Tag Archives: J.C. Jackson

5 Thoughts on the Patriots Win Over the Bills

Ian Logue
September 30, 2019 at 10:52 am ET

Sunday’s game against the Bills went down as one of the toughest ones for the Patriots so far this season, with New England hanging on for a 16-10 road win to improve to 4-0 on the season.

Here are some thoughts coming off the vicotry:

1 ) With Stephen Gostkowski continuing to struggle, Sunday was really the first time his difficulties were magnified as the Patriots found themselves in a tight game that could have turned out badly had their defense not held on.

After missing the extra point on New England’s first-quarter touchdown, the Patriots found themselves in a dogfight late in this one as points suddenly were at a premium and the one point New England was lacking left the Bills with an opportunity to take the lead late.  Buffalo started their final drive of the game from their own 14-yard line, driving down to the Patriots 39-yard line before Kyle Van Noy put a hit on Bills quarterback Matt Barkley, which led to an errant throw and the game-clinching interception by Jamie Collins.

Fortunately, their defense carried the day and both New England’s offense and Gostkowski were let off the hook.  Had the Bills managed to go down and score and hit the extra point at the end of regulation, it would have potentially been a tough division loss that would have put the Patriots at 3-1 heading into next week’s game down in Washington.

Make no mistake, Gostkowski has gotten the benefit of the doubt from Bill Belichick, who is clearly willing to allow him to weather whatever it is causing his current erratic performance.  But as we now start heading into Week 5 and into the second quarter of the season, this is the time Gostkowski needs to start settling in as we start moving into October.  Hopefully, Sunday marks the end of his struggles.


Sunday’s game was tough for Brady and the offense.

2) Sunday was one of the more frustrating performances we’ve seen from Tom Brady and the offense in recent memory, with the veteran struggling to get anything going against a Bills defense that was nothing short of relentless.

Brady finished Sunday’s game 18-of-39 for 150-yards along with a gut-wrenching red-zone interception, which completely turned the momentum of this game as the Patriots had an opportunity to completely change the tone of this one.

The play in question came late in the second quarter after New England managed to string together the longest drive of the day by either team, marching 76-yards on 16 plays while holding the ball for more than 8-minutes.

After battling their way down to the Bills’ 2-yard line, Brady was flushed out of the pocket and forced to roll out to his right, firing a pass to Julian Edelman who was coming across toward the corner of the end zone.  The problem was, he didn’t see safety Micah Hyde, who had dropped off his man and broke on the football and snatched it out of the air for the interception.

That was a critical mistake by Brady, as it negated an opportunity to put them up 20-0 and instead allowed the Bills to take advantage of the turnover and take the football the other way for a field goal.  Suddenly, New England’s lead was just 13-3 and given how much they had struggled prior to that point, this one certainly felt like a game that wouldn’t be easy.

The Bills made Brady’s life difficult, breaking through the offensive line all afternoon and never allowed him to get into much of a rhythm.  In the fourth quarter when it mattered most, the Bills held Brady to just 3-of-8 (38%) for 13-yards throwing the football and it was really New England’s defense who, once again, carried the day.  The Patriots converted just 5-of-18 on third down Sunday, with Brady completing a mere 8-of-16 throwing the football including his interception.

Fortunately, the outcome turned out in their favor and New England survived a rare off day by New England’s signal-caller.  But give the Bills credit.  This group is tough defensively and they’ll likely be another tough out when they meet again on December 22nd.  With Buffalo still at 3-1, depending on how their journey goes from here, the rematch at Gillette Stadium may have a little more meaning next time compared to recent seasons.


New England’s defense was terrific on Sunday.

3) New England’s defense managed another impressive outing on Sunday, pressuring Bills QB Josh Allen all afternoon while holding Buffalo to just 2-of-13 (15%) on third down.  But the biggest story of the day was all the plays they made in key moments, with this group coming up with four big interceptions along with five sacks.

The turnovers started on the Bills’ first possession, with Devin McCourty coming up with his fourth interception in as many games.  That play was probably the most impressive one yet for McCourty, who leaped into the air in front of John Brown and took the ball away before returning it 19-yards to midfield.

New England’s offense took full advantage, scoring a touchdown off the turnover, which ended up being their only offensive touchdown of the day.

J.C. Jackson also got into the action, picking off two passes of his own, the second of which led to a field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, which put the Patriots up 16-10 with just under a minute left in the third quarter.

The final turnover of the day came courtesy of Jamie Collins, who took advantage of an errant throw by Matt Barkley, who was in the game after Allen was knocked out earlier in the contest. On the play, Barkley was hit as he released the football by Kyle Van Noy and his pass landed in the hands of Collins for the interception. That play was the knockout blow, as the Patriots offense ran out the clock and New England walked away with the victory.


Michel had to fight for every yard on Sunday.

4) Sunday saw a slight improvement in the ground game, although it was still a tough outing.  Sony Michel got the lion’s share of the carries, carrying 17 times for 63-yards while averaging 3.7 yards per carry.  That was a big improvement over last week after he finished with 9 carries for just 11-yards against the Jets.

But one thing that stood out is the fact that the offensive line’s struggles remain an issue, with Michel being dropped for a loss or no gain on 4 of his 17 carries.  Coming into Sunday’s game he had been dropped for no gain or a loss on 9 carries through the first three weeks.

To compound the issue, they tried to keep Buffalo off balance but Brady connected on just 6-of-15 (40%) for 34-yards throwing the football on second down, setting the Bills up to come after Brady on third down as the Patriots found themselves in 3rd-or-8 or longer on 11 of their 18 third down attempts.  That made for a tough afternoon as the offense had to fight for every last yard and they were fortunate that the defense came up with a stellar effort.

With all the injuries they’ve been dealing with up front, Sunday’s contest was one of the more frustrating reminders that they still have their work cut out for them.


Slater scored his first career special teams TD Sunday.

5) Special teams were a crucial part of Sunday’s win and veteran Matthew Slater certainly came up big in this one.

Following New England’s touchdown, the Bills had a punt blocked by Jackson, who dove in cleanly and got his hand on the football as it left Corey Bojorquez’ foot.  Slater swooped in and scooped up the football, returning it 11-yards into the end zone for the touchdown.

It was a huge play, with Slater celebrating his first career special teams touchdown in style, falling to his knees and raising his fists in the air as his teammates rushed over to celebrate with him.

His touchdown ended up being the game-winning play, which was massive given that they wouldn’t reach the end zone for the rest of the afternoon.

Another player who was big in this game was punter Jake Bailey, who played a critical role in helping the Patriots win the battle of field position as New England consistently found itself deep in its own territory.  But Bailey flipped things around repeatedly. He punted the football 9 times on Sunday, averaging 48.1 yards per punt.  That was big because for the most part, save for the turnovers, Buffalo didn’t really have good field position for most of this game and Bailey was a huge reason why that was the case.

Fortunately, the Patriots played the more complete game in this one and Bill Belichick was clearly pleased after the game with their special teams effort. However, the Bills were the first big test of the year and it’s obvious they still have some work ahead of them to get to where they need to be offensively.

For now, the Patriots will get back to work as they prepare to take on Washington on the road next Sunday at 1pm.

Best Of Social Media: Super Bowl LIII Patriots vs Rams

Robert Alvarez
February 8, 2019 at 9:30 am ET

For the fourth time in five years, the New England Patriots earned the opportunity to capture yet another Lombardi trophy.

Their opponent, fittingly enough, was the same Rams franchise that on the same date 17 years earlier, the Patriots defeated for their first championship.

Check out all the highlights from social media during Super Bowl LIII below.

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Family and Football ❤️❤️ #LFG

A post shared by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on

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Still Here. Never Left.

A post shared by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on

https://twitter.com/RedSox/status/1092195246560215041
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The best is ready to begin. #GrowingPats

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“Time is an illusion.” – Albert Einstein

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https://twitter.com/JustSportsTweet/status/1092211692174487553

For the eighth time in the last nine Patriots Super Bowls, the team was held scoreless in the first quarter. 0-0 after one.

A Stehpen Gostkowski field goal gave the Patriots a 3-lead at the half in a surprise defensive battle between both teams.

A Greg Zuerlein 53 Yd Field Goal knotted the game at 3-3 late in the third, but the Patriots defense continued its domination of the Rams.

https://twitter.com/Patriots/status/1092250114524012544

With the game still tied at three with seven left in the 4th quarter, the Patriots offense at last put together the first (and only) touchdown drive of the game.

Leading by ten with under five to play, the Rams appeared to be in position to tie the game.

Stephon Gilmore had other plans.

https://twitter.com/MichaelaNESN/status/1092254536918622214

The interception by Gilmore led to a Patriots Super Bowl clinching drive when Stephen Gostkowski redeemed his first quarter miss with a 41 yard Field Goal to push the lead to seal a 13-3 championship win.

For the sixth time since 2001, the Patriots were Super Bowl champions.

https://twitter.com/mcckshea/status/1092256501379432448
https://twitter.com/Al_Horford/status/1092257146056646656
https://twitter.com/JDMartinez14/status/1092257805141192704
https://twitter.com/pastrnak96/status/1092264861587910667
https://www.instagram.com/p/Btd5MJ1hoBj/
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THE W.

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Family and Football! ❤️❤️❤️❤️

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https://www.instagram.com/p/Btd1I-HAoP0/
https://twitter.com/SullyBunz/status/1092493953281216512
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Super Bowl LIII Champs!!!

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CHAMPS! #LFG

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The GOAT. #SixRings

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Boston, we’re coming for you.

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https://twitter.com/espn/status/1092288426320252929
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Still here

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MAMA WE MADE IT!!

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3 time

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My why! Super Bowl Champs baby!!!!!!

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https://www.instagram.com/p/BtdkA5Nlunk/
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Did it!

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Well…. last night was fun lol @alexbrandy

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What a week! @atlsuperbowl53 Champs!

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Mood……. Champ!!!! #picworth1000words

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Perfect ending to and imperfect story. #champs

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So blessed!! Dope!

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Patriots-Steelers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 14, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Patriots-Steelers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

The Patriots go back on the road for their final regular season road game of 2018 with a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. This is, in essence, a playoff game for both teams. Each needs to win to try to lock down the #2 seed.

For Pittsburgh, it is even more important as they’ve dropped three in a row and their lead in the division has dwindled to just a half-game over the suddenly surging Ravens. By the time that the game starts, they should know the results of the Ravens-Bucs game. However, Baltimore ends the season with games at the Chargers and home against the Browns who are playing much better. Pittsburgh has New England this week, New Orleans next week and then the Bengals.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 16 at 4:25 p.m. ET and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work 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 (9-4) are coming off an awful loss in Miami, just like a year ago on the last play of the game.  The run defense was terrible as was the run blocking for the offense. But Tom Brady had a big day throwing the ball, tossing for 358 yards and three TDs.

The Steelers (7-5-1) had another late 4th quarter comeback and pulled off a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltimore Ravens where Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards and Antonio Brown had 213 yards receiving.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Steelers are meeting for the 32nd time and the Patriots with a slight 16-15 edge. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 11-3 against the Steelers and have won the last five meetings including last years meeting in Pittsburgh.

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 Steelers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Slightly to New England

The Patriots running game has been very good this season until they hit a snag against one of the worst run defenses in the league in Miami last week. Sony Michel has been the workhorse for the Patriots in the running game with James White and Rex Burkhead in support roles.

The Steelers have the #6 run defense (96.9 yards a game) in the league and still use the same 3-4 defense that they’ve been running seemingly forever. It starts up front with the big men, Jason Hargrave at the nose tackle and Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward at the ends. The linebackers are quick and aggressive and will shoot the gaps.

Look for Josh McDaniels to throw in order to run this week. Look for the Patriots to try to take advantage of the Steelers aggressiveness at getting after the passer and try to get Michel going in that way. Some quick hitters with White and Burkhead could be on the agenda this week. The same with some Jet sweeps with Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson.

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

The Patriots passing game is ranked 15th in the league but much of that has to do with the slow start that they got off to in the first month of the season. Since Josh Gordon has arrived, Brady’s numbers are about the same as they were in 2017 when he was the league’s MVP. The good news is they are getting healthy, Rob Gronkowski had his best game of the season last week. Gordon is heating up and has traditionally played well against Pittsburgh. Rob Gronkowski and Brady have always played well against the Steelers. Brady also Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Patterson and White and Burkhead out of the backfield.

Pittsburgh is ranked 12th in pass defense allowing just 233.9 yards per game. They get after the QB very well with T.J. Watt leading the way with 10 sacks, Jason Hargrave has 6.5 from the nose which will be very telling in this game. The key to stopping Brady is pressure up the middle, if he can step up in the pocket, he will be very successful. Heyward has 6 sacks and Bud Dupree has 5.5.

It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh decides to defend Gronkowski. Last year they played him almost exclusively with Sean Davis and he torched them in the second half. They’ll have to decide on whether to go with Joe Haden on Gordon or Coty Sensabaugh. Edelman will also be a tough matchup for them. In the past, the Steelers have played the same defense they always have against Brady. Will they mix things up this week? Or will they continue to just run their defense and try to out-execute the Patriots? Under Mike Tomlin, that is their M.O. they preach execution but they aren’t a big adjustment defense.

Next up the Pittsburgh offense:

Steelers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

The Steelers running game is mired in 29th place in the NFL averaging just 89 yards per game. They haven’t shown the patience with it, even with James Conner in the lineup to stick with it. With Conner banged up and questionable to play, it will be interesting to watch if they do this week.

The Patriots rush defense is in the middle of the pack 15th in the league. But last week, against another team that struggles to run in Miami they were gashed for 189 yards on 21 carries. The defensive line was pushed around at the point of attack and the linebackers in run support were awful.

The Pittsburgh OL is one of the better lines in the league, and if they stay patient with the running game, even without Connor, they could dictate the pace and keep New England’s offense on the bench. From an NE perspective, the DL and LBs will have to play much better than a week ago.

Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger has a dynamic duo in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown on the outside for as good a 1-2 punch as there is in the NFL. Smith-Schuster has 91 catches for 1237 yards and 6 TDs. Brown has 86 for 1063 yards and 12 TDs. Ryan Switzer is the third option outside. Vance McDonald is having a career year with 44 catches at tight end while Jesse James is still out there as well. Jaylen Samuels will be a player to watch this week. We really liked him coming out of the draft this spring and he’s an intriguing player to watch.

The Patriots pass defense has been going thru ebbs and flows. Two weeks ago they had arguably their best game shutting down Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs from the Vikings. But last week Kenny Stills gave them fits in Miami. They will no doubt try to roll their double teams from Smith-Schuster to Brown and disguise them. They have been good at getting pressure on opposing QBs but bad at getting home with sacks.

Look for Roethlisberger to work the middle of the field this week with McDonald and James to set up his top 2 WRs. They’ll try to isolate their TEs on the NE LBs which will be a mismatch.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The kickers in this one, the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and the Steelers Chris Boswell both had a rough week. But Boswell has been struggling most of the season. The team brought in former kicker Shaun Suisham to work with him. Boswell is just 3-8 from 40-49 yards this year. Despite missing an extra point and a field goal last week, the Patriots have a big edge here in the kicking game with Gostkowski.

Ryan Switzer has done a good job with the return game for the Steelers but with Patterson and Edelman, I’m going to give the edge to the Patriots here as well.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be another Patriots-Steelers classic. Both teams really need this game, last year at this time it was about the #1 seed, this season it is about #2. The Texans are right on their heels in the conference and the Steelers can’t afford to lose their fourth in a row. Even for a team that never puts coaches on a hot seat, if Tomlin were to lose four in a row after a 7-2-1 start, he will start to feel the heat.

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Put the Ball in Brady’s Hands: He’s had remarkable success against the Steelers thru the years. I know they want to push the running game, but this week, let #12 take the reins and trust in him to get it done.

Target the Big Men: I just have a feeling that the bigger WRs (Gordon and Patterson) are a more difficult matchup for the Steeler secondary this week. This is a situation the Patriots haven’t had much of thru the years. Their WRs tend to be the smaller quicker ones. But both Gordon and Patterson are big and very athletic. Add Gronk to the mix and they’ll be difficult to stop.

Play a Clean Game: The team can’t afford any turnovers this week. The Steelers offense is explosive and can score quickly and they don’t need to be giving them any short fields, especially on the road. No turnovers and win third downs and the red zone.

I think this one will go down to the wire, but the Patriots go home with a very close win. Brady works his magic in Pittsburgh once again. Patriots 31-27

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Down Giants 17-12 in Preseason Finale, Quick Observations

Steve Balestrieri
August 31, 2018 at 7:06 am ET

The preseason is over, and the Patriots ended it in the Meadowlands as their backups downed the Giants’ backups 17-12 to finish off the preseason 3-1, not that it matters. The starters for both teams took a seat and let the backups get their playing time in, as many were putting together an audition tape for the 31 other teams in the league.

Rookie quarterback Danny Etling went wire to wire under center tonight, we’ll have more on him below, as both Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer got the night off. The team may have suffered one significant injury as OL Ulrick John who is considered one of the players definitely in the mix for a backup lineman’s spot on the 53-man roster, left with a foot injury and didn’t return. He was seen after the game in a walking boot.

Marquis Flowers and J.C. Jackson also left via injury during the game, but neither was considered serious. Flowers was evaluated for a concussion but did return to the game, while Jackson was treated for dehydration.

Bill Belichick was upbeat and smiling after the game in his post-game press conference and stated that the team only played about three dozen players tonight, similar to last season’s finale as well.

“Really proud of our team tonight. The guys played hard,” Belichick said. “Those guys really did a good job. It was a good warm night. I thought they showed up well. We’ll see on film but I think I learned a lot about these guys. I like the way they competed. We’ll see.

“It was a good competitive football game.”

So, now the coaches will go about the business of paring down the roster to the initial 53-man limit by Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and then announce a practice squad on Sunday by 1:00 p.m. We say initially because you can expect the bottom of the roster to be a fluid place for the first week or so of the regular season, right up to when the team plays the Houston Texans to begin the regular season.

So here is our quick observations from tonight’s game and how certain players may fare in the roster cutdown.

J.C. Jackson: The undrafted rookie from Maryland had a big night, intercepting two passes and defending three others. He showed very good ball skills on both picks, high pointing the ball and snagging both.

But he had his not-so-great moments as well. He totally whiffed on Amba Etta-Tawo’s 41-yard touchdown play and looked awful there. He was also beaten several times in the game as well. But his compete level is very high and he had the production you’re looking for in a game like this. Belichick said he had a long way to go, but they like his skills. He may have earned a roster spot, but at least a practice squad slot.

Cyrus Jones: Jones had a disappointing night, he didn’t flash much in the return game, not being able to make the first man miss and break tackles which is his specialty. He played significant snaps both on the edge and at slot corner and didn’t stand out. He could lose his spot if the team feels McCarron or Berrios can handle punt return duties.

Danny Etling: The rookie quarterback didn’t have a great night, his first half was particularly bad, but he played a little better in the second half and was seeing the field for really the first time for any sustained action. He had the highlight play of the preseason when he took a naked bootleg 86 yards for a touchdown with just under four minutes to go in the game. Belichick smiled and cracked, “When’s the last time a quarterback has run more than 85 yards for the New England Patriots,” he joked. “At least 20 years.”

Etling completed 18-32 passes for 157 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He rushed for 113 yards on seven carries. He still struggles with accuracy and consistency, which isn’t a shock considering his limited snaps this summer. His footwork suffered while he was under pressure, but these are correctable.

He showed enough to warrant a practice squad slot and the team can see how much he can develop this season. He is more athletic than perhaps he was given credit for, throws a good tight spiral and has very good arm strength.

Mike Gillislee/Riley McCarron: Two players seemingly on the bubble before the game, didn’t play and are probably safe…for now on the roster. With the shortage of wide receivers on the roster, McCarron probably gets a spot initially on the 53-man roster. While fans on social media are clamoring for Braxton Berrios, he missed nearly as many practices as he attended this summer. And he didn’t stand out anymore so than McCarron either offensively or as a returner. But we’ll see.

Gillislee, we wrote on Monday, may get a reprieve if either or both Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel aren’t ready for the regular season. It appears that way after the Giants game. Speaking of backs…

Ralph Webb: The rookie from Vandy had another solid performance in the finale. He rushed 12 times for 41 yards and found the end zone again when Etling’s pass at the goal line was behind him and he made a nice catch, reaching behind himself and hauling it in. He definitely rates a practice squad look and we wrote here, that he may rate a higher ceiling than Gillislee at this point, but the coaches may opt to go with a veteran back early this season.

Derek Rivers/ Vincent Valentine: The pair of players who both missed all of 2017 played a significant amount of snaps, well into the second half but seemingly for different reasons. Valentine seems firmly on the bubble. The rotation of big men inside has him on the outside looking in right now, unless a trade of someone else is made this week. We wrote about that as well earlier on Monday.

Rivers doesn’t seem to be in danger of losing a roster spot, but after missing all of his rookie season due to injury, the team clearly wants him to get in as much action as possible. He should be a member of the edge rotation this fall.

Keionta Davis: The big, 6’4, 280-pound 1st-year player had a disappointing finale on Thursday night. It started off well when he showed good power and split a double team coming off the left edge and pressured Giants QB Kyle Lauletta and forced an incompletion.

However, he lost containment on an end around, crashing down inside and allowing the runner to get to the edge with speed and the result was a 19-yard gain. Going against the twos and threes, we expected Davis to flash more than he did. But he should still be in consideration for a practice squad spot.

Jason McCourty: The 10-year veteran started at safety and played the entire first half. When an injury occurred in the third quarter, he returned to the field before being replaced by Jordan Richards. That can’t be a good sign for him moving forward.

On the broadcast, it was said that the coaches may just want him to get as much work as possible at safety before the regular season begins. That is possible, but we’re putting him squarely on the bubble here.

Big time props have to go to WR K.J. Maye, and RBs Kenneth Farrow and Khalfani Muhammad. The three were signed to the team just this week and had very limited time to prepare and practice before playing the Giants. They all knew they had a snowball’s chance in hell of making the roster but all were intent on maximizing an opportunity to audition for a slot in the league. All acquitted themselves well.

Maye led all Patriots receivers with five catches for 71 yards. Farrow had five carries for 24 yards. Muhammad had four for 21 yards. Excellent work

Patriots 53-man Roster Projection 1.0 Post Minicamp Edition

Steve Balestrieri
June 18, 2018 at 9:39 am ET

With minicamp over, it is time to a very early look at a New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. We got a brief glimpse of what the players can do in the Bill Belichick system during the spring workouts and although no one was wearing pads, it was as close to actual football activities as the players will get prior to training camp beginning in about five weeks.

We’ll start posting training camp primers by position very soon to break down the current 90 man roster to a workable 53-man roster.

Offense –
Quarterbacks: (3)
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling

The Patriots will probably go with three QBs this year. Etling has shown enough in the spring to earn that much moving into camp. Will he push Hoyer for the backup job this summer? Very doubtful. Hoyer has a comfort level in the system and the confidence in the coaches that he can step up and play well in an emergency. Etling has a long way to go in that regard.

Running backs: (5)

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

Sony Michel looked like a rookie at times this spring, making mistakes, blowing assignments…all the things that rookies do in assimilating into a new system. That’s part of the learning process but shouldn’t affect his availability at all.

Sony Michel after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

However, his upside was also there for all to see. He’s a threat to run or receive and showed a smoothness in the passing game with good hands. Along with Rex Burkhead and James White, the Patriots passing offense using their running backs should be very difficult to stop in 2018.

But that learning process may give the coaches pause enough to carry the veteran Hill to make the comeback attempt with the Patriots in the early going of the season. That may be bad news for Mike Gillislee and veteran ST presence, Brandon Bolden. I know, we cut Bolden every year and every year he’s out there making big plays on the special teams, which he’s known for.

Tight ends: (3)
Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen

The fact that Hollister had a great spring shouldn’t surprise anyone. He made the team a year ago as a UDFA and played, although sparingly during the season. He needed to bulk up and get stronger, and it appears he has. Allen has the firm backing of the head coach and is like an extra tackle out there as a blocker. If he can get anything going in the passing game, it is a bonus.

Jacob Hollister beefed up in the offseason and had an excellent spring. (SBalestrieri photo of 2017 training camp)


Wide Receivers: (6)
Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt, Matthew Slater, Malcolm Mitchell (Suspended: Julian Edelman)

Edelman’s looming suspension, unless his appeal is successful will give one Patriots WR at least a month’s reprieve. In this case, it is Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell’s status has zero to do with ability but everything to do with availability. He missed the majority of the spring but the good news was, the Patriots were taking a cautious approach with him.

Can he stay on the field this summer? If he does, he’s a lock, if he can’t then difficult decisions will have to be made by the coaches. There is a lot of competition to be had here at this position this summer, Philip Dorsett, Riley McCarron and Braxton Berrios will all be vying for spots. And other than Hogan, and Edelman, everything is on the table. And that includes Slater who is a WR in name only.

Offensive line: (8)
Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Cole Croston, LaAdrian Waddle

The state of the offensive line, if everyone was healthy would be very bright. But injuries abound and because of that, there are plenty of questions right now. Thuney hasn’t made an appearance yet, Wynn and Brown are coming off of shoulder injuries, Cannon is still hurt after going on IR last year. This position will bear watching this summer.

Defense
Defensive line: (8)
Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Derek Rivers

No big surprises here, the Patriots really liked Valentine in his rookie season and if he’s healthy (a big if), he noses out Butler who played well last year on the inside. If Valentine doesn’t have the same impact, Butler or one of the other edge players Eric Lee, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris may be able to step up and be noticed.

Linebacker: (7)

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Christian Sam, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Marquis Flowers, Harvey Langi, Brandon King

Roberts got a lot of reps with the “starters” this spring, Bill Belichick hates the term 1st and 2nd team during OTAs but the fact they drafted Bentley speaks volumes. I’m going out on a limb here and say Langi beats him out for an inside LB spot. King is an ST maven but practices with the LBs.

Harvey Langi (SBalestrieri photo)


Cornerback: (6)
Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe, Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson, Keion Crosson (PUP: Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones)

Jackson, the UDFA got quite a few looks opposite Gilmore this spring and looked pretty solid. Eric Rowe didn’t have a great spring and McCourty was…unused. Neither is a worrisome development yet. But with Gilmore looking outstanding thus far and a young crop of corners entering the picture, this position looks in good shape.

Safety: (4)
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner

Once again I go to minicamp and watch Gronkowski and Hollister smoke Jordan Richards in coverage and say, “surely the coaches see this too….right?” But when the smoke clears, we’ll see what happens. Ebner and King are STs first and safety/hybrid LB second. So the depth could use a jolt. Two words:  Kenny Vaccaro.

Specialists: (3)
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Corey Bojorquez, long-snapper Joe Cardona

Jumping the gun here but UDFA rookie punter Corey Bojorquez can really put a charge into the ball. We watched him during minicamp and were thoroughly impressed with his leg strength and hang time. He has a long way to go to beat out Ryan Allen and needs work on his directional punting and pinning opponents deep, things that Allen is very good at. But for the simple fact of competition, we’ll give him the early edge. The other two will sleep well during camp as no one has been brought in to challenge them. That must feel nice.

 

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