Tag Archives: Joe Judge

New England Patriots News 7-07, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 7, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 07-07 and AFC East notes this week. 

We hope that everyone had a happy and safe Independence Day celebration. Just 18 more days until the hard work begins for “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door.”

 Quick Hitters:

Bernard Pollard – is the latest, “look at me” ex-player who is trying to get himself a gig on television or radio. If you think otherwise, you’re kidding yourself, but there is never a shortage of people who feed the monster and fall all over themselves giving these hot take artists their air time. 

Rob Gronkowski – told Rich Eisen in an interview this week, that he reserves the right to change his mind about returning to the NFL once the season starts. In the interview, Gronkowski said this will be the first August in 15 years that he won’t be playing football. But judging from his leaned out frame recently, I still say that the chances of the big guy returning this year are remote.

Jerod Mayo – may not be calling the defensive plays just yet for the Patriots this year. Jeff Howe of the Athletic wrote that Bill Belichick will be calling the plays. Mayo who was seen calling the plays in minicamp this June. 

N’Keal Harry – leads the Patriots rookies with a 74 grade on Madden 2019 that was released recently. Cornerback Jojuan Williams was second with a score of 70 while Damien Harris and Chase Winovich were next, tied with a grade of 69.

Tom Brady – is preparing for training camp and continues to defy Father Time. He posted a video of his workouts where he was running sprints. While Brady will never be considered remotely anything close to a sprinter, he did, however, beat his own time at the NFL Combine, which is pretty impressive for a player about to be 42 in less than a month from now. 

Tom Brady Pt2 – With all of the talk centering around Brady from the hot take artists every summer, one has to dig thru many oysters to find a pearl. Or in this case, I didn’t have to do anything at all since it was handed to me. Our good bud, @PatriotsSBLIII has always shared great stuff with us, and he never fails to use common sense in a frequently senseless debate when it comes to #12. He sent me this a few weeks ago but right now seems a perfect time to share this.

Tom Brady’s last 16 playoff games (2013-18)
13-3 (.813) 3SBs
452/702 (64.4%)
5,230 yards
7.45 Y/A
43.9* Att/gm @CSimmsQB
31 TD
12 INT
94.4 PR

Only 3 players in NFL history have had a 16-game regular season on this level. (Brady, Brees 2011; Manning 2013)

And for those anti-Brady types out there, not one of those games was against any team from the AFC East but all against playoff teams in the Divisional Round and beyond which makes those numbers even more impressive. Thanks again to @PatriotsSBLIII for the always great stuff and being a sounding board for constructive criticism. 

Tedy Bruschi Suffered a Stroke on July 4:

The former Patriots linebacker who has been a regular on ESPN was just given a promotion this week, being added to their pregame broadcast. It was reported that Bruschi, who had a stroke after the Super Bowl in Feb. 2005, recognized his own symptoms and reported it right away. Robert Kraft and the Patriots released the following statement:

“While shocked to hear of his recent stroke … we are relieved to learn that he recognized the early symptoms and immediately sought and received treatment,” the statement says. “On behalf of the entire Patriots organization, we extend our love, thoughts and prays to Tedy and the Bruschi family while we wish him godspeed in a complete recovery.”

Bruschi created a runners club called Tedy’s Team to raise awareness for the American Stroke Association. He has run the Boston Marathon three times, including in this spring. He is expected to make a complete recovery.

Damien Harris Could Be a Big Contributor For the Offense in 2019:

We were quite excited with the possibilities for the offense after the selection of Damien Harris in the 3rd round of the draft this spring by the Patriots. Harris was locked up for four years with a $3.6 million dollar deal. 

Harris should fit in extremely well in the Patriots running back by committee positional group. While in Alabama, he played with a multitude of very talented running backs that are now in the NFL. Alabama also played with RB committee under Nick Saban and Harris played with the likes of Derrick Henry, Bo Scarborough, Kenyan Drake, Najee Harris, and Josh Jacobs while with the Tide.  

With Sony Michel coming off of a minor but another knee procedure, Harris can more than fit the bill for the Patriots penchant for running the ball between the tackles. A couple of key numbers should be remembered when thinking about Harris:

  • 2 (Two) The number of fumbles Harris had in 477 career carries at Alabama. Bill Belichick loves sure-handed running backs and Harris is definitely that.
  • 6.4 – The average yards per carry Harris had at Alabama. That kind of average always puts the offense in a position to succeed. 
  • 3.2 – Yards Harris averaged after contact. This number can’t be overstated and when the offense needs to pick up those 3rd and 4th and short-yardage situations, it helps to have a back that can easily do that.

Harris isn’t a threat to take the ball to the house on every carry, he doesn’t have that breakaway speed but he is a perfect fit for the Patriots offense. He hits the hole quickly and has very good vision and will follow his blockers thru the point of attack. He then shows the ability and confidence to make a cut and go.

With a thickly built lower body, he’s tough to bring down, will get the yards after contact and has little wear on his tires after playing in a similar committee approach at ‘Bama. He’s a very good and willing pass blocker, something the Patriots insist on for their backs. And he is a good if underrated pass catcher out of the backfield with soft hands and the ability to move outside into the slot if needed. 

With Michel out of the picture during minicamp, Harris and Brandon Bolden got quite a few snaps in the running game. Look for that to continue thru training camp and into the preseason. He could be a very valuable addition to the offense as a rookie. 

Patriots Coaches Learn The Old Fashioned Way Under Belichick:

One of the ways that Bill Belichick likes to fill out his coaching staff is by hiring young coaching assistants. Then molding, training and develop them by increasing their responsibility by putting more and more on their plates.

This is the way everyone is trained, including Nick Caserio, Josh McDaniels, and Joe Judge who started at the bottom and worked their way up. It also includes his two sons who it seems always get mentioned it seems as benefits of nepotism more so than hard work. If one can remember back to the early days of Belichick’s reign as head coach in New England, they’ll see his sons on the sideline, charting plays and soaking in the experience, very much like Belichick learned from his father at Navy. 

And one of the things at all of the young coaches get tasked to do is to learn by “padding games.” So, what the heck is “padding games” and what does it entail, you ask? Nothing nefarious (sorry BB haters). 

Padding of games for Bill Belichick is about not only learning the game inside and out but more importantly for the assistants, it is learning the game thru the prism of the head coach’s eye. They learn the way that Belichick views the game and therefore they’ll be able to better support him in his game planning. That includes his sons.

Steve Belichick, the Patriots safeties coach, calls it his father’s “Football 101.”

Belichick will assign young assistants one or several games of an upcoming opponent. Then, watching the All-22 coaches tape, they will chart every snap on paper. The assistants have to chart the movement of every single player on the offense and defense on separate pieces of paper.

They must identify each player’s responsibility as well as formations, splits, routes from receivers, protection schemes and what each team is attempting to accomplish on each given play. Given that the length of games will involve so many plays, padding a single game will take from several hours (for someone who has been doing it) to several days for one game. 

McDaniels, in an interview during Super Bowl week with Yahoo cited padding games for three years as instrumental in learning the intricacies of the game. “I think the most important thing young people have got to understand is, it’s not punishment,” McDaniels said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to learn how important everything is at this level.”

Thus, the assistants learn what concepts, both offensive and defensively will work against an opponent. The younger Belichick has charted hundreds of games by his own account and sees the value in it. 

“You get to learn about football, different schemes, different styles of play. You understand how different and creative you can be to win … I used to get excited to pad the good teams and I learned what not to do from the bad teams.”

This is the way the assistants learn how Belichick breaks down tape and how they all get on the same sheet of music. Bill’s famous attention to detail will invariably entail numerous sticky notes on each page, identifying things missed or wrong and what the assistant has gotten right. 

It is the way that the younger coaches grow and develop and gives them the attention to detail and exhaustiveness that Bill Belichick demands from himself and his assistants. There is no secret formula, it is just hard work…and doing your job.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Sticking With McCoy (for now) as Starting RB: 

When the Buffalo Bills entered the offseason, many thought RB Shady McCoy had played his last game in a Bills uniform. After suffering his worst season as a pro, on the wrong side of 30 and with a lot of wear on his tires, it seemed McCoy’s days were numbered for Buffalo. 

The Bills then brought in the ageless Frank Gore, to go along with T.J. Yeldon and rookie Devin Singletary and fullback Patrick DeMarco. And things seemed, on the surface that McCoy was soon to be phased out. But not so fast…

GM Brandon Beane has stated all spring that entering the season, McCoy was the starting running back. Something McCoy has been quick to echo. 

Perhaps with a move to the quick passing game utilizing Cole Beasley, the Bills are hoping with the addition of Gore, Yeldon, and Singletary that McCoy, with less work will rediscover his game. Holding onto him for trade value doesn’t make much sense at this point. Training camp will be interesting to watch this summer.

Dolphins’ Kendrick Norton Loses Arm in Horrific Car Crash:

The Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Kendrick Norton was seriously injured in a car crash early Thursday morning when his pickup truck crashed into a concrete barrier and ended up on its roof. 

EMTs reportedly had to amputate Norton’s arm before taking him to the hospital. He also reportedly suffered head injuries but while the damage to him was very serious, he is expected to survive. His condition was upgraded to good on Saturday morning. Norton was a 7th round draft pick of the Panthers in 2018, Miami scooped him off of Carolina’s practice squad last year and was expected to compete for a roster spot with Miami in training camp.

Sources from Norton’s family said on social media that another driver, behind the wheel of a 2015 Maserati cut off Norton and caused the accident. But that hasn’t been confirmed from the Florida Highway Patrol. They have yet to issue a report. That driver who has been identified as Jessie Pena, 30, was not injured in the crash.  And her car sustained minor damage.

Jets Hoping For a Big Year From Robby Anderson:

The New York Jets are hoping for bigger things from 2nd year QB Sam Darnold this fall. Adding RB LeVeon Bell to the Jets stable should definitely help take some of the pressure off of him. But beyond that, they’ll need better production from their wide receivers in 2019. 

The Jets current WR depth chart includes Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, Jamison Crowder, Josh Bellamy, Charone Peake, Deontay Burnett, Greg Dortch, Valentine Holmes, Quadree Henderson, J.J. Jones, Jeff Smith, Tim White, and Deonte Thompson.

The first three players are locks to make the roster and they’ll need those and some of the latter wideouts to step it up this year. Barring a trade or a signing for an established wide receiver, these players, especially Robby Anderson will have to increase their production.

Both Anderson and Enunwa suffered injuries last year but should be fine come the beginning of training camp. One area where Anderson is expected to increase his production is in his usage. The Jets have used him as a deep threat mainly, however that is expected to change under Adam Gase. 

With Crowder and Enunwa’s injury history, depth may be an issue, but the biggest question this summer will be, can Anderson produce in a contract year and stay out of trouble? As the #1, he’ll draw the opponent’s often best cover corner. 

________________

“There are no shortcuts to building a team each season. You build the foundation brick by brick.”Bill Belichick

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

Patriots 2018 Training Camp Primer – Special Teams

Steve Balestrieri
July 25, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

The wait is nearly over as the Patriots head into training camp tomorrow. NFL Football is back among us until February, and not a moment too soon.

The Patriots offseason has been mired in innuendo, speculation, with an almost soap opera-like aura that seems more like “keeping up with the Kardashians” than the Patriot Way. So now we can fill the airwaves of football talk again.

There should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. But for our final position there shouldn’t be a lot of movement at the key spots.  We’re on to the Special Teams.

So, with that in mind who is locked in and who is on the bubble?

Roster Locks- Stephen Gostkowski, Joe Cardona,

The team brought in no competition for their kicker and long snapper which speaks volumes in the confidence they have in both.

Gostkowski had a nice comeback season in 2017 in the kicking game. He was good on 92.5 percent of his field goals, hitting on 37 of 40 attempts including going 4 – 4 on attempts over 50 yards including career-long 62-yarder against the Raiders.

Gostkowski continues to be outstanding with his kickoffs. The Patriots were very good at pinning opponents back inside their 25-yard line or better during the season with the changes to the touchback rule. And Gostkowski had that developed into an art form, angling his kicks on one side of the field near the corner of the end zone. Opponents drives average start was their 24 yard line, the best in the NFL.

Cardona has been a solid accurate long-snapper since entering the league. A testament to his prowess is that you very, very rarely hear his name called in a game. Which means his snaps on field goals, extra points and punts are usually spot on. He’s done a terrific job of balancing his job with the Patriots and his duties as a Naval Officer which isn’t an easy task as well.

Facing no camp competition again this year, Gostkowski and Cardona need only worrying themselves to be ready to go for the season opener.

On the Bubble: Ryan Allen, Corey Bojorquez

Allen is facing competition for the first time in his tenure since besting Zoltan Mesko in the 2013. And while his punting average has gone down each year for the past three years, he has actually become more effective at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line.

Rewind to the 2nd half of the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Allen pinned the Jags offense inside the 10-yard line three times in the second half, flipping field position for the Patriots and having a big role in the comeback victory to send the team on to the Super Bowl.

But he’s in the last year of his contract, and this is something we’ve seen before with the Patriots, Bill Belichick will change things up every few years with his punters. We’ve seen Ken Walter, Josh Miller, Chris Hanson and Mesko, who lost his job to Allen. He’s been here five years but faces serious competition for the first time.

Bojorquez is another left-footed punter from New Mexico. Last season for the Lobos, he punted 67 times with an average of 47.3 yards, so he has a tremendously strong leg. He had 12 of those turn into touchbacks, which will need to be remedied. But despite his average, 25 of his punts were fair caught by the opposition which speaks highly of the amount of hang time.

We were witnesses to that during June’s minicamp. Bojorquez was absolutely booming the ball with incredible hang time. One punt which went well over 50 yards, hung up so long, punt returner Riley McCarron would have been forced to fair catch the ball during a game.

This should be a fantastic competition, while Bojorquez has the edge on leg strength and distance, Allen’s directional punting and consistency gives him the nod there. This should be fun to watch.

The Patriots place a premium on players who excel on Special Teams among them Matthew Slater, Brandon Bolden, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, Geneo Grissom, Nicholas Grigsby among others. Those players were listed elsewhere as positional players but are truly more special team’s aces than offensive or defensive players.

Ebner in particular was missed for his expertise as the personal protector on punts after he went on IR last year.  

Some of the new players or ones returning from injury are also special teams mavens such as Cordarrelle Patterson, who besides being the NFL’s best kick returner, is a very good gunner. Marquis Flowers was brought over last season for his STs experience but parlayed that into a role on defense as well.

What it means is that these players will be fighting for their roster spots every day as well as the positional players. Keep an eye on the kickoff and punt coverage units during training camp. Because those positions will ultimately tell the tale for some of the bottom of the roster players who will either make the team or be released. Bill Belichick and ST’s coach Joe Judge will have some interesting decisions to make.

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 Losing Special Teams Coach To Colts

Ian Logue
February 15, 2018 at 10:10 pm ET

The Indianapolis Colts may not have gotten their man with Josh McDaniels, but it appears they’ve been successful in poaching a New England coach to fill one of their coaching vacancies.

According to the Sporting News’ Alex Marvez, Patriots assistant special teams coach Ray “Bubba” Ventrone is heading to Indianapolis to coach the Colts’ special teams. It’s an interesting turn of events given that current special teams coach Joe Judge was initially going to handle that role had McDaniels accepted the head coaching job. Instead, McDaniels had a change of heart and remained in New England, with Judge opting to stay with the Patriots after the offensive coordinator changed course.

Ventrone will join new head coach Frank Reich’s staff, with Indianapolis hiring the former Bills quarterback following McDaniels decision to walk away from the position.

Colts fans should definitely be happy about the move, as Ventrone is a smart coach, which hopefully means they’ll no longer have to worry about having to be subjected to plays like this:

https://twitter.com/thecheckdown/status/758781787938119681

Patriots Special Teams, Dominant In Blowout Win Over Denver

Steve Balestrieri
November 13, 2017 at 9:10 am ET

One of the few complaints heard around Patriots Nation centers around Bill Belichick’s insistence on having so many players on the roster that contribute only on special teams. Sunday night’s game in Denver should put that argument to rest for quite awhile.

For the second game in a row, the Patriots special teams units were a huge difference in the game and were a big reason why the team was victorious.

New England and Denver are teams heading in opposite directions. The Patriots have won five in a row while the Broncos have dropped five straight. A major reason why this game turned into a blowout was the dominance of the Patriots STs units and Denver’s continued awful special teams play. The Broncos are done now, and can only play the spoiler. And it wasn’t the play of their QBs this week, it was their special teams and defense.

There were four huge plays by Joe Judge’s units that turned this game from a potentially close game into a rout. Let me caveat this by saying something straight out. I’ve been hearing the “Special Teams was the only reason the Patriots won” narrative. That doesn’t give hardly enough credit to Tom Brady and the offense. The Patriots offense scored on seven straight possessions. The Denver defense couldn’t stop the Patriots offense all night long. But back to the four key special teams plays.

  • After the Patriots went three and out on their opening possession, they were forced to punt. Ryan Allen’s punt had very good hang time and Jonathan Jones put pressure on Isaiah McKenzie and he muffed the punt. Jones blasted McKenzie and rookie Jacob Hollister recovered the ball and the offense was in business. It was a huge turn of events. Brady later hit Rex Burkhead for a 14-yard touchdown and the Patriots were off and running.
  • Denver answered by driving down and kicking a field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, Denver kicked three yards deep to Dion Lewis. Lewis found a seam and burst thru the poor coverage by the Broncos and raced 103 yards for a touchdown. He received two key blocks by reserve tight ends Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister along the way
  • Rex Burkhead, who had a good night on the offense, provided the third key special teams play of the night. He burst thru the interior on a Denver punt and smothered the kick for a key punt block. The short field allowed the Patriots to kick a field goal. Which should have been a touchdown. I’m still waiting to the see the ball hit the ground there…
  • The final key play was early in the fourth quarter. The Patriots had started on their own six-yard line at the end of the third quarter. They moved to the Denver 41 where the drive stalled. But on 4th and 5, Denver jumped offside on the punt giving Brady and offense a fresh set of downs. Seven plays later Brady put the dagger in with a touchdown pass to James White, finishing a 16-play, 94-yard drive that took 7:31 seconds off the clock.

The Patriots special teams have been steadily improving as the season winds along. In their last game against San Diego, they tackled a punt returner for a safety and Lewis ran back a kickoff in that one of 71 yards. The coverage units have been outstanding and Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs are putting teams constantly in the hole behind the 25-yard line.

The only downer from the game was ST’s Captain Matthew Slater, pulling a hamstring in the game last night and not returning.

But if they continue to play at this kind of high level, the sky is the limit. They can match up with just about anyone they play and having an STs unit that can give the team a boost like that is outstanding.

We’re on to Mexico….

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 Training Camp Primer – Special Teams

Steve Balestrieri
July 21, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

Locked, Stocked and Plenty of Depth

The Patriots head into training camp at the end of next week and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. And now, finally, we’re on to the Special Teams.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation. And some serious decisions will have to be made to get to the 53-man limit at the end of camp this summer.

Our earlier evaluations looked at the:
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Offensive Line
Defensive Line
Linebackers
Cornerbacks
Safeties

So next up is the Patriots’ Special Teams. Without any serious challengers for the three players involved in the kicking game (kicker, punter, long-snapper), it would be hard to say they’re not locked. Where things get interesting is in the specialists and we’ll cover that below.

So, with that in mind who is locked in and who is on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater
The team brought in no competition for the three players most involved in the kicking game this summer. That tells you a lot about the confidence that they have in each of these players.

Gostkowski had a downer of a season for him making only 84.4 percent of his field goals (27 of 32) and missing three extra points (46 of 49) which had always been automatic with him. He missed two more extra points in the playoffs which could have resulted in a disaster had the Patriots not made a pair of two-point conversions in the Super Bowl comeback.

But one area of his game that is outstanding is his kickoffs. The Patriots were very good at pinning opponents back inside their 25-yard line or better during the season with the changes to the touchback rule. And Gostkowski had that developed into an art form, angling his kicks on one side of the field near the corner of the end zone.  But although the team didn’t bring in competition (surprising as it is), he’ll have to be more accurate this season.

Ryan Allen and Joe Cardona go over snap placement in training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Ryan Allen is coming off his career best in terms of net yardage (41.4), the fifth-year veteran has been very dependable and steady on holding for Gostkowski and his directional punting has gotten steadily better.

He was at his best during a 27-0 whitewashing of Houston. That night Allen put six punts inside the 20-yard line pinning the Texans deep all night. His seventh punt? Downed right at the 20. He was awarded and deservedly so the AFC’s Special Team’s Player of the Week for that.

Cardona has been juggling his duties with the Navy while being a long-snapper with the Patriots for the past two seasons. He’s been very accurate with his snaps and very few have been off-target, especially with the field goals and extra points. With his position, the only time we really notice him is when he makes a mistake. And he’s made very few during his tenure.

Matthew Slater is a team captain, a perennial All-Pro gunner on the Special Teams and one of those indispensable character guys every successful team has. He’s frequently mentioned a tremendous locker room presence.

Mike Reiss from ESPN recently highlighted how when the rookies arrived, the coaches told them that Slater was a good example to follow. UDFA Austin Carr sought him out and Slater has taken him under his wing. One of the highlights of last season was a very emotional Slater talking with Bart Starr’s wife when he found out he’d been named the recipient of the award in Starr’s name.  Slater enters his 10th year in the league and is locked.

Near Roster Locks: Nate Ebner, Brandon King
Two of the safeties that the Patriots carry make their bones on special teams. Ebner was allowed to chase his dream of an Olympic gold medal in Rugby last training camp and the coaches wore Ebner shirts to practice in support. That speaks volumes.

Ebner played a mere 18 snaps at strong safety in 2016. But he remains a core special teams’ player and his role isn’t changing anytime soon. He played on all four core STs and was on the field for approximately 80 percent of the snaps in 2016. He serves as Allen’s punt protector….and they haven’t had any blocked.

Brandon King getting feedback from STs Coach Joe Judge. (SBalestrieri photo)

King didn’t play a single snap on defense in 2016 but is nearly a lock for the roster due to his superb play on Special Teams. The Patriots signed the UDFA in 2015 and we saw right away that the team was intrigued. STs coach Joe Judge spent an incredible amount of one-on-one time with the rookie and he’s been a fixture on the STs since.

He was on the field for about 70 percent of the special teams’ snaps in 2016 and was on all four core special teams units.

On the Bubble: None

Very little looks to change with the Patriots special teams in 2017. They have a really solid base with two very good kickers, a reliable long snapper, and three impressive special teams’ mavens. The kicker, punter, and long-snapper don’t have any competition this summer so they’ll not be sweating training camp wondering if they’ll make the roster.

And the three specialists really have little to fear this year as well. Any newcomer will have to really step up to the plate to unseat one of these three. If a new player is to make the team, they’ll probably have to bump one of the positional players.

Barring injuries, this unit is solid and ready to go for 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.

Monday Observations, Coaching, STs Blunders Cost Patriots in Costly Loss

Steve Balestrieri
December 7, 2015 at 6:44 am ET

The Patriots played very un-Patriot like football on Sunday on both the field and on their sidelines and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 35-28 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.

With very uncharacteristic blunders by Bill Belichick and a melt-down by one of the better special teams units in the league, the Patriots committed the cardinal sin in all of sports; don’t ever, ever let an inferior team hang around, because it will come back to bite you.

And it did, Philadelphia scored 35 straight points which never happens to a Belichick coached team to take a commanding 35-14 lead where Brady led a furious comeback in the final seven minutes that came up short. The loss dropped the Patriots from the top spot in the AFC all the way down to the #3 seed. They’re tied with Denver and Cincinnati with 10-2 records but the tiebreakers put them currently in third. If the playoffs started today, they’d be hosting a Wild Card playoff game.

Brady Gets it Going: After appearing to sleepwalk thru a scoreless first quarter, the Patriots offense began to get on track and Tom Brady led them to back-to-back 80-yard drives which were finished off with touchdown passes to James White and Danny Amendola. Amendola returned to action on Sunday and played very well.

Down 14-0, the Eagles looked dead in the water and things appeared to be playing out the way they had been envisioned all week. It was here that Belichick pulled an unbelievable boner by attempting an onsides kick …with Nate Ebner.

Poor timing and Decisions: Belichick had raved all last week at what a outstanding special teams unit the Eagles had. So why try an onside kick up 14-0 when the defense had been playing well and the Philly offense, besides a few nice runs from Darren Sproles, had done nothing?

Worse, once Stephen Gostkowski flipped the ball to Ebner, it alerted the Eagles that something was up and the element of surprise was gone. The play had little chance of success and gave Philly a boost and great field position at their own 41 where…lo and behold, they went right down to score a touchdown.

That charged up the defense and they started to play much better after that point. Belichick and Josh McDaniels refused to stick with the running game although LaGarrette Blount was showing some signs of being able to sustain a ground game and take some pressure off of Brady.

But late in the second quarter, the Pats got the ball back and had the chance to march down for a late score and then double dip while getting the ball to start the third quarter. It is a scenario we’ve seen so many times before. But the coaches couldn’t make up their minds whether to milk the clock or try to go down the field with their second tier group of receivers.

Last Minute Meltdown: That indecision cost them dearly. With under 15 seconds to play in the half, Brady attempted a sideline pass where both Scott Chandler and Keshawn Martin were in the same place. One of them ran the wrong route, Chandler attempted to corral the high pass that perhaps was earmarked for Martin and it bounced incomplete. That gaffe would force the Patriots to punt and the special teams unit that Belichick raved about last week, showed up in force.

Shooting multiple players up the center gap, Ebner as the designated punt protector was in a no-win position of having to block one or the other. Ryan Allen’s punt was blocked and the Eagles scored a tying touchdown with eight seconds left on the clock. It was Philly’s first scoring play in the final two minutes of the half for the first time in nearly two years. What looked to be an easy victory was now a dogfight.

After trading possessions to start the third quarter, Brady moved the Patriots down into scoring position. With a first and goal from the one, they attempted that quick run which hasn’t been fooling anyone lately and White was stuffed for a four-yard loss. On third down, Brady joined the gaffe parade. He attempted to force a pass to Amendola at the goal line into double coverage. The ball bounced up and Malcolm Jenkins returned it 99 yards for a touchdown. It was Brady’s third red zone interception of the season and a very costly one. The 14-point turnaround gave Philly the first lead of the day at 21-14.

Another special teams meltdown occurred after New England’s next possession. Darren Sproles received the punt at the Philadelphia 17-yard line and raced 83 yards for the score. The Pats were now in a 14-point hole and the handwriting was on the wall for this one.

The Pats tried a little trickery with a play we saw back in training camp. Brady moved out to the right, a direct snap to White who rolled left and then pitched the ball to Amendola. He came back across to the right and found Brady all alone down the right side line for a 36-yard gain. But on the very next snap Brady attempted to go deep to LaFell who broke off his route at the ten-yard line. Brady said afterward that he attempted to throw it away but didn’t put enough on it. It didn’t seem that way watching it live, and the Eagles picked him off for the second time.

Comeback Falls Short: The Eagles would score again this time with their offense to make the score 35-21 and fans started streaming for Route 1. With under seven minutes to go, Brady mounted a furious comeback. He moved the team down the field and hit Chandler on a fade to the back of the left side of the end zone to make it 35-21.

An onside kick was recovered by New England and Brady moved them down once again where he took the ball across from the 1-yard line to make things now interesting at 35-28. But the special teams gaffes resurfaced again. A third onside kick was again attempted by Ebner and the Eagles’ Riley Cooper smartly swatted the ball out of bounds. Why is Ebner kicking the ball twice on attempted onside kicks rather than the actual kicker Gostkowski?

Philly was killing the clock and was in easy field goal range when they committed a gaffe of their own.  Kenjon Barner who was having a nice day running the ball, carried a third down play into the center of the line. He was well short of the first down and instead of protecting the ball, he lunged up backwards trying in vain to make extra yardage. He was hit by Jamie Collins and stripped of the ball where Malcom Brown recovered at the Pats 25-yard line.

The energy was back in the stadium where Brady with no timeouts and just a minute to go had to get them in for a tying touchdown. They made it up to just shy of the 40 yard line where they had three straight drops by Martin, LaFell and Amendola. Game, set, match.

Double Digit Breakdown: For the second week in a row the Patriots had a double digit lead that they couldn’t hold because of special teams mistakes. This week’s blunders were much more egregious and they have no beef with the boys in stripes this time. These were wounds of the self-inflicted variety and it starts with the coaches Belichick, McDaniels and STs coach Joe Judge.

It isn’t often Belichick is criticized for his coaching but today it is warranted. There was absolutely no reason to attempt an onside kick at the early juncture of the game and his team up 14 points. McDaniels showed little confidence in the running game early and should have stuck with it. Once the game got out of hand, his options were then nil and Brady was again was battered in the pocket.

He was hit 12 more times on Sunday, bringing the total to 36 in the past three games. That is what they call playing with fire folks. And just to remind everyone, the Patriots play Houston next Sunday night with JJ Watt who’s been on fire lately with the Texans defense.

While social media was alive with the lamenting of missing Gronkowski, Edelman and Lewis, that had nothing to do with this loss. Sure they would have altered the way the offense approached that final 30 minutes but on a game where you give up two special teams’ scores, you won’t win many of those. On a day where the Patriots defense gave up just 120 yards passing and just 248 yards in total, this was a game they let slip away and may cost them in January.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.