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New England Patriots News 12-25, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
December 25, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Posted: Dec 25, 2016 05:00
🕑 Read Time: 5 minutes

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 12-25, and AFC East Notes for this week.

From all of us here at, we wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy and Healthy New Year.

Patriots’ Defense Coming Together:
No one will confuse the Jets with an offensive juggernaut with either Bryce Petty or Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. But if one looks at where the defense was about six weeks ago, and where it is at now, it is moving completely in another direction.

The way the defense played lately is certainly encouraging, the past two games the defense has allowed six points total, and Jets QBs today completed just 8 of 24 passes for 136 yards with three interceptions.

The running game of the Jets gained more yards than they’d have liked to allow with 111 yards on the ground, with most of the damage done by Bilal Powell who had 60 yards on 15 carries.

One could make the argument that the Pats missed LB Dont’a Hightower in their rush defense, and that is true, but it wouldn’t be giving Powell his due. He’s been a bright spot on what has been a dismal season for New York.

The Jets were just 1 of 11 on third down and put up just 239 yards of total offense.

Matt Light Is Surely Missed On a Daily Basis:
Matt Light was always one of the funniest of Patriots players. And a darned good left tackle too. Light was always known as a practical joker and his appearance this week on 98.5 The Sports Hub was an instant classic.

Former safety Brandon Meriweather was on the air and spoke about the Pro Bowl, how most players don’t take it seriously and get “dead drunk” while in Hawaii. Light, who had been listening, called into the show and dropped a hilarious anecdote from the Pro Bowl with Meriweather.

Light convinced the then rookie that it was a tradition for a coach to reward his own players who made the Pro Bowl by picking up their bar tabs. Light said that the former Pats safety proceeded to hang out by the pool and get “well-oiled” along with several other players.

Later, Light saw Meriweather find Bill Belichick with his girlfriend Linda Holliday in the lobby and boozily hand him his bar tab while thanking him profusely saying, ‘Hey, thank you coach. I appreciate you,’ in a way only that he could do it,” Light said.

Light added that Belichick was looking at Meriweather with a confused look but that Holiday convinced him to pay for Swole’s tab. Matt, you are missed here.

Flashback to Dan Connolly’s KO Return:
This week was the sixth anniversary of the improbable, crazy kickoff return by Patriots guard Dan Connolly on a Sunday Night game during the 2010 season. It was a cold, crisp night and Foxboro and a ton of Packers fans made the trip to Gillette for the game.

I spoke with a good-sized group who were tailgating prior to the game. Their spirits were high even without Aaron Rodgers, they thought they could compete and possibly even win the game. One caveat though was their special teams. One fan said he liked Green Bay’s chances “if the Patriots don’t run back a kick tonight…our STs are horrible.”

Fast forward to the end of the first half, the Packers score with about two minutes to go and lead17-7. Green Bay line drives the kickoff and Connolly picks it up at the Patriots 25 and rumbles down the left sideline for an incredible return all the way down to the Packers 4-yard line. The 71-yard kickoff was the longest by an offensive lineman in NFL history. The Patriots came back and held on to win a close game.

After the game, the same group of Packers fans was tailgating again in the parking lot waiting for the traffic to die down before making the long trip back to Wisconsin. Speaking to the same fans, I reminded on of his Nostradamus-like prediction. He shook his head laughing. ”Are you freaking kidding me?” Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were legitimately amused by the whole result. “Hey Dan, what’s your career highlight?”, Michaels said. Enjoy.

Four Pats Selected to the Pro Bowl:
The Patriots had four players selected to the 2016 Pro Bowl in the annual “Thanks but we don’t want to be there” game in Hawaii.  To a man, the Patriots would rather be playing in the Super Bowl in Houston but this is an honor that they’ll still remember when their playing days are done.

Tom Brady who is the midst of MVP type consideration this year, to no one’s surprise was elected to his 11th Pro Bowl. Special Teams’ standout Matthew Slater was awarded the honor for the fifth time. Safety Devin McCourty was named to his second, and Dont’a Hightower to his first.

Other Patriots who could have been in the running this season include RT Marcus Cannon and RB LeGarrette Blount.

Who Do You Like This Week:
Last week’s picks were 11-5 putting me at 132-89-2 on the year. So, who do you like today? The Thursday and Christmas Eve picks this week were a further 6-6 so it is 138-95-2 with Sunday’s slate remaining.

I am going with Baltimore over Pittsburgh, KC over Denver in a reduced slate today and Dallas over Detroit on MNF.

Eastbound and Down, AFC East Notes:

Brash Rex Goes All Soft Rex In OT, Bills Eliminated:
The Buffalo Bills’ very slim playoff hopes were extinguished on Saturday afternoon when they dropped a 34-31 game to the Dolphins in overtime. But the story may be not that they lost, (they’ve done plenty of that), it is how they lost.  Facing a 4th and 2 from their own 41-yard line with 4:09 left in overtime, Ryan decided to play it easy and punt.

Yes, loud and brash Rex, who is always long on bombastic barbs in March, but short on productive Decembers and Januarys spit the bit and punted away. With their season and playoff lives on the line, Ryan didn’t have the faith that his offense which had put up 31 points couldn’t get two yards.

The Bills punted and Miami’s Jay Ajayi promptly reeled off a 57-yard run to put Miami in FG range. Miami won and will improbably make the playoffs this season. Ryan punted. In more ways than one. He may have punted his coaching career along with it. You can Kiss the rings now Rex.

Plucky Dolphins On the Verge of the Playoffs:
The Miami Dolphins can clinch a playoff berth without having to take the field against the Patriots next week. With Miami’s dramatic 34-31 overtime win over the Bills, a KC win over Denver will clinch Miami a playoff berth for the first time in a decade.

Running back Jay Ajayi rolled out his third 200-yard game of the season and saved his best for last, a 57-yard jaunt down the left sideline that put the Dolphins in the red zone. He had 206 yards on 32 carries and has been lightning against the Bills defense. He ran for 214 yards in the previous matchup.

In a crazy scenario, if Kansas City wins, the Dolphins clinch their playoff spot and they won’t have anything to play for on Sunday against New England. It will be the Patriots trying to clinch the top spot in the AFC over Oakland that has something on the line.

Jets Get Blown Out, Snipe at One Another:
The New York Jets season has been over for a while but today’s’ loss has to be particularly galling. The 4-11 Jets are beat up and not executing, and now they are sniping at one another.

After being blown out by the Patriots 41-3, WR Brandon Marshall called the loss embarrassing. When he heard of Marshall’s comments, Sheldon Richardson called out Marshall, saying it HE (Marshall) that should be embarrassed.

A bad season just got ugly… those comments never bring teams together but pull them apart even more. Coach Todd Bowles probably wishes he stayed in the hospital.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts 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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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)

Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Chris Hogan Danny Amendola Denver Broncos Dion Lewis Dont'a Hightower Jabaal Sheard Jimmy Garoppolo Malcolm Butler Martellus Bennett Miami Dolphins New England Patriots New York Jets NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady Trey Flowers

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