Tag Archives: Malcolm Butler

Patriots  Week 6 Report Card, 24-17 Win Over the Jets

Steve Balestrieri
October 17, 2017 at 9:16 am ET

The Patriots are in sole possession of first place in the AFC East for the first time this season after their win over the Jets. That is the good news, the fact that it took until Week 6 of the season speaks on what a totally crazy NFL season 2017 has been thus far. The only constant this season across the board is that there haven’t been many constants as it has been a wild ride with little continuity.

The Patriots had ten days to prepare for this one but they started this one like they were wearing cement overshoes. Down 14-0 on the road against a divisional opponent after the first quarter is not the way you care to draw it up. But give the players and coaches credit. There was no panic. They regrouped and came back to score 24 straight points. And while we can point to a lot of different scenarios including the controversial fumble call in the fourth quarter, the bottom line is the defense, despite giving up far too many yards again, allowed just three points over the final three quarters.

But six games in, this team is still far from a well-oiled machine, as Bill Belichick pointed out in his Monday conference call with the media. But really at this point of the season, nearly every team is facing the same challenges. They have 10 more weeks to get the kinks worked out and possibly bring some needed help in. Until then, they plug along.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady was far from his normal sharp self on Sunday. Was it the injuries taking hold, the Jets playing him tough, as they always seem to do or just Brady having a bit of an off day? Probably a combination of the three. Brady made some uncharacteristic mistakes on Sunday, especially mental errors which we aren’t used to seeing.

He telegraphed a pass for Rob Gronkowski that should have been picked off by Buster Skrine on the sideline. It was one of those throws that should not have been made. Like his two deep throws into double coverage down the field, the second of which was picked off.

But Brady fired up the troops and they came back, the drives at the end of the first half and the first drive of the third quarter were vintage Brady and the Patriots offense. All of a sudden they’re up by seven in what seemed a blink of an eye. His throw to Cooks on the 42-yard bomb just before the half was a beauty. He dropped it right into the bucket perfectly.

Running Backs: B+

The running backs had productive games on the ground on Sunday afternoon. Dion Lewis had 52 yards on 11 carries and Mike Gillislee added 44 more on 10 carries. The only complaint, which isn’t on them is why didn’t the get the ball more? Gillislee had a fumble which nixed a nice drive that may have resulted in points and as a result saw the end of the bench for quite a while as a result. But Lewis appears to be the water bug that he was in 2015 before his ACL injury and he and Gillislee appear to be making a nice 1-2 punch in the running game. James White didn’t get a lot of work in the passing game this week, which I thought we’d see more of with Gronkowski drawing so much attention. James Develin was solid in leading the way with his blocking, as always.

Wide Receivers: B

The wide receivers led by Brandin Cooks were good on Sunday. Cooks had a concentration drop early in the game where he began to run before fully securing the ball. But his 42-yarder (see above) from Brady was a beauty by both players. Once again, Cooks nearly broke a short slant to the house, a shoestring tackle was all that stopped him from going the distance. It is an area that looks like it could be exploited more in the future. It is simply a matter of time before these start falling. Cooks is on pace for 64 catch, 1259-yard season which is impressive considering he and Brady still haven’t fully clicked yet.

Chris Hogan had one catch for 19 yards and took a nasty but clean shot to the ribs. Danny Amendola was okay but didn’t have the production ( 3 catches for 40 yards) we envisioned in our matchups.

The Pats wide receivers do a bad job of selling these pick/rub routes that everyone uses and no one else gets called on. Obviously, the league’s officials are going to watch them closely on these and they have to do a better job of selling that they are getting out of the way of the opponents.

Tight Ends: A-

Rob Gronkowski returned and was his dominant self. The Jets drafted two safeties in Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye to specifically handle the big man and they learned in their first outing what a daunting task that can be. Chalk it up as a learning experience for the young players. Gronk had six catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns. He was also interfered with horribly in the end zone despite not getting the call. He also drew one 24-yard PI call and was his normal tremendous self as a blocker in the running game. His 33-yard touchdown was classic Gronkowski where he beat one tackler (Adams) and then high-stepped his way past Maye en route to the end zone.

Dwayne Allen (six snaps), and Jacob Hollister (one), barely saw the field and were non-factors. For Allen, that isn’t a good sign.

Offensive Line: B+

The offensive line was much better in pass protection not allowing a sack for the first time this season. There were some pressures allowed and Brady did take a few hits but some of those were on the Jets blitzes. Overall this was easily their best performance, pass blocking of the season.

It was also their best run-blocking performance of the year, the team rushed for 118 yards and it definitely looked like there were more out there for them to utilize.

This was a good building block game for the offensive line and hopefully, this will signal a trend upward for the group.

Defensive Line: B+

The Patriots defensive line was much, much better against the run, Jets running backs averaged just 2.5 yards per carry. Malcom Brown had a couple of run stuffs for losses to go along with a sack. Alan Branch played 22 snaps and looked the 2016 version of himself inside.

Trey Flowers had another solid game as did Deatrich Wise with pressuring Josh McCown. The pass rush is still overall still too inconsistent but in this one, the line’s job was to stop the run (they did) first and force the game into McCown’s hands.

Weird calls on both Brown and Branch on the same series, getting flagged for holding, on running plays. Nothing comes as a total surprise in terms of officials, however.

Linebackers: B-

Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy both had productive games this week. Van Noy had a pair of sacks, a couple more QB hits and a tackle for a loss, while Hightower had a sack, and a QB hit while providing the leadership on the field he’s best at.

The team used Jordan Richards (gulp) as a dime linebacker for the first time since the opener. He made a few nice plays in run support. Elandon Roberts got fooled by McCown on a play-action fake for an easy touchdown by Austin Serferian-Jenkins. McCown used Roberts aggressiveness against him.

The good news is that Shea McClellin can begin practicing this week. Hopefully, we’ll see him back on the field in just a few weeks.

Secondary: B-

With Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore out this week, the Patriots were missing two of their top three corners. So, the really curious part of the Jets game plan was that they decided to attack Malcolm Butler instead of Johnson Bademosi who played pretty well in his first extended action on defense this season.

Butler had a very solid game, he did allow a touchdown pass but not much else. He picked off McCown, jumping a route on the sidelines before halftime and jarred the ball loose on Jenkins on the controversial fumble play. So why target Butler? A Very curious decision by the Jets.

The safeties, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Pat Chung were solid. But what happened with the breakdowns ..once again that allowed the Jets to hit a couple of big plays where the coverage busted? You can’t blame Gilmore for these. The 44-yarder to Jermaine Kearse had no one in the zip code and the 32-yard pass to Robby Anderson down the middle on the final drive also had no one close. Too many busts.

Special Teams: A-

Stephen Gostkowski missed his first field goal of the season on a bad hit knuckler, it seemed like the snap and hold were good, but it is rare to see him hit one that poorly. Ryan Allen was okay with his punting but the coverage units were outstanding. The Jets had minus yardage on their punt returns and the kick coverage likewise was solid, twice bringing down Jets kick returners inside the 15-yard line. Sunday was a much better day for Joe Judge’s men.

Coaches: B-

Bill Belichick likes his teams to show that they can play thru adversity and they certainly did that on Sunday, showing great mental toughness coming down from 14 points on the road. But with 10 days to prepare, for the team to come out that flat against a divisional opponent? What was up with that?

Josh McDaniels got too impatient a few times that may have cost the team some points. I don’t feel like he has total trust in the running game many times. But once the team got into a groove they were moving the ball well.

Matt Patricia got Bademosi ready to play and he acquitted himself well, but the secondary continues to have communications issues six weeks into the season, allowing receivers to run free down the field. But overall, it was a win, on the road, against a divisional opponent. They’ll take 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 I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 10-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
October 15, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 10-15, & AFC East Notes.

**Langi, Wife Involved in Serious Car Crash: **

Reports have been coming in all day on Saturday about a serious car crash that Patriots LB Harvey Langi and his wife were involved in Friday night about 9:30 in Foxborough. Early reports state that Langi and his wife were stopped at a red light when they were rear-ended in a three-car crash. Firefighters were forced to use the Jaws of Life to free some of the injured. The injuries suffered by Langi were considered serious but not life-threatening.The Patriots released a statement on the accident:

“We are aware of the traffic accident involving Harvey Langi and a passenger last night in Foxborough. The two were stopped at a traffic light when they were rear-ended by another vehicle,” the Patriots said. “They were both transported to a local hospital with injuries and are receiving medical attention. Our thoughts are with Harvey, the Langi family and those who sustained injuries in last night’s accident.”

Just a quick question to everyone… is there anyone out there, anyone who DOESN’T know that Tom Brady is 40 years old? Anyone? Bueller? Does every piece on Brady have to have in the first paragraph, “New England’s 40-year old QB” or a reasonable facsimile thereof? Between that and the talk of him approaching the cliff is old folks.

Let’s Hear it for the Rivalry: The Patriots and Jets renew unpleasantries for the 117th time on Sunday. There are rivalry games and there are rivalry games. And there is the Jets. The two teams have always had a healthy disdain for one another. I remember speaking with Steve Nelson, former Patriot team HOF-Linebacker and he said from the moment he was drafted, and he walked into the locker room for the first time, there was that palatable hate for the Jets, which exists the same down in NJ. Here’s to the next chapter in that rivalry.

Besides the rivalry and first place in the division which is online today, another streak that the Patriots have going since last season is their road record. The Pats have won their last 10 road games dating back to the beginning of the 2016 season.

Brady Can Set Another Record With a Win:
Tom Brady already owns the most wins in NFL history for a QB in both regular and postseason combined but for regular season wins only he’s tied with Brett Favre and Peyton Manning at 186. A win by the Patriots today in Brady’s start will put him over the top at 187 career regular season wins and add another career milestone for #12.

It is interesting to note that Sunday will be Brady’s 241st start. Manning had 266 and Favre 298. It shows the level of success that the Patriots have had with Brady under center with him having essentially almost 2 seasons less than Manning and nearly four less than Favre to reach this milestone.

Brady would like nothing more than to set the new career regular season record against the Jets. BTW Brady is 23-6 against the Jets during the regular season. Just in case anyone was wondering.

Goodell: No Policy Change on the National Anthem:
The NFL Commissioner has weighed in on the kneeling, standing, sitting, stretching, eating a banana issue on the National Anthem. In a joint statement with the NFLPA, they stated: “There has been no change in the current policy regarding the anthem. The agenda will be a continuation of how to make progress on the important social issues that players have vocalized. Everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military, and we are coming together to deal with these issues in a civil and constructive way.”

Goodell added, “What we want to do is get back to focusing on the actions that we want to take to really improve our communities and support our players to get things done,” Goodell said. “We want to get to from our current situation to where we are really making a difference in the community and get involved in action that is going to have a positive outcome for our law enforcement, for our communities, and for our country overall.”

And in a non-story hot take for the week centered around Roger Goodell’s wife who used an anonymous Twitter account to defend her husband. The Twitter account that has since been taken down, didn’t do anything that could be remotely considered controversial, she just defended her husband. Isn’t that what any good wife would do?

We’ve been super critical of Goodell and his policies on these pages but making a big deal out of an anonymous tweet that says “Roger is doing his job?” Nope. Hey, at least he has one loyal follower on his side. You go, Jane.    

NaVorro Bowman Could Be a Fit in New England:
I’ll be the first to say that I’m the first person to pooh-pooh the idea that every time a veteran player is released, Patriots nation clamors for him, regardless of fit or level of play. Due to listening to certain talking heads on the air, “they gotta have the name.”

But in this case, Bowman could be a nice addition to the Patriots defense. He was one of the best inside linebackers in the game, but injuries in 2014 and last season have taken their toll on Bowman. Despite still being the leading tackler on the Niners, the team is moving away from him and tried to find a trade partner, and barring that gave him his release. That part wasn’t surprising since the Niners are on the hook for his remaining salary the rest of the season.

Now any team, including New England could sign him as early as Monday according to his agent Drew Rosenhaus when he’ll choose his next team. They can reasonably sign him for the league minimum for veterans and Bowman can sign anywhere and not lose any cash this season.

In terms of fit, while he’s lost a step in coverage, he’s still a very effective run stopper on early downs and has the type of veteran savvy that David Harris possesses. Why would Bowman be a fit over Harris? Well, the Patriots haven’t used him at all this season. He’s played seven snaps in five games. Harvey Langi appears to be in a red-shirt type situation and the team is still weeks away from being able to activate Shea McClellin from IR. It will be something to monitor, especially today to see if Harris plays against his old team.   

Belichick Believes Run Game Will Open Up…We do too:
Bill Belichick in his weekly “Belestrator” break down of the Tampa game, he played Dion Lewis’ 31-yard scamper and spoke about Mike Gillislee’s body of work so far this season. Belichick believes that we’ll see Gillislee break out sooner rather than later and mentioned that the backs are running hard and playing better than their numbers may indicate this season.

We agree. While fans are clamoring for the return of LeGarrette Blount, the running game’s struggles would be the same…or worse with him back here. It is an offensive line issue as to why the backs have been struggling thus far to get untracked.

Today’s game may be a perfect time to get things untracked. With Muhammad Wilkerson either limited physically or out with an injury, the Patriots could make a concerted effort to run the ball. The Jets are allowing 143 yards per game and 4.6 yards per rush. With a unit that is trying to limit the hits on Tom Brady, having an effective ground game goes a long way in alleviating that. Opponents can’t pin back their ears as much and make play-action passing even more effective.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 6:
Last week there were a few surprises and I picked a couple of upsets that didn’t pan out so I finished with a 9-5 mark. Season Total: 50-27.

This week’s Thursday Night Football Game I went with the Philadelphia over Carolina. Now for the rest (14 games now with bye weeks) of the slate:
Bears at Ravens – Baltimore

Packers at Vikings – Green Bay

Redskins- Washington

Lions at Saints – Detroit

Dolphins at Falcons – Atlanta

Browns at Texans – Houston

Patriots at Jets – New England

Buccaneers at Cardinals – Arizona

Rams at Jaguars – Los Angeles

Chargers at Raiders – Oakland

Steelers at Chiefs – Kansas City

Giants at Broncos – Denver

MNF Colts at Titans – Tennessee

Bye week: Bills, Bengals, Cowboys, Seahawks

Next Thursday Night Oakland over Kansas City

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills On the Bye, Is Taylor the Man Moving Forward:
The Buffalo Bills are on a bye this week and will certainly be watching the Jets-Patriots game with more than just a passing interest. But the majority of the talk centered around the Bills this week and new coach Sean McDermott continues to be QB Tyrod Taylor.

The subject still hasn’t changed from when he took over in the 2015 season. Can Taylor lead the Bills to the playoffs? The long and short answer is both yes and no.

Now in his third season, Taylor can be a placeholder for Buffalo as long as the running game is going well and the defense plays to the level that they are playing at right now. But can Taylor put a team on his back like a franchise QB and lead them to a playoff spot and possibly playoff wins? No. What you see is what you get. There is a reason the Bills have the 29th passing offense in the league, averaging about 165 yards per game. And it starts behind the center.

Taylor hasn’t shown in three years that he’s capable of more than what he is. He can make things happen with his feet to extend the play and reach downfield, as long as the running game is getting big chunks of yardage. Look back over three seasons and see where the Bills running game has struggled and look at how the passing game responded. However, the team’s best chance for success…right now rests with Taylor. As long as Shady McCoy stays healthy and the defense holds up, the Bills will compete every week and have a good shot at making the playoffs. But he isn’t the answer, and the Bills already know that.

Dolphins Fans Chants for Moore at QB “Embarrassing”:
The Miami Dolphins, even more so than the Bills have struggled to throw the ball this season. Miami currently has the 32nd passing attack in the NFL, averaging just 156.5 yards per game. Jay Cutler who was signed to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill is completing 62 percent of his throws and averaging paltry 5.4 yards per attempt. Worse, he’s thrown for just three touchdowns against three interceptions and his passer rating thru four games is a career-worst 74.8.

When Dolphins fans began chanting for Matt Moore during last week’s 16-10 win over Tennessee, Miami WR Jarvis Landry called it embarrassing. From the Miami Herald, Landry said, “If they want to change the players, we can’t buy into all that. I believe it’s disrespectful. A man that comes out here and works his [expletive] off and for people to not really understand what’s really going on. Or to not even have touched the field before, to say we want somebody else to be playing, they don’t understand the situation or know what’s going on. They just want to be on Twitter. They just want to start a [expletive] chant and it’s embarrassing, as a player to have fans like that.”

Miami coach Adam Gase pretty much reiterated what Landry said, but with the weapons that Miami put around Tannehill this summer prior to his injury, the talk was that anything less than a big step up would mean the end of his tenure in Miami. Cutler has done very little in the first quarter of the season and a playoff team from 2016, the Dolphins can’t wait much longer. They face a very good Atlanta team on the road this week.

Jets’ Ealy Looking Forward to This Week’s Game:
The New York Jets, have a chance to take over first place in the AFC East this week and according to a piece on ESPN by Lenn Robbins, Kony Ealy is itching to play the team he spent training camp with.

Robbins wrote:
But for Ealy, this is personal. The Pats traded for him in the offseason. He was expected to be one of their two key free-agent acquisitions on defense along with cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

It became clear early on that Ealy and Belichick weren’t going to find common ground. Ealy was released. The Jets signed him.

Less than two months later, Ealy and Belichick will stand on opposite sidelines, each keenly aware of how this game could play out.

He did get one part of this piece wrong, after stating that the Patriots haven’t protected Brady well, (they haven’t), he wrote the Jets have 15 sacks. They don’t. They have gotten seven so far this season and have allowed 15. Ealy is still looking for his first however and that will be an area to watch.

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

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

Patriots – Jets Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
October 13, 2017 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots head back out on the road to meet their old familiar rival, the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon in the Meadowlands.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, October 15 at 1:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines... The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (3-2) got back on the winning track by downing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Thursday night 19-14.Stephen Gostkowski booted four field goals and Tom Brady threw the only touchdown of the game for the Pats to Chris Hogan.

The Jets (3-2) beat the Cleveland Browns 17-14 for their third win in a row. Many people were thinking this Jets team wouldn’t  win one game and now in Week 6, they are playing at home with a chance to take over the division lead.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Jets are meeting for the 117th time. The Patriots hold a 61-54-1 edge overall. The Patriots are 28-29 all-time on the road against the Jets, including 4-3 at MetLife Stadium. The Patriots swept the season series a year ago and in the last meeting at the end of the season, the Patriots blasted the Jets 41-3 at Gillette Stadium.The Patriots have also won their last ten road games dating back to last season.

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 Jets Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game has been disappointing so far this season. Whether it is the offensive line or the running backs that are underperforming, perhaps a combination of both, they aren’t helping the passing offense. The Patriots average just 99 yards per game. Mike Gillislee leads the team with 246 yards and four touchdowns but his yards per carry (3.6) like that of the team (3.87) is not where the team needs it to be.

The Jets run defense has struggled mightily so far this season. Gang Green has allowed an average of 143 yards per game. The Jets are the 29th ranked team against the run in terms of yards per game and 27th in rushing yards per attempt.

This may be a time for the Patriots to establish something of a consistent running game. They gave Dion Lewis some more reps last week and he responded with a solid game. Gillislee also had a decent game as well last week. The Jets may go to a lighter defense to stop the Patriots passing game and this would be the time to assert the push up front and get the running game going, not to mention not allow an opponent to pin their ears back and coming after the quarterback.

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

The Patriots passing game has been clicking despite the amount of pressure that Tom Brady has been under and the number of times he’s been hit and sacked. It is capable of being even more explosive if Brady gets decent time to throw the ball. Having the running game improve would be a big boost. Brady has plenty of productive targets in the passing game, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski should return this week as well as Phillip Dorsett, with James White and Dion Lewis out of the backfield.

The Jets revamped their secondary this season and started it with two rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye who have come in as rookies and played much better than anyone could have hoped this early in their careers. They have two good corners in Buster Skrine and Morris Claiborne but they’ll face a much more potent passing game than they’ve seen thus far. One issue has been the lack of sacks, the team has just seven so far in 2017. Neither Leonard Williams or Muhammad Wilkerson have a sack yet this season.

Gronkowski will present the rookies in the middle with a big matchup to watch on Sunday. But the Patriots have enough other weapons to force the issue with the Jets defense. With time Brady has proven he can pick apart anyone, even without a ton of time this season he’s lighting it up. Look for him to have another big day.

Next up the Jets offense:

Jets RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New York

The Jets have good running backs in Bilal Powell and Matt Forte but both of them are banged up and it isn’t known if they’ll play or how much on Sunday. But if they can’t go, the onus will fall to youngster Elijah McGuire who is a capable backup. The Jets running game looked excellent a few weeks ago against Jacksonville running for over 250 yards but then fizzled last week against the Browns, gaining only 39 yards on the ground.

The Patriots run defense has been porous at times this season. With Alan Branch underperforming and riding the pine, they’ve been susceptible to runs up the middle. Ditto for having Dont’a Hightower missing time and then playing on the edge. They seemed to make some adjustments last week against Tampa Bay. They moved Hightower back in the middle on early downs and it helped. Now if they can get Branch back on the field and performing, it would be a bonus. Paging David Harris?

The Patriots game plan will probably be to slow or stop the run and force the ball into McCown’s hands since he doesn’t have a deep group of playmakers. How well they do that slowing of the run will be an intriguing part of the game.

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

Josh McCown is playing better than anyone expected this season. He’s completing about 71 percent of his passes although for just 1020 yards with five scores and four interceptions. Jermaine Kearse, Jeremy Kerley, and Robbie Anderson are the wideouts with Austin Seferian Jenkins is the tight end and he’s having a good season thus far. Like the Patriots, the Jets have given up a lot of pressure, McCown has been sacked 15 times on the season.

The Patriots pass defense may have turned the corner a bit last week. Through three quarters playing strictly man coverage, they allowed just 110 yards. Look for more man coverage with Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore this week. Jenkins will be McCown’s safety valve and a tough matchup. He’s already got the production that the Jets tight ends got all of last year. Kearse has seamlessly integrated into the offense and came up big with a 24-yard touchdown to seal the win against the Browns. We’ll see if the Patriots pass rush can get home more this week. The consistency hasn’t been there and this may be a good time to get it going.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski made all four field goal attempts last week and is 12-12 on the season. I never worry about him on field goal attempts only with extra points…is that strange? Ryan Allen hasn’t been the same this season. He’s been inconsistent and needs to re-find his comfort level out there. Danny Amendola gave the return unit with a shot in the arm with a big 40-yard return. But the STs units committed four penalties in the game. Not good.

The Jets counter with Chandler Catanzaro at kicker, who booted a 57-yarder last week and Lac Edwards at punter. But overall the Jets have been inconsistent on special teams this season.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one will pit old rivals who get renew unpleasantries with one another. There is never any love lost between the two teams or the franchises. Here is where we normally throw in the caveat that you can throw out their records since it is a divisional matchup but both teams come in with identical 3-2 records.

I think it is imperative for the Patriots to get off to a good start this week. The crowd at MetLife Stadium will be loud at the start of this one. No one expected the Jets to be where they are right now. So, they’ll be loose and fired up. They’re basically playing with house money. The best way for the Pats to quiet the crowd is to get some distance quickly and get the crowd to sit on their hands. Turnovers will be key also. The Jets offense hasn’t been especially prolific so to make them match the New England offense score for score will be a difficult proposition. Not giving them any momentum or short fields with turnovers is important. On the flip side getting a turnover or two would be a big boost to a Patriots offense that has been moving the ball and scoring very well but hasn’t reached its optimum peak yet.

This one will be close for awhile but the New England offense will put pressure on the Jets to keep up. A second-half turnover will open the door for Brady and the offense to break it open late. Brady and Gronkowski lead the way to a road win.  Patriots 34-13

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.

Podcast: Patriots vs. Jets Preview

Russ Goldman
October 10, 2017 at 12:02 pm ET

In this episode of Patriots Fourth And Two, we first looked back at the Patriots victory against the Buccaneers. Later on, we previewed the upcoming game against the Jets.

Patriots  Week 5 Report Card, Team Rebounds on a Short Week

Steve Balestrieri
October 9, 2017 at 10:30 am ET

Defense Rebounds a Bit in Florida

The Patriots seemed to have this one easily in control on Thursday night before Jameis Winston almost pulled off a huge come-from-behind win. The game itself was typical of Thursday night affairs. Neither team was especially sharp with each missing the opportunity for big plays and penalties (especially on the Patriots side) being numerous.

The best news you look for on Thursdays is to come out with a win (they did) and to come out of the game as healthy as you can.  And yes, the Patriots seem to have come out of this relatively unscathed.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady was not quite as sharp as he had been in the previous three weeks (thank you Thursday), and for the first time this season, it seemed the constant hits and sacks were affecting his game. And yet he still completed a ridiculous 15 in a row at one point. The Bucs were getting good pressure with their front four but every time they blitzed, Brady would recognize where it came from and make them pay, usually with Danny Amendola isolated on a linebacker

His best drive, not coincidentally was the Patriots only touchdown drive of the night where he was a perfect 7-7 for 84 yards with a nice throw to Chris Hogan just over the line and into the end zone. His best throw of the night was a deep one to Brandin Cooks where Brady performed the “bucket drill” to perfection, dropping the ball perfectly in his hands for a big gain. He made another just like that to James White who ran a wheel route and was open down the right sideline.  His worst throw happened to come on the Pats opening drive where he was late and way behind Hogan and got picked off for his first interception of the season.

Perhaps we’re being a bit harder on the grades here, after all, Brady completed about 75 percent of his throws for 300 yards in the win while missing his top two receivers, one of which was a game-time decision.

Running Backs: B

The backs were good on Thursday night. We pointed out in our pre-game matchups that the team could boost Dion Lewis’ reps and perhaps give the running game a shot in the arm and that is exactly what they did. Lewis looked really sharp and he showed his elusiveness on several runs. He had a nice 31-yard scamper where he used his eel-like ability to evade tacklers and break into the secondary.

Mike Gillislee likewise had a good night running the ball and had 52 tough yards on 12 carries. White had another stellar night out of the backfield catching the ball and keeping the sticks moving. James Develin was solid as a blocker all night but ran a wrong route and nearly cost Brady an interception.

Wide Receivers: B+

The wide receivers took advantage of what they were given and did exactly what they needed to do. The Bucs were laying back in a two-safety deep zone to take away the deep passing game so Brady and the wide receivers worked the short and intermediate game work and were very effective.  Danny Amendola was targeted eight times and had eight catches for 77 yards. He had some really nice conversions on third down where he did exactly what he needed to do to move the chains.His best catch was reversed on a push off but he made a highlight reel one-handed catch.  

Hogan had a solid night with eight catches for 74 yards and the team’s only touchdown. He was also wide open going down the left sideline late in the game but Brady got hit and the throw sailed out of bounds.

Cooks had five catches for 85 yards including the nice bucket drill catch as well as a sweet 18-yard comeback route where he was given a ridiculous cushion in a testament to the respect the Bucs have (they played him twice a year in NO) for his speed.

Tight Ends: INC

Rob Gronkowski was a late scratch and the production from the tight end position in the passing game was zero. Jacob Hollister was targeted once and later drew a holding penalty. He also got chewed out by Brady for a missed route in the end zone. Dwayne Allen is still searching for that elusive first catch as a Patriot. His blocking was subpar on Thursday, he got taken to school by Noah Spence where Brady was sacked. The Patriots will need much better production from these guys down the road, especially if Gronkowski misses any further time.

Offensive Line: C

The offensive line did a better job in the running game as the team was able to put together a decent night running the ball but for a team that entered the game with one sack and who was having trouble getting pressure on the QB, the Bucs certainly didn’t appear like that team.

Most of the pressure was coming from the left side where Nate Solder has been playing hurt and several times he showed that he can’t step out to the edge fast enough to contain the edge rusher. But it was coming from everywhere. This unit has allowed Brady to be sacked 16 times in five games after allowing just 15 in 12 games a year ago. That isn’t good. Taking a look at the upcoming schedule, it is an issue that needs to get fixed pretty quickly.

Defensive Line: C

The Patriots defensive line did a better job on gap control in the running game other than the Bucs first touchdown drive. Doug Martin who finished with 74 yards, had 49 on that one  The rest of the game he had eight carries for 25 yards. While not great, it was better than they had done the previous two weeks. The pass rush was pretty inconsistent again although Winston is a tough guy to bring down. Deatrich Wise and Cassius Marsh took back to back roughing the passer calls at the end of the first half to give the Bucs a chance at a long field goal and that sequence can’t be happening. But Marsh shows a pretty good burst off the line.

Linebackers: B

Dont’a Hightower moved back to the inside on running downs and only lined up on the edge in what seems like obvious passing downs. And guess what? No breakdowns, no communication issues and overall much better play. He filled the correct holes where he needed to and the defense was looking much better because of it.  Elandon Roberts made a nice run stuff on third down and nearly got a safety on Winston, blitzing up the A-gap (where has that been?). Probably should have been called an intentional grounding call there, but maybe we’re being picky. Van Noy had an up and down night, getting beat in coverage but got a half-sack. Much better.

Secondary: B-

Much, much better by this group. Why? Because for three quarters Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore were given very simple tasks. Stick with a wide receiver no matter where he goes. Gilmore locked up with Mike Evans and for the majority of the night put him on a milk carton. Butler had the speedy Desean Jackson and likewise did a good job. Thru three-quarters Winston had 110 yards passing.

In the fourth, Matt Patricia went back to more zone and Winston and the Bucs were finding seams to exploit.

Devin McCourty and Pat Chung had good days in coverage, for Chung it was his best game of the season. He had the good receiving tight end Cameron Brate and provided solid coverage all night long. No breakdowns or blown coverages…so it was a good night overall. A long way to go but a positive first step.

Special Teams: B-

Stephen Gostkowski made four field goals and was money on those and his kickoffs. Danny Amendola had a really nice 40-yard punt return that set the team up in great field position. Kickoff coverage was good. Punt return coverage was good. Ryan Allen was okay but not great. But what killed them was penalties. Four ST penalties aren’t going to cut it. Brandon Bolden jumping offside on a 4th and 3 is inexcusable for a veteran such as himself.

Coaches: A-

Bill Belichick righted the ship in a short week with just really two days to prepare after a debacle on Sunday. The best moves were putting Butler and Gilmore on the Bucs top WRs and let them do what they do best, provide close man coverage. And moving Hightower back inside. The defense looked completely different on Thursday so there is the hope that this is a trend in the right direction.

Josh McDaniels had to switch the game plan without Rob Gronkowski to a more 3-4 WR set and although the team struggled to finish drives, they moved the ball well all night. This was a gut-check type of game and the team won. That’s all you want from Thursday night.

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.

What Lies Ahead: After Tough Start, Hard to Bury This Patriots Team Just Yet

Ian Logue
at 6:24 am ET

It’s safe to say that five games shouldn’t define a season, but given the trouble this Patriots team has had over that span, they’ve made some progress but obviously still have their work cut out for them.

One of the biggest bright spots is the fact that despite the bad place they’ve been in defensively, the one saving grace is the fact that Tom Brady and the offense haven’t been participating in those woes.  New England’s offense currently leads the NFL by a considerable margin in yards per game, averaging 419.4 and are third in points per game behind the (this isn’t a misprint) Rams, as well as the Chiefs.

The latter stat in the above paragraph is a reminder of how strange this year has been so far in the NFL. It’s also a reminder of how wide open things still are despite the 3-2 record this team is currently saddled with.  All things considered, they’ve surprisingly lost to two teams that will be contenders in their respective Conferences and are currently sitting at 5-0 (Kansas City) and 4-1 (Carolina).

But this year’s version of the NFL appears poised for some surprises, and it’s definitely a little early to write off a team that is among the best in the league on the offensive side of the football.  That being said, let’s take a quick rundown over the final 11 weeks to talk about where some of those teams are at this point in the year, and predict week-by-week how things might shake out, including this week’s first AFC Division battle against the Jets.

Oct 15th – at NY Jets – The Jets took the Browns to the wire Sunday and pulled off the win, moving them to 3-2 on the year, matching the same record as both Buffalo and New England in the AFC East.  After starting out 0-2, the Jets have surprisingly won three in a row and have the opportunity to make it four when the Patriots visit this weekend. With 10 days to prepare, it’s hard not to feel like Bill Belichick will have his team ready to go in what will certainly be an important meeting as they try and make a push to get back on top of the AFC East. Rob Gronkowski’s return this weekend, which Adam Schefter reported should be a strong possibility and if that’s the case, it’s tough not to like their chances. – Prediction: Win – 4-2


Tom Brady already got the best of Matt Ryan in February.

Oct 22nd – vs Atlanta – After two straight road games, the Patriots will at least get to come home for two weeks and will face the Falcons in a Sunday night game at Gillette Stadium.  Atlanta is currently on a bye at 3-1 after having lost their first game of the season last Sunday against the surprising Buffalo Bills.  It’s possible Atlanta took them lightly as Buffalo has been the surprise so far after starting out 3-1 before their 20-16 loss to the Bengals put them at 3-2.  However, against New England, I’m sure Atlanta will be looking for a little vengeance and one can only hope that the Patriots will still be trending in the right direction defensively by the time this one is played.  The bigger question is the health of Julio Jones and the offense.  If the Falcons are healthy, this one could be tough, especially if New England’s defense is still allowing big plays. With this one being at home, I do think Brady will have some success against Atlanta’s defense. The bad news is, I still worry about New England’s ability to keep Atlanta from scoring, which could see this club drop another tough one at home. Fortunately, the Patriots won the one that mattered back in February, so if it does play out that way, the Falcons can at least feel good about themselves for one game. – Prediction: Loss – 4-3

Oct 29th – vs LA Chargers – The Chargers look pretty woeful right now, having opened the season 1-4 with little seemingly going right for this team.  Playing in an empty stadium has got to be quite disheartening, with each game likely feeling like a road game due to all the transplants on the West Coast flooding the stadium thanks to all the available tickets.  They lucked out with some significant mistakes and injuries in New York where the 0-5 Giants fell apart during the Chargers’ 27-22 win. Maybe they’ll play better away from home, but it’s doubtful given that they look like a team that’s simply going through the motions. – Prediction: Win – 5-3

Nov 12th – at Denver – This one should scare most fans given that the Broncos’ defense is back on top of the NFL leader board and they’ve had a history of making Brady miserable in the Mile High City.  This one will play out in a Sunday night match-up and may actually end up being a barometer of whatever turnaround they may have made at this point, especially given that the Broncos are currently 4th in the league in time of possession.   While their offense might not be lighting things up (they’re 11th in the league in points per game while averaging 24.5), they could still be a problem if New England’s defense is in a position where they can’t get them off the field.  Plus it’s in Denver, where wins are rare for Belichick’s club.  That being said, the Patriots still have Brady, so anything can happen. The only issue making this prediction now is the fact it’s a little early to be that optimistic until we continue to see them make big stops in key moments. Otherwise, I hate this match-up and I’ll probably hate the outcome more. – Prediction: Loss 5-4

Nov 19th – at Oakland – For anyone hoping for a tough battle, a back injury to Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has thrown a wrench into Oakland’s season and will now be the story to follow leading into this much anticipated match-up.  However, some reports say he could be back as soon as this week, which is surprising given the severity of his injury. Either way, it’s hard to make too many evaluations of how this one might go, aside from the fact EJ Manuel is his back-up.  If it’s Manuel, and not Carr, on the field for this one, the Patriots will have obviously caught a break. If Carr isn’t 100%, that could be another reason to like their chances. – Prediction: Win – 6-4

Nov 26th – vs Miami – The Dolphins are a mess this season and it appears that the loss of Ryan Tannehill and the addition of Jay Cutler isn’t working out too well.  They’re 2-2 at this point and things appear to be getting ugly down in South Florida.  While some thought the Dolphins might build off of last season and contend for the Division, one win over the Titans isn’t enough to make anyone believe that the Dolphins will be a threat to New England this year. They’ve got plenty of problems, with the most recent one being the fact one of their coaches was recently exposed for cocaine use. I doubt Brady will have an issue outplaying Cutler and expect the Patriots to hopefully get this one at Gillette Stadium. – Prediction: Win – 7-4


Brady still somehow has the Patriots offense at the top of the NFL.

Dec 3rd – at Buffalo – This might end up being one of the most interesting games of the year depending on where these two teams are heading into the final month of the season.  If the Bills are still fighting for the top of the AFC East and playing well, it could end up being one of the more intense battles we see this season.  We’re only five games in and the Bills’ new coaching staff and personnel moves have seemingly righted the ship, and their defense has been a big part of that.  Buffalo’s secondary has been forcing turnovers, with the Bills currently third in interceptions with eight.  Let’s hope that by December New England’s own defense will have finally worked out the kinks.  If they have, Brady and the offense should be able to score enough points to remind Buffalo that they’re not done yet. – Prediction: Win – 8-4

Dec 11th – at Miami – Thankfully the NFL’s schedule-makers put New England’s trip to Miami in December and on Monday night for that matter.  Hot afternoons in Miami have spelled trouble for the Patriots in past seasons, but with an evening battle on tap, this one should be a little more manageable for New England on both sides of the football.  Having played this team two weeks ago at this point, it will be interesting to see how the second match-up shakes out. Hopefully it will be a game where the Patriots take advantage of the last potentially comfortable weather they’ll see for a while as they start their playoff push, and one would have to believe they’ll be able to get this one. – Prediction: Win – 9-4

Dec 17th – at Pittsburgh – One thing working against New England in this one is obviously the fact this one’s on the road, with the Patriots set to face a Steelers team that really could be heading one of two ways by this time. Sunday’s loss to Jacksonville saw Ben Roethlisberger throwing a staggering five interceptions, leaving the veteran questioning his future.  “Maybe I don’t have it anymore,” Roethlisberger told reporters after the game, with the quarterback also acknowledging that “I’m not playing well enough.” The biggest question heading into this game may be the health of everyone on the offensive side of the football for the Patriots at this point in the season.  If Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, James White and Chris Hogan have survived this far, it’s hard not to like their chances against a Pittsburgh defense that always seems to struggle with coming up with ways to stop Brady.  Either way, this is another game where the odds are probably in their favor. – Prediction: Win – 10-4


Belichick will likely have his team much-improved by December.

December 24th – vs Buffalo – This one will probably have significant playoff implications at this point, making it another big game for Belichick’s team.  With just two games left in the season, a loss here or there may make this a key contest for New England if they’re still contending for a top playoff seed, which could make this one a nail-biter.  However, Brady and the offense are home where they tend to move the ball fairly well and it’s hard not to give Brady the edge if this one turns into a shootout. – Prediction: Win – 11-4

December 31st – vs NY Jets – With the Jets coming to Foxboro during the final week of the season, it’s going to be interesting to see what’s at stake for both teams at this point in the year.  The Jets have a tough final five weeks before this match-up, with battles against Carolina, Kansas City, Denver, New Orleans, and the LA Chargers on tap before they come to New England. By then, they may be out of the AFC East race and probably out of the playoffs, making this a dangerous match-up given that they’ll have nothing to lose.  However, unlike their first meeting, they’re at Gillette and I feel like they’ll have it together by then. – Prediction: Win – 12-4

Final Record Prediction: 12-4 – The big question will ultimately be where they finish from a playoff seeding standpoint, but barring injuries or unforeseen issues in Kansas City, the top seed in the Conference may be a little more elusive this year. Injuries will be the other big concern as they’re probably also going to need a little luck for things to play out this way.

Who knows? Anything is certainly possible and Thursday night’s win was still certainly encouraging given the forward progress we saw defensively.  But as we’ve already seen, there’s been some crazy things that have happened already around the league and it goes without saying that the Patriots have already played their part in that.  While previous seasons have no bearing on what happens this year, history has shown that Belichick will do whatever is necessary to have his team playing better in December and even more so if they’re in the mix in January. We’ve seen enough evidence to believe they’ll work through this and if they do, depending on a potential trade deadline acquisition and who’s healthy by the end of the year, the team we see now will probably look a little different in two months.

Needless to say, expect the unexpected, but don’t count them out just yet.

Patriots Win Ugly on the Road in Tampa Bay 19-14

Steve Balestrieri
October 6, 2017 at 9:48 am ET

In the end, the best thing to say about this game is the Patriots came away with a win…barely but it was a win and now they have 10 days to prepare for the Jets.

The game on Thursday night was a prototypical Thursday Night Football contest, ugly, ill-disciplined, sloppy played affair, punctuated with those hideous uniforms the NFL insists making the players wear. But perhaps it is a good move, for the players and the game scarcely resemble an NFL product at times during these Thursday contests.

In the end, the Patriots escaped Tampa with a 19-14 victory and are back in the win column. But this one won’t be highlighted as one of those quintessential New England wins since they seemed for much of the game to be trying to keep the Bucs around long enough to give it away at the end, which they almost did. Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect 4-4 on his field goal attempts while Nick Folk of the Bucs?…. Not so much.

But some quick observations from tonight’s game while they are still fresh in the mind before calling it a night:

Secondary Played Much Better: In the end, Jameis Winston threw for another 300 yard game against the defense, so there remains much work to be done. But thru three-quarters Winston had just 110 yards passing and the unit scarcely resembled the one who couldn’t get out of its own way for the first month of the season.

The coaches did what they needed to do and put Don’ta Hightower back in the middle for much of the game, and allowed cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore to do what they do best, play man coverage on Tampa’s two top WRs Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. The results were much better. They both competed hard and Gilmore had his best day in a Patriots uniform holding Evans, who was a non-factor for the vast majority of the game to just five catches for 49 yards.

Baby steps….to be sure but a positive one for the defense.

Brady was Sharp But Missed Gronkowski: Tom Brady was his usual very efficient self, completing 30-40 for 303 yards with one TD and one interception, his first of the season. Brady was especially sharp in the second quarter where he constantly moved up and down the field and completed all 10 of his throws and added a touchdown.

With Tampa’s defense missing some key personnel in the middle of the field, Brady and Josh McDaniels consisted isolated mismatches on the linebackers and made the Bucs pay. But once they got close, the offense couldn’t finish and ended up with just a single touchdown on the day. It was here that the offense, already without Julian Edelman for the year, missed Rob Gronkowski as they moved easily into scoring range and then seemed to be operating in the mud. Having no production from the tight ends was an issue that kept Tampa in the game.

Brady could be seen taking rookie tight end Jacob Hollister to task after a red zone stall. Obviously, there was a disconnect there that needed to be worked out.

Offensive Line Woes Continue: Brady was hit hard several more times and was obviously in a lot of discomfort after several plays tonight. Tampa scarcely resembled the team that couldn’t generate any pass rush and had just one sack entering the game. They had three on the night and frequently flushed Brady from the pocket or knocked him down. After being sacked just 15 times in 2016, he’s already been sacked 16 times in five games. This is a trend that needs to stop.

Brady will use this 10-day break for some much-needed rest and recuperation. He’s taken far too many big shots this season and despite his fourth straight 300-yard game, he’s under duress far too often. Avocado ice cream on the menu for this weekend.

The OL did do a better job at times in the running game. The team rushed for 113 yards against a team that had been allowing just 72.5 yards per game. Again it wasn’t great but it can be used as a building block to build upon down the road.

Dion Lewis Steps Up: In a short week, the team will have to rely on different players to pitch in and take on expanded roles. One of those players was Dion Lewis, who has been conspicuously absent in much of the offense’s game planning through the first four games. But as we pointed out in our pre-game key matchups earlier today, Lewis could give the offense a boost in the running game and did just that.

Lewis saw the most action he’s seen this season and had a very solid game running the ball. He looked a lot like the 2015 version of himself, at times giving an eel-like ability to slip tackles and get yards after contact. He rushed seven times for 53 yards and added two receptions in the passing game.

Coupled with Mike Gillislee’s 12-carry, 52-yard night, the two gave the Patriots a nice building block in the running game. Was it perfect? Nope, but it does add some intriguing possibilities down the road as the team will try to find that better balance between the passing and running games.

Who Are You Guys And What Did You Do with the Patriots: Once again, the Patriots were guilty of some extremely stupid gaffes resulting in penalties that cost the team. One of the hallmarks of a Bill Belichick team is excelling at situational football. Taking dumb penalties when your defense stops an opponent on a 3rd and 20 that results in a touchdown is inexcusable. Taking not one but two roughing the passer calls in the final minute of the first half and allowing Tampa to attempt a field goal was also unconscionable.

Had the Bucs made the field goal there and scored on their first possession of the second half, this game may have had an entirely different outcome. It didn’t but these are the kind of dumb mistakes that we’re used to seeing opponents make against New England. To put it another way, these are the dumb mistakes that losing teams make. And it needs to get nipped in the bud.

Yardage Total Shouldn’t be the Driving Factor Tomorrow: As I sit here minutes after the game, I think that while the Patriots defense wasn’t perfect, it was much better. But I have a feeling that the narrative will be driven by Winston’s yardage total rather than the end result. And that is wrong.

Once again there was a mistake made, a correctable one where Duron Harmon took a poor angle on DeSean Jackson’s quick slant and it resulted in his busting a 42-yard play. And part of the issue in the 4th quarter was the coach’s decision to lay back farther and trade space for time. Up until that point, the secondary had been very, very good for the majority of the game. Granted, they almost got burned by that strategy late but the yardage shouldn’t drive the train on Friday.

Mike Evans was a non-factor and Stephon Gilmore deserves a lot of credit for playing a very solid game. Likewise, Malcolm Butler on Jackson also did a solid job in coverage. Pat Chung had his best game of the season.

Moving Hightower back to the middle (another one of our keys) worked much better. Doug Martin had 74 yards rushing but 48 of them were on the one scoring drive in the first half. After that, the run defense tightened up.

The defense still has a long way to go, but on a short week, after the Sunday debacle, this was good enough…

Wide Receivers Have Big Games: Despite Tom Brady being under pressure all game long, the Patriots wide receivers had a very solid game. Chris Hogan had 8 catches for 74 yards and a touchdown and was wide open in the second half running down the sideline for what would have been an easy touchdown. But the pressure got to Brady and the pass sailed high into the sidelines. He’s become a scoring machine this season, notching his fifth touchdown of the season.

Danny Amendola made several tough catches in traffic in the highly contested areas and also had 8 catches for 77 yards. His best catch (one of three) was wiped out by a penalty. He made a leaping one-handed grab down the sideline  He also busted a big punt return (yes we called that in our keys too) to set the Patriots up with excellent field position.

Brandin Cooks chipped in with five catches for a team-high 85 yards and James White, operating out of the backfield kept the chains moving with 7 catches for 53 yards.

Thursday Night Football Stinks: I’ve never been a fan of this (can you say player safety Roger?) as it consistently fields an inferior product. Tonight’s game was no exception. Teams are beat up from Sunday and play sloppy.

Example? There were 21 accepted penalties in this game, 12 by the Patriots. Unfortunately, they are here to stay, it is a money-maker for the league who owns Sundays and Monday nights and now Thursday’s as well. Off the soapbox…

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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Buccaneers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
October 5, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

The New England Patriots head back out on the road to meet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a short week after Sunday’s games.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Thursday, October 5 at 8:25 p.m. ET and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson and Jay Feely will work from the sidelines... The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (2-2) came back from a late 4th quarter two-touchdown deficit to tie the score at 30 behind a tremendous performance by Tom Brady,  only to have the Panthers drive down the field and win the game on a last second 48-yard field goal.

The Buccaneers (2-1) beat the New York Giants 25-23 as Jameis Winston threw for 332 yards including a 58-yard touchdown to tight end O.J. Howard. The team also gets back Doug Martin from suspension this week.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Buccaneers are meeting for the ninth time. The Patriots hold a 6-2 overall advantage and a 3-1 edge in games played at each home stadium. Although the 2009 Bucs “home” game was played in London. The teams haven’t met since 2013 when the Patriots beat Tampa Bay 23-3 in Foxboro.

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 Buccaneers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tampa Bay

The Patriots running game is still mired in neutral averaging just 95.5 yards per game. The offensive line hasn’t been opening enough holes for the running backs to get anything going. Mike Gillislee had a pretty decent game last week but due to New England being down by two scores, they didn’t run the ball as much.

It seems like the team is limiting the carries of Dion Lewis as they really need him to be the kickoff return man. But maybe on a short week he could see some extra work. Rex Burkhead’s status is probably doubtful to play in this week, they could use him in this one.

The Bucs are doing an excellent job against the run, allowing only 72.5 yards per game. They have a stout front seven anchored by Gerald McCoy, Robert Ayers, and rookie linebacker Kendall Beckwith. However with LB Kwon Alexander out and LB Lavonte David, and safeties T.J. Ward and Keith Tandy questionable with injuries that could change things a bit.

This would be an excellent time for the Patriots to get the ground game untracked. Giving Tom Brady and the passing game more than just a semblance of a running game would make the passing attack that much more effective. But this looks to be another week where they’ll have to pass the ball to run effectively.

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

The Patriots passing game, despite Tom Brady being sacked and hit far too much, is off to a tremendous start of the season. Brady is spreading the ball around to a plethora of receivers including Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, and Phillip Dorsett on the outside, Rob Gronkowski at tight end and James White and Dion Lewis out of the backfield. Brady is completing 66.5 percent of his passes for 1399 yards with ten touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The Bucs, like New England, are allowing a lot of yardage passing. Noah Spence with their pass rush has just a single sack thus far on the season. They have a pair of good corners in Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves who will try to take away the short, intermediate throws and force Brady into going deep. McCoy will be the guy to watch inside, creates outstanding pressure up the middle and that more than anything can get Brady off of his spot and prevent him from stepping into his throws.

Depending on the health of Rob Gronkowski, this looks to be a big week for him. I look for Brady to try to establish mismatches with Gronk both down the seams and split outside if the Bucs are in single coverage. Look for the backs, James White and Dion Lewis to be involved in the passing game a lot this week.

Next up the Tampa Bay offense:

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

Tampa’s running game has really missed Doug Martin as they’ve rushed for just 71.5 yards per game. The main man has been Jacquizz Rodgers but he’s more of a third-down back. It isn’t known how much if at all Martin will play. The Patriots will assume he’s going to play and prepare according. They’ll mix their formations a lot but I think we’ll see quite a bit of “12” personnel, with 2 WRs, 2TEs, and an RB.

The Patriots run defense has been poor allowing nearly 133 yards per game. They really need to move Dont’a Hightower back inside at the middle/inside linebacker role. It will accomplish two things. It will solidify the run defense and get the communication right down low. Alan Branch has been MIA for several weeks. In trying to stop the run and make the Bucs one-dimensional, he could be a bigger factor this week.

Buccaneers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Tampa Bay

Winston has made tremendous strides this season, going from a middle of the pack QB in terms of numbers to a top 10 starter this season. He’s completing 63 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and three picks with a passer rating of 94.8. He’s averaging 277 passing yards per game this season. The addition of DeSean Jackson, though he hasn’t really clicked…yet, has allowed the big Mike Evans to get off to a great start. Evans, 6’5, is open even when he is blanket covered as Winston can just throw it up there for him. Eric Rowe is out for this one, (not surprising) after retweaking his groin injury on Sunday.

Tampa has two good tight ends in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Brate is more of a receiving threat and has been productive with 10 TDs since last season. Howard had a 58-yard touchdown reception against the Giants. Rodgers is a good third down back out of the backfield.

The Patriots pass defense has been nightmarishly bad this season. The communication has been terrible, the blown coverages and terrible mental mistakes have been inexcusable. What was supposed to be the strength of the defense is approaching historically bad numbers. The pass rush has been inconsistent, however, it isn’t the reason for this unit to play this poorly.

Winston has shown the ability to escape the rush and will be looking to make the big plays (see Jackson) that have plagued the team all year. The two tight ends will be a load to cover. Look for Matt Patricia to simplify things, even more, this week. If I am Tampa, I’d run bunch formations all night long until they show the ability to not allow anyone to run free.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski had a big day kicking three field goals including a career long 58-yarder on Sunday. His pooch kickoffs have given the coverage units time to get down the field and stop opponents from reaching the 25 and many times the 20 yard line. Ryan Allen hasn’t been his usual self yet this season although he’s been good at directional punting. The coverage units have been very solid.

Tampa has a solid kicker in Nick Folk and in punter Bryan Anger. They too have had good solid coverage. They have the diminutive but explosive return man in Bernard Reedy. But this is the week I believe that the Patriots are going to get a big return from either Dion Lewis or Danny Amendola.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one has the makings to be a shootout. Neither pass defense has been standout yet this season and with two good QBs and talented wide receiver cores, the score could go into the high thirties. Since Sunday I’ve had this one chalked up as a loss. Losing on the last play of the game after playing poorly…at home no less. The signs are there for the Patriots to fall below .500. This was one of the games I had circled for a possible loss when the schedule came out.

However, we’ve seen this before. Whenever the chips get low and things are looking down, is when Tom Brady elevates his game the most. The Patriots offense is capable of exploding as much as anyone. And we’ve really yet to see that yet for a 60-minute game. A shootout may actually benefit New England. Winston is still a young QB and is still prone to the occasional interception. When he’s forced to throw a lot is when his pick ratio increases. But the secondary isn’t going to be able to let receivers run free.

The Patriots will have to weather the storm. Tampa is a quick starting team. If they can hang with them through the first quarter, things should go their way as the Bucs have been outscored in every quarter but the first.

Brady wills the Pats to a big win on Thursday night with another epic performance as he and Wintson light it up.  Patriots 38-35

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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 Fourth And Two Podcast: Patriots vs. Buccaneers Preview

Russ Goldman
October 3, 2017 at 12:24 pm ET

In this episode, we started the show by looking back at the horrible loss for the Patriots against the Panthers. The Patriots defense was a major focus in this episode. Later on, we previewed the upcoming game for the Patriots against the Buccaneers.