Category Archives: 2017 Patriots Season

New England Patriots News 1-7, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 7, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 1-7, & AFC East Notes.

We hope everyone made it thru the first big winter storm that rolled thru the area this week. If you lived on the coast, some areas were hit really hard with some awful flooding. That’s mother nature’s way of reminding us that she can really pack a wallop. Let’s hope everyone is ok and back in their homes soon.

It Has to be Playoff Time When You See…:
Unless you’ve been on a winter trip in the Amazon, by now you’ve heard about the story in ESPN about the Patriots coming apart at the seams and the feuding going on between Patriots owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

It never ceases to amaze that the network always “breaks” these stories around the time the playoffs are going on…coincidence? A few of the items in the story just jump out, so our two cents on these, in no particular order:

-Trade Demanded by #12:  If you believe that Tom Brady forced Robert Kraft to force Bill Belichick to trade Jimmy Garoppolo, you just haven’t paid any attention to what’s been going on around these parts for the past 17 years. Brady lives for competition, it drives him and it has been why he’s so successful.

How many times have we talked about and remarked how competitive he is…in practice? Brady regularly treats practice in training camp like a playoff game. If the Patriots’ coaches told him that Garoppolo is soon to take over, it’s going to light a fire under his butt, not drive him to run to Kraft demanding Jimmy G. gets traded.

Brady has always adopted an almost warrior-type bushido in his professional career. The average man looks at events that occur in his life as a blessing or a curse. The warrior looks upon those same events as a challenge.

-Garoppolo Turned Down $17-18 Million Dollar Extension: This one got into specifics and was perhaps the biggest surprise of the entire piece. Supposed, the Patriots went to Garoppolo and Don Yee, his manager, who also reps Brady and offered him a nice extension but were turned down. Two Patriots insiders Tom E. Curran, and Mark Daniels have their own sources and stated that this never happened. As for Garoppolo being locked out of the TB12 clinic next door? Please. This fall, I walked into the front door of the place, looking for alternatives to gel injections for arthritic knees and waltzed right in. That’s one of the more ridiculous mentions. And as for Garoppolo claiming that Brady refused to help him? Well, a month ago Brady said that the two still talk regularly and have a great relationship. Garoppolo gave Brady credit for helping him in a presser for the Niners…hmm.

-Brady and Belichick Are Feuding Over Guerrero: While there may be a slight lingering of hurt feelings over Guerrero, I wrote here two weeks ago that even those I believe to be overblown. Belichick needs one voice in the locker room and on the field and that is the team’s. Many of the beat writers have said that the relationship between the coach and QB has never been a close personal one but a close professional one.

And you’re dealing with big egos here. Are there going to be disagreements and even arguments? After a 17-year marriage? Are you kidding me? When you put two Type-A personalities in the same room, of course, there will be plenty of those…it comes with the territory. I can speak from personal experience. As the Commander of a Special Forces A-Team, it was never-ending. Put 12 Green Berets in a room to plan an operation, get your popcorn and watch the show. We used to joke that the only difference between God and a Green Beret was that God didn’t think he was a Green Beret… So the fact that Belichick and Brady have huge egos isn’t either news or a surprise.

A few of the other tidbits, that the young players call Brady “sir”…that is laughable. And if they did, shame on them. Many of the players, especially Brissett and Garoppolo when they were here cracked on Brady because of his age. And Brady bristling about not getting “Patriots Player of the Week” is pretty bizarre. He’s never been about individual awards but about team accomplishments. See the first paragraph.

But perhaps the most intriguing thing about this entire piece was the fact that the author got so many juicy quotes from team staffers. The beat guys work for years to build up relationships that open up a crack in an organization that is more locked down than Langley. And yet a guy, who rarely, if ever comes here, blows into town for a few weeks and gets over a dozen people to open up to him and give these incredible quotes which were the true meat of the story.

In the words of the Wells Report…”it is more probable than not” that there was just maybe a little bit of exaggeration there. Either that or the author missed his calling and belongs in the above-mentioned cubicles of Langley since it would qualify as a tremendous amount of elicitation in a record amount of time.

“We Stand United”, Patriots Big Three Answer:
Again, you know it is playoff time when the Patriots have to answer questions about ridiculous scandals that never show up until January. The timing of the ESPN piece was not a coincidence since it was posted just hours after the team was released for a few days during the bye week before the Divisional Playoff prep.

But respond they did, the Patriots released what they characterized as a joint statement from Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady to address the latest round of hoopla. The team minced no words on calling some parts of the article “highly exaggerated” or “flat-out inaccurate.”

Perhaps the most intriguing of the team’s response was the one line that could mean nothing or perhaps is telling where they addressed the future. “We look forward to the enormous challenge of competing in the postseason and the opportunity to work together in the future.” Stay tuned. So, back to football

Patricia’s Defense Ends up Top 5 In Points Allowed:
For all the criticism about the Patriots defense in 2017 and much of it deserved, especially early in the season, Matt Patricia’s unit excelled in the one area that is most important. Points allowed.

The Patriots defense finished 5th in the NFL in points allowed, giving up 18.5 points per game. During the first four games of the season the unit allowed 128 points (32 points per game), however during the last 12 games, the defense allowed just 168 points (14 points per game). That speaks to the way that Patricia coached them to tighten up in the red zone. The Patriots defense was 4th in the NFL in the number of red zone TDs allowed and 1st in the league in the scoring percentage allowed in Red-Zone possessions.

That’s not to say that the Patriots defense is a Top 5 unit, but are they good enough to get them to Minnesota and win in the Super Bowl? The short answer is yes. And Patricia who already has interviewed with the Giants and Lions for head coaching opportunities has a lot to do with their success.

Who Takes Over as Coordinators if Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia Leave:
Just as the usual stories arise to distract the team every playoff season, the Black Monday coaches purges always bring many of the Belichick assistants into the limelight.

McDaniels is rumored to be on the Giants radar as a frontrunner while Patricia is also rumored as the top choice for the Detroit Lions. So, if these two excellent coordinators do indeed leave this offseason, who takes over and is will there be an appreciable drop in the collective performances in each unit?

The first part is easy, the second will have to wait. Chad O’Shea would be the front-runner to replace McDaniels as the Offensive Coordinator, although the rumor mill has the Pats going after former coach Brian Daboll who is now the OC for the Alabama Crimson Tide who are preparing for the National Title Game against Georgia. O’Shea has been with the team since 2009 and is currently the team’s Wide Receivers Coach.

The favorite on Defense is Linebackers Coach Brian Flores. Flores coincidentally is also in the interviewing process for the Arizona Cardinals as their next head coach as Bruce Arians retired. Flores is on the Cards radar for a reason, despite not having any coordinator experience, he’s just about done it all with the Patriots. After graduating from BC, he joined the Pats as a scouting assistant. After two years, he became a full-time scout. Then after two years, he became a coaching assistant with the Special Teams. He’s served as a defensive and offensive assistant, then became the safeties coach before moving over to the linebackers in 2016.

Flores may be a year or two early for a head coaching job but he’s an extremely well-rounded coach who garners great respect from his players. He has been being groomed for the DC job. He’s called the defensive signals for both the 2016-17 preseason finales where Belichick begins the grooming for assistants. O’Shea called the signals for the offense this season in the finale against the Giants as Patricia and McDaniels both got the night off.

Will they succeed? Time will tell, but the way Belichick grills his assistants early and then grooms them for bigger and better responsibilities has always seemed to bear fruit. I would expect both to do well if indeed Patricia and McDaniels move on.

Harrison Signing Was a Potential Big Return on Small Investment:
Once James Harrison was released by the Steelers, the Patriots invited him to Foxboro and signed him for the remainder of the season. Which, cost them about $57K. After what we saw against the Jets, it was a bargain.

After the normal drivel of “they signed him to get the Pittsburgh playbook” nonsense, Bill Belichick put those thoughts to rest. After just about 4-5 days of prep time, Harrison played quite a bit against the Jets and played well. Regardless of his age, (39), Harrison keeps himself in excellent condition and has fresh legs, having played a total of 40 snaps for the Steelers all season. Harrison made a couple of nice plays, burying Robby Anderson with a big hit short of the sticks on a third down as well as a couple of sacks, including a strip sack of Bryce Petty.

Harrison admitted to being a bit nervous about his first action with the team. Equating himself to a rookie stating, “it is like starting your rookie season. New game plan, you got to pick things up.” He even sounded a bit like Belichick when he talked about “just doing my job” and gave credit to his teammates. “I was getting a lot of help from the guys around me.  

If Harrison can give the Patriots 25-30 plays like that in the next few weeks, it will be a boost for the defense. Don’t forget, he had big plays against Eric Fisher and the Chiefs both last year in the playoffs and this season in the regular season.

Brady, Gronkowski Named First Team All-Pro:
The Patriots dynamic duo were the only two members of the team named as first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. It was Gronkowski’s fourth time on the list while surprisingly it was just Brady’s third selection.

Brady easily distanced Eagles QB Carson Wentz after the Eagles signal caller went down with an injury forcing him on IR a few weeks.  Brady is expected to be named as the league’s MVP. He also won the MVP in both 2007 and in 2010. Gronkowski, also, easily distanced himself from Chiefs Travis Kelce at tight end.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Wildcard Weekend:
Last week 13-3 mark. Regular Season Total: 170-86.

Saturday: Titans at Chiefs – Kansas City
Falcons at Rams – Atlanta

Sunday: Bills at Jaguars – Jacksonville
Panthers at Saints – New Orleans

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Need to be Creative Against the Jaguars:

The Buffalo Bills have the 31st ranked passing attack in the NFL. Tyrod Taylor is the lowest ranked QB in the playoffs. They’re on the road facing the #1 pass defense in the NFL that allows just 169 yards per game. Their work is cut out for them in the Wildcard Game. Is it season over for the BIlls? Not so fast.

Buffalo can’t go in with the mindset that they’ve had all season by trying to be conservative and win by running the ball. If they do that, it will be a long quiet plane ride home. They’re going to have to be creative and take shots in the passing game.

Play action passes on first down, be willing to take risks, something Taylor is loathe to do will be the only way they score enough to win. Empty the playbook, get Kelvin Benjamin involved and let Taylor run.

On defense, the Bills rush defense will be up against it with Jax’s Leonard Fournette, but again, with an approach of loading the box and daring Blake Bortles to beat them may work. The Bills secondary can hold their own but a conservative approach won’t win them the game. Sean McDermott is on the clock. How will they proceed?

 

Landry fined $48K, Dolphins Fans Rejoice “Patriots Downfall”:

The Miami Dolphins were assessed three fines for the finale against the Buffalo Bills. Worst hit was WR Jarvis Landry who assessed a $48,620 fine for unsportsmanlike conduct and abuse of an official. Kenyan Drake was fined $12,154. Landry was considered a repeat offender by the league and this was why he was tagged for more.

But a couple of Dolphins’ fan websites were more interested in the “meltdown in Foxboro” as an omen that bodes well for Miami, more so than worrying about improving their own team. Word to the wise, believe about half what you read and when the season opens next year, prepare to see both Belichick and Brady across the field from you, and get Ryan Tannehill back and healthy.  

Will the Jets Go After FA QB or Look to the Draft:

The New York Jets over-achieved for Head Coach Todd Bowles in 2017, winning five games when many expected the Jets to finish similar to the Browns, winless this season. Much of their early-season success, when they went 3-2 was due to Josh McCown. If they were to pursue a FA QB like Kurt Cousins, then, of course, McCown would be gone, but if the Jets were to draft one of the big name QBs in the draft at #6, then McCown could and should be kept around as a bridge.

Who could the team then approach the draft in a different light? Picking at #6, who could the Jets target?

Rich Cimini of ESPN had an interesting take in his column. He made the case for taking Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. While running backs aren’t normally taken that high much anymore, Barkley would be an intriguing addition to the Jets offense, especially with Bilal Powell turning 30.

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 myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

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

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Third Down Totals Plummeted For Brady After Achilles Injury

Ian Logue
January 3, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Tom Brady went from having an MVP caliber season to an un-Brady-like finish where the Patriots weren’t quite moving with the same precision in the passing game as he was prior to an apparent Achilles injury he suffered against Oakland.

Over the final six games, Brady and the Patriots struggled on third down, including a game down in Miami where New England finished without a third down conversion for the first time in 26-years.  Some started predicting Brady’s demise, but instead, the numbers essentially show that Brady simply wasn’t himself while dealing with the injury.

Over the first 10 games, Brady finished 62-of-96 (65%) for 778-yards and 7 touchdowns prior to his injury.  After the injury, he finished 19-of-144 (43%) for 241-yards, 2 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions.

The final two games of this season still weren’t easy, with Brady completing just 5-of-13 (38%) on third down over that span, including one touchdown and an interception.  However, Brady was 3-of-8 Sunday against the Bills, which saw Rob Gronkowski essentially taken away as the Patriots’ game plan kept him in as a blocker and skews those totals.

If it wasn’t bad enough Brady got hurt, he had to deal with his own injury while dealing with ones from his own team that factored into those numbers. With Gronkowski out of the passing game Sunday, also missing was James White, Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, who joined Chris Hogan on the inactive list.  Hogan spent seven of the final eight games on the sideline, appearing in just the game in Miami while Rob Gronkowski was suspended. Hogan played 55-of-61 snaps (90%) in that game, but still wasn’t himself after he finished catching just one of the five passes he was targeted on.

Meanwhile, Mike Gillislee missed the same span, with the former Bills running back playing in the second to last game of the year against Buffalo. Also gone was Marcus Cannon, who went down after the Chargers game and was on the inactive list for the next five weeks before eventually ending up on injured reserve.

Other than Cannon, each of those other players are hopefully expected to be healthy by the time the Patriots play their first postseason game, and Brady feels like that should certainly help their offense.

“I mean, if those guys are able to get out there and play, I think anytime you get good players healthy, it helps a lot,” Brady said after Sunday’s win.  “So, there’s a lot of guys, like Brandin Cooks, Danny [Amendola] – they played a lot of football this year and have been out there for a lot of snaps – Dion Lewis has. So, if guys can kind of take some snaps off, I think throughout the week of practice and the games, I think that really pays off.”

“So, you’d like to be able to use everybody, and we have a good roster, especially on offense, and a lot of good skill players. I think it’s got to be more than just two or three guys doing it. If we can get five or six guys healthy and everyone plays a role, then that’s going to be great for offense.”

With a bye up next and plenty of time to get healthier before their first playoff game, hopefully, we’ll see Brady and his supporting cast back and at full-strength when they take the field again one week from Saturday.

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 Win Safely, Prepare For Home Cooking

Bob George
December 31, 2017 at 10:22 pm ET

FOXBOROUGH – It may turn out that the best thing to happen to the Patriots happened not at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, but rather down in M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Long after the Patriots had safely tucked away the top AFC playoff seed for the seventh time in team history, thanks to a 26-6 win over the Jets, several teams battled to decide the fifth and sixth playoff seedings. Baltimore and Tennessee controlled their own destinies, with the Chargers and Buffalo needing to win and get help.

Three of these teams did win. The Chargers won at home against Oakland, 30-10, after which the Raiders fired their head coach, Jack Del Rio. The Chargers then needed Tennessee to lose to Jacksonville, whose playoff seed has been set at three. But Tennessee held on to beat the Jaguars, 15-10, eliminating Los Angeles from the playoffs and sending the Titans to the postseason as at least the six seed.

Next on the hot seat was Buffalo, needing to win at Miami to keep their season alive. It got crazy at the end, but Buffalo held on and defeated the Dolphins 22-16. Everything then came down to the Baltimore-Cincinnati game, which the Bengals led early but the Ravens rallied late to take a 27-24 lead with 3:17 left in the game.

After an exchange of punts, Cincinnati got the ball back with 2:43 left. Aided by some key defensive penalties, Andy Dalton led the Bengals to the Baltimore 49-yard line. With 44 seconds left and facing fourth down and 12, Dalton was able to find Tyler Boyd in the right seam for an improbable 49-yard touchdown pass. Cincinnati was able to hold off Baltimore on downs, and the Bengals had a 31-27 win.

Buffalo thus makes the playoffs for the first time since 1999, ending the longest current playoff drought in the NFL. They will travel to Jacksonville next week to play their first playoff game since the epic Music City Miracle loss to Tennessee in January of 2000. Tennessee unexpectedly jumped up to the five seed and will travel to Arrowhead Stadium next weekend to play the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots will then play the lowest seeded winner in two weeks at Gillette Stadium, most likely on Saturday night if Bob Kraft gets his way.

This may turn out to be a nice scenario for the Patriots. The only team among next weekend’s four teams that cannot come to Foxborough for the Divisional round is Jacksonville, who will play at Pittsburgh if they win next week. The Patriots also no longer need to worry about Baltimore, who is 2-2 at Gillette Stadium all-time against the Patriots in the postseason and will never fear the Patriots.

Tennessee and Buffalo are at opposite ends of the familiarity spectrum. Should Buffalo win next weekend, they would come to Foxborough for the second time in four weeks and face the Patriots for the third time this year. On the other hand, the Patriots play the Titans only every three years, and have not met since 2015. The Patriots have won the last six meetings versus the Titans, including a 2003 playoff win on a frigid Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.

Memories of that game came back on Sunday, as kickoff game time temperature was around 8 degrees Fahrenheit. The Jets played well for the entire game and never got into “get on the bus” mode against the 16-point favorite Patriots. But cold weather was a factor for the game, as both teams, especially the Patriots, played cautiously and seemed bent on not getting anyone hurt versus playing beautiful football. The Patriots did not sustain any serious injuries, and managed to beat the outmanned Jets by 20 points despite not bringing their “A” game to the table.

Tom Brady played an average game (his passer rating was only 82 but did not throw an interception for the first time in five games), and relied on Dion Lewis to carry the load for the game. Lewis finished with 93 yards rushing and 40 yards receiving, scored two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving, and cemented his status as one of Brady’s “go-to” guys as they head into the postseason. This is the third straight game Lewis has scored both a receiving and a rushing touchdown in a game, a feat which had not been accomplished by a Patriot since Larry Garron in 1964.

The game was close in the second quarter, but seemed to turn when Chandler Catanzaro (who missed a walkoff field goal last year as an Arizona Cardinal) yanked a 40-yard field goal wide left to keep the score 7-3 Patriots. The hometowners would score two late first half touchdowns, passes to Brandin Cooks and Lewis, to take a 21-3 lead at the half. The rest of the game was simply about holding on to the lead and not getting hurt.

Another telling stat which might suggest the attitude of the Patriots is the stat line for Rob Gronkowski: zero yards, zero catches, zero targets. Gronk was on the bench wearing a parka for most of the fourth quarter. The Patriots didn’t need the big fella at all, so instead of risking injury, he just hung in there and blocked all game long.

The “hero” of the game for the Patriots, if there was one, was new linebacker James Harrison. Signed as a free agent this week after Pittsburgh unceremoniously dumped him, Harrison had 4 tackles and two sacks, both sacks coming on the last two plays of the game. The Patriots used Harrison as an edge setter for most of the game, and Harrison showed that he can help this team in the postseason despite his age (39).

But the Patriots had nothing to worry about. In the fourth quarter, trailing 24-3 and facing fourth down and 9 at the Patriot 17, Todd Bowles had Catanzaro kick a 35-yard field goal instead of going for it. CBS analyst Tony Romo said, “Going for the field goal tells me that the Jets don’t want to win this game.” The game, despite having home field on the line, was absent of any anxiety or drama. In Pittsburgh for their season finale against Cleveland, Mike Tomlin had such little faith in a Jet upset that he made Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell inactive for the game.

Bill Belichick won his 250th regular season game, tying him for third place all-time with former Dallas coach Tom Landry. The Patriots have now won 13 or more games six times in team history, and have been the top playoff seed in the AFC in three of the last four seasons. Only once in team history did the Patriots get the one seed and not make it to the Super Bowl, when they suffered a loss to the Jets in 2010 in a home Divisional game.

Belichick will now go back to his laboratory and work on the three teams that could come here next weekend, Kansas City, Tennessee and Buffalo. He won’t forget the season opening loss at home to the Chiefs, and will make you think the Titans are the like the losers of Super Bowl XXXIV and the Bills like the losers of Super Bowl XXV (and XXVI, XXVII and XXVIII).

That is, after he and all the Patriots pop champagne corks at midnight and toast in 2018, and hopefully another happy first five weeks of the year. Like how 2017 began, for example.

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

Steve Balestrieri
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

New England Patriots News and Notes 12/31, AFC East Notes

Ian Logue
at 5:00 am ET

After a holiday break with the family, I’m spelling Steve this week as we get set for the Patriots’ New Year’s Eve finale against the Jets later today.  So here are this week’s Patriots news and AFC East Notes.

Contrary to the Critics, Brady Actually Looked Better Against Buffalo Than He Had in Weeks:
One of the things that really stood out during New England’s win over Buffalo on Sunday was the fact that Tom Brady looked about as sharp as he had been in about a month, which was a nice change given where he was after his name first appeared on the injury report with his “Achilles” injury. Over that span he didn’t appear to be himself, with his throws not quite having the same zip on them and he didn’t look like he was moving as well in the pocket, which also hurt him as he took some shots by the defense that he would normally elude.

But on Sunday, it was a different story. His passes were crisp and thrown on a line, with a lot more precision and velocity than we’ve seen while he was dealing with the injury. Overall, Brady finished the afternoon missing on just seven pass attempts, completing 21-of-28 for 224-yards and two touchdowns. Many will point to the pick-six he threw early in the second quarter but upon further review, it was hard to put that one on him. Looking at the film, the interception happened because newcomer Kenny Britt, who was targeted on the play, drifted back in his route instead of coming straight back across, with Brady simply putting the ball where Britt seemingly should have been. Instead, it allowed Bills safety Jordan Poyer a lane to undercut Britt and make a diving interception, which saw Poyer leap to his feet and sprint 19-yards back the other way for the touchdown.

Look below at where Britt was when Brady released the football:

This is the direction Britt looked like he should have been going in, even with the 19-yard line with an opportuntiy to catch the ball and potentially split the two safeties and reach the marker:

Instead, look at where he ends up. Britt drifts back an additional two yards, ending up past the 21-yard line, which allows Poyer to make the diving interception and the eventual touchdown:

Needless to say, it’s hard to put that one completely on Brady.

Nevertheless, aside from the turnover, Brady looked as strong as we’ve seen recently and on Sunday he was definitely moving around the pocket much better. He showed improved mobility and didn’t seem as hampered, moving out of harm’s way on several occasions while looking much more nimble in the pocket. When he was forced to move around, he showed no issues resetting his feet and firing the football, which is great to see as we head into the final week of the season.

The critics point to the fact he’s thrown interceptions in each of the last five games, but the numbers don’t always tell the entire story. While Sunday’s turnover looks poor on the stat sheet, the context under how it occurred certainly should be taken under consideration.

Through 15 games, he’s still well below some of the other top names around the league in terms of interceptions. Heading into Sunday’s game Brady is currently tied for 20th in the NFL in interceptions with eight, with players like Ben Roethlisberger (14), Cam Newton (13), Dak Prescott (13), Matt Ryan (12), and Russell Wilson (11) among players who have turned it over more than Brady has this season.

For now, while there are vultures out there looking for the dropoff that many are expecting to hit at his age, it’s still much too early to swoop in just yet. 


Lewis rounds out a group that should be able to do some damage in the playoffs. (USA TODAY Images)

Lewis’ Rise Sets Patriots Up Nicely Heading Into the Playoffs:
It’s been mentioned previously in this space, but watching Dion Lewis on Sunday should have fans feeling pretty confident about the Patriots’ chances in the playoffs thanks to the dual threat he’s been giving them in the ground game as of late, with Sunday providing another terrific example.

Lewis notched a career-high 129-yards rushing on 24 carries against the Bills on Sunday, including a touchdown, his second 100+ yard rushing game in the last five weeks. He also had 5 receptions on 5 targets for another 24-yards and a touchdown. He’s averaged over 5-yards-per-carry in the last two games and appears to be peaking at the right time, which is good news for a Patriots team that has had their best success with an effective rushing attack in their previous two Super Bowl wins.

The veteran running back was named AFC Offensive Player of the week after Sunday’s performance, including a key play in the game where Lewis converted a 4th-and-1 to keep the chains moving as New England looked to pull ahead trailing 16-13 in the third quarter. After a 5-yard completion to Danny Amendola, Lewis picked up 3 yards on the next play to set up 4th and short. Brady hustled to the line and snapped the ball to Lewis, who the officials initially ruled was short of the marker. But after review, Lewis picked up the yard and kept the drive going.

Four plays later, the Patriots converted a 34-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to knot the score at 16-16. That sparked a 10 point third quarter that jumpstarted New England’s offense, which added two more touchdowns in the ensuing quarter, including one by Gillislee and Lewis to complete the 37-16 blowout.

He’s done a great job of breaking through up the middle and depending on how far New England goes, if they make another successful run, we may look back at his contributions as being pivotal if he continues to play this way in the postseason.

Return By Mitchell Could Be a Game-Changer:
Speaking of pivotal, it’s going to be interesting to see if Malcolm Mitchell makes a successful comeback, especially if he’s anywhere close to the player he was last season.

Mitchell returned to practice this week after spending the season on injured reserve and the timing couldn’t be better for a team that’s still a bit banged up at the receiver position. Chris Hogan hasn’t quite gotten back into form yet after suffering a shoulder injury a few weeks ago, leaving them a little thin at the position. That’s lead to some problems in recent weeks on third down, which Mitchell may be able to help them with.

Brady was 10-of-15 targeting Mitchell on 3rd down during the 2016 regular season, with 9 first downs including two touchdowns. Those 9 conversions were tied for third on the team with Rob Gronkowski and James White, although Mitchell’s success rate (9/10) was higher than any other player.

One of the most memorable plays he had was a 3rd-and-11 that he converted late in the Super Bowl, which played a key part of New England’s comeback over Atlanta. Having him back on the field would be important as he really had a lot of success in one-on-one match-ups last season, which is something their offense needs with Gronkowski and Cooks as two players who will likely receive a lot of attention.

Mitchell finished the postseason with 7 receptions for 75 yards, with 6 of those catches coming in the Super Bowl after Mitchell piled up 70-yards during the Patriots win over Atlanta. He was quietly one of the unsung heroes last year and hopefully, his return marks another opportunity to play a similar role this year as well.

Where they are right now really is impressive given who they’re missing:
Another thing that’s really surprising this season is the fact this team has reached the point it has with its hands essentially tied behind its back. What’s staggering is the fact that they’re sitting now tied with Pittsburgh at 12-3 on the verge of getting the top seed without the likes of Julian Edelman, Dont’a Hightower, Malcolm Mitchell and Vincent Valentine.

For Hightower, his absence is quietly one of the ones that stings the most, especially given how effective he’s been in the postseason. The Patriots have gotten flashes from different players while he’s been gone, but no one has really stepped up consistently on a weekly basis, which could be a concern should this team face adversity and need someone to step up in a key moment. Hightower was no stranger to rising up when they needed a big play, and no one has quite been able to even come close to filling those shoes.

One of the things that may help New England this season is the fact that no one in the NFC right now is playing well enough to make you believe the Patriots can’t compete and win if they’re able to make it that far, which will hopefully allow them to outscore whoever they ultimately face if they end up in Minnesota.

But as we reach this point in the season, it’s tough not to lament Edelman’s loss heading into the postseason.  Given how good they’ve managed to somehow be without him, just imagine having Edelman out there with Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski, which probably would have made a significant difference in how much more explosive this group would have been. Cooks likely would be a much more effective player, especially since Edelman would have drawn more of the coverage with Gronkowski.

Edelman’s potential return certainly sets things up really well for 2018, but considering where they are at this point without him, it definitely says a lot about how well this group has managed to push on with their best offensive weapon on the sideline.

Like Gronkowski’s absence last year, we’ll be left to wonder just how far they can make it without him, which will be one of the biggest questions on everyone’s mind the next time they take the field after Sunday’s finale against the Jets.


Edelman’s loss was a big one for the Patriots in 2017. (USA TODAY Images)

Edelman Felt Unwanted After the 2012 Season:
Speaking of Edelman, one of the gifts I received for Christmas from my lovely wife was “Relentless” – which is the book of Julian Edelman’s journey written by Edelman and well-known Patriots reporter Tom E. Curran.   I’ll be offering up some tidbits over the next few weeks, as the book is full of some terrific insight into Edelman’s journey from pop warner to the NFL, along with a lot of looks behind-the-scenes during his time with New England.

However, one of the things that was interesting was how bitter Edelman apparently was coming off of the 2012 season before he hit free agency.  Prior to that season, he had received a two-year contract offer for what he wrote was “more money than I was currently making”, but Edelman passed after he claimed that he and his agent decided that he would be better off addressing it after the season.

Instead, Edelman had a tough year after he suffered a broken hand and a broken foot, which saw him play in just nine games that season, the fewest of what at the time was his fourth-year  in the NFL.  As a result, New England pulled the deal from a two-year deal to a one-year deal and Edelman was extremely upset, especially after they brought in Danny Amendola after Wes Welker departed in free agency after that season.

“It was a lot for me to process,” wrote Edelman.  “My feelings were hurt, and I was mad with the thought that they had decided to move in a completely different direction.  So I looked at other options.  I visited the Giants and I had every intention of signing there.  As far as the Patriots were concerned, I felt, They don’t want me.  They don’t need me.  I’ll go where I’m wanted.”

But Edelman’s dad was the one who actually convinced him to stay, telling him, “not to make decisions based on emotion.”  So Edelman wrote that by the end of that first week of free agency, “I had simmered down.  Now my head and gut were in New England.”

It’s a good thing because Edelman had a breakout season in 2013, catching 105 passes during the regular season for 1056 yards and six touchdowns.

Edelman seemingly had plenty of motivation heading into that season, which happened after the team drafted Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce to go along with Amendola’s addition.  After Edelman’s foot recovery stretched into camp, Bill Belichick called him into his office to tell him that both Dobson and Boyce were making the team and that he needed to get out there and start practicing.

“We’ve got guys who are capable of playing,” Belichick told him.  “You’ve got to show me what you’re capable of doing.”

After their meeting, Edelman wrote, “I wasn’t 100%, but I knew I was out of time.  Like my dad says, you can’t snivel over it.”  He also said that it motivated him.

“I felt like a cornered animal,” wrote Edelman.  “I knew I had to fight my way out of it.”

He’s likely raring to go right now having sat out this season after the knee injury he suffered during the preseason.  While it’s disappointing, he’s proven that he’s no stranger to doing what he needs to in order to come back from an injury and hopefully, he’ll be ready to go in 2018.

Belichick Reaches Out to a Coach Many Have Forgotten:
Steve Balestrieri came across some terrific Tweets posted this week featuring footage from a meeting between Belichick and former Lions coach Rick Forzano.

The 89-year old came to visit Belichick after he invited Forzano for a meeting prior to the team’s preseason game back in August against the Lions in Detroit.  Forzano, who coached the Lions from 1974 to 1976 is the man Belichick credits with giving him his first real opportunity in the NFL.  He knew Belichick from the time he was 8-years old, including a moment where at 10-years old, Forzano put Belichick in the film room and told him to break down the film for him.

“He studied everything I did, and he did just the opposite,” joked Forzano.  “And that’s why he’s successful.”

“That’s not true,” laughed Belichick.

Later in the piece, Forzano also made quite the statement, referring to Belichick surpassing even the great Paul Brown.

“Paul Brown set the bar up so high,” said Forzano in the piece.  “And this guy (pointing to Belichick) tore the bar down.”

It’s absolutely terrific, so besure and take a look at each of these tweets in order below.  The footage continues as you move down to each one.

AFC EAST NOTES:

Bowles Extended:
Despite New York’s 5-10 finish, the Jets extended head coach Todd Bowles this week, with Bowles now under contract through 2020.

That’s good news for the veteran coach, who overall looks like he’s started changing the culture for a team that was much more undisciplined under Rex Ryan.

The Jets got off to a rocky beginning in 2017 after an 0-2 start, but then won three-straight before the Patriots came in and started the first of two three-game skids that essentially derailed their season.

For New England, it’s a slight red flag in that Bowles will be looking to reward the faith of his owner by trying to beat their biggest rival to close out the season.   But with the top seed on the line, there’s enough riding on this one where the Patriots will hopefully have enough motivation to spoil Bowles’ afternoon with New York’s 4th straight loss to close things out.

Jets Lost a Couple More to IR This Week:
In what was more or less a formality, the Jets placed running back Matt Forte on season-ending injured reserve with a knee injury, which more or less already has him starting his 2018 preparations a little early.

Forte told ESPN that the knee has been bothering him since the Bye Week (which for the Jets, was back in week 11) and that he’s “been basically playing on one leg”.

It’s funny to see how badly his tenure has gone, as he was a popular name here in New England as a potential Patriot prior to the three-year deal he signed with the Jets.  While he’s still got one year left on his deal, he’s expected to be released after this season.

“My contract is for three years and this was the second year of it, so I’m under contract,” Forte said. “What they do with that is not in my control.”

Sometimes the best decisions are the ones you don’t make and while the Patriots aren’t always perfect, it appears they made the right move after seeing him fizzle out in New York.

Meanwhile, other players who were placed on IR this week for the Jets included running back Akeem Judd, and starting guard Brian Winters.  Winters’ story is interesting as he reportedly tore his abdominal and abductor muscles back in Week 2 but battled through the injuries.  He Tweeted that the muscles were “completely torn” during the second quarter back in Week 2 against the Raiders, yet he still managed played much of the year.

That says a lot about him as a player and as much as we don’t like the Jets, it’s hard not to give him a lot of credit for pushing through and it certainly shows you how tough he is.  Best wishes to him on a full recovery from what was likely a painful injury.


Bowles will likely be pushing his team to play spoiler Sunday.

Bills Restauarant Owner Upset With NFL’s Time Change:
In one of the more amusing stories I’ve seen in a while, Russ Salvatore, proprieter of Russell’s Steaks, Chops & More in New York, saw his Sunday plans ruined after the league changed the start time for the Bills’ game against Miami from 1:00pm to 4:25pm.

According to Salvatore, the problem with the change is on a normal 1:00pm kickoff, the game is shown in the bar area and everyone comes in and they serve a complimentary buffet, which he says, “it’s a lot of fun” and his patrons enjoy it.

Instead, the new start time conflicts with dinner time at his restaurant on New Years Eve, which on that night is much more formal as he runs an upscale restaurant, and it ruins the experience for what will be the team’s final game of the year but has postseason possibilities.

“They had absolutely no consideration for people in business or people who have made plans on New Year’s Eve for them to change it just to satisfy their pockets,” he said via the Buffalo News, referring to the NFL. “I think it’s ridiculous. A lot of complaints, I’ve gotten, from customers: ‘Russ, are you going to show the game?’ We can’t show the game. People are coming here in tuxedos and gowns; you want to show a football game on New Year’s Eve? It’s the most ridiculous thing in the world.”

He added: “There are a lot of restaurant people who are very upset.”

The Bills are still alive in the playoff hunt, but they’ll need to win along with a couple of different things happening in order to extend their season:

They’re in IF:

They win AND the Ravens lose OR
They win AND the Chargers lose or tie AND the Titans lose or tie OR
They tie AND Chargers lose AND the Titans lose

Needless to say there are a lot of things that need to happen for it to become even a slight possibility.  It’s unfortunate for Salvatore and others who may have had plans to watch the game at his establishment.  Either way, the good news is they’ll be able to at least enjoy seeing their former players Mike Gillislee and Chris Hogan playing in January.  I’m sure they’ll like that.

Dolphins Will Play QB Shuffle Sunday:
One of the things that may improve Buffalo’s chances is the fact that it sounds like the Dolphins may be doing a bit of experimenting at their quarterback position when they take on the Bills Sunday.

According to the Miami Herald, Adam Gase is expected to give backup David Fales some playing time, which Gase is doing to try and evaluate the backup position heading into 2018.

The definitive starter in 2018 is expected to be Ryan Tannehill, who suffered an ACL injury to his left knee that knocked him out of action this season.  Since then they’ve been unable to establish any consistency after Jay Cutler came in but couldn’t stabilize that position.  Cutler has already stated he won’t be a backup in 2018, which means Sunday will be his final time in a Dolphins uniform.

Matt Moore is also expected to be out, as he didn’t do much during each of his opportunities this season and his deal is up as well.

As a result, things are a bit of a mess with Miami, which, lucky enough for the Bills, bodes well enough to keep those hopes alive.  And so it goes in the AFC East, where there always seems to be some bizarre things going on at the end of each season. One thing we do know is that the Patriots have the chance to take care of business and lock up home field, and we’ll find out by the end of today whether or not the road to Minnesota will indeed travel through Foxboro in the AFC.

New England Patriots 2017: The Year in Review

Steve Balestrieri
December 30, 2017 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.

Patriots – Jets Part II Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge

Steve Balestrieri
December 29, 2017 at 10:28 am ET

The New England Patriots finish off the 2017 regular season by taking on the New York Jets in Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium.

The teams have moved in different directions since the last time the teams met in Week 6. Both entered that game at 3-2 and since, the Patriots are 9-1 and are in line for the AFC’s top seed. The Jets are 2-8 since that matchup and are left looking for answers.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 31 at 1:00 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 (12-3) took care of business last week by defeating the Buffalo Bills 37-16. Dion Lewis rushed for a career-high 129 yards as the Patriots ground out nearly 200 yards on the ground. The defense held the Bills to just three field goals.

The Jets (5-10) lost to the Los Angeles Chargers 14-7 as they limp to the season’s finish line but still are playing hard for coach Todd Bowles. They’ve been in all of their games this season and looking to the future.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 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 Jets are meeting for the 118th time. The Patriots hold a 62-54-1 edge overall. The Patriots are 33-25-1 all-time at home against the Jets. The Patriots have won the last three matchups and the past two wins by Gang Green have been in overtime. One of which was in 2015 with the famous “pushing rule” game which cost the Patriots home field advantage in the playoffs but wait, the Pats get all the calls right?

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 Jets Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game has been steadily getting better as the season goes along and Dion Lewis has emerged as the Pats go-to back. Last week against the Bills, they were missing Rex Burkhead and James White, but Lewis and Mike Gillislee gashed the Buffalo defense for nearly 200 yards.

The Jets, like the Patriots, have had issues stopping the run and have allowed 116 yards per game. In the first matchup this season, New England ran for 125 yards. The key matchups will be how effective the Pats offensive line is at getting to the second level against a good linebacking core.

Lewis will be the main back again, however, with Burkhead on the shelf, Gillislee has missed practice time with a knee injury. If he’s unable to go, we may see more of Brandon Bolden this week.

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

The Patriots passing game is still missing a ton of key players with Chris Hogan, White, and Burkhead out. But the good news is Malcolm Mitchell is back and is slated to play some this weekend. He’ll no doubt have some rust issues but his return is very good news for the passing offense. Matching up with Rob Gronkowski has to be the Jets priority on Sunday. I’d expect to see him doubled this week.

The Jets have done a good job of defending the pass this year allowing just 237 yards per game. They’ve only had two teams pass for 300 yards or more against them this year. Their improved secondary begins with the two rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye who have come in and played much better than anyone could have hoped this early in their careers.Their biggest weakness remains, rushing the QB and if they give Brady time, he should have a big day.

Gronkowski had a big game with two touchdowns in the last matchup and the Jets will have to find a way to slow down the big man. It will be up to the other players on the offense to make them pay if they decide to double Gronk. Brandin Cooks will have to step up this week and make the Jets force coverage toward him.

Next up the Jets offense:

Jets RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New York

The Jets have a very good running back in Bilal Powell and he is coming off a big game last week (145 yards) against the Chargers. Look for the Jets to test the edge of the Patriots defense which has been leaky for much of the season. Powell missed the first game and has usually played well against the Patriots.

The Patriots run defense has had major issues this season defending the run especially on the edge and they’ll be short inside with Alan Branch still out injured. But there are a couple of silver linings this week. Malcom Brown played arguably his best game of the season last week against the Bills and the Patriots just picked up James Harrison. The Steelers all-time sack leader is closer to the end of the road than the beginning but I think he’ll be looked to primarily help with setting the edge here. If he can do that, then his time here regardless of his pass rush ability, will be a success.
We don’t know how much he’ll play this week, but they’ll be a lot of eyes on him and we’ll be focusing on the running game first.  

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

Josh McCown is out for the season and the Jets now have Bryce Petty under center. He has some good weapons in the passing game, Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse outside, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Powell out of the backfield. The problem has been protection this season. Jets QBs have been sacked 43 times in 2017.

The Patriots pass defense has been light years better since the first Jets matchup where McCown threw for 350+ yards. The secondary didn’t have a good week against Buffalo last week and will be looking to enter the postseason on a high note.

Look for Matt Patricia to be a bit more aggressive this week with Petty under center than McCown. We’ll see some safety or corner blitzes and some A-Gap pressure as well.

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.

The Jets STs units are a step below the Patriots and don’t have the edge anywhere here. But they showed last week that they’ll be aggressive, starting off the Chargers game with a successful onside kick. Expect them to empty the tank this week.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This key here from a Patriots perspective is getting off to a fast start. Game time temps are slated to be 10-15 degrees with a wind chill below zero. The Jets, although they’ve played hard all year are playing for nothing but pride. If New England gets off to a quick start, they may just want to fold up tents and get home to watch the ball drop in Times Square.

Turnovers are key here as well. The Jets don’t have a prolific scoring offense so ball control and not turning it over is key here.They can’t give the Jets any short fields and any momentum to pull off the upset.

Look for the Brady and the offense to keep it varied, mixing in the pass and run equally and the defense to get a couple of sacks as well as a turnover of their own…or two.  Pats finish the regular season 13-3. Patriots 34-13

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.

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.