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New England Patriots News 1-3 and AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
January 3, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

New England Patriots News 1-3 and AFC East Notes(PHOTO: David Butler II - USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 7 minutes

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news notes and what’s happening around the division. We all here at hope that your New Years was a happy and safe one. And hope that 2016 is an even better one than last year.

Brady The Only Constant in a Season Of Injury: When the Patriots take the field today against the Miami Dolphins, QB Tom Brady will be the only member of the offense to start all 16 games at his respective position. The defense is nearly in a similar position in that it is possible that CB Malcolm Butler may end up being the only Patriot defender to start all 16 games this season.

Brady at age 38 is defying father time and not just playing at a high level, he’s at the pinnacle of NFL QBs, leading the league in yards and touchdowns and doing so with an ever changing cast of characters every week.

The fact that the Patriots are still 12-3 after suffering all of these injuries is a testament to Brady and Belichick. They’ve been able to improvise, adapt and overcome nearly everything in their path in 2015. Two of their three losses have come in OT and the third was primarily a STs meltdown. While I’m no fan of the MVP award, to me it is a popularity contest, isn’t there no more deserving player of the award this season than #12 for the Pats?

Brady has won 12 games without his top two running backs, and missing his top 3 WRs for much of the season. The offensive line has suffered thru so many injuries that the team is on their fifth left tackle for 2015. And their play hasn’t been stellar; Brady’s huge success hinges on his one-of-a-kind ability to pre-read the defense and get rid of the ball in less than two seconds. Nobody else in the game today can do that….NOBODY.

So while he doesn’t do the dance thing, hand the ball to kids, or the Superman cape or WWE belt or a hundred other “look at me” things after the Patriots score, he’s doing it with a very depleted roster where he’s the only constant…. MVP? Probably not this season. Greatest of all time? You’re watching him at 1 p.m. in Miami today.

Belichick One of a Kind? Possibly So: In a fascinating piece by Tom E. Curran from CSNNE he wrote that teams are becoming increasingly fixated on the “win-now” approach and it may hurt them in the long run. He wrote that coaches like Bill Belichick would find it increasingly harder to implement their system and build their roster with players of their choosing to build a team around.

Belichick on Thursday mentioned Chip Kelly and other coaches who got the hook too quickly from ownership that was fixated on the quick fix rather than build for long-term success. Belichick was fortunate in that he had an owner that really wanted him to run the program here and the fact the Patriots stunned the world in his second season by winning the Super Bowl.

In Curran’s piece, he quoted Belichick stating that a new coach has to change the culture of the program. “You have to change the culture,” Belichick said. “The coach that comes in usually has a different philosophy than the coach that left, so you have to try to implement that philosophy. That means you’re going to turn over a high percentage of the roster because the players that the other coach had don’t fit the new philosophy, so a lot of the players are going to have to change in part because of the philosophy and probably in part because of the scheme.”

It raises a fascinating question, will another Bill Belichick be allowed the time to build a team and organization to the level that the Patriots have done? We live in this social media era where everything has to be done first, rather than right and fans want immediate success. Take the time to read this latest piece by Curran, it is well worth the Thitime.

Grissom set for his screen test: With the slew of injuries this week, the Patriots will be without Chandler Jones and possibly Rob Ninkovich at defensive end. This will open the door for Geneo Grissom to see some extended time at his natural DE position this week. The Patriots selected Grissom in the 3rd round (97th overall) of this year’s NFL Draft. The Patriots have used Grissom sparingly this season due to the depth at DE, plugging him mainly in an inside pass rush role.

Geneo Grissom
Geneo Grissom will be able to showcase his talent on Sunday. (SBalestrieri/ Images)

But Bill Belichick raved about him on the night the Patriots drafted him seeing his versatility and potential.

“In 2013, they played a 3-4 defense,” Belichick said …they didn’t have enough depth there at defensive end, so he played 4-technique in 2013 at 260 pounds. He was way undersized, but he competed well. They didn’t knock him off the line of scrimmage. He didn’t look like a linebacker in there. You probably wouldn’t think he’s that. You wouldn’t know it by the way he played. “He has good playing strength, runs well.”

“This year, it looked like they had more depth on the defensive line, and they moved him to outside linebacker, so both last year and this year, on third down, he played end and then also bumped inside to an inside-rusher position. They had pretty good edge guys. He’s rushed inside, he’s rushed outside. He’s played anywhere from the end of the line, five-technique, defensive end in a 4-3, outside lineabcker in a 3-4.”

“I’d say he’s very instinctive as a pass rusher,” Belichick said. I’d say a guy to play from 3-technique to end of the line, to a walk-down linebacker — at the Senior Bowl they actually played him off the line, like in a tackle bubble — so he’s a pretty athletic, versatile guy.” Grissom played a season high 31 snaps against Pittsburgh in the season opener. Today he’ll get the chance to showcase what he can do. This may be just a cameo for 2015 but with Jones a free agent next season, it will also be an early screen test for the rookie.

Belichick Takes to the Ice at Gillette with Coach Julien: One of the cooler images this week was Belichick taking a somewhat stiff turn around the ice at Gillette Stadium with Bruins coach Claude Julien before the NHL’s Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.

In a show of respect, Julien wore a NHL hoodie with a Belichickian twist, sans sleeves during the game. Belichick spoke about playing in a beer league while with the Giants and asked about the differences of the games of hockey and football, waxed philosophic.

“There is a lot of correlation between hockey and lacrosse, too – kind of defending that same space where you can go behind the goal, you can go in front of the goal, and you’re centered around a point. Like you are in basketball, you’re defending a point whereas in football you’re defending 53-and-a-third yards. It’s a lot different when you’ve got to defend a line as opposed to a basket or a goal or just a small space. It changes the defensive and offensive [strategy] because everything is funneled to that one [area]. And of course you’ve got the goalie that is so critical to those sports. That adds another dynamic. We’ve had a lot of conversations about that. That’s really the big difference in terms of football and defense and defense in basketball or lacrosse or hockey or those goal-oriented sports where you’re defending a point as opposed to defending a lot of width.”

Belichick had he been a hockey rather than a football coach would love guys like Patrice Bergeron, versatile players who can do anything and show a toughness to play the game in any fashion. Players who breathe, eat, sleep hockey. But if Bill were to coach hockey, he’ll have to work on that skating a bit first…

Patriots Being Cautious with Injuries or is there just no choice?: With the early release of the list of players already out for the Miami game, the Patriots could nearly field an Pro-Bowl team on the players ruled out this week.

Every week everyone likes to play the game picking the seven inactive players from the 53-man roster on Sundays. This week that number may reach eight or nine. On Friday the Patriots had already ruled out six players and several more were listed as questionable.

The prevailing thought and echoed across social media was that the team was being cautious with the injured players in preparation for the playoffs. But with the #1 seed of the AFC on the line, are the Patriots coaches being cautious or are their hands tied with an injury situation where they have no choice but to sit out these injured players.

East Bound and Down…Notes Around the AFC East:

Dolphins Tannehill Playing Hurt: While we’ve been fixated on injuries here in New England, the Dolphins, whose season fell apart early have their own issues. QB Ryan Tannehill has been under the gun in the press and on the field this season as he’s been a lightning rod for criticism, especially after being rewarded with a $96 million-dollar contract extension this offseason.

But Tannehill has been playing hurt, he suited up against the Colts (and was sacked five times) after finding blood in his urine prior to the game. He got leg whipped during the game and left the stadium limping with his leg wrapped heavily.

He may have his faults as a QB, but toughness isn’t one of them. Expect him to go today and play as hard as ever.

Bills and Rex Ryan Stand in the way of Jets Playoffs: The script doesn’t get any better than this. After the Jets OT win over the Patriots in NJ last weekend coupled with the Steelers inexplicably losing to Ryan Mallett and the Ravens, the Jets find themselves in the playoff driver seat.

But they’ll have to win today to ensure they’re in under new coach Todd Bowles. Standing in their way, is former coach Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills. Ryan would like nothing better than to ruin his former team’s playoff chances, especially after the Bills were a disappointment this season at 7-8.

Ryan came aboard with typical bluster and talk of big things and playoffs and the fans ate it up. But the Bills didn’t play up to the talk level and even with a win, they’ll be a game worse than they were with Doug Marrone in 2014.

So Ryan will pull out all the stops to derail his former team’s playoff aspirations. It should be an interesting game to watch. You can guarantee the people of Pittsburgh will be monitoring the score of that one closely. Bills Nation just got some new supporters this week.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our 
Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

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Patriots at Dolphins: In-Depth Team Stats, Odds, TV Info & Prediction

About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and wrote as an Military Editor at, as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Tags: 2015 NFL Season 2015 Patriots 2015 Patriots Season Bill Belichick Brandon LaFell Buffalo Bills Chandler Jones Danny Amendola Jabaal Sheard Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler New England Patriots New York Jets Patriots Patriots edge rushers Pittsburgh Steelers predictions Rex Ryan Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Ryan Tannehill Tom Brady

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