Good morning, I’m filling in for Steve this week to give him a break after he underwent a medical procedure this week, so be sure and wish him well in the comments. In the meantime, here is this morning’s Patriots news 12-4 and AFC East Notes.
With New England riding a six-game winning streak, they’ll face a critical Monday night meeting against the rival Buffalo Bills, with a chance to grab a firm hold of the AFC East. This one is a tough road match-up in, at least according to Weather.com, what’s expected to be a windy and cold atmosphere with gusts of potentially 55mph, along with what will likely include an electric group of Bills fans doing their best to make things tough on the visitors.
It should be a lot of fun, so let’s get to it.
– We found out this week that the Patriots will be bringing back the red jerseys in 2022, which should be fun to see.
The last time New England donned the red uniforms with the “Pat Patriot” jerseys was back in 2012, which happened in a 29-26 overtime win against then head coach Rex Ryan’s New York Jets on October 12, 2012. Prior to that, they wore them in 2011 against the Jets but the most memorable game in those uniforms in recent memory came in 2009 when they blew out Tennessee 59-0.
10 years ago today, @tombrady led the @patriots to a wild 59-0 victory in the snow:
❄ 5 TD passes in the 2nd quarter
❄ 2 TDs to @RandyMoss in the span of 57 seconds
❄ Patriots broke their previous record for yards in a game pic.twitter.com/RQGhfR8vn1
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) October 18, 2019
These have always been a fan favorite and it will be good to see the team finally get a chance to wear them again.
With a start of a new era going on, it will be fun to see Mac Jones and company give us a little reminder of the old days in what should be a nice little side note to look forward to heading into next season.
– Jamie Collins returned to practice this week, returning from injured reserve for the first time since November 13th.
Collins was hurt during New England’s win in Carolina, which saw him make one of the most incredible interceptions in recent memory. Collins snatched a ball out of the air just after it was thrown for the turnover, which even impressed head coach Bill Belichick.
Jamie went up and got it.
“I don’t know how many players in the league could make that catch — not very many, but it was a tremendous play,” said Belichick. “He was like 5 yards away from the quarterback, who threw it as hard as he could.”
Getting Collins back for the stretch run would be terrific, as his skillset has been utilized well and he’ll be yet another asset to a defense that has definitely been playing outstanding in recent weeks.
– One key storyline for this week is going to be how the Patriots manage to get through being without safety Kyle Dugger, who has quietly established himself as one of New England’s best defenders, if he’s unable to play Monday night.
Dugger was placed on the COVID list and his status remains unknown heading into Monday night’s game in Buffalo, which could certainly a tough blow to the Patriots’ defense if he misses this one.
The second-year safety leads the team in tackles with 73, as well as currently ranking 3rd in interceptions with three. He’s also been a key contributor on special teams, often making his presence known to opposing players. Dugger was reportedly absent from practice on Saturday.
– Also missing was Dont’a Hightower, although some reports seem to indicate that he will be out there Monday night in Buffalo after the team later confirmed he was a participant in Saturday’s session.
– Kicker Quinn Nordin cleared waivers this week and is back on the practice squad, as New England continues to try and keep him for depth behind Nick Folk. Folk has been terrific this season but has been nursing an injury, so it’s clear that the Patriots are trying to make sure they have someone down the stretch should anything happen to potentially sideline him.
So far this season, Folk has been a perfect 26-of-26 from 20-49yds, as well as 5-of-8 from 50+. He’s coming off of a performance against Tennessee where he hit kicks from 22, 37, 44, 28 and 52-yards respectively. He had just one miss, which was a 53-yard attempt as time expired in the first half.
It’s hard to believe that New England is back in contention for the AFC East, which is a feat that certainly didn’t feel possible a little over a month ago.
After a 2-4 start, it felt like the Patriots could have been in a rebuilding year and that wins might have been at a premium. They lost several close games, but simply couldn’t make enough plays to come out on the right side of any of them. It felt like this would just be a year full of growing pains, with first-year quarterback, Mac Jones, having to endure the trials and tribulations that young signal-callers tend to go through.
But all of that ended up being fairly short-lived. Jones instead hasn’t wavered, with his consistent approach and incredible work ethic seeing him learn from his early adversity. Now, he’s quietly established himself as not only the best of this year’s group of rookie quarterbacks but among the league leaders (more on that a little later on).
Looking at the numbers, Jones’ improvement has been notable. In his first six games, he completed 150-of-211 (71.1%) for 1472-yards with 7 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.
Over his last six games, he’s completed 118-of-170 (69.4%) for 1378yds with 9 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions.
One of the key reasons he’s been so successful has been the improvement in the running game, which has clearly seen the club change its approach. Over the first six games, New England rushed 136 times for 520-yards and 5 TDs. In the last six, they’ve rushed 198 times for 864-yards and 9 touchdowns.
That means that they went from scoring a combined 12 offensive touchdowns in the first six weeks to 20 over the last six (both Brian Hoyer and Kendrick Bourne each threw a TD over that span)
That balance, in addition to Jones settling into the offense, is the reason why they’re riding a six-game win streak with an opportunity to make it seven heading into the bye.
Factor that into a defense that has established itself as one of the best in the league, and we’re seeing this Patriots team get hot at the right time. A win Monday night would be a great way to go into the bye, with that week off giving New England a chance to get healthy as they try to potentially make a playoff push over their final four games.
We’ll find out in just over 24hrs if they’re up for it.
Heading into Monday night’s game, Bills safety Jordan Poyer has watched plenty of tape on Jones and what he sees is a smart player who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.
After looking at the film, he’s seen the improvement in Jones, who has just three turnovers in the last six games. After seeing Jones’ improvement, he knows his defense is going to have their work cut out for them.
“Obviously, his turnovers have kind of slimmed down these last few games,” Poyer told the BuffaloNews this week. “I think he’s kind of found a rhythm, and he’s got good players around him. They run well, he throws the ball well, and his receivers catch the football well. That’s a good formula for a win right there, so he’s playing pretty well.”
Jones has quietly worked his way up into the top 10 in the league in passing yards, sitting just behind Aaron Rodgers at #10 with 2850-yards passing while averaging 7.5 yards per play, tied with Poyer’s teammate, Josh Allen for 11th in that category.
The rookie’s improvement has played a key role during the club’s 6 game winning streak and Jones also heads into Buffalo having not lost on the road yet this season with a 5-0 record.
This game should be a good test for Jones, who has yet to play in an environment quite like Buffalo. Everyone knows what Bills fans are like and the intensity should be nothing like he’s dealt with this season. As a result, he knows he’ll need to be at his best and he’s looking forward to it.
“They bring a lot of energy, and they have a great fanbase,” said Jones this week. “They love football. It’s two great franchises going against each other. A lot of football history.”
“This game coming up, like I said, both teams are going to be excited, and there’s going to be energy, so we’ve just got to be ready to go.”
Belichick had high-praise for Bills quarterback Josh Allen this week, with the Patriots coach noting the improvement of Allen over the last few seasons.
He pointed out that all of his statistics have gone up at an impressive rate, which makes him tough to game plan for.
“His improvement has just been tremendous,” said Belichick. “Where it was three years ago, completion percentage, passer rating, decision making, production, it has just gone [up]. It’s risen at a really remarkable rate.”
“It’s just remarkable how good he has become. Last year, this year, he’s built on that, what it was when he came into the league, but he’s really made tremendous improvement and has a lot of command of the offense.”
Belichick also noted Allen’s ability to recognize things and get Buffalo out of bad situations and into good ones, which will make this match-up challenging.
“They audible a lot. They change things,” said Belichick. “They, obviously, have a lot of confidence in him. He handles them well on the line. Every other they’ll run a bad play where they run into a bad look or a blitz or something like that. He doesn’t get fooled much by anything. It’s really, really impressive to watch how he’s developed there.”
Reports came out this weekend about this potentially being the final season for Ben Roethlisberger, who may be hanging things up afer this season.
The veteran reportedly told some people close to him that this will be his last season in Pittsburgh and while there has some discussion about him possibly trying to move on to another club next season, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that scenario is highly unlikely.
The 39-year old’s departure marks yet another high-profile name walking away from the game at quarterback in recent years. Both Philip Rivers and Drew Brees walked away after last season, with Roethlisberger’s potential retirement becoming yet another as the changing of the guard continues at that position around the league.
Meanwhile, down in Tampa, 44-year old QB Tom Brady has his team on their way to potentially another postseason run with a chance to potentially put his club in position to win their second championship in a row and, for him, 8th ring.
With how the Patriots are playing right now, the chance of the Patriots and Buccaneers facing off in February once seemed like a long shot. Now, with each passing week, it’s actually looking like it might be a little less crazy.
It’s a topic which has already started being talked about in the media, and a narrative that will likely begin to grow even further should each club continue to win.
Not that the rest of the football world probably wouldn’t be interested in seeing it play out, but as difficult as it would be for us to watch here in New England, at the same time, it’s hard not to be a little curious over who everyone else would be pulling for.
Outside of New England, are they tired of Brady’s success? Or does everyone hate Belichick? Would they rally behind Mac? Or would they root for another win by the GOAT over his former coach?
Whether or not any of those questions will need to be asked remains to be seen, but it would definitely be interesting to find out which side the majority would fall under.
With just five games left to go in the regular season, it should be fun to see how it plays out.
We’ll finish this out with a couple of nice tweets on Kyle Van Noy and Devin McCourty, who continue to make everyone proud off the field with their efforts:
— Chelsi McDonald (@ChelsiMMcDonald) December 4, 2021
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) December 4, 2021
Have a good week everyone, and be sure to drop a comment as the feedback is always appreciated. Be sure to also wish Steve well and send him a note below and it will be passed along to him.
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