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This week's SportXchange/FBGratings/USA Today Pats analysis

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  1. pats1

    pats1 Moderator PatsFans.com Supporter

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    From FBGratings.com:

    New England Patriots Team Analysis:

    INSIDE SLANT
    Don't expect the Patriots to throw it into cruise control over the final two games of the regular season. Having clinched their third straight AFC East title and with no chance of earning a first-round playoff bye, the Patriots (9-5) don't seem to have much left to play for.

    Just don't try selling coach Bill Belichick or his players on that approach.

    Asked about striking a balance between trying to beat the Jets on the road next Monday night and trying to avoid any more significant injuries, Belichick said, "It's a regular week. Put it in the headline, bold type. It's a regular week. The players know that, the staff knows it. That's the balance. It's just like any other week."

    Without a bye, which the Patriots had in each of their three Super Bowl-winning seasons, there is a chance that New England could alter its focus for the Jan. 1 regular-season finale against the Dolphins at home. Asked if not having the usual week off could impact his plans, Belichick said, "This week it doesn't. Maybe I'll feel differently next week, I don't know. Right now it's the Jets."

    The Patriots certainly have had their fill of injuries. They lost strong safety Rodney Harrison and five other defensive backs for the season, and have played long stretches without their top two running backs (Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk) and two key members of the offensive line (Matt Light and Dan Koppen, the latter out for the season with a separated shoulder). Even quarterback Tom Brady has had health concerns - a bruised leg made him questionable on last week's injury report.

    But as much as the Patriots want to stay healthy for the playoffs, they also want to maintain the momentum they have built up in winning five of six games since a disheartening loss to the Colts on Nov. 7. That goal figures to override any play-it-safe attitudes, at least for Week 16.

    "Hey, we don't want to just throw it out there and get beat just because you're in the playoffs," said receiver Troy Brown, the Patriots' longest-tenured player. "That's my attitude toward it. You play to win. Nobody wants to lose, no matter what the circumstances are."

    The Patriots faced a similar situation in last year's meaningless regular-season finale against San Francisco, and the starters, including Brady, played at least three quarters in a 21-7 win.

    NOTES, QUOTES
    --Tackle Tom Ashworth has had a lot on his plate lately. The starting right tackle for the first eight games until a knee injury put him on the shelf, Ashworth has filled in for injured rookie left tackle Nick Kaczur the last two games. Against the Bucs, he also doubled as goal-line fullback and provided one of the highlights of game by catching a 1-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady on the Patriots' opening possession.

    The Patriots have had great success using linebacker Mike Vrabel as a goal-line tight end (he has six career TDs on as many catches), but this was the first time Ashworth has turned receiver.

    "I wouldn't say I was the primary receiver" on the play, said Ashworth, who was a tight end at Colorado before switching to the offensive line to make room for current Patriots tight end Dan Graham. "I wasn't expecting the ball to come to me. I knew there was a chance and I was hoping, but you never know."

    Belichick said Ashworth has been practicing at fullback for about a month. "He's a pretty versatile player and he has some experience in our system," Belichick said. "He played tight end in college and all that."

    --With his sense of humor and deadpan delivery, punter Josh Miller could become a standup comic after his playing days are over. On Sunday his acting skills were on display as he embellished a roughing-the-kicker penalty against Tampa Bay's Ryan Nece. The 15-yard infraction was a momentum-turner, extending a Patriots' scoring drive late in the second quarter. Six plays later, Corey Dillon ran in from 3 yards out for a 14-0 lead.

    Miller joked that his flop was the product of "Navy SEAL training at its finest." Asked if he knew he hadn't really been hit (or at least hit hard enough to be knocked down), Miller said, "I mean, by definition I was. They hit you, you've got to do that. If you get the ball back, great; if not, you gave it a shot. Every punter in the league, you learn that, right along with the drop. Anything close, you go down."

    --Brady showed no ill effects from the shin injury he suffered in Buffalo the previous week. However, he said he had been "limited" in practice, although he would not elaborate on how much time he had missed.

    "Well, I certainly had better weeks," said Brady, who was 20-of-31 for 258 yards and three touchdowns. "You know, it was a long week and I wasn't able to prepare on the practice field as many days as I would have wanted to ... You just try to prepare mentally, but it's hard because you love to be able to take the snaps, and I am a person that loves to practice and I like taking the reps. When you are not able to do that, it just becomes a little more challenging."
     
  2. pats1

    pats1 Moderator PatsFans.com Supporter

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    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
    PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

    --WR David Givens set a career high with 137 receiving yards against Tampa Bay. It was his second 100-yard game of the season.

    --The shutout was the Patriots' first since Dec. 27, 2003 (31-0 over Buffalo) and the 21st in franchise history.

    --LB Tedy Bruschi had two of the Patriots' seven sacks. It was his fourth career multiple-sack game.

    --RB Corey Dillon's 2-yard TD reception was the first scoring catch by a Patriots running back this season.

    REPORT CARD VS. BUCS

    PASS OFFENSE: A - Despite playing with a sore left leg, Tom Brady posted his second-highest passer rating of the season (122.8). David Givens was huge, with a tone-setting 32-yard catch on the game's third play. He later added receptions of 31 and 37 yards, picking up the slack on a quiet day for leading receiver Deion Branch (two catches, 27 yards). Nine players caught passes, including Corey Dillon, whose TD reception stemmed from a nice bit of improvisation by Brady.

    RUSH OFFENSE: C-minus - The Patriots were committed to the run (32 attempts) even though they got little production there (83 yards and a 2.6-yard average). A late 14-yard gain by Dillon (19 carries for 48 yards) allowed him to bump his stats up a little, but he took a step back from his work against the Jets (16-65) and Bills (22-102). Tampa's fifth-ranked run defense probably had a lot to do with that.

    PASS DEFENSE: A - Bucs QB Chris Simms was running for his life most of the day. The Patriots had seven sacks, their most since they dropped Donovan McNabb eight times in Week 2 of the 2003 season. Simms completed 21 of 34 passes but for only 155 yards, the third-lowest total against the Patriots this season. The Patriots did a terrific job of covering Joey Galloway. The Bucs' No. 1 receiver was averaging 16.6 yards per catch coming in but caught four passes for just 38 yards (a 9.5-yard average). Tampa's long gain through the air was only 22 yards.

    RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus - The Bucs ran 18 times for 30 yards with a long gain of 4 yards. NT Vince Wilfork continued his inspired play of late by effectively clogging up the middle, and ILBs Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel were credited with a combined 19 tackles in the press box stats. Tampa RB Cadillac Williams (14 carries for 23 yards) had no more success than Curtis Martin of the Jets or Willis McGahee of the Bills had against the Patriots in the previous two games.



    SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus - Coach Bill Belichick downgraded his punt coverage unit because Mark Jones' 81-yard return for a TD was nullified by a penalty. It was the second straight week a flag saved the Pats as Terrence McGee's 63-yard kick return the week before also was wiped off the books. Still, the Bucs didn't have a kickoff return of more than 24 yards, and three of P Josh Miller's six punts were fair-caught. Miller also gets credit for drawing a roughing-the-kicker penalty. Kicker Adam Vinatieri did not attempt a field goal for a second straight week.

    COACHING: A-plus - An attack-style game plan on both sides of the ball helped fuel the Patriots' most impressive win of the season. With their tight ends limited by injury - usually that position is key in going against a Cover-2 defensive scheme such as Tampa Bay's - the Patriots spread the field with three receivers and took shots down the field. The Patriots often flooded one side of the field, forcing the Bucs' safeties to make either/or decisions on whom to cover. Givens said the coaches "outsmarted" the Bucs' defense.
     

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