Tag Archives: Jabaal Sheard

So Long… Chris Long Won’t Return to the Patriots in 2017

Steve Balestrieri
March 1, 2017 at 5:37 pm ET

The Patriots will part ways with veteran DE Chris Long and he will play elsewhere in 2017after winning a Super Bowl with New England. Long signed a modest one-year deal with the Pats in 2016, in part to having a chance to play for a winner and to reignite his game after the back-to-back injury plagued years.

Long took to social media to announce his decision, thank the fans of New England and to explain his decision about moving on. It sounded like Long, although he bought in completely with how he was utilized with the Patriots, wasn’t happy inside about his role and was wanting to do what he’d always done. “This has zero to do with money … it’s the right move in my heart because I want to get back to being the player I was before. I’m thankful for my role this year, but as a competitor, I’m itching to do what I do best.”

Long was immediately welcomed as an established, respected veteran in the Patriots locker room and seemed like a perfect fit both on and off the field. He signed for just $2.35 million dollars last spring and later said, he’d have played for nothing.

He worked his way into being a starter in New England and played about 65 percent of the defensive snaps in the regular season. Long led the Patriots with 29 combined QB sacks (4), hits (8) and pressures with 17 in 2016. Although he played only 15 snaps in the Super Bowl against Atlanta, he had a big impact on the plays where he was on the field.

Chris Long will not be returning to the Patriots in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

He drew a key holding penalty with the Falcons in field goal range that could have iced the game for Atlanta. Instead, after the call, it knocked them out of range. He also was right in Matt Ryan’s face as well as Dont’a Hightower on the sack where Hightower stripped the ball loose late in the game.

Long, a 6’3, 270-pound defensive end will turn 32 later this month. And although he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning, still has enough left in the tank to bring another team a veteran, professional presence as a pass rusher.

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 Free Agent Profile Chris Long

Steve Balestrieri
February 23, 2017 at 8:36 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the players facing free agency is part-time starter defensive end, Chris Long.

The Patriots signed Chris Long to a modest contract ($2.375 million) in 2016 just after trading Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals. Long had been a standout player for the Rams for eight years but had suffered injuries in back-to-back seasons and was thought to be on the downside of his career.

He drew interest from other teams but opted for New England. And for the first time in his NFL career, he played for a winner. Long played in 16 games with seven starts, 35 combined tackles, four sacks, three passes defended and one forced fumble. His playing time was cut back in the Super Bowl and he appeared in just 31 percent of the snaps. He did, however, make an impact in several of his snaps in Houston.

After the big win, he appeared on television to talk about the Super Bowl win and what the atmosphere was like in the Patriots locker room at halftime.

I really do think I just played on the toughest team of all time,” Long said. I was like, ‘Golly, I’ve got some doubts right now. We’ve got to play way better in the second half.’ .. But guys were like walking in, like Duron Harmon, who’s a safety for us, walked in and goes, ‘We’re about to make the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.’ And I was just like, ‘Dude, can we get a stop? Can we just do one good thing, maybe put one foot in front of the other?’

“But if it wasn’t for guys like Duron that had no doubt, you know, I’m not used to this winning thing,” Long added having played for some dreadful Rams teams in the past.

Long played a valuable role, providing a veteran presence along the defensive line. He totally bought into the team first concept, doing all the little things that Bill Belichick preaches. Although he’s known as an edge rusher, he provided solid run support, setting the edge in the running game and would drop into the throwing lanes when Matt Patricia would send blitzes up the A-gaps.

Chris Long was a valuable addition to the Patriots on and off the field in 2016. (SBalestrieri photo)

Why Long Will Return: The Patriots and Long were a good fit in 2016 and there is no reason to think that they couldn’t bring him back for a modest pay raise. Bill Belichick compared Long to Corey Dillion who had played on losing teams before coming to New England for a Super Bowl run in 2004.

Long appeared to love it here in New England and was immediately welcomed by his new teammates. The respect was a two-way street and he assimilated into the locker room seamlessly. He wore a Julian Edelman mask in the locker room one day and cracked up the beat writers and Edelman with a spot-on imitation. That shows the comfort level he immediately had within the confines of the locker room. And that isn’t always the case.

Long would provide a veteran’s presence and savvy with the defense, especially with Jabaal Sheard a free agent. The team could still opt to bring in another free agent or draft a younger player and be part of the rotation with Trey Flowers.

Why Long Won’t Return: There are concerns that Long is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. And that would be correct. How much he has left in the tank is the question that the Patriots coaches have to ask at this point.

Money shouldn’t be the driving issue here. Although a team could come forth and drop some big cash on his doorstep (Detroit?), I don’t see that happening.

The ball is in the Patriots court, was his snap count in the Super Bowl just an exercise in game planning, or did they think his output wouldn’t match the other players. Regardless, he made the most of his opportunities.

But Belichick and Patricia may decide to go younger (Long turns 32 March 28) at the position and re-tool around Flowers and possibly Sheard, if he comes back.

Bottom Line: The Patriots have some interesting decisions to make this spring. With Long and Sheard free agents, and Rob Ninkovich, seemingly having lost a half-step last season, they’ll need to address the defensive end position.

However, if they opt to let Sheard walk for big money which he’ll probably see in free agency, it would make sense to have a proven veteran, something Bill Belichick has always liked on his teams, to help solidify things and help in the rotation. Long has proven that he’s bought into the team-first mentality and will do whatever it takes to ensure the team’s success.

He shouldn’t break the bank and the team could lock him up for another two years at a pretty, modest sum. Therefore I think the chances are better than 50/50 that Long will be in a Patriots uniform in 2017.

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 Free Agent Profile Jabaal Sheard

Steve Balestrieri
February 20, 2017 at 8:50 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the early season starters was DE Jabaal Sheard.

The Patriots signed Sheard to a 2-year, $11 million-dollar contract with $5 million guaranteed including a $4 million-dollar signing bonus before the 2015 season. At the time the move generated little fanfare, however, we here were firmly behind the deal thinking that Sheard would fit in well with the Pats and be productive.

Sheard had a very productive 2015 season with 8.5 sacks while playing mostly as a passing down edge rusher. With the trade of Chandler Jones prior to 2016, he was penciled in as a starter and more was expected of him. But he struggled this season and after Jamie Collins was traded, Sheard was inactive a healthy scratch.

Jabaal Sheard is a talented defensive end who will be looking to cash in during free agency. (SBalestrieri photo)

Whatever message the coaches were trying to send, seemed to have worked. Sheard never complained publicly, he put his nose to the grindstone and worked hard and saw his playing time increase a bit down the stretch. He played well in the playoffs and logged a half-sack in the Super Bowl.

He finished the year with 33 tackles, 5 sacks and 4 passes defensed, numbers which were a disappointment considering how well he played in 2015. Now he has a Super Bowl ring, is a free agent and with Drew Rosenhaus as his agent is looking to cash in.

Why Sheard Will Return: The Patriots were a good fit for Sheard and vice versa. The Patriots were initially interested in Sheard when he came out in the 2011 NFL Draft before being selected by Cleveland with the 37th pick.

Sheard is very good at setting the edge in the running game, having spent the first four years of his career in the tough, AFC North facing a plethora of good running backs. He’s a very good but not elite edge rusher, having a lot of good moves and strong hands. He can bull-rush or cut to the inside with quickness.

He’s versatile and can bump inside and be an effective interior pass rusher on obvious passing downs and can drop into passing lanes.

The quiet, soft-spoken Sheard seems to be a popular player with his teammates and can have a bounce back year if he returns opposite of Trey Flowers. With his struggles in 2016, the Patriots could bring him back at a similar deal that he signed when arriving a few years ago without breaking the bank. Sheard would know that with Chris Long being a free agent, Rob Ninkovich looking like he lost a half-step and Geneo Grissom being primarily a special teams’ player, he can get right back on track and start.

Why Sheard Won’t Return: There is always a market for edge rushers in the NFL. When someone like Sheard who can also set the edge in the running game comes along, it is a bonus because he’s not a one-trick pony and can be a three-down player.

Having just been a member of a Super Bowl-winning team, many times that translates into a player getting slightly over-paid. Sheard still young at the age of 27, would definitely fall into that category.

Spotrac’s Market Value Tool sets Sheard’s price range at an expected $44 million over five years, $8.8 million annually. That seems pretty high for Sheard, whose single-season high in sacks is 8.5 was in 2015. Per Spotrac, that would make him the league’s 12th highest-paid defensive end.

If another team offers Sheard that kind of cash, he’s long gone. The Patriots aren’t going to match that kind of offer. The New York Giants, with Jason Pierre-Paul currently a free agent, are reported to be a possible landing spot for Sheard.

And for the Patriots, they must make a decision as well. Which season was the anomaly? Was it the early 2016 season where he under-achieved? Or was 2015 just a flash in the pan?

Bottom Line: This situation will bear watching how the early days of free agency play out. The Patriots will no doubt be in the wait-and-see mode. If a team is going to shell out the kind of money that was reported above, it will no doubt be early in the process. In which case Sheard is likely gone.

If he’s still not had any suitors in the first week or so, then the chances are such that the Patriots could bring him back in a deal they feel would fit his value. If Sheard and Long (look for our profile on him soon), both leave via free agency, that will leave the Patriots very thin at defensive end. That will put them in the position of having to pay another free agent anyway and then look to the draft to rebuild their depth.

Sheard is a very good defensive end but will probably never be an All-Pro. He won’t be a star but can be a valuable piece of the puzzle for a team looking to upgrade its pass rush.

While it is possible that Sheard returns in 2017, realistically the chances are less than 30 percent at this point. The feeling here is that there will be interest in him and someone is going to shell out some decent, but not great money for Sheard. But it will be more than the Patriots will want to shell out to retain him. He will be in another uniform in Week 1 of the 2017 season.

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

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

New England Patriots News 2-19, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
February 19, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 2-19, & AFC East Notes.

If you haven’t checked out the Tom Brady interview with Peter King, you really should. It was excellent and despite many having sore feelings for King since Deflategate, it is well worth the time.

We here at PatsFans.com would like to wish the best of luck to Chris Price whose contract expired at WEEI and won’t be brought back. With money getting tight all over the journalism field, Price was a victim of the salary cap in a hard-hit field.  Chris has always been a good friend to us here and is one of the really, good guys on the beat. And he’s a helluva writer as well.

Brian Daboll Heading to Alabama as the OC:
The Patriots will lose TEs coach Brian Daboll as he’s taking over the vacant offensive coordinator position at Alabama. Tiderinsider.com Rodney Orr first broke the story on Thursday evening.

Daboll will replace Steve Sarkisian on Nick Saban’s staff. Sarkisian left for the Atlanta Falcons OC position and only held the job for one game, replacing Lane Kiffin who announced that he was leaving for another head coaching job.

Daboll has been a coach in the NFL for 17 years, the last four with the Patriots. He was rumored to be the replacement for Josh McDaniels as the Patriots OC if McDaniels had taken another head coaching position this year.

With the Bill Belichick-Nick Saban connection in place, it could place Daboll in even a better position to become the Patriots OC if McDaniels leaves in the future. Right now, it opens a spot on the coaching staff and rumors are that the Patriots could bring in Chip Kelly in some capacity. Or Belichick could opt to promote from within as he’s done in the past. This will bear watching in the future.

Garoppolo Trade Rumors Swirl Both Ways:
Will the Patriots trade Jimmy Garoppolo this spring? Depending on who you ask, you’ll likely get very different answers.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter appeared on Mike and Mike this week and had this to say about the situation. “There are enough teams out there with a need at the quarterback position, and there just aren’t a lot of quarterbacks out there that … I think there will be calls,” Schefter said. “And it’ll be up to some team to convince the Patriots to offer enough to want to part ways with him.”

But the networks’ Ed Werder stated this week, his sources inside the Patriots tell him that the team won’t be trading Jimmy G. this spring. Our own Russ Goldman wrote his own take this week stating that the Patriots should hold on to him.

Regardless of what anyone is saying, the Patriots have no compulsion to trading Jimmy G. this spring. They hold all the cards, he’s under contract for 2017, they have three QBs that they feel comfortable with and with a weak QB class in the 2017 NFL Draft, it will be up to interested teams to pry him away from the Pats. Charlie Casserly of NFL.com calls him a better QB than any other player coming out this spring.

Peppers, McCaffery Lead Polling in Pats first Draft Pick:
With the offseason among us, the mock drafts are already beginning to make their way onto mainstream media sites. It is always difficult to judge where the Patriots are going target because they so often go against the grain. It becomes doubly difficult before free agency begins because many holes could be filled there.

However, many of the national pundits have the Patriots selecting either S Jabril Peppers from Michigan or Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey with the 32nd pick in the NFL Draft. We’ll respectfully disagree at the time.

The feeling here is Peppers goes a bit earlier than that and the Patriots normally don’t value a running back in the first round, they wait until the middle rounds. McCaffrey isn’t the biggest back either at 197 pounds although he’d be a nice fit in the offense because of his versatility.

Two names to keep an eye on as the draft approaches is UConn S Obi Melifonwu and BYU RB Jamaal Williams. Melifonwu is 6’4, 220 pounds and is an athletic freak. With Duron Harmon a free agent and Pat Chung getting up there in age, he’d be a great fit. Williams would be a middle-round steal and at 6’0, 220-pounds he is a north-south runner who will fit in perfectly with the Patriots rotation.

Chris Long Strikes Back at NFL Fans For Saying He’ll Skip White House:
So far, six members of the Patriots have stated publicly that they’ll skip an invitation to the White House if President Trump does in fact, issue a call to the Pats for winning Super Bowl LI.

Feelings are strong on both sides, however after an open letter by the New York Daily News, Long, had enough. He took to Twitter and stated that he “didn’t an open letter explaining my own words to me.”

He then posted a series of messages after posting this message: “Heard it all this week … if you don’t want to hear about some of the dumb s–t I’ve heard … mute away, but it’s good. Rapid fire time, yeah?”

Former Patriot Myers Dies At 38:
Sad news this week that former Patriots cornerback Leonard Myers passed away from cancer complications on Friday. He was just 38 years old.

Myers was a 6th round draft choice out of Miami in 2001 for the Patriots and was a member of the 2001 Super Bowl winning team. He was invited back to celebrate the team’s 15th anniversary by owner Robert Kraft in December, but couldn’t attend due to his illness.

Myers also spent time with the Lions, Saints, Jets, and the Ottawa Renegades of the CFL.

Michael Floyd Begins 24-day Jail Term For DUI:
Patriots receiver Michael Floyd pled guilty to extreme DUI in Arizona and received a sentence of 120 days in jail with 24 active and 96 under house arrest. Floyd will also receive a fine of $5,000 and must perform 30 hours of community service as well as pass additional alcohol screenings in the future.

The Cardinals released Floyd after his arrest where he was found asleep at the wheel of his running car at a stoplight in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Patriots claimed him off waivers shortly after that.

Floyd who is a free agent, still faces additional punishment from the NFL and much of it unfortunately, will depend on whose uniform he’s wearing this summer.

Bill Belichick to Narrate WWII Documentary:
Chalk this one up to must-see TV. Anyone who has ever watched one of Bill Belichick’s press conferences knows what a history buff and his intense pride in the US Armed Services, specifically the US Navy and the Naval Academy where he spent the formative years of his childhood.

So, it is a perfect fit for Belichick to lend his voice to the narration of an upcoming documentary, D-Day over Normandy, a project funded by the World War II Foundation, of which Belichick is admittedly very proud of.

“Every day of my childhood, I was immersed in the tradition of the United States Navy. I was, and remain, inspired by their discipline, teamwork, and courage, especially the sailors who fought on D-Day and in the Pacific theater, where the U.S. Pacific Fleet sacrificed so much for ultimate victory.

“The Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines made one heck of a team in World War II.”

This should be a very intriguing project and one that will be on every Patriots fans’ radar once it is completed.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills May Look to Safety with #10 Pick:
Two of the bigger needs for the Buffalo Bills this offseason are WR and Safety. Their returning WRs are largely unproven after Sammie Watkins. However, some of the mock drafts have Buffalo targeting LSU Safety Jamal Adams with their #10 pick in the draft.

Adams was the nation’s’ top-ranked safety in 2016 and is versatile, offering excellent support in the running game and can play multiple coverages as well.

Miami Releases Mario Williams After One Season:
This move comes as one that was expected. One year after Buffalo released Mario Williams as a salary cap casualty in 2016, the Miami Dolphins released Williams this week after a disappointing season with the Fins.

Williams signed a big, 2-year, $17 million-dollar contract with Miami last offseason and was a bust. He was benched for Cameron Wake who turned in a Pro Bowl season. Williams notched just 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks in his only season in Miami.

His release saves the Dolphins $8.5M on their 2017 salary cap. Miami also released veterans Branden Albert and Earl Mitchell.

Jets’ Revis Facing Felony Charges in Pennsylvania Incident:
Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis is out on bail after a late-night incident in Aliquippa, PA on Sunday, left two men knocked unconscious. Revis faces aggravated assault and robbery charges.

ESPN posted the following on the incident:

The incident in question occurred at 2:43 a.m. ET Sunday on Pittsburgh’s popular South Side. Two men, ages 21 and 22, told police that Revis punched them amid a verbal altercation. Witnesses said the two men were unconscious for 10 minutes, according to police.

Dallas Cousins, a 22-year-old from Kittanning, Pennsylvania, was walking on a street when he spotted someone who resembled Revis, police said. Cousins confronted Revis, who acknowledged his identity. At that point, Cousins began recording video on his cell phone and continued to follow the NFL star.

“At some point, Revis snatched the cellphone away and attempted to delete the video,” the police statement said.

Zacheriah Jarvis, a 21-year-old from Ross Township, Pennsylvania, who is Cousins’ roommate, helped retrieve the phone, police said. An argument ensued. An unidentified man came to help Revis. The other two men told police they “were punched, then remember waking up to talk to police.”

There is obviously more to the story and eventually, the truth will come out. Revis’ attorney stated the two men were verbally harassing Revis prior to the incident.

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 Face Tough Challenge Keeping Their Defense Together Heading into Free Agency

Ian Logue
February 13, 2017 at 7:48 am ET

When the trade of Chandler Jones went down last March, the move seemed to be the signal of New England’s decision to ensure they would be able to lock up Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins for the foreseeable future and maybe even extend Malcolm Butler and possibly a couple of other players.

Nearly a year later, none of that happened.

Hightower is coming off of a solid season, which included a key play in Super Bowl LI that allowed New England to get back in the game and ultimately pull off a historic comeback to win their fifth title.  As for Collins, he was shipped to Cleveland midseason, rumored to be because of problems stemming from not sticking to the team’s defensive scheme and potentially becoming an issue in the locker room.

Meanwhile, Butler had another great year and is closing in on being a restricted free agent, having played for right around $600k for 2016, far below his market value.  New England is in the driver’s seat with Butler, but the fact he hasn’t yet been locked up for the long-term is still an interesting situation. It’s possible the Patriots may have wanted to be sure his terrific showing in 2015 wasn’t an anomaly and if that’s the case, he’s cernatainly shown that he should be part of the team’s nucleus moving forward and is worthy of a pay increase.

But the fact that no extensions came about is interesting given the fact that things had seemed like they were shaping up to go that route.  The Patriots had made their moves, all that was seemingly left to do was to work out the numbers.

Yet nothing was ever worked out with any of those players, but it’s not like they didn’t try.  According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, before this season, the team offered Hightower a deal worth more than $10-million per season and he reportedly turned it down.  The team could use the franchise tag (worth around $14 million), which the team has done in the past with another key player on defense in Vince Wilfork (2010) before eventually reaching to an extension.

Whatever they come up with will have to be competitive as he seems focused on making sure he’s paid appropriately after making two game-saving plays (his stop against Marshawn Lynch two years ago set up Butler’s game-winning interception) in two Super Bowl victories.

“Absolutely. I’ve spent five years here. I’m eager to see how that’ll turn out,” Hightower told the Providence Journal of free agency. “I’m looking forward to it. … I love New England. I love the fans. They can keep their cold weather, but it’s been a great five years and I’ve loved every second of it.”

Behind Hightower is defensive back Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon, who have each been solid in their roles on the defense.  As a cornerback, Ryan will likely garner interest in the open market and may enter a price tag that could just become too high for the Patriots, especially given how much they’ll eventually need to pay Butler.  The same could be said for Harmon, who has played his way into earning a big raise and he’ll likely get it from a team looking for such a talented player to add to their secondary.


Branch joins Hightower among defensive free agents this offseason.

There’s also Alan Branch, who the Patriots caught a major break with after the veteran won his appeal to avoid a late season suspension that could have jeopardized their solid finish and cost them their top seed.  His value up front can’t be understated, and he’s proven he’s a key part of their defense.

Then there’s Jabaal Sheard, who had a rough year but came on strong down the stretch, and he’s another player who New England will likely try and keep.  The same goes for Chris Long, who took a while to really get comfortable in this defense but got stronger as the year went on and proved to be a smart pick-up before the season.

The fact there are so many players will be a challenge, and oddly enough, It seems like it’s the first time that whatever plan the front office seemingly had to be proactive didn’t seem to work out.  It’s almost to the point where it’s hard not to wonder if there’s a collective effort out in the world of player agents to finally try and stop this juggernaut from underpaying guys in what they feel is too low below market value.  Given similar situations in the past, the fact nothing got done between last March and September is a bit of a red flag, and a curious situation to say the least.

Either way, this team faces some difficult challenges on the defensive side of the football this offseason as they try and keep their nucleus intact.  Success tends to result in big paydays since other teams want a taste of what each of these players just accomplished, and it will likely make things interesting in the coming months.  But with a higher cap number and over $60-million in cap room, the Patriots certainly have the space to get it done.

Now it’s just a matter of making the numbers work.  Hopefully, unlike last year, they’ll have a little more success this time around.

Best of Social Media: Super Bowl LI Postgame and Championship Parade

Robert Alvarez
February 10, 2017 at 9:07 am ET

The instant New England Patriots running back James White crossed the goal line plane for the winning touchdown, the largest comeback in Super Bowl history was complete.

Facing a 25 point deficit, the Patriots never led until the final score. An unprecedented 31-0 run to end the game set off one of the wildest finishes in football history and a fifth Lombardi to One Patriot Place in Foxborough.

Below is a compilation of some of the best social media postings shared by the players, media, and fans during the celebration on the field and the parade in Boston two days later.

It takes a team. And so much love. #NeverStopBelieving

A post shared by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on

My everything

A post shared by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQLRA8wjXBg/?taken-by=gisele&hl=en

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/828463124059738112

Catch me at the parade How Bout Dat

A post shared by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on

"If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don't deal in lies, Or being hated, don't give way to hating, And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise: If you can dream – and not make dreams your master; If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools: If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!' If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, ' Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch, if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And – which is more – you'll be a Man, my son!"

A post shared by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on

Rain drop. Drop top. Benny dabbin on the boat with his Papa!

A post shared by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQRCyqXDQv0/?taken-by=tombrady

"If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don't deal in lies, Or being hated, don't give way to hating, And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise: If you can dream – and not make dreams your master; If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools: If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!' If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, ' Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch, if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And – which is more – you'll be a Man, my son!"

A post shared by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on

#patsnation we love you!!!!! coming home with another one! #wegotsomereallybigrings

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

5 boston 5

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

Boston you are the #champions #gottabelieve

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

Best ever no questions asked! # 2 for me and # 5 for that guy!!

A post shared by Rob Gronkowski (@gronk) on

My brother @glenn_gronkowski and I super bowl champs together!!

A post shared by Rob Gronkowski (@gronk) on

Tag team Gronk Bro's VS the Hype bro's! @mojorawleywwe @zryder85 #duckboat #champs #gronksquad #wwebelt

A post shared by Rob Gronkowski (@gronk) on

Champs!! #GronkBro's #Gronkfitness #patriotsnation #parade

A post shared by Rob Gronkowski (@gronk) on

When you're a CHAMP!!!

A post shared by Jason+Devin McCourty (@mccourtytwins) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQL22r3A4vH/?taken-by=mccourtytwins&hl=en

Me: Tom we won the SUPER BOWL AGAIN…YEAAAAA Tom: LETS GOOOOOOO….Parade was epic!!!!! -Dmac

A post shared by Jason+Devin McCourty (@mccourtytwins) on

For Life I have my beautiful wife and TWO Super Bowl Championships!!! I am blessed!!! #wifeforlife #bymyside

A post shared by Robert Ninkovich (@nink50) on

World Champs!!!!!!! #itsneverover #patriots

A post shared by Robert Ninkovich (@nink50) on

A post shared by Robert Ninkovich (@nink50) on

Champs!!!!!!!

A post shared by Robert Ninkovich (@nink50) on

A post shared by Robert Ninkovich (@nink50) on

Never quit.

A post shared by Danny Amendola (@dannyamendola) on

A post shared by Sheard (@jabaalsheard) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQMLKsgAB0h/?taken-by=mac_bz&hl=en

A post shared by Malcolm CB Butler (@mac_bz) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQNudTXjN47/?taken-by=dharm30

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQTKfhcDfT9/?taken-by=dharm30

2x World Champ

A post shared by Logan Ryan (@realloganryan) on

Champions….

A post shared by Martellus Bennett (@martellusb) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQKecO0hN4l/?taken-by=martellusb&hl=en

When your boy gets the baddest girl in the club phone number!! Swish.

A post shared by Martellus Bennett (@martellusb) on

Letsss gooooooo! Shoutout to everyone who came to the parade! #champs #sb51 #patsnation #doyourjob #parade

A post shared by Chris Hogan (@chrishogan_15) on

No better feeling!! 2x World Champs!! #GoPats

A post shared by Nate Ebner (@ebs43) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQMPReMBErM/?taken-by=_boomtower

Reason for my being!

A post shared by Patrick Chung (@23patrickchung) on

When you're happy so you just tackle people

A post shared by Patrick Chung (@23patrickchung) on

We worked for every bit of this. Awesome time today with the boys #hulksmash #patsnation #fam

A post shared by Brandon Bolden (@bbhulksmash) on

We always the littest @sweetfeet_white28 @gronk @d_lew33 @martellusb

A post shared by LeGarrette Blount (@l_blount29) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQKuEV8DO-F/?taken-by=laflamablanca95

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQLhXkID_w3/?taken-by=laflamablanca95

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQNxhp2D6os/?taken-by=laflamablanca95

https://twitter.com/III_Flowers/status/828731813891813376

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQNwJFWjcIq/?taken-by=iii_flowers

Champs.

A post shared by Matt Lengel (@matthewlengel) on

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Belichick SMILE ALERT!

NO DAYS OFF! NO DAYS OFF!

(Everyone in attendance took the day off)

Some current and former Boston athletes got in on the congratulations.

Curse broken?

Captain America was on the edge of his seat.

The greatest troll tweet of all time.

Just remember, always think before you tweet.

Roger That.

Patriots Have a Long List of Free Agents in 2017

Steve Balestrieri
February 9, 2017 at 9:28 am ET

The Patriots will enter the 2017 offseason with a ton of cap space ($61,248,593 according to our own salary cap guru in Miguel @patscap) but have a lot of players hitting free agency.  There is a total of 19 players that are free agents this spring. It begins with 13 unrestricted free agents, three restricted free agents, and three exclusive-rights free agents.

Here is a list of the Patriots free agents and their ages in parenthesis:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
TE Martellus Bennett (30)
RB LeGarrette Blount (30)
RB Brandon Bolden (27)
DT Alan Branch (32)
FB James Develin (28)
WR Michael Floyd (27)
FS Duron Harmon (26)
LB Dont’a Hightower (26)
DE Chris Long (31)
LB Barkevious Mingo (26)
CB Logan Ryan (26)
TE Greg Scruggs (26)
DE Jabaal Sheard (27)

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
CB Malcolm Butler (26)
OT Cameron Fleming (24)
LB Trevor Reilly (29)

EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS:
CB Justin Coleman (23)
LB Brandon King (23)
TE Matt Lengel (26)

So, what are the differences in the categories you ask? Well, I’m glad you did… sort of. The Patriots can extend any of the players below to a new deal prior to the March 9th deadline. Once the deadline hits, then that is when the different categories come into play.

The Unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any team for basically the best deal for the player, whether it be the money, the team or any other reason.

Restricted free agents can be offered one of three “tenders” by the team holding their rights. They are for players with just three years of accrued service in the league. Since most rookie contracts run for four years now, they are becoming rarer.

A tender is a one-year contract for a pre-determined amount and here are the categories: (note the amounts listed here are in 2016 money and will be subject to change.)

First round tender: 1 year, about $3.582 million
Second round tender: 1 year, about $2.516 million
Right of first refusal/Original round tender: 1 year, about $1.647 million

The original round tender means that if another team swoops in and signs a player, his last team would get a draft pick from the round that player was drafted in. In the case of a UDFA, the team would get nothing.

The team has the right of first refusal as well if a team were to offer a restricted free agent an offer, the Patriots have the right to match it.

Exclusive rights free agents haven’t accrued three years of NFL service and if the team extends them an offer sheet, they have to sign it.

So while the Patriots have tons of cap room, they also have some big decisions to make in regards to 21 free agents. The ERFAs are the most easily done if they want to keep them they are the easiest to retain. But from there the questions become a bit stickier.

We’ll be looking at some of the free agents in depth in the upcoming days. Who may stay and who may go.

Any questions regarding the salary cap and the inner workings of it should be addressed to Miguel aka @Patscap who covers the salary cap of the Patriots better than anyone else anywhere. We are fortunate to have him here at PatsFans.com and he has the breakdowns of the deals and how it all works.

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 End of Season Positional Report Card

Steve Balestrieri
February 8, 2017 at 11:20 am ET

Strong finish in the playoffs Nets Super Bowl Trophy #5

The Patriots finished the 2016-17 season in style with an incredible and improbable come from behind 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons. The Patriots scored 31 unanswered points to bring home the Lombardi Trophy for the fifth time in the Brady- Belichick era.

Now is the time to take a look at the roster and give our end of season grades by position. In the coming days, we’ll also begin to take a look at where the roster is terms of 2017 and where the team will begin to look where they can add depth during the free agency period. The NFL Combine and the draft are right around the corner. As Bill Belichick said on Monday, they’re five weeks behind the rest of the league in terms of preparation for next season, but here’s a final look at how the 2016 team graded out.

We’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets

Quarterback: A
What more can be said about Tom Brady? After an MVP-type season where he ended up finishing 2nd behind Matt Ryan, he topped it off with the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history by throwing for 466 yards and leading the Patriots to their fifth championship under his watch.

In 15 regular season and playoff games, Brady threw for 4691 yards 35 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He averaged 379 yards per game in the playoffs and all at the age of 39. And yet still despite his fourth SB MVP trophy, the dweebs and naysayers rush to marginalize his accomplishments in a lame attempt to get spots on Boston sports radio. And they will. Signs of the times.

Tom Brady continues to defy Father Time with an outstanding season at age 39. (SBalestrieri photo)

Jimmy Garoppolo’s spot next to Brady on the duck boat in the parade may be our last look at him as a member of the Patriots. With the Patriots rumored to be looking to extend Brady for three more years, the time may be right to trade Jimmy G. while the interest for him is at its peak. If the reported interest includes a first round draft pick, there is no way that the Patriots could turn that down. In the two games, he was the starter (really a game and a half), he played very well, completing 68 percent of his throws with 4 TDs and 0 INTs.

Rookie Jacoby Brissett was forced into action when Garoppolo injured his shoulder. He played 2 full games before Brady came back from his suspension and played well considering how few snaps he got as the third QB during training camp. If indeed Jimmy G. is traded this spring, he’ll become the heir apparent to Brady and will have much more thrust on his plate. It is interesting to note that neither Brissett nor Garoppolo threw an interception this season.

Running Backs: B
LeGarrette Blount had a career-best 1161 yards and a league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns on the season. The team tried to limit his workload down the stretch but it seemed he wore down a bit by the playoffs, adding just 109 yards and a touchdown in three playoff games. He did a very good job of providing the team with a big back presence, especially early in the season when Brady was serving his suspension.

Dion Lewis missed the first half of the season, recovering from his torn ACL suffered in 2015 but was a valuable piece in both the running and passing game down the stretch and into the playoffs. It is interesting to note, that the Patriots have never lost when he’s on the field.

James White ably filled the third-down back role all season and he responded with his best year. He chipped in the running game a bit all season but his value is highest in the passing game as both a receiver and a pass blocker. He set a Super Bowl record with 14 receptions for 110 yards and three touchdowns both rushing and receiving.

James Develin really boosted the running game with his presence after missing 2015 with a broken leg. He’s a tremendous blocking fullback who can add the occasional run or catch. Being healthy for 16 games, he was a big factor in the running game being a true complimentary piece this season.

UDFA rookie D.J. Foster appeared in three games and got his feet wet. He does possess the shifty ability to make people miss.

Wide Receivers: B+
Julian Edelman had a fantastic 2016 regular season logging 98 catches for 1106 yards and three TDs. He topped that off with a terrific playoff run catching 21 passes for 342 yards (16.3 yards per catch average) and a score.

After starting slowly in training camp with a tweak of his injured foot, his status was a bit of a question mark entering the season. He not only answered the bell every week but continued to do the dirty work underneath providing Tom Brady with his most reliable receiver.

Combined regular season and playoff totals of 119 catches for 1448 yards with four TDs are up there at the elite level of wide receivers. Not bad for a guy who wouldn’t make another team’s 53-man roster, eh Keyshawn?

Chris Hogan was a steal for the Patriots during free agency. The Patriots signed the restricted free agent away from Buffalo and he immediately fit in seamlessly into the offense. Although he was moved around both inside and outside there, he was mainly an outside the numbers guy for the Pats.

His numbers were a solid 38 catches for 680 yards (17.9-yard average), with 4 TDs in the regular season. He capped that off with 17 catches for 332 yards (19.5-yard average) and 2 TDs in the postseason. With a combined regular and postseason total of 1012 yards and an 18.4-yard average, Hogan is set up for even more success in 2017.

Danny Amendola missed the final 4 regular season games but was on hand for the playoff run and as always provides tough, reliable, and sure hands when the game reaches crunch time. Although he caught no more than 4 passes in any game during the regular season, his catches always seem to be of the biggest.

When the Patriots were down in the Super Bowl, Amendola stepped up with his biggest game of the season. He had eight catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. He also added the two-point conversion that tied the game.

Malcolm Mitchell had a very solid rookie season in 2016. After shining early in training camp he injured his elbow during the preseason and missed some valuable time. After starting slowly in the regular season, he got better down the stretch and became a trusted member of the offense. He logged 26 of his 32 catches in the second half of the season. In the Super Bowl, he added six catches for 70 yards and is in the great position to make a big 2nd-year jump in production.

Michael Floyd was picked up late in the season after being released by Arizona and played sparingly down the stretch but was a healthy scratch for the final two playoff games. He’s a free agent this season and has mentioned that he’d like to come back. He has the size (6’3, 225) and speed that the Pats would love to keep on the roster but we’ll see how that plays out.

Tight Ends: B
Martellus Bennett was a great addition both on and off the field this season. Despite being banged up for most of the season, the physical and tough Bennett answered the bell every week and provided good production in the passing game and outstanding blocking in both the running game and in pass protection.

He logged 55 catches for 701 yards and 7 TDs during 2016 and added 11 more catches in the postseason, including five for 62 yards in the Super Bowl.

Rob Gronkowski played in eight games but really was himself for less than four. His season was one of injuries piled on top of one another. The Patriots most prolific receiver, he was missed down the stretch and into the playoffs. However, his absence forced them to find other ways to win, and they did. In limited action in 2016, Gronk caught 25 passes for 540 yards (21.6 average) and three TDs.

Matt Lengel was plucked off the Cincinnati practice squad and played sparingly.

Offensive Line: B+
The Patriots offensive line welcomed back Dante Scarnecchia this season and what a difference it made. Of course, the health of the unit and getting Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon all season on the edge was huge.

Cannon was easily the biggest and best surprise of the season. No one expected him to perform anywhere near what he did this season. Solder, back from a torn biceps in 2015 was very solid at left tackle. The interior of the line with C David Andrews, and guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney was solid.

Having the unit together all season cut down on the number of sacks allowed and the running game was much more effective. Thuney needs to get a bit stronger and I expect with the offseason strength and conditioning program he will do just that.

Next up is the Defense:

Defensive Line: B
The Patriots defensive line was a position of strength in 2016. Alan Branch and Malcolm Brown were fantastic in run support all season. They provided the consistent solid front that stopped opponents at the point of attack and frequently penetrated which greatly aided in bringing the Patriots to the #3 rush defense in the NFL. Vincent Valentine was their relief and played well if sparingly in his rookie season.

Trey Flowers has become an impact player both on the edge and as an interior pass rusher in 2016. He was arguably the best Patriots defensive lineman down the stretch and into the playoffs. Lost in the shuffle of the SB comeback was his 2.5 sacks, which greatly increased the Pats chances of winning.

Trey Flowers was outstanding in the second half of the season and into the playoffs for the Pats defense. (SBalestrieri photo)

Chris Long did the little things all season long and was a great veteran presence along the defensive line. He did a little bit of everything and frequently dropped into the passing lanes which greatly helped the defense.

Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich didn’t execute up to what we projected for them in the preseason. Sheard was the Pats best pass rusher in 2015. But he found himself a healthy scratch at times this season. He had his moments and had a sneaky good performance in the Super Bowl that went under the radar. Ninkovich bounced between the edge and linebacker this season and never quite got untracked after missing the first four games.

Linebackers: B-
Dont’a Hightower was the glue that held the unit together and was outstanding in both run support and as a blitzer when tasked to get after the QB. For a man of his size, he moves extremely well. His strip sack of Matt Ryan in the Super Bowl was the turning point.  His play led to the team trading Jamie Collins to Cleveland. He’s going to get paid.

Elandon Roberts is an undersized if very physical down-hill style player that is at his best in run support. He proved to be a liability in coverage and that will be something the rookie will have to work on this off-season.

Kyle Van Noy was a nice pickup from the Lions and he did a little bit of everything at linebacker. He played the run fairly well and was generally good in coverage. He also provided some nice blitzes off the edge on passing downs.

Shea McClellin was signed from the Bears and the Patriots used him much like Van Noy and he provided good run support, some coverage and was occasionally effective coming on blitzes.

Barkevious Mingo, much to people’s surprise, played very little defense in 2016, contributing mainly on Special Teams. The uber-athletic freak has the speed to rush off the edge, something they may opt to use more of in the future.

Secondary: B+
The Patriots secondary had a pretty, solid season in 2016. Despite being looked upon as a weak spot, they are better than what they’ve been given credit for.

Malcolm Butler played solid all season long. He is the guy that should prove to be a mainstay at the left cornerback position for the conceivable future. He was usually matched up with the opponent’s best receiver. He’s a free agent and will get paid.

Logan Ryan had a strong second half of the season, where he just got better and better. Ryan was particularly strong in the postseason and he too is a free agent. The Patriots should try to re-sign him if the price is right.

Eric Rowe was picked up from Philadelphia and played well for most of 2016. The third corner in the Pats rotation, he’s also the biggest CB on the roster. Justin Coleman, Cyrus Jones, and Jonathan Jones didn’t see the field much on defense this season and are, right now strictly depth players.

Devin McCourty had another outstanding season at safety for the Patriots. He’s the QB for the secondary and provides excellent deep help as the centerfielder in the secondary.

Pat Chung was solid once again for NE as the in-the-box safety who plays close to the line of scrimmage. Chung was very good in run support and his work against the tight ends and backs on the short routes was solid.

Duron Harmon is the third safety in the rotation when they go to their big nickel alignment. He excels in the role and has a great nose for the football. Jordan Richards is strictly depth and Nate Ebner and Brandon King are ST mavens.

Next up are the Special Teams and Coaches

Special Teams: B-
Stephen Gostkowski had a season that for him was well off from what we’ve come to expect after a decade of near perfection. He missed three extra points in the regular season and then missed two more in the playoffs. His miss in the Super Bowl nearly cost the team as dearly as 2015. But unlike the 2015 AFC Championship Game, the Patriots made the two-point conversion that sent the game into overtime.

His 84 percent on FGs was down slightly as well. But his short, mortar-style kickoffs were extremely effective this season, especially so in the Super Bowl, where the Patriots pinned Atlanta back time and again.

Ryan Allen had his best season in 2016 punting for the Pats. The 4th year pro was outstanding at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line and had a career-best net punting average of 41.4 yards per punt.

Cyrus Jones was supposed to elevate the Patriots return game this season. The rookie from Alabama had 4 return TDs in his last season with the Crimson Tide and is electric with the ball in his hands. Instead, much of his season was a nightmare. His issues at holding onto the ball began back in minicamp and went right thru the regular season. He fumbled five times on the season.

Edelman and Amendola were forced back into returning punts and kicks because of this and that wasn’t in the cards when the team selected Jones. Dion Lewis was electric on kickoffs with a TD and a fumble in the playoffs. The return game was a disappointment in 2016 and needs an upgrade.

Coaches: A
Bill Belichick did another masterful performance leading the team to a 14-2 record, the best in the NFL and followed that up with three excellent game plans for the playoffs which resulted in the Patriots securing their fifth Super Bowl win in their seventh game with Belichick as the head coach.

This was despite not having Brady for the first four game of the season due to his suspension and being forced to use three QBs. The Patriots went 3-1 to start the season without Brady and never looked back.

And once again, as it happens every season, Belichick was snubbed as the NFL Coach of the Year. It is amazing that this has become the yearly rewarding of the coach du jour when Belichick is clearly far ahead of his peers. Far…far ahead. (Semi-Star Wars ref.)

Josh McDaniels had an outstanding season as the Patriots offensive coordinator. He was the coach most affected by Brady’s early absence but he was able to play to his player’s strengths, going to a power running attack early in the season with LeGarrette Blount and seamlessly transitioned over from Garoppolo to Brissett to Brady without missing a beat.

He utilized his personnel to the best of their abilities and was consistently keeping the opponents off-balance and in a reactive mode, rather than allowing them to dictate the pace and the tempo of games. In the postseason, the Patriots averaged 33.3 points per game and 451 yards of offense per game.

Matt Patricia and his defense struggled early in the season, something that was unexpected when the season began. The defense with the additions early in the season was thought to be a Top 10 unit, but they struggled.

Patricia tinkered with the personnel groupings, finally finding a unit that played well not only individually but collectively. He had them playing excellent team defense and the team fundamentally was extremely sound. The Patriots defense was one of the best tackling units in the league and ended up as the #1 scoring defense in the NFL.

Despite what many pundits will say about the defense, the one thing they did all season was adjusting very effectively during the game. It was evident in the Super Bowl, where the defense stiffened in the second half and overall held the high-scoring Atlanta offense to 21 points. Patricia gets high marks as the defense performed greater than the sum of their parts.

Special Team’s coach Joe Judge had an up and down year. There were some struggles especially with ball security in the return game, and with the kicking game but his coverage units were very solid all season long. The Patriots have a number of standout players on the STs that totally buy into his approach including Matthew Slater, Mingo, Geneo Grissom, Ebner, and King.

Overall Judge gets solid marks for the season, despite the struggles at times. Expect the team to look to increase their level of play next season.

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

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

 

Patriots’ Defense Made Adjustments, Got the Stops When It Mattered

Steve Balestrieri
February 7, 2017 at 9:01 am ET

“They Haven’t played anybody…”

Well, now they have.

The Patriots defense, perhaps the most-maligned #1 scoring defense in NFL history, had its issues in the first half but did what they accomplished so often in 2016. Between Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick, they made their adjustments, played good overall team defense and smart situational football and made the plays at crunch time to allow the offense to make their comeback. The result was the Patriots are gearing up for their Super Bowl parade on Tuesday morning.

Since the halfway point of the season, this is a unit that kept getting better, despite the usual suspects who looked to denigrate everything the team accomplished and marginalize every victory. While the list of opposing QBs was hardly a “Murderer’s Row”, the team focused on getting things right and playing better, regardless of who was lined up opposite of them. And they did.

Allowing the fewest points in the NFL isn’t a fluke after a 16-game schedule, regardless of what some would have you believe. Was the defense, the best in the NFL? No, and no one is making that argument. But they were better than what some would have you believe and no longer can it be said, “they haven’t faced a top QB.”

Points Not Yards are Bottom-line: One can argue all day long about yards allowed, the Patriots will never lead the league in that category. Because their defensive philosophy is such that they’ll allow the short plays underneath because they won’t allow opponents to get the big chunk plays down the field. And they did that in the playoffs again.

In three playoff games, the Patriots defense allowed a total of 54 points. With 16 against the Texans and then just 17 against the Steelers’ offense and 21 against the #1 offense in the league against Atlanta. That’s allowing just 18 points per game.  And the final two games were against some high-powered offenses with Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan.

In the second half of their three postseason games, the defense allowed just 18 points with seven of them coming on a garbage time touchdown by the Steelers. The Falcons scored just seven points in the second half and most importantly none in the fourth quarter.

First Half in Houston was hardly super, but their finish was: Atlanta’s first play from scrimmage was a huge 37-yard run by Devonta Freeman. The play was perfectly executed by the Falcons with outstanding blocking from the offensive line and especially Julio Jones that sprung Freeman on his jaunt to get Atlanta out of a deep hole.

Freeman and Tevin Coleman were very effective in the first half, rushing for 86 yards, which is just 2.6 yards less than the Patriots were allowing for an entire game. But after halftime, it was a different story. Atlanta rushed for just 18 yards after the break.

Freeman ended up with 75 yards rushing on 11 carries which comes out to a stellar 6.8-yards per rush. But after that big run (which coincidentally netted zero points), he carried 10 times for 38 yards. Atlanta had scored on their opening possession for the previous nine games prior to the Super Bowl. That streak ended on Sunday.

So, while Kyle Shanahan is under fire for not running the ball more, especially in the fourth quarter (see Victory-Marginalization Pt1), there was a reason why he didn’t. And a lot of that had to do with the Patriots defense.

In the passing game, Freeman and Coleman combined for just three catches. While two of them were big plays, a 39-yarder to Freeman where he broke a few ankles making people miss and the TD to Coleman where it was another perfectly executed play where Ninkovich was caught up in the wash inside. They weren’t the consistent targets in the passing game that we envisioned Atlanta planning on prior to the game.

Ryan’s Performance Was Outstanding: Falcon’s QB Matt Ryan was the NFL’s MVP this year and his performance on Sunday night showed why that was so deserved. He completed 17-23 for 284 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But a second look at some of his big throws, especially to Julio Jones shows that the Patriots couldn’t have defended many of those any better. Several of the throws were of the very low-percentage variety that Ryan just threw dimes on. And the plays by Jones on a few of those were just ridiculous.

Rather than find fault with the defense, those were some plays where one must tip their hat to the opposition.

Third Down Defense Outstanding: A key area that the Patriots like to stress with the defense under Belichick is getting off the field on third down. Atlanta only converted 1 of 8 third-down opportunities. They got a second one on a close call on Malcolm Butler who was flagged for pass interference.

But in the second half, the Falcons offense was 0-5 on third down. And that wasn’t against Brock Osweiler and the Texans. Atlanta was the #1 scoring offense in the NFL this season and Ryan was the MVP. Without a solid defensive effort in the 2nd half, there was no comeback in the cards.

“Where are the PlayMakers?” Right Here: Another knock that we constantly hear about the Patriots defense is the lack of playmakers. In reality, it is more about the lack of name recognition than actual playmakers.

When they needed big plays the defense got them. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower who is indispensable to the Pats defense came up with a huge strip sack on Ryan which flipped the game’s momentum to the Patriots.

Facing a 3rd and 1, Ryan and the Falcons were going for the homerun ball, Hightower blitzed off the edge and blew past a very half-hearted block attempt of Freeman and blasted Ryan just as he was about to release the ball. The Patriots took over at the Atlanta 25-yard line and soon scored to make it 28-20 and the Pats were right back in the game. Pay the man.

Trey Flowers continued his outstanding second half of the season with a super performance in the Super Bowl. Flowers led the team with 2.5 sacks of Matt Ryan as they piled up five sacks in just 23 pass attempts by the Falcons’ QB.

None were bigger than his fourth-quarter sack of Ryan which helped push Atlanta out of field goal range. Facing a 2nd and 11 at the Patriots 23, Flowers sacked Ryan for a loss of 12 yards back to the 35-yard line. The next play was a holding penalty on Atlanta that pushed the ball back to the 45-yard line.

There his third down pass was incomplete forcing a punt rather than a field goal attempt and Brady drove the ball 91 yards in 2:33 for his own “John Candy” moment to tie up the Super Bowl.

The Patriots defense held Atlanta’s high scoring offense to just 21 total points with seven in the second half with none in the fourth quarter. They held them to 1-8 on third downs including 0-5 in the second half. I think Ryan and the Falcons’ offense qualify as “having faced somebody.”  It was a tough game but they passed their test.

Now let’s go to a Super Bowl parade…

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 2-5, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
February 5, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 2-5. No AFC East Notes for this week as we’re on to the Super Bowl. We’ll have them back next week.

Well, the Super Bowl is finally here and the Patriots and Falcons square off later today for the right to lift the Lombardi Trophy as Champions of SB LI.

This is a good time to look back at the journey that the 2016 season truly was. It began in the spring workouts of the OTAs and minicamp and continued right thru the preseason and into the regular season and the playoffs.

It seems like ages ago when we made the trek down to Gillette for the first real look at the team during the minicamp workouts. From our first looks at free agent signing Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett, then the scramble for a second look at photos because Tom Brady wasn’t wearing an NFL sticker on his helmet…. Yes, we’ve come that far.

Tom Brady raised a stir in mini-camp and training camp for not having an NFL sticker on his helmet. (SBalestrieri photo)

Ty Law Comes up Short in NFL HOF Vote:
Former Patriot great CB Ty Law won’t be getting fitted for his gold jacket just yet. Although we here feel that Law is more than qualified, he came up short in his bid for the NFL Hall of Fame released on Saturday night.

He wasn’t alone, along with Law, Terrell Owens, John Lynch, and Brian Dawkins all failed to generate enough votes for induction in 2017. Hopefully, Law will get the votes and have someone like Ron Borges advocate for him in 2018.

Belichick Again Pushed the Right Buttons:
Every season, as soon as a big move is made, writers and fans can’t wait to jump all over the “GM Bill is hurting the Coach Bill” in regards to Bill Belichick. By now, you’d think that Belichick would gain a little bit of leeway in these matters but you’d be mistaken.

At the first sign of letting players go, the lines begin at the Tobin Bridge as “this is the year they fall” begins in earnest. The Patriots traded Chandler Jones to the Cardinals and later released former top draft pick, Dominique Easley. The defense was going to fail, “where’s the pass rush coming from”… you remember?

Conventional thinking was, Jones was all that was needed to push a Cardinals team over the top in the NFC. Belichick was roasted for this one. But although Jonathan Cooper was released and benefitted nothing in return there, the draft pick turned into two and the Patriots got both Joe Thuney and Malcolm Mitchell in the draft. And the money they saved on the salary cap allowed them to sign Chris Long in free agency.

Next Bill traded LB Jamie Collins to the NFL equivalent of Siberia in the Cleveland Browns in an attempt to shake up the defense. This WAS surely the death knell for the defense in 2016, right? Wrong. The team turned it around and finished as the #1 defense in terms of points allowed in the NFL. Still, the naysayers had to find a dark cloud in there and feel compelled to point out the slate of opposing QBs wasn’t a Murderer’s Row. Even after holding the Steelers offense to essentially nine points in the conference championship game.

Bringing in Hogan and Bennett were tremendous acquisitions for the team. Each has fit seamlessly into the offense and have been great additions to the team. Bill brought back Dante Scarnecchia this season, and that is arguably the best move of all. He brought around Marcus Cannon when no one and I mean no one thought that would be possible. You remember?

The under-the-radar depth moves of bringing in Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy and Eric Rowe were all positive moves. While none of them are world-beaters in themselves, they each have provided good production and have fulfilled a role on the defense.

How fortunate the fan base has been the past 17 years with Belichick at the helm. As a youngster growing up and watching the nomad Pats play in Fenway, BC, Harvard and the old stadium in Foxboro, I used to wonder what it was like to watch the home team go to the playoffs.

Now we’ve come to expect a dozen victories and a deep playoff run as a normal occurrence in these parts. But 7 Super Bowl appearances with Brady and Belichick at the helm for the past 16 seasons is a ridiculous amount of success.

It has been an amazing run and it isn’t over yet… until the draft and the invariable big move(s) comes along…right?

Patriots Going “Over the Wall” to Mexico:
Well to no one’s surprise, the rumor that the Patriots would be playing a game in Mexico City has been confirmed. The league announced that the Pats would be playing the Raiders there in 2017 with Oakland being the ‘home’ team.

Both teams have a large contingent of fans south of the border as the NFL is immensely popular there. The stadium is in a very nice area of Mexico City and anyone who would be making the trip would enjoy it tremendously.

Having lived and worked there in the past, I can tell you first hand that football is huge there and watched first-hand the Super Bowl between the Saints and the Colts. The Patriots Mexico Fan Club should be there in force.

Pats WRs Get the Rodney Dangerfield Treatment from Keyshawn:
The rest of the country is sick of the Patriots winning and want to see them lose. That fact is undeniable and once it comes to the forefront, it gives birth to the stories that invariably follow that the players aren’t really as good as many believe.

This week, former WR Keyshawn Johnson took a shot at the Patriots wide receivers. Not only is Johnson not a fan of their talent, but went so far as to say that if they didn’t play for New England many wouldn’t be in the NFL.

“When you see guys that fail and play for other teams at the receiver position, they can go to New England and excel and everybody goes, “Oh my God, Oh my God, these receivers are top of the game.’ Well, they couldn’t excel with other teams because of the system,” Johnson said. “If they were on other teams right now, they probably wouldn’t be on the 53-man roster.”

Raise your hand if you’ve seen this before, maybe not so bold, but this isn’t new. Julian Edelman had fun with it however, with a wink and grin he said a few times “WHO?” before adding this gem to Mike Giardi of CSNNE.

“I’m not worried about what people are saying, I’m worried about what people are doing,” Edelman said. “Week in and week out, we ignore the noise and just try to hunker down on preparation and on going out and trying to play our best games on Sundays.”

Goodell Responds But Doesn’t Answer Every Question During SB Presser:
With the slickness of a Washington politician, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held his Super Bowl State of the League press conference and it was noteworthy for what wasn’t said rather than what was.

Goodell responded to every question but in a classic case of deflection, he answered next to nothing. Surprising? No, but in some cases, it was almost hilarious in the ridiculousness that transpired.

One thing is clear, he’s sick of answering questions about Deflategate and told fans of NE basically to shut up and move on. Roger the dodger then said his relationship with the Patriots wasn’t awkward and if invited he’d definitely come back to Foxboro. Really? The Commissioner of the NFL needs an invite?  With a Patriots win tonight, Goodell will most certainly be invited to Foxboro for the season opener. Unless a supermarket giveaway in Peoria or a business meeting in Liechtenstein requires his immediate attention.

But the best of his deflections was on the subject of one website that was denied Super Bowl credentials. Asked by a reporter why Barstool Sports was denied credentialing and in effect didn’t that hit home the thought of the NFL as the “No Fun League”, Goodell jumped at the chance to run in another direction.

Barstool, in a total self-promotional move, staged a sit-in at NFL HQs and was forcibly removed from there. Goodell claimed to have never heard of them and then went on and on about the celebrations that initially marked the “No Fun League” as if that was the burning question… slick move, but we’re not buying that one.

His Fan Forum question and answer session were a carefully selected farce by the league with softball questions fed to him in a manner that would make North Korea proud.

So how was your week?

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