Author Archives: Steve Balestrieri

Steve Balestrieri

About Steve Balestrieri

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

New England Patriots News 1-19, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 19, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-19 and AFC East notes this week. 

With the latest winter storm rolling through the area, it is a good time to relax and stay home and watch some playoff football, unfortunately, the Patriots aren’t involved in the conference championships for the first time in many years. 

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Tom Brady – It turns out, he didn’t move to Greenwich, and didn’t buy a house there, but wait, he’s moving as soon as his kids finish school now? Ugh, the next almost 60 days are going to be unbearable with this stuff. 

Stephon Gilmore – Congrats to the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Gilmore was outstanding all season long and was very much deserving of the honor. 

Ben Watson – One of the nicest guys to play the game announced that he played all season on a partially torn Achilles. Unbelievable toughness there. But it does beg the question…Are the Patriots going to get in trouble by not listing Watson on the injury report? We know other teams have seemingly fudged on it as well… but, this is NE.

Luke Keuchly – The excellent Panthers and BC linebacker announced his retirement at age 29. He along with Rob Gronkowski, Andrew Luck, and others are finishing their careers before they reach the age of 30. But premature retirement as some say? Keuchly’s eight-year stint is twice as long as the average player. But he’ll be missed. 

Jimmy Johnson – The former coach had a very emotional moment on the Fox broadcast when he was announced as being selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And then when they cut to Green Bay where Troy Aikman, who played for Johnson in Dallas was clearly moved by the news, it was an incredibly moving moment. Well deserved coach.

CBA – Don’t expect much movement on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Players Association and the Owners anytime soon. 

The league sent out a letter to all 32 teams stating that “[a] number of important issues remain to be resolved and we remain committed to the bargaining positions reviewed with you at the December meeting.”

Tre Roberson – The Patriots have brought in yet another ex-QB for a workout. Roberson was on the Vikings PS as a cornerback but has played in the CFL for the past two seasons. With Calgary in 2018, he won the Grey Cup and had 3 INTs. Last season he had seven INTs and returned a fumble 93-yards for a TD.  

4th & 2 Podcast – If you’ve haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, Please do check it out.  

Curious Timing With AH Docuseries or Coincidence:

I haven’t watched the Aaron Hernandez docuseries on Netflix yet, but judging from the reactions I’ve seen on social media, it has inflamed many of the same reactions it did when the news first broke about him being arrested for the murder of his friend, Odin Lloyd. Some were still outraged at him throwing away a promising career while others still have sympathy for him, mainly because of who he played for. 

I just find the timing of the release of this series a bit suspect. If the Patriots had won their last regular-season game, they’d have been playing the Chiefs at home last week, and this week could have been hosting the AFC Championship (a lot of ifs…to be sure). But don’t for a second think that that exact scenario didn’t enter the minds of the folks in charge of Netflix. It seems like every year, there pops up something in the middle of a playoff run…sorry folks. Your miniseries isn’t going to get near the attention it would have gotten if Brady and Co. were playing today. 

Belichick’s Staff Has Been Raided A Lot:  

Last week we wrote: “With every passing year, it always seems that Bill Belichick’s coaching staff is getting picked through as many of his coaches, move up and move on. The latest was STs Coordinator/WR coach Joe Judge.” 

We read a great bit from a good friend on Twitter @Patriots7thRing who posted that in the 20 years that Bill Belichick has been the Patriots coach, he’s had 54 assistants get poached from other teams in that timeframe. That’s nearly three per year. 

So the next time someone says that the only reason the Patriots win is that they cheat, then ask why the rest of the league is so anxious to hire his staff. This year, they lost ST’s Coordinator Joe Judge, while OC coordinator Josh McDaniels and Head of College Scouting Monti Ossenfort interviewed for open GM positions with the Cleveland Browns. 

 Speaking of Judge, he’s off to a good start. He retained excellent STs coach Thomas McGaughey and then he hired former Patriots assistant and Dolphins DC Patrick Graham to run the defense. On Friday, they signed former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett as their offensive coordinator. Say what you will about Garrett as a head coach. But he’s a very good coordinator and it will be interesting to see what he can with Daniel Jones.

Some Interesting Free Agents to Help the Passing Game:

The Patriots need some playmakers to help the passing game in 2020. Especially at tight end. The team needs an influx of playmakers to stretch the seams and attack the middle of the field. At wide receiver, they can really use a speedy wide receiver that can turn a 5-yard slant into a 55-yard touchdown. 

Here’s a look at some of the free-agent tight ends that will be available in March. I’d expect that the team may look at both free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft to restock the position. However, we thought that last year, so this is just spit-balling at this point. But the lack of production in 2019, pretty much concludes that something has to be done at the position. 

Austin Hooper – 2019 with the Falcons. Hooper is only 25 years old and had a really good year in Atlanta. He had 75 catches for 787 yards with 6 TDs. Hooper is more of a “move” tight end than a traditional in-line tight end. He isn’t a great blocker but for production, he’d be a great fit. Whether Atlanta lets him walk is another story.

Hunter Henry – 2019 with the Chargers. Henry is just 25 as well, he’s 6’6 and had 55 catches for 652 yards with 5 TDs. Again, he’s more of a receiving threat than a traditional blocking TE, but he’d be a great fit in the offense. 

Eric Ebron – 2019 with the Colts. Ebron had modest numbers this year, 31 catches, 375 yards with 3 TDs. But in 2018, he had 66 catches for 750 yards and 13 TDs. GM Chris Ballard made it clear that Indy was probably moving on, believing that the TE had regressed. Would it possible for the Patriots to make another run at O.J. Howard? Maybe, but they’ll have to convince Tampa Bay to let him go. 

Just a couple of wide receivers to look at right now, I’m sure they’ll have plenty of other targets at wideout. Several people are saying that the team will target A.J. Green in free agency, maybe, but I don’t think they’ll be interested…we’ll see. 

Robby Anderson – 2019 with the Jets. Anderson had 52 catches for 779 yards and 5 TDs in 2019. He’s just 26 and has that speed that the Patriots wide receivers lack. And he has the ability to put it to use. 

Emmanuel Sanders – 2019 with Broncos/49ers. Sanders is a player that the Patriots have coveted for some time. They tried to sign him a few years ago but the Steelers matched their offer. Although he’s 32, he’s still very productive. He had a combined 66 catches for 869 yards and 5 TDs this year. As a fit, absolutely. How much will it cost? That may be a show stopper. But definitely worth kicking the tires on. 

NFL Schedule Conference Championship Weekend, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. Here is the link if you’d care to pick your own: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/
Final Regular Season:162-93-1
Divisional  Weekend: 3-1

Conference Championship Round –

San Francisco over Green Bay – Aaron Rodgers hasn’t fared well on the road in general and especially against good teams. Facing teams at least six games over .500 on the road, he’s 0-7. Facing the #1 defense on the road…he’s 0-4. The Niners running game and their TE George Kittle should be the difference as well as their defense here.

Kansas City over Tennessee – This should be a very interesting matchup. The Titans won an earlier matchup 35-32 in Nashville when Derrick Henry rumbled for 188 yards. But Patrick Mahomes threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns. The Chiefs are at home and should present a tough matchup for the Titans defense. I believe Henry will keep the game close, and maybe close enough to win, but at home, I like the Chiefs to advance to Miami.

No AFC East Notes this week, we’ll have those back next week after the Conference Championships.

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Building the 2020 Patriots Roster, Where are the Biggest Needs?

Steve Balestrieri
January 17, 2020 at 7:00 am ET

The Patriots have a lot of work to do in the offseason and although the new league year doesn’t begin until March, their 2020 season starts now. They have to replace another coordinator (STs/WR coach Joe Judge) and perhaps their college scouting director (Monti Ossenfort) who is being interviewed for the open Cleveland Browns GM position.

Then there are a slew of the team’s free agents to decide upon. We’ll get to those in good time as we’ll take a look at where the team needs are. And a lot of what drives the train is always money. The Patriots have about $49 million to spend. It sounds like a lot. It is not. Especially when considering if the Patriots cut ties with Tom Brady is will cost them $13.5 million in dead money and a new contract will not come cheaply. 

So, let’s take a dive into the roster by position …as currently constructed and see where they’re at.

Quarterback: 

Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler
*Free agent: Tom Brady 

The Elephant in the room and all of the ridiculous (and it IS as ridiculous as it is maddening) drivel about non-existent homes in Greenwich, his luxury suite at Gillette and the amateur psychologists who became overnight experts at reading body language and hidden meaning in every word of his have gotten out of control.

Our feeling here hasn’t changed. We feel that Brady will return given that the Patriots don’t really want to ear $13.5 million bucks. Plus, there isn’t anyone on the roster that is a no-brainer to take over. Stidham may well be that guy, but we don’t know and haven’t seen him take a meaningful snap in months.  So until Bill Belichick or Brady comes out and definitely says he’s not returning, we’re going under the assumption he’ll be back.

Running Back:

Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, Damien Harris, Fullbacks James Develin, Jakob Johnson 

Here is where things can get interesting. The team is set here at running back. In fact they’re a little too deep. They could add $4 million in cap space by releasing Rex Burkhead. However, Burkhead was their most productive back down the stretch, as he was a year ago. But injuries always seem to cut into his season and the team just spent a good draft pick on Damien Harris. Burkhead is a guy to keep an eye on. 

Develin had a neck injury and those can be tough to come back from. Don’t be shocked if they add another fullback this spring.

Wide Receiver: 

Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Quincy Adeboyejo (future), Devin Ross (future)
*Free agent: Phillip Dorsett

The need for a speedy, reliable wide receiver here is critical. Edelman is going to be 34, Sanu will get all spring/summer to acclimate into the offense. Meyers and Harry will be fine. A lot of their issues had to do with overthinking things and that will be rectified in Year  2. Look for them to try to sign a fast, veteran outside wide receiver, possibly two and cut their ties with Dorsett. 

Tight End: 

Matt LaCosse Ryan Izzo
*Free agent: Ben Watson 

The most critical need of the Patriots, of the offense and the team overall. The offense really lacked a viable target down the seams all season.  Look for Ben Watson to retire and the team to double-dip here. Look for the team to sign a veteran free agent (Austin Hooper, Hunter Henry?) or try to swing a trade for an established veteran (O.J. Howard attempt again). And then address the need again with a young guy in the draft. 

Offensive Line:  

Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Korey Cunningham, Yodny Cajuste, Hjalte Froholdt, Najee Toran (future)
*Free agents: James Ferentz, Ted Karras, Marshall Newhouse, Joe Thuney, Jermaine Eluemunor (RFA) 

Another area of need. We heard through the grapevine that Marcus Cannon won’t be returning. If he doesn’t it will free up $5.8 million in cap space, despite him signing an extension last summer. Coupled with the unlikely scenario of Joe Thuney returning means the offensive line has a lot of work to do. 

Yodny Cajuste didn’t take a snap in either a game or practice last year. So, expecting him to just jump in and start is a very long shot. Is Froholdt going to be ready? Doubtful too. Look for the Patriots to bring back Karras and Eluemunor for sure and then address tackle and guard in either free agency or the draft. 

Defensive Line:  

Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Byron Cowart, Nick Thurman (future), Tashawn Bower (future)
*Free agents: Danny Shelton, Adam Butler (RFA), Keionta Davis (ERFA) 

Look for the team to attempt to bring back Shelton and Butler. But they’d still need at least another big run stuffer and a defensive end that can rush the QB. 

Linebacker:  

Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers, Brandon King, Terez Hall (future)
*Free agents: Shilique Calhoun, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy 

Winovich should be in line for a big uptick in snaps this season. He’s more of a pass rusher than a coverage guy and I’d expect he’ll be tasked with filling the big shoes of Van Noy. I don’t expect Van Noy back this year, he’s in line for a big payday. I do expect them to make a push to bring back both Collins and Roberts. 

Calhoun may come back and flashed some potential. Rivers is going to have to have a big spring or he may not even be around for training camp.  Retooling Hightower’s contract could free up some space.

Cornerback: 

Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Justin Bethel, D’Angelo Ross 

The Patriots are in great shape here. With Gilmore, Jackson, and Jones, they have three starting corners who excel at their position. Williams played sparingly in his rookie season and could be ready for a big uptick in snaps. That could put McCourty on the block. If the team were to release him, they’d save an additional $3.8 million.  Also, reworking Gilmore’s contract could free up some cap space

Safety: 

Patrick Chung Duron Harmon Terrence Brooks Obi Melifonwu (future) Malik Gant Adarius Pickett (future)
*Free agent: Devin McCourty 

Big decisions loom here. McCourty arguably had the best season of his career in 2019 and would normally be ready for a big payday. But he’s 33 and with both he and Chung are getting older, the team needs to begin to address the future. Harmon has ostensibly been a starter for several years. Gant flashed a bit in camp last year while Brooks played well. I’d expect they’ll try to bring back McCourty for one more year, but it is time to bring in some younger players and get them groomed for down the road.  

Special Teams:  

K Stephen Gostkowski P Jake Bailey LS Joe Cardona
*Free agents: Nick Folk, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Justin Bethel 

I don’t see the team bringing Folk back and I think they’ll bring in another kicker for competition with Gostkowski this summer. Matthew Slater is the gold standard for special teams players. I expect the team to bring him back and to make an effort to bring back both Ebner and Bethel.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

New England Patriots News 01-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 12, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-12 and AFC East notes this week. 

With the Patriots out of the playoffs, it is strange without a football game to play in the divisional round. It is a reminder to how blessed we’ve been around here since Belichick and Brady took over the playoff landscape in 2001. 

There are a lot of variables in play this year and the 2020 team may look quite different. But don’t be throwing dirt on this team just yet. 

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Tom Brady – The Patriots QB (and yes…he still is until we hear different) addressed his Instagram post from earlier this week on the Westwood One radio show with Jim Gray. Brady spoke about his comment that he still has a lot to prove in this league. 

 “Well, it’s always been proving it to myself. and being motivated internally to push myself to the limits,” Brady said. 

“And sometimes the limits push back, I’ve experienced that, but I also think I’m inspired by so many people who push the limits. You know, I watch a lot of movies, I love watching documentaries of incredible human feats, and they’re inspiring when people climb these mountains and do things… things people never thought were possible,” he added. 

“And I’m at a certain point in my career where people think what I’m doing is, to a degree, impossible. For me, it’s about continuing to prove to myself that I can lay it all on the line and we can still try to achieve the ultimate goal, which is winning Super Bowls.”

Brady added a quote about his contract status with Gray, stating, “The contract things, a week after the season, I would say these things haven’t even started to pick up. It’s really not my concern at this point,” he said.

Andy Dalton – Really? Bart Scott started this Dalton to NE narrative, with no real basis but then a few others in print and on the air…say “it is a fit” For whom? And now it is being reported as a possibility. Yeah right, and Bill may hire me as a coach on the special teams too. 

Julian Edelman – The Patriots WR needs surgery on both his shoulder and knee but we thought that a while ago. But Edelman is (not surprisingly), the Patriots 2019 recipient of the 2019 Ed Block Courage Award. The honor is bestowed annually upon a player who best exemplifies the principles of courage and sportsmanship while also serving as a source of inspiration. Watching him play through those injuries this year, that honor is no surprise… Well deserved.

4th & 2 Podcast – If you’ve haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, Please do check it out.  

Joe Judge Takes Over the Giants: 

With every passing year, it always seems that Bill Belichick’s coaching staff is getting picked through as many of his coaches, move up and move on. The latest was STs Coordinator/WR coach Joe Judge. 

When we heard he was being interviewed for the Giants’ open head coaching position, we put him pretty low on the possibility chart of getting the nod. We were wrong. Judge dazzled the Giants owner John Mara during the interview and got the job. Having worked for both Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, Judge got to learn from some of the best. 

But while he takes some of the same philosophies from his mentors, he is definitely his own man. Anyone who watched him in the spring/summer workouts would see that. And in his introductory press conference, despite what some hot takez bobos have said, he nailed it. 

“I want teachers, not presenters,” Judge said of his coaching staff. “I don’t want someone who looks fancy in front of the screen that can say it with a lot of different sales lines. I want teachers, I want old school people who can get to our players and give them the mental image of what it’s supposed to look like. I want them to demonstrate on a daily basis the work ethic of what it’s going to take to do it successfully day in and day out.”

Judge has his work cut out for him and although he retained his excellent STs coordinator Thomas McGaughey, he still needs an offensive coordinator that can work with young QB Daniel Jones and a defensive coordinator that will be aggressive. They’ve asked to speak with Dolphins’ DC Patrick Graham. But he’s off to a good start. 

McDaniels Spends Seven Hours Interviewing for Browns Job:

The Cleveland Browns vacant head coaching position is still open as of Saturday evening… but perhaps the Browns saved the best for last. Josh McDaniels was the last candidate to interview and he and his wife spent seven hours at the Browns HQs. 

The other candidates are Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski, Bills OC Brian Daboll, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Eagles DC Jim Schwartz. Cleveland is clearly taking their time and doing their due diligence and are willing to take their time. 

Whoever does get the job will have to work the analytics team of Paul DePodesta closely. They’ll have a say in coaching and personnel decisions. McDaniels is from the area and would no doubt try to bring some more New England people with him. One name being thrown about is Director of Pro Player Personnel Dave Ziegler who may become a candidate for the vacant GM job. 

McDaniels was a huge fan of Baker Mayfield when he came out in the NFL Draft and visited with him three days before the draft while urging the Patriots to move up and take the QB. It will be intriguing to see if McDaniels gets the job, who the next Offensive Coordinator of the Patriots will be. The Browns are expected to make their decision within the next few days. 

NFL Schedule Divisional Weekend, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. Here is the link if you’d care to pick your own: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/

Last Week:8-8
Final Regular Season:162-93-1
Wild Card Weekend: 1-3

Divisional Round –
Saturday – San Francisco over Minnesota
Baltimore over Tennessee
Sunday –  Kansas City over Houston
Green Bay over Seattle

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Daboll A Browns Coaching Candidate:

The Buffalo Bills Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll is one of the candidates for the vacant Cleveland Browns head coaching position. While Buffalo’s offense remains very much a work in progress, it is easy to see how Daboll is changing the offense from the awful unit that it was a few years ago to one that is definitely on the upswing.

Daboll’s good work begins with QB Josh Allen, who made big strides in Year 2 and is trending upward. Buffalo’s offense still has a long way to go, but if they lose Daboll, it may set them back. 

Also on the Browns’ radar is assistant GM Joe Schoen who is one of the candidates for Cleveland’s vacant GM position.  

Dolphins DC Graham May Be the Giants Choice for DC:

The Miami Dolphins were rebuilding in 2019 but finished strong going 5-4 down the stretch. But now the New York Giants have requested to speak to Miami’s DC Patrick Graham. The Giants new coach Joe Judge would like to add Graham to his staff as the Defensive Coordinator, a lateral transfer. 

Graham coached with the Giants in 2016-17. Miami has already fired OC Chad O’Shea and if they lose Graham, they will be putting a lot of pressure on Head Coach Brian Flores to rebuild his team and start from scratch with his coordinators. 

With Flores trying to build a winning culture into the program, losing both coordinators after just one season would not be the best scenario for Flores. 

Jets Darnold Has Thumb Surgery:

The New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold was banged up physically in his sophomore season, and he had some needed surgery to repair the damage the toll of the 2019 season did to him. 

Darnold underwent a surgical procedure Tuesday to repair a ligament in his left thumb. The surgery was performed by the Jets team doctors, and he should be ready to go when the Jets begin their offseason workouts.

Darnold had to deal with this thumb injury for the final two months of the season. He originally injured it in a loss to the Jaguars on Oct. 27. However, he played through it and wore a brace under a glove on his left, non-throwing hand.

________________

Honestly, look, I know it’s out there, just like there’s a lot of other things out there. We could bring up 50 questions just like that one, and I told you what my state is on that. You can ask all 50 of them and it’s going to be the same answer 50 times, Ben. We’ve been working on Tennessee, it’s 12 hours after the game, not going to talk a lot of things about the future because it’s not – I’m not prepared to talk about it.” Bill Belichick on if he’d like to have some clarity on Tom Brady’s situation. 

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots Free Agents Will Demand Several Important Decisions

Steve Balestrieri
January 7, 2020 at 1:12 pm ET

A look at the Patriots impending free agents shows that the team will be forced to make several very important decisions moving forward. There are several key players, especially on the defense that will require the team to decide whether to bring back those players or not once the new league year begins in March. 

The biggest question the Patriots have right now is are they all-in for another big push for a 7th Super Bowl, or is this a rebuilding year, where they break it down and start anew. Much of that answer will have to do with the first name on the list.

If he returns then it would most certainly mean that they’re planning on retooling for another run. The team has already lost STs/WR coach Joe Judge who is the new head coach of the New York Giants. That is the first big domino to fall.

First, here is a look at the Patriots free agents in 2020: 

Tom Brady
Devin McCourty
Kyle Van Noy
Matthew Slater
Phillip Dorsett
Nate Ebner
Jamie Collins
Danny Shelton
Nick Folk
Marshall Newhouse
Joe Thuney
Ben Watson
Shilique Calhoun
James Ferentz
Ted Karras
Elandon Roberts

Three players will be restricted free agents:
Keionta Davis
Jermaine Eluemunor
Adam Butler

Obviously, a lot hinges on Brady’s status. Are the Patriots going to bring him back for one more year? From a monetary standpoint, it would be beneficial to do so, if Brady leaves, the Patriots are on the hook for $13.5 million. Can the two sides work out fair compensation for both parties, but still allow them to retool and add enough weapons? 

This is the big one. Because if Brady returns (and we think he will), then they may feel they only lack a player or two to make another run. While they start the new year with seemingly plenty of cap space, a new Brady contract will eat a lot of that up. If they decide to move on from Brady, does this mean Jarrett Stidham is the man? And if so, does the offense change too? Interesting times ahead.

So who goes? I think that Kyle Van Noy will command a lot of cash in free agency and has earned his payday, with 6.5 sacks, 14 QB hits, and a team-leading 58 QB pressures. No one else had more than 33. I think he’s gone. 

Joe Thuney will be one of the most sought-after guards in free agency.  He earned 2nd team All-Pro and has never missed a game…he’s gone too as he’ll get a big payday.

Jamie Collins came back to NE on a one-year prove-it type deal and he had an outstanding start to the season. While he finished quietly, what he showed early this season should earn him a healthy payday. His type of athleticism can’t be taught. 

Phillip Dorsett is a popular guy in the locker room, but after a very nice start to the season, he disappeared down the stretch with three catches in the final five games of the season and had only 29 catches on the year. I’d be surprised if he comes back.

Ben Watson came out of retirement to play for the Patriots one more time this season. He was released early but brought back and handled it the way he always has, with class. One of the nicest people to play the game, he had a disappointing season but still led all NE tight ends in receptions. He is likely to retire again, judging from his postgame comments. 

One of the toughest calls to make will be with Devin McCourty, a team leader on and off the field, McCourty had arguably his best season with the Patriots in 2019. His age and the amount of money it will take to bring him back will make it a difficult proposition. It may get compounded by if the team decides to cut ties with his brother Jason. I think they’ll try to work out a deal with him to stay for one more year. But if one of his former coaches wows him with a big-money deal, who knows?

Danny Shelton went from a healthy scratch late in the 2018 season to one of the team’s most important defensive linemen. He and Lawrence Guy were outstanding this season in the interior as run stuffers. 

Matthew Slater is a borderline Hall of Famer for Special Teams, a team captain and a huge veteran presence in the locker room. Any signs of aging in this 12th season at age 34? Not a bit. He was a 1st team All-Pro this year. It would be a huge surprise not to see Slater back in 2020. 

Elandon Roberts’ snaps went to a career-low defensively this season but if anything he’s improved his stock with the team. With James Develin and Jakob Johnson on IR, Roberts stepped up and played fullback and did a very commendable job. Belichick loves versatile guys who put the team first. 

Nate Ebner is a Belichick guy, a tough as nails STs guy, one of the better STs guys in the league… Will he back? Belichick wore his rugby jersey at joint TC practice with the Saints a few years ago…any questions?

Nick Folk stepped in (twice) for the Patriots this year with Stephen Gostkowski on IR and played pretty well. The only FG he missed was blocked. Gostkowski’s status may have a play in this, but the feeling is here, they’ll move on but keep his number just in case.

Marshall Newhouse started nine games this season, eight at LT for Isaiah Wynn, one for Marcus Cannon at RT. He’s played for seven teams in his career and is now 31. We’ll have to see how the Patriots feel about the return of Yodny Cajuste but the feeling here is they’ll let Newhouse walk. 

Ted Karras filled in for David Andrews all year at center, when the veteran suffered from blood clots in his lungs. Can Andrews even return to football this year? I think Karras returns and will battle for a guard spot if Thuney leaves and Andrews returns or is the team’s center if he doesn’t. James Ferentz is a backup interior lineman and won’t break the bank to get to return. He did make two starts this year inside. It will be interesting to see how Hjalte Froholdt works out. 

Shalique Calhoun is a situational pass rusher and he played in 15 games this year, at times pretty well. If the money’s right, he’ll be back. Ditto for Keionta Davis who spent the entire season on IR.

Adam Butler should be brought back. He notched six sacks, nine QB hits, eight tackles for loss and five passes knocked down as an interior situational pass rusher. Great depth guy who can step up when needed. 

Jermaine Eluemunor is an interior OL who the Patriots traded a 4th round draft pick for this summer. He only played a handful of snaps this year and was a healthy scratch for most of the season. It shouldn’t break the bank for him as well. 

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New England Patriots News 01-05, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 5, 2020 at 7:14 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-05 and AFC East notes this week. 

With the Patriots eliminated from the playoffs by the Titans, it marks the first time they won’t be in an AFC Championship Game since the 2010 season when the Jets beat them in the divisional round.  

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Richard Seymour – The former Patriot defensive lineman is once again a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Big Sey is more than deserving and he was truly dominant in the middle of the Patriots defense and was an integral part of three Super Bowl championships here in New England. 

Here’s hoping that he gets the call from Canton and will be wearing a gold jacket this summer.

Julian Edelman – ThePatriots wide receiver always has some great video content that he drops on the fans before big games and this week was no exception. The video that he posted this week was one of his best and Patriots fans, if you haven’t seen it yet, should check it out.

Tom Brady – Not to be outdone, Tom Brady had an even better one, narrated by Christopher Walken… the only thing missing was the quote from Man on Fire, “he’s about to paint his masterpiece”….

Antonio Brown – Took to Instagram to take a shot at the Patriots and Bill Belichick. With the Patriots losing he tweeted a picture of he and Belichick hugging with the hashtag  “What Could Of Been #YouChangedOnMe, #LookAtMeNow, #ABForPresident.”

4th & 2 Podcast – If you’ve haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, Please do check it out.  

Brady Puts Retirement Speculation At “Pretty Unlikely”: 

With the game winding down against the Titans, the talk picked up, which had talked about all week ad nauseam “Is this the last game for Tom Brady with the Patriots?” And it took Brady all of about five seconds to be asked that if he was going to return.

“Just very grateful for the experience playing this year for the team, this organization, and over the course of my career, too. I appreciate it. I hope I’ve always tried to do the right thing out there. Who knows what the future holds? So I’ll leave it at that.”

“I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said, “and I’m not going to predict it. And no one needs to make choices at this point. I love playing football. I love playing football for this team. I’ve loved playing for this team for two decades and winning a lot of games. And again, I don’t know what it looks like moving forward, so we’ll just take it day by day.”

We won’t really know anything for the next two months because Brady doesn’t become a free agent until March. But at this point, it would make no sense for the Patriots to move on from him unless they feel Jarrett Stidham was ready to be the next Brady. With a better receiving core around him in 2020, there is no reason the Patriots can’t be right back in the mix. But there is a slew of other free agents to make decisions on as well. 

NFL Releases Non-Statement on Video Taping Flap:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in Timbuktu, you’ll have noticed the NFL has been once again dragging its collective feet when it comes to an investigation regarding the Patriots. ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to release the NFL statement that they’re continuing this latest flap. “The investigation is ongoing and there has been no discussion of any potential discipline. Any suggestion of potential discipline or a timeline on an announcement is pure speculation.”

Last week, it was widely reported that “NFL investigators were frustrated that attempts to link the video crew with football operations”, think about that for a second. Instead of investigating whether there was a link or not. They were frustrated that there wasn’t. 

While Schefter posted this statement, he also did a 180 and speculated on possible punishment by listing infractions by Cleveland and Atlanta that all had to do with football operations. Hmm, think he knows something?

NFL Schedule Wildcard Weekend, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. I did it on our weekly Sunday column here and will post it up below. Here is the link if you’d care to pick your own: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/

Last Week:8-8
Final Regular Season:162-93-1
Wild Card Weekend:

Saturday – Buffalo over Houston 
Tennessee over New England 1-1
Sunday –  New Orleans over Minnesota
Philadelphia over Seattle

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Miss Golden Opportunity to Advance:

The Buffalo Bills had dominated their road playoff game against the Houston Texans for better than 40 minutes, where it appeared they were destined to win and move on. But everything changed in an instant and they went home frustrated and still winless in the postseason since 1995. The Bills lost to Houston in overtime 22-19.

“We had opportunities to win the game and we came up short,” said coach Sean McDermott. “Not an easy thing, not an easy pill to swallow this time of year. A lot of pain in that locker room.”

The Bills had everything going their way until a sack by JJ Watt that forced Buffalo to kick a field goal to go up 16-0 lit a fire in the Houston sideline. If Buffalo goes up 20-0 there it is likely game over. But it woke up the Texans offense who were dead until then but were on fire after that. 

Still, the chances were there in overtime, they stopped Houston and were moving toward a game-winning field goal when they were stopped by a bad penalty. Then two huge breakdowns by their normally outstanding defense put the Texans in chip shot field goal range. It was a tough, tough loss for a team that is trending upwards. 

Dolphins #1 Need in 2020? A Franchise QB:

The Miami Dolphins started the season 0-7 and were embarrassed early in the season which had some wondering if they would tank the season for Tua. But Brian Flores wasn’t interested in the #1 pick and his players believed in him and what he’s trying to build in South Beach. The Dolphins finished 5-4 down the stretch and are still in decent position in the draft. 

With plenty of cash under the cap, the Dolphins need to decide if one of these QBs coming out is a guy they feel they can build their team around for the next decade. Josh Rosen obviously isn’t going to be that guy, but veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick has more than showed enough for Flores that he can be the steady veteran presence that can be a bridge until whoever they decide on is ready to go. 

Free-spending Jets Back to Square One:

The New York Jets parted ways with former GM Mike Maccagnan last June, but not before he spent a boatload of money in free agency. Now, GM Joe Douglas is put in the same position the Jets were in for the past several years. They have holes abounding in their roster and have a lot of free agents hitting the market. 

But the Jets really need help along the offensive line where they could use three new starters, in the secondary, and at edge rusher. Although they have about $60 million in cap space with potentially a third more if they cut some contracts, they have 22 free agents of their own this spring. And two of them are going to command some big money.

Safety Jamal Adams won’t come cheaply this spring and although he’s not a free agent yet, the time to resign him is now before he hits the market. He’s slated to make $3.5 million in 2020 and will be looking for a new deal. How much?  I think the Jets would begin with how much Landon Collins got (6-year, $84 million, $44.5 million guaranteed) as the starting spot. That won’t be bargain-basement territory.

Neither will WR Robby Anderson, who has the speed that all teams are coveting these days. At only 26 and with 52 catches in 2019, he’s a guy who can play, but at what cost? If I’m the Patriots, I’d kick the tires on Anderson if he hits the open market. A 6’3 WR with speed is a good thing to have.

________________

We gave up 14 points tonight but in this game, it was too much. Weren’t able to get the ball back at the end. There were a lot of good things, but just not quite good enough tonight and that’s what it was. I have a ton of respect for this football team, these guys competed all year, everybody, all three units. We played hard and just came up a little bit short tonight. Bill Belichick on the play of the defense in the second half. It was somewhat telling when Belichick said 14 points was too much. 

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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Titans, Henry Boot Patriots From Postseason 20-13

Steve Balestrieri
at 12:09 am ET

The Tennessee Titans behind a crushing running game of Derrick Henry who rushed for 182 yards and a tough defense smothered the Patriots and will move on in the playoffs, knocking off New England 20-13.

The Patriots will not play in the AFC Championship Game for the 1st time since the 2010 season when they lost to the Jets in the Divisional Round. The Patriots offense failed them when they needed it the most. After moving the ball well and scoring 10 points early, the offense, as it had done often in the second half of the season sputtered and fell flat. 

But the Titans behind Henry was the story of the game. Henry had 204 of the Titans 272 yards from scrimmage. And he had 182 of the Titans 201 rushing yards. And the Patriots failure in the red zone was once a big part of the outcome. After taking the opening kickoff and driving the ball down to the Tennessee 18-yard line they stalled and had to settle for a field goal.

Tennessee’s first possession featured Henry gashing the Patriots run defense for 44 yards. When Pat Chung injured his ankle, the Titans went right after Terrance Brooks and Ryan Tannehill hit a touchdown pass to tight end Anthony Firsker for 12 yards and put Tennessee up 7-0. 

Brady then led another nice drive and this time they would finish. Sony Michel had a big 25-yard run. Brady then hit Ben Watson for 11 and they were in business. From the five-yard line, Julian Edelman ran a jet sweep early in the 2nd quarter and scored easily to put New England up 10-7.

After stopping the Titans twice, the Patriots had the momentum and a nice …and rare punt return from Mohamad Sanu put the team at the Titans 47. The team moved easily and when Brady hit Rex Burkhead with a screen, it looked like he would score. But the Titans stopped him at the one. That’s when the game turned. Three times the Patriots ran the ball, Michel lost a yard, Burkhead gained a yard and Michel lost a yard again. The Titans regained the initiative and wouldn’t give it back. The field goal made the score 13-7.

Once again, bad situational football doomed the team. Henry ran for 29 yards on first down and he gashed the Patriots on the ground and got them to the New England 23. Then he caught a 22-yard screen pass down to the one. He’d power it in to give Tennessee a 14-13 halftime lead. 

The Patriots were shut out in the 2nd half and as we’ve seen so many times this season, a big gain was wiped out by a penalty. Brady connected with Watson for 38 yards but Shaq Mason was called for being illegally downfield. 

Tannehill got pressured early in the 4th quarter and throwing off his back foot, had the pass sail and die where Duron Harmon picked it off. 

With a final chance to move from their 11, with 4:32 to go. Brady hit James White for 20 yards but they would stall and opt to punt with 3:30 to go on 4th and 6. The killer was on 2nd down when Julian Edelman was wide open and dropped a pass that would have moved the sticks.

The Titans held the ball and punted with just about 20 seconds to go. Brett Kern hit a beauty and it rolled and died at the Patriots one. And in a fitting way to end the season, Brady’s pass bounced off of a receiver’s hands right to the Logan Ryan who returned it for a pick-six. Ball game 20-13 Titans and they move on to Baltimore. 

A very disappointing end to what promised to be another special season. The offense, specifically the passing game needs an overhaul. We’ll go over that later but for now, the Patriots season is over and they had plenty of opportunities right in front of them but couldn’t convert.

 

Patriots-Titans Wild Card Game, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge

Steve Balestrieri
January 3, 2020 at 7:35 am ET

The Patriots are at home against the Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card game of the 2019 NFL Playoffs. The Patriots (12-4) are the #3 seed while the Titans (9-7) are the #6 seed in the AFC. 

The Patriots have been outstanding at home in the playoffs and have won a playoff game for an NFL record eight years in a row. 

The Patriots were five and a half minutes away from a bye week if they held on to beat the Dolphins last week but that loss knocked them into the Wild Card weekend. Tennessee has been very good since installing Ryan Tannehill in at quarterback. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and have scored at least 20 points in their last seven. 

However, he will be making his first postseason start while Tom Brady will be making his 41st career start in the postseason. 

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.  

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Titans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tennessee

The Patriots running game has taken off in the past three games against Cincinnati, Buffalo, and Miami giving them something to build off of. For much of the season, they were stuck in neutral due to injuries and subpar play along the offensive line. But that part of the equation has ratcheted up and the backs, Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead have looked much better and more explosive lately. 

The Titans are solid against the run coming in at #12 in yards against and #7 in yards per carry. They have the big guys upfront DaQuan Jones in the middle, with Jeffery Simmons and Jurrell Casey on the ends in their 3-4. 

The Patriots need to establish the run early to get their passing game going and I expect Michel, Burkhead, and James White will get plenty of work. But I also expect former Patriots coaches Mike Vrable and DC Dean Pees to take a page out of Miami’s book and cheat the linebackers up and run blitz to disrupt the running game and dare the Patriots to beat them in the middle of the field with the tight ends.         

Patriots WRs vs Titans Secondary – Razor’s Edge Tennessee

The Patriots passing game has had issues most of the season and while people will talk about Tom Brady’s decline, after Julian Edelman (100 catches) the next wide receiver in production of Phillip Dorsett with 29 catches. The tight ends have been disappointing in their production as well. Brady has had to rely on the consistent but banged up Edelman and James White (72 receptions) out of the backfield. 

The Titans pass defense isn’t great and finished at #24 in the league allowing 255 yards per game. With corners Logan Ryan and Adoree Jackson, safeties Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro they have a good group but they miss former Patriot Malcolm Butler who is on IR. 

The Patriots need everyone to step up this week and that includes the tight ends, who have to occupy the middle of the field. Tennessee has 43 sacks on the year, which is led by Harold Landry with nine. They can get after the QB and we’d expect some blitz action on third downs as Pees will mix things up. Protection for Brady, like always is key here. 

Next up the Titans offense:

Titans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tennessee

The Patriots run defense with Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton has continued to play outstanding football and have been excellent at slowing or stopping the run at the point of attack and allowing the linebackers to make plays. 

Tennessee has Derrick Henry who led the NFL with 1540 yards, an average of 5.0 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was a big reason they were so successful down the stretch. Dion Lewis is their #2 back who can run or catch out of the backfield. QB Ryan Tannehill is very mobile and can run as well.

A big key for the Patriots is not only to slow Henry at the point of attack but setting the edge here as well. If Henry gets to the edge, bad things will happen for the Patriots defense. The defense has had some issues with big backs this season, Frank Gore, Nick Chubb, and Joe Mixon have all given them problems. On a short week with several players less than 100 percent, this could be problematic.  

Titans WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

The Tennessee passing attack has thrived under Ryan Tannehill who has played outstanding since taking over and getting out of Miami for a fresh start. Tannehill easily had the most impressive season in his career, completing 70 percent of his passes with a QB rating of 117.5 since taking over. He threw 22 TDs and just six INTs. 

Tannehill has several good weapons at his disposal. Rookie WR A.J. Brown, Corey Davis (who roasted the Patriots for 125 yards last season) and two good tight ends in Jonnu Smith and Andrew Firkser with Dion Lewis out of the backfield. 

The Patriots pass defense (until last week) was outstanding all season allowing just 180 yards per game It will be interesting to see if the Patriots decide to use Gilmore on Brown or Davis. With both Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones hobbling with groin injuries it cuts down on their depth. Tannehill won’t have slot WR Adam Humphries who is out with an injury. 

The pass rush, so dominant earlier this season has to ratchet it up now. The Patriots had 47 sacks but in the past few games, they’re just not getting home, just missing with the sacks. The Titans allowed a whopping 56 this season, and this is an area that the Patriots have to exploit or it could be a long night for the defense. Look for a similar gameplan like Kansas City where the Patriots try to keep everything in front of them.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots special teams have been a big bright spot with four blocked punts and outstanding coverage. Nick Folk now has the team confident that he can consistently make field goals and extra points. Jake Bailey had a terrific rookie season with 36 punts downed inside the 20. 

The Titans like New England have gone through four kickers this season. Greg Joseph took over for the injured Ryan Succop two weeks ago and hasn’t attempted a field goal yet. Punter Brett Kern had an outstanding season averaging 47.1 yards per punt with 37 inside the 20 with just two touchbacks. 

Neither has much of a return game but the Patriots get the edge at home here and could use a big play (or two) from their STs this week.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

The Patriots have a tough matchup this week with a very hot Titans team that has scored 20 points or more seven weeks in a row. When the defense has allowed 20 or more points this season, they’ve lost. So, the 20 point plateau is a benchmark to monitor.  

Here are our keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Slow Down Henry and the Run Game – The Patriots have to slow down Henry and force Tannehill into obvious passing situations. The linebackers have to have their best game of the year. Bringing down Henry is no easy task and they have to get him running east-west at the point of attack. 

With the Titans’ deep group of receivers, the Patriots won’t have the luxury of stacking the box as the Titans will on defense. The front seven will have to stand up and be the “Boogeymen” this week. If Henry gets going and puts the Titans on his back with second and third downs with short yardage, it will be a long game. 

Start Quickly and Get the Lead – The Patriots got off to a horrible start last week and appeared to be sleepwalking through the first quarter. They can’t have that this week if they want their season to continue.

The offense needs to get going early and get some points on the board and force the Titans to play catchup. It will put a little bit of pressure on Tannehill who is playing in his first-ever playoff game.

They have to have the lead late in the game and again put Tannehill in a position where he has to throw. A great bit by Mike Dussault of Patriots.com, Henry in the last seven games has 250 yards more than any other running back, 10 touchdowns and averaging 8 yards per carry in the second half of the Titans games. 

Brady Has to Get Everyone Involved – With the playoffs here, the Titans are going to stack the box to take away the run and dare Brady to beat them down the field. Expect Edelman to get bracketed all game long. So, they’ll need the secondary receivers, Mohamad Sanu, Phillip Dorsett, N’Keal Harry to step up and produce. 

This will be a big week for the tight ends if they can produce. The middle of the field will be there for the taking but Matt LaCosse and Ben Watson haven’t been able to do much this year. If they can hit a few seam passes it will open up a lot of room for the struggling players outside.  

Where are the Turnovers, They Need Turnovers – The defense hasn’t got any turnovers for the past two games and this week they could really use a few. If the pass rush can get to Tannehill, a strip-sack or a forced throw for an interception would go a long way in helping an offense that is having trouble consistently scoring points. 

Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson were both off their game a week ago. Look for them to be more competitive this week and try to steal a pass in some tight windows. 

___________

This is not a great matchup for the Patriots. Coming off of a short week, facing a physical and hot Tennessee team where the coaching staff and several players have plenty of experience in the New England system. 

We know the Patriots are very tough at home in the postseason and haven’t dropped a home playoff game since 2013.  But the Titans being able to mix things up on offense and having a tremendous red-zone offense (scoring 75.6 percent of the time) is a tough matchup this week.

There are plenty of ways I can see the Patriots circling the wagons and toughing out a hard-fought win at home. We’ve seen it too many times to count. But the feeling here is that the offense won’t be able to keep up and allow them to move on. Titans 24-17

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 Patriots Week 17 Report Card, Crushing Loss to Miami, Bye-Bye Bye Week

Steve Balestrieri
January 1, 2020 at 8:05 am ET

Patriots Come Out Flat And Lose #2 Seed

Happy New Year, from all of us here, we hope that you all had a happy, safe and fun New Year’s Eve and an even better 2020.

The Patriots lost out on a big…and needed opportunity to earn themselves a bye week by losing to the Miami Dolphins at home 27-24 in the final regular-season game of  2019. Entering Sunday’s game Tom Brady had a 15-1 record at home against Miami but like last year, they lost a game to the Dolphins in the final seconds. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the game film before putting the regular season behind us this week.

Quarterback: D

Tom Brady after one of his best performances against the Bills had one he’d rather forget. Brady was sailing the ball high on many of his incompletions and was wearing different cleats (looked like hightops) which may speak to having an ankle issue which would explain part of it. But both he and the team started slowly against a team that was 28th in pass defense. Brady was 2-4 for 10 yards in the first quarter.

His protection overall was outstanding, he had plenty of time to throw for the vast majority of the game. The accuracy and timing just weren’t there. Brady finished 16-29 for 221 yards with 2 TDs and a horrible pick-six to Eric Rowe. 

Running Backs: B

The Patriots running game once again had a pretty solid night rushing for 135 yards with some solid work by Sony Michel (74 yards on 18 carries) and Rex Burkhead (48 yards on six carries). Despite Miami cheating their linebackers up in the box and blitzing on running plays, they consistently gained yardage after contact and have turned it up a notch down the stretch. 

Elandon Roberts once again provided good blocking in the running game, opening the hole for Michel’s touchdown run. And he caught his first NFL pass, which just happened to go for a 38-yard TD.

Wide Receivers: C-

The Dolphins bracketed Julian Edelman all game long and dared the Patriots to beat them elsewhere. Edelman, hobbled by shoulder and knee issues, hasn’t been 100 percent for quite some time. On Sunday he was held to just three catches for 26 yards.

Phillip Dorsett and Mohamad Sanu once again failed to pickup the slack. Sanu had just three catches for 35 yards, that 2nd round draft pick trade is looking worse and worse. Dorsett meanwhile had just one catch a 50-yard bomb from Brady where he did do a nice job of tracking the ball and kept going for some yards after the catch. But that was it, and it isn’t enough. 

N’Keal Harry had three catches for 29 yards on seven targets. Brady’s two touchdowns came on passes to Roberts (38 yards) and to James White on a nicely designed screen pass for 11 yards with a great block by Shaq Mason. 

Tight Ends: C-

Are we seeing a trend here on the Patriots skill position players? Matt LaCosse has been much, much better in the run blocking department lately, helping to open some holes for the backs to get to the second level. But with Miami’s linebackers cheating up and blitzing inside in the running game, we kept waiting for the Patriots to attack the seams and make them pay… nothing materialized and LaCosse didn’t have a catch 

But he wasn’t alone. Ben Watson had just one catch for four yards. This was a disappointing end to what was a disappointing regular season for the tight ends. 

Offensive Line: B+

The offensive line play was not the reason for the team losing on Sunday, they opened holes for the running backs to run for 135 yards and if the defense had played their normally stellar game, then they’d have run for a lot more. Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney were both excellent.

The pass protection for nearly the entire game was terrific, giving Brady oodles of time to throw and look downfield. The only sack given up was by Marcus Cannon on a nice speed rush move by Trent “Toolbox” Harris who may look familiar to Patriots fans. He spent the last two training camps here and was a member of the practice squad in 2018.                  

 Defensive Line: B

The defensive line once again played very solidly against the run, which wasn’t a big surprise as the Dolphins entered the game as the worst running team in the league averaging just 72.9 yards per game. They only managed 63 here, but their running backs had a combined 37 yards on 16 carries. Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton were solid as usual. 

The defensive ends set the edge well but didn’t generate a lot of pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers had some issues with wrapping up and missing tackles which was a small issue but in what has become a concerning trend, the pass rush, while getting pressure has been just short of getting home. Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Dont’a Hightower was getting plenty of pressure on Fitzpatrick, but those big drive ending sacks or QB hits resulting in turnovers haven’t been there. 

Collins had one of their only two sacks and a QB hit, where they generated only four. They are going to need those players to step un next week.  

Secondary: D

The Patriots secondary had, by far, their worst game of the season. Stephon Gilmore had his worst game as a Patriot since perhaps his first month here. DeVante Parker clearly won the matchup against the Patriots top corner as no one has done yet. Parker had eight catches for 137 yards with the vast majority coming against Gilmore.

But Gilmore wasn’t alone, J.C. Jackson allowed six receptions while Jonathan Jones still hobbled by a bad groin allowed five catches on five targets. Mike Gesicki got the better of Pat Chung most of the game and beat him for the game-winning touchdown. 

Special Teams: B

The Special Teams had a solid game on Sunday. Brandon Bolden ripped off his longest return of the season for 38 yards which set the team up with excellent field position for a change. Nate Ebner had a couple of good tackles in coverage while Matthew Slater remains the gold standard for gunners in the league. Nick Folk converted all three extra points and his only field goal attempt. A good day for Joe Judge’s troops 

Coaches: C-

The Patriots coaching staff, and it begins with Bill Belichick had some head-scratching moments this week. After preaching like they were treating this as a playoff game, the Patriots came out flat and it was Miami who looked like it was playing for a playoff bye. And the end of the first half time management looked like the team was playing not to lose (Marty ball?) which isn’t the way the Patriots have performed under Belichick.

Defensively, the Belichicks (plural) were taken to school to Chad O’Shea, who, interestingly enough was fired after the game. They never found a way to counter what Miami was doing or to stop them…And that isn’t a great offense at all. 

Offensively, despite all the hand-wringing over Josh McDaniels play calling, this offense is very flawed, especially at wide receiver and while he may have waited a bit too long to adjust the power running game, he’s working with a short deck. 

We’re on to Tennessee and the Wild Card game… 

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Dolphins Slam the Door on a Patriots Bye and Any Possible SB

Steve Balestrieri
December 29, 2019 at 8:36 pm ET

You can put a fork in ‘em, folks, because the 2019 version of the Patriots are done. There won’t be no coming together and doing self-scouting this week to get healthy and prepped for a deep playoff run. While they’ll live to play again either next Saturday or Sunday, this season is on life support and any hopes of playing in Miami in February are a pipe dream at this point. 

With a chance to clinch the #2 seed and get that all-important bye week against a 4-11 Dolphins team, the Patriots showed no fire and slept walked through the first quarter while their defense, which has been their rock all season was eviscerated by Ryan Fitzpatrick, who sliced and diced, scattered, covered and smothered them like homes fries at Waffle House. 

Although the Patriots took the lead with five and a half minutes to go, there was no feeling that they were going to close this one out as they’d done so many times this season. Fitzpatrick picked them apart worse than any QB had done all season long. And he methodically went down the field, (like Brady) and calmly sliced a pass to Mike Gesicki from 5-yards out with just 24 ticks left on the clock. 27-24 Dolphins. Thanks for coming, place your seats in the upright position and please be kind on Route 1. 

Last year, the Dolphins won on a fluke, a freak play that never should have had any success. This year, there was no fluke. Fitzpatrick turned into Fitzmagic, as we said in our pregame, he’s fully capable of doing. When the Patriots played zone, he picked them apart and when they played man coverage, his wide receivers totally dominated on the field. 

Fitzpatrick finished the day 28 of 41 for 320 yards and a touchdown, nearly double what the Patriots had been allowing through 15 weeks. The Dolphins got 26 first downs, 19 through the air. Stephon Gilmore had, arguably his worst game in a Patriot uniform and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. 

DeVante Parker totally dominated his matchup with Gilmore this afternoon, something no one has done in three years. Parker had eight catches for 137 yards on 11 targets and was once again Fitzpatrick’s favorite target. 

If there was any team that needed the bye it is this one. Julian Edelman has been hobbled by a myriad of injuries all season and the while he’s been out there giving his all, right now he’s a shell of his normal self. 

Brady has been dealing with an elbow issue and he was wearing different cleats today, which means he maybe has an ankle issue going on? Mohamad Sanu has been dealing with an ankle issue, the offensive has been banged up….we could go on and on. 

The Patriots needed this bye week, we’ve seen their history. Playing on Wildcard Weekend in the Belichick era they are 3-3. And if this team wins next weekend against Tennessee, they’d have to go on the road to Kansas City and Baltimore to make the Super Bowl. Anyone think this team can go to both and win a big road playoff game? Anyone? Bueller….Bueller? 

The blame can’t go to the offensive line today, once again the running game showed signs of life and despite getting away from it, they ran the ball for 135 yards and averaged 5.0 yards per rushing attempt. Sony Michel led the way with 74 yards on 18 carries. Rex Burkhead had 48 yards on 6 carries (8.0 yards per rushing attempt.

And the OL gave Brady plenty of time to throw, but for much of the game, he was way off target. Brady also threw an awful pick-six between Edelman and Michel and it was difficult to tell who the pass was intended for. Eric Rowe was stuck right between both, not sure who to cover. Brady’s pass went right to him. 

Michel and Burkhead were bright spots on the offense, as was Elandon Roberts. He caught a 38-yard touchdown when no one followed him out in the pattern. He made a nice catch from Brady and then raced down the sideline for a score. Brady’s other touchdown pass went to James White on a very well developed screen pass with a great block downfield by Shaq Mason. 

The coaches didn’t get the players ready to go today, despite proclaiming all week that this was a playoff game for them…let’s hope this isn’t what to expect in a playoff game because that effort and the gameplan was not good…at all. 

And in a move right out of the Andy Reid school of clock management, another head-scratcher. After stopping the Dolphins at the end of the first half with about 1:42 to go and three timeouts in the pocket, the coaches decided to let the clock run out and hand the ball off to Michel. In a tie game that your team needs for a playoff bye. Head-scratcher. 

So Tennessee is coming here next weekend after the Patriots blew a prime opportunity to get themselves in the bye week. And the worst part of this? They could actually face a short week if they are slated for Saturday. This was an ugly finish to the most dominant decade in NFL history. This is the kind of loss that can stick with a team, it isn’t just going to be business as usual this week. 

C-ya next weekend in Foxboro…just don’t be booking any flights to Kansas City just yet. 

New England Patriots News 12-29, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-29 and AFC East notes this week. 

With the Patriots wrapping up their 11th straight AFC East title last week, they still have some work to do in the regular season and with a win today against Miami, they clinch the #2 seed and a bye for the first round of the playoffs. 

It has been a long series dominated by the home teams so it bodes well for a Patriots victory today. The team has stated that they’re treating it like a playoff game. So there’s that.. 

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Tre’Davious White – The Bills talented cornerback took exception to Tom Brady block that helped spring N’Keal Harry for an 18-yard run last week. “Chill Tom, we all know if I hit you, I’ll get fined and suspended not vice versa.” Which led us to one of the bigger myths about Tom Brady, that he is protected by the refs and “gets all the calls.” 

A great tidbit this week on Twitter from Tucker Boynton that is worth passing along, not that the legion of Brady detractors will pay attention. “In 2019 there were 140 unnecessary roughness penalties, and 127 roughing the QB calls. Tom Brady didn’t receive one of those.”

Chandler Jones – The former Patriots defensive end has a shot of breaking Michael Strahan’s record for sacks today and we all here wish him the best in that pursuit. Having met him at Gillette a few years ago, Jones was personable as well as a talented pass rusher. But like everything else around here, there has been a lot of revisionist history surrounding Jones. 

The Patriots weren’t going to pay him $82.5 million, and as much as I liked Jones, the defense hasn’t missed a beat, going to three straight Super Bowls, winning two. This season, the team can win their 13th game of the season. What Jones is earning this year, the Patriots are paying five of their defenders. And his stellar play rushing the QB (notice we didn’t say setting the edge), hasn’t transformed the Cardinals defense one bit. 

And without the trade, they’d be no Joe Thuney who has been one of the best guards in football the past three years. It has been a trade that was a win-win. The Patriots got talent that took them to three straight Super Bowls, and Jones got his mammoth payday.

NFL Investigators – The league is supposedly growing frustrated with their inability to pin their investigation of the Patriots filming of Cincinnati’s sidelines from the film crew to the Patriots football operations. They’ve confiscated numerous devices and can’t find the smoking gun that links the two entities…

Frustrated? Wow, I always thought that an investigation was supposed to find the truth, not just to reinforce a theory of wrongdoing. But as we saw with Tom Brady with the asinine “more probable than not”, that never stopped Park Avenue. I would imagine this thorough “investigation” will finish sometime next week or the week after…timing is everything.

Navy Bowl Game: The Navy was stuck without a flight to their bowl game in the Auto Zone Liberty Bowl. They generally fly Southwest Air to their away games but the airline had no planes available at the last minute during the Christmas holiday. Robert Kraft and the Patriots stepped up and the Midshipmen flew in style. 

Navy’s football team arriving for their bowl game in the Patriots aircraft

4th & 2 Podcast – If you’ve haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, Please do check it out.  

Farewell 2010s, A Decade of Dominance: 

With the game today, this will be the Patriots’ final game of the decade. The first playoff game will begin the 2020s decade. It will be hard for the team to match what the past decade has brought. 

The Patriots, with a win today will end up the decade with an incredible record of 126-34. The next closest team is the Steelers who currently sit at 102-56-1, far behind them. If you factor in the postseason, the Patriots in the 2010s are an amazing 142-40.

Of course, when the talk of New England comes up, we always hear about the AFC East. Well, at home against the AFC East, the Patriots are 27-2, which would lend some credence to that…right? Well, against the rest of the AFC at home, the Patriots are 28-2. Hmm, how about ‘dem apples?’ 

The best record in any decade used to belong to the Dallas Cowboys of the 1970s, who went 119-46. Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the team have smashed that. 

NFL Top 100, Fascinating, Must Watch Television:

If you haven’t watched the NFL Network’s Top 100, then you’re really missing out. And for Patriots fans, seeing Bill Belichick talking history of the NFL is like manna from heaven. 

Tom Brady joined Belichick, Rich Eisen, and Cris Collinsworth and the back and forth with the coach was something that we’ve never had many opportunities to see. It had a little bit of everything. Brady spoke his friendship with Peyton Manning and how the two spent a few weeks during the offseason together and how he (Brady) copied some of the Colts’ play calls and how much it factored into Rob Gronkowski’s success. 

Brady and Belichick had a great moment when he said after the first Super Bowl win, the two shared a limo ride together and Belichick in perfect Bill-speak said to him,  “Tom, just wanted to let you know you had a pretty good year.”

But Belichick also added a great moment telling Eisen when he believed that Brady was going to be special, and it wasn’t in a game, but in practice before Brady had even began to play. 

Forget about the lists, like any other list, or poll, it is just an exercise to get people talking and discussing the game. People get too hung up over who is on the list and who isn’t. It is just an opinion folks. Tune in and enjoy some great football talk. 

 

Players to Watch Today:

The Patriots put a bow on the 2019 regular season today and here are our Patriots players to watch for the game. 

Sony Michel – The Pats 2nd-year running back has had a frustrating season but the last two weeks have seen him beginning to turn it on. His 96 yards last week against the Bills were a season-high. Now facing the Dolphins 27th ranked run defense, he has the opportunity to hit the playoffs on a three-week highpoint. 

 With LB/FB Elandon Roberts leading the way, we expect Michel and the running game, in general, to have a big afternoon running the ball today. 

Stephon Gillmore – The Patriots top cornerback will be going against DeVante Parker who is having a career season this year. Parker is the Dolphins’ go-to guy this year and naturally, Gilmore will be assigned to guard him closely.

This should be a great matchup to watch this afternoon. The Patriots have done a good job on Parker in the past, but every week is a new game. 

Tom Brady – Brady had arguably his best game of the season last Saturday against the Bills #3 ranked defense. Spreading the ball around to nine different receivers, completing almost 80 percent of his passes, Brady looked as good as he has all year.

Going against Miami’s 28th ranked pass defense, it should be another big game for Brady and he wants to get the offense and himself in the best possible position before the playoffs begin…Today he’ll be focused and ready to do just that.

Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower – The Boogeymen are collectively facing a team with the worst running game (72.9 yards per game) in the NFL. That means there should be plenty of opportunity to rush the QB against a team that has allowed 56 sacks in 2019. We expect that number to rise today. 

I expect the Patriots to get after Ryan Fitzpatrick early and often this afternoon and the trio of linebackers should be disruptive and active in the Dolphins backfield. 

NFL Schedule Week 17, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. I did it on our weekly Sunday column here and will post it up below. Here is the link if you’d care to pick your own: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/

Last Week: 13-3
Season:154-85-1
Cleveland over Cincinnati
New England over Miami
Minnesota over Chicago
Kansas City over LA Chargers
Buffalo over NY Jets
Green Bay over Detroit
New Orleans over Carolina
Tampa Bay over Atlanta
Philadelphia over NY Giants
Houston over Tennessee
Dallas over Washington
Baltimore over Pittsburgh
Indianapolis over Jacksonville
Oakland over Denver
LA Rams over Arizona
SNF San Francisco over Seattle

Bye week: No teams

Sorry due to the Christmas holiday break, there will be no AFC East notes this week, they’ll be back soon…

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Yeah, I don’t think you really know a player until you spend a lot of time with him, day-in and day-out, where you really see what that player and what that person is like. We knew some things about him from Buffalo, but it’s not the same when you spend every day with a player, so we know a lot more about him now. He’s, again, very professional and impressive. He puts a lot into it, he puts a lot into his training, he puts a lot into his preparation and I think everybody has a tremendous amount of respect for him in part because of that..” Bill Belichick on the preparation of Stephon Gilmore and his work ethic since coming to New England. 

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

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