Tag Archives: 2018 NFL Season

Patriots Week 14 Report Card, A Very Mixed Bag in the Loss to Miami

Steve Balestrieri
December 11, 2018 at 7:20 am ET


The Patriots went down to Miami and played just well enough to keep a very inferior team in the game long enough for them to steal away a victory on a fluke play on the last snap of the game. Like John Houseman used to say in those old Smith Barney commercials, “They earn it.” And the Pats earned that loss in a game that they should have won.

Some parts of the Pats game was outstanding, others were absolutely terrible. On both sides of the ball. That’s what a wacky game this was. They will get over this one…or perhaps they won’t. They don’t have a lot of time to dwell on it. A trip to Pittsburgh looms next week and don’t expect to see the same Steeler team that lost to the woeful Raiders next Sunday.

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

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady, save for one colossal mistake at the end of the first half was outstanding. Brady completed 27-43 passes for 358 yards (8.3 yards per pass) with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. His accuracy was very good throughout the game and those bogus hot take artists who regularly spew insipid bile about his arm strength need to watch back-to-back plays in the first half.

Facing a 3rd and 10, Brady lasered a rocket to Julian Edelman for 16 yards and a first down. On the next snap, Brady rocketed a 37-yard fastball down the field on a line where Cordarrelle Patterson made a nice grab for a 37-yard touchdown.  

Brady’s one gaffe was a very costly one. With time running down in the first half, Brady held on to the ball too long with no one open and took a sack. At that point, the clock ran out and the Patriots lost a golden opportunity to add points on the board. It was a rookie mistake, he lost track of how many timeouts they had used and it is something, he’s never done. And it couldn’t come at a worse time. That’s what knocks his grade down somewhat.

Running Backs: D

The Patriots running backs were rendered a total non-factor in this game. Despite the Dolphins having a sieve for a run defense for all of this season, they were a stone wall on Sunday and held the Patriots running backs to an awful 2.6 yards per rush average.

Sony Michel had 20 carries for just 57 yards. He had one nice run at the end of the game that looked like the Patriots were finally going to take over but it was wiped out by a holding penalty. It has been a familiar refrain for him all season. He could probably have close to 50 percent of his yardage added to his total that has been lost on flags.

James White whether by the Dolphins defense or the Patriots game plan was invisible on Sunday. Granted Brady was shredding the Dolphin secondary but when the team goes just 3-6 in the red zone, perhaps, White could have been used a bit more. Rex Burkhead also was invisible, carrying four times for two yards with just a single catch for three yards.

James Develin was solid in his blocking and added another short touchdown run. But his penalty hurt at the end of the game.

Wide Receivers: B

Both Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon had outstanding games on Sunday. Edelman had 9 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown and as always he goes into those dangerous spots over the middle. His score was reminiscent of his TD catch in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks. He had a costly drop however where he began to run before securing the ball, a very uncommon mistake for him.

Gordon was outstanding and is looking every week like he’s getting better and better. He’s a monster on those quick, short slants where he uses his size and speed to get position and then is tough to bring down. He had five catches for 96 yards and added a pass interference call as well as a holding call.

Cordarrell Patterson had two catches for 51 yards including a beauty of a 37-yard touchdown. It was a perfect throw and a very nice catch as he stretched out and snagged the ball for the score.

Chris Hogan had only one target and Brady, under pressure overthrew it badly. It was a play we wrote about this weekend, the back of the end zone pass used to be a staple in the Patriots offense and that was one of the first times we’ve seen it in a long time. And it was open too.

Tight Ends: A-

Rob Gronkowski had a very good game, arguably his best of the year on Sunday. He was targeted eight times and made eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. He was taking some big hit and gave the Dolphins a lot of trouble in the passing game. They were convinced that they could cover him with single coverage. They were wrong.

Gronk deserves no criticism for the ridiculousness at the end of the game. He should have never been out there in the first place.

Offensive Line: D+

The offensive line did a tremendous job in the passing game, Brady was sacked just twice and they did a very good job of keeping the interior of the pocket clean where he could step up and throw the ball.

But in the running game? They were singularly awful. Remember this is a Dolphins team that has been gashed all year long but this was their third lowest total allowed. Only two games against the anemic Jets offense did they allow less. The running backs had nowhere to run on Sunday. This was a matchup the offensive line was supposed to win and should have. They did not.

Defensive Line: D

The defensive line like the offensive line and much of the team was really good in one aspect and absolutely terrible in the other. Trey Flowers was once again terrific, he led the way with two sacks, two tackles for loss and four QB hits. And in the pass rush department, the defensive line had another strong game with 3 sacks and six QB hits.

But the Mr. Hyde part of the game was the run defense which was gashed. While that isn’t on just the DL (read below), they share in the grade as they were consistently pushed around in the running game.

Linebackers: D

The Patriots linebackers after their best game of the season against Minnesota had arguably their worst. They did do a good job of getting after Tannehill in blitzes with 1.5 sacks and a pair of QB hits.  Dont’a Hightower had his first sack of the season and John Simon was particularly effective in his best game in a Patriots uniform.

But in run support they were absolutely terrible, Miami rushed for 189 yards on just 21 carries which averages out to 9.0 yards per rush attempt. Brandon Bolden looked like Barry Sanders in his prime flying through open space for a 54-yard touchdown. No one could get off of their blocks. Elandon Roberts had a rough game, getting bulldozed on the Bolden first TD and then whiffing (how many times do we see this?) on an open field tackle attempt on Frank Gore. Hightower was fooled by Tannehill on the first series with a play fake where he ran for 13 yards.

Secondary: C

The secondary took a step back from their stellar game of a week ago. Kenny Stills was giving Jason McCourty fits all game long until he was eventually replaced by J.C. Jackson. Gilmore was beaten by Brice Butler for a touchdown on a post route that was an excellently thrown ball by Tannehill. But the rest of Miami’s receivers had no more than one catch apiece.

But on the topic of the elephant in the room or in this case a Mastodon, there were breakdowns all over the field which all help create a play which will forever be a New England Butt Fumble moment. Another look at the play, (and it is like watching a car wreck) shows some horrible situational football.

Jonathan Jones is in perfect position to make the tackle and end the game since Miami has no timeouts remaining. But instead, he foolishly tries to make a play on the ball and is then, way out of position.  Jackson and Gilmore appear to be more worried about defending another lateral and run like their feet are underwater. Devin McCourty wasn’t on the field (the only snap he missed all game) and Gronk, who isn’t a defender (more to this below) stumbled trying to get the angle on Drake. Epic fail.

Special Teams: C+

The Special Teams blocked two punts, Albert McClellan blocked both by rushing right up the middle. Ryan Allen’s punting was fantastic and the coverage units easily had their best game of the year. But Stephen Gostkowski’s two misses on easy kicks (an extra point and a chip shot 42-yard field goal) cost the team four points, which would have rendered the fiasco at the end moot. Nuff said.

Coaches: C-

The Patriots coaching staff which prides itself on not beating itself and good situational football failed on multiple accounts here. Why was Gronk in the game at all on that last play. With Miami back on its own 31, Tannehill isn’t throwing the ball 75+ yards in the air and even if he does, the team just signed 6’4 Obi Melifonwu who has a 40-inch vertical leap and can run like a scalded dog. It was unfathomable.

While the decision to go for the field goal was considered the “safe, smart” move, I’d have opted for another shot at a touchdown to put the game away and even if you don’t your forcing the Dolphins to start from inside their 5-yard line. Three points there doesn’t ice the game and you’re just giving them better field position to work from.

Just goes to show, Bill isn’t infallible, he can make mistakes. There were plenty of them to go around. We’re on to Pittsburgh…

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.

Patriots-Packers Week 9, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 2, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The New England Patriots return home for a Sunday Night Football game against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The Patriots finished off a perfect (4-0) October and have won five games in a row. They’ll be looking to make it six against the very explosive Packers who are smarting off a late loss to the Rams.

This week is the second Patriots prime-time game in a row and the fourth in the past five weeks. They’ve already appeared on Sunday Night Football twice this season. A week three loss to Detroit and the win over Kansas City. Amazingly enough, this is only the second time that Brady and Rodgers will be on the field against each other. That alone will be worth tuning in to watch two of the all-time greats to compete at the same time.

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen locally on NBC 10 Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya 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 (6-2) defeated the Bills 25-6 on Monday Night. The game was actually much closer than that for the majority of the game but two late touchdowns put it away. The offense only scored one touchdown but the defense scored one and held Buffalo to only a pair of field goals.

The Packers (3-3-1)  lost to 29-27 to the Los Angeles Rams last week in what seemed like a home game for them in LA. Packers fans outnumbered the Rams fans but Ty Montgomery’s fumble on a kickoff return sealed it after the Rams kicked a go-ahead field goal.

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

Series History:

The Patriots and the Packers don’t meet very often, this will only be the 12th meeting between the two teams. The regular season matchup is tied at 5 wins apiece. The Packers beat New England in Super Bowl XXXI in the only post-season meeting. Green Bay beat the Patriots in their last matchup 26-21 in Lambeau in 2014. You would have to go all the way back to 2010 since the Packers last visited Gillette. That one was most remembered as the game that Rodgers missed with an injury and Dan Connolly, the Patriots right guard returned a kickoff 71 yards, nearly scoring a TD. It was also, coincidentally the last game the Packers lost that year.

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 Packers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Green Bay

The Patriots running game had taken off during the last month as Sony Michel has given the Patriots the balance on offense that they were looking for. It worked so well that they were averaging 38 points or better every week for that month. But injuries have really hurt the position.

Jeremy Hill was lost for the year with a torn ACL, Rex Burkhead was placed on IR with multiple concussions, (he can’t return until Week 14). And then Michel went down in the loss to the Bears. They were forced to use WR Cordarrelle Patterson in the tailback role in Buffalo and he, not surprisingly had issues finding holes to run thru.

The Packers have had some issues stopping the run and are allowing 119.1 yards per game and 4.4 yards per rush. Part of that rests with the aggressiveness of the defense, Mike Pettine uses the old Rex Ryan Jets overload scheme and they can be susceptible to the quick hitters to beat the blitz.

With Michel in the backfield, the Patriots would get the nod here, but I tend to think that although he’s back at practice, he probably won’t be able to go this week. That gives the nod to Green Bay.

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

The Patriots have plenty of weapons for Tom Brady to utilize with Julian Edelman back in the fold, although both Josh Gordon and Rob Gronkowski have been slowed by injuries. Brady also has Chris Hogan and the invaluable James White out of the backfield. Gronkowski, just coming off ankle and back injuries was laboring in Buffalo. On a short week, it will be interesting to see if he gets a jump back in his step.

More intriguing is the injury to Edelman. He took a shot to his shoulder/neck area in Buffalo and was in obvious discomfort the rest of the game. He missed practice on Weds. If he can’t go it is a huge blow to the offense, that is already hurting.

The Packers have been very improved against the pass this season. Led by Jaire Alexander, they cover much better and they have 23 sacks thus far. The overload schemes make things very difficult on the opposition. They allow just 221.7 yards per game thru the air which is the 5th best in the league.

One question will be who replaces Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety. Dix was traded at the deadline and played nearly every snap this season. He was the team’s leading interceptor (3) and second-leading tackler (27). They probably will turn to Jermaine Whitehead who was their go-to guy in sub packages, but we may also see CB Tremaine Williams at times. When Pettine was in Cleveland, he often would play Williams at safety. They also have 2017 2nd round draft pick Josh Jones, but he’s been mainly a special teamer this year.

If he can go this week, this will be another tailor-made game for Julian Edelman. His ability to make the tough third-down catches and with he and Brady having the chemistry to read presnap what the defense may do, he’ll be invaluable when the Packers blitz. We look for James White to get a lot of looks once again in the passing game. He currently leads to the team with 55 catches.

It should prove to be an interesting chess match between Pettine and Brady. The two have faced each other quite frequently and the GB defensive coordinator will show plenty of different looks trying to confuse Brady. They’ll show six or seven at the line and then drop seven into coverage or overload blitz on one side. With Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason banged up on the offensive line, the communication between the backups will be key.

Next up the Green Bay offense:

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

The Green Bay running game will scarcely miss Montgomery after his trade. He fell to the third position in their running game by committee group. They have found their man, however, in their 2nd year running back Aaron Jones. While he’s not the biggest guy at 5’9, 208, he is electric with the ball in his hands. Last week his 33-yard touchdown right up the middle sparked the Packers comeback in the second half.

The Patriots run defense has been steadily improving over the course of the season. Last week they held Bills running backs to just 46 yards in 19 carries. Shady McCoy had just 13 yards on 12 carries. The big men in the middle plus improved linebacker play has been the difference. Kyle Van Noy filled in for Dont’a Hightower last week and was outstanding in the middle.

Look for the Packers to feed Jones who had a career-high 12 carries last week more than that on Sunday night. With the Patriots possibly opting to bring A-Gap pressure with either Hightower or Van Noy, it will be the perfect antidote.  

Packers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Green Bay

The Packers Aaron Rodgers is averaging about 308 yards per game and has a plethora of talented receivers who can all be dangerous with the ball in their hands. It starts with Davante Adams who leads the team with 52 catches for 690 yards and six touchdowns. He’s a threat to take it to the house on every down if he gets free.

Rodgers also has Randall Cobb, TE Jimmy Graham, Geronimo Allison, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling and reserve TE Lance Kendricks who can chip into the passing game. Rodgers remains excellent at making plays with his feet, once he’s flushed out of the pocket. The Packers have given up 24 sacks but coming after Rodgers is a risky proposition.

The Patriots have given up a lot of yardage this season, that won’t change on Sunday but the key is making some stops in the red zone. Going back to that 2014 game, Rodgers shredded the NE secondary but they only scored two touchdowns. They’ll need that kind of effort again. The issue is pressure or lack of it from the Patriots defensive line. They have to squeeze the pocket without losing containment or they’ll get toasted this week.

Look for Rodgers to spread them out and try to run those crossers underneath that drive the Patriots mad every week. Adams and Stephon Gilmore should be a good battle to watch but the key this week is the secondary targets Cobb and Allison going against Jason McCourty. The Patriots will also have to watch Graham closely with Chung and LB help.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots have gotten another very solid season from Stephen Gostkowski but the rest of their special teams play has been wildly inconsistent. After getting two scores from STs in Chicago, they took a step back in Buffalo.

The Packers counter with the normally automatic Mason Crosby but he went thru a rough patch and has only hit 17-22 field goals this year. Their return game is where they miss Montgomery the most. They can either use Marquez Valdes-Scantling or activate WR Trevor Davis from IR.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This much-ballyhooed matchup between Brady and Rodgers who both throw the ball extremely well may come down to which team runs the ball better. The Packers are a much better team than their 3-3-1 record indicates and could easily be a 5-2 or 6-1 team right now. Part of that rests on head coach Mike McCarthy. They’ve come out flat in a few games and they saw that they just can’t show up and win. They came out strong and played an excellent 60-minute game against the undefeated Rams last week and if not for Montgomery’s fumble may have won that one.

Now they travel to Foxboro to take on the Patriots where they are awfully tough to beat. Rodgers has the personnel to do that and the experience to take what is out there. They won’t panic if they get down a score or two because they are so explosive.

Third downs and special teams play may ultimately decide who takes away the win here. While a lot of people are expecting another huge scoring game akin to the Kansas City Week 6 matchup, I see this one playing out like the 2014 game, with scoring in the mid to high 20s.

If this game were in Green Bay, I’d say the Packers and Rodgers would cruise, but it isn’t and Gillette is a tough place to play too. Like last week in LA, a late special teams return will spark New England to bring home a tough, hard-fought win. Patriots 28-27

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  Week 8 Report Card, New England Beats Buffalo 25-6

Steve Balestrieri
October 31, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The Patriots have won five in a row and have opened up a good bit of distance between themselves and the rest of the AFC East, at the halfway point of the season. They currently have a two-game (with a tiebreaker) lead over Miami. They took care of business in Buffalo winning 25-6 despite the offense struggling to finish drives.

The lack of Sony Michel really hurt the running game and that was a big reason for the lack of finish when it comes to the offense. They pressed Cordarrelle Patterson into running back duty for the game.

But the defense was very good against arguably the worst offensive team in the NFL. But regardless, they shut down the run and scored a touchdown defensively while holding the hapless Bills’ offense to just two field goals.

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

Quarterback: B-

Tom Brady was not at his best in Buffalo with several passes that were off the mark, most notably, the red zone incompletion to James White that skipped off the ground a good 2-3 yards in front of White, which cost the team a touchdown and a late throw on a screen that was nearly picked off.

However, he was under pressure for a good portion of the night as the Bills were getting good pressure up the middle which definitely hinders his ability to step into his throws. The Bills did a very good job of getting after him, partly because of the lack of the running game.

Brady did have several excellent passes as well. His third down laser to Edelman for 26 yards was a beauty as well as his back shoulder passes in the red zone to Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski. Brady was the first passer in 16 games to throw for 300 yards (324) against the Bills.

Running Backs: B-

James White couldn’t get anything going in the running game but in the passing game, he was money as always catching 10 passes for 79 yards. Patterson, as we mentioned above, stepped into the tailback position. He did rip off a nice 22-yard run in the second half. While Patterson isn’t suited for that, it should be noted that he led all running backs (both teams) in terms of carries and yards…

Brady got into the act with a slow-motion eight-yard scramble for a first down and Edelman had a couple of carries on the jet sweep. James Develin was solid as usual in the blocking game and was targeted a few times in the passing game. Brady tried his best Develin impression on Lorenzo Alexander and was leveled, but he got in the way long enough to spring Edelman past the line of scrimmage.

Wide Receivers: B

The wide receivers had to fight for everything as the Bills were dropping into a two-deep zone and allowing the short passes underneath but tried to take away everything in the vertical category. Julian Edelman had a terrific game, he was finding the soft spots in the zones and was being hammered when he caught the ball. His 26-yard reception was huge on third down. He finished with 9 catches for 104 yards.

Josh Gordon (who played the entire game despite reports to the contrary) didn’t have a big game. He misread a deep ball by Brady on the first series, that may have gotten knocked down with the wind when he had clear separation. But he made a nice 18-yard grab on a slant but finished with just 4 catches for 42 yards.

Chris Hogan had just two catches but for 49 yards and that back shoulder grab down to the one-yard line set up the Patriots lone offensive touchdown. He’s still well within that Brady circle of trust.

Tight Ends: C

Rob Gronkowski was coming off the injured list with ankle and back woes and he looked right neither in the passing game or in the running game. Gronk is normally a devastating blocker and he didn’t have that normal oomph which probably means that his back is still bothering him. He and Brady never got in sync in Buffalo and he was given extra special attention by the Bills secondary. He ended up with just 3 catches for 43 yards but his 22-yarder, with a defender all over him, while still having the presence of mind to get his feet down was a highlight reel catch.

Offensive Line: C-

The offensive line didn’t have a very good night. Granted, part of it was the lack of Sony Michel in the lineup. When Patterson was in the game, Buffalo knew they were going to run and they attacked the gaps. But the run blocking wasn’t there and because of that, Buffalo teed off with their pass rush.

The Bills only blitzed once or twice all night yet they got consistent pressure off of their front four and were pushing the offensive linemen back into Brady not allowing him to step into their throws. The proof was in the pudding, the Pats were just 1-3 in red zone opportunities and when you score one offensive touchdown but four field goals, you aren’t getting the push you need up front.

Defensive Line: B

The defensive line had a very solid game. Bills OC Brian Daboll emptied the playbook on the first series of the game with the Wildcat, direct snaps to Shady McCoy and a flea flicker. After McCoy got 12 yards on his first carry of the game, things went progressively downhill for the Bills running game. McCoy finished with 12 carries for 13 yards. Buffalo only rushed for 46 yards on 19 carries. For a team that is run-first…that is a good job for the defensive line.

Trey Flowers was huge in this game. He was immense and very disruptive in the running game with two tackles for a loss. He had two quarterback hits and two pressures in the passing game. It was easily his best game of the year. Adrian Clayborn had a sack for the second straight game.

Linebackers: B+

The Patriots linebackers were without Dont’a Hightower and we knew that Kyle Van Noy had to step up this week. And he certainly did. Van Noy was arguably the best Patriots defender on the field on Monday. He made 7 tackles, had 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and 2 QB hits. He was all over the field and disruptive. John Simon had a run stuff in his first action since getting injured a few weeks ago. Elandon Roberts had another gift interception go right thru his hands…sigh.

Secondary: B+

The secondary albeit against a bad Buffalo offense had a very strong game. Devin McCourty put the game away with an 84-yard pick six where he perfectly read the play down the middle of the field. Stephon Gilmore was outstanding and did a great job of blanketing Kelvin Benjamin. Pat Chung was outstanding and allowed just five catches for 35 yards while being targeted 10 times. And he fell on and recovered the fumble that Van Noy forced. Overall, when your defense outscores the opponents’ offense you’ve had a very good effort by the team.

Special Teams: C-

The Special Teams are not performing to the level that we’ve been accustomed to (spoiled with?) the past several years. Once again we have to ask, was Brandon Bolden and Jordan Richards that valuable to the Patriots STs? A silly penalty on Julian Edelman for a block after calling for a fair catch, an illegal formation call on a kickoff, where a player holding the ball for Gostkowski wasn’t covered up right by the other players. A poor punt and worse coverage allowed the Bills a 30-yard return which put them in field goal position. Stephen Gostkowski was the lone bright spot kicking four out of five field goals. His lone miss from 50 we’ll give him a pass on since Lawrence Guy was flagged for holding on the play and would’ve wiped it out anyway. Joe Judge needs to light a fire under those guys this week.

Coaches: B

The Patriots had a good game plan coming into this one and they absolutely produced on one half of it. Defensively, they were going to take away the run as the Bills are a run-first team. They did, and they were going to take away the deep plays because they knew that Buffalo doesn’t have the horses to slowly work their way down the field. Check.

Offensively, the team never looked in sync and the play calling while at times very good was suspect in a few others. On the third and two call at the Patriots 12-yard line, Buffalo knew the Patriots were going to run and snuffed it out easily. That would have been time for a play-action pass.

But in the end, they were on the road against a divisional opponent with a loud, raucous crowd, intent on throwing sex toys on the field again…and got the job done. We’re on to Green Bay.

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.

Patriots Survive Monday Night Slugfest, Down Buffalo 25-6, 3 Up, 3 Down

Steve Balestrieri
October 30, 2018 at 8:15 am ET

Nothing Came Easy in This One

The New England Patriots are 6-2 and have a two-game lead in the AFC East. They won a road divisional game on Monday Night Football and have been victorious five games in a row. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they struggled, especially offensively to finish drives all night long and scored only one offensive touchdown. But in the end, they’ll take the 25-6 win on the road over the Buffalo Bills and move on. It was a very physical, hard-hitting contest throughout.

The loss of Sony Michel was painfully felt by the Patriots offense as the Bills defense teed off defensively and their pass rush frequently had the New England offensive line on roller skates. The Bills entered the game with one of the better units in the league at creating pressure and they certainly did on Monday night.

Tom Brady was under duress for much of the night. The Bills deep zones frustrated the Patriots ability to get vertical for much of the night and the wind conditions, which Brady said after the game, made quite a few throws flutter, would affect both teams ability to throw the ball deep.

Prior to the game, there were reports from the NFL’s Ian Rapoport that WR Josh Gordon was late for the team walk-thru and would be punished by sitting out several series, possibly even the first quarter. However, once the game started, the Patriots got the ball first and Gordon was on the field.

Gordon was asked after the game about this, he hesitated for a second and then said, “That’s going to be a question you’re going to have to ask Coach about,” Gordon said. “In relation to the game, I was available, so that’s a plus.” Bill Belichick, in typical curt fashion, said only “You’d have to talk to whoever wrote that,” he said. “I have no idea.”

Which leads back to Rapoport, who is always very accurate with his reporting and not prone to sensationalism. Was this just a case where he got his information really wrong? Or was this a case of the Patriots using an Agent provocateur in trying to ferret out where the leaks are coming from at One Patriots Place? This will be interesting in how it plays out.

Especially considering that Jay Glazer from Fox Sports reported on Sunday that the Pats were in the market “trying to go after a bonafide premium wide receiver, offering up high-draft choices for that.” Once the news of Gordon’s supposed tardiness broke, it seemed to fall into place. Now, it is just another puzzle that we aren’t likely to get an answer to anytime soon.

The Patriots defense did their job, albeit against one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL but they held the Bills to just two field goals and outscoring them in the process. Devin McCourty intercepted a Derek Anderson pass and returned it 84 yards for a touchdown to seal the game.

But it was Buffalo’s running game, that is what the team wanted to stop and they did just that. The Bills rushed for just 46 yards on 19 carries, excluding an Anderson kneel down at the end of the half, they averaged just 2.6 yards per carry on the night. LeSean McCoy had just 13 yards on 12 carries. Trey Flowers had an outstanding game, defending the run he was shooting gaps and was generally disruptive all night. Kyle Van Noy, filling in for the injured Dont’a Hightower was fantastic. Van Noy was all over the field, making seven tackles, had two sacks, forced a fumble and had two tackles for a loss as well.

With Michel out, the Pats running back depth was woefully thin, they opted not to activate Kenneth Farrow off the practice squad and stuck with just two healthy running backs, James White and Kenjon Barner. But they moved Cordarrelle Patterson to tailback for this week’s game and he logged a game-high amount of carries (10) and yards (38) on either team. Patterson isn’t going to make anyone forget Barry Sanders but gets high marks for stepping up and being a team-first guy when and where they needed him to.

The Patriots had three good drives in the first half but couldn’t finish any of them.  On their first possession, facing a 2nd and 14 from their 34, Brady went deep to Gordon but the ball fluttered and came down short. Gordon, who had his coverage beat, tried to come back for it but missed it and a golden opportunity. It was that kind of night.

On their second drive, they drove to Buffalo’s five-yard line but stalled and had to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. They scored on three consecutive drives but stalled on each and Gostkowski gave them a 9-0 lead. They were moving the ball but Buffalo’s defense was doing a great job of bending but not breaking.

After the Bills responded with a field goal to narrow it to 9-3, the Patriots drive in the final two minutes would stall out again. But this time, Gostkowski’s 51-yard field goal would drift to the right and was no good.

After the team’s traded field goals in the second half to make it 12-6, the Patriots put together their best drive of the game and drove 85 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown, converting a couple of key third downs. Facing a 3rd and 6 from the Patriots 19, Brady uncorked a laser down the left side to Julian Edelman for 26 yards. Then facing a 3rd and 8 at the Patriots 47, Brady found James White who promptly juked a defender and got nine. Patterson had a nice 22-yard run before Brady hit Chris Hogan down to the Bills one-yard line with another nice throw. From there White powered it into the end zone and it was 18-6.

The Bills drove to the Pats 25 and nearly scored but Jason Croom dropped the ball in the end zone. After a false start, Anderson got fooled and when he tried a deep pass down the middle, Devin McCourty, playing deep safety, read Anderson’s eyes and jumped the route perfectly picking it off and rolling 84 yards for a game-sealing touchdown. That made it 25-6 and that was all she wrote.

We’re on to Green Bay…

Three Up, Three Down:

Up-

Julian Edelman– The Patriots pound for pound toughest wide receiver had a very good game and his best since his return from his ACL injury and subsequent suspension. Edelman was the main recipient for Brady’s passes as the Bills were playing those deep zones and keeping everything in front of them.

Edelman was very productive, catching 9 passes for 109 yards but also paid the price Monday night as he took several big hits. That 26-yarder down the right sideline, got the Patriots going for their only touchdown drive of the night.

Edelman’s grit and toughness were missed during his absence, and on a night like Monday night, he was a big factor in the team being able to move the ball.

Kyle Van Noy- As we mentioned above, with Hightower out, Van Noy was going to have to step up. And he did. Van Noy was making plays all over the field, logging in a pair of sacks, a forced fumble and two tackles for a loss.

He was very active and the underrated Van Noy showed his versatility off on Monday night with a big, big performance.

James White- The Swiss Army Knife of the Patriots defense, along with Edelman accounted for the vast majority of the Patriots offense. It was no coincidence with the game still on the line in the fourth quarter that White and Edelman were the choices by Brady to keep the drive alive.

He and Edelman accounted for 211 yards of the Patriots 387 yards of offensive output. Another big game for White who caught 10 passes for 79 yards.

Down:

Running Game- The Pats running game which had been so impressive the past month with no Sony Michel was mired in neutral all game long. The Bills bottled them up all game long until the big Patterson run for 22 yards during the lone touchdown drive.

This isn’t a knock on Patterson, who was playing out of position and did as well as anyone can expect given the circumstances, but if Michel is going to miss more time, then the team really needs to explore the possibility of bringing in another back.

Play calling- We may be a little nitpicky here because we thought Josh McDaniels made some creative play calls during the game, but at other times, we thought they made some mistakes.

After the Bills had hemmed the Patriots deep with a punt and penalty on Edelman, the Pats faced a third down and three at their own 12-yard line. They lined up to run Patterson in a power formation, something the Bills were just sitting on. The attacked it and blasted him down for a one-yard loss. That directly led to the Bills second field goal of the game.

No Killer Instinct- The Patriots made this game much tougher on themselves than they had to for three and a half quarters. They had plenty of opportunities to put the Bills in the rearview mirror where Buffalo’s lack of offense would have put them in a bad place. But they couldn’t finish drives and they had to scrap and fight right up until the final 4-5 minutes.

Give the Bills a ton of credit, their defense played superbly and they were hitting hard all night long. But this team is better than that and left far too many points on the field. Learn from it, file it away for the next time the teams meet and move on.

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Players To Watch Patriots-Bills Week 8 Monday Night Football

Steve Balestrieri
October 29, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Another Game Under the Bright Lights

The New England Patriots are in Buffalo as they will be on Monday Night Football against the Bills. With Miami and the Jets both losing this week, the first thing that jumps out for the team is a chance to move farther ahead in the division. With a win over Buffalo tonight, the Patriots will be two games up on Miami with a tie-breaker in hand, three games up the Jets and four ahead of the Bills.

But the team also wants to continue their winning streak, since the poor 1-2 start, they’ve won four in a row and yet the feeling is, that this team still hasn’t played its best football yet.

With the trade deadline just around the corner, the team playing tonight may look a little bit different on a short week, when they face off next against Green Bay in yet another primetime game next Sunday night.

So, from a Patriots perspective if we can tear ourselves away from the Red Sox celebration for a moment, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Rob Gronkowski:

The Patriots big tight end has returned to practice this week, and a good sign was that he took part in the pressers on Friday where he seemed upbeat and ready to go after missing last week’s game with ankle and back woes.

Having Gronkowski back in the lineup would be great news for the Patriots offense and bad news for a tough Buffalo defense. Gronkowski, a Buffalo native, has loved playing against and torturing his hometown team. In 13 career games against the Bills, Gronk has 66 catches for 1027 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The big man is a force multiplier for the Patriots offense, with him on the field, opponents have to focus on stopping him and it allows for other receivers to get free and face single coverage, where he’s frequently doubled.   

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots best player, arguably on their defense has been playing well but hasn’t had the kind of production we’d expect from him, having just a pair of sacks thru the first seven games which has been an issue for the Patriots as a whole. The last few games, they’ve had better overall QB pressure, but haven’t got home enough to get some sacks. That may change this week.

The Bills offensive line has done a generally poor job of protecting their quarterbacks, starting with Nathan Peterman, the rookie Josh Allen and now Derek Anderson. They’ve allowed 26 sacks on the season, allowing nearly four a game. Flowers and the other players on the edge have a chance to not only increase their own stats a bit but to influence the game this week.

With a Patriots offense that has been scoring around 38 points a game for the past several weeks, the Bills offense may be forced to throw more than they’d like and get away from their running game. It is up to Flowers et al to make that part of the game a win for the Patriots. Flowers will be going up against Jordan Mills the RT for Buffalo. And it is a matchup we’ll be watching closely.

Tom Brady

The Patriots quarterback has had tremendous success against the Bills going 28-3 in his career. After a slow start for the offense this season, getting Julian Edelman back and then adding Josh Gordon has been a huge boost for Brady as the unit seems to be just hitting its peak.

The Bills defense is very tough and they have good pass rushers in Jerry Hughes and their old reliable, Kyle Williams, who it seems always plays well against the Patriots. Their secondary is good allowing just 210 yards per game. In fact, the Bills haven’t allowed a 300-yard passer in 15 straight games going back to last season.

We’re looking for Brady to mix things up and spreading the ball around this week. His wins against the Bills are the most any QB has had against one opponent. We see another big game for #12 this week under the bright lights of a national game.

Stephon Gilmore:

The Patriots corner has been quietly having a Pro-Bowl type of season in 2018. Gilmore started the year off right, he’s been outstanding since the OTAs and mini-camps thru the spring and right on thru the summer and into the first seven games.

Now he’s facing his old team and the Bills will be trying to get their passing game going with Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones on the outside. Gilmore signed a big money deal with the Patriots last year, (and their move was justified, despite the early questions) and the quiet man from South Carolina, doesn’t do much talking but would love to shut down the Bills passing game tonight.

Gilmore has been shutting down opposing wide receivers pretty well all season, and although teams are throwing away from him, he came close to getting a pick last week against Chicago, we’ll go out on a limb a bit and say this is the week, he gets one against his former team.

James White:

The Patriots designated pass receiver out of the backfield has been tremendous this season and is on pace for more than 100 receptions in 2018. White has always been Mr. Reliable and he continues to be a big part of the Patriots offense.

With Sony Michel out for at least this week with a knee injury, that leaves the Patriots with just two healthy running backs, White and Kenjon Barner on the roster. While they may activate Farrow from the practice squad, they may just opt to go with the two along with James Develin at fullback this week.

This means that even more onus will be placed on White as he’ll have to carry a much larger percentage of the running game with Michel out as well as his passing game responsibilities. White has a knack for finding the open spots and consistently moving the sticks. We should see a lot of him tonight.

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New England Patriots News 10-28, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
October 28, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 10-28, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning… just a quick reminder that you can check out our key matchups to the game here

Did you Know? Bill Belichick has coached the Patriots since 2000 and we’ve all seen some of the crazy stats that the team has amassed since then. One statistic that stood out and one that we haven’t seen before was even more startling. Although the Patriots lost the turnover battle last week in Chicago they ultimately won the game 38-31. But since 2000 when losing the turnover battle the Patriots are 38-37, or slightly over .500. But the rest of the NFL when losing the T.O. battle is just  713-2765-8. The next closest team in Indy who is winning at a .340 percentage.

Kyle Van Noy feels blessed to be part of the Patriots and on the anniversary of his trade to bring him to New England, he posted his feelings on his Twitter account. “Happy anniversary to me and my trade day! What a day that turned out to be!” #blessing #thanksbilltrill #thanksbob #champ

His worth is felt by Bill Belichick, “Kyle has a lot of versatility for us,” Belichick said. “Play the run, rush the passer and play in coverage. He does a good job at all of them and his versatility has been valuable for us.”

Patrick Peterson to the Patriots was never a rumor that we put much stock in here, it was totally debunked when Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston, said his sources told him that the Patriots never reached out at all. However, (comma), the trade deadline is just a few days away, what positions could the Pats be targeting? Hmm, an interior pass rusher, a running back or my choice, a sub-package linebacker who’ll have the speed to cover. Arizona has a pair of former first-round draft picks who are on the trading block because they don’t the new system. Deone Bucannon and Haasan Reddick are the two names that come to mind.

Nate Solder has told the media, that he does not regret leaving the Patriots for the New York Giants even though he’s lost more games (six) in the first seven weeks than he did in any Patriots season, even the past two years combined. “I was certainly not expecting [the trades], but I am so thankful to be here under the leadership of [general manager Dave] Gettleman, coach [Pat] Shurmur,” he said.

“I just think that they’re building this thing the right way. I believe in those guys tremendously. All of the decisions they made I fully support, and whatever that means, we play it out however it needs to be played out.” Of course, signing a four-year, $62 million dollar deal helps ease the sting of those losses a bit.

Melinfonwu is an Intriguing Player That the Pats Brought In:

The Patriots brought in three free agent players this week for workouts. As usual, they’re updating their emergency lists or just to get a feel for some players and see what makes them tick, just in case they meet them down the road. The team brought in TE Ben Koyack and DB Dexter McCoil but the real intriguing name was Obi Melifonwu.

Melifonwu is from Grafton, Mass and attended UConn after high school. At the NFL Combine last year, the uber-athletic safety put on a show. His sheer athleticism and elite size, (6’4, 225), put him on the Raiders radar and they snagged him with the 56th pick

His rookie season was marred with two stints on IR, the second was a hip injury that required surgery. He was just getting back on the field this summer when he injured his knee and the Raiders, under a new regime cut their ties to him.

We spoke to him very early in the spring and his rehab for his hip surgery was still a slow process, which is normal for those type of injuries. But apparently, Gruden, who didn’t draft him wanted to go in a different direction.                                                                                                                                                           

But the Raiders never really had a plan on how to use him, something that New England and Bill Belichick wouldn’t have any issue in doing. He was a bit frustrated with Oakland. A source close to Melifonwu told us that last year he had just started practicing before the Patriots game as he came off IR.  He said that on Thursday, he’d practiced at safety but then on Friday during the walkthrough, he was told, he’d be playing corner, something he’d hadn’t practiced.

That didn’t end well for the rookie but if the Patriots were to sign him, he’d most definitely be used as a safety as his skill set is tailor-made for it. Our feeling here is …if he’s healthy would be a really nice addition to the backend of the defense.

Patriots Find Themselves in a Familiar Place:

The season started slowly at 1-2 for New England and of course, all of the talk was centered around “if this is the year” that the Patriots lose the stranglehold in the division. And that talk, as well as the demise of the team, seems to be once again premature.  

With a win on Monday Night in Buffalo, the Patriots will enter the midway point of the season at 6-2 with at least a two-game lead over the Dolphins (with a tiebreaker) and the Jets. And the best part of it is that the team hasn’t even played their best football yet.

Miami got off to a hot 3-0 start, but since then it has been strictly downhill for the Fins going 1-4 and with questions about Ryan Tannehill’s future, the Dolphins are in for a lot of questions this offseason. Meanwhile, despite suffering a large number of injuries, the Patriots are in good shape to challenge for one of the top spots in the AFC.  

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 8 Predictions:

Last week: 9-5 Season 67-38-2 Bye Week: Falcons, Cowboys, Chargers, Titans

Thursday night’s pick  Houston over Miami 1-0

Philadelphia vs Jacksonville in London: Eagles
Denver at Kansas City: Chiefs
Cleveland at Pittsburgh: Steelers
Washington at NY Giants: Redskins
Seattle at Detroit: Lions
Tampa Bay at Cincinnati: Bengals
NY Jets at Chicago: Bears
Baltimore at Carolina: Panthers
Indianapolis at Oakland: Colts
San Francisco at Arizona: 49ers
Green Bay at LA Rams: Rams
New Orleans at Minnesota: Vikings
MNF- New England at Buffalo: Patriots

Early Thursday Night Pick: Raiders over 49ers

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Hoping Anderson Turns it Around This Week:

The Buffalo Bills face the daunting task of taking on their nemesis, the New England Patriots and Tom Brady this week. Their record against Brady is 3-28 and the Bills enter this week 2-5, while the Patriots, winners of four in a row are 5-2. But if they’re going to have any chance of upsetting New England, they’ll have to be a much better effort than last week from QB Derek Anderson.

Anderson, taking over for the injured Josh Allen last week, had a rough game, turning the ball over four times, three interceptions and a fumble. Having been only in the Bills’ system for three weeks, there are still plenty of things to learn for Anderson, in terms of the playbook.

He will, however, have a few things going for him. This will be the Bills first Monday Night home game in about a decade and it guaranteed to be rocking.

Anderson has already shown some decent chemistry with Kelvin Benjamin but he really needs to get on the same page and quickly with Charles Clay. The big tight end should be a big part of the game plan this week as New England has had issues covering tight ends.

Dolphins Defense Enters Midway Point of 2018 Struggling:

The Miami Dolphins as we mentioned above started the season strong, especially on defense where they thought they’d made several improvements. But since the Patriots throttled them a month ago, they’ve really struggled and Thursday Night’s showing against the Texans was particularly poor.

The Texans big four playmakers had tremendous games against the Dolphins, QB Deshaun Watson completed 80 percent of his passes and had a QB rating of 156. The big duo of DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller combined for 206 yards and three TDs. And Lamar Miller ran for 133 yards. After allowing the Lions to rush for 248 yards, Houston ran for 188 more and averaged 5.4 yards per carry.

And with a pass rush having the likes of Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake facing a Texans offensive line that has surrendered the most QB hits and sacks in the league, the Dolphins logged just one QB hit and zero sacks.

The Dolphins and coach Adam Gase are at a critical point of the season. They’ll have to turn things around and quickly, especially on defense this season if they are to make any noise this season. Otherwise, Gase’s seat could go from warm to hot this winter.

Jets Aware of Trubiski’s Ability to Scramble:

The New York Jets head out on the road to face the Chicago Bears this week and after watching the tape of last week, know that they must do a good job of limiting the scrambling ability of QB Mitch Trubiski who ran for 81 yards a week ago against New England.

The Bears offense, currently #6 in the NFL averaging 28.3 points per game is definitely being helped by the running of Trubiski who has rushed 31 times for 245 yards and a pair of touchdowns this season.

“He does surprise me, actually,” DE Leonard Williams said. “You see some running quarterbacks that are able to run, but he actually looks like a runner when he’s running. He doesn’t just look like a fast quarterback. I think that’s definitely a challenge.”

Coach Todd Bowles is preaching a total defensive effort this week but the Jets have fared fairly well thus far against mobile QBs in 2018. Against the Browns Baker Mayfield and Tyrod Taylor, Gang Green allowed just six rushes for 20 yards. Blake Bortles scrambled for 28 yards on three carries and Ryan Tannehill had 44 yards on eight scrambles.

For the Jets to pull off the upset, they’ll need to limit their turnovers and contain Trubiski in the pocket. Something the Patriots couldn’t do.

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Patriots-Bills Week 8, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
October 26, 2018 at 6:54 am ET

The New England Patriots are heading off to Buffalo and facing the Bills in a prime-time Monday Night Football matchup. They have a chance to enter the halfway point of the season at 6-2, which is pretty impressive considering the 1-2 in September.

This week’s game will be broadcast by ESPN and can be seen locally on WCVB-TV Channel 5. Joe Tessitore will handle play-by-play duties with Jason Witten as the color analyst. Booger McFarland and Lisa Salters 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 (5-2) defeated the Bears on the road 38-31 last Sunday in a rare 1:00 p.m. start. They’ve won four in a row. The Special Teams scored 14 points on a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and a 95-yard kickoff return. Tom Brady threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns.

The Bills (2-5)  lost to Indianapolis Colts 37-5. Derek Anderson, the 14-year veteran took over for the injured Josh Allen and threw three interceptions and also had a fumble as the Buffalo offense continues to struggle.

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

Series History:

The Patriots and the Bills are meeting for the 117th time and the Patriots have dominated overall 72-43-1. But since Bill Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots have won 31 of 36 games between the two teams.

Tom Brady’s record against the Bills in games where he’s started and finished the game is 28-3. With a win on Monday Night, he will become the QB with the third most wins in Buffalo behind only Jim Kelly and Joe Ferguson.

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 Bills Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Buffalo

The Patriots running game has been outstanding for the past month but they lost Sony Michel who has been the catalyst behind it all, to a knee injury against the Bears last week. The Bills have been good defensively, their issue has been the defense has been on the field far too long this season. They allow an average of 110 yards per game and have the big men inside, Star Lotuleilei, Kyle Williams, Jordan Phillips, with LBs Tremaine Edwards, and Lorenzo Alexander to make things difficult.

The Pats will go with James White and Kenjon Barner again this week but without Michel the running will be a bit harder to come by. They’ll look to pass first to get the running game going this week. The Colts gashed the Bills on the ground last week, so that will bear some watching here.

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

The Patriots passing game is looking more and more potent and last week, they were going much more vertical in their passing concepts than we’ve become used to. The good news is that Rob Gronkowski is expected to be back for this week’s game and his presence helps out the offense attacking the middle of the field.

The Bills pass defense is their strength and have not allowed a 300-yard passer in 15 consecutive games dating back to last year. The pass rush is improved with Jerry Hughes having a solid season and a very good secondary. The Bills have two good safeties in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde which will bear watching as the middle is where the Patriots like to attack offensively.

Look for Tom Brady to continue targeting Josh Gordon more and with him matched up with Bills talented corner Tre’Davious White, it promises to be a great matchup to watch. But with the outside receivers going more vertical, it should open things up for the Pats to work underneath with Julian Edelman and James White.

Next up the Buffalo offense:

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

The Bills have a pair of talented running backs that New England knows well in LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory. McCoy has been in the concussion protocol but will probably play this week. It will be interesting to see how Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll who knows the Patriots well will look to attack this week.

The Patriots run defense has been much better of late during the four-game winning streak. Last week’s numbers were skewed by scrambles by QB Mitch Trubiski who ran for 81 yards. Bears running backs averaged less than 3 yards per carry.

With their passing game dormant, the Bills need their running game to give them a boost and help get things jump-started. This will be a big matchup for the interior linebackers (Dont’a Hightower and Elandon Roberts) this week. Hightower showed up on the injury report with a knee injury so that will bear watching.

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

The Bills passing game is a total mess right now averaging a league-low 129.4 yards per game thru the air. Top draft pick Josh Allen won’t play this week, he’s down with an elbow injury and journeyman Derek Anderson gets the nod. But the real problem is the Bills offensive line, which has been porous, allowing 29 sacks thus far. The Patriots pass rush has to be a difference maker this week. Zay Jones, Kelvin Benjamin, and tight end Charles Clay are decent enough weapons, but no Bills QB has had time to throw.

The Patriots pass defense has been good with the cornerbacks covering wide receivers but they’ve had far too many breakdowns in the safety play, allowing big plays. They’ve also had issues containing mobile QBs which shouldn’t be an issue this week.

Look for the Pats to continue their recent trend of being more aggressive in the pass rush against a bad Buffalo offensive line. Anderson isn’t the most mobile of QBs and A-gap pressure may be in the cards this week. Look for Anderson to target Clay early and often in this one. Watching the tape of a few of their games, they like to hit Clay with passes over the middle where he finds open spots to roam. That’s been an issue with New England and Buffalo has watched the tape,

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots seemed to have turned the corner in their special teams play last week. Patterson returned one kickoff for 95 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, he nearly had another, going 38 yards and almost breaking it again. The Patriots also had a punt block for a touchdown, and with Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen, they have a very solid kicking game.

The Bills had a punt blocked against Houston and had their own issues with muffing punts and kickoff returns. We will finally get a chance to see punter Corey Bojorquez on the field after he spent all of training camp with the Patriots. He and kicker Stephen Hauschka are solid, but the Pats get the nod here.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one will require the Pats to get off to a good start. Buffalo hasn’t hosted a Monday Night Football game in a long time. The place will be rocking and the Bills will be looking to start quickly and get the crowd even more amped (lubed?) up.

The Patriots should take a page out of the Bills opponents this year, they’ve outscored Buffalo 110-40 in the first half. They need to start fast, get the people sitting on their hands and force the Bills to have to rely on Anderson to get them back in the game.

Brady may not have eye-popping numbers this week, but look for him and the offense to be efficient. That is, to convert third downs, score touchdowns in the red zone and take advantage of opportunities given to them. And there should be plenty to be had.   Patriots 38-14

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If Sony Michel Is Out For An Extended Period, Devontae Booker Fits

Steve Balestrieri
October 23, 2018 at 4:14 pm ET

According to several sources, first reported by NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, it appears Patriots rookie running back Sony Michel may have dodged a bullet and his injury may not be as serious as first thought. Michel went down awkwardly and his leg twisted under him. At first glance, it appeared to be a very serious, perhaps season-ending injury. But now Michel may be only out for a short while.

Regardless, Michel will be out at least this week and quite possibly several more, no one really knows for sure. If he is a week-to-week decision, that may change how the Patriots view the running back position and may opt to possibly promote someone like Kenneth Farrow from the practice squad if it is just for a very short period.

Farrow played with the Chargers during the 2016 season. Appearing in 13 games, he rushed 60 times for 192 yards and caught 13 passes for 70 yards. Farrow is built slightly larger than James White or Michel, while only 5’9, he tops out at 219 pounds. While not the prototypical “big back”, he offers enough for the Patriots to maybe get some production from.

The other two options are signing a street free agent or make a trade. One possible trade option could involve the Broncos Devontae Booker. Booker was drafted by the Broncos in the 4th Round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Utah. He’s 5’11, 219 pounds and has been dropped on the Broncos depth chart due to the emergence of running backs Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay.

Running back Devontae Booker #23 of the Denver Broncos rushes for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers (USA Today)

He has been dropped down to third on the Broncos running back depth chart behind those two and is barely seeing the field. Against the Cardinals, on Thursday night he got zero carries and just one catch in the passing game. Two weeks ago against the Rams, Booker had just two carries and caught two passes. A change of scenery could be just the thing that he needs to energize his career.

Booker would be a nice fit in the Patriots offense because he’s a versatile kind of guy that they like. He can run the ball between the tackles and is a good receiver out of the backfield, something the Patriots like.

Booker has the quickness to the hole and makes good sharp cuts at the point of attack. He has very good vision and is a great fit in a zone blocking scheme. The Patriots offense is a bit multi-dimensional, however, they utilize mainly zone blocking schemes in the running game. Sony Michel came from a zone blocking scheme in Georgia and it is easy to see how well he fits as well.

Booker doesn’t have great, breakaway speed but has been a productive pass catcher out of the backfield. He caught 31 passes as a rookie for Denver and caught 30 more last season for 275 yards on just 38 targets.

He’s just 26 and his contract for the balance of the season would be just $354,375. He is due just $720,000 in 2019.

If Michel is indeed going to be out for several weeks, the Patriots will need to address the position and give James White some breaks. Booker is a decent runner and good pass receiver who would fit well within the Patriots system. He can probably be traded for from the Broncos to New England for a fairly cheap asking price.

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Patriots  Week 7 Report Card, New England Downs Chicago 38-31

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:00 am ET

The Patriots have won four in a row and are now alone atop the division at 5-2, they won their first road game of the season against division leader Chicago. But in doing so, they made life quite harder than it had to be with some really sloppy mistakes and some poor play at times. They could have, should have won a lot more comfortable than 38-31. But that’s why they play the games.

With the extremes of highs and lows, this one is rather difficult to get an accurate reading on. Several players made bad plays and then redeemed themselves with very good or even great ones. So we’ll dive in and after watching the game for the third time this afternoon, try to get an accurate read on this one.

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

Quarterback: B+

Tom Brady began the game as a man possessed. He chewed up the Bears much-ballyhooed defense like he was facing the London Silly Nannies not the Monsters of the Midway. The Patriots skewered them easily and waltzed down the field for a TD.

Things got a little more difficult once Sony Michel went down after just six snaps. Already missing Rob Gronkowski, he spread the ball around and had a very good statistical day, completing 25-36 for 277 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT. That pick was another pass that went from his receivers hands and flew out straight into a defender’s.

He wasn’t perfect on the day but he was plenty good enough, his QB rating of 108.2 would have been around 120 without that weird pick on the throw to Develin.

Running Backs: B

James White, Mr. Reliable was tasked to do a lot more once Sony Michel went down on the first play of the second quarter. White caught 8 passes for 57 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 40 yards on 11 carries, including several at the end of the game while the Patriots were running down the clock.

Kenjon Barner came in when Michel went down and played okay, considering he doesn’t get many snaps and has been just relegated to spot duty. He had 10 carries for 36 yards and against a good run defense of the Bears, that isn’t bad. Brady had one carry for six yards and Cordarrelle Patterson had one for four and a first down.

Michel went down with what appeared to be a really bad injury, but minutes ago Ian Rapoport of NFL Network said, that there was no structural damage and he appeared to dodge a major bullet. Michel was off to another very good start. He had four carries for 22 yards and one catch for 13 yards, not bad production at all for just six snaps.

Wide Receivers: B

The wide receivers were once again solid for the Patriots in Chicago. Josh Gordon caught four passes for 100 yards, including a 55-yarder where he ran out of gas on the one-yard line and was tackled from behind. His lack of conditioning due to his lingering hamstring issue was at play there, Gordon said after the game that he was gassed after going on that 96-yard drive. His catch from Brady to convert a first down where he went up over a defender and came down with the ball, smashing his head on the turf as a result was a beauty.

Chris Hogan had an uptick in targets with Gronk and Michel out and had another solid afternoon pulling in six catches for 63 yards on seven targets. Julian Edelman chipped in with 5 catches for 39 yards. Phillip Dorsett had one catch for 8 yards on the day.

Tight Ends: C+

With Gronkowski and Jacob Hollister out, Dwayne Allen was the only tight end active in Chicago. He did very well in the run blocking department, which he always does. On one key play in the fourth quarter, he pancaked Khalil Mack allowing White to pick up the first down.

However, he was a non-factor in the passing game, he ran several routes but was not targeted.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line was very good against a Bears defense that was supposed to be much, much better than the Chiefs unit that they faced the week before. They still rolled up over 100 yards on the ground and averaged 4.0 yards per carry despite losing their top runner in Michel.  When the Bears knew they were going to run at the end of the game, they still did well. Here is where they needed Jeremy Hill back but the line play was good.

In pass protection, overall they were outstanding. The only sack was a communication breakdown where an interior lineman was left unblocked. But overall the offensive line pass protection gave Brady plenty of time to survey the field. Mack and Leonard Floyd, the Bears best pass rushers were handled.

Defensive Line: C-

The defensive line? Here is one of those quandaries that we mentioned above. Did they stuff the Chicago running backs? Absolutely. Bears running backs gained only 53 yards on 19 carries, which is less than 3 yards a pop. Did they pressure Trubiski, which was part of the game plan? Yes, they did and did so pretty consistently (with help) all game long. They still have some issues getting home and finishing up with sacks (they had two, one by Deatrich Wise, one by Adrian Clayborn) but the pressure was pretty consistent all game long.

But in containing Trubiski and stopping him from running? The line was horrible, and that may not be exaggerating things. They did a really poor job of containment and Trubiski was able to escape much more often than not. And when he ran, he ran extremely well, gaining 81 yards on six carries, a 13.3-yard average.

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers were okay, on Sunday and two combined for one of the turning points of the game. Dont’a Hightower burst thru the Bears line and blocked a punt that Kyle Van Noy scooped up and returned for a touchdown. It gave the Patriots a lead that they would not give up. The linebackers filled in nicely in the running game. Van Noy had an excellent text play of setting the edge, stringing along his blocker and then forcing the speedy Tarik Cohen out of bounds for a three-yard loss.

Elandon Roberts, Hightower, and Van Noy all had times creating pressure and they did that fairly well also. Van Noy in particular, had pressure on Trubiski on the final Hail Mary which no doubt had something to do with the pass not reaching the end zone.

But they weren’t much help in containing Trubiski, although when they placed Van Noy to spy him, he seemed to do well, albeit for a few plays in the first half. Roberts had a gift interception airmailed to him in the end zone and dropped it. The Bears scored on the next play….that hurt.

Secondary: B-

The secondary was once again a quandary. Stephon Gilmore had another stellar game, he blanketed whoever he was covering. But he too dropped an interception that two plays later was turned into a Bears touchdown. Jonathan Jones made an outstanding play in the end zone for a pick, high pointing the ball.

However, J.C. Jackson had three penalties all of which hurt because they were drive extenders. But he too made some redemption later when he made a very difficult interception of a Trubiski pass. They made the difficult ones and let the gifts get away.

Pat Chung had a pass breakup but Harmon had a holding penalty and every time they went to zone, Trubiski hit Trey Burton wide open down the middle of the field.

Special Teams: B

Nowhere was the discrepancy between good and poor play as distinct on Special Teams. Rewatching the tape, Patterson’s fumble wasn’t caused by the Bears but by Nicholas Grigsby. That wasn’t good, the penalties on Crossen and Nate Ebner were worse. Then Edelman nearly had another turnover where a punt bounced off of his face mask but he was able to recover. Ryan Allen is normally excellent at placing punts inside the 10, but his yesterday sailed badly deep in the end zone. A delay of the game on the kickoff?

But then there was the good. Patterson’s 95-yard TD on the kick return was outstanding. He nearly had another with a 38-yarder later in the game. Hightower’s punt block and Van Noy’s scoop and score bumped the score up much higher than where they started.

Coaches: B-

The Patriots had another excellent game plan offensively. Josh McDaniels, I’m sure had to change things up with Gronkowski out and it started off swimmingly. Then they lost Michel after just six snaps and everything had to change again. All in all, without Gronkowski and Michel, the offense did pretty well for itself.

The defensive game plan was sound and they started off pressuring Trubiski. They tried to force mistakes…which they did but they didn’t capitalize on many of them. Worse, they lost containment on several plays allowing him to make big plays with his feet. That is a performance issue and a coaching one as well.

But despite the sloppy play, turnovers etc. they Patriots persevered and won a tough game on the road against a division leader. They are 5-2, are all alone at the top of their division and have a week to prepare for Buffalo on Monday Night Football.

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.

Sloppy Patriots Beat Bears 38-31, Observations, Three Up, Three Down

Steve Balestrieri
October 22, 2018 at 7:29 am ET

This win, the Patriots first win on the road this season, wasn’t the way they drew it up on the chalkboard but it is a win. And in what is turning out to be a wacky 2018 NFL season, the team will take it. The Patriots made far too many mistakes but turned things around with some big plays on special teams and left Chicago 5-2 after downing the Bears 38-31 on Sunday afternoon. The craziness extended to the final play of the game where the Bears tried…and converted a Hail Mary on the final play of the game but the play was stopped at the one-yard line. 

But the biggest news was that rookie running back Sony Michel left the game in the first half in what looked like a serious knee injury. Michel was hit and wrapped up at the line and was twisted in the pile. It was one of those plays that just didn’t look good for the rookie as he was being helped off the field. He’s scheduled for an MRI on Monday.

Other observations from the game include:

The Patriots offensive line once again did a tremendous job. The Bears came in with 18 sacks, boasting edge rushers Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, and interior pass rusher Akiem Hicks.  They sacked Tom Brady only once and generally were handled easily. However, the Bears helped the Patriots cause by dropping both edge rushers frequently into coverage. Despite that, the offensive line gave Brady plenty of time to throw.

Despite the sloppy play, which initially caused the team to fall behind 17-7, the Patriots found a way, to persevere and come away with the victory. Granted, there won’t be high marks for style points in this one, but they beat a division leader on the road and they did what they had to do.

Speaking of Mack, while he did miss most of last week’s practice, he played and clearly wasn’t 100 percent. But he didn’t line up against LaAdrian Waddle, but Trent Brown who clearly handled him easily. Mack was pancaked by Dwayne Allen on a running play in the second half. Much like Mexico City a year ago, Mack was a non-factor.

The game started off with one of the Patriots most impressive drives of the year. Taking the kickoff and starting at their 25, Brady and Josh McDaniels had the Bears totally discombobulated on defense marching 75 yards on 9 plays capped off with a Brady 9-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman. It also featured a lot of Sony Michel.

Taking advantage of the aggressive Bears defense, they ran a run delay play to Michel for 18 yards and then utilized the screen game to perfection. James White had a 14-yard screen, Michel had another for 13 more. It was a great start that soon went awry.

The three turnovers will have the coaching staff seeing red. The one fumble by Michel is a free pass. He was injured, apparently severely and him dropping the ball there isn’t something we or anyone else should point the finger at. But the fumble by Cordarrelle Patterson was a play where he has to take better care of the ball in that situation. And once again a Brady pass into the hands of a receiver is bobbled and deflected right into the hands of a defender. Unbelievable.

Patterson did redeem himself, showing why he is the best kick returner in the NFL returning a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, narrowing the gap to 17-14. He later nearly broke another, returning a kick for 38 more.

An area that the team continues to struggle (badly) in is containing mobile quarterbacks. Mitch Trubisky looked like Bobby Douglass out there on Sunday. He rushed six times for 81 and his running kept the Bears in the game when they couldn’t do anything offensively in the first half. Trubisky had an 8-yard touchdown run where he ran around the field for about 65 before getting in untouched.

His 39-yard scramble in the second half was an ugly sequence for the defense where he kept making defenders miss. The defense keeps losing containment and once these mobile QBs get free, the lack of speed at linebacker is concerning. Two words…. Deone Bucannon. Anyone? Bueller?

Besides the fumble by Patterson, the Patriots special teams continued to make several gaffes that cost the team, a pair of 15-yard penalties, unsportsmanlike conduct for the gunner going out of bounds and a facemask really hurt. Ryan Allen’s punt at the end of the game was far from one of his good ones. Julian Edelman muffed a punt inside the 10 but was able to avert disaster by falling on it. 

Bill Belichick played the odds at the end of the game and with 29 seconds left and facing a 4th and 6 at the Bears 33. Rather than try a long field goal, he decided to punt and pin them deep. Allen who normally is excellent at putting punts inside the 10, boomed this one nine yards into the end zone.

The sloppy play hit the coaches too. The Pats were flagged for a delay of game on a kickoff of all things and then only had 10 men on the field while the Bears were attempting a 4th down and 2. This cost them a timeout. Could they have used it at the end of the half? Possibly. But the field position may have played much into it.

Rookies J.C. Jackson and Keion Crossen were victimized by several penalties but Jackson was redeemed by an interception, one of two the defense had. The other was a terrific play by Jonathan Jones who high pointed the ball perfectly. In reality, the defense should have had two more interceptions. Trubiski forced a pass into the end zone where he threw it right to Elandon Roberts for what should have been a gift pick. But he couldn’t hold on.

Later Stephon Gilmore jumped a route and was in great position to make another pick, but he too dropped it. On both sequences, one play after Roberts’ drop and two after Gilmore’s the Bears scored touchdowns. That was a huge swing. The Pats make those two plays and this is a blowout win.

The special teams did redeem itself with the Patterson return, later they saw something on film and inserted Dont’a Hightower into the punt team. Hightower burst thru the protection and smothered a punt for a block that Kyle Van Noy scooped up and returned for a touchdown. That 29-yard score put the Pats up for good.

Patriots Three Up, Three Down:

Trending Up:

Josh Gordon – This was Gordon’s first game with 100 yards receiving, catching 5 passes for 100 yards including a 55-yarder where he ran out of gas and was tackled at the one. Gordon, who’s been limited with a hamstring admitted that the 96-yard drive had him gassed there.

But the conversion he made where he went up, fought for the ball and came down on his head causing his helmet to fly off but still holding on to the ball was a fantastic play. He’s just scratching the surface of his potential. I would expect to see his role increase as he gets more in tune with the offense.

James White – Already missing Rob Gronkowski on the offense this week, out with a back and ankle injury, the team lost Michel on the first play of the second quarter. White picked up the slack and was his normal productive self in the passing game, 8 catches 57 yards, two touchdowns. He also carried 11 times for 40 yards and helped the Patriots kill nearly all of the clock at the end.

While the Patriots offense goes thru Tom Brady and will until he ultimately hangs it up, White has become the second most important piece of the puzzle. With the injury epidemic at running back, White is now even more important to both the running and passing games.

Tom Brady– Facing a Bears defense that has gotten a lot of props as one of the best in the league, Brady completed 25 of 36 passes for 277 yards with three touchdowns and the one interception, that we mentioned above.

Brady was in control all day despite missing two of his biggest offensive weapons in Gronkowski and Michel. He spread the ball around and had the Patriots in position, twice…to put the game away late.

Honorable Mention: Patterson, Offensive Line, Chris Hogan

Trending Down:

Sony Michel – The Patriots rookie running back appeared to suffer a serious leg injury and was in excruciating pain as he was twisted to the turf. We won’t know until Monday how serious it is, but his injury was a huge blow to the Patriots offense as he’s been the featured back in the running game.

Michel was off to another dynamic start in the game and was featured on the Patriots opening touchdown drive. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that he dodged a bullet on that one.  

DL “Containment”– Yes, this one could easily have been labeled, “non-containment”.  Time and again, Trubiski hurt the Patriots with his running and the team looked, at times, powerless to stop it. He ran both outside and inside up the middle and the Patriots didn’t seem to have an answer.

One would have thought that the Patriots would have (at least by the 2nd quarter), assigned a linebacker to spy on Trubiski in case he decided to…you know scramble all over the field.

Sloppy Patriots STs Play – Granted they balanced the ledger with two huge scoring plays on Patterson’s TD return and the blocked punt TD return. And yes they nearly had a third, but the uncharacteristic mistakes this unit is making is beginning to be a concern. Could the loss of Bolden and Richards off the STs units mean more than we ever believed possible?

A fumble by Patterson, two costly penalties and another near turnover where Julian Edelman muffed a punt inside the Patriots 10-yard line, (Edelman alertly scooped it up), are the types of plays this unit isn’t known for. The coverage units were only okay on Sunday and allowed a 17-yard punt return to the speedy Tarik Cohen.  

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.