They did finish 3-of-3 in the red zone including 2-of-2 facing goal-to-go. ¬†It just wasn’t enough.

“I think we’re playing a little bit better, and we have our whole season ahead of us,” said Brady after the game. “We’re in a decent position, I think we really need to turn it up and just realize that every possession and every play is an opportunity and if you don’t take advantage of it you never know which play it’s going to be in close games like this that leads to losses. We have to win tough games and find ways to make the important plays when we have them.‚ÄĚ

Sunday proved that they’re close, and fortunately it’s one of those games that gives Belichick and Brady enough to work with should these two meet again.

For now they’ll head out to the West Coast and get ready for a tough battle with the Chargers next Sunday night as they try and rebound from a game that they obviously know could have turned out differently. ¬†There’s a lot of talent with this football team and games like this are a reminder of what they’re really capable of. ¬†All they need to do now is continue playing well and put themselves in position to battle whoever comes out of the NFC in February in the event they make it that far.

And if it’s the Packers, hopefully history repeats itself.

Patriots Looking to Hand Packers Their First Loss at Lambeau of 2014

Tom Brady and the Patriots will be looking for their 10th win this Sunday when they travel to Green Bay. (USA TODAY Images)

The Patriots know what it’s like to dominate opponents at home, and they’ll be trying to do what hasn’t happened to the Packers all season when they travel to Green Bay this weekend.

Beat them at Lambeau Field.

In a town with a population of 100,000 people, 80,000 of them fill the Packers’ home field each Sunday in what is one of the most historic and intense environments in the NFL. ¬†It’s also been a place they’ve played extremely well this season, scoring more than 30 points in each of their home games in 2014 (31, 42, 38, 55, 53), all of them wins. ¬†Going back to 1921, it’s the first time the Packers have registered at least 30 points in each of their first five home contests.

The last time Tom Brady played at Lambeau field, the Patriots beat Brett Favre and the Packers 35-0.
(USA TODAY Images)

It’s going to likely be quite a rowdy environment, and one thing New England will need to do is get on the board early because Green Bay has gotten off to fast starts in the first half this season. ¬†The¬†Packers have¬†had at least four scoring drives in the first half in four of their last five games, and have outscored opponents 128-9 in the first half of their last four home games.

For the Patriots, they’ve had success there in the past, although this is just the first time that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers will face off in that stadium. ¬†The last time these two teams played there it was New England who came up big, beating the Packers 35-0 back in November 19, 2006. ¬†In that game New England’s defense dominated then-quarterback Brett Favre, holding him to just 5-of-15 passing for 73 yards, while Brady threw four touchdowns on the afternoon.

One big key in that match-up was the fact¬†the Patriots got up 21-0 in the first half and forced the Packers to have to play from behind, which Brady admitted this week is something they’ll need to try and do this time around as well.

“This is not the team you want to get behind by,” Brady told reporters on Wednesday. ¬†“You get behind 14-0, and then it’s 21-0, then it’s 28-0, and before you know it, they’ve just got the game so well under control that you have no chance.”

“You’ve got to be able to stay close to them. There is nothing other than solid execution that you could point to, and we’ve got to figure out the best ways to attack them. They present a lot of challenges. They can rush the passer. They’re good in coverage. They’ve got a real good secondary [with] great cover players. It’s a terrific team, great defense. We’re going to need to be sharp.”

Defensively this should be a good challenge for New England’s secondary. ¬†They’ve recorded interceptions in each of their last four straight¬†games, but picking off Rodgers is going to be quite a challenge. ¬†He’s thrown just three interceptions all season and has thrown 322 consecutive passes at home without an interception, as well as 29 consecutive touchdown passes at home without being picked off. Both are current NFL records.

Oddly enough, Rodgers needs one more three or more touchdowns and no interception performance to tie Brady for the most in NFL history in a single season. Brady did that eight times in 2007.

As a result, Brady admitted this week that limiting turnovers is an obvious point of emphasis because each turnover eliminates a scoring opportunity. ¬†He and Rogers are the top two quarterbacks all-time in touchdown-interception ratio, with Brady having thrown 385 touchdowns and 140 interceptions, while Rodgers has 218 touchdowns and just 55 interceptions. ¬†That’s one of the key reasons why Rodgers has been so dangerous, and Brady said that they’ll need to take advantage of each time they have the football.

“That’s the problem with turnovers. ¬†You can’t score if you’re turning it over,” said Brady. ¬†“It’s like a punt. If you go out and you punt 12 times, you’re not scoring points. That’s not good. So, when you turn the ball over and throw interceptions, you’re giving the other team more opportunities and your team less opportunities. Not that they’re going to take advantage of it every single time, but the odds are they’re going to take advantage of it more than they’re not, especially a team like this, where you turn it over, they have the highest percentage of scores after you turn the ball over than any team in the league.”

“That’s a big reason why they’re getting ahead at home because they get ahead of you, you start to press, you turn it over, they convert into more touchdowns, and it just piles on. You’ve got to keep the game close and keep it competitive, and I think Aaron has done a great job in his career of not turning the ball over. He’s got all the ability in the world.”

It should definitely be a tough game for a Patriots team that is looking for their 10th win, which would mark the 12th consecutive season they’ve won 10 or more games. ¬†That would trail just the San Francisco 49ers, who won 10 or more games for 16 consecutive seasons from 1983-1998.

New England has won 14-straight games against NFC North teams following their win over Detroit last Sunday.  However, the last team that beat them was the Packers, which came in a 28-10 home loss at Gillette Stadium back on October 13, 2002.  Overall Rodgers has won his last six games against AFC teams at Lambeau Field and Green Bay has already had their way against the AFC East so far, beating both Miami and the Jets heading into this game.

Now it will be up to Brady and the Patriots to make sure they’re not the Packers’ next victim.

“They’re one of the best teams in the league, so it’ll be a lot of fun,” said Brady. “It’s fun getting a chance to go up to Lambeau again, so I know all the guys will be pretty pumped up.”

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