Category Archives: Patriots News

Get to Know Jacksonville by Revisiting the Jaguars-Patriots Joint Practices

Steve Balestrieri
January 17, 2018 at 8:17 am ET

The Patriots and Jaguars meet on Sunday afternoon for the AFC Championship Game and the right to move on to the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. The teams don’t play each other very much, and going back a couple of seasons to look at games played against one another is difficult since roster and coaching turnover is so great. You can get a much better idea at what they are about by going back to the joint practices this summer.

The two teams conducted a few days of very good, spirited practices (and just to reiterate, it is practice and not a game) but we got to watch plenty of one-on-one matchups as well as full team drills and situational football, (something Jacksonville’s last opponent doesn’t seem to practice). The first two days were the true joint practices, the third day was just a walk-thru before their preseason game.

Thankfully I still had my notes on the sessions and it reinforces what we’ve been seeing from the Jaguars this season. In those practices, the prevailing things to look at and for on Sunday were the following observations:

The Jacksonville Defensive Line is Big, Strong and Physical: One of the more intriguing things about their defense is their size. They are very big and strong and during the goal line work, they were very tough to get a push for the running game on. The Patriots were stuffed on several occasions.

Jax defensive line with pressure. (SBalestrieri photo)

They are very good at getting pressure with just their front four. Because of that they can drop seven into coverage and provide tighter windows to throw in. And unlike Tennessee, the Jaguars will rotate defensive linemen in, using seven players, they are deep and their backups are very good.

The outside linebackers, Miles Jack and Telvin Smith are fast and will contest the short areas of the passing game very well. The  guy that holds it together is Paul Posluszny, the big middle linebacker who is a thumper inside. It is amazing that Posluszny, who is in his 11th season, finally gets a chance to play for a winner.

One area that the Patriots can combat this is to go quick. If they go to the hurry up offense, the Jaguars big men inside could get worn down. Play action passing on first down and in a perfect world, running 65-75 offensive snaps will be something they’ll look to do.

The Corners are Big and Physical: Jacksonville has two excellent corners in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Many Patriots fans will remember Bouye from the Divisional Playoff game last season when he played for the Texans.

Both have good size, speed, and physicality. They’re very good at jamming at the line of scrimmage and disrupting the timing, something the Patriots offense is built on. During the joint workouts, there were some great battles going on where the Jags corners won plenty of one-on-one battles. The smaller Patriots wide receivers have struggled getting separation against tough, physical corners.

Jax corners are big, tough and physical. (SBalestrieri photo)

Unfortunately for New England, the one guy no one could cover was Julian Edelman. No matter who they trotted out there, Edelman’s quickness off the line was nearly impossible to stop and he was seemingly open on every play. But he’s lost for the season on IR, so will they attempt to use Danny Amendola and/or James White, in the same way, this week? But Jacksonville will attempt to flood the underneath zones and force Tom Brady into going to a deeper vertical passing game. The Steelers made them pay for those, but rewatching the tape, several of those catches were the type of highlight reel stuff and all were against extremely tight coverage.

The key from a New England perspective may be against the safeties using Rob Gronkowski. Both of the safeties (Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church) are banged up a bit this week, so we’ll see how that plays out.

Leonard Fournette is A Load in the Running Game: The Jaguars are built in the Tom Coughlin mode and coach Doug Marrone relies heavily on the running game, to wear down the opposition, control the clock and open up play action passing. Fournette was the highly touted prospect from LSU and the joint practices were our first look at him.

He didn’t disappoint. He’s big, physical with good speed and very good vision. He was impressive down on the goal line and at breaking tackles at the line of scrimmage. He will be the primary focus for the Patriots defense this week.

Don’t go to sleep on T.J. Yeldon. He’s a good runner in his own right and a very good pass receiver out of the backfield.

Bortles is the Wildcard This Week: It is hard to judge Bortles on what we saw during those practices because he struggled badly at the beginning of training camp and was particularly awful during the two days of practices that we watched. He had been throwing picks in practice and was gun shy about throwing downfield in 11-on-11. Everything was a check-down.

Bortles play is the wildcard this weekend. (SBalestrieri photo)

One of the Jacksonville beat guys we spoke with told us, that Tony Khan was actively trying to pry Jimmy G. away from the Patriots that week. Obviously, Bortles hasn’t played like that all season or the Jaguars wouldn’t be here now. But his consistency is the issue. Which one shows up? The one in control in Pittsburgh or the one leery to throw the ball downfield, like he did against Buffalo. Play action on first down will be key for his success this week. If he gets in third and long, it will be a long afternoon for the Jaguars offense.

One guy to watch is Marquise Lee. He had some great battles with Malcolm Butler and had his way with the Pats CB on many snaps during both days of workouts. Will the Pats use him or Stephon Gilmore against Lee? We’ll see.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.

AFC Championship Game Will Be New England – Jacksonville

Steve Balestrieri
January 15, 2018 at 8:54 am ET

The much anticipated AFC Championship Game will not be a rematch between the Patriots and Steelers as the Jacksonville Jaguars for the second time this season went into Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 45-42 in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.

New England had already advanced on Saturday night by thrashing the Tennessee Titans 35-14 and will now face the Jaguars who won a close defensive struggle 10-3 over Buffalo and now a shootout against the over-confident Steelers.

The Jaguars, played the underdog role well all week, listening to several Pittsburgh players including safety Mike Mitchell and running back Le’Veon Bell openly talk about beating New England in a rematch, totally dismissing Jacksonville, which was doubly infuriating for the Jaguars since they blasted the Steelers 30-9 in Pittsburgh earlier this season.

Mitchell was even reported to be standing outside the Jacksonville locker room trash-talking the Jaguars before the game. Once again, this failure resides right in the lap of the Pittsburgh coaching staff. While talking up their “upcoming” game with New England, they forgot about Jacksonville and their performance on the field was easy to point at.

Jacksonville, behind the power running of Leonard Fournette, play-action passing of Blake Bortles and that tough opportunistic defense raced out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter before the Steelers decided it was time to play. Ben Roethlisberger shook off a shaky, poor start to toss five touchdown passes, several of the highlight reel variety on fourth downs to keep the game close, but it was not to be.

Jacksonville came to play…this week. The Steelers were too fixated on next week and now go home with nobody to blame but themselves. To discount and overlook a tough team with the #1 defense in the NFL, and one that had routed you earlier in the year in your own building is unconscionable. He’ll have all spring and summer to answer those questions and they are legit ones. That locker room is way too loose.

Jacksonville is Ready: But for Doug Marrone’s team, they’re flying high right now. They entered the playoffs as the #3 seed and now part of the final four and they, (and rightfully so) feel like they can beat anybody. The pass defense is the #1 unit in the league and will present a tremendous obstacle for the Patriots.

Why? They can create plenty of QB pressure without blitzing just rushing their front four. That means they can drop seven men into coverage and fill up the passing lanes. Their cornerbacks are very good, we saw A.J. Bouye last year with the Texans in the playoffs.

Jalen Ramsey is the Jags other starting corner and he wasted little time in declaring the Jaguars as the next Super Bowl champions. Speaking to the fans upon return to Jacksonville, Ramsey said, “I ain’t got too much to say, but make sure you all bring that same energy out next week and the week after,” Ramsey said. “We are going to the Super Bowl and we are going to win that b***h. We are going to the win that b***h.”

Both starting corners are big, (6’0 and 6’1), fast, physical and athletic.

Teams Are Very Familiar With Each Other: This summer during training camp, the Jaguars and Patriots conducted joint practices with each other and there is much that can be learned about each other from those long looks on the Gillette upper fields.

You can guarantee that both sets of coaches will be looking at those tapes this week to see if they can catch the slightest nuance from their opponent. It also gives a good look at the role players, the guys that may only come in for a handful of snaps each week to see how the team may use them and get a better feel for their strengths and weaknesses.

Chris Hogan and A.J. Bouye battle during joint practices between Jax and NE in August. (SBalestrieri photo)

One player who gave the Jaguars fits (and who’ll be missed this week) was Julian Edelman who was nearly uncoverable in the workouts. For the Jaguars, Marquise Lee had his way with Malcolm Butler on several occasions. And Brandin Cook’s speed was something that the Jacksonville defense definitely struggled with. While Leonard Fournette showed why the Jaguars were so high on him.

We’ll have more on these matchups later this week.

Coughlin Factor Will be Overblown This Week: Tom Coughlin has his hands all over the Jaguars success this season. He knows how to build a solid football team. And it starts with his defense and then he builds a big physical offense built around the running game that feasts on play action when the defense over commits to stopping the run.

This is what he did here in Jacksonville to start the franchise, then brought it to the Giants and now he and Marrone are doing it here in Jacksonville again. They are a very physically tough, well-balanced football team. But less than 8 hours after their defeat of Pittsburgh, social media is already overflowing with the “Coughlin has the blueprint” on how to beat New England mantra, like he owns a secret talisman that is kryptonite against Tom Brady. That is what we’ll hear all week.

Coughlin’s teams win by being balanced and tough defensively. As we said above, they’ll present a very difficult challenge for the Patriots to beat this Sunday. And his defense in both Super Bowls slowed down the Patriots passing offense by making them one-dimensional and getting after Brady. In Super Bowl XLII they held New England to 45 yards rushing. In SB XLVI it was 83 but 21 of those belonged to Wes Welker.

And remember, for as stout as Coughlin’s defenses played in each, it took incredible deep, passing plays by Eli Manning to pull out each. The velcro catch down the middle in the former and the beautiful dime he threw to Mario Manningham in the latter.

It is just great team defense, there isn’t a secret or a blueprint. It is going out and producing. Both of these teams are vastly different from those teams and this will be a great chess match all on its own.

We’ll have a deeper look at the Jaguars here soon. Final Four Week is here. All four teams got here the old fashioned way…they earned it. This is what the postseason is all about.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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 1-14, And the Beat Goes On…

Steve Balestrieri
January 14, 2018 at 7:44 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 1-14, & AFC East Notes.

What a crazy week it was, we began the week with below zero temperatures in a deep freeze only to see Friday and early Saturday reach a balmy 60. Then by the time the game ended last night it was cold once again with single digit wind chills. Couple that with the Patriots playoff game and so little talk surrounding the game itself, it was indeed a crazy week.

However, when all was said and done, the Patriots are moving on to their seventh straight conference championship. That’s some rarified air folks. Breathe it in, enjoy it and ignore the noise.

Reports of the Patriots Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated:
Since the Patriots are indeed flying in that rarified air, there is no shortage of media people that can’t wait to be the first to say “the Patriots run is over”, and there is feuding among the top three of Brady, Belichick, and Kraft.

Well if you thought (or were secretly wishing for) this latest flap over nada to distract the team and throw them off of their game, you were sadly mistaken. They handled this like everything else and used it as a tool to bring themselves together and blasted the Titans into the offseason.

Next week, they’ll face a very good team either way between Jacksonville or Pittsburgh with the chance to go to the Super Bowl. And if they do fail, it will have zero to do with distractions, or in-fighting or worrying about who is the “Patriot of the Week.” This team is mentally tough and blocks out distractions better than anyone else.

Brady Continues to Amaze:
Speaking of wishful thinking, so many of these dweebs with their hot take shows have been predicting the end of the line for Brady for so long that it has become almost comical. I first heard these “he could be done as an elite QB” since the 2008 season when he tore his ACL. Ten years. The Brady funeral procession has been waiting for ten years and the beat goes on.

After all of the talk about his struggling December was all about his age and ignoring the fact that he was missing nearly half a dozen of his offensive players, once he got most of his players back he did what he’s always done. Made the naysayers pay. Right, Kevin Byard? He didn’t look like Blake Bortles last night nor was he afraid to test Byard in the middle of the field. When will they ever learn…don’t poke the bear.

Brady improved to an incredible 6-2 in playoff action when attempting 50+ passes. How is that incredible you ask? All other QBs attempting 50+ are a combined 3-28. Put that on a cliff. And thanks, Kerry Byrne for that stat.

How About that Patriots Defense?
It is amazing what you see on social media, the talk we’ve been hearing since September was that the defense was the Achilles Heel of the team and the lack of a pass rush/setting the edge in the running game was going to be the death knell of this team.

The run defense has been steadily getting better down the stretch and the QB pressure has been getting better and better and Matt Patricia doesn’t have that “marquee pass rusher” he and Bill Belichick have schemed a pass around the pieces that they do have.

And while the panic level around New England went thru the roof after the Titans went on their first touchdown drive, the coaches did what they always have done. They figured out what was wrong, adjusted and stuffed Tennessee until a total garbage time touchdown when the game was over.

Tennessee gashed the Chiefs for over 200 yards rushing the week before with Derrick Henry accounting for 156 of them. On Saturday night, that number was 65. And Henry, who was supposed to be the equalizer rushed for 2.3 yards per carry gaining just 28 yards. They took away Mariota’s running lanes in the passing game and the pass rush hit the Titans’ QB for eight sacks which is a franchise record.

Amendola is Money Once Again:
We’ve been unabashed supporters of the Patriots slot receiver. In the last two Super Bowl wins, he was right in the mix of things in each victory. No one has better hands and he has a nose for moving the sticks, finding the sweet spot in the coverage and always saves his best for the biggest times at crunch times.

One fact that escaped us last night was that Amendola has never had a 100-yard receiving game. Well not any longer. With the Patriots getting healthier on offense, Tennessee was busy trying to defend everywhere and that’s where Amendola steps in. He’ll never be “the guy” and he’s usually the third or fourth option for Tom Brady in many of these passing plays, but woe to the defense that ignores him. He caught 11 passes on 13 targets for 112 yards last night including a superb play by him and Brady for a key third-down conversion. Brady was flushed out of the pocket and threw across his body where Amendola made a tremendous leaping grab.

Every spring and summer, the rumors always have the Patriots cutting ties to the diminutive wide receiver, and every playoff run has us wondering “how could they get rid of this guy?”

Patriots Offensive Line Answers the Bell:
One of the other storylines this week was that big, physical Titans defensive line, doing what they did to Alex Smith and the Chiefs doing the same thing to Tom Brady, bringing pressure up the middle and shutting down the Patriots offense that “hasn’t been good all December” and “this could be 2010 all over again.”

It wasn’t for lack of trying. The charges of Dante Scarnecchia had a very good game on Saturday night. They picked up the A Gap blitzes, did a solid job of protection all night long and allowed zero sacks and just four QB hits.

Coaching Carousel Keeps Turning; Staff May Be Quite Different in 2018 :
The Patriots coaching staff and front office is always being looked at from other teams, trying to catch lightning in a bottle and emulate the Patriots success. And with both Offensive and Defensive Coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia receiving serious consideration from two teams, it seems on the surface that both may soon be gone. Where does that leave the team in 2018?

Bill Belichick is always grooming, “the next man up” in the military tradition, he no doubt learned at Annapolis. He’s grooming the next guy to take the job. That’s the difference between successful coaches and unsuccessful ones. You don’t train your subordinates to follow but to lead. And the team should be fine on paper.

Both Linebackers Coach Brian Flores, as well as Wide Receivers Coach Chad O’Shea, have been being groomed to step into the coordinator positions if indeed McDaniels and Patricia depart. Both are highly esteemed inside the building although the true test for each will come when they actually step into the roles. One potential, albeit long-shot snafu that could arise, is if Flores departs also. He’s already getting some consideration as a head coaching candidate from the Arizona Cardinals. If he were to leave as well, then that might open up the position for an outsider.

But Belichick always likes to promote from within and keep that continuity, so that would be intriguing if it were to occur. One name to keep an eye on if that occurs, … Greg Schiano, not really an outsider per se as he an Belichick have always been close.  

Gruden Lands in a Good Position to Thrive:
Jon Gruden leaving the ESPN Monday Night Football gig to return to coaching wasn’t a shock. Everyone who was close to him has stated that he is a coach, first and foremost and would eventually return to the coaching ranks sooner or later. Gruden was just waiting for the right spot. And he returned to the Raiders where he found success in the early 2000s.

A couple of years ago, he was interested in the Eagles coaching vacancy by Philly owner Jeff Lurie wasn’t interested in him, being out of the NFL for so long. But Mark Davis, the owner of the Raiders came calling with a boatload of cash and the rest, as they say, is history.

Gruden can coach, we’ve seen that with the job he did in Tampa with the Bucs. What he isn’t tremendous at is building a football team, as we’ve seen on the MNF telecasts, he loves everybody. But he doesn’t have to worry about that. He has a very good GM in Reggie McKenzie who has assembled some intriguing pieces around the roster for Gruden to work with. First of which is QB Derek Carr.

I can’t wait to see how those two interact and work around an offense that didn’t play to its full potential last year. The Raiders have some intriguing pieces on offense that seem tailor made for Gruden. That alone will keep the Raiders fans in the seats at the dump they play in until they make the move to Las Vegas. “Chucky Takes Las Vegas”…

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Divisional Weekend:
Wildcard Weekend Last week 3-1 mark.

Saturday: Falcons at Eagles – Atlanta
Titans at Patriots – New England

Sunday: Jaguars at Steelers – Pittsburgh
Saints at Vikings – New Orleans

****No AFC East Notes This Week****

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Brady, Patriots Manhandle Titans 35-14, Advance To AFC Title Game

Steve Balestrieri
January 13, 2018 at 11:53 pm ET

For the seventh season in a row, the Patriots are going to the conference championship with a chance to go to the Super Bowl. After starting a bit slowly against a physically tough but overmatched Tennessee Titans team, the Patriots caught fire in the second quarter and scored 35 straight points before allowing a garbage time touchdown to win 35-14.

Tom Brady threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns, Danny Amendola had a fantastic game with 11 receptions for 113 yards and Dion Lewis and James White were basically unstoppable in the passing game. While the still much-maligned Patriots defense notched eight sacks of Marcus Mariota. The Titans QB threw for 254 yards but lost 52 of those back with sacks. The Titans gained a net total of 267 yards on the night.

The Patriots will host the winner of the Pittsburgh – Jacksonville game next week. Other observations include:

Brady Has His Way With LeBeau’s Defense Again: After the first two drives stalled without a pass to the running backs, the offense got it figured out and Brady picked apart the Titans defense by targeting the running backs, James White and Dion Lewis in the passing game where Tennessee had no answer.

The Titans were among the worst in the league defending backs in the passing game and it showed. Tennessee is stout against the run allowing an average of just 88 yards per game so Josh McDaniels and Brady eschewed the running game for the most part by throwing the ball short to the backs where they found great success.

While throwing to Dion Lewis out of the backfield, Brady was 9-10 for 79 yards. Overall he was 13-17 for 108 yards targeting the backs. White had a touchdown reception as well as running but also had a couple of drops. One on a wheel route was nearly a huge gainer but it bounced just off his fingertips.

Rob Gronkowski, despite being doubled most of the game caught 6 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.

The Run Defense Put Derrick Henry on a Milk Carton: One of the big matchups entering the game was the Titans running game against the Pats defense which has struggled for much of the year. But like we saw down the stretch, the team has improved against the run and tonight, they shut down Henry who ran wild against KC a week ago.

Henry rushed for 28 yards on 12 carries, his longest run of the day was four yards. He was never a factor in the game and the Tennessee game plan of pounding the ball inside and keeping Brady off the field never materialized. Mariota had some nice, effective scrambles early but once Matt Patricia made his adjustments, the Titans running game was rendered ineffective. Overall they rushed 16 times for 65 yards while the Patriots rushed for 101 yards on 27 carries.

Amendola, Along with White and Lewis Were the “Little Big Men” for the Team:
The offense was clicking with the smaller players producing big-time. Amendola probably benefited the most from having White and Hogan back as with the different players in the lineup, and Tennessee opting to double cover Gronkowski, he had room to work underneath and if he can get his hand on the ball, he’s money.

Amendola is the subject of rumors every spring/summer that he’s on his way out and every year around playoff time, he reminds us all how valuable he is. Tonight was no exception. He made several catches of the difficult variety and is among Brady’s most trusted receivers with the game on the line.

The Patriots Pass Rush Continues to Improve: As the game went on, the pass rush kept getting better and better. The Pats pass rush notched eight sacks with them getting spread around. Deatrich Wise and Geneo Grissom each had two.

Others getting sacks were Trey Flowers, Adam Butler, Ricky Jean-Francois and Marquis Flowers. They were bringing the heat on Mariota and after the first few drives, he wasn’t able to scramble for yardage.

Stephon Gilmore didn’t give up a single catch during the game and had tremendous coverage all night. He made a nice diving pass breakup as well

This win has to be a big confidence builder for the team overall. The defense was supposed to be tested by the ground game of Henry and Mariota and they held up quite well. And to get after Mariota like they did with eight sacks? Off the charts.

Offensively, getting most of their missing pieces back was huge. The offense hasn’t looked this potent in weeks. Brady was cool, calm and collected, laser sharp and had a very impressive outing.

So…. We are on to the Conference Championship.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.

Malcolm Mitchell Out For Divisional Playoffs vs Titans

Robert Alvarez
January 12, 2018 at 8:12 pm ET

On Friday, the deadline to place New England Patriots wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell on the 53-man roster came and went at 4pm with no move being made. Mitchell will not play against the Tennessee Titans.

After a strong rookie season that saw him contribute in the Super Bowl comeback, Mitchell has been dealing with a knee injury that has kept him on injured reserve since September 7th.

Mitchell was spotted practicing with the team on Thursday and has been active on social media over the past few weeks indicating his attempts at coming back.

According to NESN’s Doug Kyed, should the Patriots advance to the next round, the team will have one more opportunity to activate Mitchell at 4pm on Wednesday, otherwise he will be ineligible for the remainder of the playoffs.

As for the current depth chart at wide receiver, there is some good news as Chris Hogan is expected to return for the first time after missing seven of the teams last eight games with a shoulder injury. Heading into Saturday night, the Patriots will have Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt available for quarterback Tom Brady.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

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.

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 Playoff Times Announced, Patriots Will Next Play On Prime Time

Ian Logue
December 31, 2017 at 10:59 pm ET

There won’t be any football played next weekend at Gilette Stadium, but after a crazy weekend, we do have a time and date of when the Patriots will play next.

According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, the Patriots will play their first playoff game on Saturday, January 13th at 8:15pm ET in the AFC Divisional round, beginning their playoff journey in prime time in a Saturday night game at Gillette Stadium.  The Patriots and Steelers are on a bye next week, which will see two big battles between four teams vying for an opportunity to face them.

Squaring off in the AFC next weekend will be the Bills and Jaguars, with Buffalo getting in thanks to a loss by the Ravens on Sunday.  The Bills will head to Jacksonville to take on the 3rd seed Jaguars, while the 5th seed Titans will head to Kansas City to take on the 4th seed Chiefs.

The Patriots will face the lowest remaining seed from that round, while the 2nd seed Steelers will have a home game and will face the top surviving seed from each of those games.

Should New England advance, the AFC Championship game is scheduled for Sunday, January 21st at 3:05pm ET and would take place at Gillette Stadium.

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