Author Archives: Bob George

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.

Another Perfect Win For the Patriots After Darnold Gets Spooked

Bob George
October 22, 2019 at 8:49 am ET

E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Halloween came a week early for Sam Darnold.

The second-year quarterback of the Jets was miked for Monday night’s game against the Patriots at MetLife Stadium, and in the second quarter, he dropped this timeless sound byte:

“I’m seeing ghosts!”

What Darnold actually saw was a defending Super Bowl champion coming at him with a better defense than they had last year.  The Patriot defense, which is slowly leaving legendary status and is now approaching biblical status, induced four interceptions, caused a strip sack, induced a safety, and finished the night by pitching a shutout.  The Patriots went to 7-0 on the season with a 33-0 beatdown of their hated rivals, and the Patriots have turned this “rivalry” into something that is totally embarrassing for Jet Nation.

The Patriots, undermanned on offense and having to resort to veteran retreads and graybeards for help, were in total command all game long and were literally never challenged.  Despite the offense getting stuck in neutral in the second half, it didn’t matter.  The Patriots did nothing offensively in the third quarter yet outscored the Jets 2-0.  Darnold spent the entire night going to the University of Brady, majoring in how to correctly manage a football game.

Tom Brady, minus Josh Gordon, Rex Burkhead and Matt LaCosse, didn’t break a sweat all game long and still managed good numbers.  He finished 31 of 45 passing for 249 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  His rating was 80.7, a higher rating perhaps foiled by his lack of production in the second half.  He managed to complete passes to eight different receivers; old reliables Julian Edelman and James White had seven catches each, but Jakobi Meyers had a nice evening with five catches on five targets for 47 yards.

And making his triumphant return to the team he began his NFL career with, Ben Watson, all of 38 years old, had three catches for 18 yards.  Every little bit helped.

The running game was of little help.  Despite scoring three short rushing touchdowns, Sony Michel had 42 yards rushing but only averaged 2.2 yards per carry, which was also the team average per carry.  The team’s best rusher was Edelman, who gained 20 yards on three jet sweeps.

The defense continues to carry the day for the Patriots.  Sooner or later, the Patriots will come across an elite offense, and things may turn out differently.  But against the Jets, the Patriots turned this matchup into a men versus boys deal.

Darnold was sacked once, picked off four times, and was 11 of 22 for 86 total yards and a passer rating of 3.7.  Not a typo, folks.  3.7.  Helped by a bunch of questionable penalties, Demaryius “The Patriots were a waste of time!” Thomas had a team high 42 receiving yards on three catches.  Despite J.C. Jackson being flagged for some questionable penalties especially on balls that were uncatchable and ticky tack hand checking, Thomas was no factor against the Waste of Time Patriots.

Bill Belichick dialed up lots of blitz packages against Darnold, and he was flustered all game long.  He was pressured into a lot of throws off the back foot, two of which ended up as end zone interceptions, one by Jackson and one by Terrence Brooks.  Darnold clearly needs to learn how to manage a game better and to take better care of the football.  Four sacks are less injurious than four interceptions, and when Darnold starts to learn that, his play will no doubt improve.

And to top things off for the defense, they also induced a safety.  In the third quarter, facing second down and 7 at his own 6-yard line, a shotgun snap went over Darnold’s head and into the end zone.  Darnold batted the ball out of the end zone for a safety.  Actually, a penalty was called on Darnold for an illegal batting of the ball, but the enforcement brought about a safety anyway.  The Patriot hobgoblins celebrated as the lead grew to 26-0, and you began to wonder if Darnold was thinking “Who ya gonna call?”

The strip sack took place on the second play of the second quarter.  On first down at the Patriot 49, Darnold dropped back and was chased by John Simon.  Simon stripped the ball from Darnold and Kyle Van Noy fell on the ball at the Jet 38.  Thinking he wasn’t touched, he got up and ran it in for a touchdown, but after replay, someone’s ankle touched Van Noy’s ankle while he was on the ground, which negated the touchdown.  The Patriots got a touchdown anyway thanks to a one-yard run by Michel.

Other than the defense, props should also go out to lead blockers in the Red Area.  On the first touchdown in the first quarter, Michel scored on a three-yard end run thanks to blocks by Watson and Marshall Newhouse.  Michel’s second quarter touchdown was thanks to a crushing block by James Ferentz, son of Iowa head coach and Belichick “slappie” Kirk Ferentz.  Michel’s third touchdown in the fourth quarter was made courtesy of a lead block by Elandon Roberts, who is vying to become the next Mike Vrabel or the next Richard Seymour (probably Seymour since Vrabel lined up as another tight end and caught touchdowns versus blocking).

The 33-0 win represents the largest shutout win against the Jets in history.  This was a worse beatdown versus the home game a few weeks back when Darnold was out with mononucleosis.  The Jets were totally embarrassed and outclassed.  The Patriots continue their near flawless play, which despite mostly coming against losing teams is still impressive at the professional level.

The Patriots will get still another young up and coming quarterback next week, as the much improved Cleveland Browns come to Gillette Stadium next week.  Baker Mayfield will try and match wits with the Belichick defense, as will Nick Chubb and Odell Beckham, Jr.  The Browns are 2-4, but they are vastly different and more potent than the team which went winless a few years back.  Mayfield will be a lot like Darnold in terms of experience, but he represents a different skill set.  Still, Belichick will be ready for him when he comes here next week.

Will Mayfield be as spooked as Darnold?  Perhaps not, but when you see all the little kids begging for candy next Thursday, think of Darnold and see if any kid has the presence of mind to dress up like him.

Again, Put The Patriots Win Over the Giants On the Defense

Bob George
October 11, 2019 at 12:36 pm ET

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots won by three touchdowns, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

Tom Brady was 31 of 41 passing for 334 yards.  But he threw no touchdown passes, got picked once, got sacked three times, and had a passer rating of only 88.9.  One of the sacks was a strip-sack that went for a defensive touchdown.

Julian Edelman led the Patriots with 113 receiving yards on nine catches.  But he was targeted 15 times, meaning that six plays that went to him misfired.  All other receivers were at or near perfect on targets/catches.

The Patriots opened the third quarter with a 16-play, 60-yard drive that consumed about nine minutes, but came away with no points.

And yet, the Patriots mauled the New York Giants, 35-14 on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.  Bill Belichick, playing the first of two straight games against his former teams, is now 12-1 on Thursday night football.  The Patriots are now 6-0.  The only other undefeated NFL team has Jimmy Garoppolo as their quarterback.

Put this win again on the defense.  Special teams too, but mostly the defense.  Rookie quarterback Daniel Jones threw three interceptions.  The defense forced a fumble and returned it for a touchdown.  The Giants were held to 213 total yards, were only 2 of 10 on third downs, and had only 10 first downs for the entire game.

Yet the game was 14-14 until late in the first half, and the Patriots seemed totally out of sync on both sides of the ball.  They led, 14-0, but then surrendered two Giant touchdowns in 87 seconds in the second quarter.  What should have been a Patriot blowout was looking more like another Pats-Giants Super Bowl.  Instead of Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, you had Janoris Jenkins and David Mayo.  This game strongly resembled last week’s win at Washington; start slow, the underdog opponent hangs around too long, but then the scoreboard says “blowout” at game’s end.

Brady’s numbers belie the difficult evening he had most all game long.  He again was on the run more than he would like, and doesn’t look comfortable out there most of the time.  Perhaps the most ironic stat of the game was that Brady did get two touchdowns, but both of them were one-yard sneaks.  It marked the first time since 2011 that he had two rushing touchdowns in a game.  But he also threw still another interception; in trying to hit Edelman on a deep post pattern, he threw the ball outside instead of inside and Jenkins made the interception.

Still, the Patriots were able to stifle the Giants on both defense and special teams.  The first Patriot touchdown was scored on a first quarter blocked punt, as Brandon Bolden rushed in to block a Riley Dixon punt, and rookie linebacker Chase Winovich picked up the ball and ran it in six yards for a touchdown.  In the fourth quarter, Jones tried to hit Jon Hilliman in the right flat with a screen pass.  Hilliman was clobbered by Jamie Collins and fumbled the ball.  Kyle Van Noy picked it up and rambled 22 yards for a touchdown, diving for the pylon for the score which had to be granted on replay after the officials marked him out of bounds at the Giant 2.

Jones finished 15 of 31 passing for 161 yards, one touchdown, three picks, and a 35.2 passer rating.  Belichick once again showed how well he coaches against rookie quarterbacks.  Jones’ lone touchdown was on a 64-yard bomb to Golden Tate in the second quarter, a juggling catch despite good coverage by Jonathan Jones along the right sideline.  Tate took off for the end zone and shook off a tackle by Duron Harmon on his way to the house.

Tate led the Giants with six catches for 102 yards, but take away the 64-yard bomb and he had only 38 yards otherwise.  That still beats Darius Slayton’s 32 yards which was second best.  With Saquon Barkley still on the shelf, Hilliman led the Giants with only 38 yards rushing on 11 carries.  The turnovers helped, but these numbers still fall on the great play of the defense, albeit against a depleted Giant offensive unit which is only somewhat better with Barkley in there.

Sony Michel led the Patriots with 86 yards rushing, but most of that yardage was against a tired second half Giant defense.  The Patriots did manage 114 yards rushing as a team, with Bolden picking up some of the slack thanks to Rex Burkhead being an injury scratch.  Bolden had the other offensive touchdown, a one-yard rush early in the second quarter.

Twice the Patriots went for it on fourth down, and twice they were denied.  Two reasons for this were the wind, which was blowing north to south all game long, and the fact that Belichick obviously does not trust Mike Nugent, the replacement for the injured Stephen Gostkowski.  Nugent attempted one field goal, a 40-yard attempt into the wind in the third quarter at the end of the aforementioned 16-play drive.  From the right hashmark angled to the left, the ball sailed left and doinked off the left upright.  Holder Jake Bailey failed to get the laces in the right direction which contributed to the errant kick, but that won’t make Belichick feel any better or any more secure with his placekicking game right now.

The Patriots get a week and a half break before another match with the Jets a week from Sunday.  Sam Darnold, who has been bedridden with mononucleosis, might actually play in that game.  Two straight games against New York teams for Belichick will always get the coach’s attention, so the Patriots won’t go into this game unprepared.

Belichick gets emotional when he reminisces about his days as Giants defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells.  He credits that time with learning the game, learning the coaching element, and his love for the Mara family and giving him the chance to become the coach he is today.  But the Giants hung two heartbreaking Super Bowl losses on the Patriots, and of course, Belichick still hates the Jets with a passion.  7-0 will be terrific, but Belichick will be very dialed in over the next ten days.

So, as the Yankees continue their march towards the World Series, the New York football teams still look far inferior to the Super Bowl Champs.  Patriot Nation will take that, for sure.

Patriots May Be Flawed, But They’re Still Unbeaten

Bob George
October 7, 2019 at 9:28 am ET

LANDOVER (formerly RALJON), Md. – Sooner or later, the schedule will get tougher and there won’t be any “tomato can” teams that won’t exploit weaknesses anymore.

Actually, if you ask Tom Brady, he’s probably glad this game is over after being sacked four times and hurried for a big chunk of the game.  But Brady still managed big numbers despite still another end zone pick, and moved up the all-time passing yardage ladder in the process.  Brady has only four days to heal up, and at his age that may not be quite so easy or straightforward.

The Patriots made only their third trip ever to this little hamlet outside of our nation’s capital, the Community Formerly Known As Raljon, Maryland.  The Washington Redskins at one point won six straight meetings against the Patriots after a shocking 24-23 win by the then woebegone Patriots at Schaefer Stadium in their first meeting in 1972.  The Patriots have now won four straight against this former three-time Super Bowl champion franchise, coming away with a 33-7 win on Sunday at FedEx Field.  Despite the game being competitive in the first half, with the Patriots trailing in a game for the first time this season, the Patriots ran roughshod over the Redskins in the second half to prevent the outmanned home team from hanging around any longer than they should have.

But the Patriots have plenty to worry about moving forward.  Injuries affect all teams to some degree, but the Patriots are lucky to still be unbeaten despite all the owies they have suffered.  The offensive line is still suffering without David Andrews and Isaiah Wynn, and both tackles (Marshall Newhouse, Marcus Cannon) allowed sacks.  There was no running game until the second half.  Brady was running around all game long and threw more balls away than he would like to see.  Phillip Dorsett was an injury scratch.  Mike Nugent, who is kicking in place of the injured Stephen Gostkowski, began his Patriot career with a missed extra point.

But the Redskins are still the Redskins.  These are not the glory days of George Allen or Joe Gibbs anymore.  This is a bad team, playing in front of crowds that resemble Los Angeles crowds, meaning more fans rooting for the visitors than the home team.  Colt McCoy is the third string quarterback, but Case Keenum is injured and rookie Dwayne Haskins isn’t ready to step into the starter role yet.  That leaves the veteran journeyman McCoy, who has yet to replicate his Texas Longhorns glory days in the NFL.

McCoy was 18 of 27 passing for only 119 yards, was sacked six times, threw an interception and finished with a passer rating of 60.6.  He was under siege all game long, far worse than Brady.  The Patriot defense, which right now is the hallmark of this team, has not yet allowed a passing touchdown this season, and McCoy wasn’t going to make a dent in that record.  Chris Thompson, a running back, led the Skins with five catches, while Terry McLaurin, like Haskins a rookie from Ohio State, led the team with 51 receiving yards.

Washington led, unbelievably, 7-0 early on on a play you wlll never see again this year from the Patriot defense.  In the first quarter, on their second offensive possession, the Skins had the ball at their own 35, second down and 8.  Steven Sims Jr., a running back, lined up in the left slot, then took a handoff on a jet sweep right and turned the corner at the end of the formation.  A block on J.C. Jackson helped Sims get a first down.  But Sims managed to run through the entire McCourty family and streaked down the right sideline for 65 yards and a touchdown.  Both Devin and Jason whiffed on tackles as Sims literally ran right through them.

That would be it for Washington offensively.  That carry was Sims’ only rush of the afternoon.  The rest of the Washington backs rushed 19 times for 80 yards, just under four yards per carry.  After McLaurin’s 51 receiving yards, Thompson and Jeremy Sprinkle had 17 receiving yards each.

While the Patriots kept blitzing and harassing McCoy the rest of the afternoon, Brady eventually managed to make plenty of hay.  Brady finished with 28 of 42 passing for 348 yards and three touchdowns.  He had a passer rating of 106.1 despite throwing a pick in the second quarter.  From the Washington 12-yard line, Brady, under pressure, tried to hit James White in the left corner of the end zone, but was picked by Montae Nicholson.  Fortunately, the officials called him down at the one-yard line despite him falling back into the end zone for what seemingly looked like a touchback.

It didn’t matter.  Brady found Julian Edelman eight times for 110 yards and a touchdown.  Ryan Izzo and Brandon Bolden also hauled in touchdown passes, a telling element as to who wasn’t playing versus who was playing.  Josh Gordon had five catches for 59 yards, but still most of the time looks like a receiver who could use another stud or two out there to take some of the defensive pressure off him.  After a slow start, Sony Michel found some holes in the second half and finished with 91 yards rushing on 16 carries and a 5.7 average, the first time he has resembled his rookie form from last year.

Brady made some history in the third quarter.  He hit Edelman in the left seam for 15 yards, and with that pass he moved past Brett Favre for third most passing yards by a quarterback in NFL history.  He was within reach of second place Peyton Manning, but Brady spent half the fourth quarter on the bench in favor of Jarrett Stidham.  Manning will have to wait until the Patriots play his brother’s team Thursday night.

It’s a short week for the Patriots, who get the Giants on Thursday night.  Instead of Eli Manning and the awful memories that go along with facing him, rookie Daniel Jones will face the Patriots for the first time in his career.  Bill Belichick gets still another rookie quarterback to take to school, and the Patriot defense is playing at an astounding level to begin the season.  The Giants were spanked at home on Sunday by the squabbling Minnesota Vikings, so the Patriots will catch the Giants at a good time despite not much time to heal up and get ready to play.

It’s amazing to come to Washington and see how far the Redskins have fallen since their halcyon years.  Both Brady and Belichick praised all the Patriot fans who made it down there to see the game.  Given how many Sox fans show up at Camden Yards in nearby Baltimore each time, it’s a safe bet that most of the fans there came down on Amtrak versus Pats fans who happen to live in the area.  The demise of the Redskins makes even more remarkable the staying power of the current Patriot dynasty, given how great that team was from 1971 to about 1992.

And if you know the backstory behind why this area used to be known as “Raljon, Maryland”, my friend, you are really up on your NFL useless information.

Patriots Prevail In Buffalo Rock Fight

Bob George
September 29, 2019 at 9:02 pm ET

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – In the AFL days, and in the early 1970s, War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo was known as the “Rock Pile”.

It was called that largely because of the fans, who would bring coolers of beer and hibachis to the game.  Into the stadium, not just in the parking lot.  Drunk fans would throw bottles and cans of full beer at the players as they left the field.  Players kept their helmets on, and hoped that they would catch one of those beers thrown at them so they could enjoy a cold one on the way to the locker room.

If you have that kind of perspective, Sunday’s 16-10 win by the Patriots at New Era Stadium may have reminded you of those old days of the AFL.

The Patriots survived a dogged effort by the homestanding Buffalo Bills in front of a raucous crowd in western New York.  The Patriots remain undefeated at 4-0, and the defense continues to play at an astounding level.  But the Bills’ defense was equal to the task, and if the Bills had an offense that is ready for prime time, they would have won and won easily.

The Patriot offense, especially the passing game, was almost totally shut down.  What won the game for the Patriots was interceptions, quarterback sacks, bad game management by the Buffalo coaches, and a special teams touchdown.  It wasn’t Tom Brady, it wasn’t Sony Michel, it wasn’t Stephen Gostkowski.  You take the win, but the Patriots got out of town both very happy and very lucky.

Brady had his worst game of his career in a winning role.  His quarterback rating was only 45.9, the lowest of his career in a victory.  He had only 18 of 39 passing for 150 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception that was perhaps his worst throw of maybe the last 5 years.  James White led the Patriots with eight catches for 57 yards, but for most of the game Buffalo had all the Patriot passes smelt out and well, if not perfectly, defended.  Michel managed 63 rushing yards on 17 carries, not outstanding but not paltry either.

Basically, despite playing well enough on defense to win the game, Buffalo did more to lose this game than the Patriots did to win it.  Bills Nation has been lamenting this for many years.  They seem to play better, but they just can’t beat the Patriots.  If the Red Sox could eventually figure out how to beat the Yankees in the postseason, the Bills will eventually win games like this.  Sadly for the Buffalo fans, it’s not happening just yet.

Josh Allen showed flashes of the great quarterback he could be some day, but for much of the game, he was flummoxed by the Patriot defense.  He finished with 13 of 28 passing for 153 yards and three interceptions.  Most of the numbers he put up came following a Brady end zone interception, and he looked like he was getting into a rhythm until he was knocked out of the game early in the fourth quarter on a helmet to helmet hit by Jonathan Jones.

The game changed on that Brady interception.  Halfway through the second quarter, with the Patriots leading 13-0, the Patriots took over at their five-yard line.  Helped by a pass interference call on Tre’Davious White on Phillip Dorsett which netted 27 yards, the Patriots drove all the way to the Buffalo 2-yard line in 15 plays.  On third and goal, play 16 turned the entire game around.  Brady wanted to hit Josh Gordon with a fade pass in the left corner of the end zone, but he couldn’t get separation.  So Brady rolled to his right.  He had Jakobi Meyers and Julian Edelman in the right side of the end zone, but Brady missed both and instead hit Micah Hyde in the numbers in the end zone.  It was a worse throw than Jarrett Stidham’s pick-six last week.  The Bills outscored the Patriots 10-3 the rest of the way.

Part of the reason the Patriots had a 13-0 lead at that time was a blocked punt that went for a touchdown.  Midway through the first quarter, former Patriot punter Corey Bojorquez punted from his 33, but J.C. Jackson broke through and blocked the punt.  Matthew Slater picked up the loose ball and ran 11 yards for the score.  Despite the Bills looking good on defense in the early going, the Bills found themselves down 13-0.

Allen threw three interceptions, and his replacement Matt Barkley threw one.  Jackson had two of the picks, with Devin McCourty and Jamie Collins one each.  Jackson’s second pick midway through the third quarter was actually an incompletion, as the ball was touching the intended receiver, Zay Jones, while he was standing out of bounds before Jackson secured the catch, rendering the play an incomplete pass.  But even the replay crew in New York missed it and upheld the call on the field of interception.

The Bills hurt themselves in the fourth quarter by calling their final timeout early on in the final period.  The Bills are lucky that the Patriots didn’t have the power running game to run the clock later and had several chances to pull ahead, but were not able to convert, but not having time outs late in the game hurt them.

Allen finished with a passer rating of 24.0; Barkley was 9 of 16 for 127 yards and a rating of 56.0.

The one bright moment of the game for Buffalo was courtesy of Frank Gore.  In the second quarter, just shortly after the Brady end zone pick, Gore blasted up the middle for a 41-yard run, which put the future Hall of Famer over 15,000 yards for his career.  He joins Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders as the only running backs in NFL history to top 15,000 rushing yards for a career.  Gore finished with 109 yards rushing and a 6.4 per carry average.  He remains a physical marvel at 32 years of age, excelling at an age where most backs of that age are retired.

The Patriots had better hope that the league doesn’t have a new blueprint on how to stop their offense.  The Patriots no longer have Rob Gronkowski, who loved to excel in his former home territory.  They were only able to hang on to Antonio Brown for one game.  Edelman had sore ribs but was cleared to play, and his lack of production was telling.  Gordon, Dorsett and Meyers didn’t make up for that lack of production.  Brady could get nothing going all game long.  Granted, the Bills have played the Patriots tough over the last few years on defense, and perhaps other teams might not be able to duplicate this.  But you the Patriot fan might be just a little bit concerned.

Meanwhile, if Buffalo fans wanted to pelt the Bills with full beer cans at game’s end, shame on them.  Sooner or later, the Bills win games like this.

Patriots Continue Dominant Beginning Of Season

Bob George
September 23, 2019 at 8:08 am ET

FOXBOROUGH – Feminist Gloria Steinem became famous largely for her famous anti-men statement, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”

In Foxborough, it reads like this:  The Patriots without Antonio Brown is like a fish without a bicycle.

Lament his demise if you wish, but Sunday’s 30-14 win over the New York Jets on Sunday at Gillette Stadium further underscored how little they needed him.  The Patriots scored 63 points in two games without Brown, and 43 points with him, but 14 of those 43 points came on defensive touchdowns.  Brown, who was released on Friday when his menacing text messages aimed at a second woman who accused him of sexual harassment surfaced, turned out to be a luxury rather than an important element of the Patriot offense.

The only way that losing Brown turns out to be anything consequential is that if Julian Edelman misses significant playing time after leaving the game with a rib injury in the second quarter.  Late in the first half, Edelman took a quick dump pass in the right flat, then got blasted by Brian Poole and came right out of the game and went right to the locker room.  Edelman never returned, and the Patriot offense seemed to get stuck in neutral from that point on.

A late report said that x-rays on Edelman’s ribs were negative, which is certainly good news for the Patriots.

The Patriots scored touchdowns on their first three offensive possessions, but did not score again until the third quarter.  The Patriots managed ten points on two consecutive third quarter drives, then nothing for the rest of the game.  But with a big lead which eventually reached 30-0 against the offensively challenged Jets, running up big offensive numbers was not needed to win this game.

Once again, the Patriot defense carried the day with a terrific suffocation of a Jet offense which is LeVeon Bell and nothing else.  The Jets were forced to start a third string quarterback, Bell was held to 63 yards from scrimmage, Luke Falk was sacked five times, and the Jets did next to nothing at all offensively.  The final score says that the Jets scored 14 points, but those points came off uncharacteristic, if not fluky, turnovers by the Patriots.  The defense gave up nothing.  They shut out the Jets, held them under 100 yards through three quarters, and dominated a team they were expected to dominate.

Tom Brady had a great game probably without breaking a sweat.  He finished 28 of 42 passing for 306 yards, two touchdowns and a 103.9 passer rating.  It came a little harder for Brady to keep a rhythm after Edelman went out with his rib injury, but he basically ran things pretty easily and treated the Jets like the 0-3 team they are.

Particularly pleasing to the Patriots was the performance of Josh Gordon.  He made two leaping catches and led the Patriots with 83 receiving yards.  Gordon was targeted 11 times and made six catches, and at times seemed out of sync with Brady, but again showed the brilliance he is capable of.  Edelman led the Patriots with seven catches (62 yards) and a touchdown, while Philip Dorsett chipped in with 53 yards on six catches and a touchdown.

Another element regarding the offense was the absence of James White.  Following the lead from linebacker Kyle Van Noy a few weeks back, White missed the game because his wife was about to have a baby.  Wins are nice, but always family first.  Some players would never miss a game for these family reasons, but this is the second time this season a key starter missed a game for childbirth reasons.  While the phrase “in the fall, football players play football” echoes everywhere, nobody should complain about either player who wants to be there when a baby is born.

What will come under coaching scrutiny will be the two mistakes, both by rookies, that gave the Jets their 14 points.

At the tail end of the third quarter, the Jets had fourth and 24 at their own 49.  Lachlan Edwards punted the ball towards Gunnar Olszewski, who decided to make the catch at the Patriot 12.  But Olszewski muffed the catch, and the ball rolled backwards into the Patriot end zone.  The ball was covered by Arthur Maulet, and the Patriots surrendered their first touchdown since the 2018 AFC Championship Game at Kansas City, as well as their first points since the season opener against Pittsburgh.  Olszewski was not benched, as he was in there for every subsequent punt.

In the fourth quarter, Bill Belichick decided to put in rookie backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham.  On his first play, he hit Dorsett in the right flat for 11 yards for his first NFL completion.  He was sacked on the next play by Neville Hewitt for a seven-yard loss, then hit Rex Burkhead in the right flat for three yards.  On third and 14 at the Jet 48, Stidham had Brandon Bolden wide open in the right flat, but clearly overthrew him and Jamal Adams had an easy pick.  He bolted up the left sideline and took it 61 yards to the house.  Brady came back in for the next offensive series and played the rest of the game.

The final score will not adequately portray how dominant the Patriot defense was.  The Jets managed only 105 total yards for the entire game.  They had only six first downs and were 0-12 on third down conversions.  Again, against a depleted Jet offense, this is not astonishing.  But when you put up numbers like this against a team you were expected to do well against, it is still a good thing.  Falk finished with only 12 of 22 passing for 98 yards and a paltry 47.1 rating.  Braxton Berrios, who was with the Patriots in the preseason, led the Jets with 29 yards receiving.

The Patriots are 3-0 for the first time in three years, and next week travel to Buffalo to meet another 3-0 team.  They will be tested for the first time this year against a rejuvenated Bills team.  The Bills rallied late at home to beat Cincinnati on Sunday, setting up this battle of the unbeatens next week up in western New York.

The Patriots need to put Brown in the rearview mirror and move on.  On to Buffalo, and no more whining about Brown’s time here or his release on Friday.  If you bought a Brown jersey, remember the phrase caveat emptor (Latin for “let the buyer beware”) and build a bridge (and get over it).  He’s gone, deal with it.

And get ready for what should be a great game next Sunday at Buffalo.

Patriots Mauled and Embarrassed Dolphins

Bob George
September 16, 2019 at 8:36 am ET

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – All week long, the talk was about Antonio Brown.  He shoots his way out of Oakland, is picked up by the Patriots a minute later, and then gets hit with a federal civil lawsuit alleging rape and sexual assault.

Patriot Nation has a lot to think about regarding the signing of Brown.  The rest of the NFL has another problem to deal with, that being the Patriot defense.

The Miami Dolphins were blasted at home last week by the Baltimore Ravens, 59-10.  The immediate impression was that the Dolphins intend to tank the regular season, and get into a position to draft Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (or perhaps Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts or Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence), prompting several Miami players to contact their agents to try and get them traded away from the Dolphins.  The Patriots came into this game a 19-point favorite at Miami, a remarkable spread given how poorly the Patriots play here, and the fact that it is in hot and humid September, with the heat index at 100 degrees at kickoff.

No such problem for the Patriots.  The Patriots were able to withstand some offensive yips and substandard placekicking and still blast the Dolphins 43-0 at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday.  The Patriots shut out the Dolphins in Miami for the first time in franchise history.  Miami was held to 184 total team offensive yards and only 11 first downs for the entire game.  The Patriots picked off four passes, two of which went for pick-sixes.  If you picked the Patriot defense in fantasy football, you were rewarded with a whopping 35 points.

There were some interesting backstories in this game, but the overall feeling you get from this game is that this may be, barring injuries down the road, the best defense in Patriot history.  Combined with holding the Steelers to only 3 points last week, and the carryover from holding the Rams to 3 points in Super Bowl LIII, this defense is off and running and looking like a defense for the ages.  It is early, but the Patriot defense, especially minus Brian Flores, looks like a monster.

Flores, now the Miami head coach, may have been the target of some bad sportsmanship by Bill Belichick late in the game.  On the final offensive possession of the game for the Patriots, Belichick left Tom Brady in up 37-0 and needing only to run the ball and run out the clock.  Instead of what would have been a perfect time to indoctrinate Jarrett Stidham into some real game action, Brady was in there.

Brady lined up in the shotgun on some occasions, and he came out slinging as if it was the final moments of Super Bowl XXXVI.  The Patriots drove 59 yards in five plays, with Brady hitting a wide-open James White for a 10-yard screen pass for a touchdown to make it 43-0.  This was clearly an unnecessary touchdown, and it looked like running up the score.  Then on the ensuing drive, the last one for the Dolphins, keeping the shutout was a priority for the Patriots.  Belichick called time with 10 seconds left and the Dolphins at the Patriot 25.  Josh Rosen hit Jakeem Grant in the left flat for 17 yards, which nearly ended the game.  Flores called time with one second left.  On the final play, a tipped ball went to Jamie Collins to end the game and preserve the shutout, but the exchange of time outs by both coaches was also telling.

In his press conference, Belichick gruffly said “We play for sixty minutes.”  On a local postgame show, Bert Breer of Sports Illustrated opined that Belichick was more upset with Flores taking assistants with him (Chad O’Shea, Jerry Schuplinski) than he was with Flores simply going to Miami.  Belichick was in a difficult situation in the offseason with his coaching staff, not helped by the sudden retirement of new defensive coordinator Greg Schiano.  Belichick, as he has shown in past years, is easily angered by former players and coaches who seem to diss him on their way out the door, such as Eric Mangini when he bolted to the Jets and took assistants with him a decade ago.

Collins and Stephon Gilmore both had pick-sixes.  Both came in the fourth quarter on consecutive drives.  Gilmore jumped the route when Ryan Fitzpatrick tried to hit DeVante Parker in the right flat and took it 50 yards to the house.  On the next drive, Fitzpatrick hit Kalen Ballage in the left flat with a perfect throw, but the ball caromed off his stone fingers and landed in the arms of Collins.  He lumbered 69 yards for the score, and seemed to run out of gas after 50 yards of more running than he is used to.

Brady managed some good numbers nonetheless, despite an offensive line missing both starting tackles as the game went along.  Marcus Cannon was an injury scratch due to a sore shoulder, and Isaiah Wynn left the game in the first half with a sore foot.  But Brady finished with 20 of 28 passing for 264 yards, two touchdowns and a 124.7 rating.  He was sacked twice but otherwise looked in control and anything but a 42-year-old.  He spread the ball around nicely, hitting seven different receivers.

Brown started fast and had a good first half, but fizzled on a third quarter drive and wasn’t heard from again.  Brown led the Patriots with four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown, the scoring play coming in the second quarter on a nice timing throw to the left pylon with Brady releasing the ball before Brown made his hook, the play covering 20 yards.  He and Brady have a long way to go as far as chemistry, but for the first game, especially the first half, Brown deserves a lot of credit for looking so good so early in his Patriot career.

Stephen Gostkowski had a bad day with his placekicking.  He missed two extra points and a 48-yard field goal in the second quarter.  His kickoffs were all touchbacks, so the length is not lacking.  Historically Gostkowski kicks poorly here in Miami, so a bad game like this isn’t unexpected nor should be interpreted as a red flag.  But it is annoying at worst, someone of his pedigree consistently playing substandard here in Miami.

The last time the Patriots played in Florida in September, they were smacked around by Jacksonville last year, 31-20, on a hot and humid day worse than this.  For the Patriots to come down here in a stadium which has been inhospitable to them and weather that really bogs them down, to win 43-0 against an obviously bad Miami team is still a good thing.  They come home to the Jets next weekend, minus Sam Darnold who is ill with mononucleosis.  Assuming Brown survives this week and doesn’t get put on the commissioner exempt list, he will get a full week with Brady and everyone else, learning this offense in the process.

Meanwhile, Flores might tuck this loss away and plan for the day when he gets even.  It likely won’t be this year, but he won’t forget the last three minutes of this game.  He will remember this longer than he will anything Antonio Brown.

A Banner Evening For The Patriots Ends with a Beatdown Of the Steelers

Bob George
September 9, 2019 at 7:25 am ET

FOXBOROUGH – Never mind the banner.  The buzz around Foxborough is all about Antonio Brown, the newest Patriot reclamation project.

A comment was made on the NBC broadcast of Sunday night’s season opener between the Super Bowl Champion Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Cris Collinsworth mentioned that Brown “is probably at home watching the game on TV”, thinking to himself, “look what they’re doing without me”, and that “I guess I’d better try and fit in around here!”  Even if that turns out to be true, one thing is for sure.  The Patriots do not, absolutely, do not need Brown to be a championship team this year.

Because they throttled Brown’s former team, 33-3, without him.

The evening began with a ceremony that the Vegas Golden Knights would have been proud of, unveiling the sixth championship banner with as much drama and ceremony as was all over the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals.  It ended with the Patriots looking better than when we last saw them in February, and their suffocation of the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl.  For the second game in a row that meant something, the Patriots held their opponent to just a field goal, and the offense looks just terrific even minus the power running game which evolved at the end of last season.

Tom Brady, all of 42 years old now, finished 24 of 36 passing for 341 yards, three touchdowns and a 124.9 passer rating.  He threw two touchdown passes to Philip Dorsett and one to the most recent reclamation project, Josh Gordon.  Brady looks like anything but a 42-year old, and remains arguably the single most intriguing professional athlete on the planet.  He did it without much help at all from the rushing attack, especially Sony Michel, and looked totally unflappable all evening long against a team he usually does well against, especially at home in Foxborough.

Meanwhile, the defense allowed just the one field goal and surrendered only 308 total yards.  Ben Roethlisberger was 27 of 47 passing for 276 yards and a 65.6 passer rating.  He did complete passes to eight different receivers, but the Patriots did not allow any of them to dominate the game.  With Brown now a Patriot, JuJu Smith-Schuster is now the top passing target for Roethlisberger, and despite leading the team with six catches and 78 yards, he never got into a rhythm with his quarterback and was generally covered well by Stephon Gilmore.

Dorsett led the Patriots with 95 receiving yards.  His first touchdown came in the second quarter, a 25-yarder on a simple post pattern in the right seam.  Brady laid in a perfect toss, and Dorsett got two steps on his defender, Mike Hilton.  The throw was not a laser, but more of a touch pass that hit Dorsett right in the fingertips.  His second touchdown reception came in the third quarter and was the product of busted coverage by the Steeler secondary.  Brady took a shotgun snap and then lobbed a deep pass over the middle.  Steeler safety Kameron Kelly let Dorsett go, but there was nobody back there to pick him up.  Dorsett was completely wide open when he hauled in the 58-yard scoring toss.

Gordon got the Patriots on the board in the first quarter.  After the Patriots pulled off a nifty double pass with James White catching a 32-yard pass from Julian Edelman, Gordon lined up in the left slot at the Steeler 20.  He ran a crossing pattern left across the formation, caught the pass from Brady wide open, then took off to the corner of the end zone.  At about the 5-yard line he put a neat juke on Terrell Edmunds and shot into the end zone.  Gordon finished with three catches for 73 yards, but for all of Patriot Nation, seeing Gordon out there and contributing positively is perhaps better news than the Brown signing.

Saying that the Patriots had a limited rushing attack seems misleading given that the Patriots still managed 99 total yards rushing and averaged 3.4 yards a carry.  Rex Burkhead had 44 yards on eight carries, while White had 26 yards on four carries.  Only Michel found rough goings, with only 14 yards on 15 carries.  With the Patriots seemingly converting to a run-first offense, especially given the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, the fact that Brady carried the night against the Steelers is especially pleasing for all Patriot Nation to see.

The Patriots put the total clamps on the Steeler rushing attack, putting the game totally on Roethlisberger’s broad shoulders.  James Conner, the very capable replacement for LeVeon Bell, was held to 21 yards on 10 carries.  The Steelers only had 32 yards rushing as a team.

Perhaps the most telling moment as to how well the Patriot defense was playing came in the third quarter.  The Steelers took the second-half kickoff and drove all the way to the Patriot one-yard line, helped greatly by a 45-yard completion from Roethlisberger to James Washington.  On third and goal at the one, Roethlisberger tried to hit Donte Moncrief in the left corner of the end zone on a fade route, but overthrew him badly.  Steeler coach Mike Tomlin elected to not go for it on fourth down and settled for a 19-yard field goal by Chris Boswell.  The fact that Tomlin, trailing 20-0 at the time, wouldn’t go for it just one yard away from the end zone, speaks volumes over the mindset of the Steelers at that time.

Brady has never lost to the Steelers at home in his career.  Sunday night was certainly no exception, but one has to wonder if Tomlin was spooked due to his past failures at Gillette Stadium.  It behooved the Steelers to come away with a touchdown on the always critical first drive of the second half, and his settling for a field goal on fourth and goal at the one has to be very unsettling for Steeler fans on opening night.

The win pleased Bill Belichick very much.  At his postgame press conference, he was unusually effusive in his praise for his team, and gave kinder answers to the questions asked of him.  The only questions he flatly refused to answer were any questions related to Brown.  Otherwise, he looked upbeat and actually happy to address the media.  Even in victory, Belichick can sometimes be gruff and give either one-word answers or simply non-answers.  On Sunday night, even though he conceded that the Patriots do poorly in Miami (their next game) and that they have an important week ahead, the coach seemed to be content with Week One.

The fans celebrated Banner Number Six, then left for home early still very happy with the final score no longer in doubt.  The Patriots get a Dolphin squad next week down in hot and humid Miami, a Dolphin team with a new head coach named Brian Flores, but who got throttled by Baltimore on Sunday afternoon, 59-10.  Miami may be playing for a high draft pick for next year already, as was suggested on a local Boston sports program.  Belichick will have none of that, as he has already stated that the Patriots have trouble winning in Miami, and it’s even worse early in the year when it’s oppressive weather in Florida.

The Super Bowl champs are at least good on Week One.  Looking every bit like a championship team, celebrating like one, it was all there on Sunday night.  If they are to repeat this year, the Patriots are at least off to a great start.