Category Archives: 2017 NFL Season

Patriots – Titans Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge

Steve Balestrieri
January 12, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The New England Patriots return from the bye week to take on the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round of the 2017 Playoffs. The game will be played at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, where if the team is successful this week, will be the place for the AFC Championship Game.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Saturday, January 13, at 8:15 p.m. ET 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 (13-3) took care of business in Week 17 beating the Jets to end the season and had a much needed week off to heal up the many injuries that they have suffered this season.

The Titans (10-7) stormed back from a big 21-3 halftime deficit to stun the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round 22-21. The team rushed for 202 yards with Derrick Henry accounting for 156 of them. QB Marcus Mariota completed a TD pass….to himself in one of the crazier plays you’ll see.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Titans are meeting for the 42nd time going back to the old days of the AFL and when the Titans were the Houston Oilers. Overall the Patriots hold a 24-16-1 edge. The Patriots have won the last six meetings including a 2003 season Divisional Playoff win.

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 was firing on all cylinders until Rex Burkhead and James White went down with injuries. However, Dion Lewis has been simply outstanding in the second half of the season. Lewis will get the lion’s share of the work in the running game, even if both of those backs return.

The Titans are very stout against the run allowing just 88 yards per game. It starts with the big men in the middle, Sylvester Williams, Jurrell Casey and Austin Johnson. They’re big and physical and will make the going tough.

Look for the Patriots to pass to set up the run. The Patriots have run for more yards in the red zone in 2017 than any other team in the league. When they get down low, they like to run Lewis inside and catch teams in a pass rushing situation.

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

The Patriots passing game should get Chris Hogan, James White and maybe ….Burkhead back this week which will be a huge boost for the passing game.

The Titans can get after the passer and have 43 sacks, they also have the biggest ball hawk in All-Pro Safety Kevin Byard, but the two areas that they struggle in are the two are the Patriots strengths, covering running backs in the passing game and covering tight ends. They’re going to have to bring pressure up the middle if they’re going to slow down this passing offense.

Look for the Patriots to target Gronkowski and the backs early and often in this one. With the big men up front, the Patriots may try to keep them in their base look and then go hurry up to wear those big men down. If Brady has his full complement of receivers this week, this offense should easily have its way with Dick LeBeau’s defense.

Next up the Titans offense:

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

The Titans have the big man, Derrick Henry at running back and Marcus Mariota, who is a dual threat to run or throw. They averaged just over 114 yards per game on the ground. Demarco Murray has already been ruled out of this one with an injury so it will be Henry. He gets better as the game goes on, so if the score is still close late in the game, that’s when he’s at his most effective.

The Patriots run defense has had major issues this season defending the run especially on the edge but they’ll be getting Alan Branch back inside and the addition of James Harrison should really pay dividends. That means Kyle Van Noy, who is also returning from injury can move inside where he’s more effective.

The Titans are a run-first team, but they’ll want to mix things up and keep New England off-balance. But will Henry influence the game enough to tip the scales for the Titans? He’ll get his yards but the Patriots have gotten better against the run down the stretch. Shutting down the Jets and Bills on the ground.

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

The Titans have 3rd year QB Mariota who had a great 2016 but slipped badly this year throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. Tennessee has a talented group of receivers with Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker and Corey Davis outside and Delanie Walker at tight end. Walker led the team with 74 catches for 807 yards and three scores.

The Patriots struggled horribly in September against the pass but since then, things have tightened up considerably. The Patriots on third down have the fourth best opponent passer rating of just 76.8. The corners and safeties have tightened things up. Look for Pat Chung to battle Walker which will be a key area to watch. Harrison may add a bit to the pass rush for the Patriots who got 42 sacks on the season. Mariota averaged just 199.4 yards per game passing this year. If the Patriots get off to a quick start, the big question is, can he throw enough to keep up?

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams are among the best in the NFL, they excel in punt and kick coverage and continuously turn in big plays. Stephen Gostkowski had a very solid season and his kickoffs consistently put opponents deep in their own end. Ryan Allen is very adept at pinning opponents inside the 20 and the team has perennial Pro-Bowl ST player Matthew Slater on the coverage units.

The Titans punter Brett Kern led the league in punting average with 49.7 yards per punt and have Adoree Jackson on both their punt and kick return units.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Once again the key here from a Patriots perspective is to get off to a quick start. They haven’t been good at throwing the ball (23rd in the NFL) so they’re not going to be at their best if they have to throw and get away from the run.

With the Patriots getting most of their weapons back this week, look for Tom Brady to spread the wealth around and test this pass defense. Dick LeBeau’s zone blitz schemes are the same defenses that he ran in Pittsburgh. There is no mystery there for the Patriots or Brady. Will LeBeau mix things up and play more man coverage this week? That’s the big question here. If they sit back in a zone, the only chance they’ll have is if they get great pressure up the middle. Another key is ball security. With an offense that scores just about 20 points per game, the Pats can’t afford to give Mariota and the Titans offense short fields and easy scores. They have to feel pressure to score every time they get the ball in order to keep up.

Tennessee is at their best when the force the game into a physical slugfest where the score is a 17-14 type of game into the fourth quarter. Those are the games tailor-made for them to win. Mariota is a dual threat to run/pass but I don’t expect the Patriots to “spy” him with a linebacker. It will just come down to the players doing their job and the defensive ends not getting too far upfield.

Brady, Gronkowski, and Lewis will have big games this week and New England advances for the seventh straight year to the AFC Championship Game with a solid team victory as they pull away late.  Patriots 31-14

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.

The Titans Present an Unfamiliar Foe for the Patriots in the Playoffs

Steve Balestrieri
January 9, 2018 at 10:23 am ET

The Patriots and Titans will face one another in the Divisional Round of the 2018 NFL Playoffs on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium. The winner moves on the AFC Championship Game, for the Patriots, a win guarantees them the home game for the conference game. If Tennessee wins, they’ll have to travel to the winner of the Pittsburgh – Jacksonville game.

The Titans and Patriots don’t play each other very often so they present a bit of the unknown for New England. The teams that faced each other back in 2015 are pretty different than the ones who’ll face off this week. The Patriots running backs that day were Joey Iosefa and Brandon Bolden. Marcus Mariota injured his knee on a sack by Akiem Hicks and left the game early in the second quarter.

Tennessee had a big second half, rallying from a 21-3 halftime deficit to defeat Kansas City 22-21. Derek Henry had a big day rushing for 156 yards on 23 carries. Marcus Mariota completed a touchdown pass to himself and the defense shut out the Chiefs offense after struggling badly in the first half.

So, let’s take an early look at Tennessee and get some early impressions of the Titans and we’ll get to our key matchups later in the week.

Henry and Murray are the Keys to this Offense: The two-headed monster of Henry and Demarco Murray in the running game is what makes this Titans offense go. They play the old style smash-mouth football style that grinds down opponents and keeps the opponents’ offense off the field.

That opens up play-action passing where they get the linebackers and safeties to bite up in run support and creates a seam behind them to throw the ball to their tight ends and wide receivers.

Murray has a knee injury and is considered “day-to-day” but it is doubtful that he’ll be able to play this week. So Henry is the guy the Patriots will have to slow down. The Titans don’t have a dynamic, down-the-field passing offense so we may see some elements of a 3-4 look at times for the Patriots with Alan Branch or Malcom Brown on the nose and big men at defensive end while players like James Harrison and Trey Flowers line up as outside linebackers and set the edge.

Mariota Struggled in 2017, Can He Turn it Up Now? Marcus Mariota, thru an assortment of injuries and struggles, had a down year in 2017 throwing just 13 touchdowns against 15 interceptions with a passer rating that plummeted to 79.3.

That is a big slide from 2016 where he threw for 26 touchdowns against just nine interceptions for a passer rating of 95.6. He remains a threat to scramble and he definitely helped his own cause against the Chiefs, running eight times for 46 yards.

The Patriots plan this week will be focusing on the 2016 version and not concerning themselves with the guy who struggled this year. Since he only faced them for basically a quarter in the past, Mariota is still pretty much of an unknown factor for Matt Patricia’s defense.

The Wide Receiving Trio of Matthews, Decker, and Davis is Solid: Mariota has good weapons outside the numbers to throw the ball to. Two of the wide receivers should be quite familiar to Patriots fans. Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker have faced the Pats many times, the former with the Dolphins and the latter with the Broncos and Jets.

Matthews is the main guy outside and he put up solid numbers in 2017 with 53 catches for 795 yards and four touchdowns. Decker had 54 receptions for 563 yards and a score but it was he who was the recipient of the game-winning pass last week.

Davis is the rookie wide receiver who was taken with the #5 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and put up decent rookie numbers with 34 catches for 375 yards but he was the most targeted wide receiver against the Chiefs

But Mariota’s favorite target and the guy the Patriots will have to shut/slow down is TE Delanie Walker. Walker led Tennessee with 74 catches for 807 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll be the go-to guy in the passing offense. He’s a big athletic target who is difficult to stop. In 2015, he caught just two passes but one of them was a 57-yarder.

Dick LeBeau’s Defense Will Look Different: The Titans defensive coordinator is a marvel. At 80 years young, not old, LeBeau still has the energy and the passion to be a full-time coach in the NFL. His zone-blitz schemes are well known in NFL circles and by Tom Brady and the Patriots. Those schemes hold no illusions for Brady, who has routinely carved them up. So, look for the Titans to mix things up considerably.

The Titans know that Brady has routinely carved up this style of defense, so look for them to mix in plenty of man coverage this week. It will be a chess match as Brady and LeBeau will be trying to figure out what the other is doing.

LeBeau also knows, being the smart veteran coach that he is that the way to get to Brady is right up the middle. Look for the Titans to mix in some A-gap blitzes this week. Even still, I expect Tom Brady to be able to find plenty of targets in this one….

Titans Have Issues Defending the Pass vs Tight Ends/RBs: This is the key to the game from a Patriots perspective. Tennessee is among the worst at defending the tight ends as well as the running backs, which are the staples of the Patriots offense.

Expect Tom Brady to target Rob Gronkowski early and often in this one, as well as Dion Lewis, James White, and Rex Burkhead (if they’re available) this week. Look for the Patriots to try to keep the Titans in their base packages by giving a heavy 2-TE, or 2-RB look and take advantage of their linebackers in coverage.

How successful each team is in this matchup will go a long way in determining who comes out on top.

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.

NFL Division Playoffs: Patriots favored by 13.5 vs Tennessee

John Morgan
January 7, 2018 at 9:00 pm ET

The 2017-18 NFL playoffs have progressed to the second round. Division playoff weekend is arguably the best of any week of an NFL season.

That is because all four of the best teams of the season are playing on a national stage.

At the same time NFL fans are treated to a four-game weekend, unlike the remainder of the playoffs. And as opposed to this last weekend, we get to watch all of the season’s best teams.

In what may be an unprecedented occurrence this year, the number six wild card team is a road favorite over the number one seed this post season. Let the (real) games begin…

 

NFL Division Game Playoff Odds and TV Info

Saturday January 13 at 4:30 pm ET on NBC
#6 Atlanta Falcons (11-6) at #1 Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)
Falcons favored by 2½
 
Saturday January 13 at 8:15 pm ET on CBS
#5 Tennessee Titans (10-7) at #1 New England Patriots (13-3)
Patriots favored by 13½
 
Sunday January 14 at 1:00 pm ET on CBS
#3 Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6) at #2 Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
Steelers favored by 7
 
Sunday January 14 at 4:30 pm ET on Fox
#4 New Orleans Saints (12-5) at #2 Minnesota Vikings (13-3)
Vikings favored by 3½

 

Best Of Social Media: Week 17 Jets vs Patriots

Robert Alvarez
January 5, 2018 at 6:17 pm ET

Heading into Sunday’s regular season finale against the New York Jets, the Patriots were seeking to secure the number one seed in the AFC and lock up home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

gameday #letsgooooo #gopats

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

Last regular season game. #finishstrong

A post shared by Jonathan Jones (@getitonjones31) on

Game Day!!

A post shared by James Harrison (@jhharrison92) on

In the first quarter, the Patriots won the toss and elected to recieve in an effort to score early, they did just that for the seventh time in 2017.

Jets quarterback Bryce Petty got off to a difficult start seeking a response when he was caught by CBS cameras struggling to get his helmet on.

In what would be a recurring topic of conversation throughout the afternoon, it was a little chilly in Foxborough.

The Jets would get on the board with a Chandler Catanzaro 48 yard field goal to bring the score to 7-3 after one quarter of play.

Despite early struggles connecting to wide receiver Brandin Cooks, Brady continued to show confidence in his new wideout, and found him from five yards out late in the second quarter to provide some breathing room. 14-3 Patriots.

The Patriots defense throughout the first half shut down the Jets offense, and when they forced a three and out just before halftime, the Patriots offense continued to produce points in the final minute.

A Tom Brady block helped setup Dion Lewis for yet another touchdown in recent games.

21-3 Patriots at haltime.

Tom, your thoughts on the game so far?

https://twitter.com/ryan_spags/status/947551234910773249

In the third quarter, James Harrison made his presence known, landing this big hit after the catch, and forcing a Jets punt.

Stephen Gostkowski would nail a 21 yard field goal to up the lead to 24-3 which was setup by this Dion Lewis carry.

https://twitter.com/patriots/status/947562353326882816

In what was otherwise an uneventful third quarter, Patriots cornerback Johnson Bademosi put on a terrific display of acting on the sidelines.

https://twitter.com/mcckshea/status/947564035645562885

In the fourth quarter, the Jets made Jet decisions, and elected to kick a field goal from 35 yards out to cut the deficit to 18 at 24-6.

https://twitter.com/caseybake16/status/947565330368483330

The Patriots defense then put the icing on the cake with an Erice Lee safety on Petty.

https://twitter.com/caseybake16/status/947571951802961920

With the game clock winding down, James Harrison tallied back to back sacks, doubling his season total when he was in Pittsburgh.

A post shared by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BdYiP79gczg/

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bdc7z-_gWvt/?taken-by=d_lew33

https://twitter.com/kvn_03/status/947595167216885762

Patriots  Week 17  Report Card, Patriots Down Jets 26-6

Steve Balestrieri
January 2, 2018 at 8:56 am ET

The Patriots took care of business, downing the Jets 26-6 as they should have and enter the playoffs as the #1 seed. Which means that as long as they keep winning, the AFC path to the Super Bowl goes thru Foxboro. Just as importantly, the Patriots appeared to come out of the game relatively unscathed physically, something that really important as their injury list looks like a starting lineup most weeks.

But the win wasn’t your garden variety Patriots victory, the team didn’t execute exceptionally well offensively and looked sluggish for most of the game. Of course, the number of missing players and the cold would have had plenty to do with that.

While it isn’t worthy of sounding the alarm bells, they’ll be the first to say, this isn’t the way they wanted to head into the bye week. Defensively, the team allowed just two field goals and as we all know, the Patriots won’t lose many games allowing just six points.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady didn’t have a sharp game completing just 18 of 37 for just 190 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. His game was off and the communication with the wide receivers was off as well. He identified a mismatch and launched a ball where Brandin Cooks should have had an easy touchdown. But Cooks inexplicably stopped running. In the red zone, Brady threw to the corner and no one ran there and was flagged for intentional grounding.

Several of his passes were off the mark. He threw badly behind Danny Amendola and was nearly picked off on another. He had Cooks on a deep cross but overthrew it on what appeared to be a touchdown.

But his receivers dropped several passes as well, Brady was going to attempt to throw a block on a Jet Sweep and at the last moment, thought better or it and to be gracious, he at least got in the way.

Running Backs: A-

Once again there was no James White, no Rex Burkhead, and no Mike Gillislee. No problem. Dion Lewis, the little big man was the team’s workhorse logging 32 touches as he was the star of the game offensively getting 93 yards on the ground and another 40 thru the air. Lewis scored twice, one rushing, one receiving and continuously made yards after contact.

Lewis channeled his inner Le’Veon Bell on Sunday with several stops behind the line of scrimmage to allow his blockers to gain an edge. That’s someone who’s seeing the field well and his patience paid off.

Brandon Bolden had nine carries and averaged better than five yards per rush but was not good in pass protection, getting pushed back time and again. James Develin was his usual solid self, although Brady overthrew him badly on the first series of the game.

Wide Receivers: C
The wide receivers were targeted 25 times on Sunday and they were not great overall. But they made up by constantly drawing third-down penalties on the Jets secondary. We mentioned above, Cooks stopped on what would have been a deep post-touchdown route. He also dropped an easy quick screen. But he finished with 5 catches for 79 yards which included a nice 37-yard sluggo route where he and Brady hooked up nicely and drew a couple of defensive penalties including a 40+ yarder which would have been another touchdown. He caught a five-yard touchdown pass.

Danny Amendola was the cause for Cooks TD being so wide open. He ran a shallow cross and dragged his defender with him, causing two Jets (the other covering Cooks) to collide, leaving Cooks all alone in the end zone. But he too made an uncharacteristic mistake, misreading a hot route where Brady threw to air on the sideline and Amendola went out and up. But his quick pass on a Jets blitz was a classic Amendola nice catch and run for 12 yards and a first down.

Phillip Dorsett was wide open on a deep crossing pattern and misjudged the ball, diving for it when it wasn’t necessary and dropped it. But he made a nice sliding/diving catch across the middle.

Tight Ends: Incomplete

Rob Gronkowski officially played in this game but wasn’t targeted once in the passing game. Now the alarmists are hitting the panic buttons all over New England, “Oh my gawd, if the farkin’ Jets can take away Gronk, we’re one and done in the playoffs!” To quote Aaron Rodgers… R-E-L-A-X.

Not taking anything away from the Jets game plan, where they planned on doubling him all game, but Gronks absence in the passing game was completely by design…by the Patriots coaches. Brady didn’t look to him once…not once. They let him go out there and block a bit in the running game and he ran some routes to stay sharp, but they essentially bubble-wrapped him for the playoffs.

Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister each had one target in the passing game. “O” stands for zero

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line’s play was a notch down from last week. They were only okay in the run blocking scheme this week. Lewis was hit too much at or behind the line of scrimmage, the Jets did a pretty good job of slowing things at the point of attack. Lewis by virtue of his elusiveness made more on his own than he should have.

The pass blocking wasn’t as crisp either. While we mentioned Bolden whiffing a few times on A-gap blitzes, it wasn’t all on him. The Jets for a team that struggled to get consistent pressure all season, had more than they should have against Brady.

Nate Solder and Cam Fleming didn’t have great days at tackle, allowing too many pressures coming off the edge.

Defensive Line: A-

It was a very good day for the Patriots defensive line. When was the last time that they stuffed Bilal Powell, who usually tortures them? Powell had 13 carries for 46 yards but 24 of them came on one play where Eric Lee got washed inside and Elandon Roberts took a bad angle. After that, Powell had 12 carries for 22 yards. Overall, the Jets carried 19 times for 40 yards which averages out to 2.1 yards per carry.

Malcom Brown had another very solid day inside, stuffing a few plays and being stout at the point of attack. Ditto for Lawrence Guy who has had a quietly solid season. Guy does the dirty work between the tackles and had a couple of run stuffs as well.

Eric Lee had a so-so day but got Bryce Petty for a sack and a safety in the fourth quarter.

Linebackers: B

Marquis Flowers was the main guy on the edge as although Kyle Van Noy returned to action, they only played him about 15 snaps, just to get the rust off. Flowers and Roberts were okay for the most part, but they both blew the coverage allowing a big gain to the tight end Sterling.

James Harrison made his debut and played between 25-30 snaps and looks far from done initially. He does a very good job of setting the edge and reacted well to a third-down pass underneath by tattooing Robby Anderson with a thunderous hit short of the sticks. That one fired up the other defensive players.

Late in the game, Matt Patricia let him get after Petty, early in the game he was on the field mainly in run support as he only had a few days of practice in which to acclimate to the Patriots defense. Once he did rush, he was impressive, getting two sacks and forcing a fumble. On his one sack, he showed a rip move that was pure power. A nice start for Harrison. If he can give them 25 or so plays like that every week, the coaches will be very happy.  

Secondary: B

Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore had kind of a bounce-back week. Kind of? Well, they were rarely targeted, as the Jets don’t have a prolific pass receiving core. They were most often seen in run support. But when your opponent, even if it is the Jets go 0-12 on third down, you’re doing well.

New York was targeting Jonathan Jones, who was beaten by ArDarius Stewart for a 46-yard bomb that was perfectly thrown by Petty. Devin McCourty was good but uncharacteristically missed an open field tackle. While Petty threw for 242 yards, the Jets scored six points and were (again) 0-12 on third down.

Special Teams: A+

Ryan Allen had easily his best game of the year. He put five punts inside the 20 and in the second half, he dropped three inside the five. Matthew Slater downed two of them. It was a fantastic day for him. The coverage units were fantastic as usual although the return game was only so-so.

Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs are something we regularly laud here and once again he was spot on. They were constantly pinning the Jets deep. The only downer was when Belichick (perhaps wisely) decided to punt rather than try a 52-yard field goal. Why? Because had he made it, Gostkowski would have led the league in scoring for the sixth time in his career. Currently, he’s in a three-way tie with five, the most ever

Coaches: B+

Bill Belichick was playing some Jedi mind tricks on the Jets psyche by placing some big thermometers right outside the Jets locker room to remind them how cold it was. While he was sending a subtle message to his team to ignore the elements by doing his normal walk-thru before the game in a t-shirt and shorts.

Belichick went against his normal self by winning the toss and taking the ball to start the game which proved smart. They went right down the field and scored before settling into the deep freeze for the majority of the game.

Josh McDaniels got creative with an offense missing several key players by calling a multitude of different things and they did enough to win.

Matt Patricia’s defense has made a remarkable turnaround despite also missing some key players for most of the season. Remember when fans were calling for his head after the first four games where the defense was being gashed? Now he’s being interviewed by numerous teams to be their head coach.

The Patriots allowed 128 points in their first four games. In their last 12, they’ve allowed 168. Think about that one…

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.

Patriots Earn Homefield Advantage In 26-6 Win Over the Jets

Steve Balestrieri
December 31, 2017 at 8:42 pm ET

The Patriots took care of business on Sunday and will be at home in the playoffs as long as they keep winning. But stifling the Jets on Sunday 26-6 in a frigid Gillette Stadium, they earned home-field advantage for the entire AFC playoffs. So the AFC’s road to the Super Bowl goes thru Gillette.

This is the seventh time that they’ve had home-field advantage in the Belichick era. In the previous six, they’ve made the Super Bowl five of those times. So there is plenty of room for optimism there.

On Sunday the offense was missing several of their players and Rob Gronkowski was nothing more than a big decoy. The Patriots didn’t target Gronk once in the game and finished the season with a Gronkowski smile-inducing 69 catches. Dion Lewis was not only the star of the game but the Patriots workhorse gaining 93 yards on the ground and another 40 thru the air.

This one won’t get many style points by the players and the coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball. But defensively they gave up a pair of field goals and that was it, although Bryce Petty had a few good moments. Our other observations include:

It Was Not a Day To Be Outdoors: The field conditions for both teams was borderline miserable, the temps on the field were hovering between 10-12 with the wind chill making it below zero. Ball security was not a big issue for either team which was a plus for both teams.

It was the second coldest home game for the Patriots in the divisional playoff game with the Titans being the coldest. But it was the coldest regular season game ever at Gillette. So put the kettle on, it is a hot tea, cocoa, coffee kind of night.

Lewis Continues to Be the Focal Point: What a turn around since the midseason for Dion Lewis. The small in stature but big in moving the pile back had another really big game as he had a career-high 32 touches for the offense.

Lewis was doing his best Le’Veon Bell imitation as he was stopping behind the line of scrimmage and then bursting thru minuscule gaps to garner nice yardage after contact. Lewis’ confidence level has to be sky-high entering the playoffs and rightfully so.

Defense Held the Jets to 40 Yards Rushing: This was one of the better days for the Patriots run defense. Bilal Powell, fresh off a big day against the Chargers last week, had just 46 yards on 13 carries. Other Jets runners had six carries for minus six yards. The Jets running game averaged just 2.1 yards per carry.

Other than that one 24-yard run, the Jets running game had a grand total of 18 carries for 16 yards. Regardless of who you are playing, that is some pretty good run defense there.

Secondary Had a Decent Game As Well: Entering the game, a little-known fact was that the Patriots’ third-down defense had the fifth best opposing QB rating at just 80.3. (thanks to Remarkable for that). That number will surely get better as the Jets went 0-12 on third down Sunday.

Bryce Petty had some nice moments. His 46-yard bomb to ArDarius Stewart was a beauty, throwing perfectly in stride and gave Jonathan Jones in coverage no chance to make a play. He and reserve TE Neal Sterling had some good chemistry with Sterling had five catches for 74 yards.

Petty though, showed poor touch on several short throws. He finished 19-36 for 224 yards with no scores and no interceptions.

Belichick Breaks Trend wins Toss Elects to Receive: For the first time in quite a long time, the Patriots won the coin toss and elected to receive. It worked out well for the Patriots as they took the opening kickoff and went 75 yards in 13 plays for a 7-0 lead. That drive was their best of the game.

With a chance to put the Jets in a 14-0 hole on their second drive of the game, Brady had Brandin Cooks deep and he had a step in the coverage. But thinking the ball wasn’t going to him, he stopped running and the pass fell incomplete. It was that kind of day for the offense.  Cooks also had a drop but he hauled in five catches for 79 yards as well as drawing a 42-yard pass interference penalty. The Jets defense killed themselves with third-down penalties.

I understand the coach’s decision to not risk Gronkowski to injury but why have him out there at all if you’re not going to throw him the ball. Already missing a slew of skill position players, it put the offense behind the eight-ball further.

Brady Had Pedestrian Numbers on a So-So Day: Missing a plethora of weapons, and having Rob Gronkowski as only a decoy wasn’t conducive to Tom Brady having a big statistical day. But the offense overall had some communication breakdowns and a few bad throws. Brady ended the day with 18 completions on 37 attempts for just 190 yards with two touchdown passes.

This kind of regular-season finale will no doubt light a fire under Brady as they head off to a bye week and self-scouting. But getting Chris Hogan, Rex Burkhead and James White back as well as having Gronkowski a target again will no doubt help the matter.

Welcome to New England James Harrison: Early in the game, it looked like Belichick and Matt Patricia were using Harrison, who has only been in town a week in running situations as an outside linebacker as he’s not had much time to learn the defense.

But he played about 25 snaps and at the end of the game got to show what he can do in the pass rush department. Harrison notched two sacks and forced a fumble in what I’m sure the coaches hope of things to come.Especially if the Chiefs end up coming to town again.

Harrison had a couple of big hits on the field and didn’t look lost out there at all considering he only had a few practices this week. Early returns are promising, the next time they take the field, they’ll need that kind of performance.

Special Teams, Allen Standout: The coverage units, notably the punt coverage team had a fantastic day. Ryan Allen pinned the Jets inside the five-yard line three times, all in the second half, making Petty go the length of the field.

Stephen Gostkowski missed an opportunity to take the league lead in points for record sixth time. The Patriots lined up for a 52-yard field goal which if successful would have given him the record. But they took a timeout, and then punted.

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

NFL Playoff Picture for Week 17

John Morgan
December 30, 2017 at 2:00 pm ET

The 2017 NFL regular season wraps up on Sunday afternoon. There is not as much drama this year compared to the week 17 of many previous seasons. The 2017 NFL playoff picture is relatively settled. In the AFC there are four teams battling for two wild card spots. The NFC still has one division title up for grabs, but has just two teams competing for one final playoff slot.

For the sake of clarity and sanity, ties have been omitted from the scenarios below.

 

AFC Playoff Picture for Week 17

12-3 New England Patriots
15½ point home favorites vs Jets.
Have clinched AFC East and a first round bye.
Clinch the #1 seed with either a win, or a Pittsburgh loss.

12-3 Pittsburgh Steelers
7 point home favorites vs Browns.
Have clinched AFC North and a first round bye.
Need a win plus a Patriots loss for #1 seed.
Are the #2 seed in any other scenario.

10-5 Jacksonville Jaguars
3 point underdogs at Tennessee.
Have clinched AFC South and #3 seed.
Locked into the #3 slot.

9-6 Kansas City Chiefs
3½ point underdogs at Denver.
Have clinched AFC West and #4 seed.
Locked into the #4 slot.

9-6 Baltimore Ravens
9½ point home favorites vs Cincinnati.
Become #5 seed with either a win, or losses by both Buffalo and Tennessee.
Become #6 spot with loss, and either Buffalo or Tennessee loses.
Miss playoffs with a loss, plus both Buffalo and Tennessee win.

8-7 Tennessee Titans
3 point home favorites vs Jacksonville.
Become #5 seed with a win, plus Baltimore loses.
Become #6 seed with a win, plus Baltimore wins.
Can still become #6 seed despite a loss if both Bills and Chargers lose.
Eliminated with a loss, plus a win by either the Bills or Chargers.

8-7 Los Angeles Chargers
8 point home favorites vs Oakland.
Become #6 seed with a win, plus both Tennessee and Buffalo lose.
Become #6 seed with a win, plus both Tennessee and Baltimore lose.
Chargers are eliminated with a loss, or if Tennessee wins, or if Buffalo wins and Baltimore loses.

8-7 Buffalo Bills
2½ point favorites at Miami.
Clinch #5 seed with a win, plus losses by both Baltimore and Tennessee.
Become #6 seed with a win, plus Baltimore loses.
Become #6 seed with a win, plus both the Titans and the Chargers lose.
Eliminated with either a loss, or if the Titans and Ravens both win, or if the Chargers and Ravens both win.

 

NFC Playoff Picture for Week 17

13-2 Philadelphia Eagles
3 point home underdogs vs Dallas.
Have already clinched NFC East and #1 seed.

12-3 Minnesota Vikings
12 point home favorites vs Chicago.
Will be the #2 seed unless they lose, Carolina wins, plus the Saints and Rams both lose.

11-4 Los Angeles Rams
3½ point home underdogs vs San Francisco.
Clinch the #3 seed with a win, or with losses by both Carolina and New Orleans.
Drop to #4 seed with a loss, plus a win by either Carolina or New Orleans.

11-4 New Orleans Saints
7 point favorites at Tampa Bay.
Become #3 seed with a win, plus loss by Rams.
Win NFC South and #4 seed with either a win, or Carolina loss.
Become #5 seed with a loss, plus a Carolina win.

11-4 Carolina Panthers
3½ point underdogs at Atlanta.
Clinch #2 seed and first round bye with a win, plus losses by the Vikings, Saints and Rams.
Win NFC South and #3 seed with a win, plus losses by both the Saints and Rams.
Win NFC South and #4 seed with a win, plus loss by Saints.
Become #5 seed with either a loss, or a New Orleans win.

9-6 Atlanta Falcons
3½ point home favorites vs Carolina.
Make the playoffs as #6 seed with either a win, or a Seattle loss.
Miss the playoffs with a loss, plus Seattle wins.

9-6 Seattle Seahawks
9½ point home favorites vs Arizona.
Make the playoffs as #6 seed with both a win, plus Atlanta loss.
Miss the playoffs with either a loss, or an Atlanta win.

 

New England Patriots 2017: The Year in Review

Steve Balestrieri
at 11:18 am ET

While we’re waiting for the Jets game on Sunday to round out the regular season, it will also mark the end of the calendar year 2017. And it has been quite a year for the Patriots. One thing that can be said about this team is that they can be many things, but boring is never one of them. The year began with a tough divisional win over Houston, to the crushing of the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, to the epic comeback in the Super Bowl over the Falcons. And that was just the beginning of the year.

Free agency, the 2017 NFL Draft, Mini-camp and Training Camp set the table for a very exciting year. The slow start out of the gates made for intriguing storylines but in the end, the team has won 12 games with one still left to play. The legacy of this team has yet to be written, and that won’t begin for another two weeks. In a perfect world, the team would have four games remaining to play.

So here is our list for some of the big moments of 2017:
Best Moment:
James White’s touchdown to win the Super Bowl. What seemed like a pipedream in the third quarter came to fruition as Tom Brady and the Patriots offense cruised down the field in overtime with an epic drive to win the game. Watching White dive across the goal line was a surreal moment that will be an iconic moment in team history right up there with the Malcolm Butler interception.

Honorable Mention: Julian Edelman’s catch to keep the tying drive alive in the SB. It was a tremendous effort that seemed crazy at the time and was caught perfectly by the cameras as frame by frame, it was an obvious catch.

There was a couple of others, Cooks winning TD catch against the Texans and Harmon’s game-clinching INT vs Pittsburgh were great moments for the team.

Worst Moment:
Seeing Julian Edelman go down in the preseason. It was the beginning of an epidemic of injuries this year. After the year Edelman had in 2016, especially with the Super Bowl, confidence was high in 2017. It wasn’t to be.

Dis-Honorable Mention: Just about anytime Brady has an off-game, we’re subjected to all of these hot takes “Is this the beginning of the end?” yada, yada…stop. No Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan, James White, Rex Burkhead and others and he puts up an MVP-type season? Who else does that? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? This nonsense gets old. A week ago without all those weapons, the Patriots put up 37 points against a pretty good defense and what was a playoff team. And he had a bad game?

The trade of Jimmy Garoppolo is still incomplete at the moment. While no one wanted to see him leave the Pats, his success so far isn’t an immediate ticket to Canton and an automatic Super Bowl bid just yet. We’ll see how he does when teams have a lot of tape to watch on him. But right now, the results are very impressive.

Best Addition- Veteran:
Brandin Cooks came in and logged 1000 yards receiving with a game to play. From the beginning of mini-camp, we’ve watched this guy turn on the jets (no pun intended) and just imagine how effective he’d be if the other guys were all healthy. Has he been perfect? No, but he’s brought a dynamic to this offense that was sorely needed.

Honorable Mentions: Rex Burkhead and Stephon Gilmore. Burkhead hasn’t been able to stay healthy this season, but when he’s in the lineup the offense is very difficult to slow down. Gilmore despite being the whipping boy for the fans and media due to his contract has been the better starting corner overall.

Best Addition – Rookie
Deatrich Wise has had an under-the-radar solid season where he’s put up similar numbers to Chandler Jones’ rookie season while logging far fewer snaps. Wise had a very solid training camp where he appeared much more mature and seasoned than a guy entering his first NFL training camp. The moment was never too big for him and he’s had a solid rookie campaign.

Honorable Mention: Adam Butler was a guy few if any, gave any shot at making the team in July. But he worked hard and made a few splash plays every day in training camp. He’s become a nice rotational piece for the defensive line.

Biggest Loss:
This one is a tie between Chris Long, Rob Ninkovich and Dont’a Hightower since we listed Edelman above. I loved what Chris Long brought to the defense and when he left via free agency, I thought it was going to hurt. And seeing what he’s doing in Philly has not changed my opinion at all. Losing Long and Jabaal Sheard in free agency was a big loss on the edge.

Chris Long (left) was a key member of the defense in 2016

But the team added Kony Ealy in a trade and drafted Derek Rivers and Wise in April. Rivers was an intriguing piece, who had just begun to catch on when he was lost for the year due to injury. But the team still had the veteran Ninkovich for one more season…they thought.

Ninkovich’s abrupt retirement during training camp coupled with Ealy’s inability to catch on and Rivers’ injury really left the team strapped on the edge. It has been an issue since Week 1 of the season. Ninkovich was never going to be listed as the most talented guy at his position but when the games were on the line he was at his best.

Hightower was the one guy this defense could ill-afford to lose. The talented, physical but oft-injured linebacker/edge player from Alabama re-signed to New England in the offseason and can do a multitude of different things; play MLB, OLB, DE and be an effective blitzer as well. If the team falls short of its goal this postseason, Hightower’s absence will no doubt play a huge factor.

Biggest Surprise:
Dion Lewis has taken over the Patriots backfield in the second half of the season and has been simply outstanding in doing so. With a very crowded backfield during training camp, many had Lewis in not even making the roster. Early in the season, the Patriots were going more with Mike Gillislee and James White and Lewis’ snaps were virtually non-existent. This led many to believe that Lewis would be gone by the trade deadline.

Thankfully that didn’t happen. He’s been outstanding in the running game and is averaging more yards after contact than any back in the NFL. He had his best game as a pro last week and the arrow is continuing to point up.

Honorable mention: While I can’t really say I was surprised by Burkhead’s success, we all thought he was a great fit for the Patriots, but the way he worked himself in as an integral part of the offense WAS a surprise, taking away reps from James White.

Biggest Disappointment:
Derek Rivers injury was a huge disappointment here. While many will point to his just being a rookie and coming from a small program at Youngstown State, I was intrigued by his measurables and watched him closely at training camp and it seemed the light had gone on and he was going to be an impressive guy to watch. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go in 2018.

Honorable Mentions: The accident suffered by Harvey Langi and his wife was a scary reminder that these things can happen to anyone. Langi and his wife were stopped at a red light in Foxboro when another vehicle slammed them at close to 50 mph. Both had to be cut out of the vehicle with the jaws of life. He’s another guy that the defense could have used this year. Hopefully, both are recovered fully by now. Kony Ealy…. Coulda, shoulda, woulda…

Here’s hoping that 2018 gets off to an even better start. Happy New Year.

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.

What Can We Expect From Malcolm Mitchell At This Point of 2017?

Steve Balestrieri
December 28, 2017 at 9:26 am ET

The Patriots got some good news on Wednesday when wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell returned to practice from IR and the 21-day window has begun ticking. The Patriots have 21 days to either activate Mitchell to the 53-man roster or place him on season-ending IR.

Mike Giardi of NBC Boston said that while the Pats will take it day-to-day with Mitchell, he could be activated as early as Sunday in time to face the Jets in the 2017 regular season finale.

The bad news is that means Vincent Valentine will not be returning this year. And, once Mitchell is activated, that means another player would have to be released or placed on IR. That means possibly Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt or possibly Geneo Grissom could be cut loose. Or someone like Alan Branch, or possibly Rex Burkhead or even Chris Hogan could revert to IR.

The Patriots began practicing linebacker Shea McClellin off of IR in mid-season before he suffered a setback and was reverted to season-ending IR. Now, Mitchell is in the same boat.  

In a perfect world, Mitchell’s return would give Tom Brady and the offense a shot in the arm. In his rookie season, he started slowly due to an injury, but came on down the stretch and had a very effective Super Bowl against the Falcons where he caught six passes for 70 yards, most of it in the second half comeback.

Mitchell has decent speed but isn’t a burner. He’s a move the chains kind of guy who can make the tough catches against man coverage. With Hogan on the shelf, that is what the Patriots offense lacks. An outside possession receiver who can move the sticks against tight man coverage. Mitchell, if productive, opens up the large part of the field for Brandin Cooks. It would put a lot more pressure on opposing defenses who want to play that tight coverage where everything is contested underneath.

Right now, that guy is Rob Gronkowski, but teams are going to begin to double him. Danny Amendola is effective but works more inside.

Dorsett hasn’t caught on to the offense the way the team had hoped. He’s flashed at times but hasn’t been nearly consistent enough.

If the Patriots are going to release anyone my thoughts are it would be either Dorsett or Grissom who could easily revert to the practice squad. They signed Britt to a 2-year deal and he’d fit the mold for a bigger possession guy down the road. The Pats already have a speedier, more productive version of Dorsett in Cooks.

Mitchell, by way of his strong finish to the Super Bowl run a year ago, was the recipient of high hopes in 2017, but things haven’t worked out. He was injured all through training camp and never took the field once the season began. We won’t know how well his knee holds up until he actually begins playing. And then the question is, what can be considered reasonable expectations for him at this late juncture?

He hasn’t taken the field since training camp and even that was in a limited fashion. He really hasn’t taken meaningful snaps since February.

That’s why Sunday’s game, if he’s activated, will be so important. That’s the only action he’d get this season before the playoffs start. Which isn’t a lot of time to work off the rust. But it is what it is.

Like we mentioned above, in a perfect world, Mitchell would come back in mid-February form and Hogan returns healthy for the playoffs. But unfortunately, that world often doesn’t exist. The potential for the offense with those two healthy and productive is off the charts. Especially if Burkhead returns for the playoffs.

So, Sunday’s matchup will have a game within a game if Mitchell is activated. And a lot of eyes will be watching, not all of them from Foxboro.

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Patriots  Week 16  Report Card, Patriots Run Over Bills 37-16

Steve Balestrieri
December 26, 2017 at 9:12 am ET

The Patriots took care of the Bills again and won by 21, but it wasn’t as easy as the score would indicate. Buffalo had a much better game plan this time around and played hard. The score was very close until about midway thru the fourth quarter when the Pats pulled away.

This one had more controversy as Kelvin Benjamin appeared to snag a go-ahead touchdown just before the end of the half. The referees signaled a touchdown but the league’s replay officials, (which took forever) decided it wasn’t a catch. Whether you believe it was a catch or not, it certainly appears that the league’s officials in New York are adding to the problem with over-analyzing these things rather than simplifying them.

But in the end, the Bills with an extra four points or not, couldn’t stop the Patriots or Dion Lewis and New England scored on six straight possessions. Tyrod Taylor and the Buffalo offense weren’t going to match that and the Pats win assured them of their eight straight 12-win season and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: B-

Tom Brady much like the first game in Buffalo wasn’t sharp in the early going, before getting it going in the second quarter and beyond. He was late in throwing a slant to Kenny Britt which resulted in a Jordan Poyer pick-six and a 10-3 Buffalo lead. He threw well behind Rob Gronkowski and then overthrew him on passes where he was wide open. But he quickly found his game.

After the pick-six, the Patriots would outscore Buffalo 34-6 and Brady began heating up. He didn’t throw an incompletion in the second half and ended up 21-28 for 224 yards with 2 TDs and an interception.  

Running Backs: A

No James White, no Rex Burkhead? No problem. Dion Lewis, the guy whose name former Bills coach Rex Ryan claimed he didn’t know slashed Buffalo again. Lewis headlined a Patriots ground game that gashed the Bills for 193 yards. The Patriots knew the Bills were selling out trying to stop Brady from throwing and had a slew of smaller defensive backs in to stop the pass. The Patriots ran right at this group with deadly effect. New England ran for 191 the first time the teams played and 193 on Sunday.

Lewis led the way with 24 carries for 129 yards and two touchdowns. In two games against the Bills, this season Lewis ran for 221 yards. It is safe to say they know his name now.

Wide Receivers: C
The wide receivers again this week were pretty much a non-factor in the game. Buffalo’s secondary as we said, tried to take them away by flooding the field with DBs and it worked for the most part. NE’s wide receivers had a combined 7 catches for 87 yards.  Danny Amendola had three catches for 28, Phillip Dorsett had one catch for 24 yards, newcomer Kenny Britt had just one reception for 16 yards and Brandin Cooks had just two receptions for 19 yards, but he did draw a 49-yard pass interference penalty.

Tight Ends: A

Rob Gronkowski was a big factor in the passing game catching five passes for 67 yards including a sick 17-yard touchdown grab. Running a go route down the left sideline, Brady threw a back shoulder pass that Gronk snagged one-handed and was able to get both feet down for a highlight reel touchdown. He also drew a couple of pass interference penalties on the Bills as well as producing his normal stellar work in the running game.

Dwayne Allen had two catches for 26 yards while Jacob Hollister had a catch and a run for five yards each. On his run, if he stayed with Gronk and Allen to the outside, he had a touchdown. But he cut back inside and was tackled on the three.

Gronkowski also was asked about the Patriots success (12+ wins in the last eight seasons) and had a typically Gronk answer:


Offensive Line: B+

The offensive line’s play was very good this week, especially in the passing game. Brady was sacked twice but was only hit on two other occasions. He worked from a clean pocket for most of the day.

The running game was on point again as the offensive line was winning the battles there and opened up big holes for Lewis to exploit. They were getting to the second level and keeping the linebackers off the runners.  The Patriots set the pace and dictated how the game was going to be run.

Defensive Line: B

It was a good day for the Patriots front seven especially the defensive line. The Bills ran for just 84 yards on 24 carries, a 3.5-yard average. LeSean McCoy had the lion’s share of that with 17 carries for 71 yards. He had a nice 18-yard run on the edge, but the longer the game went on, the better the run defense got especially inside. The Patriots sacked Taylor six times and had 11 tackles for loss.

Linebackers: B

Marquis Flowers had a big, big day as he notched 2.5 sacks and had three tackles for loss and three QB hits in the Bills backfield. Elandon Roberts shared a TFL with Eric Lee but this week, there weren’t the glaring errors with misses and filling the wrong gaps as the linebackers were prepared and stepped up.

Especially with Flowers who has always been known as a STs guy but had a career-type of a day that was an unexpected bonus.

Secondary: C

After having their best day of the year the last time the teams played, the New England secondary had its issues all day long with the Bills receivers. Kelvin Benjamin is a beast. Even on one leg, (he needs MCL surgery after the season), the 6’5, 243-pound Benjamin gave Stephon Gilmore fits. The Bills were high-pointing the ball or allowing Benjamin to use his body to screen off Gilmore where he had five catches for 70 yards. But at least he was there with him all day.

Malcolm Butler had an awful day against Deonte Thompson who had Butler turned all around a few times with four catches for 91 yards. Butler was caught biting on a double move and just had a rough day all-around. Shady McCoy had five catches for 76 yards, with most of it coming on an outstanding 39-yard run where he caught a screen pass at the line of scrimmage and weaved and faked his way thru the Patriots secondary down to the 10-yard line.

Pat Chung did a pretty decent job on Charles Clay and Devin McCourty was solid in the back end but it wasn’t the greatest day for the secondary as a whole. But they were bailed out a few times by Taylor’s poor decisions to not throw the ball away, where he took horrible sacks and by curious decisions by the Bills coaching staff.

Special Teams: B

No worries here, Stephen Gostkowski was perfect in his four extra points and three field goals. His kickoffs as always are spot on and allowed the Patriots coverage units to do a great job of limiting the Bills return game. Ryan Allen punted only once for 44 yards with no return. Buffalo’s coverage units also had a very solid game. Special Teams play only played a key role in the Bills’ missed 50-yard field goal.

Coaches: B+

Bill Belichick had the team coming home after a long road trip and a particularly emotional win over the Steelers. Although they started slowly, the team was prepared and they had a good game that was executed well. As always, the Patriots halftime adjustments were outstanding, outscoring Buffalo 24-3 after the break.

Josh McDaniels’ offense was missing Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Martellus Bennett, Marcus Cannon, Rex Burkhead and James White. And they still scored 37 points without a big turnover from the defense. That was their second highest output of the season.

And for all the hand-wringing about the Patriots defense, Matt Patricia’s unit gave up a total of nine points on just three field goals, the only touchdown the Bills scored in two games this season was by their defense. While it was neither perfect nor pretty, it was still effective.

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

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