Category Archives: Patriots Commentary

Latest Patriots Video Flap Was Dumb and Entirely Avoidable

Steve Balestrieri
December 11, 2019 at 9:14 am ET

File this under: “The more things change… or a better one will be “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or have turned off social media (probably a smart move), you would have missed this latest Patriots scandal involving filming the Bengals sideline during their game on Sunday against Cleveland. 

What we do know is, there was a film crew from Kraft Productions that was filming an upcoming episode of the“Do Your Job,” which in this case was profiling a week in the life of a Patriots pro scout. These short subjects have been fascinating as we’ve been able to glimpse behind the curtain at a number of people who otherwise would be in the shadows. 

The three-man film crew conducted an interview with the scout and then followed him to Cleveland to film him doing advanced scouting of the Bengals before the game against Cincinnati which is the norm for all teams. 

The film crew asked the Browns for media credentials for the day after explaining what they were about to do. And the Browns granted their request. As part of the feature, the crew shot was is commonly referred to as “B-Roll” footage, secondary film work that plays over the interview that shows what the scout would be seeing during the game. That’s when everything went awry. 

While it is acceptable for the scout to watch the opposing sidelines during the game, all scouts do that, filming the sideline is not. And the B-Roll most certainly did videotape the Bengals sideline, reportedly eight minutes worth. 

The monitor in the press box was visible to all there, including a Bengals staffer who could see the sideline being filmed and reported it to NFL Security. They stopped the filming at that point and confiscated all of the videotapes including the interview with the scout and all of the earlier footage. 

This crew allegedly didn’t know that filming the sidelines was prohibited as they’ve been granted access to the Patriots’ sidelines during home games at Gillette. Only the NFL and the broadcasting television network are allowed sideline access during the games.

The Patriots, knowing they were at fault here, immediately released a statement stating “full responsibility for the actions of our production crew at the Browns-Bengals game.”

Jeff Howe of the Athletic wrote on Tuesday that when Patriots coach Bill Belichick found out about this, he was furious. He should be. Because regardless of intent, nefarious or not, this entire episode is going to get laid right at his feet. And whether he had any knowledge or not, it is his legacy that will be called into question, yet again.

Many are arguing that filming the coaches on the sideline has dubious value these days since everything is relayed into the game via a transmitter in the player’s helmet, the green dot, as we’ve all heard countless times. It doesn’t matter. Videotaping the sideline is still illegal via the press box and it doesn’t matter that “anyone can do it from the crowd”. 

And the ignorance of the rule sounds patently ridiculous. The video people are all adults and were certainly alive in 2007 when the original flap over filming other teams reared its ugly head. And although they’re granted access to the Patriots sidelines during home games, they also know that the other team’s sideline is prohibited. 

This entire fiasco was entirely avoidable, while they were granted access from Cleveland, they should have notified the NFL and Cincinnati of what they were doing. Then, anything that occurred during the game, could have been handled on the spot and stopped if the league or the Bengals found something objectionable. The events are 2007 should have certainly prompted this crew to know, that when it comes to anything with video, the Patriots have to do it cleaner than anyone else. 

The league won’t tolerate another flap like this. And trying to justify it by downplaying the value of it or the fact “it’s the Bengals” isn’t going to resonate anywhere but in New England. 

Many are trying to argue the logic of it all which again begs the question, isn’t anyone paying attention here? Nobody outside of New England cares that “Kraft Productions is a separate entity from football operations.” Opponents, sick of the Patriots being on top, made it clear that they wanted their pound of flesh during Brady’s case after the AFC Championship Game with the Colts. It is only going to grow now.  

And how will the NFL react? One must remember that this is the same league that suspended Tom Brady for a quarter of a season for cold weather. Does anyone really feel that they’re going to buy this alibi that they weren’t aware of the rule? So, please don’t try to apply logic to any of this latest fiasco.

Howe also wrote that many in the Kraft Productions house relating to video production are in fear for their jobs. Again, they should be. If what they were doing truly was innocent filming of a documentary, which it very well was, then it is even dumber that they put the team in this position.

This entire ridiculous controversy was entirely unnecessary and avoidable. The league should be grateful. The awful officiating of Jerome Boger’s crew is now far in the rearview mirror. Where the heck is Mona Lisa Vito when she’s needed. 

“People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.” – James Baldwin

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 Patriots Week 14 Report Card, Loss to the Chiefs 23-16

Steve Balestrieri
December 10, 2019 at 4:24 pm ET

Patriots fall to 10-3, Poor Execution Once Again Offensively Sinks Team 

The Patriots dropped their second game in a row, a hard-fought 23-16 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Once again, as in all three losses, they fell behind big early and weren’t able to dig themselves out of a hole.

The defense got figured out by Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes who had a big second quarter where KC entered halftime with a 20-7 lead. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise, the Chiefs are the most explosive 2nd quarter team in the NFL. But the Belichicks (plural) figured it out. 

The defense really tightened up in the 2nd half and held the Chiefs to just three points on an opening drive field goal and created some turnovers giving their team a chance to win. The offense, however, was another story and struggled once again. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the game film before putting a bow on this week. Unless you’re hung up on the latest scandal involving the Patriots. (We’ll have more to say about that later). But for us… We’re on Cincinnati.

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady had another struggle from start to finish on Sunday. For the hot-take dweebs on national television, this is manna from heaven. But starting with the offensive line and going through his wide receivers and tight ends, this is arguably the worst supporting cast Brady has had to deal with in his 20 seasons with the team. 

Very little of Brady’s struggles had to do with his play per se, he was either not getting time (more to that below), no one was getting open, and his WRs were dropping third-down conversions or touchdowns. 

Brady got a boatload of criticism for ignoring Jakobi Meyers on the Patriots’ final offensive play of the game, who was wide open. But I’m not blaming Brady for that. Meyers seems to be fighting the ball right now and had dropped two passes, including a touchdown.  

Running Backs: C+

The Patriots running game was once again unable to get anything going, gaining only 94 yards on 22 carries (4.3-yard average). This was against a KC run defense that has been abysmal this season allowing nearly 50 yards more per game. 

James White (no surprise) goes to the head of the class. He averaged 5.5 yards per rush (6 attempts for 33 yards) and added 27 yards on 5 catches. He is making it easy for the coaches to give him the lion’s share of work down the stretch. 

Sony Michel was once again victimized by poor blocking. Opponents are sniffing run whenever he’s in the backfield, and it seemed like white jerseys were in the backfield whenever he carried the ball.

We thought Rex Burkhead would play a large role in Sunday’s game but his impact, like the vast majority of the offense was negligible. Just 7 carries for 15 yards on the ground, and 0 catches on one target through the air. 

Brandon Bolden got one carry, for 10 yards and a TD, his fourth of the season. We know he’s not a world-beater, but on a season where the offense has precious few producing, hasn’t he at least earned a few more carries, especially on short-yardage and the around the goal line? 

Wide Receivers: D-

If you are a die-hard Patriots fan, you should pray and pray very hard to the football gods that Julian Edelman can make it through the end of the season and playoffs. Without him, this offense is absolutely awful. And it isn’t great with him on it, but just imagine if he was forced to miss any time.  Edelman had eight catches for 95 yards including a 37-yard touchdown on the team’s first possession. 

Phillip Dorsett? No catches, no yards. He did draw a slightly questionable pass interference penalty. And should have drawn a second. But his production is non-existent, as is his presence outside. 

Mohamad Sanu has to be playing through pain because his production has flat-lined in the past few games. He had one catch for 13 yards and was invisible the rest of the game was invisible. 

N’Keal Harry played just two snaps (why?) and caught one pass that officially went for 12 yards but was truly a 15-yard touchdown pass. Jerome Boger’s crew screwed the pooch on that one. It was eminently fixable, but the call like Boger’s crew was lost. 

Jakobi Meyers is fighting the ball right now and dropped two big passes on Sunday, one of them a touchdown. He did catch a flip from James White for 35-yards. As a group, the WRs are overthinking things, playing tight and playing terribly. 

Tight Ends: C-

Ben Watson was targeted three times and had a single catch for 7 yards. Matt LaCosse was targeted four times and 2 catches for 14 yards. Those numbers are just not good enough, especially when it seemed like Josh McDaniels wanted to attack the Chiefs down the seams in this one. That failed. Their blocking in the running game isn’t good enough.

Offensive Line: D

The offensive line was terrible on Sunday against the Chiefs. Joe Thuney stopped the grade from being lower than it already was. The Chiefs’ front, dominated on the ground all year, controlled the line of scrimmage and shut down the running game. 

KC does have a good pass rush and they were bringing the heat on Brady on nearly 50 percent of his dropbacks. Isaiah Wynn had a rough outing, allowing a sack, constant QB pressure as well as getting flagged for a false start. Brian Ferentz got overwhelmed a few times. Shaq Mason’s struggles continue this season.

Kansas City’s run defense entered the game 30th in the league, watch the tape and the amount of preening they’re doing after the plays and you’d think it was 3rd. That’s how poorly the offensive line play was.                     

 Defensive Line: B-

The defensive line once again did a really good job of bottling up the Chiefs running game. Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton did a great job of shutting down the running game. The Chiefs averaged just 2.6 yards per rush on 29 attempts. 

The defensive line didn’t do a great job, however, in the pass-rushing department getting only one sack (Deatrich Wise) and were only so-so in QB pressure. 

Linebackers: B

The linebackers had a good but not great game. The running game was an area they were doing a great job in. Jamie Collins chased down a play to the sideline and just thumped the tackle Schwartz, knocking him to the ground and then hitting the ball carrier. Collins also broke up a pass. 

Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy were both very solid in run support but weren’t their usual disruptive selves in the pass rush side of things. Shalique Calhoun forced a fumble and rookie Chase Winovich got in on a big hit on Mahomes. 

Secondary: B

The Patriots secondary had a rough second quarter but after that was pretty solid. Stephon Gilmore did a bang-up job on Sammy Watkins and should have had a possible scoop and score if not for the incompetence of the Boger officiating crew. J.C. Jackson had a nice interception. 

Lots of fans are on Jonathan Jones but covering Tyreek Hill and Hardman (48-yard TD) is no routine assignment, especially when the pass rush isn’t getting home. But he missed on several tackles though, something that will certainly draw the coaches ire. 

Devin McCourty’s one-two punch on Travis Kelce got the ball out for a fumble and was a fantastic play when the team really needed it. Jason McCourty returned after missing two games with a groin injury. 

Special Teams: B-

The Special Teams were up and down. Nate Ebner blocked a punt, giving the Patriots life in the 2nd half. But Nick Folk had a field goal blocked with some uncharacteristic poor blocking up front. Jake Bailey dropped a pair of punts inside the 20.

The coverage units did well but the return game, as it has most of the year was terrible. 

Coaches: C+

The Patriots coaching staff had an up and down night as well. After Andy Reid and the Chiefs figured out what the Patriots were doing defensively and had a big 2nd quarter, the Patriots made their adjustments and did a great job of limiting their passing game and were making them take small pieces at a time and as a result did a good job of shutting them down in the final 30 minutes. 

Offensively, the Patriots wanted to run the ball, needed to run the ball and tried to run the ball. Running on nearly every first down early in the game is great if you’re successful. But they weren’t, so the Chiefs were able to pin their ears back and pressure Brady on about 50 percent of his throws. 

Josh McDaniels is resigned to using trick plays to get the offense moving. He really needs to get Harry more involved in the passing game. And Bolden more in the running game. 

So we’re on to Cincinnati (Sounds vaguely familiar) and their final regular-season away game.  

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Patriots Lose Tough One to Kansas City 23-16, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 8, 2019 at 10:12 pm ET

The Patriots dropped their second game in a row getting stopped on a 4th down pass in the end zone as they fell to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-16 in a very exciting if at times aggravating game.

And while fans will point to the truly awful officiating (and it was), the reason they were behind the eight-ball didn’t have to do with the officiating, but we’ll get to Jerome Boger’s crew in due time. 

The Patriots had to overcome a bad second quarter where the Chiefs went into halftime scoring 20 unanswered points and then found themselves down 23-7 and in a position where they could have easily been blown out. Andy Reid and the Chiefs offense had figured out what the Patriots were doing defensively and Patrick Mahomes was shredding them in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, the Patriots offense after a nice opening drive was doing a lot of nothing. But they didn’t quit and forced a couple of key turnovers and put themselves in a position to either win or force overtime. And the defense made their own adjustments and held the Chiefs to just three second-half points. 

Other observations include:

Kansas City’s defense played a heckuva game, they did what I have said I’d do if I were an opposing defensive coordinator. I’d blitz the heck out of Tom Brady because other than Julian Edelman and James White, he has no one he can depend on to make plays consistently. And he doesn’t. 

Phillip Dorsett drew one long defensive pass interference penalty, and should have drawn another, but other than that? Zip, zilch, zero, nada. Zero catches, zero yards. Mohamad Sanu had one catch for 13 yards. As we said last week, when your #2 and #3 wide receivers have no production, it is awfully hard to win football games. 

The Patriots running game managed just 94 yards against a Chiefs defense that came in allowing 141.3 per game. That is a win for KC. The Chiefs defensive line was pushing around the offensive line of New England all night long. And their pass rush harried Brady on nearly every throw. 

Josh McDaniels has been pulling out all the stops and trying to find something that works offensively. On the first drive, they ran a flea-flicker with a very different look as James White took the handoff and ran to the right before tossing it back to Brady. Julian Edelman was wide open and he and Brady connected on a 37-yard touchdown pass that was aided by two pass interference calls on third down. 

The Patriots had chances to go up big, they intercepted Mahomes on the third snap for the Chiefs when J.C. Jackson undercut Tyreek Hill and picked it off at the Chiefs 40, but they went backward one yard and two passes went incomplete. 

After Mahomes led the Chiefs to a field goal, the Patriots then went on a 13-play, 56-yard drive that stalled at the Chiefs 23-yard line. Nick Folk’s 41-yard field goal was blocked when Tanoh Kpassagnon broke through the middle of the line cleanly and knocked it down. That was the turning point of the game and momentum. 

But the rest of the first half was all KC. Mahomes seemed to injure his throwing hand when it looked like he connected with one of his own players’ helmets with the pinkie on his hand. But he made some tremendous plays and had the Chiefs on the verge of a blowout. 

Facing a 3rd and 19 at their own 46, Mahomes was under heavy pressure and delivered a 21-yard strike to Tyreek Hill. Then on 2nd and 25 from the Patriots’ 48, he hit rookie Mecole Hardman for a 48-yard touchdown strike. That made the score 10-3.

Tom Brady was picked off on an unusual play on the first play of the ensuing series. Brady was attempting to hit Matt LaCosse down the numbers after he beat a linebacker in coverage. But Bashaud Breeland who was covering Julian Edelman outside on a short crossing route was fooled and kept running deep. He ran right into the play where Brady’s pass was going and picked it off, cutting in front of LaCosse 

Mahomes and the Chiefs wasted no time in converting their chance with Travis Kelce taking a direct snap on a 3rd and goal from the 4-yard line, scoring easily making it 17-7. 

The Patriots turned it over on downs. And a few plays highlight what has been troubling the offense. On 2nd a 7 from the Chiefs 27, they were showing an all-out blitz. And they did, Brady threw hot to Phillip Dorsett who ran a deep route down the numbers. He has to recognize that and cut his route short. On 3rd and 7, Jakobi Meyers dropped a pass that would have moved the sticks. 

Mahomes drove the Chiefs down just before the half with a chance to blow the game wide open. The Patriots defense stiffened and held them to a field goal and went into the half down 20-7.

The Chiefs took the second-half kickoff and went down and kicked another field goal to make it 23-7. It was then that the Patriots defense made their own adjustments and really tightened things up, holding the Chiefs scoreless for the final 25 minutes. 

On the Chiefs’ next possession, Nate Ebner burst up the middle and blocked a punt giving the Patriots excellent field position at the KC 19. Two plays later Brandon Bolden ran it in from 10 -yards out and the score was 23-13 after the two-point conversion failed.

During the Chiefs next possession is when the wheels on Boger’s staff came right off. Facing a 3rd and 4, from the KC 35, Mahomes drilled a crosser to Sammy Watkins who was tackled by Stephon Gilmore. The side judge gave Watkins a huge favorable spot at the 40-yard line when the replay clearly showed him catching it at the 39-yard line, very close to the yard marker. 

Bill Belichick threw a challenge flag, not only on the spot but asking for an offensive pass interference penalty on Travis Kelce. While the spot may have been a 1st down regardless, the officials ruled that the initial spot was correct. And Kelce clearly interfered with Gilmore. He ran a route about 2-3 yards and stopped and then stuck his ass out which clearly made contact with Gilmore. But both calls were denied by the replay officials. That would come back to haunt the Patriots. 

Five plays later, facing a 3rd and 2 at the NE 37, Mahomes hit Kelce on a short crosser. He initially made a first down but ran backward of his own accord and then was hit and fumbled. The ball bounced behind him where Gilmore made a scoop with a lot of green in front of him. But the officials blew the call dead and deemed Kelce down by contact. 

Normally, this year, the officials will let a play run itself out and then determine if a turnover occurred. But not here. Belichick was forced to use his second challenge. The call was reversed and the Patriots recovered but the scoop and probable score by Gilmore was negated. 

Brady drove the Patriots down to the KC 15 where on 1st down, he hit N’Keal Harry on a short pass to the left. Harry broke to the outside, and launched himself over the pylon for what appeared to be a touchdown. One official ruled him in, the other said he stepped out at the three. If they went with a touchdown it would have been automatically reviewed. The replays were clear, Harry was well within bounds, but because Boger’s crew had blown those two earlier calls, the Patriots had no challenges left. 

Worse, the players had begun to leave the field, believing a touchdown had been scored. With the play clock running out, Brady hurried them to the line and White was stuffed for a 2-yard loss on a play that had no chance of success. On 2nd down, Brady’s pass was dropped by Meyers in the end zone. A 3rd down sack forced a field goal making it 23-16. 

But Boger’s crew wasn’t done, on the Patriots final drive, Brady had a 3rd and 6 and went deep to Phillip Dorsett who was clearly interfered with but no flag was forthcoming. Brady did convert the 4th and 6, scrambling in slow motion for 17. They stalled and on 4th and 3 from the KC 5, Brady’s pass to Edelman was broken up. Ball game. 

Obviously, had the Harry score upheld, the 4h down would have been a field goal attempt to tie and send the game into another overtime. And while Boger’s crew deserve all of the bile that will come their way, (they remain the worst crew in the NFL), the reason the Patriots were in that position in the first place was their own lack of execution earlier and the Chiefs big second quarter. 

They didn’t quit and the defense showed why they are among the best in the league again. It is a frustrating loss but they’re still 10-3 and remain the #2 seed. 

We’re on to Cincinnati (that sounds vaguely familiar)  

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

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

New England Patriots News 12-08, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-08 and AFC East notes this week. 

Gameday! The Patriots are back at home to take on the Chiefs in the late afternoon game later today. 

Yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day and we paused to remember those Americans who died that day as we were thrust into World War II. Today, 78 years ago, we declared war on Japan and the world changed forever. 

The weather isn’t supposed to be a factor in Foxboro this week for a change and the Patriots finish with three of their final four games at home. With KC, Buffalo, and Miami on the slate, they only travel to Cincinnati to finish off the year. 

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Nick Folk – The veteran kicker is back with the team according to ESPN’s Field Yates. Folk suffered appendicitis and was released for Kai Forbath But after one week, and an extra point miss, Forbath is gone and Folk is back. 

Dez Bryant – Is the latest contestant for “Whose Name Can We Throw at a Wall at WR?” Dez Bryant! Come on Down! Please stop with the nonsense, the team is going to bring in a guy who doesn’t know the offense and has played for two years with a month to go in the season? Ah, we’ll take the under.

Some of the tweets this week have been unintentionally hilarious. I saw two different folks begging Kraft to allow AB to return as “Patriots Nation is suffering”, sorry, but if there is one fan base that ISN’T suffering it is this one. 

Bart Scott –  Is the latest NFL player that seemingly has a future in politics. Just like nearly every candidate has a preponderance to spout “facts” without checking, Scott was the latest hot take artist to firmly place his foot in his mouth (again). “They’ve (Patriots) never won when they had to go on the road!” Sounds great on tape for the anti-NE crowd. But rewind to January…AFCCG in Arrowhead. Not to mention not one but two conference title games in Pittsburgh…oops.

My Cause, My Cleats – Lots of good entries from the Patriots this season. I like all of them. But sorry, Alejandro Villanueva of Pittsburgh gets my vote with a cause that close to my heart, (and one I’ve donated to), the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. 

Villanueva was a Lieutenant in the 75th Ranger Regiment and did multiple combat tours in Afghanistan. Was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor. The SOWF helps families and children of our Special Operations warriors who have been killed or severely wounded in combat. Hey Bill, there’s an Army guy worth having…just sayin’.

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

McDaniels, Caserio Already On the Hot List of Hires: 

Bill Belichick has always had to retool his coaching staff and front office people seemingly every year. This spring was no exception as the team lost a slew of coaches including the de facto Defensive Coordinator and all of the defensive staff save Belichick’s own son Steve.  

And although we’re only three-quarters of the way through the 2019 season, a couple of names are already surfacing on other team’s radar. Josh McDaniels and Nick Caserio are once again two of the hottest names to be mentioned as being coveted by other teams. 

Caserio has been courted twice by the Houston Texans. Houston was even charged with tampering by New England this spring. Now Houston, as of last week, stated that they’re fine with having no GM and allowing Bill O’Brien to run the show as the head coach and de facto GM. Don’t believe it. O’Brien smartly deflected it as to avoid another tampering charge. Look for Houston to make another big push for his services as Caserio’s chances of landing an extension in New England are slim. 

Josh McDaniels has already been rumored to be on the Dallas Cowboys’ radar as well as the Carolina Panthers who have fired head coach Ron Rivera. Rivera was always a highly thought of coach despite three winning seasons in nine years at the helm. The Dallas job would carry plenty of prestige (and no doubt a high salary) but with the meddling Jerry Jones trying to own, act as the general manager, and be the de facto head coach is not a good situation for any coach. 

Tom Brady Leaving? Too Soon for That Talk:

You know the post-season is approaching when all of the talk is designed to scare the snot out of Patriots fans. “Is This the Year they Fall?”, “The Pats Can’t Win on the Road”, and now with four games to play and the team just a tie-breaker out of the top seed in the AFC, “Are We Seeing the End of Tom Brady in NE?” 

Aren’t we used to this by now? It isn’t a NE post-season upcoming without a writer from the “network” trying to dig up some dirt, or in the case of this fall, writing a bunch of words without saying a single thing, or some other pseudo-controversy. Now its Brady.

Tom Brady’s status is in doubt… something we’ve known since the spring. (SBalestrieri)

Look Brady may well be done in New England after this season, he could retire, he could become a free agent and sign to be the quarterback of the London Silly Nannies (Family Guy reference). Or he could pack Gisele and the kinder up and decide to run for political office. 

Honestly, (and excuse my French), I don’t give a shit. And neither should you. This isn’t breaking news, we’ve known this since the spring.  There are four more games left to play and then the playoffs beckon. This season there are so many intriguing storylines to watch, it would a shame to be sidetracked by needless worrying over silly crap that won’t be addressed until after the season is over. The endless fodder with that is just rot.

And when the season is over, hopefully, with the team making one more trip to Miami, there will be plenty of time for the doom-sayers to sound the death knell and begin the mourning phase for the franchise. But for now, just ignore the same old BS and enjoy the ride. 

NFL Schedule Week 14, Who Are Your Winners:

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

Last Week: 5-11 (ouch)
Season:121-70-1

Thursday Night Football
Dallas over Chicago 0-1 

Sunday
Atlanta over Carolina
Indianapolis over Tampa Bay
NY Jets over Miami
SF 49ers over New Orleans
Minnesota over Detroit
Houston over Denver
Baltimore over Buffalo
Cleveland over Cincinnati
Green Bay over Washington
LA Chargers over Jacksonville
Pittsburgh over Arizona
Oakland over Tennessee
New England over Kansas City
SNF Seattle over LA Rams
MNF Philadelphia over NY Giants

Bye week: No teams

Thursday Night Football – Baltimore over NYJets

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have a Tremendous Opportunity At Their Doorstep:

The Buffalo Bills are the NFL’s biggest secret at 9-3. Nobody has (other than in Western NY) given them much love this season. They’ve been virtually ignored as being a “fluke team from the woeful AFC East” so far. They did get a few raised eyebrows when they curb-stomped Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, but the Cowboys have been in free fall. But all of that can change today. 

They have the opportunity, and the personnel to knock off the mighty Baltimore Ravens today and vault themselves right into the mix of the AFC race. That will be no easy task, but they’ll be at home in front of a loud, raucous crowd and have the defense to slow down the Ravens. If they were to upset Baltimore, it opens up a lot of different scenarios. 

A Bills win with a Patriots loss sets up a game in two weeks for the AFC East crown. And coincidentally, another Buffalo win there puts them where? The #1 seed. Now, there is a ton of ifs there, but for the first time in a very long time, the Bills can control their own destiny come playoff time and actually host a playoff game.  

Dolphins Staff Has Weathered the Storm :

The Miami Dolphins have played hard for head coach Brian Flores and his new coaching staff all season long in a rebuilding year. But they’ve remained competitive and won a couple of ballgames and that has the needle pointing up in Miami. 

Miami’s staff is free of the distractions of whether or not they’ll be here next year and can go about the business of building a better team in 2020. Cleveland, Cincinnati, the NY Giants, Dallas and the Dolphins’ opponent today the NY Jets all face wholesale changes. 

Flores is building something in South Beach, whether or not he can take Miami back up to the level where they aspire to be, will in no small way go to whether they can find a franchise QB next spring. Tua look good in teal?

Jets May Have to Go Without Bell Today:

The New York Jets have a game at home with the Miami Dolphins today. But they may have to go without their $52.5 million dollar running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell has missed practice for two straight days with an illness. 

 “I don’t know. They just said it was an illness. He’s sick,” coach Adam Gase said. “It’s probably the same thing that’s going on with a lot of these other teams. The biggest thing was getting him checked out and then getting him out of the building so nobody else gets sick.”

Bell has averaged just 3.2 yards per rush this season, his first with the Jets and his first without that stellar offensive line of the Steelers to run behind. Which shows how important that line is to running backs (take not Sony Michel haters). The Jets and Miami are playing today for the purpose of who has the ignominious title of being in last place in the division. Tickets are readily available. 

________________

Well, the more you see them, the more you can get used to playing them. One of the problems with the RPO play, just in general, is just the offensive pass interference and blocking down field conflicting with the pass. So, if it’s a run, it’s no problem. If the ball actually gets thrown, like what happened last week in the Houston game – it was called once. I would say any time you run that play there’s some degree of, “Is there blocking down field or not?” Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t. It’s a tough call for the officials, but that’s sort of what that play – the complications of that play defensively.”Bill Belichick being asked about how difficult it is to defend the RPO (run/pass option).

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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Patriots Players To Watch Against the Chiefs on Sunday

Steve Balestrieri
December 7, 2019 at 9:29 am ET

The Patriots take on the Kansas City Chiefs tomorrow afternoon (night) in a big AFC matchup between two of the best teams in the conference. The two meetings last season were fantastic right down to the wire contests with the Patriots holding serve at home 43-40 and then beating the Chiefs in overtime in the AFC Championship Game 37-31 at Arrowhead. 

While this one should be no less entertaining, we expect a lower-scoring affair this time around. The Patriots defense is much improved this season and the KC pass defense is also a lot better than the team that faced the Patriots in the AFC title game. 

So here are our Patriots players to watch in the game tomorrow. 

Tom Brady – 

Brady’s numbers are way down this year, but most of that has to do with the supporting cast. The Offensive line has been beset by injuries and struggled. The running game has sputtered and the revolving door at wide receiver has made life difficult. Is part of this on himself as well? Of course, but writing him off at this time of year is a fool’s errand.

But here we are. Brady always uses criticism and a big game as motivating factors. And there is plenty of both floating around this week (just listen to Boston sports radio) as the Pats gear up for the Chiefs.

We’re looking for Brady to have laser focus this week and play at his best, in what appears to be a great matchup of excellent quarterbacks as Patrick Mahomes is heating up at just the right time of the year.

Jonathan Jones – 

Jones is finally getting his due as one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league this season. He’s having an outstanding season thus far and has been one of the Patriots’ best defenders. He’s invaluable in a secondary that has shined. 

This week Jones is tasked with covering one of the fast players in the NFL in Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs offense is built for speed and no one is faster than Hill. If he gets a step at the line of scrimmage he can turn a play into a one-play touchdown drive. 

Jones was tasked with primarily covering him during the AFC Championship Game where the Patriots held him to just a single catch. But that catch went for 42 yards. That’s how fast (pardon the pun) things can change. 

Rex Burkhead – 

Most of us will be watching Sony Michel in the running game and James White in the passing game. However,  it is Burkhead who is kind of the “X-Factor” for the Patriots offense out of the backfield. He can do a bit of both and presents the offense with the versatility to run or catch that keeps the defense guessing.

In the AFC title game, Burkhead did just that with 12 carries in the running game and four catches out of the backfield. He scored the Patriots final two touchdowns, both on the ground which sent the Patriots back to the Super Bowl. 

Look for Burkhead to see quite a few snaps tomorrow afternoon.

Jamie Collins –

The Patriots brought back Collins this season specifically for games like this. Kansas City has a mobile quarterback that can move and throw the ball down the field. The Patriots defense needs an athletic player who can rush the passer but also give chase he begins to move in the pocket. 

Collins, this season is having an excellent overall year, worthy of a Pro Bowl selection. He was one of the players who were under the weather with the flu a week ago and was a bit on the invisible side down in Houston. 

With Collins’ athleticism, he can turn a game around on his own, and with the Patriots having to disrupt Mahomes’ passing game before he’s ready to throw the ball, we expect Collins to play a big role in their game plan.

Mohamad Sanu –

Sanu was brought over from the Falcons to help the struggling passing game. In his second game, and pretty much lost in the loss at Baltimore was Sanu’s 10-catch, 81-yard effort that showed some hope that things would be soon on the upswing. 

But an ankle injury suffered against the Eagles forced him out of that game and Sanu missed the Dallas game before returning against the Texans. Still not 100 percent he managed just 3 catches for 14 yards in Houston last week. 

Now, getting closer to being all the way back, Brady and the offense really need Sanu to bring his game up another notch and become the receiver that they need him to be. Look for Brady to go to Sanu early and often and to get him more involved in the offense this week.

Stephon Gilmore –  

Gilmore has had an outstanding season and cemented himself as the best corner in the NFL. He’s often put on an island with the opposing team’s best wide receiver.  Left to cover the opponent’s best alone, Jones has excelled. That is the trust that the coaches show in Gilmore as his pass defense has been outstanding all season. 

With the Chiefs Hill being tasked with Jones, the Chiefs bigger receiver Sammy Watkins will fall to Gilmore. Watkins had a huge game in January with 114 yards on four catches including a big 54-yarder. 

This will be another intriguing matchup to watch as Gilmore and Watkins tangle in what is looking to be a great battle. Another wrinkle in January was that the Patriots rotated Gilmore on Travis Kelce on third downs. We may see more of that this week as they try to take away Mahomes’ favorite target.  

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Patriots-Chiefs Week 14 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 6, 2019 at 6:42 am ET

The Patriots return home to Gillette Stadium for a big matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon.  This one has serious playoff implications for the AFC East and in the conference. 

The Patriots no longer control their own destiny for the AFC’s top seed, with the Baltimore Ravens holding the top seed virtue of the tiebreaker, beating New England head-to-head. And the Patriots lead over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East has been decreased to just one game. The Bills and Ravens play each other on Sunday in Buffalo, so the opportunity to gain ground on one of them exists, but only if the Patriots can come away with a victory.  A loss to Kansas City would put them only a game behind New England in the conference.

With a win on Sunday night, the Patriots would win the 11th game of the year, marking 10 straight seasons with at least 11 wins, which is an NFL record.

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

The Patriots (10-2) are returning home after losing to the Houston Texans 28-22 on Sunday night. 

The Chiefs (8-4) are coming off of a big 40-9 win over the Oakland Raiders. 

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 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 Chiefs have been meeting since the early days of the AFL and used to meet twice a year from 1960 through the AFL-NFL Merger in 1970. The Chiefs hold an 18-14 series edge overall. At home, the Patriots are 11-7-2. Recently, however, either at Gillette or at Arrowhead, both teams hold a 5-1 advantage at home. The teams met twice last year with the Patriots holding serve at home 43-40 and then defeating the Chiefs in Arrowhead 37-31 in the AFC Championship Game.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Chiefs Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game had its best game of the season last week in Houston running for 145 yards. James White and Sony Michel combined for most of the production on the ground. However, a lot of that yardage came after Houston was comfortably ahead. But they did run the ball much more effectively there and against Dallas the week prior.

The Chiefs run defense is their biggest weakness and they allow a whopping 141.3 yards per game. One bright spot for them has been the play of Mike Pennel who spent training camp and preseason with the Patriots. 

This is a huge key to the game for the Patriots. With their offense struggling to score points, they need to establish the running game to keep the chains moving and to slow the game down. The Chiefs defense struggles to stop the run on first down and that is where the Patriots have to be consistent and get production. 

Look for the trio of running backs, Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead to get plenty of work as they try to establish the run and set up play-action passing against a KC defense that likes to pin their ears back and get after the QB.

Patriots WRs vs Chiefs Secondary – Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Patriots passing game has sputtered in the second half of the season and it has become a case where the players are overthinking things, which slows down their game and ultimately has led to mental mistakes. Julian Edelman remains Tom Brady’s go-to guy and he’s been excellent, but opponents know that and have been doubling Edelman and then using a corner or safety on James White, essentially daring the Patriots to beat them elsewhere. 

The Chiefs pass defense is in the middle (16th) in the league allowing 230 yards per game. Their coverage has improved with four corners (Bashaud Breeland, Chavarius Ward, Morris Claiborne, and Kendall Fuller) providing depth. Tyrann Mathieu has solidified the safety position. New Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo likes to get after the QB and KC has racked up 34 sacks with Frank Clark, Chris Jones, Emanuel Ogbah, Tanoh Kpassagnon, and Alex Okafor all having good production. 

The Chiefs want to get opponents in obvious third-down passing situations, where their pass rush turns into ball-hawking opportunities. On 3rd down the Chiefs defense is 3rd in the league in sacks and 4th in turnover percentage. The Patriots desperately need secondary receivers not named Edelman or White to step up. Phillip Dorsett, Mohamad Sanu, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry with tight ends Ben Watson and Matt LaCosse need to step it up. If they continue their production as is, it will be a long afternoon again for the offense.  

Next up the Chiefs offense:

Chiefs RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Chiefs have a trio of their own at running back with Damien Williams, LeSean McCoy and Darrel Williams, but they are banged up right now. Darrel Williams was placed on IR and Damien has been bothered with a rib injury, McCoy leads the Chiefs with just 410 yards on the ground. The Chiefs average just 94 yards per game on the ground. 

The Patriots run defense has really looked much better the past two weeks with Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton anchoring down the front and not allowing opponents to get to the second level. We look for Andy Reid to try to get McCoy going against his old divisional foe just enough to keep the defense honest, but this is a matchup the Patriots should be able to win. 

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

The Chiefs passing game unlike New England’s is built for speed. Patrick Mahomes has Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Mecole Hardman who can all go to the house if they get the ball in space. Mahomes’ main target is Travis Kelce who leads the team with 68 receptions, 928 yards with four TDs. Mahomes has 20 TD passes against just two interceptions this year. 

The Patriots secondary has been outstanding this year, however, last week in Houston they allowed four TD passes after just allowing only four all season. Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones will be stressed this week, it would help matters to have Jason McCourty back this week as well. The pass rush will have to be better this week and trying to force Mahomes to get rid of the ball before he’s ready to. 

Mahomes is in his third year, (2nd as a starter). The Patriots were able to confuse him at times last year, but those days are coming to an end as he’ll recognize more and more of what they’ll be trying to do. Which is why they pass rush is so important this week. If the Chiefs turn this into a track meet, they’ll put up a boatload of points. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Patriots special teams doesn’t have a kicker (Thursday afternoon), will they be going with Jake Bailey kicking and Jarrett Stidham as the holder this week? Bailey has been outstanding punting this season and the coverage units superb.

Kansas City has Harrison Butker who is 25-29 on FG attempts this season. Three of his four misses were beyond 50 yards. Dustin Colquitt is having a great season with just two touchbacks on his 39 punts. The Chiefs coverage units have been outstanding. 

Next up, who wins and why…

The Patriots are looking to improve to 11-2 and this one may be of more importance to them than the Chiefs. They have their division pretty much locked in having beat Oakland twice and up essentially three games with four to go.  

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

Run, Run, Run the Ball – The Patriots have to take the pressure off the passing game and give them much more manageable third downs this week. They have to run the ball, slow the game down and allow them to dictate the pace and tempo. 

Kansas City’s run defense is poor and running effectively will bring up those linebackers and make them susceptible to play-action passing, which hopefully, will allow those struggling secondary receivers to get some needed separation this week.  

The Defense Can’t Allow 1-Play Drives – The Patriots defense has to make the Chiefs chip away and move slowly down the field, a small piece at a time. In both matchups last season, the Chiefs ate them up with big plays in the second half. This year, the Chiefs are among the best first-half teams in football and get off to fast starts. 

The defense will get stressed by the speed of this offense and they’ll need to weather the storm. Being physical at the line of scrimmage and challenging the Chiefs WRs is a difficult proposition. But allowing them a free release off the line is a recipe for disaster.

Time to Revisit the Turnover Machine  – This is the time for the Patriots to get some turnovers rolling again. With the offense struggling to score points, they’re going to need help from the defense or special teams to get them some cheap points either through a fumble or a rare Mahomes interception.

___________

Prediction: 

This should be another great matchup between Andy Reid and Bill Belichick. The Chiefs struggled early this season, but are healthy now and rolling along looking better every week. The Patriots, on the other hand, were rolling early but are struggling now going 2-2 in their last month. 

I’m going to drink the Kool-Aid this week and say, that at home, the Patriots and the offense find a way to slap some points together. They’ll start to get who they are offensively figured out a bit and play much better. The defense will get a key turnover and get that one big stop as they hold serve at home.  Patriots  27-24

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” heads back out on the road next week to take on the Cincinnati Bengals. 

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

 

No Panic Necessary, Patriots To Stay the Course With the Offense in 2019

Steve Balestrieri
December 5, 2019 at 10:00 am ET

The Patriots offense has been scuffling along for the majority of the 2019 season and we’re now three-quarters of the way through. The team struggles in the red zone, on third down and doesn’t seem to have an offensive identity. 

Much of the fanbase has descended into full-blown panic mode, begging the owner of the team to sign one of the most self-centered players to suit up in the NFL within memory. Forgetting that the same player has only himself to blame for his ouster. All he had to do was shut up and play football. That was too much to ask. Ciao…

So, with the offensive struggles, we’ve heard the same things, we hear every year, “the Patriots are done, Brady is done, they can’t win…yawn. Wash, rinse, and repeat. As my friend Terry said the other day, “Bashing Tom Brady has become a cottage industry.”

After the loss to the Texans that dropped the team to 10-2, (gasp, how horrible!) the crescendo rose even louder. But what about the Patriots? Is there any panic coming from Gillette Stadium? Nope. Frustration, sure, who wouldn’t be? 

Flashback to Week 15 last year, the offense was ugly in the 17-10 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh and everyone (again) wrote the team off. They figured things out and then won their last two games of the regular season averaging 31 points and then three playoff games where they averaged 30 more.

We’re in Week 13 now, with the Chiefs who are playing much better now than they were about a month or two ago. So, they have a month instead of two weeks to figure it out. 

I know, I know, “this team doesn’t have that feeling that they can turn it around” right? How many times have we heard that one? The issues on offense, HAVE been consistent, so is the panic justified this time or is it just more of the same old rot?

However, the fact remains that what ails this offense is execution issues. The plays are there, they’re schemed up but for some reason, aren’t getting done.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been one to say that they lack speed on the outside and it influences the way opponents play them. And I’ll stand by that, however, (comma), the Patriots have never really had a bunch of speedy wide receivers. 

So, what’s the difference this year (so far), execution. Just like Bill Belichick says all the time that pass defense is a combination of pass coverage and pass rush, the passing game is a combination of three things. 

The offensive line has to give the quarterback enough protection to allow him to go through his progressions to hit the open receiver. The wide receivers have to run precise routes and be on the same page as the quarterback in terms of route selection. And the quarterback has to make his reads and deliver the ball accurately to where the receivers are. 

Too often this year, one or more of those three items have broken down, sometimes several on the same play. These items are still fixable. Two of the wide receivers (Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry) are rookies with Harry only playing in a couple of games due to injury. Mohamad Sanu came over in midseason from the Falcons and may still be hobbled a bit by his ankle injury. 

Phillip Dorsett is coming off a concussion, however, he’s now in his third season with the Patriots and his production is far from what it should be now. It seems like ages ago we were discussing his streak of completed passes thrown his way. 

All of them can be better, and in doing so, take some of the pressure off Julian Edelman. 

The offensive line has been in flux all season. Isaiah Wynn was taking over at left tackle and then was injured and put on IR. He’s been back just two games. David Andrews was lost for the year on IR, Ted Karras took over at center, now he’s hurt and may miss a few weeks. Marcus Cannon has been fighting an illness for two weeks. And Shaq Mason just isn’t having the type of season we’re accustomed to seeing from him. 

We have seen some improvement in the run blocking, the team ran for a season-high 145 yards on Sunday, facing a team (KC) that is pretty awful at defending the run (141.3-yard average), it is imperative that they run the ball well. 

Which leads us to Brady. Of course, the national bobos who glance at stats and will have you believe that he’s done have been saying that BS for years. But if you see the game and not just watch it, the truth says differently. Can he be better? Of course, but the lack of a running game, hit or miss protection and an inexperienced WR core have taken its toll. Is the trust factor real or imagined? I tend to believe it, but some ex-players have pooh-poohed the idea as overrated.

Josh McDaniels on a conference call with the media earlier today (Dec.4) spoke about what the team needs to do to right the ship. 

“I think there’s a lot of factors in the passing game that would determine what being on the same page really means, but practice, repetition – there’s no shortcut to it, he said. 

“Every rep we take in practice, every pass we throw, every side session that we’re able to take part in, every conversation, every one-on-one drill that we do in practice, every film session that we’re in, it just continues to try to build off of the last one. I think patience is something that – I know everybody wants everything to be a finished product, and we do too, but at the same time you have to understand there’s going to be a process and we’re going to try to stick to it.” 

He added, “We have to be committed to it, and we know that it’s productive when we stay the course and continue to coach the right things and fix the right things and then the players go out and make corrections and they have success with it.”

There is a month to go, tough matchups with KC and Buffalo are at home where they tend to play better. Those games are sandwiched around their last away game in Cincinnati and at home against Miami. Both of those are eminently winnable. 

They have a month to figure things out, can they do it? While many people tend to think that they can’t, their track record speaks otherwise. 

I’ve seen many, too many posts that say… “There’s no way they beat Kansas City this week!” I’m going to drink the Kool-Aid this week and say the offense plays much better and begins to turn things around. 

Who knows? That’s why they play the games. Check back later tomorrow and we’ll have the breakdown of the Chiefs game and the key matchups.

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Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Five Thoughts Following the Patriots Loss to the Texans

Ian Logue
December 2, 2019 at 12:28 pm ET

After a week of misery where the Patriots saw their locker room get swept up with a team-wide illness, Sunday night’s performance in Houston certainly didn’t leave anyone feeling any better.

Bill Belichick took his healthy players on one plane and his sick players on another, clearly hoping to keep the illness from spreading. Instead, their 28-22 showing against the Texans likely ended up being nauseating for everyone and the team now finds itself with a remaining schedule full of must-win games if they hope to earn a top seed and possibly even win the AFC East.

With this one behind us, here are some thoughts coming off of the loss.

1) The discussion this week will likely center around the lack of offensive weapons at Tom Brady’s disposal but it’s hard not to look back at what happened in this game and not feel like the problem extends beyond their lack of experienced talent at the receiver position.

Obviously the miscue by rookie wideout N’Keal Harry that led to an interception was bad, especially since Houston took advantage and scored their first touchdown. But the fact he was essentially completely removed from the offense is pretty disappointing.

Harry wasn’t targeted again following the interception and was on the field for just 22 of the 87 offensive snaps Sunday night, clearly being penalized for the miscue. It was definitely a bad play, which saw him not fight through the defender for the football and led to the interception. But following that turnover, Harry appeared to see little of the field and it was surprising to see them completely give up on him.

For a team that used a 1st round pick on him, it’s surprising that he would be taken out and alienated considering they need every receiver they have to be involved right now. Some may say Harry’s disappearance might be on Brady, but the lack of playing time was clearly a coaching decision and that’s obviously not great news.

If that’s the case, it’s telling for the future of Harry this season, who a few weeks ago seemed like he might have been one of the answers this team has been in need of. Instead, he’s now become a question mark and it’s concerning not just for the remainder of this season, but potentially moving forward if they hope to avoid failing with developing yet another young receiver.

2) This group right now really is a mess, with the veterans accounting for the majority of Brady’s attention as he selectively tries to work the younger guys into the mix. One thing is obvious, as much as it’s going to irritate him, Brady is going to have to force himself to get other players involved in the offense, no matter how uncomfortable it makes him.

There weren’t many occasions where guys came open but there were a few where players like Matt LaCosse and Jakobi Meyers managed a little separation, but Brady instead opted to target his more trusted receivers in both Julian Edelman and James White, who each combined for 214 of the 326 passing yards Brady finished the evening with.

But for the most part, his usual guys were covered and some of his targets were forced, with Phillip Dorsett and Edelman both seeing several passes thrown their way that should never have happened, including two plays where the ball was heaved downfield both to Dorsett and to Edelman (who was double-covered) and nearly picked off, with Brady clearly hoping for either a miracle or a pass interference penalty. Neither happened.

Mohamed Sanu was a guy many hoped would be a difference-maker, but he’s been banged up and played just 19 offensive snaps Sunday night as he continues fighting through an ankle injury. Brady went to him early in the third quarter, which included a 3rd-and-4 where Sanu couldn’t quite reach the marker. The Patriots went for it on 4th-and-1 and Sanu, who was also interfered with on the play, was targeted again couldn’t quite come up with the football. That was a critical sequence because the Texans turned around and took the football the other way on the ensuing possession, with Watson hitting Kenny Stills for a 35-yard touchdown.

Brady clearly has his expectations of how he expects the offense to be run and he was spotted Sunday night imploring his receivers to be “faster”, “quicker” and “more explosive”. He’s got guys who are both quick and fast, but the mental complexity that goes with this offense is clearly creating a learning curve that the younger players have yet to master. You saw it on the play where Meyers didn’t turn upfield when the play broke down and you saw it again where the depth of his route didn’t change and he collided with Edelman, who was penalized for a pick play after Meyers crossed in front of him. Those are mental mistakes, but not reason enough to yet give up on guys who will potentially be valuable down the stretch.

Those are the plays which account for Brady’s frustration and is just going to require patience, because there isn’t another player walking through that door to help them out.

Brady may not realize it, but he’s getting what he wants. He might prefer older, more experienced players, but they need to get younger, faster and quicker and have two very good receivers that fit that description. Despite the growing pains, Brady is just going to have to accept the fact things aren’t going to be perfect and rather than ignoring them after a bad play, he’s going to have to stick with them if he hopes to see them become valuable assets in this offense. It needs to happen, because the offense can’t be stuck in neutral if they expect to beat another tough opponents in the Chiefs team this weekend.

Michel had a productive night against the Texans.

3) Speaking of the offense, it was surprising to see them completely give up on running the football, especially considering the success Sony Michel had early in this contest.

Part of the reason why is somewhat obvious. The fact Michel isn’t a dual threat is likely the reason he came out of the game in favor of James White, with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels probably hoping to make things a little more unpredictable for the Texans’ defense.

The bad news is, it made the Patriots less effective and they struggled to sustain drives and give New England’s defense much of a break through much of the first half.

That remains a curious situation given that Michel has shown some good moments catching the football and working in the open field. The problem is, when he’s dropped a pass or not made a play, they completely get away from targeting him. That’s quietly been the story with several offensive players this season and it’s bizarre that they haven’t yet realized giving up on guys and not going back to them has become a pattern that has really hurt them and kept them from potentially getting to where they need to be. Michel has shown he can fill that role when he needs to and it’s strange that they didn’t use him more after he had been productive prior to them going away from him. Whether or not that changes remains to be seen, but that’s been how things have gone so far with the second-year running back who had 621-receiving yards and 6 touchdown receptions during his collegiate career at Georgia.

4) The loss of Stephen Gostkowski continues to loom large, especially after losing Nick Folk to an appendectomy coming into this game.

Newcomer Kai Forbath hit a 23-yard field goal to cap the team’s first drive of the game, but missed an extra point and he looked pretty shaky as the team struggled all game long to sustain drives.

Say what you want about Gostkowski, but he missed just one field goal in his eight attempts this season before getting injured, although he was 11/15 on his extra point kicks. But if the team was in field goal range, there wasn’t much doubt that Gostkowski had a good shot at hitting it. Instead, not having a reliable field goal kicker is something that has definitely hurt them this season and you saw again on Sunday night how it affected some of their decision making.

This will likely remain a problem and when you take into account their offensive struggles, it’s even more concerning as these games continue to become tighter and more meaningful heading into the end of the season.

Despite giving up a few big plays, the defense played about as well as could have been expected Sunday night.

5) Meanwhile, despite how much they struggled, the defense actually had a better game than people think, especially after Belichick pulled them aside late in the first half and started making adjustments.

They did a reasonably good job keeping Deshaun Watson in check, with the Texans really only putting together and scoring one good touchdown drive in the first half, which came on a 13 play, 88-yard possession where Houston held the ball for nearly 7-minutes and wore down the Patriots’ defense. The other touchdown came on the Brady/Harry interception, which gave Houston the football at the New England 21-yard line, setting the Texans up for an easy scoring play to Duke Johnson just 3-plays later.

They actually held Watson to just 3-of-7 in the Third quarter, but the problem was, each of those completions went for 15, 20 and a 35-yard touchdown pass, respectively. For a group that’s normally good about not allowing big plays, that was their Achilles heel as the Texans pulled away.

However, the fact the Patriots managed just 3 points really made things tough and it seemed like it was just a matter of time before the wheels eventually came off. That’s unfortunately, exactly what happened after Houston marched their way down to the Patriots 35-yard line early in the third quarter, with Watson tossing a 35-yard pass to Will Fuller, who appeared to haul in the football for the score. However, replay showed that Jonathan Jones got his hand in and kept Fuller from controlling the football and the call was reversed and called incomplete.

But the Texans wasted no time going right back at Jones, with Watson this time throwing a perfect 35-yard pass to Kenny Stills on the next play for a touchdown, which suddenly put the pressure on New England at 21-3. That play was a tough one, especially after the close call Jones had just one play earlier. It was also the second longest scoring pass play allowed all season, with the previous one coming all the way back in Week 6 against the Giants thanks to Golden Tate’s 64yd touchdown.

The Patriots answered with a scoring drive of their own on the next possession, but the failed extra point seemingly took the wind out of their sails and they trailed 21-9 at the end of the third quarter. Houston then put together a drive to begin the fourth quarter that ended with a toss to Deandre Hopkins, who then threw a touchdown to Watson on a play that looked like a pitch but was ruled a forward pass, with Watson diving into the pylon for the touchdown.

Either way, the real story of this game was the fact on a night where they were facing a good team who came in with a good game plan, the lack of complimentary football by the offense was really their bigger issue. Three first half points obviously wasn’t enough and unfortunately, it put them in a hole just deep enough where despite their last-second scoring run, they just couldn’t recover.

As good as this defense has been, expecting them to hold opposing teams scoreless if they can’t put up points is asking a little much and all things considered, especially considering the state they were in health-wise, they played about as well as could have been expected.

With the Chiefs up next it’s another big challenge and expecting this group to shut down Pat Mahomes and the rest of the Kansas City offense is going to be a tall order if they can’t put up any points. If that ends up being a problem again this weekend, they’re going to be in for another long afternoon.

Hopefully, they’ll figure it out. They’ll spend the rest of this week trying to put this one behind them and do just that before they kickoff against the Chiefs on Sunday at 4:25pm.

Texans Dominate Listless Patriots 28-22, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:50 am ET

It appeared that the plane carrying the players suffering from the flu was the only one that landed in Houston this weekend. The Patriots looked like a team suffering from a malaise that had them as a group, a step (or two) slower than the Texans. 

Houston dominated this game completely for about 50 minutes and then went to sleep, playing soft defense that allowed the Patriots to make the score much, much closer on the scoreboard than it was on the field. They nearly gave it away as Brandon Bolden got a hand on an onside kick that bounced just out of his reach or Houston may have given the game away completely. 

But don’t let that distract from the fact that the Patriots looked terrible all game long. The offense is adrift with no identity, no separation from their receivers, no team speed, and right now no answers.

Worse, the defense, which has been the strength of this team all season long looked slow, out of sorts and out-coached on Sunday night. And if the Texans made the defense look slow, the team has Kansas City next up on the slate. They blew out the Raiders earlier on Sunday.

The ugly loss in Houston, knocked the Patriots out of the #1 seed as the Baltimore Ravens now own that, courtesy of a knock-down, drag-out last-second win over the San Francisco 49ers. But the Patriots now have to look over their shoulder in the division at the 9-3 Buffalo Bills who are now just a game back. 

Here are four main observations from the game:

The Offense is Adrift In a Sea Of Mediocrity: 

Perhaps even mediocre is a stretch right now. This offense right now looks terrible. And there aren’t any excuses anymore about guys being injured. All week, we said that there was a chance that everyone could be back (they were) this week and that the Patriots offense would have their full complement of weapons (they did) as they’d have for the rest of the season. And if this is what they have, then it is a scary proposition. 

The lack of speed on this offense right now is alarming. Opposing defenses now know that they have to double cover Julian Edelman. And because of the dearth of speed outside, they can afford to put a safety on James White, because they don’t fear any of the other receivers or tight ends. 

As a result, the number of targets successfully completed to either Edelman or White has dropped. Last night Brady was just 14 of 23 targeting those two. And yes, many of those came in garbage time. The secondary players have to step up and make the defense pay. They haven’t and last night was a microcosm of what this offense is suffering from. The remaining receivers were targeted 23 times by Tom Brady and he completed only 10 of those. 

Phillip Dorsett and Mohamad Sanu were targeted 11 times and they combined for 5 catches for 29 yards. That just isn’t going to cut it in any way, shape or form. That is averaging just 2.6 yards per target and under 6 yards per reception. 

And it isn’t like the Texans have some sort of juggernaut defense. They entered the game with a suspect run defense and a pass defense that had been burned for most of the season. The shut down the receivers and blanketed them far too easily.

Coaching Staff Made Some Curious Decisions:

The Patriots usually are the ones who make the opposition crap their pants and make decisions that go a long way toward New England coming away with a win. In Houston, it was their turn to wear the propeller hat.

Down 14-3 late in the first half, they faced a 4th and 10 from the Houston 39-yard line with just 26 seconds to go. A first down would have given them a chance to at least kick a field goal to go into halftime with a bit of momentum and the opportunity to double score. 

Instead, they opt to punt conceding a scoring chance, which says a lot on how they feel right now about this offense and the lack of trust they had last night with the defense being able to stop Houston with 20 seconds to go. 

In the second half, they seemed to abandon the running game far too quickly, rendering Sony Michel to the bench. We thought that they would be able to run the ball against the Texans defense and in the first half, they did so, fairly effectively. This put even more pressure on a moribund passing game. 

James White ran effectively later in the game, but much of that had to do with Houston just trading space for time after they opened up a big lead. 

Then in the second half, after they scored a touchdown, they lined up to go for two. Seeing something they didn’t like with the Houston alignment on defense, instead of calling a time out, they took the five-yard penalty and then flipflopped, opting to kick the extra point. Kai Forbath then hooked it badly left…Ugly. 

And Then There is Harry:

Patriots 1st round draft pick N’Keal Harry was used as a blocker on the early drive and performed well, showing the willingness and ability to use his size and physicality to their advantage.  Then came Brady’s interception.

Harry ran a slant from the left side on a 3rd and 4 and allowed Bradley Roby, who gave him a slight tug on the jersey, to get inside and pick off Brady. Harry slowed his route, something he can’t do and didn’t use his body effectively enough. It was a rookie mistake and one that has to be corrected. 

But that was it essentially for Harry for the night. He had played 12 snaps up to that point. He wasn’t totally benched but only played 10 snaps the rest of the game. And wasn’t targeted again. We’ll have to rewatch the tape, but I didn’t see him in the second half. 

It doesn’t matter whose decision it was, Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Brady, but this is the kind of situation that needs to be looked at. Granted Harry made a mistake, but for him to get completely frozen out for the rest of the game over it? Ouch. And it wasn’t like the rest of the receivers were lighting it up making him expendable. 

Where do we go from here? Good question…

Texans’ Coaches Had the Patriots Defense Figured Out: 

This was a great coaching job by Houston and flawlessly executed by QB Deshaun Watson. The Patriots were a bit passive early and dropped back in zone coverage, respecting their speed at wide receiver and Watson’s ability to move in the pocket. 

When the Patriots played that way, Watson immediately targeted the middle of the field in the sweet spot and was hitting on those passes easily. Or they’d isolate a linebacker in coverage with Duke Johnson out of the backfield, which was a mismatch. 

When they switched to man coverage and specifically to their Cover 0 technique, the Texans went deep. Their speed (unlike New England) was on full display, DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Stills, and Will Fuller gave them problems in this look.

The pass rush wasn’t much of a factor for much of this game, which hurt. And then when it did get home, Watson escaped with a great move and kept a drive alive which resulted in a Houston touchdown.

Give a ton of credit to Houston’s offensive game plan, they knew what they wanted to do and executed it extremely well. 

So, the Patriots return home at 10-2 with the Chiefs coming into town with many more questions than answers on this snowy Monday morning.

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

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

New England Patriots News 12-01, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 1, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

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

Gameday! The Patriots are on the road to face the Houston Texans later tonight on Sunday Night Football. And after three bad weather games in the past four, the Patriots will be playing indoors.

But first, we hope everyone had a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving holiday surrounded by family, food, and football. I was exceptionally blessed to be surrounded by all three. Thanksgiving morning I was lucky enough to cover and shoot a highschool game between long-time rivals Grafton and Millbury since I also work for each of the respective town’s newspapers. 

These small-town, early morning Turkey day games are so distinctly New England in their flavor, it would make a great Norman Rockwell painting and sets the tone for the entire day. And what a game this year, two outstanding coaching staffs, great kids and a great game that went right down the wire. It was more entertaining (for me anyway) than much of what I watched later on television. That’s what I was thankful for. 

Great high school game on Thursday set the tone for the weekend

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

M*A*S*H* Unit – The Patriots have over a third of their roster either out or questionable for tonight’s game against the Texans as the flu bug has ravaged the unit (Thanks Dallas) this week. The latest to go down was LB Kyle Van Noy who missed practice on Friday.  With one player ruled out (As of Friday night) Ryan Izzo, and 17 questionable, the list of inactive players will be scrutinized closely later tonight.

Kai Forbath – The veteran kicker is the 4th player to play the position in 2019 after Nick Folk suffered appendicitis and was released. Forbath has played for Washington, New Orleans, Minnesota, and Jacksonville. 

Forbath’s signing means that the team has had more kickers (4) in the past eight weeks than they did in the previous 23 years. Other than the final eight games of 2010 when Stephen Gostkowski was injured, the Patriots have had either him or Adam Vinatieri at the helm. 

Julian Edelman – The Patriots veteran WR has one of the most entertaining social media accounts out there. From his “cop” videos with Danny Amendola to others, it is always a must-see for Patriots fans. He didn’t disappoint on Thanksgiving having photoshopped the famous Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving Day painting and adding Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, Sony Michel, Chase Winovich, Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Devin McCourty and of course his BFF Tom Brady.  

Edelman 2: Edelman on Friday was in a Star Wars state of mind. NESN’s Zach Cox wrote that the WR was asked about his leadership style when in the meeting room with the young Patriots WRs. Edelman didn’t disappoint. 

“I don’t think Yoda would go out there and tell his secrets of how he trains Jedis,” Edelman said. “So I’m not saying anything, buddy.”

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

It is That Time Again, Post-Thanksgiving Run: 

Bill Belichick has always said that you don’t really know what you have in a football team until after Thanksgiving. Well… here we are. The Thanksgiving tryptophan coma is in the books and tonight will the first game in the month of December. 

This is when the Patriots have traditionally have turned things up a notch and began to tighten things up for the stretch run and hopefully a long post-season run. Not that the team has a lot of things to tighten up on, being 10-1 entering Week 13. 

But with the Ravens right behind them in the AFC (with the tie-breaker) and the Bills playing really good football at 9-3, they can ill-afford any slip-ups. Especially with Chiefs awaiting after the Texans game and the Bills on tap soon after that. 

Tom Brady spoke about these things on Friday in his press conference and echoed that this is the time of year, for the team to take it up a notch. 

“Yeah, this is an important time of year for every team and the teams that are fortunate enough to really still be in it,” Brady said.

“This is the time where you’ve pretty much seen what you can do and what the other teams can do and the roles guys play and so forth. So, we’ve got to – we’re playing some really good teams, and this is the one that matters the most is the one that we’ve got ahead of us. It’s a great football team, well-coached, very good on offense, very good on defense. They don’t beat themselves, they’re explosive. It’s just a great football team. So, a big challenge for us, Sunday Night Football. I’m sure they’re going to give us everything they’ve got, and hopefully, we can go match it.”

Situational Football Practicing Pays Off:

The Patriots are always practicing situational football and while many teams pay it lip service, not many will practice it with the intensity that Bill Belichick’s teams do…and it highlights the sometimes razor-thin difference between winning and losing. 

Sunday’s game against the Cowboys was a prime example. There is a reason the Patriots practice outside in all weather conditions and Belichick frequently will douse the footballs with water, making it as difficult as possible in practice. Because they won’t blink if it happens in the game. 

With the very tough weather conditions on Sunday and in a tight defensive game, it became a field position, situational football game. The Patriots were very prepared for it, Dallas was not. Belichick knew that they couldn’t turn over the ball and may need a turnover or two to win. They got it and never put the ball on the ground. Dallas had one turnover and nearly had several others.

Just a look at how each team handled the kicking game was quite telling. The Patriots kicked off short and while the wind played tricks on the returners, the Cowboys nearly turned the ball over a few times. The Patriots left their deep man back and had a returner at about the 15-yard line in case of the same issue. 

The conditions on the field were such that practicing in conditions like this played in NE’s favor. Photo: SBalestrieri

Wonder why they always have so many guys practicing returning punts in practice? Late in the 3rd quarter, Rex Burkhead made a fair catch of the ball in the wind giving the Patriots excellent field position. No big deal right? Wrong. Burkhead, who had never fielded a punt in the NFL, had been practicing for this type of situation since training camp. New England got a field goal on the ensuing possession. 

And of course, Matthew Slater with a huge block of a Cowboys punt deep in their own end gave the struggling offense the ball at the 11-yard line. The result of which was a Patriots touchdown, the only one of the game. Chess-checkers. 

Patriots Players to Watch Tonight: 

With the Patriots in Houston tonight, we’ve compiled our list of players to watch in the game. This list will also be matched against who is available as 17 players are questionable for this one. 

Tom Brady – The Patriots QB hears the same drivel every year at this time from the hot take artists that he’s done, he’s in decline, yada, yada, wash, rinse and repeat. With the OL getting back together, and his #2 and #3 receivers possibly being back and his 1st round draft receiver getting back into the lineup, things are trending up. 

And this is a great week for turning things up a notch (as we stated above). With everyone talking about Deshaun Watson this week, Brady would love to stick a fork in all that with a big game against the Texans. The feeling here is that he will. 

Stephon Gilmore – The Patriots corner is making people rethink that Revis Island stuff we were all saying a few years ago. He’s been the best corner in the league for a couple of years now and is facing another daunting task of covering DeAndre Hopkins.

This is nothing new for the soft-spoken Gilmore, which is even rarer among NFL corners as they tend to be the bombastic, diva types. But his matchups with Hopkins, among the very best WRs in the league will be areas to watch all night.  Where are all those people who lamented paying Gilmore all that money over Malcolm Butler in 2017? 

Sony Michel – The Pats 2nd-year RB had a very solid game against the Cowboys last week. And it wasn’t just in the number of yards it was the way he ran. He hit the holes quickly and made a number of good cuts as well as got good yards after contact. 

Running against a middling Texans run defense, look for the Patriots to get Michel involved early this week to set up play action. Do you think Sony liked running behind his old college teammate at crunch time? 

Lawrence Guy – The Patriots’ very good and very underrated big man on the defensive line has had a couple of very good games back-to-back against the Eagles and Cowboys.

With the RPO (run, pass option) of the Texans and a very good Houston rushing offense, Guy will need a big game again. Look for him and fellow teammate Danny Shelton to try to penetrate inside to disrupt the timing and flow of those RPOs. 

Isaiah Wynn – Wynn made a nice return to the field this past week and had a solid game against the Cowboys. He looks like a player far beyond making just his fourth start in the NFL. The Patriots have put a lot of faith in him as their LT of the future and down the stretch and in the playoffs he can justify all of that faith. 

After what we saw in crunch time against Dallas, look for the Patriots to utilize him and Joe Thuney in the running game with TE Ben Watson more and more as they’ll attempt to run to the left in this one tonight. 

NFL Schedule Week 13, Who Are Your Winners:

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

Last Week: 11-3
Season:116-59-1

Thanksgiving Day Football 1-2
Detroit over Chicago
Dallas over Buffalo
New Orleans over Atlanta  

Indianapolis over Titans
NY Jets over Cincinnati
Carolina over Washington
49ers over Baltimore
Jacksonville over Tampa Bay
Cleveland over Pittsburgh
Green Bay over NY Giants
Philadelphia over Miami
LA Rams over Arizona
LA Chargers over Denver
Kansas City over Oakland
SNF New England over Houston
MNF Seattle over Minnesota

Bye week: No teams

No AFC Notes this week, we’ll bring those back next week. 

________________

Yeah, they’ve been great. Joe’s got a lot of leadership, obviously ,and more experience, but Jake’s mature beyond his years. He’s handled everything as well or better than I could imagine anybody at his age and his experience level handling it, from the punts to the field goals to the holding to the kickoffs. He’s done a great job for us. They’ve both played great.”Bill Belichick being asked about the way Jake Bailey and Joe Cardona have handled the situation working with different kickers

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

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