Tag Archives: Josh Allen

New England Patriots News, 4-14, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 14, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 04-14 and AFC East Notes.

It is looking like it is going to be another soggy Boston Marathon this year, we’d like to wish all of the competitors the best of luck tomorrow.


As we stated last week we have begun our draft profiles on players that we feel would fit the team, our first on tight ends can be seen here:  And our follow-up post on possible wide receiver fits can be seen here: Our draft profiles on defensive tackles is here:

ICYMI: Our second Mock Draft 2.0 attempt at building the 2019 Patriots roster is in the books. You can recap it here: I believe we all expect the Patriots to be very active in this one, possibly packing some picks for a trade or perhaps moving around the board as they are very used to doing. Mock Draft 3.0 will be coming out early this week.

Derek Havens and I have been doing a special podcast highlighting the upcoming NFL Draft in addition to the regular one we do with host Russ Goldman. This week, we’re planning on having ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates with us to discuss the draft, what the Patriots may do, especially in the early rounds and about the NFL in general. Please do check that out around mid-week.

Last week did a draft mailbag podcast which can be listened to here:

Quick Hitters:

Tom Brady was on his Instagram account beginning his offseason work at his home. The interesting thing about that was he was still picking confetti from the Super Bowl out of his helmet. Speaking of which, he can no longer wear his old one and must wear the newer version which he tried a few times last year.

Chris Hogan signed a one-year deal with the Panthers. Hogan had quite a few memorable moments and catches in his three years in New England, helping the team get to three Super Bowls and winning two. But his leaving this spring is not a surprise, it seemed like a long shot for him to return.

Pat Chung has signed a one-year extension according to NFL.com, locking up the Patriots safety thru the 2021 season. Ian Rapoport was the first to report the news. Chung broke his arm in the Super Bowl but is expected to be fully healthy by training camp

Tim Tebow was in Pawtucket playing the Paw Sox for the Mets minor league affiliate and was asked about his brief time with Tom Brady. Tebow gave a long answer, gushing over the qualities of Brady as both a QB and a teammate. Then apologizing for giving an answer that was too long.  Tebow was and is always a class act.

RIP Forrest Gregg the longtime Packer great offensive lineman who passed away at age 85 this week. Gregg set a record (since broken) of playing in 188 straight games and later became the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Green Bay Packers. Vince Lombardi called Gregg, “the greatest player I ever coached.”

The Patriots were supposedly interested in making a trade for NY Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepherd, but for the second year in a row, the Giants when they found out there was interest in their player (OBJ last year), gave the player a fat extension. In Shepherd’s case a 4-year, $41 million dollar extension.

Seferian-Jenkins Is Excited to Play in New England:

With the signing of TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins this week, it was a move we immediately pegged as a win but then turned around and stated that he probably would not be a #1 tight end here. And we’ll double down on that. The move was for the veterans’ minimum salary with just a $50,000 signing bonus and incentive bonuses totaling only another $40,000. That is peanuts; so the outlay of cash and risk for the team is very minimal.

Seferian-Jenkins could….could step into a #1 role for the Patriots, but they don’t obviously think that is so or they would’ve enticed him earlier with more money. It will be interesting to see how he works out with the team in the spring. And if he can stay healthy and on the field.

A best-case scenario for the team would be for them to get one of the top TEs in the draft (which is still a big need) and have Seferian-Jenkins step into the #2 role as a complementary receiver.

Jenkins took to social media posting a picture of the original Pat the Patriot (he immediately got high marks from here) and thanked the Patriots and stated “I am ready to go to work.” And why wouldn’t he be? Look at the QBs he’s played with and he’s never been on a playoff team.

Belichick Praises Caserio, Scouting Dept. Ahead of the Draft:

Bill Belichick held a pre-draft press conference at Gillette on Weds. and opened with nearly a 7-minute statement praising the work of Nick Caserio, the Pats Director of Player Personnel.

With a big turnover in the coaching staff, Belichick said that there was less scouting of college prospects by the coaching staff than in previous years. But he raved about the job that Caserio and the Director of College Scouting Monte Ossenfort and Pro player Scouting Dave Zigler have done. With the absence of so many coaches, Zigler and his staff jumped in to help with the process.

“So it gives us a tremendous opportunity for him to connect with the coaches and understand the schematics of what’s going on with the coaching side of it, and to try to integrate and correlate the players we’re evaluating on all different levels,” Belichick said of Caserio.

Belichick added that the goal, as always is to come away “as good a predictor as possible as to how the player will fit in and perform on our team, and in our system, (emphasis mine),  in New England regardless of what the league value is for the player. It’s really what the player can do for us is what the final evaluation goal we’re trying to achieve.”

Patriots and Titans Will Hold Joint Practices This Summer:

The Patriots always try to conduct joint practices during training camp and this season will be no exception. Prior to their Week 2 preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, the two teams will conduct joint practices against one another at the Titans’ facility.

“Sure, we are going to practice against the Patriots,” Vrabel said on Friday.

“They’re going to come down here, and it’ll be great for our fans to come out here and see a lot of great players, the team that won the Super Bowl last year. And they’ll be able to watch those practices and see our work and see how we compete against each other and try to improve.”

That immediately set off a lot of good-natured trash talking between old friends and former Patriot Logan Ryan, Devin McCourty, and Pat Chung. Ryan said he was going to play one snap at WR to burn the McCourty Twins. He tweeted, “Easy money, he getting old.”  Which immediately got a response from Devin where he answered, “Which one? I guess it don’t matter, I don’t like you vs anyone!” Chung jumped in with “I mean damn, Let’s do it!…LOL.”

The two teams will meet there in Nashville during the week of August 12. If fans are looking for a nice vacation trip…Nashville is nice any time of the year.

Seahawks and Patriots Trading for #21 Pick in the Draft?

The Seattle Seahawks are expected to be trading back from the #21 pick in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft. And depending upon how the board plays out, the Patriots with a plethora of draft picks could be in a prime position to move up if one of the tight ends they covet are there or perhaps one of the premier edge guys like Clelin Ferrell.

Seattle has only four picks in the upcoming draft, (1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Rounds) so creating a few more would seem to be the order of the day for Pete Carroll. According to the Draft Value Chart, Seattle’s pick at #21 is worth an even 800 points. So to give them adequate compensation, the Patriots could package their first round pick at #32 (590 points) and #73 (225 points) to give Seattle a slight perceived edge or you could delve really deep and package #32, and some of the Patriots mid-to-later round picks for the Seahawks #21 and one of their mid-round picks.

Of course, they won’t be alone. Everyone knows that Seattle may be looking to trade back and that means the Seahawks brass will be looking for the best deal for them. That’s what makes this time of year so interesting.

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Speaking of the draft, I was talking about Boston College OL Chris Lindstrom to a high school coach that coached against him in school last week and he remembered how impressive the former Shepherd Hill OL was back then. “They ran those tight formations (Double Wing) and watching him pull out and road grade thru the defenses was impressive,” he said.  “Back then he was about 270 (pounds) and he was still one of the faster players on the field. You could tell he was going to a really special player.”

We say that because don’t go to sleep on a player like Lindstrom. He played right tackle for the Eagles, but projects to be an interior OL at the next level. But he has the versatility to maybe do both.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Looking For A Big Draft to Upgrade Offensive Weapons:

The Buffalo Bills were very active in free agency and signed six offensive linemen as well as two wide receivers during the early going of free agency. Don’t expect the Bills to stop there. Buffalo has 10 picks in the upcoming draft and they have the flexibility to move around the draft to search for the weapons to surround 2nd year QB Josh Allen with the talent he needs to succeed.

The Bills OLwas a mess in 2018 and they signed three guards, two tackles and one excellent center to help protect their franchise QB. They also added WRs John Brown, Cole Beasley and TE Tyler Kroft to the mix.

But now they are poised to make some noise in the draft. With the #9 pick in the draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper has them taking Iowa T.J. Hockenson and then adding Arizona State WR N’Keal Harry with their 40th pick. The Bills just had the other Iowa TE Noah Fant in for a visit.  Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll doesn’t need to see Alabama TE Irv Smith up close for a visit, he coached him with the Tide.

The Bills also signed FA DE/OLB Eli Harold this week. Harold played two seasons for the 49ers and last year with Detroit where he had eight tackles, four sacks and a pass deflected in 13 games for the Lions.

Dolphins To Pass on Early QBs in the Draft? Quite Possible:

The Miami Dolphins and new head coach Brian Flores have a lot of holes to fill in the 2019 roster. After the jettisoning of Ryan Tannehill and the signing of journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, most experts believe the Dolphins may reach early for the next potential franchise QB at #13 in the draft. Not so fast…

If someone they like is still around at #13 could Miami pounce on them, but with big holes to fill at DE, the offensive line, running back and corner, they Dolphins may wait to select a QB they can develop in the middle rounds.

Fans may scream given Fitzpatrick’s track record as a starter, but with Brian Flores coming from the Belichick regime, they may be looking at the long-term best solution first rather than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, which is how they ended up in this predicament.

Jets Ink Montgomery, Maybe the End of the Line for Powell:

The New York Jets signed RB/WR/KR Ty Montgomery this week to back up Le’Veon Bell. The former Ravens player was also reportedly being courted by the Miami Dolphins. A talented kick returner, Montgomery was cut by Green Bay after an ill-advised return at the end of a game with the Rams. Montgomery was told to take a knee and returned it out of the end zone and then fumbled.

He was dealt to the Ravens where in six games he rushed for 83 yards on 15 carries, with no touchdowns. He also caught 10 passes for 65 yards. He began his career as a WR and switched to RB with the Packers. It is expected that head coach Adam Gase will try to find a niche role for him behind Bell.

But that news is probably the end of Bilal Powell’s time as a New York Jet. He suffered a neck injury last season but was thought to be able to continue his career fully. In his eight seasons with the Jets, the 30-year old Powell rushed for 3,446 yards and 15 touchdowns, while catching 204 for 1,567 yards and five touchdowns. He was never the Jets #1 running back but led them in scrimmage yards in both 2013 and 2016.

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We’ve all seen those commercials “Want to Get Away?” When someone does something silly or just plain dumb… How about the editorial staff on Sportsnaut? This week they published a piece on “NFL stars about to fade in 2019” and who leads off the list? Danny Amendola. Okay you say, that could happen, but what? Danny Amendola of the New England Patriots.

“This veteran receiver will likely see an uptick in targets next season now that Rob Gronkowski has retired. In no way does this mean the 33-year-old Amendola is going to be as efficient as we’ve seen in the past.” Ouch. Ummm Amendola hasn’t been with the Patriots since 2017, having spent the 2018 season with Miami and now with Detroit.

The facts checker took the day off it seems. Want to get away? …

“Is it time for the Draft yet? 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.

New England Patriots News 01-06, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 6, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-06, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

No…This IS 41: Last week in the aftermath of the Jets game, another hot-take artist of Fox Sports radio with an ax to grind, first complained that the league conspired to get the Patriots the bye because of what he called a terrible call of roughing the passer by the Jets against Brady. “NFL badly needed the Patriots to get that #2 seed. This call is total garbage. Patriots eventually score, up 21-3.”

Then he cherry-picked a missed throw by Brady to Hogan in the end zone to claim, “This is 41.” The funny part was the next day, he called out another writer for having a “garbage take” on the Antonio Brown saga. Glass houses, especially when in the game against the Jets, Brady completed over 70 percent of his throws, threw 4 TDs and had a passer rating of 133.8.

But we can cherry pick too, so…here’s your “This is 41”

Did you Know? Since 2001, the Patriots have had 13 byes, the most in the NFL. The next closest teams are the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers with 5. This is the ninth consecutive year earning a bye, the most prior to this Patriots run has been four. . Dallas and San Francisco earned four straight byes from 1992 through 1995 and Denver had four straight from 2012 through 2015.

Did you Know Pt. 2: The only NFL team to win a championship and is no longer in the league was from New England. The Providence Steamroller was part of the league from 1925 -1931 and won the NFL Championship in 1928. Besides being one of two teams (Chicago Cardinals) to be the first to play a night game in 1929, Providence, due to a scheduling snafu and bad weather played four games in a six-day stretch which the night game, attended by 6000 fans was the second game of the stretch.

Patriots Unveil 2018 Playoff Motto: The Patriots, as part of their M.O., have unveiled a motto for the playoffs this year, “Everything We Got.” They unveiled a short video that showed many of the national pundits calling for the demise of the Pats dynastic run.

Then the video shows the team in a quick series of vignettes and then the narrator says:
To get everything,
It’s going to take everything.
So we’re going to give everything.
EVERYTHING WE GOT.

Is it as good as “Do Your Job”? Nope. But it is a step up from “One More” in our opinion. Enjoy the Wildcard Weekend’s slate of the games. There were 12 good teams entering the playoffs this weekend, 11 of them will lose their last game of the year. That’s why our motto, which we’d steal from Hollywood, would be. “There Can Be Only One!”

With McDaniels and Flores Being Courted, Focus on O’Shea, Bielema:

Like clockwork, the staff of Bill Belichick is being raided again as multiple teams have requested interviews with coordinators Josh McDaniels and Brian Flores. McDaniels is rumored to be the top choice for the Green Bay Packers and is very much in the mix for Cleveland, he turned down a request to interview with Cincinnati. It might sound strange but the better job overall and probably better for McDaniels may be Cleveland.

The Packers have a 36-year old QB who got his last coach fired. The offense runs through Rodgers, it is doubtful, he’s going to want to learn a new system at this stage of his career. Cleveland has a good young defense, an exciting rookie QB that knows how to win and is a team trending up.

But we digress… If one, or both leave who will take over the reins as the coordinators for the Patriots in 2019? On offense, it seems like a no-brainer in that Chad O’Shea will take over the play calling there. He’s been being groomed for that spot for some time now. O’Shea has been with the team for 10 years and called the plays during the preseason last summer. That one seems like a slam-dunk. However, O’Shea’s name is being floated around as a possible Offensive Coordinator for Matt Patricia in Detroit. We’ll have to monitor that situation.

Defensively, the situation will be difficult as they have no clear-cut coach lined up to take the reins. In reality, Flores isn’t even a “true” defensive coordinator, as he’s not been even given the title of it yet… why, is a story for another time.

Bill Belichick would probably take most of the onus on himself as the defensive coordinator for 2019, however, there isn’t a clear-cut successor ready yet. The best choice? Bret Bielema who was a head coach at both Wisconsin and Arkansas. Brendan Daly, who coaches the Defensive Line, may become a candidate in a year or two, but right now, the odds would be against him.

AB to the Pats? Not Happening:

When the news broke about the deteriorating situation in Pittsburgh with Antonio Brown, it was amazing how dysfunctional that team truly is. Mike Tomlin has always run a loose ship and that has come home to roost. But as soon as the story broke about Brown requesting a trade, Patriots fans jumped all over the story, wanting Belichick to swing a deal for Brown.

But there is no way that’s happening. For one, the Steelers would still be on the hook for Brown’s huge 2019 cap hit. They’ll probably try to mend the relationship between Brown, QB Ben Roethlisberger, and Tomlin. Barring that, if they do decide to trade him, one place they never would trade Brown to would be New England.

And as ridiculously talented Brown is, I can’t imagine that there would be a mutual interest in bringing him here. Can you imagine Brown’s Facebook Live video going on while Belichick is addressing the team in a post-game setting? And Brown, although in the midst of a terrific season, was mad because Roethlisberger was making JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had an even better 2018, the focal point. I can’t see Brown accepting a role where he’s not “the guy” that the offense runs thru.

After last season and the tabloid-like story on the divorce of Brady/Belichick, while the team was going 13-3 and on their way to another Super Bowl, is there going to be a big breaking piece on the disintegration of the Steelers’ locker room? Their two most talented offensive players quit on their team this season…but we’re not holding our breath on that one.

Young QBs Have Fans Excited in Several Markets:

The NFL had an influx of young QBs this year and many of them played big roles for their teams right off the bat. And it is a great thing for several NFL franchises that have been downtrodden for a number of years as these young QBs generate hope and excitement for the next generation.

The league has their established stars in QBs like Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers but the story this season really wasn’t about any of them but Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes, while technically not a rookie lit the league on fire this fall. While perennial bottom feeders in Cleveland now have an exciting young QB, Baker Mayfield who has instantly brought hope and respectability to the franchise. Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen have had different levels of success but at least have their fans tuning in.

No one knows if any of these young studs can keep up the long-term success that they’ve found in their first year of playing.  There are no guarantees, injuries occur as well as other issues that can arise, but right now, the 2019 season looks to be, on paper one to really look forward to.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Wildcard Weekend Predictions:

Last week: 12-4 Final Regular Season 165-89-2

Wildcard Weekend:

Saturday – Houston over Indy,
                 Seattle over Dallas
Sunday –   Baltimore over LA Chargers (tough start time for West Coast teams)
                Chicago over Philadelphia

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have Their Man in Josh Allen, Now Need a Surrounding Cast:

The Buffalo Bills picked their guy in the QB Class of 2018 in the person of Allen, the big, strong-armed youngster from Wyoming who had a very up-and-down year, which isn’t a rarity for rookie QBs.

Allen has some obvious flaws in his game. He can be woefully inaccurate at times, but those are mechanical issues that can be solved thru coaching. But for a big guy (6’5, 237) he runs deceptively fast from the pocket.

The Bills need to surround Allen with better weapons next year. Although they have Zay Jones and Robert Foster, they could use another WR, RB, TE and a heckuva lot better support along the offensive line.

Allen ended the season in dramatic fashion, throwing for three TDs and running for two more, the first Bills QB to account for five TDs in a game since Jim Kelly. That left fans in Western NY, itching for a winner, looking forward to 2019. That may even stop them from throwing sex toys on the field during games… Maybe not.

Dolphins Search For the Next Head Coach:

The Miami Dolphins, in a mild surprise, fired head coach Adam Gase after the season was over, but the way the team finished their final quarter of the season, it shouldn’t have been. After an improbable, last-second fluke win over the Patriots, Miami was blown out in Minnesota, lost by 10 to Jacksonville and by 25 to Buffalo.

The Dolphins are busy trying to find their next head coach. GM Chris Grier has interviewed the Patriots’ Brian Flores, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and now are set to interview Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. For Bieniemy, this season was just his first as a coordinator but it was his fourth interview this week. He also met with the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Other names included in the search include Vic Fangio, Mike Munchak, Jim Harbaugh, and Dolphins’ Special Teams Coach Darren Rizzi.

Jets May Have Interest in Baylor HC Matt Ruhle :

The New York Jets are in Texas this weekend, interviewing Cowboys’ assistant coach Kris Richard but multiple sources are reporting that the Jets may also have a lot of interest in Baylor head coach Matt Ruhle.

Ruhle would be an interesting choice as he’s been instrumental in turning around a couple of college programs. Ruhle was born in New York City and spent a year on Tom Coughlin’s staff as an assistant offensive line coach.

He was the QB coach and offensive coordinator at Temple before becoming the head coach for four seasons. His last two in Temple, the team won 10 games, the only time in the program’s history that they accomplished that.  He then moved to Baylor to a program that had been rocked by a sexual assault scandal. In 2017, his team went 1-11. This season, they went 7-6. Ruhle got some interest from the Colts last year in their coaching search. He’d be a good coach it is believed to work with Sam Darnold.

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.

Patriots Week 16 Report Card, Hats and T-Shirts in Win Over Buffalo

Steve Balestrieri
December 25, 2018 at 7:59 am ET

The Patriots returned home and the results were much better than the previous two weeks as they clinched the AFC East with a 24-12 win over Buffalo. The defense held the Bills to just a pair of field goals until a late garbage-time touchdown, the offense rolled up 273 yards on the ground, and they got some splash from their special teams.

The win, coupled with the Texans loss vaulted the Patriots right back into the #2 seed and a bye if the season ended today. They could be the #1 seed amazingly enough, although both KC and the Chargers would have to lose and then the Pats beat the Jets.

But there was still a lot of sloppiness and they turned the ball over three times which can’t continue.

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s close win.

Quarterback: D

Tom Brady threw two interceptions, although neither was his fault. The first one had Rex Burkhead turn outside where Brady expected him to turn across the middle. The result was an easy pick for Lorenzo Alexander. The second was a short pass to Rob Gronkowski where the ball sailed right thru his hands…ditto Jordan Poyer.

The fact that the Pats only threw 25 passes wasn’t a bad thing considering the running game was pounding the ball against the Bills front seven. But with the running game so effective, the play-action passing game should have skewered Buffalo. It did not.

Brady was off on several throws which keeps giving rise to the rumors that his knee isn’t even close to 100 percent. Not one pass was completed beyond 5-6 yards past the line of scrimmage. The pass protection wasn’t great and although Brady moved and slid well in the pocket, he didn’t target Chris Hogan or Phillip Dorsett once. In 89 combined snaps they weren’t targeted at all.

Running Backs: B+

Sony Michel had a big day running the ball, piling up 116 yards in 18 carries. While he was getting good blocking up front (something that several media members hold against only him among running backs when he has a big day), the most impressive thing about his day was after contact. Michel kept his legs churning and carried the pile further for more yardage. It paid off with his touchdown run where he carried the pile into the end zone where he was contacted around the two-yard line.

James White had 41 yards on five carries but his 27-yard touchdown was a beauty. Facing a 3rd and 2, White sliced thru the line and broke to the outside and raced down the left side for a big touchdown run. He had just two catches for 13 yards on four targets in the passing game.

Rex Burkhead had a couple of good plays in both the passing and running games but was also involved in two turnovers. He got the ball punched out after catching a pass from Brady in the first half and then ran the wrong route across the middle leading to an easy interception. He took over for Michel down the stretch, in the kill the clock mode.

Wide Receivers: C

Julian Edelman contributed the only notable splash play in the passing game, catching a six-yard Brady pass on 4th and 4 from the Bills 32-yard line. He was tackled by two Bills defenders but landed on top of them and alertly rolled off and ran into the end zone for the touchdown. He was the only consistent target in the passing game for the WRs catching six passes for 70 yards on ten targets. But Edelman also had two costly penalties and a drop.

Cordarrelle Patterson was targeted twice in the passing game and had one catch for three yards. But Patterson was outstanding at running the ball on the Jet sweeps gaining 66 yards on 4 carries, using his speed to burn past Bills defenders.  Phillip Dorsett had 13 yards on two carries after Patterson tweaked his knee. One was blown up for a four-yard loss but the other was a nice 17-yard scamper.

But neither Dorsett or Chris Hogan was targeted once in the passing game…which is inexcusable.

Tight Ends: C-

Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen were both mainly excellent in the run blocking department, acting as an extra tackle and blowing Bills defenders off the ball which helped create nice running lanes for the running backs to follow.

But neither was a factor at all in the passing game. Gronk was targeted three times and zero catches. Worse, he had a pass zip right thru his hands on the first play of the second half which was picked off by Jordan Poyer.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line did a tremendous job in the running game. Considering that they piled up 275 yards rushing before Brian Hoyer’s kneel-downs, that is exactly what the doctor ordered. Shaq Mason got downfield and put a huge block on Lorenzo Alexander on White’s long touchdown run. Trent Brown consistently was putting Bills defensive end Eddie Yarbrough on roller skates.

But the pass protection was not great. Although Brady was only sacked once, he was under duress far too often in the pocket. And this was on a day where the passing game was dinking and dunking along.

Defensive Line: A-

This was a huge bounce-back game for the defensive line. Danny Shelton was back over the nose and although he made only two tackles, having a big man that cover the two gaps made everything go much smoother in run defense. Bills running backs gained on 42 yards on 13 carries which is a 3.2-yard average.  The Bills only gained 72 yards overall on the ground, a big improvement over the past few weeks.

Trey Flowers was disruptive all game and Lawrence Guy was his normal solid self. Newcomer Ufomba Kamalu played about a dozen snaps and dropped Shady McCoy for a four-yard loss on his first snap as a Patriot.  

Linebackers: B

The Patriots linebackers biggest responsibility in this game was to keep Josh Allen from running rough-shod over them in scrambling from out of the pocket. In the Bills past four games Allen ran for 351 yards out of the pocket when things broke down. In this one, he was able to scramble for only 30 yards on five carries.

Linebackers John Simon and Kyle Van Noy were both very good at staying home and cutting off any lanes for Allen to run.  

Secondary: A-

The secondary had only two blips in the game. In the first quarter, Robert Foster had beaten Stephon Gilmore cleanly down the right sideline and then lost a well-thrown ball in the sun. And Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson collided on a crossing route late in the game allowing Zay Jones to be all alone for a 31-yard touchdown.  Other than that final garbage time drive, the secondary’s play was terrific.

Gilmore broke up a fourth-down pass to Foster in the first half and a 3rd and 3 to Jones in the second half. Jackson flashed great ball skills in picking off a pass which was a poor decision by Allen. He’s rapidly turning into a terrific player and a total steal.

Jason McCourty picked off a pass as well on a nice move. He also ripped the ball out of Jason Croom’s hands on the five-yard line. Pat Chung was a factor and making plays all over the field.

Special Teams: A-

The Special Teams had another strong game, Ryan Allen boomed a 55-yarder pinning the Bills back inside the 10-yard line. He pinned them inside the 20, three times. Julian Edelman had a beauty of a 25-yard punt return which set up a field goal. And Matthew Slater blocked a punt, the third in three weeks.

The only knocks were the final two kickoff returns by Patterson that were blown up by the Bills and Michel who filled in for him after he tweaked his knee, muffed the kick and then got stuffed at the 12. Julian Edelman took a dumb penalty and the second time he’s done this recently by calling for a fair catch and then blocking a gunner.

Coaches: B+

The Patriots coaching staff put the onus on the running game this week which Buffalo’s defense, the best at stopping the pass, was unable to cope with. They also put a premium on stopping Josh Allen from scrambling and opening up plays downfield, which they did quite well. And they obviously wanted to shut down Buffalo’s running game and force Allen into trying to beat them thru the air. They did that and the Bills showed they are incapable of doing that.

We’re on to the Jets…

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.

Running Game Vaults Patriots To 10th Straight Division Crown

Steve Balestrieri
December 24, 2018 at 7:35 am ET

Running Game Vaults Patriots To 10th Straight Division Crown

The New England Patriots refound their running game and leaned hard on it, running for 273 yards against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon en route to a 24-12 win at Gillette Stadium. The win not only gave the Patriots the AFC Division Crown for the 10th year in a row but for the time being, put the Patriots back in command of their own destiny for a bye during Wildcard Weekend.

The Houston Texans lost on a last-second field goal in Philadelphia which put the Pats back up to the #2 spot. And coupled with the losses by the Chargers and Chiefs, the Patriots could actually still get the #1 seed, however, both teams would have to lose again and have the Patriots beat the Jets. That last second loss in Miami now looms large in the grand scheme of things.

The Pats flipped the script against the Bills from the last two weeks and controlled the line of scrimmage in the running game both offensively and defensively. Both were a welcome sight. Especially with the passing offense mired in neutral all game. Here are some of our observations from Sunday’s game:

Run Defense Much Better:

After being gashed recently against the run, the Patriots run defense was much better this week against the Bills. It was helped by re-inserting Danny Shelton into the lineup and playing him over the nose and filling two gaps. But the rest of the front seven played much better this week, being stout at the point of attack and doing their job.

Buffalo ran for just 72 yards total but their running backs averaged just 3.3 yards per rush while Josh Allen, who’s been scrambling wild lately was held to just 30 yards this week. LeSean McCoy was held to just 9 yards or 6 carries. While he’s been slowed by a bad hamstring, the Bills will have a tough decision to make on him in the spring.

As much as we’ve criticized the front seven’s play the past few weeks, they deserve a lot of credit here. They played the run tough all day and allowed only three rushing first downs all day and held the Bills to a 2-12 and 0-1 totals on third and fourth downs respectively.

Running Game Set the Tone For Keeping the Bills On Their Heels:

Sony Michel led the way with 116 yards on 18 carries as the Pats rolled up 273 yards on the ground. Much of the credit goes to the offensive line who won their matchup with the Bills interior DL and were consistently getting a good push. Michel, who always gets his results pooh-poohed by many of the media members in Boston when he has a good game, was very sharp in this one. Strange, when Ezekiel Elliott or Todd Gurley have big games, do the Dallas or LA media caveat their stories with “yeah but the OL was opening big holes”? Not very likely. Give Michel his due, he’s had a terrific rookie season.

Cordarrelle Patterson was gashing the Bills on Jet sweeps before injuring his knee as they did a terrible job of staying at home and setting the edge. Patterson gained 66 yards on just four carries, although on one play it seemed Lorenzo Alexander was in perfect position but Patterson’s speed just beat him to the edge.

But the Patriots ground game resulted in the Pats controlling the tempo and the clock. At one point they ran seven straight times. On another drive, they ran 10 straight as they held the ball for more than 35 minutes.

Mental Mistakes Still Maddening:

The Patriots allowed the Bills to hang around for far too long in this game because of mental mistakes and turnovers and the majority were made by veterans, not rookie UDFAs. Julian Edelman had a drop on the Patriots first series and then had two penalties, one for blocking on STs after calling for a fair catch, the second time he’s done that in recent weeks. The other was a holding call that erased a nice Sony Michel run (how many times have we heard that this year?).

But Edelman atoned for that with a great heads’ up play where he caught a pass from Brady on a key 4th down call. Facing a 4th and 4 at the Bills 32-yard line, Brady zipped a nice pass to Edelman who easily had the first down. But as two Bills defenders brought him to the turf, he landed on them, never touching the ground and had the presence of mind to keep going…for a 32-yard touchdown pass.

Rex Burkhead fumbled on one run after the catch in the first half. The ball was punched out as he was going to the ground where Micah Hyde recovered and ran it back to the Patriots 40-yard line. But then later in the half, Burkhead cut outside when Brady expected him to cut across the middle and the result was Lorenzo Alexander picking the pass off at the Bills 21.

And on the first play of the second half, Brady targeted Rob Gronkowski who let the ball zip right thru his hands and into the lap of Jordan Poyer

Passing Game Struggles Badly:

The fact that the Patriots ran the ball so effectively covered up the fact that the Bills #1 pass defense totally shut down the Patriots passing game. Tom Brady had very pedestrian numbers of 13-24 for 126 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs. While neither interception was Brady’s fault, it doesn’t hide the fact that the passing game has a ton of work to do.

Brady only targeted two wide receivers Edelman and Patterson, and only went to Patterson twice. Both Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett were not targeted in the passing game at all. Gronkowski was targeted twice with no catches and a pick.

The Bills front seven deserves a lot of credit here, they were getting plenty of pressure on Brady and were forcing bad throws all game long. With Josh Gordon gone, changes will have to be made, but this doesn’t fill one with confidence heading into January. WIth the running game gashing Buffalo, play action should have been wide open but it wasn’t for the vast majority of the game.

Another Blocked Punt for the STs:

For much of the year, the Patriots special teams had uncharacteristically struggled. But they brought back Ramon Humber and signed former Raven Albert McClellan and the results have been very favorable. McClellan blocked a pair of punts in Miami two weeks ago and on Sunday, STs ace Matthew Slater turned the trick on Buffalo.

With about six minutes to go, Slater came in thru the inside and blocked the punt which took a Buffalo roll and actually got 10 yards where the Patriots took over on the Bills 33.

Edelman had a big punt return of 25 yards that set the Pats up in Buffalo territory for a drive that stalled at the Bills five, but they kicked a field goal that effectively sealed the game at that point.

Defense Gets Two Interceptions of Allen:

The Bills passing offense came in ranked among the worst in the league. And on Sunday they showed why. They dropped numerous passes although, in fairness to Robert Foster, a deep ball was right where he lost it in the sun. While several of Josh Allen’s throws were well off target.

However, the Patriots secondary made a couple of nice interceptions. Rookie J.C. Jackson made a nice play on a deep pass from Allen where he definitely shouldn’t have thrown that pass. But Jackson cut in front of the receiver and high-pointed the ball.

Later Jason McCourty also made nice play on another pick. Newcomer Ufomba Kamalu played about a dozen snaps on defense and had a nice tackle for a loss on his first snap as a Patriot.

The Patriots finish out the regular season by hosting the Jets who lost in O.T. to the Packers. Stay tuned…and Merry Christmas

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.

Patriots-Bills Week 16, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 21, 2018 at 7:35 am ET

Patriots-Bills Week 16, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

The New England Patriots are sailing in some uncharted waters this week. When we looked at this game on the schedule back in the spring, we expected that the division would be wrapped up and this game would only figure in whether New England was still playing for the top seed. And….we were wrong.

This game is extremely important to the Patriots this week because the division isn’t wrapped up and they need a win to do just that. The team can still get the #2 seed and a bye but now they no longer control their own destiny. They need to win their final two games at home this week against Buffalo and the Jets next week and hope that the Texans lose to either the Eagles or the Jaguars. Uncharted waters indeed.

The Patriots (9-5) lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-10 last week as the offense only scored 10 points and made a ton of mistakes. Dropped passes on third down, penalties (14) and breakdowns at key times was the story as they dropped their second in a row.

The Bills (5-9) beat the Detroit Lions 14-13 as Josh Allen hit Robert Foster with a 42-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to come from behind.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and the Bills are meeting for the 118th time and the Patriots have dominated overall 73-43-1. And since Bill Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots have won 32 of 37 games between the two teams.

Tom Brady’s record against the Bills in games where he’s started and finished the game is 29-3. The Patriots won the last meeting between the two teams 25-6 on October 29 as the teams met on Monday Night Football.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 23 at 1:00 p.m.and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Greg Gumbel will handle play-by-play duties with Trent Green and Bruce Arians as the color analysts. Melanie Collins will work from the sidelines.

The game will also be broadcast on the Patriots flagship station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci doing the play-by-play, with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who will provide color analysis. The games are produced by Marc Cappello.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge. First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Bills Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Buffalo

The Patriots running game has sputtered the past two weeks on the road as the play of the offensive line has been consistently, inconsistent. Sony Michel is leading the way for the Patriots along with Rex Burkhead and James White. Fullback James Develin has been getting the ball more in short yardage and goal line.

Buffalo is 10th in the league allowing just 104.8 yards per game on the ground and just 4.0 yards per rush.  It starts up front with the big men, Kyle Williams, and Adolphus Washington with the linebackers, Matt Milano and Preston Brown being very active. However, with Milano suffering a broken fibula against the Jets, it is a blow to the defense.

In the first meeting, the Patriots didn’t have either Sony Michel or Rex Burkhead who were both out with an injury. However, look for the Bills to put pressure on the Patriots on early downs to try to force them into third and long situations.

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

The Patriots passing game just lost a huge piece as Josh Gordon’s mental health issues are forcing him away for the game, possibly for good this time. He averaged 65 yards per game receiving in his 11 games with the Patriots and it won’t be easy to just say, “next man up” as they have around here in the past.

In the first meeting, Tom Brady threw for 324 yards in Buffalo. It will be difficult to throw for that much this time around despite still having Julian Edelman, James White, Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, and Phillip Dorsett.

The Bills defense is #1 against the pass allowing just 187.4 yards per pass play. They’re getting very good play from their corners and linebackers and safeties in coverage. The Bills have 31 sacks on the season.

With Gordon gone Brady will have to lean on everybody else now to pick up the slack. I would expect him to go both Julian Edelman (9-104) and James White (10-79) as he did in the first meeting to keep the chains moving.  The Bills did a good with their safeties on Rob Gronkowski in the first meeting and I’d expect more of the same. Buffalo is outstanding at not allowing big pass plays and I’d expect Brady to keep the ball in the short passing game.  

Next up the Buffalo offense:

Bills RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

As yes as strange as this sounds I expect the Patriots run defense which has been awful for the past few weeks to be better this week. The Bills running game has been struggling with their backs running the ball. LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory have averaged just 3.3 and 3.4 yards per rush respectively in 2018. Part of the reason is the offensive line was bad earlier in the season but has been playing better of late.

However, Josh Allen has transformed the running game. He’s rushed for 506 yards on the season and without him, the Bills rushing average of 124.7 would transform to just 90.9 yards per game.

With the issues the Patriots have had stopping the run, I’d look for Danny Shelton to make a return this week. Buffalo has the 31st rated pass offense and they want to run the football. The Patriots need a player over the nose that can two-gap. He’s been a healthy scratch the past few weeks but this week, I’d expect him back.

Bills WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

The Bills passing game has been really struggling as Josh Allen has struggled in his rookie season. But he’s gradually learning his craft and he’s cutting down his mistakes. But overall, they average just 168.7 yards per game, 31st in the NFL. He has Robert Foster who is becoming the Bills big play WR, he’s averaged 25-yards per reception this year. Zay Jones is their leading receiver with 49 catches.

The Patriots pass defense is currently 23rd allowing 256 yards per game, however, the secondary has been playing quite well and it seems that they’ve found another quality UDFA in corner J.C. Jackson. The Patriots don’t generate a ton of sacks but are tied in the league at pressuring the QB without blitzing.

The Bills like to run deep crosses using a rub route to get Foster open deep across the middle of the field. For the Patriots, they’ll look to bring pressure and force Allen to throw from outside the pocket without allowing him to run…More of this below.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots tandem of Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen have a slight edge over Stephen Hauschka and Corey Bojorquez in the kicking game, especially being at home. But their numbers are pretty similar. But with Cordarrelle Patterson in the kick return game, the Patriots get the edge in there, although in the first meeting Micah Hyde had a 31-yard punt return.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one will be closer than people are predicting. The Bills defense is tough and knows the Patriots well. They played them very tough in the first meeting back in October. I would expect this game to be much of the same.

Three keys to the game from a Patriots perspective include:

Win the Turnover Battle:

The Bills are -8 in the turnover department. Buffalo QBs have thrown 20 interceptions this season, with Allen tossing nine of them. They are the 31st team in the league in scoring averaging just 15.4 points per game. They don’t have the kind of offense that can afford to give away points. If the Patriots can play a clean game, they will put pressure on the Bills offense to take some chances.

Force Allen to Throw From Outside the Pocket:

Allen has played better of late as his pass protection has improved. But if the Patriots can generate pressure while keeping a spy on Allen and not allowing him to run, his numbers throwing outside the pocket are not good. ESPN’s Mike Rodak just posted some stats when Allen is forced to throw outside the pocket.
Completion percentage- 20 (33rd in the league)
Passing Yards per Attempt- 3.1 (30th in the league)
Off Target Throws- 40 % (most in the NFL)
Interception Percentage – 6.9 % (4th most in the NFL)

If the Patriots are successful in getting some pressure on Allen, they’d need to put a spy on him. I really don’t believe that their linebackers are fast enough to do the job…possibly Kyle Van Noy. But one possible piece would be to go to their “Big Nickel” with Obi Melifonwu substituting on obvious passing downs. He’d have the speed to keep up with Allen.

Spread the Ball Around:

The Patriots are at their best when Tom Brady spreads the wealth equally among the players. They need to run the ball better and will need a lot better effort from the offensive line. I’d expect to see the uptempo offense with the Pony formation with Burkhead and White a bit on passing downs.

This one will be close but eventually, the Pats will pull away and they’ll finally be able to break out the Hats and T-Shirts. Patriots 27-17

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

New England Patriots News 8-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 12, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 8-12, & AFC East Notes. The Patriots are getting to back work this afternoon after their first preseason game on Thursday night. Bill Belichick has been taking a slower approach to training camp, having given the players several days off already. Belichick did say that the long 2017 season and the increased workload on the players definitely have an effect on how they approach the workload for the current training camp.

And lost in all the Malcolm Butler hoopla was this. On the Packers first drive of their preseason game against Tennessee, Brett Hundley completed a 48-yard bomb to Davante Adams who blew by Butler, giving the Packers a first and goal at the two. Maybe it is the conspiracy theorist in me, but if Butler had picked it off and went to the house, what would you think the odds would be that the play would have been all over the sports talk radio world?

Quick Hitters:  
With many missed tackles in the first preseason game and some general sloppy tackling all around, one reason (other than rust) could be the lack of live tackling and physicality in practice. It will be interesting to watch if that ramps up a bit now.

Ralph Webb had a really nice night in his professional debut scoring a pair of touchdowns and two, 2-pt conversions.  The former Vanderbilt running back was called up by Bill Belichick for congratulations after the team’s win and in his post-game press conference, Belichick had several compliments for the rookie. Washington lost very promising rookie RB Derrius Guice to a torn ACL for the season in the game. They stated that for the time being, they were going to stay with the players they have. However, Webb is still a longshot to make the 53-man roster. If the Patriots try to sneak him onto the practice squad in a few weeks, don’t be shocked if the Redskins make a move to bring him to their squad after his game this week.

Tom Brady’s $5 million dollar incentive clause into his contract was a head scratcher earlier this week. If earned, that $5 million will vault Brady up into the Top 10 of QB salaries, tied with Blake Bortles but less than Sam Darnold, who has yet to throw a pass in the NFL yet. Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston called it a band-aid fix and we’re inclined to agree here. A look at the list of QBs making more money than Brady, other than Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers is a Who’s Who? Of QBs having never accomplished a smidgen of what Brady’s done. So his contract, even at 41 is still a bargain. But tying the $5 million to incentives? Really? I don’t get that one.

Terrible setback for Pats LB Harvey Langi who made the roster in 2017 and then was in an awful car wreck last fall while stopped at a red light. Langi returned this year and had been having a good camp thus far until he took a hit to his side and suffered an internal laceration according to Jeff Howe of the Athletic. Because of concerns to his kidney, he will be out 4-5 weeks.

Very sad news about former Patriots LB Jerod Mayo and his 5-year old Bulldog who went missing after supposedly going for a walk with the dog’s trainer. The family and police searched for the dog and after two months the dog’s body was found in plastic bags inside a closet in the trainer’s house outside of Cranston, RI. The trainer, Amelia Ferreira told Wrentham, MA police the dog Knox, disappeared after slipping his leash at a conservation area in Wrentham. Charges are pending. And hopefully will be severe.

Derek Rivers Looks Strong in First Game Back From ACL Tear:
Less than a year removed from his torn ACL surgery, not only was DE Derek Rivers back on the field, he played at a high level showing good physicality and exceptional strength. The 2nd year player got the start at defensive end and had several good plays.

Derek Rivers during 2016 training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Perhaps his best was when he bull rushed Redskins tackle, John Kling. Rivers exploded off the snap and had Kling on roller skates. He then gave Kling a big shove pushing him into QB Colt McCoy and getting his hand up trying to knock down the pass attempt. The move against Kling is a total body type of movement from Rivers who when asked about his ACL and repaired knee from Henry McKenna of USA Today said, “It felt awesome,” Rivers said. “No complaints. Praise God.”

Make no mistake, the mental part of getting over an ACL injury is the biggest hurdle. This summer I spoke with UMass Medical Center Dr. Brian Busconi, who has performed hundreds of ACL surgeries on MLB and NFL as well as college and high school athletes. It was rumored he performed the surgery on Julian Edelman. Busconi would neither confirm or deny it, however, a signed picture of Edelman hangs in the office and a source of ours passed Edelman in the office earlier this summer. So take it for what it is worth.

Busconi said the surgery was only 30 percent of the fix for the athlete. The other 70 percent was doing the rehab work, strengthening the muscles that will atrophy because of the injury and the resultant layoff and most importantly, the mental hurdle to test the joint once it is ready. Edelman admitted last week he “doesn’t have his football legs” back under him yet. He looks to be in terrific shape, it is probably more a mental block more than anything.

That’s why it was so important for Rivers (and Edelman) to get out on the field and run and cut and do all the things they did without thinking prior to their injury. Rivers looked good for the most part, he also had his not-so-good moments as well. On one play, he ducked his head and lost the running back, who zipped past his gap for a big gain.

However, for the first preseason game and after a year layoff from the field, Rivers took a great big leap back to being part of the edge player rotation. With Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn expected to be the starters, he and Deatrich Wise could combine and form a much better group at getting after the QB in 2018.

He leaped over the first hurdle. We’ll be watching him next week closely to see if he can continue to improve and produce when the Patriots play the Eagles in Week 2 of the preseason.

Hightower on the Block? Troy Brown Thinks It Could be a Possibility:

The Patriots welcomed back linebacker Dont’a Hightower in his first game action since October after the big man went on IR last season. Hightower played extensively, into the second quarter. At the time, we thought it nothing more than the coaching staff wanting to shake off the rust after not playing for about 10 months. But after the game, former Patriots WR Troy Brown thought the Patriots may be shopping the big LB.

Dont’a Hightower is back and played into the second quarter against Washington. (SBalestrieri photo)

Brown on NBC Sports Boston said, “Sometimes you gotta put people on the market and let people see what they can do.” At first glance, that stance would appear to be ludicrous, no one was more instrumental to the Patriots defense, Hightower was the one player on defense that they could ill afford to lose. While the talk centered around Malcolm Butler after the Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia, the absence of Hightower was a far greater loss overall.

Brown doubled down on his thought by adding, “You have to ask yourself…why is he still out there so long?” Assuming his take is correct, who would they trade Hightower to and what could they get in return that would help the team? Unless they’re making a push to the Raiders with Hightower a piece of a package for Khalil Mack, then it wouldn’t make sense.

From our view, we’re sticking with the “knocking the rust off”  scenario, but we’ve seen stranger things in Foxboro in the past.  

Bentley Makes a Strong Debut at Linebacker:
Ja’Whaun Bentley, the Patriots fifth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft wasn’t highly thought of when he was going thru the draft process, in fact, was considered to be a UDFA and wasn’t even invited to the NFL Combine. But the Patriots liked what they saw from the big Purdue linebacker in his first NFL preseason action.

Bentley had six tackles, two for a loss and QB hit and should have been credited with a forced fumble that the officials ruled forward progress had been stopped. A play Bill Belichick tried to challenge and when told he couldn’t, said it was “F***ing BS.”

Bentley was considered a Brandon Spikes throwback, a two-down run stuffer who couldn’t cover on passing downs. So far, he’s proving the critics wrong. He has had a strong training camp and followed it up with good performance in the opening PS game.

Rookie LB Ja’Whaun Bentley has been impressive thus far thru camp, especially in coverage. (SBalestrieri photo)

“I just wanted to come out and put my best foot forward to do the best I could as far as assignments and just make sure all my guys were ready to go,” Bentley said. “And I feel like we did a good job of that. Of course, we got some kinks to work out, but we did a very good job.”

Bentley also had some time calling the signals with the green dot communication device which is a great learning step for a rookie on the defense to be able to learn his responsibilities but also everyone else’s to call out the signals is a testament to his learning the system quickly.

His best play came in the first half. With the Redskins inside the three-yard line, they tried to pound the ball in the middle for a touchdown. Bentley, at his MLB position, read the play, waited for the right time until the RB committed and flew into the hole, dropping him for no gain.

He still has a long way to go but for now, he’s looking very good and appears to be almost a lock for the 53-man roster.

Jeremy Hill Buys In, And Shows Impressive Burst in Opener:
After a disappointing 2017 from Mike Gillislee, the Patriots drafted Sony Michel this spring and then added veteran Jeremy Hill who had lost his starting gig with the Bengals. Hill is bigger (6’1, 230 pounds) than most of the Patriots running backs, but it is something they need for certain situations, (goal line and short-yardage) with the offense.

Hill, whose snaps and numbers have steadily gone down in Cincinnati, at first glance didn’t seem like a good fit. But Hill had surgery to remove some bone spurs in his ankles. He also bought into the Patriots offseason conditioning system and lost weight in an attempt to add a bit of quickness to his step.

Jeremy Hill had a big game on Thursday night and is looking to turn that into a roster spot. (SBalestrieri photo)

He certainly appeared that way on Thursday night, hitting the holes with authority and showing nice vision cutting back against the grain. He appeared much quicker than Gillislee with the ability to convert those short-yardage situations.

His ability to flash in the passing game helped. Facing a 3rd and 8 from the 30-yard line midway thru the third quarter, Hill caught a short pass from QB Brian Hoyer and then made the first tackler miss and was able to convert the first down by stiff-arming a linebacker and then lowering his head and getting past the sticks.

The Patriots insist all of their running backs pass block as well and Hill had a highlight reel play when he planted LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, giving Hoyer time to hit FB Henry Poggi on a check down out of the backfield.

Again, there is a long way to go, but Hill with his performance didn’t do a thing to hurt his chances to not only make the team but earn some significant snaps. Especially with Sony Michel on the shelf for the time being.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Allen Has Buffalo Abuzz After Preseason Debut:
The Buffalo Bills played the Carolina Panthers in their Week 1 preseason opener but it was strictly the Josh Allen show for the fans, and who can blame them? The Bills fans have been waiting for that next franchise QB since Jim Kelly retired. And after moving up to take him in the first round of the NFL Draft this spring, fans are excited.

Head coach Sean McDermott wasted little time in letting Allen uncork his arm which is his strongest asset. He lasered a 60-yard pass downfield on his first snap which was caught by WR Robert Foster but just out of bounds.

Yes, his footwork is inconsistent and his decision making can still be suspect but Allen possesses a cannon for an arm and it as well as his playmaking ability were on full display. He completed 9 of 19 for 119 yards and a touchdown while rushing three times for 29 yards, twice converting third downs with his feet.

For now, he’ll remain the 3rd QB on the depth chart and be the future. But Buffalo fans caught a glimpse of that and can’t wait for him to be the present.

Dolphins Tannehill Aces First Test:
The Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill played his first football since the 2016 season in an albeit short but impressive stint against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tannehill played a series and took the Dolphins into field goal range but the most important feature was that he looked comfortable, cool in the pocket and in control of the offense. The offensive line gave him plenty of time to throw, coach Adam Gase said Tannehill was “back there peeling an orange.” to push home the point.

One thing that the Dolphins seem intent on doing is getting Mike Gesicki the ball in the end zone and that combination with the big rookie TE and Tannehill looks intriguing. We’ll expect to see more of it next week against Carolina.

Jets QBs Shine In Preseason Win Over Atlanta:
The New York Jets unleashed rookie QB Sam Darnold in their preseason opener and the rookie taken with the #3 pick in the draft didn’t disappoint. Darnold shined, completing 13-18 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in a little over two-quarters worth of work. He received thunderous applause from the Jets fans and didn’t disappoint, hitting on eight of his first 9 throws.

Teddy Bridgewater on his first action of the season after returning from an injury was also very sharp hitting on 7-9 for 85 yards including a 16-yard touchdown. Coach Todd Bowles said Darnold looked poised out there and it is clear that the Jets organization is going to give Darnold every opportunity to win the starting job over veterans Josh McCown and Bridgewater.

McCown started the game but played only one series and completed the only pass he attempted for four yards. It will be interesting to see how the Jets decide to play this out. While the temptation is there to get Darnold on the field, with two good veterans, there should no attempt to rush him into the starting lineup until he’s ready for it.

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

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

New England Patriots News 6-17, & AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 17, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-17, & AFC East Notes … Happy Fathers Day to all the great dads who make a difference in their kid’s lives. While many will point to football and the NFL as being part of what has been labeled “toxic masculinity”, we prefer the idea that a strong father figure in children’s raising is a sign for a good, stable upbringing.

Quick Hitters:
Robert Kraft showed why Patriots Nation is a special group of people. A fan posted on Twitter and asked for Patriots Nation to reach out to their Dad who unfortunately is very ill and not expected to live long. Not only did her request get re-tweeted numerous times but it reached the ears of Robert Kraft and he spoke to the man and the fans in general with a very nice video message. Well done…

Tom Brady, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, said that he respected his teammates who chose to kneel during the national anthem and the reasons that they were doing it.

“I’ve been playing sports long enough, everyone comes from something different, and I think showing respect for everybody, in a locker room, with a team of guys trying to go in the same direction … you better have that empathy for everybody. That’s what sports are about,” Brady said.  

The entire interview can be seen on Winfrey’s OWN Network.

Brady’s better half, his wife Gisele Bundchen did an interview with Vogue magazine and was asked about the most romantic thing Brady ever did for her. The quick-hitting “73 Questions” video segment was filmed at the couple’s home in Massachusetts while the QB was practicing his golf swing. So what was the most romantic deed by Brady? The way he proposed.

“He made up this whole story (about) how my apartment was flooding and I ran over there to try to fix the situation when I got there. The whole apartment had candles and rose petals everywhere,” Bundchen said.

And then he went down on his knees to propose. And I’m like “GET UP!” because he just had surgery and had three staph infections. I’m like, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

“I gotta go on my knees,” (he said). I’m like, “No no! Get up, please!”

James Develin was given a two-year contract extension this week. (SBalestrieri photo)

The team signed fullback James Develin to a two-year extension worth $3.8 million with a $600,000 signing bonus. The tough, hard-nosed and versatile Develin was named to his first Pro-Bowl last season. While he’s only had a handful of carries and catches in his five-year career, his STs ability as well as his opening holes as a lead blocker in the running game can’t be overlooked.

Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise for him when he was announced on the Pro-Bowl roster last December.

“Nobody has worked hard than James has,” Belichick said. [He] has the last couple of years fallen into a very consistent and productive role in the kicking game and offensively. His play time has increased. His production has increased.

“As hard as he works in the weight room, on the field, off the field, preparation. I mean, whenever you see James, you see him working. He’s got a role. He’s very good at it. It’s a very important role and so it’s great to see him recognized for it. I’m happy for him.”

James Harrison was interviewed on CBS and was asked how he enjoyed  (everything revolves around fun lately) his short time with New England at the end of the season and his opinion on why the Patriots are so successful.

“Discipline. That’s the big thing,” Harrison said. “They’re not going to ask you to do anything that is outside of what they feel you are capable of doing. You learn the system and you go out there and you play it and like I said, very regimented. So if you’re a guy that’s not used to regimented discipline, you’re not going to like it there.”

“I didn’t have a problem with it. I enjoyed my time there. I thanked them for the opportunity they gave me to play there.”

The Patriots hosted free agent QB Christian Hackenberg on Thursday. The former Jets draft pick who was traded to the Raiders this offseason and then released by Oakland recently never really got a chance for reps in either place.

While this move for Bill Belichick raised eyebrows around Patriots Nation, it shouldn’t. This is nothing more than the Patriots doing their due diligence and kicking the tires on a player. Sometimes it results in a player being signed, others it is just compiling of a list for players who would fit in the event of injuries. And for many others, it is simply keeping a book on potential opponents down the road.  

Very disturbing news of former NFL tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. is charged with rape and kidnapping of several women in the Southern California area. Winslow was charged with two counts of kidnapping with the intent to commit rape, two counts of forcible rape, one count of forcible sodomy, one count of forcible oral copulation, two counts of residential burglary and one count of indecent exposure.

Winslow spent four seasons in Cleveland, three in Tampa Bay and one with the Jets. He played one game with the Patriots in 2012 after being signed in mid-September and then asked for and was given his release. But many of the headlines read…what? “Former Patriots TE….

Standard Operating Procedure – Belichick Cancels Final Two OTAs:
The Patriots last week during “voluntary” OTAs ended with a team-bonding trip to Fenway Park and the cancellation of the final two sessions to wrap up the spring on a low-key note. For those who are trying to read something into this….don’t.

This move by Bill Belichick is SOP (standing operating procedure) for the team under his watch. Belichick has always said the spring was a time for teaching and the summer during training camp was a time for competition and evaluation of the roster.

If Belichick is pleased with the way the spring practice sessions have gone, he’ll give the players some free time to get on with their summer break before training camp and the 2018 preseason begins in earnest.

The Patriots always have special guests visit the team during the spring, this year was Kobe Bryant, the team bonding trips are also SOP as well. Don’t read too much into the way events played out this week with the end of the spring workouts. There is nothing new or different in the way that the Patriots or Bill Belichick does business.

Patriots Taking Cautious Approach With Malcolm Mitchell:
One of the things that stood out during OTAs and minicamp was the absence of Malcolm Mitchell on the field for the vast majority of it.

Mitchell missed all of 2017 after a promising 2016 rookie season where he heated up down the stretch. He caught 32 passes for 406 yards as a rookie with most of them coming in the second half of the season. He hauled in 5 passes for 70 yards in the Patriots big comeback win in the Super Bowl over the Falcons.

However, Mitchell’s absence this spring, obviously a big one for the 3rd-year WR may not be as disconcerting as originally thought. Mark Daniels from the Providence Journal said sources inside the team relayed that the team is opting for a cautious approach with Mitchell and that the team is going to bring him along slowly so that he’s ready for training camp and beyond.

With Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola gone this season, the turnover in the WR position will be something to monitor as newer players to the system try to carve out a role and find a comfort level with QB Tom Brady that Mitchell already has.

If he’s ready to go once training camp opens in late July, it will be a big plus not only for Mitchell but for the offense as well. With the looming suspension for WR Julian Edelman (depending upon his appeal) it will also open up another roster spot for the first month of the season. It will bear close watching this summer.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

McCarron Quietly Turning Heads at Bills Minicamp:
The Buffalo Bills have three QBs competing for reps this spring and that will continue into training camp and while normally that is viewed as a negative, that isn’t the case for the Bills this spring.

The Bills moved up to draft the talented but still raw Josh Allen with the 7th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’s the QB of the future but not necessarily the one of the present. Most NFL pundits believe Allen will need time to fully develop into the QB the Bills believe that they have in the rookie from Wyoming. Bills head coach Sean McDermott is taking the correct approach in taking their time with Allen, leaving him as firmly in the #3 on the depth chart, allowing him to learn the NFL game.

But the emergence of veteran QB A.J. McCarron, acquired from the Bengals this spring has impressed the Bills coaches. While McCarron and Nathan Peterman have both had very strong springs, McDermott has been impressed the most by McCarron’s demeanor calling him “a heck of a teammate”.

The former Alabama QB looks like the starting gig at Buffalo is his to lose. Peterman is going to push him this summer, but competition is always a good thing.

Tannehill Finishes Strong Spring and is in Control of the Dolphins Offense:
The Miami Dolphins quarterback of 2018 is definitely Ryan Tannehill. Whether he is in 2019 and beyond remains to be seen. But after missing all of 2017 with a torn ACL, Tannehill had a strong spring and seems poised to enter training camp and the 2018 season with high hopes.

He was impressive at the end of the spring sessions, including firing a bullet to Danny Amendola for a 30-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field. Tannehill has always had the potential but has never been able to string everything together, being the QB he was being paid to be.

This is a huge season for him, but he’ll also need much, much better play from his tackles, Laremy Tunsil had an awful 2017 and his teammate, RT Ja’waun James is now the top paid right tackle in the NFL. If Tannehill is going to have success in 2018, he’s going to need his tackles keeping him upright. Of course, having a safety blanket like Amendola helps loads in running the hot routes.

Jets Sign DL Courtney Upshaw. Waive Former Patriot Chris Jones:
The New York Jets have signed veteran free agent defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw and have waived defensive lineman Chris Jones.

Upshaw, 6’2, 272-pounds was originally drafted by the Baltimore Ravens with the 35th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He spent four years in Baltimore (2012-2015) before signing as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons in 2016. Upshaw played the past two seasons with Atlanta and was invited to the Jets’ spring sessions on a try-out basis.

In his six-year career, Upshaw has played in 90 regular-season games (56 starts) with 7.0 sacks, five forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, and 215 tackles. He played in two Super Bowls, XLVII where Baltimore defeated San Francisco and LI with the Falcons as Atlanta dropped the first overtime loss in Super Bowl history to New England. He registered a sack of Tom Brady in that game.

Jones had signed with the Jets as a sixth-year veteran free agent on June 5. He was drafted by Houston in the sixth round in 2013 and spent time with the Buccaneers, Patriots, Dolphins and 49ers. Most of his career was spent (28 games, 22 starts) as a DE, DT and special teamer with New England in 2013-14.

Jones had the key field goal block of a last second 58-yard game-winning attempt for the Patriots against the Jets in October 2014 getting his hand up and blocking Nick Folk’s attempt.

Jones was also the recipient of a never-before-called rule which cost the Patriots an overtime victory, also against the Jets in 2013.

Jones was called for “pushing” one of his teammates into the line on Nick Folk’s 56-yard field goal attempt in overtime, which Folk shanked wide to the left. The penalty, a 15-yarder incorrectly called for unsportsmanlike conduct, gave the Jets another game-winning possession and this time Folk hit a 42-yarder for the 30-27 overtime victory minutes later.

Incidentally, the pushing call has never been called since. That call cost New England home field advantage in the playoffs.

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.

What Should the Patriots Do With All of This Draft Capital?

Steve Balestrieri
April 5, 2018 at 9:23 am ET

Well, things certainly have changed in a hurry around the New England Patriots. Suddenly the talk has ceased about “how deep is the rift between Bill Belichick and his players” and centered on what is happening now with the upcoming NFL Draft.

The surprising trade of Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams has netted the Patriots the Rams 1st Round draft pick #23 later this month. The teams also swapped fourth and sixth round picks. But now the Patriots have jumped into the realm of being a major player later this month with four picks in the first 63 selections of the draft.

The team has options. So, for you older folks who remember classic television shows, we’ll play a version of “Let’s Make A Deal” with the draft.

Behind Door #1:

The team could package both first round picks and ship them to the New York Giants for the very talented and equally mercurial wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. That’s what the Giants are asking for him and although they won’t get that, it is where any talks would begin.

This would make a large segment of the fan base ecstatic as the quest for the “name player” never ends. And if you’re playing Madden NFL, the idea of Brady, Gronkowski, Beckham Jr. and Edelman would certainly be a fun way to play a video game.

This won’t work for a couple of reasons. First, the NFL isn’t a video game nor fantasy football.  The Patriots aren’t going to pay Beckham anywhere close to what he’ll want and you’d have him under your control for one season. At which time, he would most certainly be gone. Two first round picks for a one-year rental?  That was a large part of the reason to trade Cooks in the first place.

The team already has nine wide receivers on the roster with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley McCarron, Cody Hollister and Matthew Slater.

While Beckham is a special player, wide receiver isn’t a glaring need and those first-round picks could be much better served in filling other needs.

So, what’s behind, Door #2?

The Patriots could package those picks (23,31) and move up into the Top 15 to snag a quarterback of the future, like a Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson or Baker Mayfield, if they fell down the board for any reason.

Jackson is a popular pick for New England lately, he played in the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system that the Patriots use. That alone will make the learning curve much simpler for him to become in-tune with the offense.

The issue here is, will any of those players still be on the board then? Most mocks have those QBs all gone by #12. Would the top two picks the Patriots now possess (23,31) be enough capital to jump that high? Probably not, so they’d have to sweeten the pie quite a bit to jump in.

And of course, the team would have to be all-in on the quarterback that they select. And by all-in, that would have to include Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels. For if the succession plan is indeed in effect, then the QB taken will have to be someone he believes in. And it may not necessarily be the pocket passer they currently have with Brady. Jackson could easily be the guy they see as their next franchise QB. McDaniels, remember drafted a guy named Tim Tebow in Denver. So it could be a kind of QB that necessarily isn’t a clone of the Brady-type.

A lot would have to fall perfectly for the Patriots to get that type of move and the trade probably wouldn’t happen until the night of the draft. They’d see the board playing out in a certain way that they could make a move and then do it and swoop in for the next QB of the future.

And then there is finally Door #3:

In this scenario, the Patriots keep one or both picks and trade back for other draft capital. They have needs at Linebacker, on the edge, at OT, TE, RB and of course QB for the long-term.

There are plenty of good prospects that may be available to them at #23 that wouldn’t at #31, especially at linebacker, Rashaan Evans and Leighton Vander Esch have been widely thought to go between #25 and #28 with the Titans and Steelers, if not earlier.

They could then look for a QB in the 2nd or 3rd rounds (Luke Falk, Kyle Lauletta, Mason Rudolph) who they can develop over the next two or so seasons behind Brady.

This falls in line with the traditional M.O. of Bill Belichick who has said that the draft is an inexact science and the more chances you have at taking players, the better chance you do of hitting on those picks.

The Patriots draft board consistently only has about 15-20 players that Belichick believes are immediate starters, so they’re much more willing to trade back than to reach for a higher draft pick on a player that they don’t have rated that high. And finally, the Patriots are about building a 53-man roster, they’re not building a fantasy football team.

Belichick has made plenty of deals during the draft, and right now, they don’t have a 4th or 5th round draft pick after the deal with the Rams for Cooks. Expect that to change.

While the possibility for Door #2 most definitely does exist, look for the Patriots to go for Door #3. It fits with their traditional M.O. and will better serve their overall needs while still giving them a shot at a franchise QB later.

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.