Tag Archives: Chris Hogan

Wednesday Patriots Notebook 4/25, Gronk Returning, Final Mock

Steve Balestrieri
April 25, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Gronkowski Announcement Doesn’t Change Much:
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and his agent Drew Rosenhaus met with Bill Belichick on Tuesday telling the coach that he’s returning for the 2018 season. Adam Schefter reported this first on ESPN. This ends months of speculation that he may retire.

“It was very positive and Rob is committed,” Rosenhaus told Schefter.

Gronkowski then took to Instagram to announce his intentions:

Jeff Howe reported that just a few days ago, Gronkowski didn’t have a date to return and now he’s all in. Howe believes that Belichick issued him an ultimatum.

Regardless, it doesn’t change much for the Patriots needs wise in the draft this weekend. While they have Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Troy Niklas, Jacob Hollister and Will Tye on the roster, they still have a need there as Gronkowski has committed to playing in 2018. The next question becomes, what happens in 2019? While the need may be significantly lower this year, they still may opt to address the position.

The interesting tidbit was that Schefter announced through a source that Gronkowski will not be traded in 2018. Just as an FYI, that is what was said about Jimmy Garoppolo.

Van Noy Tells Patriots Nation to Chill Out:
When the news of the Gronkowski “decision” was aired, Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy had some fun with it and laughingly told everyone to calm down and was hoping for the media to leave it alone as well.

Something tells us that more than one player will pipe in now in regards to this latest Gronkowski saga.

Patriots 4th and 2 Podcast Dates Upcoming:
Be sure to check out our Patriots 4th & 2 podcasts right after each day of the 2018 Draft and the guys will break down who the Patriots added through each round.

Final Mock Draft Has the Patriots Moving Up

The Patriots have several options in the upcoming draft on Thursday night. And while we all talk about “positions of need”, the fact of the matter is, with the roster as currently constructed (if healthy), they’d be okay. Obviously, there are questions of depth at LT (Waddle, Garcia) and at LB, but with Hightower, Langi and Rivers returning, that should help quite a bit.

For our final mock draft, we explored the buzz that has been making the rounds, that the Patriots may decide to move up in the draft. And much of the talk has centered around the #9 pick of the San Francisco 49ers. We’ve heard a ton of talk that John Lynch “owes Bill Belichick” for the Garoppolo trade and frankly that is not how it works. Lynch owes the Patriots nothing, both sides went into that deal with their eyes wide open. If Belichick dials the phone on Thursday night, Lynch will certainly listen but doesn’t owe him a thing.

The thought moving up to #9 centers around the QBs obviously but in researching it, the top QBs (Rosen, Allen, Mayfield, Darnold) were all gone. We looked into it with the hope that LB Roquan Smith or DE Bradley Chubb may still be on the board due to the QB feeding frenzy going on. That didn’t happen. However, there are still opportunities.  

So, for our final mock draft ( conducted 4-22), we still decided to explore a trade up. PatsFans Mock 4.0. We looked at pick #13 for the Washington Redskins. So in our mock, we made a deal with Washington. The Patriots slide up 10 spots and give the Redskins the #23 and #43 picks for Washington’s #13 and #109 in the 4th round, where the Patriots don’t have any picks. The value works out, Washington gets added value in the early second round and the Patriots get their move up as well as a pick in the 4th round. So who did they take?

Round 1, Pick #13 Quarterback, Lamar Jackson, Louisville:

Once the team decides (if Jackson is the guy) who their QB of the future is, then they have to go get him. The Patriots brought him in for an official visit on the sly and judging from their supposed interest, he could be a guy they are interested in. We’ll see.

Jackson is a tremendous athlete with incredible moves in the open field when forced to run and rushed for 3000 yards over the past two seasons. He has a cannon for an arm and threw for 57 touchdowns the past two seasons as well. He is still raw in the passing department but will have the time to work on his mechanics and learning the offense.

Belichick had his eyes opened last season by a rookie QB (Deshaun Watson) who is a mobile QB much like Jackson. Working with Josh McDaniels, Belichick and learning at the side of Tom Brady for the next couple of seasons should have him ready to go.

Round 1, Pick #31 LB, Malik Jefferson, Texas:

Jefferson is another one of those great athletes at the linebacker position and has the added advantage of being able to play on the inside or slide outside as an edge defender or blitzer off the corner. He’s good in coverage in both man or zone.

Jefferson is a great anticipatory player but is explosive, very athletic and a powerful tackler. He’ll learn to be a true off the ball linebacker and can be very effective.

Round 2 Pick # 63 Edge, Sam Hubbard, Ohio State:
We have said all along that Hubbard is a proto-typical Patriots type of edge defender.

He gives that needed depth on the edge, can step in and play at a high level on Day 1, can play either side so he’s versatile and can do a bit of everything.

To see our draft profile on him click here:

Round 3, Pick #95 OT, Jamarco Jones, Ohio State:

Jones was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes who have developed quite a pipeline for tackles in the NFL. Jones has good size at 6’5, 310 and is a very good pass blocker, and has shown the quick feet and agility to rarely get beat by speed rushers on the edge. He’ll need to get stronger and become more physical, especially in the running game at the next level but under the tutelage of Dante Scarnecchia, he’ll get there. With the Garcia news that he’s healthy and ready to go, Jones won’t be hard-pressed to produce as a rookie.

Round 4, Pick #109 S, Marcus Allen, Penn State:

Allen has great size (6’2, 215), and athleticism for the position. He was a starter since midway thru his freshman season and was one of the leaders of the defense. He’s one of the most physical safeties in the class and a big-time hitter

He can play deep but is best suited to be the player in waiting to replace Pat Chung in the box. Excellent in run support, can cover tight ends and will be a perfect player to play the LB slot in the Patriots “big nickel” package.

Round 6, Pick #198 Edge, Dorance Armstrong Jr., Kansas:

Armstrong had a tremendous 2016, with 20 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks as his coaches had him pinning his ears back. In 2017, going to a more read-and-react style, those numbers dropped to 9.5 TFL and just two sacks. But he has very good speed and a quick first step. Armstrong has dropped into coverage at times, something the Patriots ask their edge players to do occasionally. He’s a good, athletic player who tackles well but needs to add some bulk at the next level.

Round 6, Pick #210, CB, Arrion Springs, Oregon:

Springs has decent size at 6’0 and 205 pounds but was insanely productive for the Ducks with 42 passes defensed, including 17 in 2017 alone. He tracks the ball in the air as well as anyone. However, his top end speed isn’t great and looked a bit stiff when turning at times. He is very bowlegged which hurts his athleticism.

Round 7, Pick #219 RB, Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State:

Samuels is a true jack of all trades, we wrote he is chameleon-like as he can do just about anything. He rushed for 404 yards and 12 touchdowns while being the leading receiver for the Wolfpack with 76 receptions for 597 yards and four scores. He’s a good route runner that played tight end in college, can run between the tackles and can do just about anything on the field. He’s a Bill Belichick type of guy.

Samuels draft profile that we wrote can be referenced here:

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

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

Riley McCarron is one Option to Replace Amendola in the Slot in 2018

Steve Balestrieri
March 19, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

The loss of Danny Amendola will hurt the Patriots offense in 2018. You just can’t plug and play a guy who has the clutch production he’s had in the Patriots offense. Especially a guy who had the absolute confidence of Tom Brady. So with the veterans on the roster, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt and running back, Rex Burkhead could join Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and the returning Julian Edelman as well as Malcolm Mitchell at the wide receiver position this season. If everyone is healthy, it will be a tough position to crack.

There is another player, a guy who is a dark horse to make the team that could be a guy to watch this spring and that is Riley McCarron.

McCarron is a 5’9’’, 185-lb slot receiver from Iowa who will draw comparisons to Wes Welker as soon as he catches a pass in training camp. That is bound to happen with just a look at him because he appears to be the prototypical slot receiver. And it isn’t fair nor right to compare him to Welker who had crazy production with the Patriots while here in Foxboro.

But the Texans who signed him as an undrafted free agent last season did exactly that. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien called McCarron “the spitting image of Welker” in training camp. O’Brien would know a bit about that. Not only did he coach Welker as a member of the Patriots. He hired Welker as an assistant coach on the Texans staff.

McCarron made the Texans’ practice squad out of training camp before being released. The Patriots picked him up in late September and signed him to the practice squad. The Patriots kept him on the practice squad all season, so they think enough of him to give him a shot.

He is built like Amendola and tried to learn from him and pick his brain with every chance he got last season. When speaking to the media last fall, he spoke about the learning curve at the position.

“Obviously, Danny and I have kind of the same build,” McCarron said. “He’s in the slot, too. Any chance I can, I’ll try to pick his brain, ask him why he does one thing instead of another. I keep learning, and he always has an answer for something. … Trying to learn any way I can, especially guys who have done it and proven themselves for a long period of time.”

Unlike the perception of most white slot receivers, McCarron isn’t slow. In fact, his measurables were outstanding. He ran a 4.41 in the 40 at his Pro Day, some had it as low as a 4.36. He had a 40.5-inch vertical leap, a 10’4 in the Broad Jump and his 3-Cone Drill time was an outstanding 6.47.

McCarron was a walk-on at Iowa who saw very little playing time his first three years. In his senior year, he was the leading receiver and caught 42 passes for 517 yards and four touchdowns in Iowa’s run-first offense. He excelled in the Hawkeye offense at getting open. And with his speed and athleticism, he could separate.

Look, McCarron like fellow WR Cody Hollister on the practice squad is a long shot to make the roster. But the Patriots just lost a guy who carved out a valuable niche in the slot and that position is still wide open. And he has the skill set to make it work.

His best chance is to turn heads during the spring OTAs, where even if Edelman and Mitchell are ready to go, will still be on a pitch-count where they’ll be reps to be had. There are a lot of veterans vying for the roster and he’ll face an uphill battle. But the rookie has another ace up his sleeve.

One of the other things Amendola did was return punts. With Edelman and Cyrus Jones on IR, he and Dion Lewis returned the kicks last season. Both are now gone. McCarron did return punts in a limited role at Iowa but had a 21.1-yard average and a 55-yard return for a touchdown. It all comes down to “the more you can do.”

The Patriots coaches, like Houston’s, are high on the kid, and it isn’t like we haven’t seen this before. With an opportunity, even among a crowded field at wide receiver, there is a chance to carve out a role and make the roster.

Check out some of McCarron’s highlight film from college:

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 3-4, & AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 4, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 3-4, & AFC East Notes

This week some light was finally shed on what the illness was that sidelined Patriots offensive tackle Tony Garcia last season. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reported that Garcia suffered from blood clots in his lungs citing a source. Because of that, Garcia was placed on NFI and was lost for the season.

He was placed on blood thinners which caused him to lose 40 pounds. Supposedly, he’s back in the weight room and is expected to make a full recovery. However, his return to the field is uncertain at this time.

Some other good news is that LB Harvey Langi is expected to be a full-participant in the Patriots off-season workouts. Langi too was placed on NFI after both he and his wife were severely injured when their car was rear-ended at a traffic light in Foxboro. Langi and his wife are reportedly fully recovered and he’s expected back on the field.

Combine Fast Trackers: Things are beginning to heat up at the 2018 NFL Combine. It is always intriguing to watch some player’s stock rise or fall depending on their performance there. Although most coaches believe that the most important factors are the medicals and/or the interviews.

One player whose stock rose quickly last season was Grafton, Massachusetts native and UConn alum Obi Melifonwu who drafted by the Raiders. His first NFL season was marred by injuries and he appeared in just five games. He was placed on IR with a hip injury that required surgery. We ran into him this week, as he was back in Mass. and he’s almost fully healed now and said that he should be ready to go once the Raiders kick off their workouts.  

Patriots Receive 4th Round Compensatory Pick in the NFL Draft:
The NFL conducted the coin flip between the Raiders and the 49ers in regards to the upcoming NFL Draft and the Patriots compensation in the Jimmy Garoppolo trade is now settled. The coin flip was done at the NFL Combine and the 49ers won the toss which means they’ll get the 9th overall pick in the draft. The teams will rotate picks in the second round which means the Patriots 2nd round pick via SF will be # 43.

With the added selection, it brings their total draft picks to just six this season.
#31 (round 1)
#43 (round 2)
#63 (round 2)
#95 (round 3)
#136 (round 4)
#205 (round 6)

Deep Running Back Class May Help The Pats in Lewis/Burkhead Situation:
A lot of people are already salivating over the group of talented running backs in this year’s deep class at the NFL Draft in the event that the Patriots will lose either Dion Lewis and/or Rex Burkhead, perhaps both.

We’ve read that the free agent hype on both is heating up. It is often difficult to gauge that before free agency starts because often times it is created by the players’ agents trying to inflate the players’ worth. We aren’t saying that it the case here, just that it has happened before, we won’t really know until the official tampering period begins.

So, while the blow could definitely be softened by dipping into this class of backs that are out there in the draft if either or both Lewis and Burkhead move on, it can also work in the Patriots favor in the opposite way. It could help them retain their services.

The free agent market may not lend itself to overpaying and high bidding on running backs since the draft class is so deep. So that may work in the team’s favor if they decide to make a play to retain their services. If history is any indication, the Patriots will let the players test the market and find what their worth is, and then make a move to keep them here in Foxboro for 2018 and beyond.

Will He or Won’t He? Gronkowski Situation No Clearer:
Last week we wrote that the decision by Rob Gronkowski on whether to retire would be best served if he made it earlier rather than later. Despite reports from national media sources that they expect Gronkowski to be in uniform in 2018, his agent Drew Rosenhaus has stated that he hasn’t made his decision yet and that it was going to take some time.

Rosenhaus appeared with Mike Florio on his “ProFootballTalk Live” show and threw water on the reports that Gronkowski is all set to return. The team has decisions to make with both Martellus Bennett and Dwayne Allen, neither will be back for what their contracts are calling for but regardless, they’ll have to look to the future.

A couple of names to check out in Indianapolis include Oklahoma TE Mark Andrews, who caught 62 passes for 958 yards and eight TDs last year in Norman. South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert is an intriguing player with the Gronkowski-like style of catching and blocking. Despite being from a smaller school, he’s one of the top prospects at the position. And I’d be remiss without mentioning a Gamecock and the SC offense has a good tight end coming out, in Hayden Hurst, who is a bit older due to a baseball career as a pitcher that flamed out due to control issues but he’s a very good receiver with one drop (1) against 100 receptions.

Pats Need to Get Younger at WR This Season:
It appears that Julian Edelman is rehabbing extremely well from his preseason ACL surgery in 2017. With he and Malcolm Mitchell due back from their respective injuries, the Patriots, on paper, would be fairly set at wide receiver.

Edelman, Mitchell, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Kenny Britt return. Danny Amendola is a free agent but is expected to be at least courted to return in 2018. But age is creeping up on this group. Edelman will turn 32 in May, Amendola, 33 during the season, Britt turns 30 and Hogan will turn 31 this season. Cooks is the only youngster of the group. Dorsett is also young but he had trouble catching on with the offense a year ago and was barely used. Mitchell’s knee issues may be chronic and will be monitored moving forward. That was the big knock on him coming out of college.

One receiver to keep an eye on is NC State’s, Jaylen Samuels. Samuels is actually listed as a tight end but will probably be a slot receiver in the NFL. NESN’s Doug Kyed wrote an intriguing piece on the Wolf Pack’s Swiss Army knife. Why will he change positions? Samuels is 5’11, 223 pounds. He caught 77 passes in his final season, but he can run the ball, catch it, block and even throw it, completing 2-3 passes. He’s a guy that can do a bit of everything…even running back kicks. Bill Belichick loves versatile players and Samuels fits the bill (no pun intended) to a tee.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Sign Davis, “the right place to be”:
The Buffalo Bills have signed FA Vontae Davis to a one-year deal that has $3.5 million in guaranteed money. Davis signed because he was released last season and was allowed to sign anywhere he chose immediately.

For Davis, the selling point was the young talent that coach Sean McDermott is assembling around Orchard Park and his belief that he can help. Davis on speaking to the media this week said although it was his first visit, his mind kept returning to Buffalo.

“They made me feel at home. As I went on my visit and kind of evaluated, it felt like I was just drawn to Buffalo because of how everybody made me feel. I feel like they run their organization with a lot of integrity. They respect their players. I just felt like it was the place to be.

“Even though Buffalo was one of my first visits, as I evaluated things, it seems like it just stuck with me throughout all my visits. It had a huge impression on me.”

The Bills also interviewed Louisville QB Lamar Jackson at the NFL Combine. It is intriguing because the system that Buffalo will use on offense, the Erhardt-Perkins system that Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll will use, is what Jackson ran at Louisville so, if the Bills do select him, he’ll fit seamlessly into it.

Dolphins Swing Big Trade to Nab Edge Rusher Robert Quinn:
The Miami Dolphins have swapped a reported fourth-round draft pick to the LA Rams for edge rusher Robert Quinn. The two teams also swapped sixth-round picks. The trade will not become official until the league year begins on March 14.

Quinn, 27, had 8.5 sacks for the Rams and has two years remaining on his deal which is set to pay him approximately $24 million over the course of the deal. The Rams dealt him in essence for salary cap space.

Quinn paired with Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh, gives the Dolphins three very good pass rushers for their defense in 2018.

In a Not-so-surprising Move, the Jets Release Wilkerson:
The New York Jets released defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson on Wednesday, after a seven-year hitch that ended badly for both parties. Wilkerson was benched for the final three games of the season for being perpetually late for and sometimes skipping meetings altogether. For a player of his caliber and what he’s being paid, it was unacceptable.

The Jets cut Wilkerson before March 16 or else his $16.75 million salary for 2018 would have become fully guaranteed.

Team officials question his passion for the game once he got paid. He was the recipient of a  five-year, $86 million contract that included $37 million fully guaranteed at signing in 2016 after a career year in 2015.

Since that time, his play has gone down while his absences from team meetings have gone up.

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

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

Best Of Social Media: The New England Patriots Celebrate Valentines Day

Robert Alvarez
February 15, 2018 at 5:00 pm ET

As the 2018 offseason gets underway, members of the New England Patriots took time to share some heartfelt Valentines Day social media posts with their loved ones.

For the immediate future, many of the Patriots will now take some time away from the rigors of a football season and you can check out some of their getaway vacation locations below.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfLy9NfBydF/?taken-by=tombrady

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfLrFBkHsTr/?taken-by=lindaholliday_

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfLjIRZBEa9/?hl=en&taken-by=edelman11

Tonight. My valentine ❤️

A post shared by Olivia Culpo (@oliviaculpo) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfMai9ThMAU/?hl=en&taken-by=mccourtytwins

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfNERvklAQ-/?taken-by=laadrianwaddle

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfMYHkMA9Cg/

Offense Anyone? Foles, Eagles Hold Off Brady, Patriots 41-33 in SB LII

Steve Balestrieri
February 4, 2018 at 11:42 pm ET

This one won’t go down as a defensive struggle as both teams combined for nearly 1200 yards of offense and 84 points, but it was the Philadelphia defense that made the one big stop when Brandon Graham stripped Tom Brady of the ball and it was the Eagles and Foles who played tremendous all game long walking over the Lombardi trophy and a huge win in Super Bowl LII.

Foles, who was the MVP completing 28-43 for 373 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. He connected with Zach Ertz for a touchdown with 2:21 left to give the Eagles a 38-33 lead but it certainly appeared that the call would be reversed.

But the call didn’t matter a bit. It would have just 35-32 before the Brady sack.  There were a couple of close calls in terms of what is or what isn’t a catch… but again, when the defense couldn’t stop Foles and the Eagles offense all game, that wasn’t the reason for the loss.

It was simply another tremendous Super Bowl, maybe not if you like a defensive struggle in terms of drama, it doesn’t get much better. Right down to the final pass into the end zone as time expired. The Eagles made just one or two more plays than the Patriots did and that’s why they are the new Super Bowl champions.

Other observations include:

Philly’s Coaching Staff Called a Great Game:
Doug Pederson said after the game that the Eagles wanted to stay aggressive with their play calling and they did and the Patriots were completely unable to stop them. Alshon Jeffrey was getting the better or Eric Rowe early in this game. Nelson Agholor was beating everyone the Patriots trotted out there against him. The Eagles identified mismatches they felt they could win and exploited them. Agholor had nine catches on 11 targets…he was uncoverable all game long.

Zach Ertz had a very strong game and Corey Clement torched the Patriots for 100 yards receiving, including a 55-yarder where Jordan Richards took just a brutal angle on the play. Pederson’s best call was on 4th and 1 near the end of the first half, they ran the option pass to Foles. With him in the shotgun, no one accounts for him and he trotted all alone for a huge touchdown to put the Eagles up 10 at the break.

Defense Was MIA:
The Patriots defense was dissected and shredded for over 500 yards of offense (374 passing, 164 rushing) by the Eagles who also gashed them for 41 points. The Patriots defense was manhandled up front by a very good Philadelphia offensive line that opened up big holes in the running game while giving Foles plenty of time to throw.

The pass rush was missing most of the game, Trey Flowers had a very, very quiet Super Bowl and was not a factor at all. With the exception of Gilmore and perhaps Pat Chung, and James Harrison, it was their worst performance since Week 1.

Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick didn’t have the answers this week. With the exception of moving Gilmore on Jeffrey, who was shut down, they didn’t make any adjustments that worked. They were out-coached in Minneapolis.  It doesn’t happen often but it did tonight.

Brady Was Fantastic Despite the Loss:
Immediately after the game, I was reading criticism of Tom Brady which is laughable. Brady was shredding the Eagles defense in the second half as bad as they were being shredded.

Brady threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns averaging 10.5 yards per attempt on the night. And the offense put up 33 points. I didn’t like the play call early in the game on 3rd and 2 with the end around to Brandin Cooks, where they were moving down the field, but that is the way the cookie crumbles, it could have been 40 with a better call.

Cooks left with a concussion on an awful collision with Malcolm Jenkins but Brady and the offense reacted well and spread the ball around. Danny Amendola was his clutch self, catching 8 passes for 152 yards, Gronkowski had nine catches for 116 yards with a pair of touchdowns, nearly all of it coming in the second half. Chris Hogan had six catches for 128 yards and a score. Overall the Patriots had three players with over 100 yards receiving.

The Butler “Didn’t Do It”, Benched for the Game:
With several players in the secondary struggling all game, it was more than curious that Malcolm Butler was benched for the entire game other than special teams. Bill Belichick said after the game that it wasn’t a disciplinary decision but a strict football one why he didn’t play.

Butler, who was very emotional during the National Anthem, may have realized that his last game in New England (and the chances of him returning now are practically nil) was coming to an end in the worst way possible, by riding the pine. What had to be particularly galling for Butler was that the secondary was being gashed.

With no one able to cover Agholor, in the biggest game of the year, was Butler the worst option between Rowe, Bademosi, Richards et al?

Changes are Coming:
Suffice to say, the team we see at the mini-camp in June will be quite different from the one that took the field tonight. Matt Patricia is gone. It was thought Josh McDaniels was gone too, but now, some in the media are saying to pump the brakes on that talk…at least for now. But the roster will see changes as the team will have several decisions to make in the coming days, which we’ll address later.

Sorry New England, no parade this year, we’re on to the NFL Combine.

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

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

New England Patriots News 2-4, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 2-4, & AFC East Notes.

***Update****  Tom Brady was announced as the MVP of the NFL, the third time that Brady has won the award. Julian Edelman accepted the award for Brady as he was busy preparing for Super Bowl LII.

Patriot great Ty Law came up short in his bid to be named to the NFL’s Hall of Fame and once again Bill Belichick gets zero consideration for the NFL’s Coach of the Year

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, the Patriots are back for the third time in four years and with a win, they’d cap a double dynasty, the three wins in four years during the 2001-04 seasons and the run now. With the eighth appearance in the Brady, Belichick era in the Super Bowl it is amazing the extended run of success that they’ve had and worked hard to achieve. For those of us who grew up in the not-so-great years, it never gets old nor taken for granted.

With the bye week of the Super Bowl filled up with the hype and over-the-top “reporting” from some crazy folks given media credentials from the league, thankfully that is done and we can focus on seeing the actual football game tonight. But there were some good highlights this week. Among them and not in any particular order are:

Edelman Has a Love/Hate Relationship W/BB But Ultimately…it is About Respect:
Julian Edelman did a pretty revealing interview this week at the Super Bowl, despite missing the entire season, he’s in Minneapolis with the team.

We’ve got to see a lot of Edelman this week, on the Tom vs Time documentary with Brady, we saw the back and forth jawing the two and Danny Amendola share with one another but the incredibly hard work that goes into their workouts to build their chemistry and timing. But in regards to the Two Bills special, Edelman pulled no punches on his relationship and respect he has for Belichick.

“I love Coach Belichick, he gave me my opportunity. He believed in me, and a lot of people didn’t. He’s an a’hole and I hate him a lot of the times, but I still love that man to death.”

“I know that the day my production goes down or I’m not playing well he’s going to get rid of me. Doesn’t mean I don’t love him for what he has given me right now in my life.”

“When other coaches tell you to do something, you’re kind of like, all right, …, but if Bill ever says anything, my shoulders are back, my head is tilted straight. I’m still terrified of him.”

“I’m getting to witness greatness just being around him, I feel like I’m a part of it.” Indeed he is…a very big part of it.

Brady’s Excellence at its Zenith in the 4th Quarter of Big Games:
We’ve been hearing about the Eagles’ defense for two weeks, and they’re very good. They can rush the passer with four and not have to blitz but do so effectively when they send six or more as we’ve seen in some game tape. But if this game is close in the 4th quarter, and we believe it will be, don’t bet against Tom Brady and the Patriots pulling off some more fourth-quarter magic when the chips are on the line. And he’s done it against some very good defenses as well.

In the 2014 playoff game and Super Bowl versus the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks, Brady was a 17-18 with 3 TDs in the fourth quarter and leading the Patriots to come-from-behind victories. In the Super Bowl last season, Brady was a very impressive 21-27 for 246 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime sessions.

In this season’s AFC Championship Game, Brady led two late fourth-quarter touchdown drives after being down 10 points. He tossed two touchdown passes to Danny Amendola. These are the kind of games where he steps up big at crunch time.

Patriots By the Numbers:
Here are some interesting tidbits in terms of numbers for today’s Super Bowl.
4 – Number of points Stephen Gostkowski needs to score to move into a second-place tie all-time (175 David Akers) of points scored in postseason history. (Adam Vinatieri #1 with 234)

5 – Number of receptions TE Rob Gronkowski needs to become the #1 receiving TE in NFL postseason history. Currently, he’s fifth (Dallas Clark 64, Jay Novacek 62, Shannon Sharpe 62, Brent Jones 60)

5 – Brady is the only QB with five Super Bowl wins. He joined Hall of Fame DL Charles
Haley (5) as the only other NFL player with five Super Bowl wins.

8 – Number of Conference Championships by Bill Belichick, the most in the Super Bowl era. Second place belongs to Don Shula with six.

8 – Number of completions Tom Brady will need tonight to reach 900 career postseason completions.

11 – The Patriots scored in the final minute of the first half in 11 of 16 games in
2017.

11 – Super Bowl appearances by Belichick, eight as a head coach and three others as an assistant with the Giants

41 – Wins (regular and postseason) by three points or fewer, since 2001. The Patriots 41-17 .702 win percentage record in close games is the best in the NFL. Indianapolis is second with a 42-23 .646 win percentage.

51 – The number of Interconference wins by the Patriots since realignment in 2002. The Patriots 51-13 .797 is the best in the NFL. (#2 is Pittsburgh 43-20-1 .680

The “Two Bills”? A Fantastic Story: The ESPN 30 For 30 Series produced a classic and aired this week concerning the partnership and interaction of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick.

The lead-in for the show contrasts the bombastic “wanting to buy the groceries” Parcells with the dour, quiet Belichick. The Giants players called Belichick “Doom” because of his harping on the minutiae of mistakes he’d pick out from a game film. Belichick’s arrival in Minneapolis fed into that perfectly on Monday. Wearing a black fedora, “Doom” Belichick was like one of the capos in the Godfather. “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”  Of course, the truth is always somewhat different, sometimes vastly so.

Belichick wasn’t embracing the bad guy role this week, we learned. The hat belonged to his father. And his embracing of the past and its history is what, in essence, this story was all about. We see the older clip of Belichick, growing teary-eyed, his voice cracking as he looks inside the Giants old coaching offices, talking about the hours he spent inside there, “trying to establish my coaching career.”

Parcells, looking a bit aged now at 75, his voice getting a bit raspy is a much more mellow and at peace with himself man now, than he was a few years ago. Although the two men have long since made their peace with one another, they were still both a bit guarded, but when they cut back and forth between the two men when airing fantastic interview clips with former coaches and players that played for the two, and even Patriots owner Robert Kraft, they’d share glances and smile genuinely.

The two men have won seven Super Bowls between them and will be forever linked. They were the perfect combination. Belichick was the detail guy, he’d leave nothing to chance. Parcells was the master manipulator. As Lawrence Taylor said, “he always knew the exact buttons to push.” Together, they were a tremendous team and the coaching staff that Parcells built around those teams with Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Al Groh et al were fantastic.

While the “Two Bills” didn’t really break a ton of new ground, it was a fascinating, well-done look at two very complicated, vastly different personalities that at the heart, shared a very common trait. The burning desire to be the best at their chosen profession. And when they worked together, they were a truly dynamic duo… led by Darth Vader (teaser alert). If you haven’t seen it yet, put it on the must-see list. The ending is an absolute classic.

Brady’s “Tom vs Time” is a Peek Inside A Closed World:
In the fascinating, docu-series that Tom Brady is airing, it gives an inside look at his life both inside and outside football that few people have ever been allowed to see before. The series has another segment which will air today before the Super Bowl and another segment which will air at a time TBD after the big game.

Filmmaker Gotham Chopra was granted some pretty incredible access and Brady wanted to show certain sides of him that we’re never allowed to see, namely his family and despite uber-ridiculous cheap shots taken at him and his children by some twisted people, it has been a fascinating watch for not only die-hard Patriots fans but anyone who is looking for an inside look at the life of the very rich and famous.

Chopra is an admitted die-hard Patriots fan who is excited (and rightfully so) about getting the chance of a lifetime. He spoke recently about wanting to show the different sides of Brady and not just football.

“There’s an emotional component,” Chopra said. “How do you manage all the stuff that’s going on with your family in your private, personal life with your desire to stay on top?”

As for Brady, he’s trying to show that he’s balancing the many facets of his life while letting people know what drives him. “I’m trying to find a deeper purpose,” Brady said.

“To live it through sports in a very authentic way makes so much sense to me. Having these dreams or goals or aspirations and waking up and putting in the work and miracles happening and all this magic that sports create, I’m in the middle of it. I get to live that through sports.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for Sunday’s episode.

No AFC East Notes this week during the Super Bowl…

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 – Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl LII Key Matchups

Steve Balestrieri
February 2, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

And then there were two. The Patriots and the Eagles rightfully face off for the Super Bowl LII bragging rights for the final game of the 2017 NFL season. The teams are remarkably evenly matched. Each is the #1 seed in their respective conferences. Both were 13-3 in the regular season. Each had a close playoff game and a blowout.

The Eagles had a close win over Atlanta and blew out the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. The Patriots blew out Tennessee and then had a close, come-from-behind win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

During the season the Patriots scored one point more than Philadelphia offensively, 458-457, while the Eagles defense bested New England by a single point defensively 295-296. Even? I don’t know how it gets any closer.

This year’s Super Bowl will be broadcast by NBC on Sunday, February 4, at 6:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on NBC Channel 10. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michelle Tafoya will work from the sidelines... The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (15-3) came back from a 10-point 4th quarter deficit with Tom Brady firing two touchdown passes to Danny Amendola to beat Jacksonville 24-20.

The Eagles (15-3) blew out the Minnesota Vikings 38-7, by scoring 38 unanswered points. Nick Foles threw three touchdowns and the Eagles punched their ticket easily.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Eagles are meeting for just the 14th time. Philadelphia leads the all-time series 7-6. The two teams met once in the Super Bowl already with New England beating Philadelphia 24-21 in SB XXXIX where Deion Branch took home MVP honors with 11 catches for 133 yards.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Eagles Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia
The Patriots running game has been extremely effective with Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead as a dynamic 1-2 punch that is effective in the passing game as they are in the running game. Lewis will be the main guy in the running game and he’ll have a tall order this week.

Philadelphia had the #1 rush defense in the league in 2017 allowing only 79.2 yards per game. The big men in the middle, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan make it very hard to run inside, especially where the Patriots like to run by stuffing up everything at the point of attack.

In order for the Patriots to be successful, they are going to have to remain balanced. So play-action passing is key here. Josh McDaniels will have to get a bit creative here, mixing in some draws and Jet Sweeps to take advantage of their aggressive pass rush, but this will be some tough sledding this week.

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

The Patriots passing game will tremendously benefit by having Rob Gronkowski cleared for this game. Although he’s been practicing, as of right now (late Weds. night), he still hasn’t cleared concussion protocol.

Tom Brady can spread the ball around with Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and out of the backfield with James White, Lewis and Burkhead. But having Gronkowski out there and healthy makes it all go.

Philly’s pass defense is built around that terrific front four (read seven). They can freely mix things up and substitute. Their subpackage pass rush is especially effective where they move Brandon Graham inside next to Cox and have Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett as edge guys. Protection for Brady will be the key here as the Eagles don’t get tons of sacks but DO get tons of pressure.

One area to watch, Philly will probably play much more man coverage in this game. They played a lot of zone during the season and the Patriots, if Brady has time to throw will attack the linebackers with play action and Ronald Darby on the perimeter. Look for them to take some shots down the field early.

Next up the Philadelphia offense:

Eagles RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia

The Eagles have two very good and varied backs in LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi in the running game. Philly is using both in a committee approach and goes with the hot hand They are very effective at running the ball averaging 132.2 yards per game.

The Patriots run defense has been terrific down the stretch and into the playoffs. With Malcom Brown and Kyle Van Noy healthy again as well as the addition of James Harrison, they slowed the running games of both Tennessee and Jacksonville.

The Eagles will want to run to take the pressure off of Nick Foles and give him the option of play action as well. While the Eagles will get their yards on the ground, I look for them to slow down the running game and force Foles to beat them.

Eagles WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England
The Eagles passing game was a question mark after Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL. But Foles has answered his critics with a pair of playoff wins, including a blowout conference championship win where he carved up the NFC’s best defense in Minnesota. The RPO (run-pass option) we’ve all heard about is their bread and butter and Foles has Zach Ertz as the team’s leading receiver at tight end and their go-to guy. But Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, and Nelson Agholor give them plenty of weapons to throw the ball to.

The Patriots defense has been very good down the stretch and the strength is the secondary with Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler and Eric Rowe at corner. Jonathan Jones who recently went on IR may have been a better matchup with Agholor because of his speed but it will be interesting to see how they line up.

The key for New England is to keep generating pressure with their front four, where coincidentally the Patriots have had 11 sacks in their two playoff games, something no one is mentioning. And relying on their corners to remain in tight coverage. Containing the RPOs (something Jax ran) requires discipline and gap control. The chess match here should be a fascinating one. Watch for Trey Flowers here, he’s primed for a big game. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams continue to be among the best in the NFL. Stephen Gostkowski had a very solid season and his pooch kickoffs consistently put opponents deep in their own end. Ryan Allen was the underrated difference in the conference championship game, pinning the Jags deep in their own end ….field position here will be key.  Pro-Bowl ST player Matthew Slater on the coverage units.

The Eagles are very solid on Special Teams with kicker Jake Elliott and punter Donnie Jones. The coverage units are very good as well but no one’s STs units have been better than New England’s down the stretch.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Well, here we go… .This one should be a Super Bowl worthy of its name. As we pointed to above, the teams are evenly matched and both, being the #1 seeds have earned the right to be here.

I look for a high scoring game, it may not begin that way, but like the 2003 game with Carolina and New England, I see things heating up. This one will be a back and forth affair. I see Agholor and Amendola having big games for each team. The key for each team will be field position and not be turning the ball over.

But in a close game like this, I don’t ever bet against Tom Brady and I think he gets it done once again with a late score to bring home Super Bowl victory number six. Cue up the Duck Boats Marty, there will be a parade next week. Patriots 31-28

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

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

New England Patriots News 1-28, Super Prep Started

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

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 1-28, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots (via Russell Baxter on PFW FB page) are 54-14 and 59-16 including Super Bowls against the NFC since the 2001 season. Something that should bode well in looking at next week’s game.

Distractions? Not Here: The Patriots are getting prepared to fly out tomorrow for Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII and once again are a game away from the pinnacle of the sport. The team has been all business in their preparation and despite a couple of comments that were highlighted this week, the Eagles are too.

While the rest of America is decidedly sick of the Patriots success, fans here are not. And much of that success has to be attributed to the attitude of Bill Belichick and his coaching staff. They never get too high, too low and keep their focus directly on what is in front of them. That focus carries over to their players.

While many teams are very successful for a year or two, they eventually stumble and fall. The Patriots have been largely immune to that for the past 17 seasons. And now they prepare for their 8th Super Bowl appearance in the Brady/Belichick era. It is crazy how successful they’ve been year after year with different supporting casts. The big game and all the hype will go over the top this week. They are prepared to handle it and the distractions. Not Done Yet.

Shots Across the Bow… From “Friendly Fire” This Week:
The Patriots are used to the barbs by national media members who never fail to pen poison pieces on the team in the week of the big game. The recent piece in ESPN about the supposed “crumbling” of the Belichick/Brady/Kraft relationship that came out just before the Divisional Round of the playoffs wasn’t a coincidence in the element of timing.

This week Dan LeBetard went right up to the line, circled it, put in an exclamation mark but stopped just short of accusing Brady of using PEDs. His only “proof”? That Brady’s age should have him playing poorly now. People forget how impressive Jerry Rice was at 40, at wide receiver no less. But people marveled at his workout regimen. Brady does the same with his guru Alex Guerrero. There are no drugs, the interview Colin Cowherd did with former Bengals WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh should have put that to bed, but we called that well over a month ago that this would be an issue….if the Patriots went to the Super Bowl…Again, surprised? You shouldn’t be.

But now they are taking the shots from within New England. And Murphy’s Rules of Combat apply to the media as they do in warfare…#1 Friendly Fire Isn’t.

One Boston radio personality claimed that David Andrews et al are on Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). Granted this is the same writer who falsely accused the Patriots of filming the Rams walk-thru before SB XXXVI, which now repeated as gospel.

But then another radio voice described Tom Brady’s daughter in his video “Tom vs Time” as “an annoying little pissant” as the first impression of Brady’s video. And this is the station that Brady agrees to come on every Monday during the season.

Finally, another respected writer decided to pen a sarcastic piece about Brady’s video and it was all innocent enough, I read it. But what it suffered from was a horrible lack of timing. Patriots fans, already on edge after a week of having to listen to the ridiculous “the refs gave NE the game” against Jacksonville, coupled with the other three pieces, didn’t get the joke and unloaded on him. They’ve had enough, and aren’t taking it anymore.

What other breaking news should we expect this week? I can hardly wait…

A Double Dynasty? The Results May Play Out Again:
If the Patriots beat the Eagles next Sunday, this will be their second three Super Bowl win in four years scenario. When they completed the first in 2005, they’d won Super Bowls in the 2001, 2003, and 2004 seasons. After the defeat of the Eagles, Belichick, Charlie Weis, and Romeo Crennel shared a hug on the sidelines as both coordinators left for head coaching jobs elsewhere. Success breeds promotions.

Now they are on the edge of doing it again. If they beat the Eagles next Sunday, the Patriots will have won the Super Bowl in the 2014, 2016 and 2017 seasons. Both Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia are expected to leave as offensive and defensive coordinators to take head coaching jobs elsewhere. Assistants Brian Flores and Special Teams’ coach Joe Judge may be gone as well.

So, regardless of what happens, the 2018 version of the Patriots should look decidedly different than the one that takes the field next week. But the two key cogs, Belichick and Brady should be around for one more rodeo at least.

Brady’s “Tom vs Time” is a Peek Inside A Closed World:
In a fascinating, albeit very limited peek into the world of Tom Brady, we finally get a look at what his training regimen looks like, his often painful sessions with Alex Guerrero, and his family up close and personal.

Brady and Gisele Bundchen have kept a very private existence while leading a pretty public life. They don’t hide in the back of limos being driven from place to place with legions of security personnel keeping the public at bay. They’ve kept their discreet home life exactly that and we’ve never been able to see how they interact daily. That has now changed… a bit.

Watching Brady interact with his kids is no different than any of us experience on a daily basis, perhaps not quite in the same type of home, but it decidedly normal. One scene that stood out was Brady driving home after the opening night loss to the Chiefs on Rte 1 and merging onto 95 with Gisele trying to comfort him.

But the workouts and the sessions with Guerrero were fascinating. Even Shannon Sharpe, a noted anti-Patriots’ commentator on television said that those scenes in particular resonated with him. Because it shows the dedication that is needed to not only perform at an elite level in the NFL but to do so at an age where most players are long since retired.

Episode 2 is today…

Chung One of Bill Belichick’s Biggest… and Best Mistakes:
Pat Chung is living proof of the power of second chances. The nine-year veteran has enjoyed a career rebirth in his second stint with the team and shows little sign of slowing down.

Chung was drafted in the 2nd Round of the 2009 NFL Draft and was misused by Bill Belichick as a free safety in his first four seasons. He was considered a bust, and left for the Eagles in a good 3-year contract in 2013. That lasted a year, and Philly released Chung. The news that he was returning to New England wasn’t met with much fanfare by the media or the fanbase.

Chung and Belichick met before he signed and each vowed not to make the same mistakes twice. In his first stint with the team Belichick used Chung as a deep free safety, something he was ill-suited for. Starting in 2014, Belichick moved Chung to the box as a strong safety. There his natural physicality and the ability to stop the run and good ability to cover tight ends has him playing not good, but outstanding in his second go around with the Pats.

Bill Belichick, not one to hand out undue praise called Chung this week, one of the best players in the NFL, not safeties…players. Is that Belichick’s way of further lighting a fire under Chung because he knows he’ll need a big effort from the vet to counter Philadelphia’s excellent TE group? Quite possibly.

But if New England is indeed successful next week, it will be no doubt because of a strong performance from its stellar safety crew. And Belichick’s biggest mistake? Not any longer. Bringing him back was an exercise in self-scouting and the ability to admit he made a mistake in not utilizing a player right and fixing it.

No AFC East notes this week…

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

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

Podcast: AFC Championship Game Review

Russ Goldman
January 23, 2018 at 10:50 am ET

This is our review of the Patriots victory against the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game. We also talked about the NFC Championship Game, and finished the show by discussing the coaching carousel in the NFL that involves two Patriots assistant coaches.

Brady, Amendola Lead Patriots to the Super Bowl in 24-20 Win Over Jax

Steve Balestrieri
January 21, 2018 at 9:42 pm ET

No matter how many times we see this script play out, it never gets old. Down by 10 points in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game against the best defense in the NFL, Tom Brady had a daunting task. And his two best receivers Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski weren’t available. So, Brady did what he always seems to do, he saved his best for last. He was absolutely spot on in the fourth quarter and his favorite target was Danny Amendola.

The diminutive but tough as nails slot receiver always seems to make a big catch at crunch time of big games and he scored both Patriots touchdowns in the fourth quarter but perhaps his biggest catch was on 3rd and 18. Brady, sore hand and all with a dozen stitches in the thumb web of his throwing hand, lasered a dime to Amendola down the middle for a huge first down that saved the Patriots season. Later, with the game on the line with under three minutes to go, Brady tried to find a receiver underneath just over the goal line.

It was covered and he launched a pass to the back of the end zone to Amendola. And the little guy with the best hands on the team made a great catch and got both feet inbounds before tumbling out of the end zone. Touchdown, Patriots take the lead, thank you very much, drive safely heading out on Route 1.

Brady was 26-38 for 290 yards with two touchdowns. Amendola had seven catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Brandin Cooks had six catches for 100 yards including drawing a couple of big pass interference penalties.

Lost in the late game heroics was the outstanding day by Blake Bortles, the Jaguars much-maligned quarterback. Even after putting up 45 points on the Steelers last week in Pittsburgh, Bortles still heard the talk. He played a cool, calm and collected game today, hitting the shallow crosses underneath all game long and never made a mistake.

Bortles finished 23-36 for 293 yards and a touchdown, a beautifully designed play where he rolled out sucking Eric Lee in. Pat Chung, stuck in no man’s land between Bortles and the receiver was frozen and Bortles lobbed a too easy touchdown to Marcedes Lewis for a 7-3 Jaguars lead.

On their next drive, the Jags mixed the run and pass perfectly and sliced and diced the Patriots defense much too easily for a 77-yard drive in 10 plays with Leonard Fournette powering in from four yards out to make it 14-3 and Foxboro was getting ominously quiet.

But right before the half, Jacksonville was hit with two major penalties and set the Patriots up for a touchdown right before the half. Barry Church tried to break up a pass to Rob Gronkowski and got flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit. It was clearly not a dirty hit, Church attempted to lead with his shoulder but was one of those bang-bang plays.

Gronkowski left with a concussion and didn’t return. His status for the Super Bowl will bear watching when the Patriots play Philadelphia.

The next penalty on A.J. Bouye was also an easy call. Bouye rode Cooks out of bounds while the ball was in the air, but the tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists acted like it was the Brinks heist. Please. James White ran it in and the Patriots were back in the game at 14-10 at the break.

The Jaguars were controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in the first half and if the Patriots were going to win, they needed to do a better job in the trenches.

The Jaguars got two field goals to push the lead to 20-10 but the Patriots defense stiffened down the stretch and they took away the run and began to finally get some pressure on Bortles, forcing him to unload the ball early on a few throws. And one of the key players was James Harrison who pressured Bortles and then knocked the ball out. He and Kyle Van Noy combined for a key sack of Bortles. Then it was Gilmore’s time to shine.

But the play of the game defensively, perhaps of the year was the 4th and 14  pass from Bortles to Dede Westbrook was broken up on just an incredible play by Gilmore. The cornerback from South Carolina has been a whipping boy for the fans since inking a big contract in free agency and struggling the first few weeks of the season. But since Gilmore has been simply excellent and he saved what would have a first and goal from about the six-yard line. The Patriots took over on downs and Dion Lewis iced it with a huge first down to send the team to Minneapolis.

The defense, while far from great, did a very good job of slowing down the Jaguars’ Fournette who had 76 yards rushing on 24 carries, an average of just 3.2 yards per carry. That took away the Jaguars ability to close the deal when they had the 10 point lead and set the stage for Brady’s heroics once again.

But it was Amendola who once again showed how clutch he is in big games, Bill Belichick was practically effusive in his praise for Amendola as well as Brady after the game. “Danny’s such a good football player,” Belichick said. When you look up ‘good football player’ in the dictionary, his picture is right there beside it. It doesn’t matter what it is. Fielding punts, third down, big play, red area, onside kick recovery — whatever we need him to do. He’s just a tremendous player, very instinctive, tough, great concentration. He had some big plays for us

Brady followed suit stating, “He’s got great hands and just a great sense about where he’s at on the field,” Brady said. “I mean, he’s made so many big plays for us, and this was huge, and without that, we don’t win. It was an incredible play.”

So the Patriot haters in the NFL world will all be rooting for the Eagles two weeks from tonight as the two tee off in Super Bowl LII. But the Patriots don’t care. They like it that way. Especially with a 40-year old QB who is always at his best when the biggest games on the biggest stage are at stake.

We’re on to Minneapolis…and the Eagles. Not Done Yet.

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

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