Tag Archives: Buffalo Bills

New England Patriots News 10-14, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
October 14, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 10-14, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning… just a quick reminder that you can check out our key matchups to the game here and our players to watch for tonight’s game can also be found here:  

Josh Gordon said this week, that the transition to the Patriots offense hasn’t been that hard, because of all the support that he’s receiving from the other players, including Tom Brady. Gordon said the two talk football all day long and with his family here now, the transition to New England has been much smoother.

“Most of the day, we end up talking football, whether it be in the locker room here briefly or in most of the meeting rooms or the time after practice. We carve out time, and we make it happen,” Gordon said.

“I just ask and he’s open about it. It makes it easy for me to communicate with him and makes it a real natural type of relationship,” Gordon added.

Chris Hogan will have a lot of eyes on him this week and moving forward. Hogan was outstanding as a complementary WR in 2016 and then was on his way to another very solid 2017 when he went down with a shoulder injury. He struggled the rest of the season however, he had a very big game in the Super Bowl so the hope was that he was back.

However, thus far in 2018 Hogan has struggled to get any separation in man coverage and his numbers are way down. With Josh Gordon in the fold and Julian Edelman back from his torn ACL and four-game suspension, if Hogan is going to make a splash this season, the time is now.

QB Connor Cook, WR Devin Ross, TE Shane Wimann as well as edge players Will Clarke and Kasim Edebali were given workouts by the Patriots on Friday at Gillette Stadium. Wimann spent time with the Patriots during training camp before suffering an injury. Edebali went to Boston College and bounced around to several teams.

Tom Brady passing the torch as the premier QB in the AFC to Patrick Mahomes?  SMH. Noted bobo and hot-take artist Nick Wright said that should KC win tonight, the mantle may be passed from Brady to Mahomes. Pump the brakes a bit. Mahomes is off to a tremendous start, but we’ve seen this before, let Mahomes develop and actually win something before you anoint him as the next GOAT. Let’s see one has five SB wins and one has five wins…period. That’s a stretch even for Wright.

Rob Ninkovich has taken the side of Rob Gronkowski (not surprisingly), in the debate over who is the better tight end, Gronk or Travis Kelce. While both are talented pass catchers, Kelce treats blocking inside like kryptonite, something Ninko pointed out. However, having a former teammate jump to your defense isn’t exactly scientific.

Blueprint term overused much? One of the terms in the NFL that is used far too often is the word “blueprint”. Team A has a blueprint on how to defeat Team B, as if the different players had nothing to do with it and it is all scheme driven.

Case in point, this week I saw close to a half-dozen mentions of the Jacksonville “blueprint” on how to stop the Kansas City offense. While certain principles may apply on how to approach certain downs and situations, the differences in personnel for every team make that blueprint seem more guideline-ish. But maybe we’re just reading too much into it.  BTW, didn’t Jacksonville lose 30-14?

Jalen Ramsey who made such noise about Tyreek Hill being a “return specialist” was sure showing some respect last week. With the Chiefs facing a 3rd and 10 in the second half, Ramsey was giving Hill an 11 yards cushion. Not bad…for a return specialist. Hill had four catches for 61 yards and two runs for 26 more.

London Jaguars? PFT Fell For Another Banana in the Tailpipe:
Not Patriots related but some NFL “news” is that Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith saw the item in the British tabloids that not only is Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan is buying Wembley Stadium and….(gasp!) is planning to move the Jaguars there in 2022. Khan also owns the Fulham Football Club of the English Premier League. Smith, as well as the British tabloids, had as their “source”, a former Fulham employee, Craig Kline who says that Khan “told this to him and to keep quiet” before he was fired from Fulham over a year ago.   

Kline, has been described (and aptly) by people that knew him in Fulham as a total flake. Since being canned, he’s accused the Khans of just about everything including racism. This latest take is just another “look at me” moment.

The Khans saw what the Patriots did in Foxboro with One Patriots Place and are trying to build the same type of facility and are actively pumping millions of dollars into the surrounding area of their stadium to make it a showplace and moneymaker. Hardly the move a smart billionaire would do if he’s planning on pulling out in a few years.

The NFL is committed to London by playing games there (at Wembley) every year. But moving a franchise there? That is still far in the distance and wouldn’t receive the necessary support from the other owners to make it happen.

White’s Versatility Has Him On Pace For Big Season:

Although this isn’t anything new, the Patriots have been relying on James White’s versatility heavily this season. And his numbers right now have him on pace for a record-breaking year.

White’s 32 catches and 270 yards currently have him slotted for a 103 catch, 864 yards receiving season which would be the most ever for a running back in NFL history (Matt Forte had 102) and the most yards receiving in a single season for a Patriots running back. Tony Collins holds the Pats record for a RB receiving with 684 yards. White also is on pace for 13 receiving touchdowns.

While part of his numbers has been the case of necessity early in the year, White has always been versatile and dependable. Besides never fumbling, he’s always productive in a multitude of ways.

White probably won’t be able to keep those numbers going. Now that Julian Edelman is back and with Josh Gordon in the fold, Tom Brady will be spreading the wealth around a lot more in the upcoming weeks. But it should do little to diminish his value to the team as a very dependable, versatile cog in the offense. We look to him tonight to be a big part of the game plan.  

McCourty: Pats Have to Find a Way to Negate Chiefs’ Speed:

In the leadup for tonight’s game, Devin McCourty was asked this week about the unenviable task of trying to slow down the high flying Chiefs offense. He told the Herald’s Kevin Duffy that Kansas City reminds him of the Steelers team of just a few years ago.

“It’s a little bit like I remember playing against Pittsburgh when it was Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders,” McCourty said. “Like that was just speed everywhere with a quarterback that can launch the ball and get it to them, and it’s the same thing. You have a receiving corps where I think 4.39 (40-yard dash time) is like the slowest speed out there.”

The Patriots will have their hands full tonight, trying to equate with the Chiefs speed outside where they don’t just air it out, but use Tyreek Hill’s speed in the running game as well. How well or poorly they handle that speed will go a long way in determining how tonight’s game goes.

Who You Have This Week, NFL Week 6 Predictions:

Last week: 11-4 Season 49-27-2 Bye Week: Lions, Saints

Thursday night’s pick Eagles over the Giants 1-0

Tampa Bay at Atlanta: Falcons
Carolina at Washington: Panthers
Seattle at Oakland: Seahawks
Indy at NY Jets: Colts
Arizona at Minnesota: Vikings
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati: Steelers
LA Chargers at Cleveland: Browns
Buffalo at Houston: Texans
Chicago at Miami: Bears
LA Rams at Denver: Rams
Baltimore at Tennessee: Ravens
Jacksonville at Dallas: Jaguars
Kansas City at New England: Patriots
San Francisco at Green Bay: Packers

Early Thursday Night Prediction: Denver over Arizona

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Fan Takes Shot at the Franchise Even in Death:

The Buffalo Bills have some of the most passionate football fans in the league. However, they can push the envelope as much, if not more than anywhere else. They’ve taken table crashing to an art form. And now one of their long-suffering fans has with a dying wish slammed his team one last time.

Lee Merkel, 83 passed away last week, without ever seeing his beloved Bills win a Super Bowl, although he watched them go four straight years to attempt to win the big one but ultimately fail. And one of his wishes was that six current Bills players act as pallbearers at his funeral. Why? So the Bills “can let him down one last time.”

Merkel, a long-time season ticket holder,  is to be buried in a Bills t-shirt that says “once before I die” was an Army veteran, a father, grandfather and ironically enough a member of the Utica Optimists Club.

Dolphins Face Pivotal Mid-Season Game At Home Against Chicago:

The Miami Dolphins are no strangers to questions being asked of them around this time of year. And the biggest question always is, “Who are the Dolphins going to be this year?” The last two years are prime examples.

Under Adam Gase, the team limped out to an atrocious 1-4 start in 2016, with the only win against Cleveland. But then they blew out Pittsburgh and finished strong, going 10-6 and making the playoffs before Ryan Tannehill was hurt and they were ousted in the Wild Card Round.

A year ago, they were thought to have turned the corner and started a very respectable 4-2 and the hope was that, despite losing Tannehill for the year in preseason, they’d be able to build on their success from 2016. Then came the debacle, a 40-0 whitewashing by the Ravens on national television and they would drop six in a row and finish out of the playoffs with a 6-10 record.

Wholesale changes were made. Locker room cancers were cut out and they brought in strong veteran leaders like Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, and Robert Quinn. The Dolphins raced out to 3-0 start and things were looking up. But then two blowout losses, one to New England by 31 and the other to the Bengals after Miami led by 17 has the Fins in a very familiar position in mid-October. After today’s game against the Bears, we should know more about this team, depending on how they play.

Crowell A Game-Time Decision for the Jets:

The New York Jets Isaiah Crowell had a franchise record 219 yards rushing last week against the Denver Broncos on just 15 carries for a ridiculous 14.6-yard average. Crowell’s yard average, which is outstanding as a pass receiver was the highest by any player in league history with 15 carries.

He was outstanding and a big part of the reason that the Jets rolled easily at home over the Broncos last week. But he tweaked an ankle last week and after not practicing Wednesday and Thursday, he returned, albeit in a limited fashion on Friday’s walk-through, so coach Todd Bowles has stated that they’ll see where he’s at on Sunday morning.

“We’ll work him out Sunday and see where he’s at,” Bowles said.

Crowell had runs of 77 yards for a TD, 54 yards in the third quarter, and a 36-yarder in the fourth quarter en route to his big, big day. In the first five games of the season, Crowell has had five runs of 50 yards or more in the first five games of the season.

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

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

 

New England Patriots News 10-07, AFC East Notes

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

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 10-07, & AFC East Notes.

With the Patriots playing on Thursday night, today we get to relax and watch a nice slate of games on tap for the remainder of Week 5.  

Robert Kraft and the coaches were sporting the new Nike Air Force 1 Ultra Fly Knit Low RKK on Thursday night. The new shoe design commemorates Kraft’s 25th anniversary of owning the team. And proceeds from the sales will benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Boston. And for $160 bucks, you too can sport these.

“This shoe will get us over $2 million to the Boys & Girls Club of Boston,” Kraft said. “So whenever you can do something you love, you wear it, and you can do good in the community, it’s a win all around.”

Josh Gordon had an interesting comment after the game on Thursday night, as he spoke with Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston. According to NBCSB Curran asked Gordon how it felt to NOT be the focal point of the offense. And Gordon replied it was a relief. Curran, as relayed from Phil Perry said that Gordon said he liked watching the other players do their thing and he’s happy just to contribute right now.

Jason McCourty is enjoying a fantastic start of the season. It wasn’t that long ago, we were talking about him being on the roster bubble in training camp after a lackluster showing was moved to safety.

So now at the Week 5 mark, where is McCourty now? He’s the fourth-rated CB in all of the NFL according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). McCourty has allowed only 13 catches on 26 attempts for 116 yards with three passes defensed. On Thursday night, McCourty allowed just 4-10 passes for 44 yards with two passes defensed, one of which should have been an interception.

J-Mac has gone from the bubble to one of the team’s best defenders in just a few short weeks. And after going thru the travails of a 0-16 season in 2017, McCourty is loving his time in New England.

Belichick Sings Praises of Brady:

Tom Brady was given extremely high praise by Bill Belichick this week after achieving two milestones, throwing his 500th TD pass and setting the record for having the most receivers catching a TD from him (71), both on the same play to Josh Gordon.

“It’s tremendous,” Belichick said of Brady hitting 71 different receivers, via quotes distributed by the team. “That’s a lot of touchdown passes to a lot of different guys, too,” Belichick added, never one to downplay the historic aspect of NFL history.

“There’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady,” Belichick said. “He does a great job week in and week out, year in and year out, all of the situations. He does a great job.”

Belichick even commented on the big play itself, giving both Brady and Gordon kudos for improvising.

“It wasn’t really the way we drew it up, but it ended up being an extended play with two great players making a great play,” Belichick said. “Josh has worked hard. Tom has spent extra time working with him and really all of the receivers, backs and tight ends, as well. It’s good to see that hard work pay off.”

When asked about Brady’s place in Patriots lore, Belichick gave the media another tidbit.  “There’s a lot of people who have meant a lot to this organization, but certainly nobody more than Tom Brady,” Belichick said.  

Gordon and Edelman Helped Passing Game Get Back in Sync:

It was tough to tell that Julian Edelman hadn’t played a meaningful game since the Atlanta Super Bowl on Thursday night. After missing all of 2017 with a torn ACL, the Patriots WR, fresh of a four-game suspension to boot, appeared to be his normal self, quick, making fast, decisive cuts and finding the open spots of the Colts zone defense.

Edelman brings that energy and “in-your-face” attitude that the team has lacked. The energy he brings to the table is infectious. The offense took the opening kickoff and marched right down the field, where Brady was 9-9 for 78 yards and the Patriots offense had the sparkplug in the slot that they’ve lacked.

With Gordon, he is still learning the playbook so he’s just beginning to scratch the surface on what his potential can be in this offense. So far, he’s doing and saying all of the right things. He brings the element of size, freakish athleticism and speed that opposing defenses must honor and the fearlessness to go over the middle and do the dirty work.

With Edelman just back, Gordon still in the early stages of learning the playbook and Sony Michel just finding his feet in the offense after missing all of the preseason, there is a reason for optimism for this offense, that just two weeks ago appeared bare of weapons for Brady.  

Patriots Offense Will Have to Add Another RB Soon:

The Patriots pair of running backs with Sony Michel and James White is looking to be a dynamic 1-2 punch for the offense. But sometime soon they’ll have to add another back to the mix.

White is an established, battle-proven member of the offense who has continued the team’s legacy of excellent 3rd down backs who are versatile and tough. His value in the passing game is ridiculously high every year despite the number of WRs who constantly get the focus as well as Rob Gronkowski at tight end.

Michel was a first-round draft pick (31st) overall in this year’s NFL Draft. While many people normally (including the Patriots) eschew taking a running back that high in the draft, they made an exception for Michel. So naturally, (hey this is Boston after all), everyone jumped all over Michel and despite him missing all of the preseason games, he was hearing the “bust” label after just two games.

He’s just starting to scratch the surface on the potential that the Patriots saw in him. In the past week (Sunday/Thursday games), Michel has 223 yards rushing, including a highlight reel 34-yard TD run with a major league stiff arm. He’ll eventually get more involved in the passing offense, the Patriots are taking their time with him and not wanting to put too much on his plate too soon.

But if anything were to happen to either White or Michel, the team would really be in a bind. Does 2015 ring a bell? The team was banged up and brought in Stephen Jackson who was ready to retire. And it hurt them, especially in the playoffs. Look for them to add someone soon. Kenjon Barner’s number still on speed dial?

Fast Starts Are Nothing New for the Chiefs:

One game this week, that we’ll be watching closely is the Chiefs-Jaguars matchup. Kansas City is New England’s next opponent on next Sunday night. The KC offense under Pat Mahomes has been off the charts thru the first month of the regular season.

But much like the slow starts that the Patriots have regularly suffered and have had no adverse consequences, the opposite is true for Kansas City who are known for getting off to fast starts. The following is just for an example of some hot starts by the Chiefs.

1996: 3-0
2003: 9-0
2010: 3-0
2013: 9-0
2017: 5-0

What is remarkable about every one of those seasons? Not one of those resulted in a playoff win. This year’s Chiefs’ team is 4-0 and maybe the outlier of that stat. Mahomes is off to a historic start to his career. Which is why today’s game vs the Jaguars will be a must watch game before the Chiefs come to Foxboro next week in primetime.

And we all remember how their last visit to Foxboro went in the 2017 season opener.

Who You Have This Week, NFL Week 2 Predictions:

Last week: 12-3 Season 38-23-2 Bye Week: Bears, Bucs

Thursday night’s pick Pats over Indy 1-0


TITANS AT BILLS – Tennessee
FALCONS AT STEELERS – Pittsburgh
BRONCOS AT JETS – Denver
JAGUARS AT CHIEFS – Kansas City
PACKERS AT LIONS – Green Bay
RAVENS AT BROWNS – Baltimore
GIANTS AT PANTHERS – Carolina
DOLPHINS AT BENGALS – Cincinnati
RAIDERS AT CHARGERS – LA
CARDINALS AT 49ERS – Arizona
VIKINGS AT EAGLES – Philadelphia
RAMS AT SEAHAWKS – LA
COWBOYS AT TEXANS – Houston
Monday Night Football
REDSKINS at SAINTS – New Orleans

Early Thursday Night Prediction: Denver over Arizona

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Need a Big Offensive Effort to Get Things Turned Around:

The Buffalo Bills offense was particularly awful last week in a 22-0 loss to the Green Bay Packers and if they’re going to challenge the Titans today that must change. It should begin with getting LeSean McCoy and the running game going. McCoy had four…not a typo, four attempts against the Packers last week. That is not the way to protect a rookie quarterback.

Speaking of rookie QBs, Josh Allen really looked like one last week. With no running game and a leaky offensive line, he’s feeling the heat. And he’s falling into bad habits that come with the territory. He bailed too early in the pocket, took far longer to get the ball out of his hands and had a truly awful game.

In a good bit from the Buffalo News, Zay Jones, the Bills WR who leads the team with 10 catches for 144 yards. Of those 10 catches, nine of them for 127 yards have come with the Bills trailing by 17 points or more. Some production while the game is in doubt would be appreciated.

Dolphins Banged Up Before Big Game Against the Bengals:

The Miami Dolphins have about a dozen players banged up before their game against the Cincinnati Bengals today. Key among them is DE Cameron Wake who didn’t practice this week. With Andre Branch out as well, the Dolphins will roll with Robert Quinn and Charles Harris.

Back up QB Luke Falk (wrist) was placed on IR, CB Bobby McCain was injured against the Patriots and is out. DeVante Parker is also expected to miss today’s game. TE A.J. Derby is out today and the team will go with rookie Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, and the recently activated Nick O’Leary.

But the good news is that safety Reshad Jones is looking like he’ll return this week after missing the last few games, which is good news for a defense that is a banged-up unit.

Darnold’s Confidence Still High Before the Jets Take on Denver:

The New York Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold is looking to turn the corner this week against Denver. Darnold shined in the opening game against the Detroit Lions but has struggled for three games in a row. But that doesn’t have him down, in fact, quite the opposite is true.

Darnold is confident that the offense is getting ready to break out, and not the Taylor Price variety. “As a team, I feel like we are really close,” Darnold said. “And for me personally I feel like I’m just on the edge. I’ve just got to continue to find completions, hit my guys deep when they are there. It will come, it’s just a timing thing. It’s going to click one of these games, I know it is. It’s just kind of waiting on that opportunity.”

Darnold, according to his coaches, is seeing the field better and recognizing what opposing defenses are trying to do against the Jets offense. That means an increase in the way follows his progressions and ultimately getting the ball out faster and more accurately. One good sign was the Jets were allowing him to use the entire field and throw the ball down the field for the first time and with that trust, he’ll have to start delivering. The coaches believe too that he’s on the verge of breaking out as well. Today at MetLife Stadium may be a great place to start.

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

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

New England Patriots News 9-30, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 30, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-30, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning… just a quick reminder that you can check out our key matchups to the game here and our players to watch for today’s game can also be found here:  

Dont’a Hightower said this week, that the defense has spent extra time in the meeting rooms trying to improve communication and to be sure that t “all 11 guys can be on the same page” when they hit the field today against Miami.

“We put it upon ourselves to kind of split up and spend more time on it — and it kind of went on a little longer than we wanted to — but it’s really just trying to get everything down pat. When everybody knows exactly what everybody else is doing, we’re able to play faster,” Hightower added. We’ll see today how effective that was.

Shea McClellan has filed for injury protection with the NFL over his concussion issues which forced him out of the league. That move prompted the league to guarantee half of what McClellan salary would have been, which lowers the Pats salary cap down by over $1 million. That would leave the team with just $1.7 million dollars in salary cap space.

For those clamoring for a LaVeon Bell trade? Not that the Steelers would trade him to New England anyway, but he isn’t signing for a million bucks.

If Tom Brady was doing a demo for “Dancing With the Stars” on Friday, he may have some more work to do. Brady was imitating James White’s TD dance move and both he and White laughed about it and said he has a long way to go.

Patriots Hoping Gordon and Edelman Can Revive Passing Game:

Although we’ve seen the stats, we don’t really need to as the eye test will tell the same thing. The Patriots passing game has been terrible so far this season. The wide receivers have underperformed and struggled and it has put far too much pressure on Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to get things done.

The hope is that the additions of Josh Gordon, possibly today and Julian Edelman on Thursday against the Colts will reinvigorate and energize the passing game, especially with the wide receivers. Edelman would give Brady that built-in safety valve, chains moving piece of the puzzle that can pick up those key first downs. Gordon gives them, if healthy, the big-bodied WR that has game-breaking potential for big plays and can stretch the field, opening up some room underneath for Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson.

The latter three are the more complementary type of receivers and not the #1 go-to guys and would benefit greatly by the addition of both Edelman and Gordon.

But today, whether Gordon makes his much-anticipated debut or not, the wide receivers need to step up and play a lot better period. Miami has very good corners and they’ll be playing a lot of press man coverage. They need to start winning the 1-on-1 matchups and getting open.

The coaches can help by ditching the conservative play calling and putting the ball back in Brady’s hands and allowing him to be more proactive in the offense rather than reactive and throwing in obvious situations.

Injuries Have Hit Epidemic Proportions For the Pats:

In the aftermath of the ugly loss in Detroit was the added bad news that both Rex Burkhead and rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley were being placed on IR. After just three weeks of the NFL season, the Patriots roster has already been decimated by injuries this summer.

Of course, there are some revisionist history types that want to take Belichick to task for trading Brandin Cooks this spring. To a degree, there is some definite room for argument there that the Patriots should have kept Cooks given how thin the WR core is on the team right now. We won’t even mention the tin foil hat types who claim that Belichick is sabotaging Brady in the final years of his career to … make Brady (and himself?) look bad.

“Bill is definitely trying to sabotage Brady, it is all so clear,”

But we digress. Cooks was gone after 2018 and the Patriots could have gotten a 3rd round compensatory pick for him. He was set to make $8 million which they could have afforded at the time.  Or they make the deal then and get a first-round draft pick for him (#23) which they did, and which was higher than what they paid for him (#32). But the Patriots weren’t going to pay Cooks anything close to what the Rams did and he went there and promptly got paid.

So, in retrospect, the Patriots surely could have kept Brandin Cooks this season and the passing numbers of the offense would have no doubt looked better than they are. And remember, they needed a Left Tackle because Nate Solder left to go to the Giants.

But, let’s look at the Patriots offense this year when training camp started and who’s there now, starting with the wide receivers.

WR Malcolm Mitchell – Injury, released
WR Kenny Britt – Injury, released
WR Jordan Matthews – Injury released
WR Julian Edelman – Suspended first four weeks of the season

How different would the offense have looked at those four players stayed healthy/clean? When added to Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson, they wouldn’t have looked so thin right? But hindsight is 20/20. Honestly, I had no issue with the Cooks trade, it made sense then, considering the loss at left tackle. But I wish they’d spent the money on Danny Amendola that they are paying a certain blocking tight end who is invisible in the passing game and who isn’t blocking anyone exceptionally well right now. 

The 2018 NFL Draft? The Patriots selections have been snake bit by the injury bug

Round 1 – LT Isaiah Wynn, Tackle – IR
Round 1 – RB Sony Michel – Injury, missed a month and is just rounding into shape.
Round 2 – CB Duke Dawson – IR
Round 5 – LB Ja’Whaun Bentley – IR
Round 6 – LB Christian Sam – IR
Round 6 – WR Braxton Berrios – IR
Round 7 – QB Danny Etling – Practice Squad
Round 7 – CB Keion Crossen – has missed time with hamstring, back injuries

Compound this with losing to two of the running backs to injury and IR that they were really counting on in Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead, and the time missed by TE Jacob Hollister who is supposed to take some heat off of Rob Gronkowski. Yes, the offense and the team as a whole has been snakebit.  We were actually pretty confident with those players, and adding in Michel, Burkhead, White, and Hill from the backfield that the offense was going to be fine. But injuries ravaged the offense this summer and to quote Belichick, it is what it is.

Of course, it is easy to be critical of Belichick after the fact. But a show of hands, who saw all of these players would have their injuries, thus far? Anyone?

Who You Have This Week, NFL Week 2 Predictions:

Last week: 8-8 Season 26-20-2 Bye Week: Washington, Caroline

Thursday night’s pick Rams over the Vikings 1-0

New York Jets at Jacksonville:  Jaguars
Miami at New England: Patriots
Philadelphia at Tennessee: Eagles
Houston at Indy: Texans
Buffalo at Green Bay: Packers
Detroit at Dallas: Cowboys
Tampa Bay at Chicago: Bears
Cincinnati at Atlanta: Falcons
Seattle at Arizona: Seattle
Cleveland at Oakland: Raiders
New Orleans at New York Giants: Saints
SF at LA Chargers:  Chargers
Baltimore at Pittsburgh: Steelers
KC at Denver: Chiefs

Early Thursday Night Prediction: New England over Indy

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Look For Second Straight Big Win Over NFC North:

The Buffalo Bills shocked the Minnesota Vikings last week and cruised to an easy 27-6 win. No one gave them a chance to win and they totally out-physically dominated a  Vikings team that prides itself on that.

Things don’t get much easier this week, The Bills move on to Lambeau Field and play the Green Bay Packers and again, most of the national pundits are picking Green Bay who has scuffled along at 1-1-1.

Good news for Buffalo is that Aaron Rodgers continues to be limited in his mobility from his knee injury and that will put a lid on how much he can scramble on the busted, sandlot plays that the Pack typically feast on. Jerry Hughes who had a pair of sacks, two QB hits, and a forced fumble last week will be looked to for another big game.

Josh Allen will need a big game this week, although Green Bay’s defense is far from a shutdown unit, they are opportunistic and Rodgers is usually top notch at home. Green Bay is favored by 12.5 today.

Amendola Has Been the Same Guy for the Dolphins:

The Miami Dolphins signed WR Danny Amendola this offseason for his toughness, clutch ability, and his veteran leadership. And so far this season, they’re getting all three. Amendola has the most receptions for Miami with 11 and it has been much like New England, with the bulk of his catches coming in the dangerous places over the middle where the chains continue to move and keep the offense on the field.

Amendola has plenty of close friends in the opposing locker room at Foxboro today. He was not only one of Brady’s closest friends on the team, but a very valuable trusted presence by his teammates as well.

Amendola has hardly ever been a quote machine, he totally bought into the Belichickian way of speaking and saying very little, preferring to letting his play do his talking for him. And despite what Jalen Ramsey thinks, Amendola has continued to produce without Tom Brady and will be looked to this afternoon to give Miami a big spark. No one on the Miami sideline knows the Patriots defense as well as he does. He practiced against them for years.  

Don’t be surprised if Ryan Tannehill tries to get Amendola going early and often in the matchup this afternoon. And while Amendola will never say it, either before or after the game, he, I’m sure would love to have a big, big game against his former teammates. But more than anything, he wants to come away with a win. That is the kind of thing he learned here that is most important.

Darnold Going Thru Growing Pains With the Jets:

The New York Jets Sam  Darnold burst onto the scene in Week 1 in the Jets thrashing of the Lions on national television. Since then, however, Darnold has for much of the time resembled the rookie that he is. Saddled with a leaky offensive line, which we pointed out here quite a few times, and very conservative play-calling, it is no wonder his learning curve has flattened out a bit.

This is normal for many young QBs and the Jets Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates is trying to simplify things for Darnold which will make it easier to for him to call the plays and play within himself as he learns the pro game.

This is the risk with playing a QB so young (Darnold is just 21) right out of the chute in the NFL. His confidence can be shaken especially with a seasoned and solid veteran in Josh McCown on the roster. Today, Darnold will be facing the Jaguars defense and he’ll have his work cut out for him.

And Bates should be worried more about Jacksonville than New England but he pointed out that failed headsets in every game this season has hurt the offense. And despite the league being in charge of the headsets, Bates had to take a dig at New England.

“It happened in all three games,” Bates said. “There’s sometimes interference, radio interference. It’s amazing. I don’t know how to do it, but I guess you can FaceTime people in China, but our headsets go out.”

I’m not throwing anyone under the bus, but the button stopped working,” Bates said. “We’ve tried to correct it, and understand that that can happen at any time, especially in New England.” Oh yes, he did…he went there.

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

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

New England Patriots News 9-23, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 23, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-23, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning… just a quick reminder that you can check out our key matchups to the game here and our players to watch for tonight’s game can also be found here:  

Jacob Hollister was a late addition to the injury report on Friday and has been ruled out of tonight’s game. He was one of the players we had in our pregame matchups to watch. He may miss a game or two according to reports.

Cyrus Jones is back in the fold and will probably be returning punts tonight. He was part of the last cuts by New England and landed on the Ravens practice squad. But the Pats signed him back to the active roster this week and look for a hungry and motivated Jones this week. An interesting tidbit was that Jones was practicing with the safeties this week.

Resilience:  The Patriots success under Bill Belichick is always enhanced by the fact that they don’t lose many games back to back. As we pointed out earlier this week, the Patriots are 45-6 since 2003 following a loss. And for those conspiracy theorists that lament the Patriots playing in the AFC “Least”? Since realignment in 2002, the Patriots are 51-16 against the NFC, the best interconference record in the NFL. 

Tom Brady reportedly was testy and irritable all week in practice. Mike Giardi from NFL Network reported that Brady was quite unhappy with the level of execution that the Patriots showed in Jacksonville and wants to ensure that it doesn’t happen again this week against the Lions.

Corey Coleman the former 1st Round draft pick of the Browns in the 2016 NFL Draft was released by the Patriots to make room for Josh Gordon. But the next day after clearing waivers, the Patriots signed him to the team’s practice squad.

Coleman had only spent a week in New England and was inactive for the Jacksonville game but Bill Belichick was highly complimentary of the former Baylor wide receiver.

“He’s a player we want to work with,” Belichick said. “We’ll see how it goes. We haven’t had him a long time but he’s done a good job with the opportunities that he’s had. We want to keep working with him. We’ll see how it goes.”

Malcolm Mitchell filed a grievance against the Patriots, as first reported by our old buddy Miguel Benzan, commonly known as @Patscap the salary cap guru. The former the receiver has filed an injury grievance against the team and was seeking his entire 2018 salary of $630,000.

Mitchell was released by the Patriots back on August 6. That release was not coupled with an injury designation, so the receiver could not recoup any money from his deal. Mitchell cleared waivers, however, late Friday night there were reports that the two sides had settled the dispute.

Pat Chung/Trey Flowers didn’t practice this week and are doubtful for tonight’s game. Their loss will be a big blow to the Patriots defense. Flowers is their best player on the defensive side of the ball and Chung is an excellent tackler and his presence will be missed in the running game and the covering of tight ends.

No One Wants to See Gordon Fail:

In the hoopla of the Josh Gordon trade this week, reactions were mixed but by far, most were exceedingly positive and the prevailing theme was, “Brady hasn’t had a target like this since Randy Moss.”

Others, including here in this column were against the trade. And my TL and DMs quickly jumped my mentions by explaining that it was a “low-risk, high reward” scenario. Other mentions accused me of wanting Gordon to fail, which is ridiculous.

But this move isn’t low risk, because Gordon isn’t being just brought in to be a complementary piece. All of the mentions states, the Patriots need a player who can stretch the field and take pressure off of the intermediate receivers. So, yes he will be expected to play a valuable role.

While the compensation is basically a wash, which is basically a no-risk scenario, the big risk here, as I pointed out in the Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on Tuesday is time. This wasn’t a trade you make in March and have six months to figure out if the player fits your offense, your locker room and has put his problems on the back burner enough for you to secure him a roster spot.

This scenario is after Week 2 of the NFL regular season. And the team doesn’t have the time to try to prepare for an upcoming opponent while trying to incorporate a new Wide Receiver into the fold while treading very lightly around said, player. And he is a player with serious addiction issues. It isn’t as some point out, “just weed” and is much deeper.

Saying all this can be easily fixed by just dropping him in the Patriots locker room is overly simplistic and doesn’t lend itself the seriousness of Gordon’s situation. What about when he goes home at night? That’s where his problems lie, not in the building.

Everyone here wants to see him be successful…at life, football is a far second to that. Addiction and drug use are big problems facing our nation as a whole. But his physical talents have never been in question.  Would we love to see him light it up and be a part of bringing Lombardi #6 home? Of course.

But it isn’t as simple or as easy as many will have you believe. Hopefully, Robert Kraft will put some quality off-field support mechanisms around Gordon to help him.

Derek Rivers Set To Make His NFL Debut?

The bad news of Trey Flowers having a concussion and having missed all of this week’s practice could be an opportunity for last year’s top draft pick Derek Rivers. Rivers has been a healthy scratch for both of the first two games of the season after falling behind Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise and Keionta Davis on the depth chart.

Rivers missed all of the 2017 season after tearing his ACL during joint practices with the Jaguars last August. He started slowly in training camp this year but came on and started to round into form.

It will be interesting to see how he can produce in a regular season game, which will be his first NFL action if Flowers is a scratch for tonight’s game. Rivers told NESN’s Doug Kyed this week that he hasn’t been frustrated by his lack of playing time yet but he’s just working hard and waiting for his chance.

“I’d be excited,” he said.  “But this is what we’ve been doing since camp. I got to play in the preseason, and every game is similar. I know everybody puts a lot of pressure on preseason and regular season, but a football game is a football game. It’s a blessing to play in each and every one of them. It will be exciting times, and god-willing, if this is the week, then I’ll be excited.”

Who You Have This Week, NFL Week 2 Predictions:

Last week: 9-6-1 Season 18-12-2

Thursday night’s pick Cleveland over the Jets 1-0

New Orleans at Atlanta: Falcons
Green Bay at Washington: Packers
Indy at Philadelphia: Eagles
Buffalo at Minnesota: Vikings
Oakland at Miami: Dolphins
Denver at Baltimore:  Ravens
Cincinnati at Carolina: Panthers
Giants at Houston: Texans
Tennessee at Jacksonville: Titans
San Francisco at Kansas City: Chiefs
LA Rams at LA Chargers: Rams
Dallas at Seattle: Dallas
Chicago at Arizona: Cardinals
New England at Detroit: Patriots
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay: Bucs

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have a Tough Matchup on the Road in Minnesota:

Buffalo is 0-2 and heading to Minnesota to take on the 1-0-1 Vikings. Since opening their new stadium in 2016, the Vikes are 14-4 at home, third best in the NFL behind New England and Philadelphia.

Josh Allen has the unenviable task of going with a shaky offensive line and a dearth of playmakers against one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Vikings have seven sacks as a team, while the Bills have already allowed 11.

After being hammered in the first half and allowing 28 points, Head Coach Sean McDermott took over the defensive play calling in the second half and the unit responded, allowing just three points in the second half. That will bear watching today.

While we were adamant that Allen should have been sitting and learning in his rookie year, McDermott hit the panic button after just one half of the first game. Allen was sacked five times last week and has been put in a nearly impossible position to succeed. Buffalo will have to tread carefully here, these type of situations have ruined other young QB’s confidence. And the Vikes will be bringing the heat.

Dolphins Have Big Game At Home Against the 0-2 Raiders:

Miami is 2-0 and has played very well against both the Titans and Jets and sit alone atop the AFC East after just two weeks. So why is this game against the winless Raiders such a big one? Because these are the types of games the Dolphins have consistently dropped when having a chance to get momentum going.

Today’s home game will put the Dolphins at 3-0 and guarantee them of no worse than a tie with New England with a road trip heading up to Foxboro next weekend. And a win will put the Dolphins of a chance of going undefeated thru the quarter pole of the season  That will boost a lot of confidence in the team as they move forward.

With kickoff time temps of about 88 degrees with high humidity, it is a built-in advantage. Also, factor in the Raiders are making an East Coast swing for a 1 p.m. game, something that West Coast teams don’t normally play well in, it is something to watch for.

Miami has a prime opportunity for them to pounce on a team that hasn’t played well yet in 2018. And look for their defense today to make a couple of big plays. That will set up some good drama for Week 4, which will pit them against the Pats for the first time this year.

Darnold Takes Blame For Loss, But the Fault Was With Jets Coaches:

The New York Jets lost on Thursday Night Football 21-17 to the Cleveland Browns, the Jets third game in 11 days and may have run out of gas at the end. And of course, the popular narrative was that Baker Mayfield outplayed Sam Darnold on the big stage.

While you can certainly point to the numbers to make that case, it was hardly that simple. When Mayfield came in, the Jets were rolling 14-0. But rather than put restrictions on him, the Cleveland coaches cut him loose and allowed him to throw the ball all over the field, in other words opening the playbook completely to him. And Mayfield looked very much the part of the 1st overall pick in the draft against what is a pretty darn good Jets defense.

Darnold, in contrast, was just 15-31 for 169 yards and two interceptions, both thrown with under a minute and a half left in the game on desperation throws.

“From my point of view, I just have to play better, simple as that,” Darnold said after the game. “It’s not acceptable, the way I played. I know that, and I have to take it like a man. I feel like I’m responsible for some of the stagnant offense we had. I just have to play better, that’s it.”

While standing up and taking responsibility is laudable, the coaches deserve as much if not more of the blame for the stagnant offense. They have saddled the rookie with a very limited playbook. Worried about the Browns blitzing, they gave him a steady diet of screen passes and other very conservative options. They never allowed him to test the field the way the Browns did.

Even Jets WR Quincy Enunwa hit on the issue, although he worded it carefully, there is no doubt what he said here. “He did as well as he could with the plays that were given to him,” Enunwa said. “They had a lot of pressure, and that kind of messed us up.”

The Jets aren’t helping his progression by limiting what he can do on the field. Making things simpler is one thing, hamstringing a QB’s options are another. It is like being thrown the keys to a muscle car and then being told, not to shift it out of second.

NFL fans lost out on what would have been an interesting matchup between two QBs of the future. Darnold didn’t regress in his third start, the coaching staff blinked. Let him play the way he’s capable of.

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.

New England Patriots News 9-16, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 16, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-16, & AFC East Notes.

We send good wishes today to our friends who live in the Southeast who are in the midst of a fierce hurricane that is pounding the Carolinas and Virginia. Although hurricanes are a fact of life down there, it never ceases to amaze the power of Mother Nature. And to our own neighbors in Massachusetts in North Andover, Andover and Lawrence, we hope everyone gets to get home soon…and safely.

Jacob Hollister is off of the injury report as of Friday and should make his season debut later today for the Patriots. One of those little “game within a game” situations. Hollister’s status may mean more Big Nickel for Jax. The Giants had some success against that last week. Stay tuned.

Sony Michel is itching to get on the field, but that probably won’t be today and with Rex Burkhead in the concussion protocol, the Pats may be really thin at RB today with just James White and recently signed Kenjon Barner.

Weather a factor… watch the heat and the resultant early season conditioning test for the Patriots today. With temps in the low 90s with a chance of thunderstorms in the area, the weather could be a big factor today. This could be a coaching point to get started quickly today.

Duron Harmon was fined $26.739 for a hit on an unnecessary roughness penalty on DeAndre Hopkins with 38 seconds left in the game on Sunday. Hopkins was going up for a contested ball with Devin McCourty and Harmon came in to break it up and appeared to use his shoulder to hit Hopkins, but his wallet is quite a bit lighter this week after that fine.

Kyle Van Noy was the subject of some personal attacks by members of the media for no apparent reason this week. Stating he was an “Ass” and a “Tool” and that he could stand his attitude, in the next breath, the same media member then stated he’s never met him. Even Paul Perillo from PFW who was a guest on that show seemed taken aback by the personal nature of the attack, which is all-too-familiar these days.

From our limited access and personal interaction with the players, we’ve never witnessed anything from Van Noy that didn’t come across as professional and ready to answer anything thrown his way.

And for the record, the Patriots got a steal from Detroit in the Van Noy trade. He’s been a starter here and a valuable cog in the defense and they gave up virtually nothing in return. Sometimes you just have to shrug and move on.

Bentley is a Pleasant Surprise For Everyone Except Belichick:

Ja’Whaun Bentley is off to a very nice start to his NFL career. The rookie from Purdue has turned heads since training camp, preseason and has carried it over thru Week 1 of the regular season. Bentley earned more snaps than any other front seven player against the Texans.

The three-year captain has turned heads with his play against the pass thus far. He was known as a big thumper in the running game, but his play against the pass has been a very pleasant surprise but not to everyone. Bill Belichick said the team isn’t surprised by his value at all.

“Well, I mean, first of all, I was surprised he wasn’t at the combine. That was surprise No. 1. I mean, it wasn’t to save airfare. The guy’s 20 minutes away. But, it is what it is.”

Belichick was asked about the rookie’s playing time and he summed it up, Bill style. “That’s up to them. But (it was) his first game, and he did a lot of good things out there. There were some things that we talked about during the game, some things he’ll improve in. We just need to keep working as a team and individually, collectively to try to get better in every area. “We have a long way to go.”

It will be interesting to see the workload that Bentley gets this week against the Jaguars.

“Must Win” Games in September? Not Hardly:

No one is discounting that today’s game is a big one between the two teams that played in the conference championship in January. But it is a September game and not much more. Far too much is being made of this because of the matchup that it is some kind of a “must win” game for each team. In Week 2? To quote Chad Johnson, “Child Please.”

This isn’t any more than an early season test and Patriots fans should be reminded that Bill Belichick treats the first month of the season like an extended preseason. We see just the basic installation of the offense and defense and this year will be no different.

I’m reading and hearing a lot of talk that playoff seeding in January is on the line over this one. One of our own colleagues here believes this game is more important to New England than to Jacksonville. What? We heard similar talk about the Chiefs after Week 1 last year. How did that work out?  The season is far too long with too many variables to be putting that kind of moniker on a Week 2 matchup.

So what happens if it is a “must win” game and you lose in Week 2? Do you tank the last 14 weeks? Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves

Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out Matty P:

The long and not-so-fine Boston tradition of kicking people on their way of town is alive and well. Just look at Matt Patricia. Much of New England took entirely too much delight in watching Patricia’s head coaching debut with the Lions go down the tubes badly. The Jets curb stomped Detroit badly on Monday and you would have thought that NE became Jets territory with the shade thrown Patricia’s way.

And now, we have the revisionist history buffs trying to sell us a bill of goods that Patricia was a terrible defensive coordinator in his time with New England….Doug Kyed of NESN tried to quell this bit of chicanery the other day and you’d have thought he stole the crown jewels.  

Take a look at the personnel that the Patriots had on defense during the Patricia years and ask yourself if man-to-man they were anywhere near, the most talented defensive units on the field? The answer is no. And yet every year, the Patriots ranked as one of the best defensive units in the league in terms of points allowed. And that’s what wins games folks points…

Yards gained and yards allowed are the fools’ gold of the NFL. They’re the shiny hood ornament that doesn’t make your car go. Foles shredded the Patriots in the SB for 373 yards and 3 TDs. Brady threw for 505 and 3 TDs but lost.

Since 2014, only the Seattle Seahawks “Legion of Doom” have allowed fewer points than the Patriots. So did they do it with smoke and mirrors? It was coaching, plain and simple. While most people, (here included), lamented the style that they played, to say he was a terrible defensive coordinator is crazy talk.

One final thought on that Super Bowl, Patricia took the heat for the Patriots getting picked apart but what about the game before against the #1 defense in the league in points AND yards, the Minnesota Vikings?  Foles threw for 352 yards and 3 TDs in that one as Philly scored 38 unanswered points in a blowout win. By the same judging criteria, Minnesota’s defensive coordinator George Edwards is terrible too? Hardly. Philly got hot at just the right time, and much like Joe Flacco, a few years ago, that was all she wrote.

Who You Have This Week, NFL Week 2 Predictions:

Last week: 9-6-1 Ugh

Thursday night’s pick Cincinnati over Baltimore 1-0

Carolina at Atlanta: Falcons
Indy at Washington: Colts
Houston at Tennessee: Texans
Philadelphia at Tampa Bay: Eagles
Kansas City at Pittsburgh: Steelers
Miami at NY Jets; Dolphins
LA Chargers at Buffalo: Chargers
Minnesota at Green Bay: Vikings (regardless if Discount Double Check guy plays)
Cleveland at New Orleans: Saints
Detroit at San Francisco: 49ers
Arizona at LA Rams: Rams
New England at Jacksonville: Patriots
Oakland at Denver: Raiders
NY Giants at Dallas : Giants
Seattle at Chicago: Seahawks

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills’ Mistake in QB Derby Already Apparent:

The Buffalo Bills screwed up the placeholder job search for rookie Josh Allen and should have never traded A.J. McCarron. They decided to go with Nathan Peterman who struggled mightily with the Ravens on Week 1 and have hit the panic button and are rushing Allen into the breach with a surrounding cast that is not ready to help the rookie in his first NFL start.

“It’s the right move for our football team,” McDermott said. “I’m not going any further than that. I’ve got confidence in Josh, and it’s the right move for our football team.”

We couldn’t disagree more. Allen is the future of the franchise and this move could really backfire on McDermott and Allen. We’ll see how this turns out, but we’d expect a very simplified offense for the rookie and a heavy dose of LeSean McCoy.

And the Bills Mafia can’t be happy with the news that anyone caught table-slamming at a Bills tailgate is now subject to ejection and criminal charges….The horror.

Dolphins Take On the Jets in A Match of Unbeatens:

The Miami Dolphins travel to the Meadowlands to face the 1-0 New York Jets and rookie QB Sam Darnold. The Jets thumped the Lions last Monday night 48-17 and intercepted Matthew Stafford four times. The Jets bandwagon is back in full force since the “Sanchize” days (remember those?), they even trotted out Fire marshall Bill.

The Dolphins beat the Tennessee Titans in a game that was delayed for many hours due to lightning. But the Fins had an impressive win as well and the player to watch this week is Miami QB Ryan Tannehill.

The Jets have traditionally played him very tough, (4-5 record, 10 TDs, 9 INTs) but he has a lot better personnel around him now although the loss of Josh Sitton on the offensive line will hurt, this week and beyond.

Bowles and the Jets Trying to Bring Sanity to Darnold Hype:

The New York Jets stomped the Lions on Monday night in their opener and after a pick six in his first NFL snap, rookie QB Sam Darnold rebounded excellently and played a heck of a game. Of course, the New York tabloids had a field day with the win and loudly proclaimed, “B’Way Sam” next to a picture of Joe Namath and “INSAMITY”. These are the same tabloids that named a certain QB “Sanchize” which even led to a Sopranos mention.

They are also the same tabloids that will turn on the rookie in a second if things go south. Which is why coach Todd Bowles is trying to bring the hype machine back amongst the mortals here and not in that rarified air at the peak of Mt. Olympus.

“It’s only been one game,” he said. “To sit here and say whether he’s great or whether he’s trash or whether he’s anything else, it’s way too early for that. He’s played one game. He’s got a lot of years to go and he’ll build it as he goes.”

Asked if he’s a franchise QB, Bowles laughed and said it was one game, check back when he wins about 100.

Bowles is taking the right  approach with the rookie but he’ll be powerless to stop the hype train if the Jets win again today against the Dolphins. The tabloids will be all for petitioning the NFL to waive the five-year rule for Canton.

But Bowles will be sure to have one of his staff whispering in his rookie’s ear about Sanchize and how quickly that turned. He was the toast of New York until he had an awful game at mid season and got picked five times in an OT loss to the Bills. The next day the papers called him B’way Schmo.

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.

New England Patriots News 9-09, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 9, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-09, & AFC East Notes.

The 2018 NFL regular season is back and although the Eagles and Falcons kicked things off on Thursday night, the season begins in earnest today. We look forward to seeing a bunch of good interesting match ups.

The opener on Thursday night is about what we expected when the starters for each team barely see the field during preseason. While there was some great exciting play, there was also some sloppiness, (26 penalties).

Kudos to Tom Brady, he saw NBA star LeBron James dunking a basketball and tried to recruit him to come to New England and team up with Rob Gronkowski as a tight end.

“Damn bro come play tight end you and gonk would be unstoppable!!!!” Brady said. Always looking out for the team first…

Duke Dawson was placed on IR for his hamstring injury which he will be eligible to return from this season and in his place the Patriots activated WR Riley McCarron. He should see some action returning punts this week.

Some good news on the injury front was RB Rex Burkhead was removed from the injury report this week and should be good to go for today’s game.

Brady Makes Things Clear…For Some:

Tom Brady has accomplished a ton in his NFL career, in fact, he’s at the pinnacle for success in the league but despite that, he’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore…good.

Despite making it crystal clear many times that he wasn’t going to entertain the questions that center around his friend and business partner Alex Guerrero, many in the media insist on pushing this silly agenda. So, Brady felt he had to set the record straight and filmed an epilogue of his “Tom vs Time” video series.

In it, Brady explained that he stayed away from voluntary workouts to spend time with his family and had some choice words to say about every move of his being questioned, scrutinized and his body language dissected using CIA-trained profilers.

“The last couple years, a lot of parts about football weren’t enjoyable when they should have been,” Brady said.

“I think people are just looking for something to write, talk about,” Brady added. “They want to talk about a lot of drama. I’m sure a lot of teams have things like that, but ours is just to the 10th (sic) degree. You learn to deal with it better. I just don’t give a f*** about that much anymore, about anything.” “Like nothing’s that big of a deal to me anymore,” Brady said… To worry about a lot of bulls*** that people may say or think or feel, I really don’t care at all.”

But on Friday, with the opener against Houston just two days away, someone had to ask about Guerrero.

“I don’t want to bring on any drama this year,” Brady said politely. “I’m just focused on what I want to do, and be a great football player for this team and be a good example in the locker room, provide great leadership. That’s where my focus is. I know you want to talk about a lot of other things, but I just really want to stick on football and focus on being the best I can be for this team.”

Nike, Kaepernick Ads Accomplished Exactly What They Aimed For:

The recent Nike ads featuring the former backup QB of the San Francisco 49ers was brilliant in its design and flawless in its execution. Regardless whether you believe in it or support it, the campaign did exactly what it set out to do and that is getting everyone talking about it.

Unfortunately, like anything else in this country, it is nearly impossible to have a measured discussion on anything anymore. There is for and against a topic and if you disagree with me, just scream louder and resort to insults and yes, of course, I’ll do the same. Need a for instance. Just look at the shameful excuse at the Senate hearings this week for the Supreme Court. Yes, shameful. Political grandstanding, people appearing in costumes, protesters interrupting nearly every minute. It is a sorry excuse for representing us a country. And both sides are guilty of it. But back to Kaepernick and the protests.

The ad has spurred countless counter-protests with people, as always plugging their own pictures in the ad which are everywhere. Just as a footnote, if you truly are against this ad campaign, you’re actually helping it when you post these one-up ads of your own. And burning your gear that you already paid for hurts Nike…how? But I guess it doesn’t matter in the world of social media.

I really wish people would stop using the military as the justification for their protests. Especially fallen members like former Cardinal Pat Tillman. I don’t like when people, even fellow military veterans try to equate our service with having a larger stake in our national identity. The flag, the anthem and whatever else belongs to us all equally. This isn’t “Starship Troopers” where the phrase, “Service means Citizenship”. We’re all equally members of this imperfect but beautifully constructed Republic.

The military community, like the country on most matters, is split on this. Many support the players’ right to protest, what they feel is a social injustice issue, while many others do not, mainly because of the vehicle (the national anthem) that they use for the protest.

As I’ve written in a military publication before, if the players feel that way, I’ve haven’t walked in their shoes and far be it from me to tell them how they should feel. And while I don’t care for the WAY they protested, I can’t pick and choose which parts of the Constitution I choose to defend. That isn’t the way it works. Fellow Special Forces veteran and former Seahawk Nate Boyer spoke with Kaepernick and believes that the kneeling protest is right. I’ve spoken with Boyer on Facebook at length about this issue as well.

There is a long way to go in this country when it comes to racial injustice. And Kaepernick didn’t help his own cause by showing up wearing a Fidel Castro t-shirt to a press conference. Castro is hardly a beacon of racial justice to people of color. If you doubt that, ask yourself why thousands of men, women, and children braved the ocean in flimsy rafts to get away from him and his worker’s paradise.

Like any other issue with people split on one side or the other, the only way it gets resolved is for people to come together and listen to one another. Will it happen? Let’s just say, I’m not holding my breath with optimism.

Like many others, I supported the idea of the protest but hated the vehicle chosen. And it was ill-conceived and impotent anyway. Why is it impotent? Most networks don’t air the anthem during the regular season anyway. So the message gets lost. And the people who dislike the way the protest is held will automatically tune you out. A better way is to wait until kickoff, at 1:05 p.m. The national cameras are rolling then. Then have the players walk out to midfield, take a knee, hold hands, say a prayer anything. That will get everyone’s attention. Hell, I’ll get kicked out of the stadium and go down and join you on the field. Now, can we get back to football, please?

Pat Chung Goes Full Circle, Is a Captain for 2018:

The Patriots turned a few heads when they brought Pat Chung back to the team after a year in Philly a few years back. His first stint didn’t end so well, but now that move is thought of as a no-brainer. Chung has been outstanding as the strong safety, playing down, close to the box since his return and he’s earned the trust of his teammates and coaches alike. Now, Chung is a captain.

Bill Belichick spoke very highly about Chung on Friday stating, “He’s tough. He’s a tough football player. He has a great football-playing mentality, very competitive, plays well, has played against a lot of good players, plays against good players every week and competes hard every week.”

Chung has only missed one game since returning to the Patriots in 2014.

“He’s out there on everything,” Belichick added. “He’s out there on defense, special teams. He runs a lot of scout-team plays for us on offense, kind of like Rodney (Harrison) used to do. He just loves to get out there and play and compete. He’s in great condition. He can go all day. He can go hard all day.”

Yes, you can go home again.

Who Do You Like This Week, Predictions on the NFL Schedule:

Thursday night, to no one’s surprise, we had the SB Champion Eagles over Atlanta to begin the season 1-0, here is the rest of the slate:

Bills at Ravens – Baltimore
Jaguars at Giants – Jacksonville
Bucs at Saints – New Orleans
Texans at Patriots – New England
49ers at Vikings – Minnesota
Titans at Dolphins – Tennessee
Bengals at Colts – Indianapolis
Steelers at Browns – Pittsburgh
Chiefs at Chargers – Los Angeles (still tempted to say SD)
Seahawks at Broncos – Seattle
Cowboys at Panthers – Carolina
Redskins at Cardinals – Arizona
Bears at Packers – Green Bay
Jets at Lions – Detroit
Rams at Raiders – Los Angeles

Plenty of good games to watch this week, and several new QBs on the slate. The first week of the season is always one of the hardest to predict with the new faces all over the league going into action for the first time.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Daboll Will Get the Bills Offense Moving in the Right Direction:

The Buffalo Bills are not being looked upon favorably by the pundits who do all the predicting when it comes to the NFL. And most of their bile concerning Buffalo has to do with their offense. And I won’t lie, I’m not convinced that this unit offensively will be great this year either. But they have the right guy in charge of it, and once they get their players sorted out, they may surprise some people. Who’s the right guy? Brian Daboll.

Daboll has worked with Bill Belichick and Nick Saban two of the best coaches in both the professional and college ranks and his offense shows a blend of both of those coaching trees.

The Bills offense has seemed predictable and stale for several years. Halftime adjustments were for the other guys. But that will all change with Daboll. Look for the Bills offense to make some headway this year. Instead of trying to get players to adapt to the system, Daboll will use the BB method of finding a players’ strengths and using him in the position where he has a greater chance of success.

It may take a while, but the Bills offense, will turn the corner. They have the right guy on the job already. Maybe not at QB, but at offensive coordinator.

Dolphins Linebackers Still A Question Mark Before Tennessee:

The Miami Dolphins have done a complete makeover for their roster in 2018. They’ve jettisoned, bloating contracts that had little in the way of production and have brought in solid, veteran leadership types. But while the defense on paper looks to be markedly improved, their linebacking core is still a potential weak spot this season.

Today the Titans come into town and have a mobile QB in Marcus Mariota, a two-pronged rushing attack with power runner Derrick Henry and the elusive Dion Lewis and a veteran, productive tight end in Delanie Walker…all things that gave them fits in 2017.

This year, the Fins get back Raekwon McMillan who will be the Mike linebacker after his rookie season was lost totally to a torn ACL. McMillan was very impressive last season before getting injured and he’s looked forward to picking up where he left off last summer. But even if he is, on either side of him are questions.

Kiko Alonso and Jerome Baker each come with their own set of questions. And while the Dolphins secondary should be better and their pass rush infinitely better with Robert Quinn joining Cameron Wake, if the Dolphins defense struggles, look no farther than their linebackers. Today is just the first test.

Darnold Gets the Nod for the Jets Against the Lions:

The New York Jets drafted QB Sam Darnold with the #3 pick in the NFL Draft this spring. And the 21-year old is getting the start against the Detroit Lions today. While many, including us here, thought the Jets should be cautious with their rookie’s confidence level until he’s ready….the Jets have gone all in.

“I’m starting him — my confidence level has got to be pretty high,” coach Todd Bowles said. “He’s [been] playing football his whole life. We don’t go by age.”

Bowles and Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates are both confident that the rookie will play and play well in this first NFL action. It will be interesting to see what new Lions coach Matt Patricia dials up against him. When he was the defensive coordinator in New England, the Patriots defenses were on the conservative side.

If Darnold struggles in the first few weeks of the season, Bowles and Bates, both will hear from the same fanbase and media that are cheering his decision to start the rookie right off the bat. Chalk this one up to must-watch television

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.

New England Patriots News, 9-02, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 2, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-02, & AFC East Notes.

It never fails that whenever the cut down to the 53-man roster occurs, some players who played significant snaps the year before finds themselves on the outside looking in. Eric Lee and Jordan Richards both played quite a bit in the Super Bowl and were cut on Saturday. That’s a good sign for the defense improving this year.

Of course, we are always reminded of the team’s and Bill Belichick misses in the earlier rounds of the draft. In essence, the Patriots are no worse nor better than everyone else with the ratio of hits to misses on the roster.

Of course, when speaking of Belichick, his misses don’t seem as glaring when one takes into consideration WHERE the team drafts every year.

Patriots Set Initial *52-Man Roster* After Cutdown:

The Patriots only kept 52 players on their initial roster cutdown on Saturday. We say initial because there will probably be plenty of changes in the next few days and also set the 10-man practice squad, with their initial group set to become official later today.

Why 52? Without knowing what is in the works, it would appear that a trade…or two is on the horizon and they are keeping a spot open once a deal is finished or a physical taken. We shall see. Right now, the team is very light at WR and along the OL. It should also be noted that Ryan Izzo, the rookie tight end is supposed to go on IR tomorrow which will open up another slot.

The Patriots obviously like what they have in Izzo who will be available to come off of IR during the season, but it appears they are looking at him with 2019 in mind. A minor surprise with Geneo Grissom making the roster. Grissom has always been a standout special teams player but has turned up his play defensively a notch. He had a pair of sacks in the Divisional Playoff win over Tennessee last year and has been fairly productive this summer.

And for the 15th year in a row, the Patriots will have an undrafted player make the initial 53-man roster as corner J.C. Jackson has made the team. Another surprise was 3rd-year cornerback/kick returner Cyrus Jones was cut. After a tough rookie season, the light seemed to have come on a bit last summer when he tore his ACL. After fighting to get back on the field, he once again seemed to get it figured out but it wasn’t enough.

Here is what the initial roster looks like, remember there are only 52 players.

Quarterbacks (2) –

Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

Running Backs (5)

James White, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, Jeremy Hill, James Develin

Wide Receiver (3)

Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett

Tight End (4)

Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen, Ryan Izzo

Offensive Line (7)

Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, Ted Karras

Defensive End (6)

Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Keionta Davis, Geneo Grissom

Defensive Tackle (4)

Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown, Adam Butler

Linebacker (5)

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Nicholas Grigsby

Cornerback (6)

Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen, J.C. Jackson

Safety (5)

Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Jason McCourty

Special Teams (5)

Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Brandon King, Matthew Slater

Pepper Johnson Interview Reveals an End to Another Belichick Myth:

The Pepper Johnson interview with Deadspin provided some fascinating insight into the former Giant great and longtime Patriots assistant coach. Johnson spent 30 years as a player and coach in the NFL and served nearly all of it with Bill Belichick as a player and then later as a defensive line coach. He knows him as well as anyone. Which is why the interview was a fascinating look at not just Johnson but of Belichick.

One of the many myths that have surrounded Bill Belichick in his long and ridiculously successful stint with the Patriots is that Belichick surrounds himself with only his own people and there is a shortage of coaches who will have their say or disagree with the coach. We’ve always heard the oft-repeated phrase, “Bill doesn’t have anyone around him that will say no.”

Johnson sunk that myth right off when he spoke about the exact thing on other teams, he experienced that in both Buffalo and with the Jets but not in New England. Johnson related in the interview that Belichick relies heavily on his staff.

“I’ve had a lot of experience with winning. One of the things that I enjoyed so much when I first started coaching in New England was we had the roundtable, so to speak. It was more of a rectangle but we had the knights at the table,” he said.

“And everybody’s opinion was worthy. We knew at the end of the day whatever coach Belichick said was what we were going to do. But your voice was heard. Your voice was heard. Your opinions were taken [seriously], and it made you feel so good when either the next day or that week, or when you saw something that was your view was being used.”

This leadership principle is no news to anyone who ever served in the military, especially in the realm of Special Operations and can be directly traced to his roots at the Naval Academy. In Special Forces, everyone had a say in the plan, but once the commander made his choice, everyone had to be onboard with it 100 percent.

As we’ve seen in the Johnson interview, not all other coaches welcome that kind of input from their assistants. In Buffalo, Johnson’s input was not welcomed.

“When I first left New England and went to Buffalo, I was told to stay in my lane. Never heard that philosophy or statement or whatever before.”

“And I’m like ‘What does stay in your lane mean?’ ‘Ah, well, you’re going to learn it.’ Some things happen, and I learned it fast. One of the reasons why I bring up that is that this is something else that I felt like I was learning outside of that New England Patriot experience of how I started coaching. Okay. So stay in your lane. But it’s tough every time when I would ask someone about that statement, I couldn’t really get a clear answer.”

So when it came to Bill Belichick, the one thing that stood out to Johnson, was that Belichick allowed him to solve his own problems, he just gave him a mission and let him accomplish it as he saw fit.

“One of my attractions to him was he was the first coach that, granted, it was my first experience in the NFL, that didn’t try to tell me how to do something. He told me what he wanted done, and then he allowed me the freedom to get it done,” Johnson said. “However I had to get it done, and if I if I couldn’t find a way, then I would ask him—I was big enough I would ask him, and he would tell me.”

Once again it is a military maxim of leadership that Belichick is following. General George Patton once said, Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their ingenuity.”

Jordan Richards Trade a Small Surprise:

The Patriots trade of the much-maligned safety Jordan Richards bore unexpected fruit as the Atlanta Falcons traded a conditional 7th round draft pick for the special teamer who is expected to be the Falcons new personal protector for the punting unit.

Richards was a very good player on the Patriots special teams units, but really struggled whenever he was asked to play defense. His penchant for taking bad angles and missing tackles was the antithesis of his play on special teams. Part of the bile Pats fans had for him centered around that, last season, his play in the Pittsburgh game and in the Super Bowl, had the fan base howling.

Another part of the bad feelings against Richards was the round in which he was drafted. The Patriots liked him and took him in the second round. If he’d been a 5th or 6th round draft pick, there probably wouldn’t have been as much of the vitriol leveled at him.

Richards by all accounts is a great locker room guy and a nice guy at that. We’ve had the opportunity to see that first hand and maybe like another 2nd round safety that bombed in New England (Tavon Wilson), a change of scenery is all that is needed.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Allen’s 5 Sacks Should Be  Warning for the Bills Not to Start the Rookie:

The Buffalo Bills invested heavily in the QB position in the draft this spring, picking up rookie Josh Allen. They gave him the start in their third preseason game, normally considered a “dress rehearsal” for the regular season opener. If the game against the Bengals was any indication, they should sit Allen for the foreseeable future until he’s quite ready to take on the starting QB duties.

Allen was sacked five times, and although he took the high road, and blamed himself for holding the ball too long, the Bills offensive line is a mess. The fact that all of the sacks of him occurred in the first half was telling of the state of that unit. Mercifully, Allen was removed because of the concussion protocol before he was seriously injured.

There is going to be a lot of pressure on the Bills to push Allen into the starting role, especially if they get off to a slow start. But after investing a lot of capital into finding what they hope is a franchise QB for the next decade, playing him behind the OL as it currently exists, risks shaking the young man’s confidence. They should start Nathan Peterman or McCarron.  

Dolphins Look To Change Culture, Identity in 2018:

The Miami Dolphins stumbled badly to a 6-10 season in 2017 after making the playoffs the year before. Now in Adam Gase’s third season, the Dolphins are coming in with a lot of new faces, veterans who they feel will set a different tone after cutting loose several veteran familiar faces this spring.

It will need to start on offense where Miami averaged just 17.6 points per game a year ago, which isn’t going to cut it in today’s NFL. QB Ryan Tannehill is back and healthy and he has several new weapons to use. Wide receivers Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson, as well as the ageless RB Frank Gore, will be looked to, to keep the chains moving and make big-time plays at crunch time in games.

Another area is the turnover margin where Miami was -14 or 29th in the league. Tannehill will have to really cut down on the picks thrown by Jay Cutler a year ago. But with the opener against an opponent who made the playoffs last season in the Titans, it will be a good test. A September 30th trip to Foxboro, where Julian Edelman will still be on suspension will also be a big measuring stick for the Fins.

Jets Trade Bridgewater, Darnold Will Start the Opener:

The New York Jets made big waves this week when they traded QB Teddy Bridgewater and a 6th round draft pick to the New Orleans Saints for a 3rd round draft in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Jets signed him this spring for $6 million, of which, they are on the hook for just his $1 million dollar bonus, the remaining $5 million will be paid by the Saints.

While the deal definitely worked out in the Jets favor, we appear to be in the minority here. I wouldn’t have moved Bridgewater this season at all. Darnold is a rookie and with a very questionable OL, he may struggle early in the process. The question of whether or not to start him right away, given that OL is now moot.

But while the Jets did indeed get the Saints’ 3rd rounder, if they had just let Bridgewater walk at the end of the year in free agency, they’d have gotten a 3rd rounder in compensation. But with a QB class that isn’t considered strong, his price may have been higher and he gives the Jets a much better chance to win now if he’s pressed into service.

For at least this season, he’ll back up Drew Brees in New Orleans, and then will be a free agent unless the Saints work out a new deal with him during the season. I wouldn’t have traded him this year, but we’ll see how it shakes out.

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.

New England Patriots News 8-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 12, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 8-12, & AFC East Notes. The Patriots are getting to back work this afternoon after their first preseason game on Thursday night. Bill Belichick has been taking a slower approach to training camp, having given the players several days off already. Belichick did say that the long 2017 season and the increased workload on the players definitely have an effect on how they approach the workload for the current training camp.

And lost in all the Malcolm Butler hoopla was this. On the Packers first drive of their preseason game against Tennessee, Brett Hundley completed a 48-yard bomb to Davante Adams who blew by Butler, giving the Packers a first and goal at the two. Maybe it is the conspiracy theorist in me, but if Butler had picked it off and went to the house, what would you think the odds would be that the play would have been all over the sports talk radio world?

Quick Hitters:  
With many missed tackles in the first preseason game and some general sloppy tackling all around, one reason (other than rust) could be the lack of live tackling and physicality in practice. It will be interesting to watch if that ramps up a bit now.

Ralph Webb had a really nice night in his professional debut scoring a pair of touchdowns and two, 2-pt conversions.  The former Vanderbilt running back was called up by Bill Belichick for congratulations after the team’s win and in his post-game press conference, Belichick had several compliments for the rookie. Washington lost very promising rookie RB Derrius Guice to a torn ACL for the season in the game. They stated that for the time being, they were going to stay with the players they have. However, Webb is still a longshot to make the 53-man roster. If the Patriots try to sneak him onto the practice squad in a few weeks, don’t be shocked if the Redskins make a move to bring him to their squad after his game this week.

Tom Brady’s $5 million dollar incentive clause into his contract was a head scratcher earlier this week. If earned, that $5 million will vault Brady up into the Top 10 of QB salaries, tied with Blake Bortles but less than Sam Darnold, who has yet to throw a pass in the NFL yet. Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston called it a band-aid fix and we’re inclined to agree here. A look at the list of QBs making more money than Brady, other than Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers is a Who’s Who? Of QBs having never accomplished a smidgen of what Brady’s done. So his contract, even at 41 is still a bargain. But tying the $5 million to incentives? Really? I don’t get that one.

Terrible setback for Pats LB Harvey Langi who made the roster in 2017 and then was in an awful car wreck last fall while stopped at a red light. Langi returned this year and had been having a good camp thus far until he took a hit to his side and suffered an internal laceration according to Jeff Howe of the Athletic. Because of concerns to his kidney, he will be out 4-5 weeks.

Very sad news about former Patriots LB Jerod Mayo and his 5-year old Bulldog who went missing after supposedly going for a walk with the dog’s trainer. The family and police searched for the dog and after two months the dog’s body was found in plastic bags inside a closet in the trainer’s house outside of Cranston, RI. The trainer, Amelia Ferreira told Wrentham, MA police the dog Knox, disappeared after slipping his leash at a conservation area in Wrentham. Charges are pending. And hopefully will be severe.

Derek Rivers Looks Strong in First Game Back From ACL Tear:
Less than a year removed from his torn ACL surgery, not only was DE Derek Rivers back on the field, he played at a high level showing good physicality and exceptional strength. The 2nd year player got the start at defensive end and had several good plays.

Derek Rivers during 2016 training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Perhaps his best was when he bull rushed Redskins tackle, John Kling. Rivers exploded off the snap and had Kling on roller skates. He then gave Kling a big shove pushing him into QB Colt McCoy and getting his hand up trying to knock down the pass attempt. The move against Kling is a total body type of movement from Rivers who when asked about his ACL and repaired knee from Henry McKenna of USA Today said, “It felt awesome,” Rivers said. “No complaints. Praise God.”

Make no mistake, the mental part of getting over an ACL injury is the biggest hurdle. This summer I spoke with UMass Medical Center Dr. Brian Busconi, who has performed hundreds of ACL surgeries on MLB and NFL as well as college and high school athletes. It was rumored he performed the surgery on Julian Edelman. Busconi would neither confirm or deny it, however, a signed picture of Edelman hangs in the office and a source of ours passed Edelman in the office earlier this summer. So take it for what it is worth.

Busconi said the surgery was only 30 percent of the fix for the athlete. The other 70 percent was doing the rehab work, strengthening the muscles that will atrophy because of the injury and the resultant layoff and most importantly, the mental hurdle to test the joint once it is ready. Edelman admitted last week he “doesn’t have his football legs” back under him yet. He looks to be in terrific shape, it is probably more a mental block more than anything.

That’s why it was so important for Rivers (and Edelman) to get out on the field and run and cut and do all the things they did without thinking prior to their injury. Rivers looked good for the most part, he also had his not-so-good moments as well. On one play, he ducked his head and lost the running back, who zipped past his gap for a big gain.

However, for the first preseason game and after a year layoff from the field, Rivers took a great big leap back to being part of the edge player rotation. With Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn expected to be the starters, he and Deatrich Wise could combine and form a much better group at getting after the QB in 2018.

He leaped over the first hurdle. We’ll be watching him next week closely to see if he can continue to improve and produce when the Patriots play the Eagles in Week 2 of the preseason.

Hightower on the Block? Troy Brown Thinks It Could be a Possibility:

The Patriots welcomed back linebacker Dont’a Hightower in his first game action since October after the big man went on IR last season. Hightower played extensively, into the second quarter. At the time, we thought it nothing more than the coaching staff wanting to shake off the rust after not playing for about 10 months. But after the game, former Patriots WR Troy Brown thought the Patriots may be shopping the big LB.

Dont’a Hightower is back and played into the second quarter against Washington. (SBalestrieri photo)

Brown on NBC Sports Boston said, “Sometimes you gotta put people on the market and let people see what they can do.” At first glance, that stance would appear to be ludicrous, no one was more instrumental to the Patriots defense, Hightower was the one player on defense that they could ill afford to lose. While the talk centered around Malcolm Butler after the Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia, the absence of Hightower was a far greater loss overall.

Brown doubled down on his thought by adding, “You have to ask yourself…why is he still out there so long?” Assuming his take is correct, who would they trade Hightower to and what could they get in return that would help the team? Unless they’re making a push to the Raiders with Hightower a piece of a package for Khalil Mack, then it wouldn’t make sense.

From our view, we’re sticking with the “knocking the rust off”  scenario, but we’ve seen stranger things in Foxboro in the past.  

Bentley Makes a Strong Debut at Linebacker:
Ja’Whaun Bentley, the Patriots fifth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft wasn’t highly thought of when he was going thru the draft process, in fact, was considered to be a UDFA and wasn’t even invited to the NFL Combine. But the Patriots liked what they saw from the big Purdue linebacker in his first NFL preseason action.

Bentley had six tackles, two for a loss and QB hit and should have been credited with a forced fumble that the officials ruled forward progress had been stopped. A play Bill Belichick tried to challenge and when told he couldn’t, said it was “F***ing BS.”

Bentley was considered a Brandon Spikes throwback, a two-down run stuffer who couldn’t cover on passing downs. So far, he’s proving the critics wrong. He has had a strong training camp and followed it up with good performance in the opening PS game.

Rookie LB Ja’Whaun Bentley has been impressive thus far thru camp, especially in coverage. (SBalestrieri photo)

“I just wanted to come out and put my best foot forward to do the best I could as far as assignments and just make sure all my guys were ready to go,” Bentley said. “And I feel like we did a good job of that. Of course, we got some kinks to work out, but we did a very good job.”

Bentley also had some time calling the signals with the green dot communication device which is a great learning step for a rookie on the defense to be able to learn his responsibilities but also everyone else’s to call out the signals is a testament to his learning the system quickly.

His best play came in the first half. With the Redskins inside the three-yard line, they tried to pound the ball in the middle for a touchdown. Bentley, at his MLB position, read the play, waited for the right time until the RB committed and flew into the hole, dropping him for no gain.

He still has a long way to go but for now, he’s looking very good and appears to be almost a lock for the 53-man roster.

Jeremy Hill Buys In, And Shows Impressive Burst in Opener:
After a disappointing 2017 from Mike Gillislee, the Patriots drafted Sony Michel this spring and then added veteran Jeremy Hill who had lost his starting gig with the Bengals. Hill is bigger (6’1, 230 pounds) than most of the Patriots running backs, but it is something they need for certain situations, (goal line and short-yardage) with the offense.

Hill, whose snaps and numbers have steadily gone down in Cincinnati, at first glance didn’t seem like a good fit. But Hill had surgery to remove some bone spurs in his ankles. He also bought into the Patriots offseason conditioning system and lost weight in an attempt to add a bit of quickness to his step.

Jeremy Hill had a big game on Thursday night and is looking to turn that into a roster spot. (SBalestrieri photo)

He certainly appeared that way on Thursday night, hitting the holes with authority and showing nice vision cutting back against the grain. He appeared much quicker than Gillislee with the ability to convert those short-yardage situations.

His ability to flash in the passing game helped. Facing a 3rd and 8 from the 30-yard line midway thru the third quarter, Hill caught a short pass from QB Brian Hoyer and then made the first tackler miss and was able to convert the first down by stiff-arming a linebacker and then lowering his head and getting past the sticks.

The Patriots insist all of their running backs pass block as well and Hill had a highlight reel play when he planted LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, giving Hoyer time to hit FB Henry Poggi on a check down out of the backfield.

Again, there is a long way to go, but Hill with his performance didn’t do a thing to hurt his chances to not only make the team but earn some significant snaps. Especially with Sony Michel on the shelf for the time being.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Allen Has Buffalo Abuzz After Preseason Debut:
The Buffalo Bills played the Carolina Panthers in their Week 1 preseason opener but it was strictly the Josh Allen show for the fans, and who can blame them? The Bills fans have been waiting for that next franchise QB since Jim Kelly retired. And after moving up to take him in the first round of the NFL Draft this spring, fans are excited.

Head coach Sean McDermott wasted little time in letting Allen uncork his arm which is his strongest asset. He lasered a 60-yard pass downfield on his first snap which was caught by WR Robert Foster but just out of bounds.

Yes, his footwork is inconsistent and his decision making can still be suspect but Allen possesses a cannon for an arm and it as well as his playmaking ability were on full display. He completed 9 of 19 for 119 yards and a touchdown while rushing three times for 29 yards, twice converting third downs with his feet.

For now, he’ll remain the 3rd QB on the depth chart and be the future. But Buffalo fans caught a glimpse of that and can’t wait for him to be the present.

Dolphins Tannehill Aces First Test:
The Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill played his first football since the 2016 season in an albeit short but impressive stint against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tannehill played a series and took the Dolphins into field goal range but the most important feature was that he looked comfortable, cool in the pocket and in control of the offense. The offensive line gave him plenty of time to throw, coach Adam Gase said Tannehill was “back there peeling an orange.” to push home the point.

One thing that the Dolphins seem intent on doing is getting Mike Gesicki the ball in the end zone and that combination with the big rookie TE and Tannehill looks intriguing. We’ll expect to see more of it next week against Carolina.

Jets QBs Shine In Preseason Win Over Atlanta:
The New York Jets unleashed rookie QB Sam Darnold in their preseason opener and the rookie taken with the #3 pick in the draft didn’t disappoint. Darnold shined, completing 13-18 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in a little over two-quarters worth of work. He received thunderous applause from the Jets fans and didn’t disappoint, hitting on eight of his first 9 throws.

Teddy Bridgewater on his first action of the season after returning from an injury was also very sharp hitting on 7-9 for 85 yards including a 16-yard touchdown. Coach Todd Bowles said Darnold looked poised out there and it is clear that the Jets organization is going to give Darnold every opportunity to win the starting job over veterans Josh McCown and Bridgewater.

McCown started the game but played only one series and completed the only pass he attempted for four yards. It will be interesting to see how the Jets decide to play this out. While the temptation is there to get Darnold on the field, with two good veterans, there should no attempt to rush him into the starting lineup until he’s ready for it.

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.

New England Patriots News 8-05, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 5, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 8-05, & AFC East Notes. The Patriots are getting the day off today from training camp, but we hope to see many of you down there in the coming days as the team gears up for their first preseason game.

Quick Hitters:

Sony Michel who left practice early on Wednesday with an injury to his already damaged knee, had a procedure done to drain the knee. He’s expected to be sidelined for at least 10 days but it could be that we won’t see Michel until the first game of the regular season. It is a waiting game at this point. But that was the drawback of drafting Michel, he’s had knee woes before. Hopefully this won’t be a long-term issue but regardless, it definitely sets back his progression in a big way

With the birthday of Tom Brady on Friday, the Patriots made enough birthday cake for Brady and 5000 of his fans. Shaped in a big #12, the cake consisted of 2000 eggs, 250 pounds of sugar, etc … all of which are usually strictly off-limits for Brady’s diet. He was surprised after practice by his wife and kids on the field. And was serenaded by both fans and teammates as he got a rare off-day in training camp.

Julian Edelman told the media on Friday that recovering from last year’s ACL tear has been a “grind” on the field. Edelman said that “I feel like I got to get my legs under me a lot more. I don’t have my camp legs, I don’t have football legs, and it’s evident out there.”

Training camp he added has been difficult,  “You get tired, you create bad habits, you don’t run your routes right and you get yelled at in meetings for it. I’m expecting to do that because I got to pick it up,” he said. “I wasn’t as good as I want to be today and feeling that’s because I’m not in the best shape right now.”

Riley McCarron is having a pretty good training camp thus far, the 2nd year practice squad player is vying for one of the Patriots WR spots on the roster. McCarron and Braxton Berrios are almost mirror images competing against one another for the slot/PR duties. Both are similarly built can return punts and good in the middle of the field. While there is a long way to go, McCarron may be slightly ahead of the rookie at this point, but this will bear very close watching once the preseason games begin.

Riley McCarron has had a good start to training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

J.C. Jackson has been having a strong offseason, dating back to OTAs. The UDFA from Maryland has been getting some reps opposite Stephon Gilmore and has competed hard and showed nice flashes of potential. He shook off a rookie mistake against Chris Hogan, not locating the ball in time on a 50+-yard completion by breaking up a pass in the end zone and intercepting a two-point conversion try.

Kenny Britt, Matthew Slater, and Mike Gillislee returned to practice after missing time due to injuries. That is a good sign as injuries, most of the non-serious nature begin to pile up.

Hollister Seems Primed for a Big Year 2 Jump:

The Patriots signed UDFA  TE Jacob Hollister a year ago and he flashed enough athleticism, good hands and toughness to make the team. After playing sparingly in 2017, he set about to improve his all-around game starting with becoming a better blocker in the running game. He looks a tad more chiseled this season after a year in the strength and conditioning program but his pass catching looks right on schedule.

Hollister has made several standout plays during the first week of training camp. Showing good hands and the ability to find the open areas of coverage and attack the seams of the defense, Hollister is a much more fluid receiver than the current #2 Dwayne Allen, but Allen’s blocking skills remain his strong suit.

Bill Belichick was asked about Hollister this week and gave (for him) an almost glowing recommendation. “He’s still got a long way to go. He has a lot of football in front of him. He didn’t have a lot of experience–had some–but has gained a lot and will gain a lot more. I think he’s got a great future, Belichick said.  “He works hard, he’s a tough kid, he plays hard, practices hard and has become much better at his fundamentals and techniques at his position.”

While the highlighted text was my doing, this kind of praise is rare from Belichick. And he’s right, although he says this about everyone, Hollister still has a long way to go. But he’s definitely arcing in the right direction. With the uncertainty at the WR position as it sorts itself out, the Patriots offense could easily lean more on the running game and two tight end sets (12 personnel) in the first month of the season until Edelman returns.

Watching practice at training camp this week, Tom Brady usually throws a side session during Special Teams drills with his “Circle of Trust” receivers, normally Gronkowski, Hogan, and Edelman. Hollister was included in there this week a few times. That in itself is a very encouraging sign, we’ll see how the preseason plays out.

Jacob Hollister is looking much more comfortable in the passing offense in Year 2. (SBalestrieri photo)

Belichick Inserts Fun? Into Patriots Training Camp:

With the abundance of stories from players, some of whom have never stepped foot in the Patriots locker room that the team doesn’t have any fun, this week’s events should effectively put those to rest…well not really but you know what I mean.

On Monday Night, the in-stadium practice for the season ticket holders, Bill Belichick ended practice on an interesting note. He had rookie OL Isaiah Wynn back fielding a Ryan Allen punt. If Wynn catches the ball cleanly, the team was didn’t have night meetings on Monday night and could get a little extra rest.

With the team cheering him on, Wynn dropped the first attempt but caught the second, amid wild cheers from the players and fans and big smiles all around, even from Belichick.

Then on Thursday, Day 7 of camp, Belichick ended the practice by switching roles. The defense went on offense and vice versa. Watching Duron Harmon play QB and Tom Brady safety was, as Monty Python once said, “something completely different.”

The defense, especially QBs Harmon and Pat Chung struggled but the players loved it. Devin McCourty broke it down for the media as follows:

“We need a lot of practice,” McCourty said. “We need a little bit more rules. There was no running game. (The offense) dropped like nine into coverage and rushed two. They had a little bit of an advantage because they rushed (380-pound offensive tackle Trent Brown), so that’s like rushing three. It’s tough for us on offense, but hopefully, we do it again and we get another shot at those guys.”

It should be noted here that these are things that Belichick has done frequently in the past and it was not him reacting to the crap that is posted in social media, not that he would anyway. But for the team known as the buttoned-down all business Patriots, it is always good to see them lower the guard a bit.

Young Edge Rushers Look to Improve Pass Rush in 2018:
The front seven of the Patriots defense was beset by injuries in 2017 and that was the cause of many of their struggles. As much as people want to point at the lack of Malcolm Butler as the cause of Super Bowl failures, the absence of Dont’a Hightower was an even bigger factor in their struggles.

But initially, on paper, for now, things are changing for the better. The team added run stuffing DL Danny Shelton and he and returning from IR Vincent Valentine should really help the rotation inside. Hightower and Harvey Langi return from IR which should help the LB core play much better. But at the edge is where the team is looking to play much better in 2018.

 

The team went out and signed DE Adrian Clayborn during free agency. Clayborn isn’t a dynamic “hair on fire” pass rusher, but a very solid, big, veteran presence who should help solidify things. And the trio of young edge players, all just 24 years old should, with Clayborn be much better against the pass and the run.

Trey Flowers is the elder statesman of the DLine, having been there the longest but he’s still just reaching his peak where many predict an All-Pro season for him. Deatrich Wise is having an outstanding camp and is making a big jump in play so far this summer. And Derek Rivers, last year’s top draft choice who missed all of last year with an ACL injury is over that now and beginning to come on in the 2nd week of training camp. These players are the top 4 rotation that should help the defense be much improved in 2018.

Derek Rivers is getting his comfort level back after missing all of 2017 with a torn ACL. (SBalestrieri photo)

Eric Lee who played last year and the under-the-radar Keionta Davis who missed all of his 2017 rookie season with a neck injury and Trent Harris are all still in the mix. The front seven will bear considerable watching in the preseason but the edge players are the ones poised to look vastly different. We’ll keep you updated as camp rolls along.

Van Noy Trade Continues to Be a Steal For New England:

The Patriots traded just a 6th round draft choice for LB Kyle Van Noy in 2016, but the linebacker has worked his way into becoming a key contributor and leader in his second full season in New England.

With Dont’a Hightower injured last year, a lot was forced onto Van Noy’s plate including the mantle of leadership, something he’s embraced. Now with Hightower back, Van Noy can return to do the things he’s better suited for on the outside and is penciled in as a starter for 2018.

Bill Belichick was very complimentary about the level of play and the mentoring he’s shown with the younger players at one of his daily press conferences this week.

“Kyle’s done a really good job for us,” Belichick said. “He’s a player that didn’t start his career here but has come in and really has understood the way that we have tried to do things. He’s embraced it. He’s become very much of a leader in, A, doing his job and doing it the right way, but also helping other guys, particularly guys that transition onto the team as he did. He has a good perspective for that.”

The fact that the Patriots were able to snag the former 2nd round draft pick (40th overall) and a 7th rounder for just a 6th round pick has been an outright steal for Bill Belichick. They found a role for Van Noy and he’s met their expectations and has had more put on his plate. He should be much more effective with Hightower back in the fold this fall.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills UDFA Phillips Impressive in First Week of Camp:
The Buffalo Bills signed Virginia Tech UDFA WR Cam Phillips to a deal this spring that paid him a signing bonus of just $600. Yep, that isn’t a typo, but the WR has used that slight to motivate him to earn the trust of his QBs and coaches. And the young WR is doing just that.

Phillips has shined in the first week of training camp that has many re-evaluating him as a long shot to make Buffalo’s 53-man roster to a player that now has a really good shot of doing so. Phillips has been making some big plays in practice every day, something that is getting the attention of the coaching staff.

With a WR position that is wide open, Phillips is making a spot for himself at the table. Now he’ll have the chance to do some work once the preseason games begin.

Dolphins Going With Three Safety Look This Season? Not yet says DC:
The Miami Dolphins already had a pair of talented safeties in Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald before drafting the very talented Minkah Fitzpatrick, the glue from the National Champion Alabama defense with the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft.

Now the issue is getting all of the pieces gainfully employed. Dolphins defensive coordinator was asked this week when he “has to” get the three of them on the field together. Burke wasn’t having any of it. “I don’t have to,” he said.

“We’re mixing the groups. What you’re probably not seeing is we’re repping guys at different spots but maybe not all together. So, there may be times where there are only two safeties on the field but one of them is playing a spot that they’d be playing when there are three safeties on the field if we’re going to do something like that.”

The three will eventually see the field in practice at the same time to iron out any potential issues they may encounter with communication. The Patriots use a similar grouping with Duron Harmon joining Devin McCourty and Pat Chung.

For now, it is still early in training camp for the Dolphins and it is a good problem to have as they an abundance of talent at the position.

Jets Tight End Position a Possible Achilles Heel in 2018:
The New York Jets may have made a mistake in letting TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins walk in free agency this spring. As it looks right now, they may struggle at the position in 2018. Jenkins is now a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Jets don’t have an answer at this early stage of training camp.

In a piece written by Luis Tirado for the JetPress, Tirado says the Jets haven’t had Jordan Leggett who is injured and thus far Chris Herndon, Eric Tomlinson, Neal Sterling, and Clive Walford haven’t done anything to stand out positively.

Any quarterback’s security blanket is usually their tight end, it may be especially so if the Jets top draft Sam Darnold wins the starting job this summer once the preseason games begin. Without having a credible target at tight end will hurt even an established veteran like Josh McCown, with a young QB like Darnold, it could prove even more so.

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.

New England Patriots News, 7-29, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 29, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-29, & AFC East Notes. Training camp is in full swing and we hope to see many of you down at Foxboro in the next few days.

Quick Hitters:
With the start of training camp, one would have hoped that all of that drama hooey would have been left behind…yet on Day 1, that was not to be. It didn’t end there on Day 3 Tom Brady was asked about another player’s suspension and the connection between him, Alex Guerrero and that suspended player (Julian Edelman). Brady got incensed and cut the interview off, stating, ”This is ridiculous.”  And it is. Enough already with the constant search for a conspiracy behind every event.

It is time to talk football for the 2018 season.

Deatrich Wise had the hit of the summer so far when early in the session on Saturday, he slipped the block of rookie Isaiah Wynn and decleated RB Jeremy Hill, who flew backward and ended up flat on his back.

Bret Bielema works with Vincent Valentine and Deatrich Wise at practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Troy Niklas was released after just two days of training camp, which is a bit of a surprise. The big tight end was in competition to get one of the backup slots. In his stead, the team signed WR Paul Turner who spent four games with the Eagles in 2016. In other moves this week, the team signed safety Eddie Pleasant, guard Nate Theaker and WR Devin Lucien while releasing safety David Jones.

Rob Gronkowski said he never considered holding out for a new contract this spring and has looked excellent in the early going. He and Brady were putting on a clinic in early red zone work in camp.

Sony Michel looks like he’s a veteran thus far in camp. He’s getting reps with Brady and the starters (yes we know Belichick hates using that term in camp). The Patriots put a premium on pass protection, and Michel will have to excel in that area. But thus far, he’s way ahead of schedule and it seems the Patriots are fully invested in him.

One area of concern thus far is ball security. Michel has put the ball on the ground in every day (first three) of training camp. That will have to change.

Dwayne Allen was a factor in the passing game during the practice sessions on Friday. The big blocking tight end was an afterthought in the passing game in 2017 and his performance in the heat was a welcome addition. Coincidentally after a strong spring and good first day, second-year tight end Jacob Hollister had a pair of drops on Friday.

Cordarrelle Patterson had a nice day on Friday, and while there is a long way to go, it looks like the team is trying to find a comfort level for the big, fast WR in the offense. And his one-handed TD grab over Stephon Gilmore on a pass from Tom Brady was the kind of good news that we hope to see continue. And he did with another nice catch from #12 on Saturday.

Cordarrelle Patterson has been a pleasant surprise so far. (SBalestrieri photo)

Jason McCourty also had a nice day on Friday, looking very competitive and breaking up some passes in the end zone. He continued his strong play on Saturday.

Dorsett Making the Most of His Opportunity:

The Patriots traded backup QB Jacoby Brissett to the Colts early last season for WR Phillip Dorsett and while he didn’t make a big dent in the passing game a year ago, that looks like it will change drastically in 2017. Dorsett was targeted just 18 times last year and caught just 12 but with a year in the system, he is looking like he’s ready for a much bigger piece of the pie.

With Julian Edelman out for the first four weeks of the season due to a PED suspension, there will be plenty of opportunities for a player to step up at the inside wide receiver. And Dorsett, this summer is getting in a lot of work inside. Both he and veteran Jordan Matthews are working in the slot as well as 2nd-year player Riley McCarron and rookie Brandon Berrios.

Dorsett besides possessing great straight-line speed, has excellent quickness, running a 6.70 3-Cone-Drill back when he went thru the NFL Combine. This will be an intriguing area to watch this summer.

Hightower Cites DC (in waiting) Flores With Easing the Learning Curve:

With the departure of Matt Patricia, this winter to take over the head coaching duties of the Detroit Lions, Brian Flores’ responsibilities have been expanded to become the signal caller for the Patriots defense. While he’s the Defensive Coordinator in everything but name, he has a lot more on his plate.

But for the veteran signal caller on the field, Dont’a Hightower, Flores is already receiving high marks for the job he’s doing teaching the Patriots system to the younger players, especially rookie linebacker Christian Sam.

“Coach is definitely different. I think guys are learning a lot faster, a lot easier. A lot of young guys are stepping up and able to pick up for some of the older guys. It definitely works in our favor.”
“Maybe it’s just the way that he teaches it,” Hightower said. “The way that the guys kind of absorb it a little bit different. We meet a little different, talk about things a little different. It’s just small quirky things that you can’t necessarily put a finger on, but it’s obvious whenever you can kind of have first-year guys come in or even guys who maybe got signed that can pick things up.”

Devin McCourty, however, pooh-poohed that assertion saying that nothing has changed under the Patriots defense and everything and everyone is on the same page.

During the spring, Hightower got the fan base a bit more excited by saying that under Flores, the Patriots defense will be much more aggressive this year. One area that the team struggled in during the 2017 season was the ability to consistently get to the QB.

With Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise and 2nd-year player Adam Butler returning, the team signed Adrian Clayborn from the Falcons during free agency and now they’ll get a healthy return of Derek Rivers, their top draft pick from last year who missed the entire season with an ACL injury.

While the mantra of the Bill Belichick defensive philosophy has always been to play conservatively and keep the play in front of them, there are some ways that this team could still stick within the Belichick system and play a bit faster. I’d look for some 3-4 looks to go along with their 4-3 and 4-2-5 packages and see them getting a bit more game plan specific in 2018.  

Hightower’s Return, an Automatic Boost for the Defense:
Speaking of the defense, there was one person who we said all season was irreplaceable for the unit and that was Hightower. His loss was felt all last season and while everyone wants to talk about how the absence of Malcolm Butler hurt in the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles, a much bigger factor was not having Hightower in there against Philly.

And nothing has changed, on the Patriots defense, he’s the one player they can least afford to lose. After Patricia was forced to move him to the edge exclusively early last year, he back at the middle linebacker position, where he’s most effective. And the trickle-down effect begins. That allows Kyle Van Noy to move where he’s more effective on the outside. He took on much of Hightower’s role a year ago and they’re very different players.

Was it coincidence on Friday that Van Noy was having a big day breaking up passes? In the first two days of camp, he’s broken up four, as the Patriots are freer to move him around a bit more to take advantage of his athleticism.

It will be interesting to see how the position changes this season. Hightower and Harvey Langi return from IR, they added Ja’Whaun Bentley and Sam thru the draft and still have returning veterans Marquis Flowers, Elandon Roberts and Nicholas Grigsby in the mix. On paper at least, it is still the thinnest on the team and the one guy that they can still ill-afford to lose is Hightower.

Danny Etling’s Work on His Mechanics is Plain to See:

Etling, who was a 7th round draft choice (219th overall) this spring had mechanics issues to work thru. Watching him perform in the SEC the past two seasons, he frequently threw the ball flat-footed, rarely if ever setting his feet and relied on his arm strength to get the ball out, causing his passes to sail and diminished his velocity.

That won’t get it done in the NFL and give the rookie credit, he has put the extra work in. We read that he’s working with QB/MLB throwing guru Tom House. His mechanics look much improved and thus far ( it is still very early) he’s looked much better than what was expected of him.

Does this mean, he’ll push Hoyer for the backup job to Brady? Hardly. He has a long, long way to go and will have to learn all the nuances of the Patriots playbook and grasp the offense. But to see this first…albeit baby step is encouraging. Add in that he’s staying on the field for nearly 30 minutes after practice to work on his footwork, mechanics, and timing and route concepts, is another nice sign.

For a guy fighting for a roster spot, he is doing all the right things so far. Now we’ll see if he can keep progressing as camp unfolds and the preseason moves on.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills QB Battle A Key Area to Watch in Training Camp:
The Buffalo Bills have three QBs vying for reps in training camp and into the preseason this summer and it’ll bear watching this summer. Top draft choice Josh Allen signed his contract and is in camp, the team traded for A.J. McCarron with the Bengals and have veteran Nathan Peterman who was thrown into a disastrous first start last year but bounced back nicely after that.

McCarron led Alabama to a national title but this is his first opportunity to start. He’ll try to hold off Peterman and the rookie Allen. Allen is their QB of the future, but Bills coach Sean McDermott has made it clear, that the team won’t push their future QB into game action before he’s ready. That’s why they brought in McCarron.

When it comes to arm strength, Allen is head and shoulders above the other two, but as we’ve seen, playing QB in the NFL is much more than that or else Jeff George would be in the Hall of Fame.

Dolphins’ QB Tannehill Trying to Get Chemistry With Amendola:
The Miami Dolphins are trying to work Danny Amendola in the slot where he was so valuable for the Patriots the past few years. And QB Ryan Tannehill, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL is working hard to build his chemistry with the tough but diminutive wide receiver.

But not everyone is happy with the work being turned in by the Dolphins QB. Dolphins beat writer, Omar Kelly who is known for his over the top tweets was writing that Tannehill is leading Amendola into a huge collision.

“Every single media member has CRINGED watching some of the passes Tannehill throws Amendola. If the action were live Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald would break his ribs, or give him a concussion. Ball placement is a very important trait a QB needs, ask Dustin Keller.”

Kelly added, “And for the record, I predict Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald will be head hunters (sic) in this defense….if the refs allow it. Both make great jumps on plays and bring the sledge hammer. Problem is, the NFL doesn’t want those hits in the game anymore. We’ll see.”

Jets’ QB Darnold Unsigned At the Outset of Camp:
The New York Jets have started their 2018 training camp and have done so without the services of QB Sam Darnold. The talented USC signal caller was the #3 overall pick in this spring’s NFL Draft and his contract was thought to be an after-thought. But that hasn’t worked out and his early absence may hurt his chances to start in his rookie season.

Darnold is expected to push long-time veteran Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater for the starting job this summer, but this unexpected snafu is throwing a monkey wrench into the works. According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, the two sides have sharp differences on certain clauses and language in what will be a four-year, $30.2 million deal, fully guaranteed.

Coach Todd Bowles however, isn’t worried. “It’s just another day in the office. There’s no animosity. It’s just the business part. When he comes in, we’ll get him caught up to speed and get him ready to go, Bowles said.

“I’m not frustrated,” Bowles added. “I’m a coach.” He said that as soon as the two sides agree on the deal, that the Jets would quickly bring Darnold up to speed.

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.