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 1-20, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 20, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-20, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning: *No AFC East notes this week*

Politics and Sports: Most of us enjoy sports as an outlet free from the day-to-day politics that now permeate our lives. One of my other jobs is to write about military and politics. And it is frankly much less enjoyable than this one. And it is always an uncomfortable moment at least for some of us when the two worlds of sports and politics collide.

Case in point, the Red Sox Alex Cora stating this week wavering on whether or not he’ll attend the ceremony at the White House to honor the Red Sox. Cora and the Sox are hardly the first in this. It has become a tradition for the standing President to host the winning team for a short visit for the purpose of honoring the champs. Now it has become a big story whoever wins a championship over who is NOT attending.

Perhaps, because this country has become so partisan and intolerant of any views other than their own, it is time for the practice to end. When the President invites someone to the White House, it is supposed to be received as respect for the office and not necessarily the man that the invitee would attend. Sadly, we as a whole have forgotten that.

Brady’s Accomplishments Get Pushed Aside Over the Cliff Talk: Trey Wingo on ESPN had a pretty interesting segment, that I caught on a replay, late on Sunday night after the Patriots win over the Chargers.

Wingo stated that Brady was playing in his 13th conference championship (today) and If you throw out 2008 where he played on the first quarter of the first game, he’s played in 17 NFL seasons. His percentage of reaching the conference championship game is at 76 percent. Wingo stated, Drew Brees just set the NFL record with a 74 % completion percentage this season. Wingo added, “Brady has a higher chance of a reaching a championship game than any QB ever had of completing a single pass.”

But I bet if you watch many of those other national shows, you didn’t see that, right?

Did you Know? From Inside Edge: When Tom Brady has more passing yards than his average (279), his team is 12-2 (.857) since the start of last season — best of 27 Qualified QBs in NFL; League Avg: .487

Did you Know Pt. 2: From Inside Edge- The Patriots are undefeated (16-0) when having the lead at the end of quarter 1 since the start of last season — tied for best in NFL; League Avg: .749 Also… The Patriots are 33-2 (.943) when leading at the end of the first half since the start of the 2016 season — best in NFL; League Avg: .799

Did you Know Pt. 3: From Inside Edge- The Patriots are 29-5 (.853) when forcing 1 or more turnovers since the start of the 2016 season — best in NFL; League Avg: .591

Trade Foles? Folly: After the Eagles dramatic loss to the Saints last week when Nick Foles pass passed right thru Alshon Jeffrey’s hands for an interception to seal a win for New Orleans, we still see the “trade Nick Foles” talk.

Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win last season and got them on a hot streak down the stretch and nearly pulled off a monumental upset last week. Philly would be insane to trade him rather than Carson Wentz. But hey, trade him to New England. With that “cliff” right around the corner, I’d take that guy as my QB in a second.

Edelman Remains A Key Component in the Offense:

Julian Edelman had a huge game for the Patriots last week against the Chargers catching nine passes for 151 yards which comes as a surprise to no one who follows this team regularly. Edelman’s nine catches now rank him #2 all-time in the career playoff list behind only Jerry Rice.

His 151-yard performance was the fifth in his career, the only two players with more 100-yard receiving games in the playoffs (Rice with 9 and Michael Irvin with 6) reside in Canton. Yet when people think of playoff superstars, does Edelman’s name ever come to mind? Perhaps it should start. His catch two years ago against the Falcons in the Super Bowl was the stuff of legend.

His QB knows how valuable he is to this offense and on Monday Brady spoke about how Edelman (much like himself) had grown into a tremendous player. “You just remember when nobody thought about Julian as what he’s become, except Julian,” Brady said.

“That’s a great lesson for all of us: When you believe in yourself, you can accomplish a lot of things. Julian has always had great belief in himself, and he’s had an incredible career. I think yesterday was one of the best games he’s ever played, at the biggest moment. That’s when Julian is at his best — in the biggest moments.”

If the Patriots are to win today and move on to Atlanta in the Super Bowl, they’ll no doubt need another big performance from Edelman. He currently ranks 7th all-time in playoff receiving yardage. With another 141 more, he’ll move all the way into 2nd place there, also behind Rice. Another two games could probably do the trick. It is amazing how underrated Edelman has been in his career. Still known only as a slot receiver, he’s been much, much more here in New England. He can play the “X”, the “Z” or the slot. He’s lined up in the backfield and runs the jet sweeps and returns kicks.

He probably won’t sniff Canton, but perhaps when his playing career is over, he should be in the conversation. Not bad for an option QB, that had to go to Junior College and learn an entirely new position in the NFL.

Patriots Embracing the Underdog Role:

With the end of the Chargers game, Tom Brady in his on-field interview with Tracy Wolfson said what the entire team is feeling and they are embracing it. Everyone outside of New England is wanting the Patriots to lose, picking them to lose and basically hoping they’ll lose. Of course, Brady’s “everyone thinks we suck” quote was reiterated in the locker room which produced a silly hair-splitting response from Andrew Siciliano asking “where did anyone say that?”

On his own network, one former player turned analyst gave the Chiefs every competitive advantage in the two teams’ matchups, (QB, RB, Pass Catchers, Defense, and Coaching).

One said that he’d take any QB over Brady in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Another had Brady 6th among trusted QBs in the playoffs. The ESPN “Power Poll” gives New England the least chance of winning the SB with a 15 percent chance of winning it all. And there were plenty of writers who gladly jumped on the “Patriots dynasty is dead” storyline only to see the Pats put a curb-stomping on the Chargers the likes of which we haven’t seen since “A Bronx Tale” bar scene.

We get it here, everyone is sick of seeing the Patriots win and no one outside of the New England states wants to see Brady and Belichick in another Super Bowl. But stop with this foolishness. I’ve seen several places where it has been said, the Patriots “have to play a perfect game to beat KC.”

Flashback to Week 6, NE gave up a 97-yard KO return, a 67-yard TD pass, a 75-yard TD pass, and Brady fumbled at the New England 29 to set up the Chiefs on a short field. Hardly perfect, but yet the Patriots won. Make no mistake, they have to play an excellent game tonight, but perfect? No. The Chiefs are latest, team du jour who everyone is rallying around as the next great team, and the one they want/hope will dethrone the Patriots.  

Patriots Versatility in the Running Game Key Tonight:

One Patriots’ key to winning this game is to remain balanced on offense and having the running game be effective. Their still a passing team first, however, an effective running game keeps the defenses honest and slows down the pass rushers, allowing Brady to throw from a clean pocket.

The Patriots have been running a lot of “21 Personnel” (2 RB, 1 TE, 2WR) packages down the stretch. And it has been a big reason why the offense has been so effective. They can mix and match different combinations with the backs and it gives options to Brady on how he wants to attack the defense, given how they match up defensively.

During the Week 6 matchup, the Patriots shredded KC’s defense when running the “21” package. They had a 65 percent success rate while running out of it with an average of 5.1 yards per rushing attempt. And an even better success rate of passing out of it, with an 80 percent success rate where Brady averaged 15.4 yards per attempt while passing out of the “21” package.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Conference Weekend Predictions:

Final Regular Season 165-89-2

Wildcard Weekend:  0-4

Divisional Weekend: 4-0

New England over Kansas City
New Orleans over LA Rams

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-Chiefs AFC Championship, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
January 18, 2019 at 7:00 am ET

Round Two Winner Goes to the Super Bowl

The New England Patriots travel to Kansas City on Sunday night to take on the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, the winner of which goes on to Atlanta to the Super Bowl.  The Patriots are advancing to their eighth straight AFC title game, an NFL record. With a win, they’ll also become the third team to appear in three straight Super Bowls.

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, Evan Washburn, and Jay Feely 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.

The Patriots (12-5) dominated the LA Chargers 41-28. Sony Michel ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns, Tom Brady completed 34-44 for 343 yards and a score, Julian Edelman caught nine passes for 151 yards and James White caught 15 passes as the offense rolled.

The Chiefs (13-4) beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-13 on a snowy Saturday afternoon. The Chiefs defense played their best game of the year holding the Colts to just 13 points while the offense ran for four scores on the ground. Damien Williams ran for 129 yards on 25 carries and a score. Patrick Mahomes completed 27-41 passes for 278 yards.  

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and the Chiefs are meeting for the 37th time including the playoffs in their history since the days of the old AFL when they would meet twice a year. Kansas City holds the overall lead 18-15-3. The Chiefs hold an 11-3-1 advantage in games played in Kansas City and a 5-1 record at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Patriots won the last meeting between the two teams 43-40 on a Week 6 Sunday Night Football matchup.  

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 Chiefs Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game has been a strength of the team down the stretch. Opposing defenses can’t just pin their ears back and rush Tom Brady as they’ve been able to run and run effectively with Sony Michel. In the first meeting, Michel ran for 106 of the Patriots 173 yards on the ground. Rex Burkhead, James White, and FB James Develin will all contribute on the ground as well. The Pats were 5th (127.3 yards per game) on the ground this season.

The Chiefs defense was pretty awful against the run this season, allowing 132.1 yards (27th) on the ground. Last week, however, they were aggressive and took control of the line of scrimmage and kept the Colts at bay. Chris Jones had a very big game for them.

Look for the Patriots to try to control the line of scrimmage, much like they did last week against a much better defense. However, this week the Chiefs are at home, with the deafening crowd noise, they’ll be able to time the snaps and get a very quick jump off. Michel and the ground game will be key on keeping the balance they need to keep the offense moving. They controlled the line last week and in the first meeting but this one will be tougher. The Jet sweeps weren’t a big factor the first time, but may very well be on Sunday night, taking advantage of the linemen pushing up the field.

Patriots WRs vs Chiefs Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game last week took advantage of the Chargers zone defense and Brady shredded them for 343 yards. Brady passed for 340 yards in the first meeting on throwing just 34 passes. The Patriots had the 8th best passing game (266.1 yards per game) in the league in 2018.

The Chiefs pass defense was worse than their run defense in the regular season allowing 273.4 yards per game (31st in the NFL) What they lived off of was their pass rush which is excellent. Chris Jones, Justin Houston, and Dee Ford, can not only get after the opposing quarterback but knock down passes as well. Their secondary should have Eric Berry back and they’ve played much better with him than without.

Look for Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton to try to jam the middle of the field and contest all of the short to intermediate throwing areas that Brady thrives in. If they force him to hold onto the ball a bit longer, it will allow their pass rush to get home.

The Patriots will try to move Edelman around to create some space on the outside, while trying to clear out the flat for James White to work in the passing game. Kansas City allowed the 5th most passing yardage to running backs this season. Brady will look to attack the middle of the field first. Gronkowski hurt the Chiefs with two big pass plays by getting the one-on-one matchups when they were there. That will definitely be in play if it becomes available to them.

Pass protection is everything in this game for the Patriots, regardless of the running game, it is still a complimentary game and they remain a passing team first and foremost. Key matchup here is LT Trent Brown against Chris Jones in both the running and passing games. With crowd noise and not being able to mix up their snaps, the Chiefs will look to tee off. Flashback to Pittsburgh, the OL can’t shoot itself in the foot again with double-digit false starts again.

Next up the Kansas City offense:

Chiefs RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Chiefs lost their workhorse in Kareem Hunt but have gotten nearly identical production in the running game from Damien Williams. He gashed the Colts for 129 yards on 25 carries last week. KC had the 16th best running game in the league, averaging 115.9 yards per game.

Kansas City likes to mix in the jet sweep and with the explosive Tyreek Hill, he blew thru the Indy defense for a 36-yard touchdown last week. The Chiefs rushed for 94 yards in the first meeting with Hunt getting 80 of those and averaging 5.5-yards per rush.

The Patriots run defense has really been trending up the past three games. Last week against Melvin Gordon and the Chargers, they allowed just 19 yards on 10 carries.The defensive line and linebackers have been much, much better. On the season they allowed 112.7 yards on the ground (11th in the league).

Andy  Reid has gotten pass-happy in big games before, will he have the patience to stick with his running game on Sunday? I expect the Patriots will go with a lighter front for much of this one and there should be room to run the ball.

Chiefs WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Chiefs passing game was positively electric this season. Mahomes threw for 50 TDs and they were third in yards this season with 309.3. But everything goes thru Hill, the small but incredibly fast wide receiver who, if he gets the slightest edge outside is gone. That happened in the first meeting, he got a step on one of the Patriots fastest defenders in Duron Harmon and he blew by him like he was a turnstile at the airport.

Mahomes also has Travis Kelce who caught over 100 passes this year, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley, Williams, Specer Ware, and Kelvin Benjamin, who was a healthy scratch last week against the Colts.

The Patriots’ secondary play has improved over the course of the season. Stephon Gilmore had an All-Pro type of season and rookie J.C. Jackson an UDFA from Maryland has come on and played terrific down the stretch. The front seven has gotten plenty of QB pressure but that hasn’t translated into many sacks.

Look for the Reid to run those RPOs (run/pass option) plays that gave New England fits last season. That allows Kelce to get quick separation at the line. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots approach covering Hill. While we fully expect him to be doubled with help over the top, who will draw him? The Patriots will probably get Gilmore on him with safety help over the top. We expect them to chip on Kelce at the line as well, to try to throw off their timing.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots have a solid group of specialists with Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, and returners with Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson returning punts and kickoffs. The coverage units have been much better when the team added veterans Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber after Thanksgiving.

The Chiefs have kicker Harrison Butker and the excellent Dustin Colquitt in their kicking game. They also have the dangerous Hill and Tremon Smith who had a 97-yard return in the first meeting.

This time however, we’re going with experience. Edelman has been at his best in big games and Patterson is as dangerous a kick returner as there is in the NFL. Look for the Patriots to get after a punt this week.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This is shaping up to be an instant classic. The first meeting went right down to the wire with the score tied at 40, Brady hit Gronkowski with a big 42-yard pass play down the field and Gostkowski kicked a FG with three seconds left. We expect another really close game, perhaps not quite as high scoring as the first matchup.

The keys from a Patriots perspective this week are:

Start Fast And Be Ready For the Onslaught:

The Chiefs at home have been ridiculously fast starters, they’ve outscored opponents at home in the first quarter by a huge margin.  Last week against the Colts was no exception. They bolted out to a 14-0 lead and never looked back.

The Patriots have been notoriously slow starters this season, especially on the road. That would be curtains for any chances of winning if that happens. They have to be on top of their game from the opening kickoff. Reid scripts his first 20 plays or so, so we’d expect the Chiefs to throw some wrinkles at them right off the bat. Expect a very aggressive start on both sides of the ball to get the crowd even more into it.

Last week the Patriots got off to the best start in the history of the team in the playoffs last week and that propelled them to an easy win over the Chargers. They need that type of start again.

Mix Things Up:

Offensively, the Patriots have to keep the Chiefs defense off-balance, Third and long situations will unleash the KC pass rush and they have to limit those type of situations. The Pats rolled up 500 yards of offense last time, by doing just that. Running effectively, and spreading the ball around.

Defensively, they won’t pin their ears back and come after Mahomes like they did to Rivers because if he escapes (and frequently does), then a big play is sure to follow. Mix up coverages, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some split coverages by the secondary. The key is contain him and keep him in the pocket. When plays break down and the Chiefs play backyard football, big plays will result.

The Patriots will want to try to slow the pace down this week, a track meet will really favor the Chiefs at home. They want to grind them down with slow, methodical drives that eat the clock.

Win STs/Red Zone:

The Patriots special teams have been much better down the stretch and I expect some big plays to happen this week. Patterson and Edelman will have to kick it up a notch but a STs score or big play will go a long way this week.

The Red Zone will of course, be of paramount importance this week. Kicking field goals in KC is a recipe for losing. They have to score like last week. In the first half the Pats were 5-5 in the red area. On the flip side, they have to manufacture some stops and force the Chiefs to settle for some threes or get a turnover or two.

When the Chiefs beat the Colts, I immediately pegged this as a loss. I thought the Pats would win a tough, close game at home against the Chargers and then go on the road and lose to KC.

But the performance last week, sold me that this team isn’t dead yet. They’ve found their stride and saved their best game of the year for the playoffs. That makes me feel that they can go in and win this game. It won’t be easy and will go down to the wire. But something tells me Brady pulls another big win out of his hat, and Bill Belichick dusts off that Super Bowl game plan he used against the Bills when he was with the Giants. They may dare the Chiefs to run all day long, but they’re going to get it done. Get ready to head to Atlanta.   Patriots 31-28

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots Report Card In Blowout Win Over the Chargers

Steve Balestrieri
January 15, 2019 at 7:00 am ET

Patriots Report Card In Blowout Win Over the Chargers

We said they needed to start fast and boy did the Patriots ever do that. When was the last time you saw domination like that in the playoffs? Answer… Never. No Patriots team has ever begun a playoff game with four touchdowns on their first four possessions.

This one was truly over at halftime but we’ll grade the team for the entire 60 minutes and it was something to see. This is the team that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing and unfortunately haven’t seen this year… until now.

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s blowout win:

Quarterback: A

This week Tom Brady heard the noise, many national types were saying this week against the Chargers was the end of the Patriots dynasty, the end of Brady-Belichick. The Bolts were going to put he and Rob Gronkowski into retirement mode.

Brady was fired up but more than that, he was on top of his game all day long. He saw that the Chargers were sticking with their soft zone Cover 3 look, a defense he’s shredded for his entire career and once again he gralloched it with ease.

He completed 34-44 for 343 yards and a touchdown and looked as sharp as he’s been all year. His best pass was in the fourth quarter. Derwin James had tight coverage on Julian Edelman and Brady lasered a BB down the field that Edelman turned into a 35-yard gain. His arm strength going? Watch that throw again. And again.

Don’t try to fight a lion if you’re not one yourself.

Running Backs: A

As we mentioned above, Brady and the Patriots have played this Gus Bradley Cover 3 zone defense in the past. Shane Vereen had a big day catching the ball in the Seattle Super Bowl, 11 catches 64 yards on 12 targets. The Atlanta Super Bowl, James White roasted them, 14-110 and a TD on 16 targets. Last year more of the same 14-15 for 163 yards. White was targeted 17 times on Sunday, he caught 15 passes for 97 yards.

Sony Michel gashed the Chargers run defense for 129 yards and 3 TDs on 24 carries. He had his longest run of the season a 40-yard scamper to boot. Rex Burkhead chipped in with a 6-yard touchdown run of his own. The running backs ran for 155 yards on the ground and were targeted 19 times in the game with 17 receptions for 113 yards.

When the Patriots ran out of their “21” personnel, they averaged nearly 7.0 yards per carry on Sunday. The Chargers linebackers were banged up and they were going with a light package and had no answer.

Wide Receivers: A

Julian Edelman was arguably the player of the game for the Patriots. Something to keep in mind, Edelman hasn’t played in a playoff game since the Super Bowl against Atlanta. And yes there were even whispers that he’s lost a step.

He cranked his game up a notch…actually two, and was fantastic. He had nine catches for 151 yards and he set the tone early in the game. On a third and short. Edelman caught the pass from Brady and appeared that he’d be tackled short of the sticks. But he broke the tackle and kept driving and picked up the first down. Soon after, the Patriots were in the end zone.  

During the game, Edelman moved into the #2 spot all-time for playoff receptions behind only Jerry Rice. He also moved into the top 10 all-time in receiving yardage in the postseason. And people still try to belittle his accomplishments by calling him a “slot receiver”… Oy vey. Not bad for an undersized option quarterback.

Tight Ends: B+

Rob Gronkowski dominated in the running game. With the Patriots trying to run the ball, Gronk showed why he’s a complete tight end and he was blowing people off the ball. He helped Cannon put Melvin Ingram on roller skates on Michel’s 40-yard run and for good measure drove Hayes Pullard to the sideline.

He caught one pass for 25-yards that was classic Gronkowski. He took the pass in, broke the initial tackle attempt and then ran over the next man. He drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone and helped clear out a ton of real estate for Phillip Dorsett, who was wide open for a touchdown.

Offensive Line: A

The offensive line had arguably their best game of the season and maybe of the past two seasons. The Chargers defense was no “tomato can”, they are a top 10 unit against the run and the pass. And the Patriots offensive line absolutely dominated the point of attack all day long.

Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon absolutely dominated the matchup against Ingram and Joey Bosa, they made life hell for Lamar Jackson a week ago. On Sunday, Brady had a clean pocket all game long and was only hit a couple of times.

In the running game, not only did they fire off the ball and get a great push, but the blocking downfield was outstanding. When your offense rolls up 500 yards against a Top 10 defense, it usually means one thing for the offensive line. Total domination.

Defensive Line: A

The Patriots defensive line had another outstanding effort in Sunday’s game. They held Melvin Gordon and the Chargers backs to just 19 yards on 10 carries. And once they stuffed the run, they had Philip Rivers forced into passing situations.

In the pivotal first half, Rivers was pressured on 70 percent of his throws. Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn (who had his best game as a Patriot) each had a sack. Flowers had another taken away on a ticky-tack penalty where he was blocked into the ground and thus hit Rivers low.

Adam Butler had some good quality snaps and provided good pressure on Rivers as he saw quite a bit of work with the running game shut down.  

Linebackers: A-

The Linebacking corps was also outstanding on Sunday. They were terrific in run support, the hardest hit of the day was Elandon Roberts down by the goal line where he had a tremendous collision with Gordon that sent the running back flying backward.

Kyle Van Noy was once again all over the field and he and Dont’a Hightower were constantly moving around in the “amoeba defense” which kept the Chargers guessing to where they were coming. Hightower was used in a pass rush mode often and created great pressure all game long.

John Simon saw quite a few snaps and was impressive, getting pressure on Rivers and stuffing Gordon for a loss.

Secondary: B+

Stephon Gilmore got fooled badly on the Bolts first possession where Rivers looked him into the middle of the field and Keenan Allen blew right by him for a 43-yard touchdown. But after that, he blanketed Allen and shut him down. Allen would catch only two passes, the other with Jason McCourty covering. Gilmore picked off Rivers with a very nice play in the second half where he got body position and went up and high pointed the ball.

Rookie J.C, Jackson had a very competitive game against the impressive Mike Williams who made some terrific catches with tight coverage. Jason McCourty had a bit of a rough day and gave up several long completions to the Williamses and a 30-yarder to Allen who caught it and went down at the one-yard line.

Pat Chung and Devin McCourty were very solid all game long. Rivers padded his stats with a lot of garbage time yardage and a pair of scores, but the defense was playing much different by then.

Special Teams: A-

The only blip on the special team’s radar was the opening play of the game. James Develin flubbed the kickoff out of bounds shy of the 17-yard line, where if he let it go, it goes out of bounds and the Pats get it at the 40-yard line.

The coverage units did a pretty good job on holding Desmond King in check and Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect 7-7 on his kicks.

Albert McClellan recovered a fumble that quickly turned the game into a blowout. He’s been outstanding since coming here in mid-season. Isn’t there a dweeb on sports radio that constantly pooh-poohs Belichick signing STs guys? That’s why you sign them.

Coaching: A+

Josh McDaniels called a heck of a game. The Chargers defense was kept guessing all day long and he knew exactly how to attack it and exploit the matchups. Bill Belichick had the players ready to go and they fired out of the gate better than they’ve played all season.

And please…stop with the “what happened in the second half?” nonsense. This game was over and Bill Belichick and McDaniels weren’t going to give Andy Reid and the Chiefs any other film to watch. They put it on cruise control and put the six-guns in the holsters and milked the clock.

Belichick and Brian Flores weren’t shy about challenging the talented Chargers and bringing the heat on Rivers. It was a tremendous game plan and flawlessly executed.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as our writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots Thrash Chargers, Move On To Kansas City

Steve Balestrieri
January 13, 2019 at 10:02 pm ET

Patriots Will Go to 8th Straight Conference Championship

All season long the doubters have circled the 2018 Patriots team like vultures over carrion, searching for any cracks in the armor, off-field drama, whether real or imagined, and any vulnerability. Indeed, many of these national pundits, perhaps more out of wishful thinking than actual forethought, proclaimed that today, the Chargers would end the Patriots dynasty.

Well, don’t throw dirt on the corpse of the Patriots just yet. And perhaps Tom Brady isn’t quite at the edge of the precipice as many thought (or in the case of a few national dimwits, outwardly call for). The Patriots dominated the Chargers in every phase of the game and walked away with a 41-28 win that wasn’t nearly as close as the score would indicate.

With a bye week to heal up the assorted injuries and prepare for the Chargers, the Patriots wanted to start quickly. They showed that by winning the toss and opting to receive the kickoff when they normally defer to the second half.

The Patriots came out loaded for bear, and the offense looked more dominant than they have in quite some time. Easily better than they’ve looked at any time this year. The Chargers zone defense was eviscerated by Brady and the running game in the first half. It was total domination for the first 30 minutes. Sony Michel ran 16 times for 105 yards, as the Pats offense rolled up 35 points, 347 yards, and 24 first downs, numbers that usually add up to a good game by halftime.

The Patriots in the first half were 5-6 on third down and 5-5 in the red zone. Remember this LA defense was Top 10 in both rushing (9th) and passing (9th), they boasted a pair of edge rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram and an athletic group who totally shut down the Ravens a week ago. They were not “tomato cans” or terrible posers. This team was undefeated outside of LA all year. But they were shredded like wilted lettuce.

So focused was Brady, even as the half wore down, he was screaming at the officials for ruling that WR Phillip Dorsett got out of bounds and that the team should have been allowed to go for a last-second field goal.

This game was over by halftime, the Patriots had a commanding 35-7 lead, and at home in Foxboro, they aren’t going to blow that. The Chargers answered the Patriots opening touchdown when Stephon Gilmore who has been so good all season, got totally fooled by Rivers looking inside that he allowed Keenan Allen to zip past him and Rivers hit him for a too-easy 43-yard touchdown pass. The Chargers wouldn’t score again until the game was way out of reach.

The QB pressure on Rivers was immense all day. Trey Flowers, Dont’a Hightower, and Adrian Clayborn were outstanding all day and they harassed, hit and flustered Rivers from start to finish. He finished 25-51 for 331 yards with 3 TDs and an interception. But much of his yardage was 4th quarter garbage time. He padded his stats a bit, but don’t look at the score sheet. This was a butt kicking. The Chargers run game netted 19 yards total. Melvin Gordon was never a factor because the Patriots offense was scoring at will.

Sony Michel ended up with 129 yards rushing on 24 carries (5.1 average) and three touchdowns. Julian Edelman was unstoppable out of the slot making nine catches for 151 yards.  James White caught 15 passes for 97 yards. Dorsett had four catches for 41 and a touchdown.

Gilmore settled down after that one gaffe and was excellent the rest of the game and got an interception off Rivers later in the game. Rookie J.C. Jackson was put on the dangerous Mike Williams, who was targeted 11 times. Williams made five catches for 68 yards.

And Brady, the guy who is done, going over the cliff, and getting ready to be pushed into retirement by the Chargers pass rush? He finished 34-44 for 343 yards with a TD and 0 INTs. The play calling of Josh McDaniels on Sunday was outstanding, he kept the Chargers off-balanced all game long and their pass rush was rendered to a milk carton by a dominating performance by the Patriots offensive line who dominated the point of attack.

Brady summed it up best by stating what everyone from the Patriots was thinking when he told CBS’ Tracy Wolfson after the game, “everyone thinks we suck and can’t win games.” Indeed, ESPN’s Power Poll lists New England as just having a 15 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl, the lowest of the four teams remaining.

Well, as they showed Sunday, you can doubt them all you want, but they’ve been counted out countless times before and if they play like they did today, they are capable of beating anyone.

And now they’re on their way to play in their 8th consecutive AFC Championship Game. Think about that for a second. How will that turn out? Nobody knows, but…

We’re on to Kansas City.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

New England Patriots News 1-13, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-13, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Ignore the Noise: After Chargers beat the Ravens, as expected many of the national pundits raced to tell you why LA was going to win this matchup on the road against New England. The Chargers offense was more explosive, their defense much more stifling, they have playmakers all over the field…did we miss any?

But the numbers don’t really play that out. The explosive Chargers offense? They averaged 26.8 points this year. That scuffling Patriots offense averaged 27.2.  The Chargers defense allowed an average of 20.6 points per game. New England’s much-maligned defense allowed just 20.3 points.

The Bolts are a very good team in 2018 and do have a very good chance of pulling off the win today. But they’ll have to play better than they did a week ago. The Patriots don’t have Lamar Jackson under center. And the Pats are at home. Whoever plays better today will advance, but I wouldn’t buy into the hype that this is it for New England’s dynasty. That’s more wishful thinking than anything else.

Brady’s Cliff Has Different Parameters: Speaking of wishful thinking, several very biased hot take artists have been falling all over themselves to proclaim that Brady’s end is near and that he just doesn’t have it anymore. While issues with his supporting cast this season had as much to do with his numbers falling off as much as anything, but a closer look at those numbers reveal that there is a standard for Brady “falling off” and one for everyone else.

Look at Brady’s biggest rival, Peyton Manning in 2008. Manning completed 371 of 555 passes (66.8%) for 4002 yards, 27 TDs and 12 INTs with a passer rating of 95.0. Now with Brady’s #s in 2018,  375 of 570 (65.8%) for 4355 yards, 29 TDs and 11 INTs with a passer rating of 97.7. One is an MVP year and the other is falling off a cliff? Whose numbers were better?

Why did we bring up 2008? Because Manning’s numbers won him an MVP that year.

Did you Know? With a win today, the Patriots will move on to their eighth straight conference championship game and the 13th of Bill Belichick’s career. The only coach with 10 conference championship games since the 1970 merger is Tom Landry.

Did you Know Pt. 2: The Patriots with a win today will mark a record for Tom Brady in the divisional round at 13-2 in his career, including 12-1 in Foxboro.

Edelman Close to a Personal Milestone: Julian Edelman needs just five catches today to move past Reggie Wayne for second place all-time in playoff receptions. Wayne has 93 and Edelman enters today’s game with 89 career playoff receptions. Not bad for a college QB.

In case you’re wondering, Jerry Rice is far ahead of everyone with 151 catches in the postseason. With 39 receiving yards, Edelman will also move into the Top 10 in playoff receiving yards.

McDaniels Staying Put, At Least Thru 2019:

With the news that he didn’t get the Green Bay head coaching job, Josh McDaniels has announced that he’s off the table in manners of searching for the next head coaching position.

During a conference call with the media, McDaniels didn’t mince words. “The book is closed,” McDaniels said leaving no doubt for anyone to speculate.  “It’s always a humbling experience to have an opportunity to interview with anybody for that position.

“I was thankful for the opportunity to meet with Green Bay; it always gives you greater insight into another organization of how they do things. It’s been very educational for me every time I’ve gone through it and I’ve appreciated every single one of them.”

“I’m completely focused on the Chargers and our season and finishing it strong. And I’ll be here moving forward.”

Kraft Wins Genesis Prize in Israel, the “Jewish Nobel”:

Patriots owner Robert Kraft is being honored for his philanthropy work in Israel and is being awarded the $1 million dollar Genesis Prize, which is often equated as the “Jewish Nobel.” He will be awarded the honor at a gala in Jerusalem in June.

According to a statement released by the Kraft Group, he will be giving the money “to initiatives combatting anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice as well as attempts to de-legitimize the State of Israel.”

Kraft has given more than half a billion dollars to causes including health care, education, the Jewish community, Christian organizations, and local needs.

Genesis Prize chairman Stan Polovets called the Kraft “one of the world’s most generous philanthropists whose charitable giving reflects the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world.”

Patriots Versatility At RB May Serve Them Well This Week:

The Patriots have a versatile group of running backs heading into the postseason with rookie Sony Michel who had 931 yards rushing and six touchdowns is the primary running back in the ground game while James White with 87 receptions was the leading pass receiver of the group. Rex Burkhead who missed all but seven games is the guy who does a little bit of both. James Develin is the blocking fullback who can catch the odd pass. Their versatility helps keep each other fresh and opponents guessing.

This versatility will be needed today, now that the playoffs have arrived. If teams try to stack the box, Brady can put the backs in motion and split them out wide to create matchup problems. If they flood the secondary with defensive backs to stop the pass, they can run the ball and keep the sticks moving.

If the Patriots are going to move on the conference championship, they’ll need big games from their running backs, in both the running and passing games. In last year’s game against the Chargers, Brady completed 14-15 passes for 163 yards to the running backs. Look for them to try to replicate that success again today. And for the Chargers to try to stop that as well.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Divisional Weekend Predictions:

Final Regular Season 165-89-2

Wildcard Weekend: 0-4 (yikes)

Saturday – Kansas City over Indy
                 LA Rams over Dallas

Sunday –   New England over LA Chargers
                 New Orleans over Philly

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have a Big Decision Looming on Shady McCoy:

The Buffalo Bills finally have some long-term stability at quarterback.and now they have to decide on whether or not they move on from running back LeSean McCoy.

McCoy, the 30-year old running back has a lot of treads worn off on his tires after being a workhorse for his entire 10-year career. In 2018, he posted career lows of just 514 yards rushing, a paltry 3.2 yards per rush average and just three touchdowns.

Not all of the fault lies with McCoy, the Bills offensive line was a particular area of weakness this season and a place they’ll be looking to improve upon in 2019. Their passing game was also non-existent at times and teams loaded up the box to stop the run.

With a salary cap hit of $9.05 million dollars in 2019, the Bills will be looking to at least adjust his cap number but they may be looking to start fresh with younger players. One area that points to his decline, however, is in the passing game. McCoy caught 59 passes in 2017, this season they dropped to just 34. His touchdown totals in the past three seasons have fallen from 14 in 2016, to 8 a year ago, to just 3 this season.

Dolphins Expected to Hire Flores As The Next Head Coach:

The Miami Dolphins are bucking the trend with going for the next offensive whiz-kid coach (read next Sean McVay), and are rumored to be hiring Patriots Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores as their next head coach. Miami was targeting defensive coaches and interviewed Saints DC Dennis Allen and Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richards among their candidates.

It is going to be a tough job for Flores who will have to go thru a bit of rebuild in South Beach before the Dolphins are ready to challenge in the AFC East. For the first time, he’ll have to go thru the process of hiring assistants, running the day-to-day operation of a team and have to deal with offensive personnel, something he’s had no experience with. Flores worked his way from the bottom with the Patriots from a scouting assistant, to a positional coach, STs assistant to the defensive coordinator.

But he has a great reputation as a commanding presence in the meeting room while maintaining a very good relationship with his players. He’ll be the second defensive coordinator in the past two seasons to bolt for a head coaching job.

Jets Hire Adam Gase and Bypass McCarthy:

The New York Jets have hired recently fired Miami coach Adam Gase as their new head coach after the fired Todd Bowles after the regular season. Many believed that former Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy was the front-runner for the job, but they turned to Gase, who also has a track record of working with QBs, having worked with Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and had some success working with Ryan Tannehill.

And while many fans, especially those who listen to WFAN were unhappy with the news, Jets’ ownership is quite happy with the hiring. “At the onset of the interview process, I wanted to hire a head coach who was the right person and the right fit for our organization,” Johnson released in a statement. “We talked to a number of excellent candidates and it became clear to me that Adam was the person who will help us establish a winning program and a winning culture.”

“Adam is a young, creative mind, but he also has 22 years of coaching experience,” Johnson said. “He is an innovator whose path saw him succeed at both the college and the NFL levels. He has helped a number of different quarterbacks, at various stages of their careers, reach new heights. We think Sam [Darnold] will continue to develop under his tutelage, but we made the decision because of Adam’s vision for the entire football team.”

Meanwhile, on the “Benigno & Roberts” WFAN show, the duo was lambasting Jets ownership for not hiring McCarthy, which played well to some of the fans on social media. Roberts called Gase this week, “Peyton Manning’s coffee boy.”

Ouch. Welcome to New York Adam Gase.

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.

Patriots-Chargers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
January 11, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

Patriots-Chargers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

The New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday afternoon as they play in the Divisional Round of the 2018 playoffs.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. and can be seen 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.

The Patriots (11-5) beat the Jets two weeks ago but as the #2 seed were idle during the bye week. They are hoping to win on Sunday and move on to their 8th straight AFC Championship Game.

The Chargers (13-4) beat the Baltimore Ravens 23-17 on Sunday in Baltimore. The Chargers dominated the game and were comfortably ahead 23-3 when the Ravens scored two late touchdowns to make it interesting.

Series History:

The Patriots and Chargers have a history back to the beginnings of the AFL and will meet for the 42nd time in their shared history. The Chargers beat the Boston Patriots in the 1964 AFL Championship Game and the two teams met two more times in the playoffs following the 2006 and 2007 seasons. New England holds the overall lead in the series 24-15-2 including the playoffs.

The teams last met last year which was a Patriots 21-13 win in Gillette Stadium. Since opening Gillette Stadium, the Patriots are 11-1 against the Chargers at home.

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 Chargers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game (127.3 yards per game, 5th NFL) is now a three-headed committee with Sony Michel getting the lion’s share on the ground with Rex Burkhead and James White also getting in some work. But a large portion of what makes the ground game go is the use of wide receivers in Jet Sweeps with Cordarrelle Patterson and Julian Edelman.

The Chargers have a good run defense are were the 9th best unit against the run in 2018 allowing just 105.8 yards per game. They stuffed the powerful Ravens running game by utilizing a smaller defense consisting of seven defensive backs. This week they get back a big, big piece of their interior defensive line with Brandon Mebane who missed last week due to the tragic death of his daughter.

I think the Patriots will be able to run some at this defense by mixing things up. Look for the Patriots to run the pony formation with two backs on either side of Brady. I think the Jet sweeps would be of particular use when the Chargers line up in their Wide 9 look with some cutback lanes that they’ll try to exploit.

Patriots WRs vs Chargers Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game (266.1 yards per game, 8th NFL) will miss the speed, size and sure hands of Josh Gordon in the playoffs now that the pretenders have been wiped away from the schedule. While Patterson has the size and speed, he’s nowhere near the accomplished route runner or receiver that Gordon is. They still have a good, but not great group with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett out wide with Rob Gronkowski at tight end and White and Burkhead out of the backfield. The key for them is to utilize everyone, which makes them much harder to stop, something they’ve haven’t always done this season.

The  Chargers have also the 9th best unit against the pass this season, allowing just 227.9 yards per game thru the air. It starts up front with the pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Those two can disrupt the passing game of anyone. They frequently slide Ingram inside and line him up on a guard which can be a mismatch, and overload one side with both on one side, which frees up rushers on the opposite side to make plays.

Derwin James the rookie out of Florida State has been huge for the defense leading the team with 105 tackles with 13 passes defensed, 3.5 sacks, and 6 QB hits. Expect him to be lined up with Gronkowski and I like James to win that matchup.

Look for Brady to get the ball out quickly and target the Chargers LBs in the passing game. If they have a weakness it is there. Last year, Brady completed 14-15 for 163 yards against the Chargers when targeting his running backs. Protection will be key here. Look for Josh McDaniels to use uptempo too to keep the Chargers from substituting personnel. It won’t be an easy game on either part of the Patriots offense against this group, but if they play the way they have all season at home, they should find some success.

Next up the Chargers offense:

Chargers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Los Angeles

The Chargers running game is 8th in the league averaging 117.1 yards per game. They lean heavily on Melvin Gordon who gained 885 yards, averaged 5.1 yards per rush and had 10 touchdowns in 2018. They have Austin Ekeler as their secondary back and he too averaged a very good 5.2 yards per rush and had 552 yards with three scores. Patriots fans will long remember the 87-yard run he made in Gillette during the first quarter of the game last year, when they didn’t properly set the edge.

The Patriots run defense is ranked 11th in the league allowing 112.7 yards per game, but it has been very inconsistent. At times this season, they were gashed badly up the middle between the tackles. However, the last two regular season games they were much better, albeit against the Bills and Jets. Setting the edge will be a big factor in this one. As well as doing a good job of clogging the middle of the field at the point of attack.

I’m still not sold on this run defense between the tackles and believe Gordon and Ekeler will have some success running inside. Look for Brian Flores to roll the dice a bit and try to send ILB Elandon Roberts on some run blitzes to try to hit Gordon at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Chargers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Los Angeles

Philip Rivers had an outstanding season, passing for 4300+ yards, 32 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions for a 105.5 passer rating. He has plenty of weapons to throw to with Keenan Allen, 96 catches, 1196 yards, and six TDs, Mike and Tyrell Williams who each had about 650 yards receiving and Gordon and Ekeler out of the backfield. The venerable Antonio Gates is still a third-down target and they’ve activated Hunter Henry this week, he tore an ACL this spring and is ready to go.

The Patriots gave up an average of 246.7 yards thru the air this year but the secondary, particularly the corners are a position of strength. Stephon Gilmore is now one of the top corners in the league and with rookie J.C. Jackson playing very well, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones, the team is in good shape there. Pat Chung and Devin McCourty anchor the safety position with Duron Harmon.

The key for the Patriots is to get pressure on Rivers and force the Chargers to keep their running backs in for pass protection. If Gordon has a weakness it is his pass blocking. Both he and Ekeler are very good receivers and would present mismatches to the Patriots linebackers in the passing game. Look for the Pats to try to condense the inside and rushing the A-gap and try to cut down on Rivers’ time to throw downfield.

It will be the backs and tight ends that will either win or lose this matchup for New England. They have the corners to match up and be very competitive with the Chargers WRs. But if Antonio Gates, Gordon, Ekeler and Hunter Henry, who no one knows how effective he’ll be, have big days then it will be a long afternoon for the NE defense.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots have a very reliable tandem in the kicking game in Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen. The Chargers Michael Badgley had a tremendous game last week against the Ravens and was the difference in the game. But Donnie Jones had a punt blocked in Baltimore and that could be an issue against the Pats who’ve blocked a few down the stretch.

Both teams have big-play returners in the kicking game. Desmond King had a 72-yarder last week. The Pats answer with Patterson and Edelman. Look for NE to come after a punt early in this one.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be the best game of the weekend. The Charger provide a very capable opponent on both sides of the ball. They don’t have blazing speed on offense, like New England but have a plethora of playmakers that can keep a defense on their heels.

The Keys from a Patriots perspective are:

Stay Balanced on Offense:

The Patriots will have to run the ball effectively enough to keep those pass rushers on their toes and Brady, in particular, will have to spread the ball around to all of his receivers. That means running out of 11 personnel and passing out 21 personnel.

Keep the Pressure on Rivers and Keep the Backs In:

The Patriots front seven will have to mix things up and bring pressure on Rivers while forcing the RBs to remain in for pass protection. If they can do that and keep them out of the stat sheet in the passing game, it should go a long way.

Win the STs Battle:

There will be some points to be had in STs this week. Ryan Allen and Gostkowski are good at keeping the ball away from opponent’s return men. On the other hand they’ll have to get some production out of their own returners. And attack the punting game and get after a kick. They’ve blocked three kicks down the stretch, and could use another one this week.

This one will go down to the wire. If this game were in LA, I’d easily reverse this score, but the Pats have proven to be a much better team at home this season. Brady and Co. get it done and move on their 8th straight AFC Championship Game.  Patriots 27-24

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Chargers Beat Baltimore, Sets Up Great Matchup With New England

Steve Balestrieri
January 7, 2019 at 8:49 am ET

The AFC Divisional Matchups are set with the Colts heading to Kansas City after dispatching the Texans on the road and the Los Angeles Chargers (I keep wanting to say San Diego) travel to New England to take on the Patriots.

We’ll get into some individual matchups with our Razor’s Edge piece later this week but here are a few quick things to know about the San…er LA Chargers before they head to Foxboro next week.

These Aren’t Your Dad’s Bolts:

Okay, that may be a stretch, but while you’re guaranteed to hear ad nauseam all week about how either A. Philip Rivers has never beaten Tom Brady (0-7) or B. This year’s Patriots team is very beatable, you can throw out all that hoopla.

Everybody is beatable, it comes down to having a good game plan and then being able to execute it. Bolts DC Gus Bradley had a great game plan for the Ravens and they worked it to perfection for 49 minutes but then allowed Baltimore to nearly snatching away a game they had no business winning. But the Patriots wins over the Chargers and Rivers were in 2006-2007. Those were over a decade ago and the only remaining links from either team are Brady and Belichick and Rivers and Antonio Gates.

This Chargers team seems much mentally tougher than those teams, who always it seemed to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Anthony Lynn has done a great job and is a viable candidate for Coach of the Year. Need proof? The Bolts came back from 16 points down on the road in Pittsburgh and 14 points down on the road in Kansas City to win both games…

Strength Against Strength This Week:

The Patriots were the league’s only undefeated team at home this year with a perfect 8-0 record. The Chargers were the league’s best road team this season with a 7-1 record. And that is even kind of misleading because the Chargers, in reality, played 16 road games this season.

They have no permanent home and are operating out of an abandoned office park in Costa Mesa, California while their new facility is being built. They hold training camp at a high school and play their “home” games in a tiny 30,000 seat soccer stadium where the opposing fans frequently outnumber their own.

The Patriots home field advantage is well deserved, they rarely if ever beat themselves at home and play much better in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. We could regurgitate all of the stats about their home record, which you’ve heard (and will hear all week) but you know all of that. You can’t have an 18-year run of excellence like the Pats have had and not take care of business at home.

With a win on Sunday, the Patriots would advance to their eighth straight AFC Championship Game against the winner of KC-Indy. That is ridiculous and attainable if they play their game.

Rivers Is Having Arguably His Best Season:

Philip Rivers is still making the commute to LA from SD every day and still lighting it up this season. Rivers completed 68.3 percent of his passes in 2018 for 4308 yards with 32 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions with a passer rating of 105.5.

Against the Ravens on Sunday, while far from his best game, he did what he had to do to get the win. The Ravens pass rush harried him all game and he completed 22 of 32 for 160 yards with 0 TDs and more importantly 0 INTs against the offensively challenged Ravens.

But at 37, Rivers has lost none of his competitive fire. He played the 2007 AFCG with a torn ACL, that is toughness. He’s also always been a huge trash talker during the game and on Sunday after taking a big hit from Matthew Judon after releasing the ball, Rivers thought it was a late hit. When Judon himself got up slowly, Rivers gave it to him yelling an audible “That’s what you get!” You can expect that type of fight for four quarters on Sunday.

Excellent Balance Offensively/Defensively:

The Chargers road record reflects that this team can win with their running game with Melvin Gordon or thru the air with Rivers, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates et al. When the offensive unit struggles, their defense is more than capable of taking over a game. Yesterday’s win over the Ravens was a prime example.

With all the talk of the Ravens defense, it was the Chargers defense who carried the game. The pass rush of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram dominated up front where Lamar Jackson had zero time to throw or to make plays. The secondary is solid and the rush defense is very good allowing just 104.8 yards per game.

The Chargers boast a Top 10 scoring offense as well as a Top 10 scoring defense. There are no glaring weaknesses on this team. The offense averages 26.5 points per game (6th) while the defense allows 20.6 per contest. The Patriots are nearly mirror images on both sides of the ball with 27.2 offensively and 20.3 defensively.

Chargers Are a Little Banged Up:

Playing against the Ravens is always a physical game and that is always a consideration when having to travel back and forth across the coasts twice again. They were already dealing with some injuries before the game. Brandon Mebane was out, and Austin Ekeler, Jaheel Addae, and Dan Feeney were all dealing with injuries.

During the game, Melvin Gordon left for a bit with a knee injury that was unrelated to his other knee injury but did return and finished the game. We’ll see how he feels during the week and if it cuts into his practice time.

Hunter Henry could be the “X-Factor” in this week’s game. He’s been out since the spring with an ACL injury but has been practicing and could be activated for this week’s game and could bring a huge lift to the Chargers’ passing attack.

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.

New England Patriots News 01-06, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 6, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-06, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

No…This IS 41: Last week in the aftermath of the Jets game, another hot-take artist of Fox Sports radio with an ax to grind, first complained that the league conspired to get the Patriots the bye because of what he called a terrible call of roughing the passer by the Jets against Brady. “NFL badly needed the Patriots to get that #2 seed. This call is total garbage. Patriots eventually score, up 21-3.”

Then he cherry-picked a missed throw by Brady to Hogan in the end zone to claim, “This is 41.” The funny part was the next day, he called out another writer for having a “garbage take” on the Antonio Brown saga. Glass houses, especially when in the game against the Jets, Brady completed over 70 percent of his throws, threw 4 TDs and had a passer rating of 133.8.

But we can cherry pick too, so…here’s your “This is 41”

Did you Know? Since 2001, the Patriots have had 13 byes, the most in the NFL. The next closest teams are the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers with 5. This is the ninth consecutive year earning a bye, the most prior to this Patriots run has been four. . Dallas and San Francisco earned four straight byes from 1992 through 1995 and Denver had four straight from 2012 through 2015.

Did you Know Pt. 2: The only NFL team to win a championship and is no longer in the league was from New England. The Providence Steamroller was part of the league from 1925 -1931 and won the NFL Championship in 1928. Besides being one of two teams (Chicago Cardinals) to be the first to play a night game in 1929, Providence, due to a scheduling snafu and bad weather played four games in a six-day stretch which the night game, attended by 6000 fans was the second game of the stretch.

Patriots Unveil 2018 Playoff Motto: The Patriots, as part of their M.O., have unveiled a motto for the playoffs this year, “Everything We Got.” They unveiled a short video that showed many of the national pundits calling for the demise of the Pats dynastic run.

Then the video shows the team in a quick series of vignettes and then the narrator says:
To get everything,
It’s going to take everything.
So we’re going to give everything.
EVERYTHING WE GOT.

Is it as good as “Do Your Job”? Nope. But it is a step up from “One More” in our opinion. Enjoy the Wildcard Weekend’s slate of the games. There were 12 good teams entering the playoffs this weekend, 11 of them will lose their last game of the year. That’s why our motto, which we’d steal from Hollywood, would be. “There Can Be Only One!”

With McDaniels and Flores Being Courted, Focus on O’Shea, Bielema:

Like clockwork, the staff of Bill Belichick is being raided again as multiple teams have requested interviews with coordinators Josh McDaniels and Brian Flores. McDaniels is rumored to be the top choice for the Green Bay Packers and is very much in the mix for Cleveland, he turned down a request to interview with Cincinnati. It might sound strange but the better job overall and probably better for McDaniels may be Cleveland.

The Packers have a 36-year old QB who got his last coach fired. The offense runs through Rodgers, it is doubtful, he’s going to want to learn a new system at this stage of his career. Cleveland has a good young defense, an exciting rookie QB that knows how to win and is a team trending up.

But we digress… If one, or both leave who will take over the reins as the coordinators for the Patriots in 2019? On offense, it seems like a no-brainer in that Chad O’Shea will take over the play calling there. He’s been being groomed for that spot for some time now. O’Shea has been with the team for 10 years and called the plays during the preseason last summer. That one seems like a slam-dunk. However, O’Shea’s name is being floated around as a possible Offensive Coordinator for Matt Patricia in Detroit. We’ll have to monitor that situation.

Defensively, the situation will be difficult as they have no clear-cut coach lined up to take the reins. In reality, Flores isn’t even a “true” defensive coordinator, as he’s not been even given the title of it yet… why, is a story for another time.

Bill Belichick would probably take most of the onus on himself as the defensive coordinator for 2019, however, there isn’t a clear-cut successor ready yet. The best choice? Bret Bielema who was a head coach at both Wisconsin and Arkansas. Brendan Daly, who coaches the Defensive Line, may become a candidate in a year or two, but right now, the odds would be against him.

AB to the Pats? Not Happening:

When the news broke about the deteriorating situation in Pittsburgh with Antonio Brown, it was amazing how dysfunctional that team truly is. Mike Tomlin has always run a loose ship and that has come home to roost. But as soon as the story broke about Brown requesting a trade, Patriots fans jumped all over the story, wanting Belichick to swing a deal for Brown.

But there is no way that’s happening. For one, the Steelers would still be on the hook for Brown’s huge 2019 cap hit. They’ll probably try to mend the relationship between Brown, QB Ben Roethlisberger, and Tomlin. Barring that, if they do decide to trade him, one place they never would trade Brown to would be New England.

And as ridiculously talented Brown is, I can’t imagine that there would be a mutual interest in bringing him here. Can you imagine Brown’s Facebook Live video going on while Belichick is addressing the team in a post-game setting? And Brown, although in the midst of a terrific season, was mad because Roethlisberger was making JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had an even better 2018, the focal point. I can’t see Brown accepting a role where he’s not “the guy” that the offense runs thru.

After last season and the tabloid-like story on the divorce of Brady/Belichick, while the team was going 13-3 and on their way to another Super Bowl, is there going to be a big breaking piece on the disintegration of the Steelers’ locker room? Their two most talented offensive players quit on their team this season…but we’re not holding our breath on that one.

Young QBs Have Fans Excited in Several Markets:

The NFL had an influx of young QBs this year and many of them played big roles for their teams right off the bat. And it is a great thing for several NFL franchises that have been downtrodden for a number of years as these young QBs generate hope and excitement for the next generation.

The league has their established stars in QBs like Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers but the story this season really wasn’t about any of them but Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes, while technically not a rookie lit the league on fire this fall. While perennial bottom feeders in Cleveland now have an exciting young QB, Baker Mayfield who has instantly brought hope and respectability to the franchise. Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen have had different levels of success but at least have their fans tuning in.

No one knows if any of these young studs can keep up the long-term success that they’ve found in their first year of playing.  There are no guarantees, injuries occur as well as other issues that can arise, but right now, the 2019 season looks to be, on paper one to really look forward to.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Wildcard Weekend Predictions:

Last week: 12-4 Final Regular Season 165-89-2

Wildcard Weekend:

Saturday – Houston over Indy,
                 Seattle over Dallas
Sunday –   Baltimore over LA Chargers (tough start time for West Coast teams)
                Chicago over Philadelphia

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have Their Man in Josh Allen, Now Need a Surrounding Cast:

The Buffalo Bills picked their guy in the QB Class of 2018 in the person of Allen, the big, strong-armed youngster from Wyoming who had a very up-and-down year, which isn’t a rarity for rookie QBs.

Allen has some obvious flaws in his game. He can be woefully inaccurate at times, but those are mechanical issues that can be solved thru coaching. But for a big guy (6’5, 237) he runs deceptively fast from the pocket.

The Bills need to surround Allen with better weapons next year. Although they have Zay Jones and Robert Foster, they could use another WR, RB, TE and a heckuva lot better support along the offensive line.

Allen ended the season in dramatic fashion, throwing for three TDs and running for two more, the first Bills QB to account for five TDs in a game since Jim Kelly. That left fans in Western NY, itching for a winner, looking forward to 2019. That may even stop them from throwing sex toys on the field during games… Maybe not.

Dolphins Search For the Next Head Coach:

The Miami Dolphins, in a mild surprise, fired head coach Adam Gase after the season was over, but the way the team finished their final quarter of the season, it shouldn’t have been. After an improbable, last-second fluke win over the Patriots, Miami was blown out in Minnesota, lost by 10 to Jacksonville and by 25 to Buffalo.

The Dolphins are busy trying to find their next head coach. GM Chris Grier has interviewed the Patriots’ Brian Flores, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and now are set to interview Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. For Bieniemy, this season was just his first as a coordinator but it was his fourth interview this week. He also met with the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Other names included in the search include Vic Fangio, Mike Munchak, Jim Harbaugh, and Dolphins’ Special Teams Coach Darren Rizzi.

Jets May Have Interest in Baylor HC Matt Ruhle :

The New York Jets are in Texas this weekend, interviewing Cowboys’ assistant coach Kris Richard but multiple sources are reporting that the Jets may also have a lot of interest in Baylor head coach Matt Ruhle.

Ruhle would be an interesting choice as he’s been instrumental in turning around a couple of college programs. Ruhle was born in New York City and spent a year on Tom Coughlin’s staff as an assistant offensive line coach.

He was the QB coach and offensive coordinator at Temple before becoming the head coach for four seasons. His last two in Temple, the team won 10 games, the only time in the program’s history that they accomplished that.  He then moved to Baylor to a program that had been rocked by a sexual assault scandal. In 2017, his team went 1-11. This season, they went 7-6. Ruhle got some interest from the Colts last year in their coaching search. He’d be a good coach it is believed to work with Sam Darnold.

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.

Patriots Week 17 Report Card in 38-3 Drubbing of the Jets

Steve Balestrieri
January 1, 2019 at 7:00 am ET


The big question on everyone’s mind today and a legitimate one is how much can we really gleam from the Patriots blowout win over the Jets yesterday? I mean, it was obvious the Jets mailed it in, there was no fire in that team.

However, the Patriots had a lot to play for and what we were looking for from them was to look like a team that is getting ready for the playoffs. And in yesterday’s game, they appeared to be just that. A team that very much appeared to be the Patriots team we’ve all been accustomed to watching for quite some time.

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s blowout win:

Quarterback: A-

This week Tom Brady shook off his late-season doldrums and looked like… vintage Tom Brady. Hurt knee? Not from my vantage point. He looked like he was moved well in the pocket and stepped into his throws. Brady waited, slid in the pocket and rolled right to hit Phillip Dorsett in the end zone for a nine-yard TD.

Bailing early on his throws? Nope. He showed great patience on several throws and got lit up on one play by LB Jordan Jenkins as he let it go. On his 17-yard touchdown to James White, Brady gave the play time to develop and then waited as the pocket slowly collapsed before hitting White.

Noodle Arm? Child please. He zipped a laser to Edelman for 18 yards that should answer that silliness. He passed for 250 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs and had a passer rating of 133.8. The one pass he’d love to have back is the play where Chris Hogan was all alone in the end zone and he badly overthrew him.

Running Backs: B

As Tom Brady is fond of saying, when the offense is clicking it makes it hard for the opposing defense to cover everyone. And that was apparent on both the TD catches by Rex Burkhead and James White.

The Jets were in their base package to counter the two-back look and to stuff the run that they assumed was coming with Develin in the backfield  But Brady had Burkhead split wide and the Jets looked unsure. He was mismatched with LB Avery Williamson and Burkhead had two steps on him running down the seam. Brady dropped a perfect pass in the bucket for an easy 18-yard score, that looked like the TD he had last year against the Saintes.

The running game was okay but not great. The Jets did a decent enough job up front but they were bringing a safety up at the snap to help with the run defense, sacrificing the coverage in the passing game.

Sony Michel had a decent game with 50 yards on 14 carries and was oh-so-close when he burst thru the line in the second half to breaking a long touchdown run, but was taken down with a shoestring tackle. Yesterday was a good effort all around and showed their versatility.

Wide Receivers: B

Yes Chris Hogan IS still on the team and for the first time in over 2 months was targeted more than twice. In fact, he was targeted 11 times and had six catches, he should have had another one where Brady missed him wide open in the end zone. Phillip Dorsett was targeted five times and made five catches including a nine-yard touchdown.

Julian Edelman had a very solid game with five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. He’s picked his game up a notch down the stretch. He and Dorsett did a nice job on the Jet sweeps, Edelman ran two for 24 yards and Dorsett ran two for 16, keeping the Jets’ defense off balance.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen were both good in the run blocking department, being able to handle the Jets edge players is a big positive and their value in the running game can’t be overlooked. On one play, Allen lined up as a fullback and crushed LB Neville Hewitt where Michel burst thru the hole for a big gain.

Gronkowski finished finished with just two receptions for 24 yards but his best play was called back for a penalty on Allen of all people. It was a catch and run for 30 yards and on that play, the big man looked like vintage Gronk.

But he wasn’t a big part of the game plan yesterday, he was only targeted twice, three times if you count the penalty.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line had an outstanding day overall in pass protection. Far too often for the Jets, Brady had time to survey the field and go thru his progressions and he made them pay.

Brady was sacked just once, by Leonard Williams where he just blew by Marcus Cannon. Trent Brown was solid but had another holding penalty and allowed one QB hit.

The OL did a good enough job in the running game, they still ran for 136 yards before Hoyer did three kneel downs at the end of the game. But credit the Jets for doing a good job of game planning on how to slow the running game down.

Patriots Defensive Line: A

The Patriots defensive line had an outstanding, not good, outstanding game, dominating the Jets OL along the line of scrimmage. At one point in the first half, Elijah McGuire had nine carries for nine yards, one of which went for 17.  That means his eight other carries went for -8 yards.

Danny Shelton easily had his best game in quite some time, he was the immovable object in the middle and blew up several running plays, he stuffed McGuire for a loss on one and on another, he blew it up which allowed the LBs to come in and clean it up. Maybe sitting him down for a few weeks lit a fire under him. He looked like a totally different player yesterday. If he can play like that in two weeks, the run defense will be in very good shape.

Lawrence Guy had a tremendous game, when playing next to a two-gapping run stuffer, he can (and did) make plays everywhere, including a sack. Trey Flowers continues his hot streak down the stretch with outstanding play. He punched the ball out of McGuire’s hands for a forced fumble that McCourty recovered. The Patriots scored soon after. He blew by tackle Brent Qvale for a third-down sack of Sam Darnold early in the second half. Even Derek Rivers got into the act, recording the first sack of his career.

Linebackers: A-

Kyle Van Noy was all over the field, he set the edge on one running play, giving McGuire nowhere to run and Roberts flew in and dropped him for a loss. He did a good job of staying with the smaller, speedy Trenton Cannon on a wheel route deep down the sideline. In the same series, after Adam Butler knocked the ball out of Darnold’s hand, Van Noy alertly scooped it up and raced 46 yards for a touchdown.

Elandon Roberts was a heat-seeking missile in the running game. He had a tremendous game as he too was all over the field. When Roberts can play that downhill style, he’s incredibly effective and yesterday he hit McGuire at least five times at or behind the line of scrimmage. Dont’a Hightower flashed on a couple of plays as well.

Secondary: A-


Stephon Gilmore smothered Jets WR Robby Anderson. The Jets were short-handed due to injury and the Patriots matched up their best with the Jets best. Yesterday it was no contest. Gilmore was credited with two passes defensed but he blanketed Anderson all day and held him to just 3 catches for 24 yards and one of those wasn’t even on him. Anderson had averaged 104 yards per game in the last three weeks, but Sunday was Gilmore’s day. Darnold targeted him eight times.

UDFA J.C. Jackson continues his stellar play and is now firmly in the #2 corner slot opposite Gilmore supplanting Jason McCourty. Fellow rookie Keion Crossen was beaten for two big pass plays of 25 and 22 yards by Deontay Burnett but one of those was just a terrific catch by the Jets young WR.

The safeties were also very solid, holding talented TE Chris Herndon to just one catch for 8 yards.

Special Teams: B


At first glance it would appear Ryan Allen wasn’t at his best averaging just 39.8 yards per punt, but he was angling his punts toward the sideline, allowing the dangerous Andre Roberts nowhere to run. It was a good, solid job.

Stephen Gostkowski was perfect nailing all five extra points and his only field goal attempt. The return game was so-so with no KRs and four punt returns by Edelman for 28 yards. The coverage units were okay but did allow Roberts 32 yards on one kickoff return.

Coaching: A

Bill Belichick had the troops ready for this one and they showed up ready to play and took care of business. He said it best when summing up the season when he said, “We won next week because we won today.”

Josh McDaniels called an excellent game, the Jets made it clear that they were going to bring a safety into the box for run support so he attacked their linebackers in coverage. The touchdown passes to White and Burkhead were prime examples of that. The only hiccup was the 4th and 1 run at the end of the 1st half. Since they were gashing the Jets in the passing game, that looked like a prime opportunity for a play-action pass against that green secondary.  

Brian Flores kept things simple, the Jets were short-handed at WR, so he put Gilmore on their best wideout and once he was erased, everything else fell into place. They held Darnold to 167 yards passing and sacked him four times. Jets RBs gained just 76 yards.

PatriotsThrottle the Jets 38-3 in Finale, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 31, 2018 at 6:42 am ET

P

We’re on to the bye week… isn’t it crazy how perceptions change? The Patriots are considered to have had a downer of a season. And yet they’ve won 11 games are getting a bye in the first round of the playoffs because of their thumping of the Jets this afternoon in Foxboro.

Yes, before any of Negative Nancy’s are quick to remind everyone, which I’m sure the hot take artists already are…the Jets mailed this one in. This had none of the intensity we’ve come to expect from the Patriots-Jets games, however, that isn’t what’s important.

What is important, is that the Patriots had a job to do today and that was they had to take care of business, win the game to secure a bye week for the team and then prepare for the Divisional Round. Check and check.

Bill Belichick was happy, he was giving much longer answers than normal and despite his normal dour expression, knew that the team performed exactly as they should have. He said it best when discussing the game in his post-game presser when he asked about the significance of the win and the season.

“There were some good things, and there were some things that could’ve been better – but in the end, we are where we are,” Belichick said. “Essentially we won next week because we won today.” Boom… mike drop.

We don’t know how far this team will go, but we say that every year because the playoffs are a one-game elimination where anything can happen, but in the end, as Belichick said, they are where they are. That is one win away from an eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game.

On Friday we posted our keys to the game and key matchups where we broke down the game positionally. And we hit on some and missed on others.

But here are our observations from today’s game:

Brady Spread the Ball Around:

That doesn’t seem like a big point because it seemed like he always did that. But lately, he’d been too locked into certain players. Not so on Sunday. There was a much more even spread to things and that ended up with one of Brady’s best games in a while.

Brady finished 24-33 (72.7%) for 250 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs with a passer rating of 133.8, which was his highest rating since Week 3 of 2017 against Houston. Other than overthrowing a wide-open Chris Hogan in the end zone, he was very sharp and made several really nice throws, his best was the touchdown pass to Rex Burkhead for an 18-yard touchdown.

Chris Hogan, who we were about to put on a milk carton, was rediscovered in the offense today and was targeted 11 times and had six catches for 64 yards. He was wide open in the left half of the end zone where Brady badly overthrew him from the 18, or his numbers would have been even higher. But today was a very welcome sight.

Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett each had five catches, James White chipped in four as the production was spread around pretty evenly. Rob Gronkowski had two catches for 24 yards but had a 30-yarder wiped out by a penalty.

We said we wanted to see the ball spread around more…and they did exactly that. And when they do that, this offense is much harder to game plan around.

Running Game Still Clicked:

The Jets had a sound game plan this week, they knew the Patriots were going to try to run the ball, as they did against the Bills last week. And with the passing game scuffling, they were going to take their chances there. So, they were bringing a safety up into the box at the snap and by bringing that extra body up, made it harder for the running game to find the room at the line of scrimmage. But it opened up room in the passing game, where Brady (as we mentioned above) was very efficient.

But regardless, Josh McDaniels kept things moving along and still found ways to keep the running game going. The Patriots were still able to grind out 131 yards on 30 carries and before three Brian Hoyer kneeldowns, they were averaging 4.96 yards per rush. That creativity is what they’ll need in two weeks and beyond.

While Sony Michel had just 50 yards on 14 carries, he once again came very close to breaking a couple of deep runs. He finished off a very solid rookie regular season with 931 yards rushing and that was with no preseason action and in just 13 games.

The Jet sweeps called by McDaniels were once again very effective, a total of four for 40 yards. Two by Julian Edelman for 24 and two by Dorsett for 16. James White added a really nice 21-yard run in the mix.

Defense Did a Good Job of Keeping the Jets Out of the End Zone:

The Jets were banged up at wide receiver but Sam Darnold threw for nearly 350 yards and three scores last week against Green Bay. And regardless of who is on the field, you still have to make plays.

The run defense was solid all day, the only aberration was a scramble from Darnold that went for 28 yards. Elijah McGuire was bottled up for the entire first half, at one point having nine carries for nine yards, one of which went for 17, so he essentially had eight carries for -8 yards when the game was still in doubt. He ran better in the 2nd half but by then the Pats had gone to lighter fronts to get after Sam Darnold who was forced to throw more.

Darnold finished 16-28 for 167 yards with 0 TDs, 0 INTs and a passer rating of just 74.6. The Patriots were blanketing his WRs, especially Robby Anderson who was covered by Stephon Gilmore (3 catches, 24 yards). After that absolute stinker in Miami, the defense held Pittsburgh to 17 points, Buffalo to 12 (with a garbage time TD) and the Jets to three. That’s trending in the right direction.

Gilmore and Trey Flowers have had outstanding seasons. And the Pats secondary has been one of the strengths of the team this year. There is still some question about the middle of the DL in the running game, but with Danny Shelton back inside, we’ll see how that works out.

In the six games since they came off the bye, they’ve held all of their opponents (except Miami) to 17 points or less.

Turnovers Are Always a Welcome Sight:

The defense has been pretty opportunistic this season forcing 28 turnovers (18 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries) the most the team has had since 2013. They forced three more on Sunday, Trey Flowers punched the ball out of McGuire’s hands in the first half, which they turned into a touchdown shortly after. Adam Butler knocked the ball out of Darnold’s hand which Kyle Van Noy scooped up and returned 46-yards for a TD (which will thrill a certain 2-6 radio show) and Jonathan Jones stripped the ball on the Jets final offensive play before Hoyer’s kneeldowns.

This is important because these things to tend to snowball one way or the other. When a defense isn’t getting any turnovers, they seem to go a long time without one. When a defense starts to get a bunch, that trend also seems to snowball…in a good way.

Another stat to consider is that the defense also had another 10 turnovers by stopping the opponent on downs.

Now We Wait …and Watch:

The Patriots came out of the game relatively unscathed, Devin McCourty suffered a concussion, but he’ll have two weeks to get ready for whoever gets the nod, and that game will be here in Gillette Stadium on Sunday, January 13 at 1:05 p.m.

The Patriots will play either the Texans, Ravens or Chargers, whoever is the highest remaining seed. The Patriots and the Chiefs get the bye and Kansas City, by clinching the top seed in the AFC will draw the lowest remaining seed.

The games should be interesting to watch this week, but we’ll be watching and trying to look at how this crazy 2018 NFL season continues to play out.

We’re on to the bye 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 the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.