Tag Archives: Jimmy Garoppolo

New England Patriots News 1-7, AFC East Notes

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

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 1-7, & AFC East Notes.

We hope everyone made it thru the first big winter storm that rolled thru the area this week. If you lived on the coast, some areas were hit really hard with some awful flooding. That’s mother nature’s way of reminding us that she can really pack a wallop. Let’s hope everyone is ok and back in their homes soon.

It Has to be Playoff Time When You See…:
Unless you’ve been on a winter trip in the Amazon, by now you’ve heard about the story in ESPN about the Patriots coming apart at the seams and the feuding going on between Patriots owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

It never ceases to amaze that the network always “breaks” these stories around the time the playoffs are going on…coincidence? A few of the items in the story just jump out, so our two cents on these, in no particular order:

-Trade Demanded by #12:  If you believe that Tom Brady forced Robert Kraft to force Bill Belichick to trade Jimmy Garoppolo, you just haven’t paid any attention to what’s been going on around these parts for the past 17 years. Brady lives for competition, it drives him and it has been why he’s so successful.

How many times have we talked about and remarked how competitive he is…in practice? Brady regularly treats practice in training camp like a playoff game. If the Patriots’ coaches told him that Garoppolo is soon to take over, it’s going to light a fire under his butt, not drive him to run to Kraft demanding Jimmy G. gets traded.

Brady has always adopted an almost warrior-type bushido in his professional career. The average man looks at events that occur in his life as a blessing or a curse. The warrior looks upon those same events as a challenge.

-Garoppolo Turned Down $17-18 Million Dollar Extension: This one got into specifics and was perhaps the biggest surprise of the entire piece. Supposed, the Patriots went to Garoppolo and Don Yee, his manager, who also reps Brady and offered him a nice extension but were turned down. Two Patriots insiders Tom E. Curran, and Mark Daniels have their own sources and stated that this never happened. As for Garoppolo being locked out of the TB12 clinic next door? Please. This fall, I walked into the front door of the place, looking for alternatives to gel injections for arthritic knees and waltzed right in. That’s one of the more ridiculous mentions. And as for Garoppolo claiming that Brady refused to help him? Well, a month ago Brady said that the two still talk regularly and have a great relationship. Garoppolo gave Brady credit for helping him in a presser for the Niners…hmm.

-Brady and Belichick Are Feuding Over Guerrero: While there may be a slight lingering of hurt feelings over Guerrero, I wrote here two weeks ago that even those I believe to be overblown. Belichick needs one voice in the locker room and on the field and that is the team’s. Many of the beat writers have said that the relationship between the coach and QB has never been a close personal one but a close professional one.

And you’re dealing with big egos here. Are there going to be disagreements and even arguments? After a 17-year marriage? Are you kidding me? When you put two Type-A personalities in the same room, of course, there will be plenty of those…it comes with the territory. I can speak from personal experience. As the Commander of a Special Forces A-Team, it was never-ending. Put 12 Green Berets in a room to plan an operation, get your popcorn and watch the show. We used to joke that the only difference between God and a Green Beret was that God didn’t think he was a Green Beret… So the fact that Belichick and Brady have huge egos isn’t either news or a surprise.

A few of the other tidbits, that the young players call Brady “sir”…that is laughable. And if they did, shame on them. Many of the players, especially Brissett and Garoppolo when they were here cracked on Brady because of his age. And Brady bristling about not getting “Patriots Player of the Week” is pretty bizarre. He’s never been about individual awards but about team accomplishments. See the first paragraph.

But perhaps the most intriguing thing about this entire piece was the fact that the author got so many juicy quotes from team staffers. The beat guys work for years to build up relationships that open up a crack in an organization that is more locked down than Langley. And yet a guy, who rarely, if ever comes here, blows into town for a few weeks and gets over a dozen people to open up to him and give these incredible quotes which were the true meat of the story.

In the words of the Wells Report…”it is more probable than not” that there was just maybe a little bit of exaggeration there. Either that or the author missed his calling and belongs in the above-mentioned cubicles of Langley since it would qualify as a tremendous amount of elicitation in a record amount of time.

“We Stand United”, Patriots Big Three Answer:
Again, you know it is playoff time when the Patriots have to answer questions about ridiculous scandals that never show up until January. The timing of the ESPN piece was not a coincidence since it was posted just hours after the team was released for a few days during the bye week before the Divisional Playoff prep.

But respond they did, the Patriots released what they characterized as a joint statement from Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady to address the latest round of hoopla. The team minced no words on calling some parts of the article “highly exaggerated” or “flat-out inaccurate.”

Perhaps the most intriguing of the team’s response was the one line that could mean nothing or perhaps is telling where they addressed the future. “We look forward to the enormous challenge of competing in the postseason and the opportunity to work together in the future.” Stay tuned. So, back to football

Patricia’s Defense Ends up Top 5 In Points Allowed:
For all the criticism about the Patriots defense in 2017 and much of it deserved, especially early in the season, Matt Patricia’s unit excelled in the one area that is most important. Points allowed.

The Patriots defense finished 5th in the NFL in points allowed, giving up 18.5 points per game. During the first four games of the season the unit allowed 128 points (32 points per game), however during the last 12 games, the defense allowed just 168 points (14 points per game). That speaks to the way that Patricia coached them to tighten up in the red zone. The Patriots defense was 4th in the NFL in the number of red zone TDs allowed and 1st in the league in the scoring percentage allowed in Red-Zone possessions.

That’s not to say that the Patriots defense is a Top 5 unit, but are they good enough to get them to Minnesota and win in the Super Bowl? The short answer is yes. And Patricia who already has interviewed with the Giants and Lions for head coaching opportunities has a lot to do with their success.

Who Takes Over as Coordinators if Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia Leave:
Just as the usual stories arise to distract the team every playoff season, the Black Monday coaches purges always bring many of the Belichick assistants into the limelight.

McDaniels is rumored to be on the Giants radar as a frontrunner while Patricia is also rumored as the top choice for the Detroit Lions. So, if these two excellent coordinators do indeed leave this offseason, who takes over and is will there be an appreciable drop in the collective performances in each unit?

The first part is easy, the second will have to wait. Chad O’Shea would be the front-runner to replace McDaniels as the Offensive Coordinator, although the rumor mill has the Pats going after former coach Brian Daboll who is now the OC for the Alabama Crimson Tide who are preparing for the National Title Game against Georgia. O’Shea has been with the team since 2009 and is currently the team’s Wide Receivers Coach.

The favorite on Defense is Linebackers Coach Brian Flores. Flores coincidentally is also in the interviewing process for the Arizona Cardinals as their next head coach as Bruce Arians retired. Flores is on the Cards radar for a reason, despite not having any coordinator experience, he’s just about done it all with the Patriots. After graduating from BC, he joined the Pats as a scouting assistant. After two years, he became a full-time scout. Then after two years, he became a coaching assistant with the Special Teams. He’s served as a defensive and offensive assistant, then became the safeties coach before moving over to the linebackers in 2016.

Flores may be a year or two early for a head coaching job but he’s an extremely well-rounded coach who garners great respect from his players. He has been being groomed for the DC job. He’s called the defensive signals for both the 2016-17 preseason finales where Belichick begins the grooming for assistants. O’Shea called the signals for the offense this season in the finale against the Giants as Patricia and McDaniels both got the night off.

Will they succeed? Time will tell, but the way Belichick grills his assistants early and then grooms them for bigger and better responsibilities has always seemed to bear fruit. I would expect both to do well if indeed Patricia and McDaniels move on.

Harrison Signing Was a Potential Big Return on Small Investment:
Once James Harrison was released by the Steelers, the Patriots invited him to Foxboro and signed him for the remainder of the season. Which, cost them about $57K. After what we saw against the Jets, it was a bargain.

After the normal drivel of “they signed him to get the Pittsburgh playbook” nonsense, Bill Belichick put those thoughts to rest. After just about 4-5 days of prep time, Harrison played quite a bit against the Jets and played well. Regardless of his age, (39), Harrison keeps himself in excellent condition and has fresh legs, having played a total of 40 snaps for the Steelers all season. Harrison made a couple of nice plays, burying Robby Anderson with a big hit short of the sticks on a third down as well as a couple of sacks, including a strip sack of Bryce Petty.

Harrison admitted to being a bit nervous about his first action with the team. Equating himself to a rookie stating, “it is like starting your rookie season. New game plan, you got to pick things up.” He even sounded a bit like Belichick when he talked about “just doing my job” and gave credit to his teammates. “I was getting a lot of help from the guys around me.  

If Harrison can give the Patriots 25-30 plays like that in the next few weeks, it will be a boost for the defense. Don’t forget, he had big plays against Eric Fisher and the Chiefs both last year in the playoffs and this season in the regular season.

Brady, Gronkowski Named First Team All-Pro:
The Patriots dynamic duo were the only two members of the team named as first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. It was Gronkowski’s fourth time on the list while surprisingly it was just Brady’s third selection.

Brady easily distanced Eagles QB Carson Wentz after the Eagles signal caller went down with an injury forcing him on IR a few weeks.  Brady is expected to be named as the league’s MVP. He also won the MVP in both 2007 and in 2010. Gronkowski, also, easily distanced himself from Chiefs Travis Kelce at tight end.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Wildcard Weekend:
Last week 13-3 mark. Regular Season Total: 170-86.

Saturday: Titans at Chiefs – Kansas City
Falcons at Rams – Atlanta

Sunday: Bills at Jaguars – Jacksonville
Panthers at Saints – New Orleans

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Need to be Creative Against the Jaguars:

The Buffalo Bills have the 31st ranked passing attack in the NFL. Tyrod Taylor is the lowest ranked QB in the playoffs. They’re on the road facing the #1 pass defense in the NFL that allows just 169 yards per game. Their work is cut out for them in the Wildcard Game. Is it season over for the BIlls? Not so fast.

Buffalo can’t go in with the mindset that they’ve had all season by trying to be conservative and win by running the ball. If they do that, it will be a long quiet plane ride home. They’re going to have to be creative and take shots in the passing game.

Play action passes on first down, be willing to take risks, something Taylor is loathe to do will be the only way they score enough to win. Empty the playbook, get Kelvin Benjamin involved and let Taylor run.

On defense, the Bills rush defense will be up against it with Jax’s Leonard Fournette, but again, with an approach of loading the box and daring Blake Bortles to beat them may work. The Bills secondary can hold their own but a conservative approach won’t win them the game. Sean McDermott is on the clock. How will they proceed?

 

Landry fined $48K, Dolphins Fans Rejoice “Patriots Downfall”:

The Miami Dolphins were assessed three fines for the finale against the Buffalo Bills. Worst hit was WR Jarvis Landry who assessed a $48,620 fine for unsportsmanlike conduct and abuse of an official. Kenyan Drake was fined $12,154. Landry was considered a repeat offender by the league and this was why he was tagged for more.

But a couple of Dolphins’ fan websites were more interested in the “meltdown in Foxboro” as an omen that bodes well for Miami, more so than worrying about improving their own team. Word to the wise, believe about half what you read and when the season opens next year, prepare to see both Belichick and Brady across the field from you, and get Ryan Tannehill back and healthy.  

Will the Jets Go After FA QB or Look to the Draft:

The New York Jets over-achieved for Head Coach Todd Bowles in 2017, winning five games when many expected the Jets to finish similar to the Browns, winless this season. Much of their early-season success, when they went 3-2 was due to Josh McCown. If they were to pursue a FA QB like Kurt Cousins, then, of course, McCown would be gone, but if the Jets were to draft one of the big name QBs in the draft at #6, then McCown could and should be kept around as a bridge.

Who could the team then approach the draft in a different light? Picking at #6, who could the Jets target?

Rich Cimini of ESPN had an interesting take in his column. He made the case for taking Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. While running backs aren’t normally taken that high much anymore, Barkley would be an intriguing addition to the Jets offense, especially with Bilal Powell turning 30.

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

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

Podcast: The Coaching Carousel And The NFL Playoffs

Russ Goldman
January 4, 2018 at 12:39 pm ET

In this episode, we first looked back at the Patriots victory against the Jets. Next, we talked about the coaching vacancies in the NFL that could interest a few Patriots coaches. Later on, we previewed the Playoff Games for this weekend.

New England Patriots 2017: The Year in Review

Steve Balestrieri
December 30, 2017 at 11:18 am ET

While we’re waiting for the Jets game on Sunday to round out the regular season, it will also mark the end of the calendar year 2017. And it has been quite a year for the Patriots. One thing that can be said about this team is that they can be many things, but boring is never one of them. The year began with a tough divisional win over Houston, to the crushing of the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, to the epic comeback in the Super Bowl over the Falcons. And that was just the beginning of the year.

Free agency, the 2017 NFL Draft, Mini-camp and Training Camp set the table for a very exciting year. The slow start out of the gates made for intriguing storylines but in the end, the team has won 12 games with one still left to play. The legacy of this team has yet to be written, and that won’t begin for another two weeks. In a perfect world, the team would have four games remaining to play.

So here is our list for some of the big moments of 2017:
Best Moment:
James White’s touchdown to win the Super Bowl. What seemed like a pipedream in the third quarter came to fruition as Tom Brady and the Patriots offense cruised down the field in overtime with an epic drive to win the game. Watching White dive across the goal line was a surreal moment that will be an iconic moment in team history right up there with the Malcolm Butler interception.

Honorable Mention: Julian Edelman’s catch to keep the tying drive alive in the SB. It was a tremendous effort that seemed crazy at the time and was caught perfectly by the cameras as frame by frame, it was an obvious catch.

There was a couple of others, Cooks winning TD catch against the Texans and Harmon’s game-clinching INT vs Pittsburgh were great moments for the team.

Worst Moment:
Seeing Julian Edelman go down in the preseason. It was the beginning of an epidemic of injuries this year. After the year Edelman had in 2016, especially with the Super Bowl, confidence was high in 2017. It wasn’t to be.

Dis-Honorable Mention: Just about anytime Brady has an off-game, we’re subjected to all of these hot takes “Is this the beginning of the end?” yada, yada…stop. No Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan, James White, Rex Burkhead and others and he puts up an MVP-type season? Who else does that? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? This nonsense gets old. A week ago without all those weapons, the Patriots put up 37 points against a pretty good defense and what was a playoff team. And he had a bad game?

The trade of Jimmy Garoppolo is still incomplete at the moment. While no one wanted to see him leave the Pats, his success so far isn’t an immediate ticket to Canton and an automatic Super Bowl bid just yet. We’ll see how he does when teams have a lot of tape to watch on him. But right now, the results are very impressive.

Best Addition- Veteran:
Brandin Cooks came in and logged 1000 yards receiving with a game to play. From the beginning of mini-camp, we’ve watched this guy turn on the jets (no pun intended) and just imagine how effective he’d be if the other guys were all healthy. Has he been perfect? No, but he’s brought a dynamic to this offense that was sorely needed.

Honorable Mentions: Rex Burkhead and Stephon Gilmore. Burkhead hasn’t been able to stay healthy this season, but when he’s in the lineup the offense is very difficult to slow down. Gilmore despite being the whipping boy for the fans and media due to his contract has been the better starting corner overall.

Best Addition – Rookie
Deatrich Wise has had an under-the-radar solid season where he’s put up similar numbers to Chandler Jones’ rookie season while logging far fewer snaps. Wise had a very solid training camp where he appeared much more mature and seasoned than a guy entering his first NFL training camp. The moment was never too big for him and he’s had a solid rookie campaign.

Honorable Mention: Adam Butler was a guy few if any, gave any shot at making the team in July. But he worked hard and made a few splash plays every day in training camp. He’s become a nice rotational piece for the defensive line.

Biggest Loss:
This one is a tie between Chris Long, Rob Ninkovich and Dont’a Hightower since we listed Edelman above. I loved what Chris Long brought to the defense and when he left via free agency, I thought it was going to hurt. And seeing what he’s doing in Philly has not changed my opinion at all. Losing Long and Jabaal Sheard in free agency was a big loss on the edge.

Chris Long (left) was a key member of the defense in 2016

But the team added Kony Ealy in a trade and drafted Derek Rivers and Wise in April. Rivers was an intriguing piece, who had just begun to catch on when he was lost for the year due to injury. But the team still had the veteran Ninkovich for one more season…they thought.

Ninkovich’s abrupt retirement during training camp coupled with Ealy’s inability to catch on and Rivers’ injury really left the team strapped on the edge. It has been an issue since Week 1 of the season. Ninkovich was never going to be listed as the most talented guy at his position but when the games were on the line he was at his best.

Hightower was the one guy this defense could ill-afford to lose. The talented, physical but oft-injured linebacker/edge player from Alabama re-signed to New England in the offseason and can do a multitude of different things; play MLB, OLB, DE and be an effective blitzer as well. If the team falls short of its goal this postseason, Hightower’s absence will no doubt play a huge factor.

Biggest Surprise:
Dion Lewis has taken over the Patriots backfield in the second half of the season and has been simply outstanding in doing so. With a very crowded backfield during training camp, many had Lewis in not even making the roster. Early in the season, the Patriots were going more with Mike Gillislee and James White and Lewis’ snaps were virtually non-existent. This led many to believe that Lewis would be gone by the trade deadline.

Thankfully that didn’t happen. He’s been outstanding in the running game and is averaging more yards after contact than any back in the NFL. He had his best game as a pro last week and the arrow is continuing to point up.

Honorable mention: While I can’t really say I was surprised by Burkhead’s success, we all thought he was a great fit for the Patriots, but the way he worked himself in as an integral part of the offense WAS a surprise, taking away reps from James White.

Biggest Disappointment:
Derek Rivers injury was a huge disappointment here. While many will point to his just being a rookie and coming from a small program at Youngstown State, I was intrigued by his measurables and watched him closely at training camp and it seemed the light had gone on and he was going to be an impressive guy to watch. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go in 2018.

Honorable Mentions: The accident suffered by Harvey Langi and his wife was a scary reminder that these things can happen to anyone. Langi and his wife were stopped at a red light in Foxboro when another vehicle slammed them at close to 50 mph. Both had to be cut out of the vehicle with the jaws of life. He’s another guy that the defense could have used this year. Hopefully, both are recovered fully by now. Kony Ealy…. Coulda, shoulda, woulda…

Here’s hoping that 2018 gets off to an even better start. Happy New Year.

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.

VIDEO: Jimmy Garoppolo Mic’d Up During Comeback Victory

Robert Alvarez
December 21, 2017 at 7:57 pm ET

Ever since the New England Patriots traded quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers, his games have become must see TV with multiple come from behind victories and clutch play, Garoppolo was no different this past Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

NFL Films cameras and microphones captured Garoppolo’s leadership in the final minute of the fourth quarter trailing by one. Garoppolo’s last drive got into field goal range for kicker Robbie Gould to earn him a perfect 5-0 record as an NFL starter with a 25-23 victory. The five consecutive wins to start a career (3-0 with SF) is the best since Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year in 2004, who started 13-0.

https://twitter.com/49ers/status/943711300265295872

Podcast: Patriots Victory Against The Steelers

Russ Goldman
December 19, 2017 at 11:49 am ET

In this episode, we looked back at the Patriots victory against the Steelers. Later on, we previewed the upcoming game for the Pats against the Bills.

Podcast: Patriots Take Care Of Business In Buffalo

Russ Goldman
December 5, 2017 at 12:20 pm ET

In this episode, we looked back at the Patriots victory against the Bills. Later on, we previewed the upcoming game for the Pats against the Dolphins. On top of that we did share our thoughts briefly on the Rob Gronkowski suspension.

Garoppolo Wins First Start As 49rs QB Against Bears on Sunday

Ian Logue
December 3, 2017 at 5:56 pm ET

Jimmy Garoppolo’s streak as a starter remains intact after the former Patriots quarterback came away with a last-minute win over the Bears on Sunday in Chicago.

Garoppolo, whose parents were on hand as he got his first start with his new team, won his third NFL start, improving to 1-0 with the 49ers while building on the 2-0 record from his previous two starts in New England.

He finished the game 26-of-37 for 293 yards on the afternoon,  engineering scoring drives on five of their eight possessions, all of which were field goals.  It wasn’t all perfect as Garoppolo threw his first career interception, ending a streak of 103 straight passes without being picked off.

However, the turnover was hardly his fault.  After Garoppolo made a great throw to Louis Murphy on a 3rd-and-9, Kyle Fuller ripped the ball away and was awarded the interception.  The Bears took advantage, marching 54 yards on 8 plays before scoring their only offensive touchdown of the afternoon.

Chicago’s other score came in the second quarter, after Tarik Cohen returned a 49ers punt 61-yards for a touchdown, which at the time put Chicago up 14-6 with 5:49 left to play in the half.

But Garoppolo lead the 49ers on an 11 play drive that resulted in a field goal to close out the half to pull within 14-9, and then put together a 16 play drive on their first possession of the third quarter, which resulted in another field goal to cut the lead to 14-12.

Looking at the numbers, with Garoppolo at the helm, the 49ers controlled the clock and held the ball for nearly 39-minutes, with the team showing a lot more fire with their new quarterback under center.  Garoppolo rewarded their faith, leading the team on a final 14 play drive to close out the game and set up their game-winning field goal that put them ahead at 15-14 with 0:08 left to play.

The team here in New England was apparently keeping an eye on their quarterback, with Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reporting that the players and coaches were excited to learn about the outcome of Garoppolo’s first start.

Garoppolo and the 2-10 49ers will now head to Houston next Sunday to take on the Texans.

Six For Saturday: Rams Taking a Page From Brady?

Ian Logue
December 2, 2017 at 12:14 pm ET

With Sunday’s match-up with the Bills steadily approaching, here are some thoughts on this Saturday from some interesting stories this week, along with some other tidbits heading into their match-up against Buffalo on Sunday.

1) Rams Taking a Page From Brady? – With the Rams sitting at 8-3 on the season, part of the discussion this week has centered around the success of their offense and how effective they’ve been in moving the football and scoring points.

Part of what Los Angeles has been doing seems to involve taking advantage of the communication that quarterbacks and coaches are allotted prior to the snap, where they’re allowed to communicate until there’s 15 seconds remaining on the play clock.

As noted by USA Today earlier this week, the Rams have been aggressive on offense, getting to the line quickly to give themselves more time to evaluate the defense from the sideline.  From there, head coach Sean McVay is discussing what to do and helping Jared Goff make the necessary audibles to put their team in the best situation.

It’s been a great strategy, and it’s obviously working.  The Rams have won five of their last six games and are putting themselves in terrific position to make a playoff run.

What was interesting about that story is what we learned back in February, which saw Tom Brady discuss this with Peter King in a Podcast following their historic Super Bowl win over the Falcons.  King questioned the veteran quarterback, asking him about whether or not he and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels communicate all the way up until the 15-second cutoff and the ways they take advantage of it.

The topic came up as King inquired about a play to Danny Amendola during the game, highlighting how they utilized the time before the communication cutoff, along with the types of things that McDaniels tells him leading up to the snap.

“I don’t remember exactly…because there were a lot of times where [he said] ‘Get them in this formation’, ‘Could be man coverage’, when he sees the corner go inside.  ‘You have one-on-one outside’, things like that, which is a great thing to do,” Brady told King.  “Part of the advantage of going fast is the coach-to-quarterback communication.  So I don’t remember exactly what happened on that play, other than i think he obviously said, ‘Don’t forget about Danny’, or ‘Danny’s got a great shot on this’, something like that.”

That mention gave some insight into how the offense operates, and it highlighted the benefit of speeding things up by going no-huddle.  That interview happened to reveal that it allows for two perspectives leading up to a play, which certainly provides an advantage to be able to put themselves in the best situation before the snap.

Here in New England it’s no secret there have been plenty of fans around the league who question what makes the Patriots so great.  However, those of us who follow the team more closely simply realize they’re coached by one of the best in the game in Bill Belichick, who has always seemingly been a fan of taking advantage of every inch the league allows, and they make the most of every single one.

Clearly it works and from what we learned this week, it sounds like the Rams are having success with it as well.

2) Tuesdays Now Have a New Meaning – An article by Nora Princiotti of the Boston Globe on Monday certainly changed the way I now view Tuesdays, as well as the amazing amount of respect and empathy I feel for Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, and his wife, Lexi.

Many fans may have already heard about the horrible news surrounding their son, Hudson, who was diagnosed with kidney cancer as an infant.  The two reportedly found a lump in his belly while giving him a bath, which prompted an immediate trip to his pediatrician.

That was when Solder and his wife learned the news, which ultimately turned their world upside down.

For Solder, that was another blow after he himself had already been diagnosed and undergone treatment for testicular cancer.  The veteran left tackle ended up with a happy ending for himself, as he was able to beat it.  Now he finds himself in a situation most parents fear, with he and Lexi forced to be strong to get through while watching their 2-year old son fight a battle of his own.

Hudson’s illness now requires the young parents to make the trip to Boston every Tuesday, which is an off day for the players.  According to Princiotti, the two depart at 6am for a two hour trip so that Hudson can get his treatments.  Also joining them is their 7th month old daughter, Charlie, and Lexi told the newspaper that they try and make the best of it.

“We do it all together as a family so when we look back years and years from now we can say we did it and she was there and we were all part of that,” said Lexi.

The worst part about the story is the fact that as of last October, the news appeared to be positive as Hudson’s tumors had shrunk to the point where he no longer needed treatment, just monitoring.

Unfortunately this past September, a routine MRI reportedly showed that all of the tumors in each of his Kidneys had started growing again and he started treatment again on October 3rd.

So for those who may get on Solder for a miscue during the game while wondering why he’s not out there performing flawlessly, the fact he’s out there doing it at all is impressive in itself.  And now when you wake up every Tuesday morning, think of how the Solders are spending their day and pray that that their son will one day be able to live a cancer-free life.


Garoppolo will finally start on Sunday in Chicago.

3) It’s Jimmy Time in San Francisco – Jimmy Garoppolo may have only spent just over 60 seconds on the field last weekend against Seattle, but he certainly made the most of it.

Garoppolo came into the game after C.J. Beathard went down with an injury and completed two passes, the final of which was a touchdown pass as time expired.  San Francisco was trailing 24-6 before the touchdown, so the game was clearly out of hand at that point.  But Garoppolo played like he always did here, giving his all while not just going through the motions.

His touchdown provided a spark in the Bay Area and it was all 49ers fans needed to see from the player they believe will guide them back to their former Glory.  It appears they’ll get their first opportunity this week to see Garoppolo spend 60-minutes on the field on the road against the Chicago Bears.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan said this week that they’ve scaled things back offensively heading into Garoppolo’s first start, and said that if there’s anything he’s not comfortable with, they’ll change it.

“He’ll work at it all week and whatever he doesn’t feel comfortable with and he doesn’t get down in these three practices, then we’ll take it out and whatever we’re going with Sunday, he’ll know 100 percent of it,” Shanahan said. “I want him to feel real comfortable going into this game. So, we’ll see how he feels at the end of the week.”

Garoppolo finds himself in a position where how he plays over this final stretch will certainly have an impact on his future.  If he plays like he did during his limited time as a starter last season for the Patriots, it will bode well for a team that has been in dire need of a talented and dependable starting quarterback.

For now, Garoppolo admits that he’s not worried about what his future holds and he knows it won’t mean anything unless he plays well this week.

“I’m trying not to think about the future too much,” Garoppolo said. “I’ve learned in the past that when your mind wanders like that, quarterbacking in this league is hard enough. So, when you start thinking about other things you’re going to have a tough time. I think just staying focused on the Bears this week.”


Manning’s time in New York appears to be over. (USA TODAY Images)

4) Manning Situation Makes You Wonder About Brady’s Future – Seeing what happened in New York this week was a harsh reminder that the ending is not always happy when it comes to teams and their aging starting quarterbacks parting ways.

One of the things that obviously comes to mind with Manning’s situation is the fact that it’s hard not to wonder about how the Patriots will eventually handle parting with Brady.  That would be hard to imagine, and if what we’ve seen is any indication, it looks like it might hopefully be a while before it reaches that point.

But what’s been interesting here in New England has been the fact that most aging players who have opted to retire, many have done so on their own accord.  Players like Troy Brown, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi and Rob Ninkovich are just a few examples of guys who as soon as they felt they couldn’t do it anymore, they hung up their cleats and left with some level of dignity.  Even a player like Vince Wilfork, who while he didn’t finish his career in New England, he still went on to play at a relatively high level in Houston while playing a part in that group being one of the best defensive units in the league.  Wilfork’s end had a special twist as he had the rare satisfaction of ending his career on the same field he started on, with his final career game coming in a playoff loss for the Texans in January at Gillette Stadium.

With Manning, he’s in a bad situation because he’s on a team that’s been decimated by injuries this season, preventing him from improving off a year where they finished 11-5 before getting blown out 38-13 against the Packers in the Wild Card round last season.  At 36-years old and with the team at 2-9, the Giants apparently feel like they’ve already gotten his best, and now they’re ready to move on.

By sitting Manning and putting their immediate future in the hands of Gino Smith or Davis Webb, they’ve now put themselves on a collision course for a divorce from their franchise quarterback this offseason, ending one of the longest remaining current tenures for a starting QB remaining in the NFL, along with ending Manning’s 210 game streak as an NFL starting QB.  With that streak coming to an end, it now gives the Chargers Phillip Rivers, who has started 188 straight games, a chance to surpass him.

Change is the only thing that’s consistent in this league and unfortunately, for Manning that’s just how it is and he appears to be a player who will make the offseason a little more interesting by giving it a shot with another franchise.

As for Brady, hopefully he’ll be able to go out the same way that  John Elway did, with Elway having walked away after leading Denver to back-to-back Super Bowls.  Elway’s situation was a little different, but only because he had taken a bigger beating than Brady and realized his body didn’t have enough left to come back one more time.  He wanted to go for three in a row, but didn’t feel he could do it.

Meanwhile, Brady finds himself playing well while putting his team in position to contend for another this season.  Hopefully he’ll be able to go out in similar fashion as Elway, while edging out the former Denver QB with a little longer championship streak of his own.

5) NFL Getting Help From Amazon – An interesting note in the New York Times this week revealed that the National Football League will be working with Amazon to try and improve the analysis of the league’s games by using some of the online retail giant’s technology.

According to the newspaper, the NFL, which already uses Amazon’s cloud computing services, is planning on using the company’s advanced machine-learning technology, which recognizes patterns and analyzes data captured during the games.  They believe that data will help provide new kinds of statistics for fans as well as help coaches.

Amazon will also reportedly become an official technology sponsor of the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, which already offers some unique stats via their official site.

It makes for an interesting situation and it’s another sign that things are continuing to evolve when it comes to the way we currently consume football.  The league has already had plenty of success with their own GamePass service, which has grown and in recent years added coaches film, increasing fan interest in evaluating plays after the game.  It’s continued to grow, becoming a popular product that the league claims to have subscription rates in the “six figures”.  With a powerful partner like Amazon, for those who are into analysis and breakdowns, this will definitely be a story to keep an eye on to see what additional products they come out with.


Brady’s first quarter numbers have been terrific so far this season.

6) Fast start will be key on Sunday – With the Patriots about to play on the road out in Buffalo, one of the areas that will certainly be important will be for the team to get off to a fast start, which they did when these two met last season in their second meeting.

In that game Tom Brady opened with a first quarter that saw him complete 8-of-11 passes including two touchdowns, as the Patriots went on to build a 24-10 first half lead that they wouldn’t relinquish as they beat the Bills in Buffalo 41-25.

Fortunately, that’s one of the areas where Brady has excelled this season.  The first quarter has been his best statistically this season, with the veteran completing 73% of his passes, including 7 touchdowns.  He hasn’t thrown more than three incompletions in the opening quarter over his last six games, which included an 11-of-11 performance two weeks ago against Oakland.  That essentially means you have to go all the way back to their match-up against the Buccaneers in Week 5 when he missed four passes by starting 8-of-12.

One of the other notable stats is the fact he’s thrown at least one touchdown in the opening quarter over each of the last three games, which was preceded by a stretch where he didn’t throw a first quarter TD in five-straight contests that started in their loss to Carolina in Week 4.

For now with their first game in December looming, the goal is to try and finish strong against a Bills team that will likely be a tough challenge.

“It’s so important,” said Brady when asked about finishing the season off strong. “I think Coach [Bill] Belichick said it best the other day. He said whether you’re 5-5 at this point or 10-0, it really depends on what we do going forward because I was here in 2001 when we were 5-5 and we ended up not losing a game after that.”

“A few years ago we were 10-0 and the season didn’t end very well. I think so much of your season is dependent on how we’re going to do at this point moving forward. We put ourselves in decent position but we’re going to have to go capitalize.”

New England Patriots News 11-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
November 12, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 11-12, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots are coming off the bye tonight and traditionally under Bill Belichick, they’ve done well with the extra week to prepare but with all of the injuries they’re currently suffering from, and given that Denver has always been a tough place for them to win in, makes for a very intriguing game tonight.  

Patriots Bring Back Martellus Bennett After His Release From Green Bay:
The Patriots brought back tight end Martellus Bennett after he was released by the Green Bay Packers this week putting in a waiver claim on him. The Packers said is that he was released for “failure to report an injury designation.”  He is reportedly suffering from a torn rotator cuff and shoulder labrum which will require surgery.

But he’s going to attempt to play thru the pain as evidenced by his appearance at practice on Friday.  Bennett was a very well respected member of the team during their Super Bowl run in 2016. He was productive in the passing game, he had 55 catches for 701 yards and seven touchdowns, as well as a tremendous blocker and he got high marks for playing through a myriad of ankle, knee and shoulder injuries all year.

Bennett took to social media on Friday to explain his side of the injury situation in Green Bay and lashed out at both team doctors and the front office.:
“The Packers examined my shoulder on my visit March 10 and cleared it,” he said “They even gave me an x-ray as well. It got worse during the season, specifically against the Cowboys [on Nov. 8], so I asked to have it checked and we checked it. After a few days of contemplating to play with it or get surgery, I chose surgery. Now here we are…”

“They tried to f— over me.”. “Dr. [Patrick] McKenzie trying to cover his own ass. After trying to persuade me to play thru a major injury and me choosing to get surgery. They have access to all my medical records. My shoulder wasn’t where it is now at the beginning of the season. I f—– it up playing for the Packers.”

“Dr. McKenzie didn’t make feel safe and was pushing to play, which I thought was weird. Not that he was trying to get me play thru it but the way he was saying things. I didn’t trust him. So I got three other opinions from doctors, who all said I need to get it fixed. So I decided to do that. And they decided to waive me with some bullshit excuse. Failure disclose.”

“Every week we do a body evaluation sheet in the weight and pretty much every week I circled my shoulder. I just kept playing, but it got worse. During the bye week, I got off anti-inflammatories to clean my system and could really feel the pain. So I asked to examine it [the] first day back in. And that’s when we found out it was really f—– up.”

“They knew.” “They panicked. Thinking that I was trying to go on the IR and be on their books next year. When I mentioned that I would possibly retire. So they tried to f— me before they thought I would f— them. This was all about the money. All about the money. I get it. But don’t lie, homie. You know wtf was up.”
“I had intentions of playing all eight games, as I mentioned in the post during the bye week, but found out it was worse than I felt after getting it checked out. Now I’m like f— it. I chose my health over the ‘team.’ They chose money over me.”

Patriots Minus At Least Three Starters Tonight, Several More Questionable:
The Patriots despite coming off of the bye week are still dealing with a multitude of injuries. Chris Hogan, dealing with a shoulder injury suffered against the Chargers is out. Likewise for starting right tackle Marcus Cannon and DL Malcom Brown.

There are five more players officially listed as questionable tonight who are also dealing with injuries. Tight end Martellus Bennett, wide receiver Danny Amendola (knee), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle), defensive end Cassius Marsh (shoulder) and cornerback Eric Rowe (groin).

Gilmore spoke with the media early in the week and stated that he should be ready to return to game action. Amendola will probably suit up as well as the wide receiver position is banged up with Hogan hurting and Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell on IR. Mitchell is eligible to come off of IR and has recently started running again so he’s still several weeks away.

Filling in for Hogan this week is WR Phillip Dorsett who came over in the Jacoby Brissett trade. Dorsett has played sparingly thus far in 2017 and has just three catches. He, Amendola and Brandin Cooks are the only healthy wide receivers right now.

Ricky Jean Francois, “I’m In Dunkin Donuts Heaven” :
With the injury to Malcom Brown in the interior of the Patriots defensive line, the team signed free-agent veteran Ricky Jean Francois to help with the depth of the team. It is especially thin given that Vincent Valentine is still on IR and hasn’t begun practicing yet.

Francois, 28, has been investing his money down South in a very New England franchise, Dunkin Donuts and owns 30 of them between Savannah Georgia and Hilton Head, South Carolina.

This week, ESPN’s Mike Reiss asked him about how he felt coming to New England where not only the Patriots but DDs is such a part of the fabric of the area. This brought a laugh from Francois. “Believe me, that was one thing as soon as I got off the airplane, every block I hit I saw a Dunkin’ Donuts,” he said. “I was laughing; I must be in Dunkin’ Donuts heaven here.”

Reiss asked Francois if he had seen the commercials with Rob Gronkowski, and he laughed again. “I love him, because he has business booming. I told him every time I look at that commercial, I smile now.”

Francois isn’t an interior pass rusher, he’s more in the mold of an Alan Branch, a two-gap eating run stuffer. And he should see some action this week against Denver. He’ll wear #94. So if the Patriots win tonight Ricky, will there be 94 cents coffee in Savannah on Monday?

Waddle Will Have the Tough Task of Blocking Von Miller Tonight:
With Marcus Cannon out for tonight’s game with an injury, his starting slot at right tackle will fall to LaAdrian Waddle and he knows all eyes will be on him on national television as Miller is one of the premier pass rushers in the league.

The 6’6, 315-pound Waddle started in place of Cannon earlier this season against the Houston Texans and has the confidence of the coaching staff to get the job done. He’s leapfrogged Cameron Fleming for the top swing tackle job on the team behind Cannon and Nate Solder.

The coaching staff will keep a close eye on things and if Waddle begins to have trouble with Miller, we can expect one of the running backs to stay in and block or a tight end to chip on their way out in the pattern. But this will be one of the areas to watch tonight.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 8:
Last week wasn’t  a great one with some of my picks and I finished with a 7-6 mark. Season Total: 84-48.

This week’s Thursday Night Football Game I went with the Seattle over the Cardinals (1-0). Now for the rest of the slate:
Packers at Bears – Green Bay
Browns at Lions – Detroit
Steelers at Colts – Pittsburgh
Chargers at Jaguars – Jacksonville
Saints at Bills – Buffalo
Jets at Buccaneers – Tampa Bay
Vikings at Redskins – Washington
Bengals at Titans – Tennessee
Texans at Rams – Los Angeles
Cowboys at Falcons – Dallas
Giants at 49ers – New York

SNF Patriots at Broncos- New England
MNF Dolphins  at Panthers – Carolina

Bye week: Ravens, Chiefs, Raiders, Eagles

Next Thursday Night Pittsburgh over Tennessee.

And They Are Dancing in Jacksonville:
The Jacksonville Jaguars are playing good football right now and the investments made in the defense are paying tremendous dividends. The Jaguars are 5-3 and tied for first in their division. They are there primarily because of the play of their defense.

The Jaguars are third in the NFL in terms of yards allowed and first in the league in points allowed with just 117 points scored against them in eight games. Which comes out to just 14.6 points per game which is excellent.

On Sunday the Jaguars on social media released an animated GIF on Twitter showing the team dancing in the locker room after a victory. And invited fans to send in a video of their own celebratory dance moves after a victory. The responses are fun to watch.

For a franchise that has been down for a number of years, it is good to see the Jaguars turning the corner and being relevant again.

So, to see some of the video responses, type in the link: Tweet a video of you celebrating with #JagsWinDanceSweeps for a chance to win a signed football.

http://bit.ly/JagsPromo  
#SponsoredByEA

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Playoff Quest Begins With Big Matchup Against Brees, New Orleans:

The Buffalo Bills have to pick themselves off the mat after a terrible performance against the Jets 10 days ago on Thursday Night Football. The 5-3 Bills are locked into the playoff race and can’t have any more meltdowns such as last week.

This week they welcome Drew Brees and the Saints who are the hottest team in the NFL right now with New Orleans rolling off six wins in a row. The Saints offense still goes thru the ageless Drew Brees who is throwing for about 275 yards per game, but they are much more balanced now which is keeping opponents honest.

The big changes have been on the New Orleans defense, they are young and very fast. After suffering through the growing pains of communications breakdowns thru the preseason and the first two games, the Saints have figured it out and are playing very well for the first time in many years on the defensive side of the ball.

However, the Bills are 4-0 at home and Brees has struggled somewhat in the colder weather….and it is going to be cold in Buffalo today. Look for the Bills defense to have a big, bounceback day today and win a very close contest to move to 6-3.

Copycat League? Carolina Will Use the TE in Attacking the Dolphins:

The Miami Dolphins lost last week against the Oakland Raiders and during the game, one of Derek Carr’s biggest targets was tight end Jared Cook who caught nine passes for 126 yards and seemed to be dominating the matchup with LB Kiko Alonso as well as safety Reshad Jones. This week, we’ll watch as the Carolina Panthers may try to exploit the same matchups using Ed Dickson, the big tight end who is averaging 15.9 yards per catch. Dickson started off the season slowly but has been steadily getting better in the Carolina offense replacing All-Pro Eric Olsen who could come off IR in the coming weeks.

And it won’t just be the Panthers watching today’s contests; the NFL is a copycat league, all of Miami’s upcoming opponents have productive tight ends and they’ll see if last week was an anomaly or a trend.

The Patriots with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, have a pair of games upcoming, ditto for Buffalo’s Charles Clay. Kansas City with Travis Kelce, and Tampa Bay with O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are all on the schedule. So the Dolphins defense, which has been better this season has some work ahead of it.

Jets Kearse Joins Chorus of NFL Players Who Want TNF Gone:

The New York Jets’ wide receiver Jermaine Kearse watched on Thursday night as his friend and former teammate suffered a season-ending injury, tearing his Achilles tendon against the Cardinals. Sherman didn’t practice all week leading up to the game for his Achilles already being injured.

Ah man, that sucks,” Kearse said of Sherman’s injury to the NY Daily News. “It’s definitely tough because I’ve seen that dude play through a lot of stuff, and I know it means a lot of him, especially him being out there with his teammates. I know it’s hurting him. But he’s going to bounce back. He has that grit and that perseverance.”

“Guys are putting their bodies on the line, day in and day out, even through practice. You see Deshaun Watson, who has a significant injury during practice, and not even in the game. So I think we definitely have to have a discussion on it.”

“You’re asking a lot of guys on one day to give it their all, and then have them come back and play just a couple days after, that’s asking a lot,” Kearse said. “This game is 100-percent injury rate. That’s the truth. That’s the facts. And…guys might be dealing with stuff from previous games that they’re still trying to recover from, but they’re still going out there on Sundays and playing and giving it their all and then you give them a short week like that, it’s tough.”

“Some guys are fighting their recovery until the night of the game,” Kearse added.

Could Sherman’s injury have occurred on Sunday if the teams had three more days of preparation? Of course, but in a physical game where the players are always getting banged up, asking them to turn around and do it again on three days rest doesn’t sit with the organization that constantly touts “player safety.”

The league saw a chance to increase profits by sticking these Thursday games into the season so now they rule on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays. The revenue pours in and the owners reap the benefits. The players, like Sherman, have to pay the bill.

This is a situation that the Players Association has to dig their heels in about when the next CBA comes about. They can’t take no for an answer. TNF must go.

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

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

Patriots Mid-season Report Card: Still a Work in Progress But Trending Up

Steve Balestrieri
November 6, 2017 at 8:54 am ET

The Patriots enter the bye week at 6-2, a game ahead of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East and now surprisingly in control of their own destiny in the AFC playoff seedings. After laying a stinker on opening night against the Chiefs, and dropping the home game to Carolina, they were essentially three games behind Kansas City. But courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys, the Chiefs have dropped three of their last four games which puts the Patriots and Steelers at 6-2 atop of the AFC. The two teams will meet later this season. It just goes to show how the season is a marathon and not a sprint.

The season started with the offense just clicking on nearly all cylinders and the defense looking historically bad. With the last four weeks, however, the offensive output has noticeably cooled while the defense, still far from perfect is allowing just 12.8 points per game and has backboned the team on the four-game winning streak.

This being New England, we always tend to focus on the what-ifs. And I’ve heard the same yada-yada that the team could easily be anywhere between 2-6 and 7-1. Well they’re not, they are what their record says they are…(sound familiar), which is 6-2

Here is our look at the team and where they stand at the midway point of the season. We’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady leads the league attempts (309), completions (206) and yards (2,541). He’s tied for second in fewest interceptions (two), tied for third in touchdowns (16) and is fifth in completion percentage (66.7). Those are tremendous numbers and he’s at the top of the list for players who could be in line for the MVP if the season were to end today.

But Brady is his own worst critic and after the victory over the Chargers (almost said San Diego), he lamented the lack of red zone production the team is suffering. He obviously has to share in some of that. He’s not immune to making mistakes and has made some.

I believe that he’s still missing his biggest target of the past several years in Julian Edelman. While everyone around him has stepped up, it is still a significant loss.

Running Backs: B

The running backs diverseness and versatility are the keys to what makes the offense so potentially lethal. They are deep and each of the top four backs brings something a little different to the table than the others.

James White is still at the head of the class. He followed up a tremendous Super Bowl with a very solid first half of the season. He leads the team with 43 receptions and ranks 2nd in the NFL in receptions by a running back. He remains a good runner between the tackles and a tremendous pass blocker. Dion Lewis was a ghost early in the season and the frequent target of trade rumors. No longer. Lewis has emerged as the lead back in the running game and is getting that shifty, waterbug elusiveness that we saw early in 2015. He’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry which is impressive.

Mike Gillislee has been a bit of a disappointment thus far. Although he has rushed for four touchdowns, he hasn’t been able to run with the consistency that we were expecting to see. We’ve seen flashes the past few weeks of him turning the corner, and maybe his comfort level in the offense will begin to take hold and we’ll see him turn it on.

Rex Burkhead missed four-plus games with a rib injury he suffered in the first half of Week Two in New Orleans. But as he’s been eased back into the lineup the past two games, he’s shown the ability to run the ball well as well as catch it and be a nice option in the passing game. James Develin remains one of the better blocking fullbacks in the league. The biggest issue facing this group has been the maddening inability to pick up short yardage runs. This is an area that must be improved down the stretch.

Wide Receivers: B+

The Patriots wide receivers despite missing Julian Edelman have performed very well in the first half of the season while dealing with a myriad of injuries. Besides Edelman, second-year receiver Malcolm Mitchell began the season on IR. Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola both have suffered from different injuries.

Brady has spread the wealth very equitably thus far, Brandin Cooks and Hogan have 33 receptions and Amendola 31. Add in tight end Rob Gronkowski’s 34 receptions and you have a true sharing of the spoils. Cooks has been the deep threat receiver that can stretch the field that they’ve lacked and is on pace for an 1100 yard season. He can be a bit more consistent in the short areas of the field but has been as good as advertised.

Hogan has stepped up his game from a year ago and has been very dependable and frequently makes plays despite taking some big shots this year. Amendola always seems to make the big catches at crunch time in big situations and has arguably the best hands on the team. Phillip Dorsett was brought in for depth and has contributed but not a lot as he’s been very limited in his snaps.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski has been able to stay healthy this season after coming back from back surgery last season that saw him land on IR. He’s on pace for a 70 catch, 1000 yard season despite being held more than any tight end on a consistent basis. As closely as the referees watch him from pushing off, they seem to miss him being mugged constantly as he’s running down the field.

Dwayne Allen has been a total bust thus far. Through eight games he’s still looking for his first reception as a member of the Patriots. His inability to carve out even the slightest of roles in the passing game has been a major disappointment and factors into the team’s red zone woes. It has affected his blocking as well.

Rookie Jacob Hollister is still a work in progress but has shown a nice ability to threaten the seams of the defense. He may see an uptick in red zone targets as he gets more comfortable in the offense.

 

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line has had their share of struggles this season. Tom Brady has been sacked more this season than he was all of last year. However, both Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon have been playing hurt and the number of sacks has trended down the last few weeks. They face a big test in Denver on Sunday night, and this will be a matchup worth watching closely this week.

The interior of the line has been solid in pass protection for the most part and they are beginning to find their comfort level in the running game. That being said, the offensive line has struggled to open holes for the team in short yardage. The Patriots rank only 21st in yards per carry with 3.7. That must improve down the stretch.

Defensive Line: C+

The Patriots defensive line started the season, like much of the defense woefully slow and the normally stout defensive line against the run was being gashed. Alan Branch started very slowly and saw little playing time and was a healthy scratch. Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy both had their issues early as well.

The pass rush, as expected, has struggled with bouts of inconsistency. Trey Flowers has been good but after that, it has been just flashes from everyone else. Deatrich Wise has shown good ability to get after the passer as has Cassius Marsh and Adam Butler. But they’ve struggled at times in setting the edge and maintaining their lanes. Those things are expected with young players. Dont’a Hightower missed time after the first game and then tore a pectoral muscle against Atlanta and is gone for the year which is a big blow.

Linebackers: C

With Dont’a Hightower out for the year, the onus is now on Kyle Van Noy. I thought the Patriots had both of those players out of position early this season. When they moved both back to positions of strength (inside for Hightower, outside for Van Noy), the defense responded much better.

David Harris was a forgotten man for much of the early season but is getting on the field more lately and he and Elandon Roberts provide excellent downhill run support while being limited in a coverage role.

Shea McClellin should be activated soon from IR and that should help the linebackers across the board with run support, coverage and the pass rushing potential. Marquis Flowers and Trevor Reilly are special teams players only at this point.

Secondary: C

This was supposed to be the Patriots strength on defense and instead for the first four games, was a nightmare of blown assignments, poor communication and the very alarming trend of allowing big plays.

Newcomer Stephon Gilmore struggled early but showed signs of turning things around when he suffered a concussion. Eric Rowe has missed significant time with a groin injury. But the good news is that depth players Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones have played surprisingly well at corner. Malcolm Butler also started slowly but has responded and is playing better each week.

Safeties Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon have all been solid at safety after a slow start and allowing some uncharacteristic big plays. Things are trending up for this unit.

Special Teams: A-

Stephen Gostkowski has missed a few field goals but overall has been very solid this season while making a career-long 58-yarder. His kickoffs continuously allow the Patriots coverage units to get downfield and stuff opponents deep in their territory. Those coverage units have been consistently good and getting better now that Matthew Slater has returned. Ryan Allen has had an up and down year. Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis are giving the team the needed boost in return yardage. The team has blocked two field goals with Marsh and Guy each notching one. The one other knock has been penalties, which need to be curtailed moving forward.

Coaches: B+

Bill Belichick has had to deal with injuries to two of his key players on offense and defense with Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower. The new faces on defense struggled badly in the early going. But as he always does, he finds a way to get things done. The team is playing much better now on defense which Matt Patricia also shares in the blame early and the credit now that they’ve turned it around.

Josh McDaniels has had to tinker with a constantly changing lineup and they have tremendous potential but have struggled lately to score and put teams away. And yet they’re tied for the lead in the AFC and are on top of the division. This is the time of year that they consistently begin aim to put things together. Belichick preaches that around Thanksgiving is when you see what kind of team you have. And the Patriots are trending upward. The only question that remains is, can they stay healthy for the stretch run?

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.