Author Archives: Bob George

Despite Patriots Loss, End of Dynasty Talk Can Wait For Some Other Day

Bob George
January 6, 2020 at 10:29 am ET

End of an era?  Save that for March when some famous quarterback’s contract expires.

It doesn’t feel like it, but it’s over.  No more football in New England until this summer.  The 2019 season came to an abrupt end on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, as former Patriot Mike Vrabel led his Tennessee Titans to a hard fought 20-13 win over the former Super Bowl Champion Patriots, sending his charges to Baltimore to take on the top-seeded Ravens next weekend.  Derrick Henry rushed for 182 yards last night, but the Titans’ defense may give up 282 rushing yards to Lamar Jackson next week.  That’s Tennessee’s problem, not New England’s.

What is their problem is what to do moving forward.  This team turned out to be one of the worst 12-4 teams in recent NFL history.  This season was clearly mischaracterized by the ridiculously easy early first half of the season, where the Patriots went 8-0 and beat teams that woebegone UMass might have given a good game.  Once the good teams started lining up on the opposite side of the ball, things began to change.  The last two games, home losses to Miami and Tennessee, revealed to the pro football world what the 2019 Patriots really were.  Key injuries, key retirements, and a general misjudging of the talent on this team all combined to lead to their early playoff exit, something not seen around these parts in exactly a decade when Baltimore came into Gillette Stadium and blew out the Patriots, 33-14 in the last Wild Card round game this team has played until last night.

That said, here are the five main reasons why the team crashed and burned and saw their Super Bowl championship come to an end last night.

#5 – Offensive line needed more than just Coach Scar

 This was a bad year for the offensive line, period.  David Andrews was lost in training camp for the season due to blood clots in his lungs (more on him later), which got things off to a bad start.  But basically, this unit never jelled at all.  For much of the season, the line started guys like Ted Karras, Marshall Newhouse and Jermaine Eluemunor.  Starting tackles Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon missed significant playing time.  Wynn came back for the Dallas game, but the team went only 3-4 after he came back.   Cannon had a substandard season at right tackle when he did play.  Karras is simply no Andrews, and Newhouse and Eluemunor were stopgap fill-ins, nothing more.  Except for a few nice runs by Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead here and there, this line had a bad year.  Tom Brady’s pass blocking protection this year was mostly non-existent (his season passer rating of 88 was his lowest since 2013).  If Brady either retires or winds up leaving the Patriots, one has to wonder if the bad performance of the offensive line will be a major factor.

#4 – A vastly overrated defense, totally exposed in the end

 They were being held up there with the 1985 Bears, 2000 Ravens and 2002 Buccaneers as one of the best one-season defenses in NFL history.  They were 8-0, and fantasy owners who had the Patriot defense (Yours Truly included) enjoyed astonishingly high numbers.  Then along came Lamar Jackson and everything changed.

Granted, Jackson has made a lot of defenses look like a combination of matadors, young guys suddenly looking old as dirt, and befuddled dopes who would have problems stopping a high school option offense.  But the Patriots always seemed to have an answer for everything.  They were powerless to stop Jackson, but that soon begat getting shredded at home by Patrick Mahomes and Ryan Fitzpatrick, and bludgeoned by Mark Ingram, Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry.  They could not stop a final scoring drive at home from Miami with a first-round bye on the line.  All-Pro Stephon Gilmore suddenly looked like 1997 top draft pick Chris Canty when trying to cover Devante Parker in that hideous regular season finale.

Explaining the offensive line was easy.  Explaining the collapse of the defense isn’t.  Granted, the unit played okay Saturday night and allowed only 13 points, but stopping Ryan Tannehill (previously 0-6 lifetime against the Patriots) is like Dietrich Wise or Adam Butler trying to stop a six-year old kid from entering a candy store.  Henry won the game for Tennessee Saturday night, not Tannehill, and they even allowed some Harvard grad named Anthony Firkser to catch a touchdown and make a key third down catch late in the game.  There was no clutch in this group down the stretch, and all the big plays that are usually made were not made this year.

Wow.  First Fitzpatrick, and now Firkser.  Let’s send some more Patriot scouts to Cambridge from now on.

#3 – Brady cannot totally blame his receivers for lack of chemistry

 Late in his career, the Celtics allowed the late, great John Havlicek to report to training camp late.  He simply needed more rest at his advancing age.  Problem is, the last two Celtics teams he played on were knocked out of the playoffs by Philadelphia, and failed to make the playoffs in his final season.  Was Havlicek reporting late the reason why?  Certainly not, as the front office made one bad trade after another and by 1978, the team was so bad that perhaps Red Auerbach could be forgiven if he yelled “Russell is not coming through that door!  Neither is Heinsohn, Cousy, or anyone named Jones!”

For the last two offseasons, Brady has missed all of the voluntary OTAs.  He is spending more time with his wife Gisselle and his children, consorting with his personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, and working with his personal quarterback coach, former Red Sox lefty reliever Tom House (whose only other claim to fame is catching Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run in 1974 in the Atlanta Braves bullpen).  At Brady’s age, you have to figure that he’s earned it.  He’s the GOAT, and he doesn’t need all this voluntary offseason stuff that the younger, more mortal players need.

But as the Ghost of Christmas Past told Ebenezer Scrooge in one of the many versions of A Christmas Carol (this is the version that stars George C. Scott as the Humbug Homey), “You have shown me what you have gained!  Now I will show you what you have lost!”

Brady gains valuable family time, and is totally comfortable with Guerrero and House, as most of us all know (especially if you watched that Facebook feature Tom Vs Time two years ago).  But his not attending the OTAs meant that he didn’t get a chance to build a rapport with Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, Gunner Olszewski and Matt La Cosse.  In past years, this was why a Wes Welker could be cast aside and a Danny Amendola or Julian Edelman could be groomed to take his place.  By not attending the OTAs, Brady never got that time in.

As a result, in most of the games played, all defenses had to do was account for Edelman and James White, and that was that.  Brady was never on the same page with anyone other than those two veterans.  You can’t count Antonio Brown in this discussion, as he was only here for one week.  But his choosing to spend time away from Foxborough in the offseason did have some repercussions.

#2 – Injuries to Andrews and Develin were not overcome

 Andrews, as previously stated, had blood clots in his lungs and was declared out for the season in training camp.  That left all his responsibilities to Karras, and the dropoff was noticeable.  The center does a lot more than snap the ball.  He calls out blocking assignments and sets the line for the next play.  Of course, he also has to be a good blocker.  In both areas, Karras simply did not account for the loss of Andrews.  Dante Scarnecchia had plenty of time to develop either Karras or some other player to at least hold down the fort in Andrews’ absence.

Develin’s injury may have been even more damaging.  His lead blocking for Michel and Burkhead might be seen by some as overlooked, but not by those who really know the game.  Linebacker Elandon Roberts turned out to be the replacement for Develin as Jakob Johnson also went down with an injury.  Roberts was much like Karras in that he did okay but was clearly no Develin.  Roberts was called upon to try and convert a third and one on Saturday night but was stuffed for no gain.  He did crack off some nice lead blocks, but the failed first and goal at the one exposed the absence of Develin at a time where a touchdown was badly needed but a field goal was all they got.

#1 – Gronkowski was never replaced, even slightly

 Rob Gronkowski retired last March, and kept true to his word.  Several experts predicted he would come back around November, but he never did.  He is still trying to become a comedian on the Fox pregame show rather than trying to surprise Patriot Nation with a late return to the Patriot lineup.  He is done with football.  Period.

The Patriots did not draft a tight end.  All the Patriots did was to bring in La Cosse and ancient former Patriot Ben Watson, who had to be talked into coming out of retirement.  Even Jacob Hollister was cast adrift, now catching tosses from Russell Wilson for the Seattle Seahawks.

Brady missed Gronk big time.  Yes, the Patriots did win Super Bowl LI with that biblical comeback without Gronk in the lineup.  But over an entire season, the Patriots had no Martellus Bennett this year.  Without Gronkowski or Bennett to worry about, defenses double teamed Edelman with no qualms or trepidations.  They didn’t worry about Dorsett, Harry or Meyers.  This all combined to throw Brady off kilter and reduce the Patriot passing attack to something merely mortal.

Patriot Nation certainly knew what it had with Gronkowski.  Sometimes Bill Belichick can get away with personnel magic, but he couldn’t this time.  Both Brady and Gronkowski made it to the NFL Network’s Top 100 list at their respective positions (as did Belichick).  It could be that Belichick didn’t restock on tight end because perhaps he thought Gronk would come back in November.  Didn’t happen.

Add it all up, and it’s someone else’s turn this year.  Any talk about the end of the dynasty can wait for some other day.

Patriots Entering a January They Aren’t Familiar With After Sunday’s Loss

Bob George
December 30, 2019 at 1:31 pm ET

FOXBOROUGH – Poetic justice was served in the AFC. The top two teams in the conference got the first-round byes in the end and deserved it.

This was the worst time for the phrase “on any given Sunday” to punch the Patriots in the mouth. A 16-point favorite to beat the Miami Dolphins at home in December, the home team suffered an unthinkable 27-24 loss on Sunday at Gillette Stadium that may go down in history as the most shameful loss in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. The defense failed the Patriots today, allowing a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to the Dolphins after Tom Brady hit James White with a 13-yard screen pass to give the Patriots their first lead at 24-20. Ryan Fitzpatrick hit tight end Mike Gesicki with a 4-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds left to give the Dolphins the win. The play encapsulated the day for the Patriots, as Fitzpatrick riddled the Patriot secondary for 320 total yards and looked completely unstoppable all game long.

Combined with Kansas City doing their job at home with a 31-21 win over the Chargers, the Chiefs snatched the two seed from the Patriots based on their head to head win at Foxborough. The Patriots now have the three seed and have to play a Wild Card game for the first time since 2009. Their reward for blowing this supposed gimme win will be a home playoff date next weekend against the Tennessee Titans, who blasted the Houston Texans 35-14 on Sunday to secure the six seed. Another ex-Patriot, Mike Vrabel, will bring his cast to Gillette next weekend and take aim at the Patriots.

Brady was partly to blame for this loss as well as the defense. He finished 16 of 29 passing for 221 yards, 2 touchdowns, an interception, and a passer rating of 88.4. One of the touchdown passes was a dump pass to linebacker/fullback Elandon Roberts which went for 38 yards as the Dolphin defense was stymied on the play. Otherwise, Brady misfired all game long, receivers dropped passes, and nobody in the passing game looked like they were at championship level. Philip Dorsett had one catch for 50 yards to lead the team in receiving yards, but he was targeted four times. Four receivers had three catches, but N’Keal Harry was targeted seven times and Mohamed Sanu five times.

But the bulk of the blame goes to the defense. If Stephon Gilmore wins Defensive Player of the Year, it won’t be based on Sunday’s performance. Devante Parker trashed out Gilmore, catching eight passes for 137 yards. There is no other word to describe this other than unfathomable. Parker is good, but Gilmore made him look like Michael Thomas. Elsewhere, Albert Wilson had five catches for 59 yards, Isaiah Ford had seven catches for 54 yards, and both Gesicki and running back Patrick Laird each had four catches. Fitzpatrick was sacked twice, but otherwise looked very comfortable all game long and beat the Patriot blitz effortlessly and flawlessly.

Belichick also made Patriot Nation scratch their collective heads with a mismanaged end of the first half. Seemingly in a position for a double score around halftime, the Patriots stopped the Dolphins at their 21-yard line with 1:46 to go in the first half and the Patriots had all their timeouts with the score tied at 10. But Belichick didn’t call a timeout after the third down stop, and Miami punted the ball back to the Patriots. Instead of trying to at least get into field goal range, the Patriots ran Sony Michel twice and ran out the clock without making any attempt to score. The Gillette Stadium fans booed the Patriots off the field after making zero attempt to score. When asked about this in his postgame press conference, Belichick simply mumbled “If (Michel) had gotten a first down, we would have gone for it.”

Gilmore, who may have seen his chance at top defensive honors go up in smoke, said simply after the game that Parker “had the better day” and didn’t offer any substantive explanation. For Gilmore to have had such a dominating season against generally the top receivers of the opposition only to have such a bad game at home against Parker in a game that should have been an easy win, it will go down as one of the most inexplicable, if not simply shameful, single game performances by a single player in recent memory.

One thing that will eat at Belichick is the fact that three former assistant coaches, Brian Flores, Chad O’Shea and Jerry Schuplinski, all had a hand in the win. Flores, in his first season as head coach, went from a coach seemingly tanking the season to try and draft Joe Burrow to a legitimate man of the future for the Dolphins. The Dolphin defense never really looked bad, they harassed Brady into a substandard game, and the Dolphins committed no turnovers and never looked overmatched on offense. Buffalo has already morphed into a playoff team, and the Dolphins aren’t that far behind.

If the Patriots are to go anywhere in the playoffs, the rushing game will have a lot to do with it. Michel finished with 74 yards on 18 carries, while Rex Burkhead had 48 yards on six carries. The team averaged five rushing yards a carry. This element may help in keeping opposing defenses on the bench, but it will carry the team only so far if the passing game doesn’t improve and the defense doesn’t shake off the effects of their poor performance today.

So the Patriots now have one week to get ready for Tennessee next weekend. Along with Vrabel, former Patriots Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan will come back home to try and turn the tables on their former team and punch their ticket to a Divisional Round game at Baltimore. Instead of a week off and a possible home date with Kansas City, the Patriots would have to go to Kansas City for a second year in a row if they happen to get by the Titans next weekend. Ryan Tannehill has supplanted Marcus Mariota as the starting quarterback, Derrick Henry is one of the most formidable running backs in the league, and A.J. Brown will be a stiffer test for Gilmore than Parker was.

This will be a January the Patriots aren’t used to. The Belichick Patriots have never been to a Super Bowl after having to play on Wild Card weekend. The only Patriot team to win three games and make it to the Super Bowl was the 1985 team that got demolished by Chicago in Super Bowl XX. Odds and history are not with the Patriots this year. Talent may not be either, if Sunday is any indication.

But these are still the Patriots, and you never know. Watch the playoffs and keep your fingers crossed.

A Christmas Present For Division Champions

Bob George
December 21, 2019 at 10:38 pm ET

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots fans were all nestled, all snug in their beds, while Super Bowl visions danced in their heads.

If Clement C. Moore will forgive me, this is most likely how Patriot Nation feels four days before the Reason For The Season. Lots of fans at Gillette Stadium wore clothing that resembled a large, old man who looks chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf. The Patriots, champions of the AFC East for the eleventh straight year (an NFL record), sent the fans home with lots of holiday spirit thanks to a 24-17 victory over the much improved/playoff bound/still doesn’t have enough to win Buffalo Bills on Saturday afternoon. It seemed like Bill Belichick came out in the beginning and to his team gave a whistle, and away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

The Patriot win now sets up a likelihood that the team will clinch the two seed and a first-round playoff bye next Sunday at home against the Miami Dolphins. A bad weather day will put the Dolphins into a “get on the bus” mindset early, but things look awfully good for the defending champions right now despite some uneven play during the season and some stinging losses to fellow division champs throughout the conference. The Kansas City Chiefs, who were huge Buffalo fans today, have to be thinking about a return trip to Foxborough in the Divisional round next month.

All fanciful comments aside, the Patriots’ win over Buffalo today was far more dominating and convincing than the final score might suggest. Six plays, which could be categorized as “stupid” or “foolish” on the part of the Patriots, prevented this game from being a rout. The Patriots totally outplayed the Bills in the first half, but unbelievably went into the locker room at halftime tied at 10. Take away these six plays and this game would have looked more like Super Bowl LIII, or perhaps even better.

The six plays were, in chronological order:

Fourth play of the game. Screen pass to Rex Burkhead for 18 yards. Jordan Poyer catches him from behind and knocks the ball loose. Micah Hyde picks up the fumble and returns it 31 yards to the Patriot 31. Thanks to the short field, Buffalo takes a 3-0 lead on a 35-yards field goal by Needham’s Stephen Hauschka.

Late second quarter, fourth and one at the Buffalo 41. Tom Brady drops back to pass and suddenly hands off to N’Keal Harry on a jet sweep left. Good decision to go for it, good play call. But Harry was upended by Kevin Johnson just as he turned the corner for no gain.

Ensuing drive. Bills are at the Patriot 34, second down and one. Josh Allen drops back and floats this balloon deep left to tight end Dawson Knox. Knox beats Patrick Chung by a step and hauls in the pass at the one (it was originally ruled a touchdown but Knox was down at the one on a replay check). Two plays later, the Bills hit tackle Dion Dawkins on a tackle eligible play to tie the game at 10-10 at the half.

First offensive possession of the second half. Patriots are at the Buffalo 33, second and eight. Brady drops back and hits old chum Ben Watson with a perfect screen toss in the left flat for a touchdown. But Julian Edelman was called for offensive pass interference, as he collided with Poyer during the play. It could be argued that the collision was accidental and not an intended block. Pats settle for a 51-yard field goal by Nick Folk.

Ensuing drive. Bills are second and 13 from their 47. Allen is under siege by two rushers, and heaves a deep throw off his back foot. John Brown made a move to the outside on Stephon Gilmore, he bit on the fake, then turned inside and slanted towards the end zone. Devin McCourty was out there in centerfield and Brown blew right by him, then caught the long floating pass and had a 53-yard touchdown.

Ensuing drive. Patriots have third down and 17 at their own 38. Brady hits James White in the right flat with a nice screen pass for 18 yards and a first down. But again, the play was called back on offensive pass interference as Watson collided with Tremaine Edmunds at the point of attack. The Patriots punted two plays later.

Take away these six plays, and the Patriots completely dominated the Bills all game long. It was a victory which will make Patriot Nation feel much better about their team. During the week, Burkhead will get spoken to about ball security, the receivers will get talked to about illegal picks, Chung will be shown the Knox touchdown, and Gilmore will see the Brown play on film and draw his own conclusions. The Harry stop was mostly a lucky play by Johnson. Good decision to go for it on fourth down, good play call, the play should have worked. Johnson got fortunate that he was in the right place at the right time and happened to hit Harry the exact right way. Nine times out of ten Harry gets that first down.

The fourth quarter showed why the Patriots are still champs and should do well in the playoffs. On their second possession (after a 20-yard field goal by Folk cut the Buffalo lead to 17-16), the Patriots got the ball at the 41 and drove 59 yards for the lead score. Edelman started it with a beautiful seam route against a zone defense and went for 30 yards. The next six plays were all runs, with Burkhead finishing the drive with a one-yard right end run. Brady then hit Edelman on a crossing route for a two-point conversion and a seven-point lead with just over five minutes to go in the game.

The Bills got the ball back, and all New England had to do was to defend the end zone. Former Dallas Cowboy Cole Beasley riddled J.C. Jackson with four catches for 57 yards on the drive. But once Buffalo got into the red area, the Patriot defense shut the door on any chance Buffalo had to upset the champs. Allen scrambled for a one-yard loss on first down. Allen then overthrew Knox in the end zone on second down with a hurried throw. Allen was sacked for a six-yard loss by Adam Butler on third down. Finally, on fourth down, Allen rolled right and tried to hit Beasley in the end zone. Jackson came out of nowhere and swatted the ball away from Beasley to seal the win.

Brady finished with 26 of 33 passing for 271 yards, one touchdown and a 111 passer rating. Sony Michel was the offensive star of the game for the Patriots, gaining 96 yards on 21 carries and a 4.6 per carry average. Edelman had five catches to lead the team, but Burkhead had 77 receiving yards despite the lost fumble in the first quarter.

Allen did much better than in the first meeting between these teams. He finished 13 of 26 passing for 208 yards, two touchdowns and a 102.7 rating. Beasley had 108 yards on seven catches, while Brown’s touchdown was his only catch of the night against Gilmore.

The Patriots finish the regular season at home against Miami, which should be a layup unless Brian Flores can somehow transfer his enmity towards his former team into the mother of all December upsets. A Patriot win clinches the two seed and a first-round bye. Baltimore would have to lose out for the Patriots to get the one seed back. The Patriots are probably looking at a rematch with Kansas City in the Divisional round if things break as expected.

We’ll get to that later. Meanwhile, Belichick will gather up his team and his sleigh, and as the story ends, I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night! And we’re on to Miami.”

And everyone’s holidays in the northeast USA just got a little merrier.

Patriots Struggle Early, But Still Clinch Playoffs

Bob George
December 15, 2019 at 6:32 pm ET

CINCINNATI – Videotaping the Cincinnati Bengals last week did nothing to prevent Joe Mixon from gashing the Patriots for 136 yards rushing.

The 1-12 Bengals, who are taking dead aim on Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow as their next quarterback, actually led the 10-3 Patriots 10-7 in the first quarter. The Patriot defense seemed to have no interest in tackling Mixon or Giovanni Bernard, someone named Cethan Carter caught his first pass of the season, which was a touchdown against a seemingly disinterested Jonathan Jones, and Tom Brady once again looks nothing like his GOAT self. Assuming the NFL throws the book at the Patriots for their transgressions of last weekend at the expense of the Bengals, none of those shenanigans had any effect on the game as the second quarter began.

In the end, the Bengals eventually played like the Bengals, and it again didn’t seem to be a result of illegal videotaping. Andy Dalton threw four interceptions, Alex Erickson muffed a punt, and the Patriots cashed in all of what was gifted to them to pull off an underwhelming 34-13 win Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. Despite looking off kilter for the third week in a row, the Patriots managed to finally clinch a playoff berth, with a chance to clinch the division next Saturday at home against Buffalo.

The Patriots are now 11-3 and have the inside track to the two seed in the AFC playoffs. The Bengals are now 1-13 and have the inside track to being able to draft Burrow, the incredible LSU quarterback who many experts are calling “the next Tom Brady”.

Brady finished 15 of 29 passing for 128 yards, two touchdowns and an 86.6 rating. But Brady was again mostly off target, being hurried on most every play, missing receivers, and also the victim of a few drops. Brady will take the win, but his lack of efficiency, not to mention the lack of effectiveness from Julian Edelman, remains a glaring issue for the Patriots as the playoffs grow closer.

Edelman, who almost wasn’t activated for this game, had only two catches for nine yards. James White and Matt La Cosse tied for the team high in receptions with three each. White led the team with 49 yards and a touchdown. N’Keal Harry had the other touchdown catch, on the opening drive of the second half after finally breaking free with Brady having almost six seconds to throw the ball.

The Patriots can take heart that the running game looked good today. The team rushed for 175 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Sony Michel had 89 of those yards and a 4.7 average, while former Bengal Rex Burkhead had 53 yards and an 8.8 yard average, helped by a 33-yard touchdown burst in the fourth quarter.

The defense finally locked down Mixon, but also put the game away with four picks of Dalton. Stephon Gilmore had two of them, giving him six for the season, tops in the NFL. Both picks came on the first two drives of the second half for the Bengals, and on both plays Tyler Boyd was the intended receiver. The second pick went for a touchdown, as Gilmore managed to jump the route on the far sideline and ran it back 64 yards for the pick-six. Gilmore’s six picks this season are his career best.

J.C. Jackson had the other two interceptions. Late in the third quarter, Dalton tried to hit Erickson on a deep right sideline pattern and Jackson snitched the ball from him. Late in the fourth quarter, Jackson stole a deep left sideline pass from John Ross III and returned it 19 yards. As the game wore on, the Patriot pass rush began to hassle Dalton and make him hurry throws and throw off his back foot. The Patriots registered no sacks of Dalton, but they will take four picks over four sacks any day.

Erickson also suffered a muffed punt, late in the second quarter. Matthew Slater, whose special teams play this season is approaching biblical status, stripped the ball from Erickson and Justin Bethel recovered the loose ball. This led to a Nick Folk 46-yard field goal and a 13-10 halftime lead for the Patriots.

Folk was perfect on field goals, hitting on both attempts and both were 40 yards or better. This is the second time in Patriot history that they have had as many as four kickers in a season, along with 1978 and John Smith, Nick Lowery, Jerrel Wilson, and David Posey. Wilson was a punter who kicked one extra point that year, and Posey gained momentary fame by kicking the game-winning field goal in the snow against Buffalo to clinch the AFC East that season, which was the first such title in Patriot history.

Dalton finished 17 of 31 passing for 151 yards and a passer rating of 39.2. Boyd and Tyler Eifert each had three catches to lead the team, with Eifert tops with 44 receiving yards. As a team, the Bengals averaged 5.1 yards per carry on the ground.

The Patriots now have 11 straight playoff berths, which is the best in NFL history. They also have 10 straight 11-win seasons, also the best in league history. The Patriots have two more home games left to figure out how to turn themselves into a playoff force instead of possibly being a playoff farce.

Next up is Buffalo, and a Saturday contest at Gillette. Even if the Patriots lose this game, a win in the season finale at home against woebegone Miami would clinch the division for the Patriots. Two wins in the last two games clinch the two seed and a bye week, something all the past Super Bowl champion Patriot teams have enjoyed. The Patriots did have a December two-game losing streak last year (at Miami, at Pittsburgh), but went on to run the table into February.

The Patriots await the league’s decision on penalties for the videotaping issue at Cleveland last week, but the players and coaching staff will focus only on Buffalo, who right now is the six seed for the playoffs and will play the Patriots incredibly tough. The Patriots won earlier this season 19-10 in western New York.

Seriously, the Patriots have deeper issues than meets the eye if they feel they need to videotape a 1-13 team a week before playing them. How well those issues get dealt with and fixed will define the rest of the season for the defending champs.

Patriots Have More Trouble With the Officials Than Chiefs In Loss

Bob George
December 8, 2019 at 10:52 pm ET

FOXBOROUGH – Enough complaining from opponents who claim that the Patriots get all the calls.

Despite the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs basically outplayed the Patriots for most of Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, it felt in the end that the officials screwed the Patriots out of perhaps 14 points, and in the end the 23-16 loss was more regrettable than meets the eye. Several calls went against the Patriots that turned out to be rather consequential, which in the end might have at least sent the game to overtime.

A loss is still a loss, and the Patriots are now hoping that they can at least finish with the two seed and a first-round bye, which is well within reach with three games left. But Kansas City exposed to the world that the Patriots did indeed run up an 8-0 record thanks to weak competition, both on offense and defense. The three losses the Patriots have suffered this year have been to all three of the other AFC division leaders. The Chiefs shook off a slow start and basically took it to the Patriots on the road, and only until the Patriots cracked the defensive code of the Chiefs in the fourth quarter did things finally get interesting.

Take away any officiating transgressions, and the bottom line is this: The Patriots as currently constructed are not built for winning a championship this year. The offensive line was weakened with the loss of David Andrews, the offense still misses Rob Gronkowski and James Develin, and the receiver corps is still too green around the gills to make big time plays. The defense plays very well against weak opponents, but against top quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, DeShaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, the defense looks more pedestrian. The Patriots have been hurt also by the season ending injury to kicker Stephen Gostkowski, and the kicking game has influenced some in- game decisions.

That said, the Patriots can rightfully say that the officials took away some impetus in trying to erase a 23-7 third quarter deficit. Credit the Patriots for being in a position to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, but some plays along the way had a direct impact on the end of the game and the Patriots’ ability to tie the game with just under a minute left.

The first such controversial play took place towards the end of the third quarter. On third down and four at their own 35, Mahomes was able to hit Sammy Watkins on a left slant route. Devin McCourty hit Watkins right at the down marker and pushed him backwards, but the officials spotted the ball at the 40, a yard further than where McCourty hit Watkins. Bill Belichick was forced to throw the challenge flag, and replay showed that McCourty hit Watkins at the 39, not the 40, but the call stood and the Chiefs had a first down at the 40.

This turned out to be inconsequential, because of how the drive ended. However, the end of the drive led to the second controversial call.

Facing third down and two at the Patriot 37, Travis Kelce caught a slant pass and was covered immediately by McCourty. Kelce retreated backwards, behind the line to gain for a first down (the 35), then was stripped of the ball by McCourty. Stephon Gilmore picked up the loose ball and took off towards the end zone. But the officials blew the play dead, saying that Kelce was down by contact.

Belichick was again forced to throw the challenge flag. On replay, Kelce clearly fumbled before he hit the ground. The Patriots were awarded the ball, but they got it at their own 43, where Gilmore picked up the ball. Watching the play live, Gilmore had a path to the end zone and a scoop-and-score, with only Mahomes and offensive lineman Austin Relter in his way. Perhaps one of those two guys stop Gilmore, but the chance of him running by them both was rather good. This play may have taken away a touchdown. Worse, Belichick had no more challenges left by using up two and winning one and losing one.

In the end, this proved to be costly. The defense kept Kansas City off the scoreboard for the last quarter and a half, and a blocked punt by Nate Ebner set up a Brandon Bolden touchdown run in the third quarter to make it 23-13. After getting the ball back following the Gilmore fumble recovery, the Patriots drove to the Kansas City 15. On first down, Tom Brady hit N’Keal Harry in the left flat. He found a sideline route to the end zone and dove for the pylon. He was marked out of bounds at the three-yard line. Replay showed that Harry had actually hit the pylon without ever going out of bounds, which was a touchdown. But since Belichick was out of challenges, he was powerless to appeal to the officials and the Patriots had to settle for first and goal at the three.

A pass that went for negative yards, an incompletion and a sack brought about a 29-yard field goal by Nick Folk. A touchdown would have been better. Granted, a touchdown only makes it 23-20 Chiefs, but in the end the Patriots could have gone for a field goal in the end to tie the game instead of having to score a touchdown to tie the game. This was the most damaging blown call by the officials.

One more egregious bad call was yet to come. The Patriots did get the ball back with a chance to tie the game. Facing second down and fifteen at the Kansas City 38, Brady lofted a pass deep left to Philip Dorsett. Dorsett was literally held by Kendall Fuller, but no pass interference was called. Since the two-minute warning had not yet occurred, again Belichick was powerless to challenge the call. The interference on Fuller was obvious, and replay made it clear and easy to overturn the call.

Like the missed first down mark, this call again was largely inconsequential as the Patriots eventually made it to the Kansas City five-yard line. On fourth down and three, down to their final play, Brady was able to find Julian Edelman in the left corner of the end zone. Just as the pass reached Edelman, Bashaud Breeland knocked the ball away at the last second to cinch the win for the Chiefs.

Brady was 19 of 36 passing for 169 yards, a touchdown (on a flea flicker to Edelman on the opening drive of the game), an interception and a passer rating of 63.3. Mahomes was 26 of 40 for 283 yards, a touchdown, an interception, and a rating of 83.6. Credit the Patriot defense for keeping Mahomes to somewhat ordinary numbers, though it did not result in a victory.

The Patriots can run the table from here. They are at Cincinnati next week, then home against Buffalo and Miami. The Bills’ game will be a stiff test, but the Patriots will be at home and that should be the deciding factor. They would finish at 13-3 and get (presumably) the second seed in the AFC, just like last year. It is unlikely that the Patriots will pick up 2 games on Baltimore from now until the end of the season. Baltimore survived a tough test at Buffalo on Sunday, and they look like the team to beat in the AFC this year.

The officials were tough. But the Chiefs were a little bit better. The Patriots have a lot of work to do, and worrying about the zebras shouldn’t be on that to-do list.

Another Sunday Nightmare For Patriots

Bob George
December 2, 2019 at 4:00 am ET

HOUSTON – Sunday, November 8, 1987 was an historic night in NFL history.

A new tradition began that night: Sunday Night Football. Halfway through a strike-marred season, ESPN began televising a third game on Sunday with an evening battle to finish the day. The NFL already had a Monday night game, still on ABC back then and still popular going into its 18th season back in 1987. But the NFL felt that another weekly night game was a perfect fit for the doting football public, even with the game being on cable.

ESPN was in its 8th season back then, and was nowhere near the Worldwide Leader it is today. But the sports broadcasting giant created by two guys from Wilbraham took a major step towards what it would become by delving into the most visible and substantive sports league in the USA, then and now. The first game featured the Patriots and the Giants from the Meadowlands, with Mike Patrick and Roy Firestone at the mike, along with a weekly guest commentator.

In an eerie harbinger of things to come many years hence, the Giants beat the Patriots 17-10. These Giants were the Super Bowl champs who had someone named Belichick as their defensive coordinator. The Patriots started off on the wrong foot on Sunday nights, and not much has changed since.

Actually, a change did happen. In 2006, a seismic shift happened in terms of television coverage, not unlike when Fox took over the NFC in 1994. ABC, after building Monday Night Football into a national cult event, walked away from broadcasting NFL games completely. ESPN took over the Monday night package, and NBC, who lost the AFC to CBS when Fox took the NFC from them, got back into NFL coverage with a major splash. They took over the Sunday night package, and over the years built the program into a bigger primetime event than ABC ever did on Monday nights. With glitzy opening songs from Carrie Underwood (and now alongside Joan Jett), former ABC Monday night icon Al Michaels took over as lead broadcaster. He worked with John Madden for many years and now is paired with Cris Collinsworth. The productions are almost like celebrations of the sport rather than the game itself.

Most all of the nation loves these events. Nielson ratings bear that out. But you the Patriot fan should think otherwise.

Since NBC took over the package in 2006, the Patriots at least have a winning record, but given a team of its dynastic stature, the record for the Patriots on NBC is only 18-12, counting both the loss Sunday night at Houston, and the earlier loss this season at Baltimore, 37-20. Despite the winning percentage, a team like the Patriots should have a much better win percentage. Instead, the Patriots generally play their worst game or games of the season on Sunday night.

In 2006, things started badly on NBC for the Patriots with home losses to both the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots won all three games in 2007; of course, that was the 16-0 season that ended badly in the Super Bowl against the Giants. They lost the next four games on NBC, including the famous “Fourth and two” game at Indianapolis in 2009.

Things got a little better over the years, but 2012 wasn’t great. They lost on a walkoff field goal at Baltimore, and lost a shootout at home against Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. On Thanksgiving night that year, they did beat the Jets thanks to the Mark Sanchez “butt fumble”, but that was Thursday night, not Sunday.

The Patriots saw a little Sunday night prosperity the next few years, with the Jonas Gray game and the “We’re on to Cincinnati” game mixed in. But then there was the overtime loss at Denver in the snow in 2015 which ended a perfect season and eventually foreshadowed a playoff loss at Denver in January. Seattle came to Foxborough the next year and won a tough 31-24 decision, avenging the Super Bowl loss (that Super Bowl was on NBC, the only Big Game the Patriots have won on the Peacock).

You would think the Patriots had Sunday night figured out with a big win in Denver in 2017. But then they cut a bad stinker at Detroit last year against former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. They won a ghastly shootout against Kansas City at Gillette later that year, then later beat the Chiefs in the AFC Championship at Arrowhead back in January.

Which brings us to this year, and two hideous losses to negate a big season opening win at home against Pittsburgh. The Ravens killed the Patriots a month ago, and once again on Sunday night the Patriots stunk out the joint on Sunday night against a Texans team they usually handle easily and most experts thought the Patriots would beat. Despite a late rally, the Patriots wound up on the short end of a 28-22 score at NRG Stadium.

Despite the Texans having the worst red zone defense in the league, the Patriots had to settle for a chip shot field goal after their first offensive drive of the game stalled at the Houston 5-yard line. On their second offensive possession, the game changed permanently as Tom Brady was intercepted by Bradley Roby trying to hit N’Keal Harry in the left flat. Two plays later, DeShawn Watson hit Duke Johnson on a wheel route in the right flat with Kyle Van Noy in futile pursuit for 14 yards and a touchdown. On their next drive, Houston drove 88 yards in 13 plays which took just under seven minutes. While Brady screamed and yelled at his offensive teammates on the sideline, the Patriot season basically went up in smoke as Baltimore took over the top playoff seed in the AFC and might not let go of it.

Credit the Patriots for not giving up. They did manage to pull off a first down in the third quarter despite facing first down and 30. Brady did manage to rally the Patriots in the fourth quarter with two touchdown passes. But the Patriot defense, perhaps weakened by the flu, allowed Watson to take over the game. Watson finished with 18 of 25 passing for 234 yards, three touchdowns, and also scored a touchdown reception on a pass from DeAndre Hopkins. Watson’s passer rating was 140.7. Brady had 24 of 47 passing for 326 yards and three touchdowns, but had a passer rating of only 85.9.

The game did come down to a late onside kick with 50 seconds left. Jake Bailey managed to pull off an onside kick that bounced over every Houston defender, with Brandon Bolden streaking downfield to make the recovery. But the ball rolled out of bounds before Bolden could recover the loose ball, and the game was over.

Kansas City comes to Gillette next week, bring Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce with him. Last year the Patriots eked out a 43-40 win against the Chiefs, but the Patriots may not have the material to pull off a win like that this year.

Fortunately, the Patriots won’t be flexed into Sunday night. They’ve been on NBC three times now, and that’s it. The Patriots need to just secure the division, and worry about all the other stuff when the time is right.

Somewhere along the way, the Patriots need to get their passing game back. And make Brady happy again. If not, never mind Baltimore jumping ahead of the Patriots. Buffalo will be next.

Patriot Defense Storms The Cowboys

Bob George
November 24, 2019 at 9:15 pm ET

FOXBOROUGH – Tom Brady needs to stop sulking as long as his team continues to win.

His press conference last week following the win at Philadelphia now seems churlish and petty. Of course, this isn’t what Brady is used to. But Brady has to remind himself to learn to work with what he has, not pretend to work with what he is used to. Over the years, Brady has adapted many times to what works, and he is being forced to do the same in 2019.

Without the retired Rob Gronkowski, with both Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett injured, with N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers not quite yet ready for prime time, Brady suffered through another substandard offensive performance on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. Brady was only 17 of 37 passing for 190 yards and rating of 70.8. But instead of pouting like last week, he should be more like MAD Magazine’s iconic cover boy, Alfred E. Neuman and simply say “What, me worry?”

The Patriots have the best defense on the planet, and needed every bit of it to hold off the Dallas Cowboys and their number one offense. In a driving rainstorm, the Patriots shut down Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and the rest of the gang from Big D, 13-9. A strong wind was blowing left to right the entire game, which affected both the passing game and the kicking game for the entire afternoon. Most of the time, when the elements are a factor, the opponent becomes more beatable for the Patriots, and on Sunday, the game did indeed come down to defenses and special teams, for the most part.

Brady, and not Julian Edelman, threw the one and only touchdown pass of the afternoon, a 10-yard pass to Harry at the end of the first quarter. The rookie out of Arizona State outleaped Byron Jones at the left pylon and came down barely in bounds for the touchdown. It was Harry’s only catch of the game; he was targeted a total of four times and had a drop on a sideline pass late in the first half, though the fact that the ball was wet might have been a factor.

To his credit, Brady was a little bit more talkative at his press conference than he was last week at Philadelphia, but he still looked tired and unhappy with his offense. His 17 of 37 completion percentage (46 percent) was the fifth lowest of his career. Edelman led the Patriots with eight catches for 93 yards, but the other six receivers combined for only nine catches. Brady’s other “old reliable”, James White, had a grand total of -1 all-purpose yards on five yards rushing and minus-six yards receiving.

What did help Brady was Sony Michel and the Patriot rushing attack. Michel finished with 85 yards on 20 carries and a 4.3 per carry average. His 12-yard run on the final offensive possession for the Patriots virtually closed out the win. With left tackle Isaiah Wynn back in action, Michel was able to find lots better holes to run through. This ability to run in the absence of a prolific passing attack enabled the Patriots to stay toe to toe with the Cowboys in the field position battle.

The elements also made field goals more of an important factor in the game. Nick Folk, the most recent replacement for the injured Stephen Gostkowski was two out of four in field goals, making kicks from 44 and 42 yards (both of them into the wind from right to left), while Brett Maher was three of four, missing his first attempt from 46 yards (a doink shot off the left upright) but then making his next three from 46, 27 and 29 yards. All his made field goals were with the wind, while his one miss was against the wind. Both of Folk’s misses were off to the right, but given the weather conditions, it really doesn’t behoove Bill Belichick to once again go shopping for a new kicker.

Maher’s last field goal, with 6:04 left in the game, might go down as something Dallas head coach Jason Garrett might have to explain. Trailing 13-6, the Cowboys were at the Patriot 11 facing fourth down and 7. Fox’s Troy Aikman, himself a former Dallas quarterback. Hall of Famer and three-time Super Bowl champ, strongly advocated for Dallas to go for it on fourth down and not kick. As it turned out, the Cowboys did get the ball back with enough time to try and win the game. But the Cowboys were stopped on fourth down at their own 25, as Amari Cooper, who was covered by Stephon Gilmore the entire game, caught what would have been a first down on a diving catch only to have the catch thrown out on replay because he bobbled the ball as he hit the ground. Gilmore shut out Cooper for the entire game, another key to the Patriot victory.

All game long, it seemed that the Patriots were bent on stopping the Dallas passing attack, and Cooper in particular, allowing Elliott to get his yards and not get burned by Prescott and the pass. Elliott finished with 86 yards rushing on 21 carries and a 4.1 average, which is fantastic given Elliott’s stature among current NFL running backs. Elliott is still a load and one of the toughest running backs in the league, which is no surprise to anyone. But the Patriots were able to contain him well enough to not let him take over the game and still provide enough in the defensive backfield to quash the Cowboy passing attack.

The Patriots will have to travel to Houston next week and get another dose of a running quarterback. DeShawn Watson will provide a similar skill set to Lamar Jackson, but the Patriots will return to the same stadium where they engineered the finest comeback in Super Bowl history. The Patriots historically play well against the Texans, but their only loss to this team was in this stadium in the game where Wes Welker was lost for the playoffs after blowing out his knee. The Patriots seem fully recovered from the shell-shocking loss at Baltimore and might not be as ill-prepared to face Watson as they were Jackson.

After losing the first seven to Dallas going back to 1971, the Patriots have now won the last six games against America’s Former Team. The Patriot defense still reigns supreme, and they will need every bit of it when November becomes December next week.

Despite a Tough Game For Brady and the Offense, Patriots Again See Their Defense Put Them Back In Win Column

Bob George
November 18, 2019 at 7:22 am ET

PHILADELPHIA – It was everything that Super Bowl LII wasn’t.

Both teams combined for 553 yards, about half of what the total was in the Big Game (1,151). Each team had 8 punts, which is 16 total for the game, 15 more than the total in the Big Game. 27 points were scored, as opposed to 78 in the Big Game.

The Patriots used three field goals, a gadget play touchdown, a two-point conversion, and a defense which finally cracked the Eagles’ code to defeat Philadelphia, 17-10 on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. The Patriots held on to the one seed in the AFC as Baltimore continues to steamroll over opponents.

The game morphed into a defensive stalemate once the Patriots took a 17-10 lead in the third quarter. At one point, Philadelphia punted on six consecutive possessions. The Eagles bludgeoned the Patriots with a 95-yard touchdown drive in the first and second quarters, and did nothing after that. The Patriots finally put the clamps on the Eagles’ offense, something they were not able to do in the Big Game. Carson Wentz, who was not the quarterback in the Big Game, was sacked five times and finished with a passer rating of only 74.4.

The Eagles came to play on defense also. Tom Brady’s passer rating was actually lower at 67.3. The Patriots’ only touchdown was on a pass thrown by Julian Edelman. The Patriots had three straight red area drives in the second quarter, and all of them ended in Nick Folk field goals. The Patriots once again were impotent in the running game, with only 74 total yards and a 3.4 average per carry.

This game won’t go down as high on your re-watchability list. It was an aggravating game, a tough game, but a game the Patriots did ultimately win. Offensively, the Patriots were basically stuck in neutral for most of the game. But the defense held firm and never allowed Philadelphia to regain whatever offensive mojo they had in the Big Game. Call it sweet revenge if you must, but a win is a win, and the Patriots will take it.

The one Patriot touchdown came on a gadget play they have run several times over the years. On third down and 11 at the Eagles’ 15 on the opening drive of the second half, Brady threw a backwards pass to Edelman in the right flat. You could hear Patriot Nation screaming “Double pass!” in unison worldwide. Edelman threw a laser into the end zone and hit a wide-open Philip Dorsett to give the Patriots their first lead of the night at 15-10. James White ran in a two-point conversion, and that was it for the scoring. Edelman’s strike to Dorsett was arguably the best throw of the night by a Patriot passer, as Brady was harassed a lot during the game (but was sacked only once).

The Eagles jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead. On the first play of the game, Wentz tried to hit Boston Scott on a deep left sideline route, but Jason McCourty was called for interference and the Eagles got 49 yards on the play. Three plays later, Jake Elliott hit a 42-yard field goal to make it 3-0 Eagles. The wind was a factor in the game, blowing right to left all game long. All four field goals in the game were kicked to the left, with the wind.

After an exchange of punts, Jake Bailey (who could be the number one star of the game for the Patriots) pinned the Eagles at their own 5. Seemingly out of nowhere, mostly thanks to 4 and 5-yard gains, the Eagles found themselves at the Patriots’ 8-yard line, now into the second quarter. On third and goal at the 5, Wentz hit tight end Dallas Goedert on a slant pattern in the end zone. Jonathan Jones was able to wrestle the ball away from Goedert, and the play was ruled an interception and a touchback. However, replay showed that when Goedert’s knee went down, Jones hadn’t yet stripped the ball away. CBS’s officiating expert, Gene Steratore (he is also their basketball officiating expert) said very clearly that once his knee hit, play is over, touchdown Philly. Referee Bill Vinovich concurred. The Patriots had just surrendered a 95-yard touchdown drive.

From this point, this game was all Patriots, a testimonial to the makeup of this team. Another team might have mailed it in, especially given the fact that two weeks ago the Patriots were smacked around by the Ravens and the team was coming off a bye week.

But the defense finally held firm, pressured Wentz and got him out of a rhythm, and put the clamps on Miles Sanders and the rest of the Eagle running attack. The next four Patriot drives ended in scores (save for the final drive of the first half, a kneeldown), three field goals and the double pass touchdown.

One of the Eagle drives ended in a strip sack. With Philadelphia leading 10-6 in the second quarter, on second and six from their own 32, Wentz was strip-sacked at the 22 by Danny Shelton. Lawrence Guy fell on the loose ball. But the Eagles’ defense only surrendered one yard, and Folk hit his third field goal from 39 yards out to make it 10-9.

Brady’s passing numbers were pedestrian: 26 of 47 passing for 216 yards. Wentz was 20 of 40 for 214 yards and a touchdown. The Patriot defense held the Eagles to only 81 team rushing yards and a 3.9 average per carry. Julian Edelman led the Patriots with five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown (passing, not receiving), while Zack Ertz led the Eagles with nine catches for 94 yards.

The Patriots come back home next week to take on the Dallas Cowboys, another NFC East opponent. They will see Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott for the first time. They will get left tackle Isaiah Wynn back, which should help the offense greatly. After losing the first seven games in this series, the Patriots have won the last five. The Patriots haven’t lost to the Cowboys since 1996. The Patriots and Cowboys have the two most high profile owners in Bob Kraft and Jerry Jones, as well as the two most well-known football brands in the business. But this is a game the Patriots must win, and you can keep saying that as long as the Ravens remain a game behind the Super Bowl champs.

Brady and the Patriots are still furious over losing Super Bowl LII. The win today gained some measure of revenge, but the Eagles still wear the crown from 2017. Take the win, move on, and win the Big Game again this year.

After Tough Loss, Ravens Give Patriots A Lot To Think About

Bob George
November 4, 2019 at 12:08 pm ET

BALTIMORE – Nothing that happened Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore should have surprised anyone.

Everyone knows about Lamar Jackson and his skill set. Everyone knows about Mark Ingram. Everyone knows that a John Harbaugh team will never be afraid of the Patriots.

The Baltimore Ravens used a powerful running attack to control the ball, chew up the clock and confuse, if not expose, the Patriot defense. The Ravens shook off two potentially damaging first half turnovers to bully the previously undefeated Patriots, 37-20. The Patriots knew a tough game was coming, but perhaps didn’t expect the beat down they experienced. As has been the case many times over the years, the Patriots play their worst game of the year on Sunday night (the Ravens have only beaten the Patriots during the regular season twice; the other win was also on a Sunday night, 31-30 in 2012).

Jackson passed for a touchdown and ran for two touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback to do this against a Bill Belichick defense. He befuddled the Patriots most all game long with play fakes, option plays and his running skills, and save for a few drives in the second quarter where the Patriots seemed to figure him out, the Patriots generally had no answer for Jackson. He finished with 194 all-purpose yards including 61 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns.

As a team, the Ravens finished with 210 yards rushing and a 5.1 yards per carry average. Ingram had 115 yards rushing on 15 carries, including a 53-yard burst on the first play of the second quarter.

The rushing attack helped the Ravens seal the game with two decisive drives in the third and fourth quarters. After James White scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter to make it 24-20 Baltimore, the Ravens went off on a 14-play, 81-yard drive that ate up 8:09 of game time, culminating with a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nick Boyle who was wide open in the left flat after a play fake by Jackson. After a Tom Brady interception by Earl Thomas, the Ravens then went on a 14-play, 68-yard drive that consumed 9:35 of game time. That drive ended with a one-yard plunge by Jackson. That’s two drives, 28 plays, and 17:44 of game time. In the end, Baltimore had the ball for 37:01, nearly a 2 to 1 advantage.

Uncharacteristic Patriot mistakes also helped send the Patriots to defeat, virtually negating the two turnovers the Ravens suffered in the second quarter.

On their first drive of the game, Baltimore drove to the Patriot 5-yard line. Lawrence Guy stuffed Gus Edwards for no gain, bringing up fourth down and goal. Justin Tucker comes out for a chip shot field goal, but Shilique Calhoun was duped into a neutral zone infraction, giving the Ravens first and goal at the 2. Jackson danced in for the touchdown on the next play after a fake to Ingram that the Patriots totally bit on, leaving the left side completely wide open.

After former Patriot Cyrus Jones fumbled a punt (honk if you’ve seen Jones muff a punt before) to open the flood gates, the Patriots went on a 13-0 run to wipe out a 17-0 deficit and make it 17-13 at the half. The Patriots got the ball for the start of the second half, and drove from their 25 to the Ravens’ 30. On first and ten, Julian Edelman took a dump pass in the left flat and was corralled immediately by linebacker Patrick Onwuasor. But Onwuasor stripped the ball out of Edelman’s hands, and Marion Humphrey picked up the loose ball and ran 70 yards for a touchdown to make it 31-20. The Patriots answered right back with a touchdown thanks to a hurry-up offense, but the Ravens then put the game away with those two 14-play drives.

Edelman’s fumble turned out to be the turning point of the game, and not Jones’ muffed punt. Against any other team, the Patriots use that muffed punt, and Ingram’s ensuing lost fumble, to probably win the game going away. But the Patriots were not in that position Sunday night. Baltimore took back the momentum at home, and never let go of it.

Jackson’s passing numbers were not astounding, but very good nonetheless. He finished 17 of 23 for 163 yards and one touchdown, and a passer rating of 107.7. Boyle had the most catches with five, while Marquise Brown led the Ravens with 48 receiving yards. Again, these numbers are not eye-popping. It was the ground game that helped destroy the Patriots, and various Patriot players were seen snapping on the sidelines over the frustration of the Ravens literally running the ball right down their throats.

If there was any positive to be taken from this game, it was the emergence of new veteran receiver Mohammed Sanu. He and Edelman both had ten catches, and they combined for 170 receiving yards with Sanu hauling in his first touchdown catch as a Patriot. The other positive which can be gleaned from this loss was that the Patriots averaged 4.4 yards per carry and that James White, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel all averaged over four yards per carry. The Patriots never led in the game and therefore could not use the run game to beat the Ravens down, although the hurry-up offense was doing a nice job until the Ravens offense kept the ball away from Brady and the Patriot offense.

Brady finished with 30 of 46 passing for 285 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a passer rating of 80.5. His fourth quarter pick to Thomas was on a bad overthrow to Sanu on a deep post pattern, and Thomas wound up catching what amounted to a punt.

The Patriots now head into a bye week, then continue their five-week odyssey of great quarterback opponents, with the next matchup being a rematch of Super Bowl LII, only this time they will face Carson Wentz and not Nick Foles. Dallas, Houston and Kansas City will follow the Eagles before the Patriots catch a quarterback break. You can stop all the talk about this defense being “historical”, because all those experts who said “Wait until the Patriots face a real offense!” were right all along.

At season’s end, with 19-0 no longer a possibility, the Patriots may thank the Ravens for this spanking unless somehow the Ravens win a tiebreaker and host the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots can now spend the rest of the season thinking about nothing other than winning another Super Bowl. They will take a week, rest up, heal up, and get ready for the continuation of the toughest stretch of the regular season.

No loss is a good loss. The Ravens laid a whuppin’ on the Patriots, no question about it. Time to move on and to keep the eye on the big prize.

Belichick Comes Full Circle, Further Cements His Legacy with 300th Win

Bob George
October 28, 2019 at 9:33 am ET

FOXBOROUGH – Bill Belichick gets emotional when he remembers his old days with the New York Giants in that it was what gave him a real indoctrination into coaching. But it was the Cleveland Browns that gave him his first head coaching job.

His first win as head coach was against the Patriots. His first postseason win as head coach was also against the Patriots. Three hundred wins later, Belichick reigns supreme as the finest head coach the NFL has ever seen.

He got that 300th win on Sunday afternoon at rainy Gillette Stadium, defeating the Browns 27-13. Technically, these aren’t the same Browns that gave him his coaching start in 1991, as those Browns became the Baltimore Ravens in 1996. These “new” Browns retained the team colors and history but otherwise really have nothing to do with the originals, the team where he cultivated a fraternity of future head coaches called “slappies”. That team, which used to employ people like Paul Brown, Otto Graham, Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly, will be Belichick’s next problem next Sunday night in Baltimore.

But it’s still win number 300. Only George Halas and Don Shula have won more. Both men are in Belichick’s sights and both of their win totals are reachable.

In a driving rainstorm, the Patriots overcame a perky yet mistake-prone Cleveland team to run their 2019 record to 8-0, the first time they have had that record In four years. This game came down to a disastrous three-play stretch in the first quarter for Cleveland, numerous penalties, and the Patriots simply being the better team despite Cleveland dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides for much of the game. To have three takeaways in the first half and only be up 17-7 at the half seemed to portend good things for the Browns, but in the end the Patriots are still far too good for most of the league to deal with.

Cleveland suffered three turnovers on consecutive snaps in the first quarter. On their second possession of the game, facing second and 7 at their own 23, Baker Mayfield handed off to Nick Chubb on a right end run. In the middle of the scrum at the line of scrimmage, Cleveland guard Joel Bitonio fell down with his feet dangling in the air. One of those feet knocked the ball out of Chubb’s hands. Dont’a Hightower picked up the ball and rumbled in for 26 yards to give the Patriots a 10-0 lead.

On the first play of the next possession, Chubb (the former backfield mate of Sony Michel at Georgia) took off on a run off right tackle, cut back left and took off towards the end zone. He rumbled 44 yards to the Patriot 6-yard line before Jonathan Jones, who had trailed the play but ran like a gazelle after Chubb, caught him and knocked the ball out of his hands. Devin McCourty fell on the ball at the four. The Patriots punted after one first down, so the turnover didn’t hurt the Browns here.

On the very next play, Mayfield took the snap out of the shotgun and immediately threw a shovel pass forward. The pass landed in the arms of Lawrence Guy, who managed to hold on to the bang-bang pass for the interception. Two plays later, Tom Brady hit Julian Edelman for an eight-yard touchdown pass and a 17-0 lead.

To their credit, Cleveland maintained their poise and did not allow the game to get too far away from them. Chubb shook off his two fumbles and wound up with 131 yards rushing on 20 carries for a 6.6 yards per carry average. Mayfield connected on 20 of 31 passes for 194 yards, and Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry combined for 117 receiving yards. Brady was sacked three times and did not ever really get into a rhythm, although the rain also played a part in the slowing down of the Patriot offense.

Penalties hurt the Browns perhaps more than those turnovers did. In the end, the Browns were flagged 13 times for 85 yards. The Patriots were the benefactors of three first downs on penalties. In comparison, the Patriots were penalized only four times for 32 yards.

The only thing that the Patriots had problems with all game long was stopping Chubb. The offensive line opened up very good holes for him, but Chubb showed how hard he is to deal with as several Patriots had missed tackles. Chubb was able to run the ball both between the tackles as well as on the edge. Mayfield hurt the Patriots only occasionally; he didn’t make any jaw-dropping throws, and like Brady, he also never really got into a rhythm other than a 12-straight completion run.

If the Patriots run into problems down the road, the reasons may point back to the offensive line. With Isaiah Wynn due to come off injured reserve soon, that will help a bit. But this is another case of them having to “figure things out”, re-defining themselves as they do every year, so that come the playoffs, they will be fine and will understand their roles very clearly. That cohesiveness still hasn’t happened yet, and Wynn cannot come back soon enough as Marshall Newhouse was badly beaten on a third quarter sack of Brady by linebacker Olivier Vernon.

Brady finished with 20 of 36 passing for 259 yards and two touchdowns, and a passer rating of 96.9. Edelman was Mister Reliable again with eight catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns. James White had 75 yards receiving, 59 of them on a screen pass on third and ten in the third quarter. And in his Patriot debut, Mohammed Sanu had two catches for 23 yards, both of them gaining first downs for the Patriots.

Michel had 74 yards rushing on 21 carries and a 3.5 yards per carry average. His former Georgia teammate did a bit better, but Michel did not fumble the ball and will take the win.

The Patriots will be severely tested next week at Baltimore. Lamar Jackson has a unique skill set with his ability to rush for 100 yards as well as throwing the ball. The Ravens had a bye this week, so they will be rested and well prepared for the Patriots. This game will give everyone who watches football a much better gauge of how really good the Patriot defense is.

And Belichick knows darned well that this is the franchise he used to work for, who fired him in 1995 as a scapegoat for the team leaving Cleveland that season. Belichick makes no bones about his hatred for the Jets, but this team has to be right up there also. These teams have had some biblical playoff games over the last several years, and the Ravens have zero fear of the Patriots.

Browns Nation curses their cruel fate when they look at Belichick and how well he has done since leaving Cleveland. Anyone who saw this coming back in 1995 is a flat out liar. But it’s still significant for a city which hasn’t been an NFL champ since 1964.