Tag Archives: Martellus Bennett

New England Patriots 2017: The Year in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New England Patriots News 12-3, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 3, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 11-26, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots and Bills game today marks the 115th time the two teams have met. And while the crowd at Orchard Park is loud and boisterous, the Patriots and specifically Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have had great success there. In the Bill Belichick era, the Patriots have owned the Bills in Buffalo, winning the last five meetings and 12 of their last 13 up there. It will be interesting to see if they can get out to fast start today that they’ve been doing well, especially in the last month.

Buffalo has been outscored in every quarter but the fourth, coincidentally, the Patriots have outscored their opponents in every quarter but the fourth, so something has to give… right?

To Remove Brady Early in Blowouts? Belichick Doesn’t Think So:
With the Patriots seemingly comfortably ahead in the win over Miami, questions naturally were being asked, if it was time to remove Brady and not risk him to injury. Dan Fouts even mentioned it on the telecast. So, after the game is over, the media did its job and asked Bill Belichick if he thought about taking Brady out. Belichick, already not happy with the somewhat at times the sloppy performance of the team, got snarky with the reporter, in this case, Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. It went down like this:

Guregian: “Did you have any thoughts about taking Tom Brady out of the game late with the score out of hand?”
Belichick: “What, on the kneel-downs? What difference does it make?”
Guregian: “What about before that?”
Belichick: “No. I mean it’s easy for you to sit there and say the game is out of hand. I mean, if you watch games in the National Football League, a lot can change in a hurry. The only time I think the game is in hand is when they’re not going to have enough possessions to get the number of points that they need. Sorry, we just see that one totally differently.”

There are certainly cases where removing Brady from the game is a good idea. And while there have been times that I’d be inclined to agree, Sunday wasn’t one of them. When Miami scored with 11 minutes to go, the score of the game was still close enough to warrant Brady remaining in. But it was a legitimate question and Guregian, was within her rights to ask. She isn’t one of those reporters who is looking to pick at anything negative. She’s one of the good guys/gals who put the work in every day at Gillette. To her credit, she asked her questions and didn’t make a big deal of it, unlike some other writers who did later.

Could Belichick have handled that question better? No doubt. One has to think he was still salty about the way the team had played in his mind as he wasn’t looking like a coach whose team had just won by 18 points. Or perhaps the way the Dolphins were playing as they seemed intent on taking as many cheap shots as they could in the second half. But wouldn’t that lend itself to removing Brady from the line of fire?

Injuries Piling Up for the Patriots in 2017:
With both Martellus Bennett and Nate Ebner being placed on IR this week, that brings the total of players on IR or on the non-Football Injury/Illness list to 13 players. Bennett’s loss was not entirely unexpected, the team knew they were taking a risk when he was released from Green Bay with his shoulder that required surgery. It was hoped that he’d be able to play thru it, and he gave them two games but it was too much to bear.

Besides the players on IR, the team has eight questionable players for the Buffalo game this week. If we saw one thing that can derail this team’s chances, it is injuries. In both 2013 and 2015, the team was beset by injuries and that had a big hand in their undoing.

They haven’t reached that tipping point yet but Sunday’s win was a costly one with Ebner, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Marquis Flowers, LaAdrian Waddle and Trevor Reilly all leaving via injuries. We’ll see today if those losses last week factor into the game in Orchard Park.

Ebner Loss Difficult to Replace: Bill Belichick wasn’t at a loss for words when describing the value he, and the team placed on Nate Ebner and his role on Special Teams. Ebner was lost for the season after injuring his knee on a fake punt in the first quarter of the Miami game last Sunday.
Ebner’s role as the “personal protector” of the punter. Belichick said, was one of the most difficult spots to play.

“It’s kind of like playing quarterback,” Belichick said. “But you play quarterback for, you call 60 plays a game, 70 plays a game. You only punt five to 10 times. Somewhere in there. But there’s a lot of different variables, … a good personal protector takes all those into consideration, just like a quarterback does. A: Protect the punter. B: He’s the last line of defense. “So a lot of times, even if your protection is not right on the front, if that guy gets the right guy and does the right thing, you still could possibly save a blocked punt by just him doing the right thing, even though somebody else has made a mistake in the front of it.”

“It’s not an easy job at all if you want to do it right and get the most out of it.”

With Ebner out for the season, that job has fallen to Jordan Richards who fulfilled it on Sunday. Pat Chung has also played that position in the past.

Van Noy’s Role Has Evolved to be a Key Member of NE Defense:
Kyle Van Noy is a player that seems like a typical New England Patriots pickup. A former high draft pick that didn’t pan out with his former team, Bill Belichick picks him up in a low-key move and finds a role for the player to be successful.

Kyle Van Noy has become one of the most versatile pieces of the Patriots defense. (SBalestrieri photo)

But in Van Noy’s case, he’s morphed into much more than just a role player in the Patriots defense. Because of injuries to Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Derek Rivers and Harvey Langi and the retirement of Rob Ninkovich, he’s been moved all over the place. And to his credit, he’s responded well no matter where he’s been asked to play. He’s been the coverage linebacker, the middle linebacker calling the signals as well as the outside rush player on the edge.

“Kyle’s a smart guy,” Belichick said. “Something maybe a little bit different this week. He’s a good communicator, so he’s good at getting other people around him coordinated and in the run spot or when we need to make a call, he’ll make the call, and he’s decisive. He’ll make it with good judgment but also make it decisively so everyone has the confidence to be able to execute it. “So, he does a good job of that. That’s one of the advantages of having him in different positions. And since he’s played other spots, he understands what that person needs to know and maybe what the stress is on.”

Belichick loves players who are versatile and can do multiple things, and while Van Noy may not have been the team’s first to do certain things, [MLB, Ninkovich’s role on the edge], he’s thriving. It was thought that Rivers was going to be groomed to take over that role after being drafted by the team with their first pick in the draft. But a training camp injury sidelined him for the duration of the season. Van Noy still doesn’t get much love around the league’s media types, but Belichick sees his value and that is all that matters,

“Everybody doesn’t have to be able to do 11 different things,” Belichick said. “It’s good to have the guys who can do one thing really well. That’s great, but somewhere along the line with the variety of offenses we see and different formations … for someone to be able to have some versatility to help us handle those multiple situations, it’s a lot easier than having to send guys on and off the field and try to get them matched up and so forth. “If you can just move one or two players around to do that. Guys like Kyle and Pat Chung, Devin [McCourty], guys who give us linebacker to safety, linebacker to defensive end, those kinds of comparable spots, dependent on what we’re facing, there’s a lot of value to that.”

With Ninkovich, Hightower, McClellin, Rivers, and Langi gone, if the Patriots are going to have postseason success in 2017, they’re going to need Van Noy to step up. And he’s shown that he’s been equal to the task.

Belichick- “I’m Really Happy When We Score”:  The Patriots’ Bill Belichick was miked up last week for the Dolphins game and one of the funnier scenes is the reaction of the Patriots bench when the Patriots scored all five of their touchdowns. As the players all celebrate, with the radio call of Bob Socci on the play-by-play nails down the exact time of the scores, Belichick remained stoic. He was asked (jokingly) if he was happy when the team scored.

Belichick’s response was classic Bill, “Yeah, I don’t know,” Belichick said. “I mean, I’m happy when we score. I’m really happy when we score, but there’s a decision to be made on the next play, and the next play and the next series.”

Bill Belichick addresses the media before practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

“So we have a lot of fans that come to the game,” he added. “They cheer. They do a great job. I feel like a big part of my job is decision making and planning ahead for the next play, the next series, the next situation. There is sometimes a little bit of time between a score and the kickoff when you go out on defense or how you’re going to kick the ball off or so forth that I feel like I need to do a good job at that. I don’t want to let the team down in the responsibilities that I have.”

Manning the Least of the Giants Worries: Look, there are a lot of ways to take the Eli Manning benching for the Giants. If his level of play were so awful or he completely lost the team in the huddle, then you’re forced to make a move. But his offensive line has been a sieve. The play-calling by McAdoo has been awful and their playmakers are either hurt, not producing or not utilized right.

If New York had a young QB, like a Patrick Mahomes for example, making a move now makes sense. You’re 2-9 and not going anywhere and you can see what you have in the youngster. But Geno Smith? Are there any illusions about Smith at this point? Does McAdoo really think Smith gives the G-Men a better chance of winning than Manning? Bad move Giants. One can see the entire regime being cleaned out of there as soon as this season is over.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 13:
Last week 11-5 mark. Season Total: 113-63.

This week’s Thursday games I went with Washington (0-1). Now for the rest of the slate:
Vikings at Falcons – Atlanta
Texans at Titans – Tennessee
Chiefs at Jets – Kansas City

Broncos at Dolphins – Miami
Colts at Jaguars – Jacksonville
Buccaneers at Packers – Green Bay
Lions at Ravens – Baltimore
Patriots at Bills – New England
49ers at Bears – San Francisco
Browns at Chargers – Los Angeles

Giants at Raiders – Oakland
Panthers at Saints – New Orleans

Rams at Cardinals – Los Angeles

SNF Eagles at Seahawks – Philadelphia

MNF Steelers at Bengals – Pittsburgh

Next Thursday New Orleans over the Atlanta

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Have to Limit Gronkowski on Defense:

The Buffalo Bills are going to try to reverse the trend of the Patriots dominating on the Bills home turf and to do so, they’ll need a complete team effort. And part of that is the play of the defense covering tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots big man has been at his best when playing before his former hometown. Last year, Gronkowski torched Buffalo for 109 yards and a touchdown on five catches in Orchard Park.

To slow down the big man will take a collective effort between the linebackers and the safeties, the Bills don’t have anyone that can cover Gronk 1-on-1. Preston Brown, on the Bills website, spoke about the difficulty covering Gronkowski.

“When you are matched up against him just try to get some pass breakups and no run after the catch,” Brown said. He always seems like he’s dragging people down the field and people are jumping on his back and he’s still running for 10 yards. No yards after the catch.”

Brown may draw Gronkowski off the line and knows he’ll need to get a good jam to slow him down. “He does everything to get open. He has the speed to get by people. He’s just a good tight end,” Brown said. “You have to find ways to slow him up any way you can. Sometimes you have to double team him. Sometimes you have a safety over top. Anything you can do to slow him down because he’s going to try and make plays, especially coming back home.”

Is Cameron Wake Going to Chase a Ring? Nope, He’s Staying with the Dolphins:

The Miami Dolphins reached the playoff last season with a 10-6 record. But the season of promise in 2017 where they thought they’d make the next step has evaporated. The team is 4-7 and not going anywhere. Not this year. While some players have plenty of time to get a shot at a ring, Cameron Wake doesn’t.

Wake will soon be 36 years old and although the sack specialist is still productive, he needs two sacks to reach his fifth season with 10 or more sacks, he knows he’s closer to the end of his career than he is to the beginning or even the middle.

So, the question that was posed to him by the Miami Herald this week, would he consider leaving South Beach for a winner?  The short answer was no but sometimes these situations take a life of their own. Wake was keeping his eyes on the present for the time being.

“Another team has not crossed my mind for years,” Wake said. “Legacy hasn’t. Again, I’m a laser-focused guy. I’ve got blinders on. That’s way out of left field. I couldn’t care less about that right now.”

So he isn’t considering leaving despite Miami’s lack of success, but he remains optimistic. “Every time’s a little different,” Wake said. “Last time I came back it was because obviously, I felt a tremendous amount of comfort and history here and this organization. I have belief in the players, belief in the coaching staff. The city, fans, all of the above. For me to go somewhere else it would have to be a dramatically different opportunity, and I feel like the best opportunity is right here in Miami.”

Revis Returns to NY, This Time to Face the Jets in a Chiefs Uniform:

The New York Jets face a desperate team in Kansas City today that has been free-falling after a red-hot start. The Chiefs started 5-0 and have since five of their last six. But this week, at least at the start of the game, all eyes will be on the Chiefs newest player, cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Revis was released by the Jets after the 2016 season and has been looking for a team all year. So the injury-bitten Chiefs signed him, hoping he can help their defense regain their winning ways and hold onto a division lead that has suddenly tightened up. For Revis though, returning to New Jersey holds no special motivation.

“I don’t think it’s any extra motivation,” said Revis, to ESPN. “For me throughout my career, it’s always been about timing. I just felt where I was at in my training that I was fit and ready to come back and play football.”

So, Revis was asked, is there any ill-will towards his former team?

“We have a long history … I had an awesome time there. Most of my legacy was with the Jets, so I don’t think it’s anything [personal]. I’m just on another team. This is my fourth ball club throughout my career, and now I’m focused on our team goals and what we’re trying to do as a team and accomplish.”

“For me personally, I don’t think there’s any ill will or anything to take a stab at or get back at the Jets for any reason.” His welcome may not be too warm, however.

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

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

Podcast: Patriots Squish The Fish At Gillette Stadium

Russ Goldman
November 29, 2017 at 12:24 pm ET

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

Patriots  Week 12  Report Card, Patriots Run Over Miami Again

Steve Balestrieri
November 28, 2017 at 10:30 am ET

Wash, rinse, repeat. The Patriots used a familiar formula to beat the Miami Dolphins in Foxboro where Miami has struggled to win in the last decade. They were the more physical team and controlled the line of scrimmage, they were smarter and refused to partake in the increasingly chippy, cheap-shot play that is always the Miami M.O. when they fall behind. The result was a 35-17 win where the Patriots didn’t bring their A-game to the table but were sufficiently better than their opponents.

The running game and passing games were very evenly balanced in this one and the defense allowed only 10 points while notching seven sacks. All in all, it was a game where Bill Belichick and the coaches will find plenty to critique but at the same time, they had to like what they saw. Scoring 35 points on a day where you aren’t clicking on all cylinders is pretty impressive

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

Quarterback: B+

Tom Brady wasn’t as sharp as he’d been the previous two weeks but he still finished with four touchdown passes and a 114.1 passer rating on the day. He started off uncharacteristically off with two back-to-back poor throws on the first series but then quickly went about his business of dismantling the Dolphins defense.

As the game went on, Miami’s pass rush was getting more and more pressure on him, but Brady kept his eyes downfield and delivered. He got knocked flat on his back but delivered a 15-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski.Brady also recognized mismatches and delivered easy scoring throws to Rex Burkhead and Gronkowski again.

But he made an uncharacteristic poor decision by trying to squeeze a pass into too tight a window which Bobby McClain picked off. He also bobbled a shotgun snap that caused him to end up getting sacked by Cameron Wake.

But the feeling here was, the Patriots found big holes in the secondary and if they had to, they could have exploited them even more, they decided to go the conservative route in the second half.

Running Backs: A

The Patriots continue to ride Dion Lewis’ hot hand and he rewarded them with a career-high 112 yards on 15 carries on the ground. Lewis is an elusive back as you will find, Chris Price equated trying to tackle Lewis as trying to tackle a puff of smoke. But some of his most impressive runs were the ones of the shorter variety. Hit behind or at the line, he’d spin and show good power and drag a defender for a short gain, making something out of nothing.

Rex Burkhead continues to shine and shows that his signing was indeed a bargain move. He rushed for 50 tough yards on the ground and scored a touchdown on both a run and a pass, a mismatch that Brady recognized and hit him for an easy score.

James White’s snap counts are down right now but don’t despair, the team will need him before the season is finished and he’s an integral part of things. With Josh McDaniels, it is all about the matchups and they’re riding the hot hands right now.

James Develin was solid as always at fullback and played about 20 snaps. Mike Gillislee was inactive for the third week in a row.

Wide Receivers: B

Brandin Cooks once again was the big gainer for the offense in the passing game, catching six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. His score was on a glorified handoff flip from Brady on a Jet sweep where Cooks turned on his afterburners and raced for the pylon and then rode Rob Gronkowski like a racehorse off the field. On a third and 13, Cooks toasted Miami for a 37 yard gain where he was wide open. Those dreaded communication breakdowns…

Phillip Dorsett did the same thing where the Dolphins blew the coverage and Brady hit Dorsett for a 39 yard gain. Good to see him getting involved a bit. He’s been working hard but hasn’t had much to show for it.

Danny Amendola had a quiet day catching just one pass for 15 yards. He and Bobby McCain got tangled up after a running play and McCain threw a punch and got tossed as a result.

Tight Ends: A

Rob Gronkowski was a mismatch that we pinpointed in our pregame matchup piece and the Dolphins just don’t have anyone that they can put on him. He beat Reshad Jones on his first touchdown, using his size and strength, bodying Jones away for an easy TD from Brady. On his second, he was too fast for Kiko Alonso and easily beat him to the sideline. He ended up with five catches for 82 yards and a pair of scores. And to show that he’s an equal opportunity scorcher, he smoked safety T.J. McDonald selling a block and shooting past him for a 21-yard gain.

Dwayne Allen continues his strong play of late and was very good in the running game with some excellent blocking. He also caught one pass for just two yards. He and Gronkowski both made excellent blocks on Cooks touchdown.

Jacob Hollister played less than five snaps on offense and Martellus Bennett was a scratch and has been placed on IR.

Offensive Line: C+

The offensive line was missing two starters again, right tackle Marcus Cannon and center David Andrews but this time, they got pushed around in pass protection. Although they allowed just one sack, Brady was harassed for most of the afternoon and hit hard eight times. And each lineman got beat at different times. Ted Karras subbing for David Andrews snapped a ball too soon while Brady was still checking the defense and the ball was recovered for a Miami touchdown.

The running game was a different story. Taking advantage of Miami’s aggressiveness, the Patriots rushed for 200 yards, taken back to 196 because of Brady kneel downs. That was impressive and they opened up big holes for the backs to exploit. So while the pass protection was bad across the board, the run support was outstanding.

Defensive Line: A-

Yes, Virginia, the Patriots do have a pass rush. The Patriots defensive line took advantage of having a big lead and the Dolphins abandoning their running game and teed off. They were in straight attack mode in the second half and the sacks came in bunches. Miami’s offensive line was overmatched at the point of attack and it showed.

Trey Flowers had his best game this month, getting a pair of sacks, a few QB hits and two tackles for a loss behind the line. He also forced a fumble.

Malcom Brown returned from an injury and looked stout at the point of attack. Ditto for Alan Branch and Lawrence Guy. The Pats even got a good push from the interior of the line which was a plus.

Rookie Eric Lee in his first NFL game got about 20 snaps due to the situation and showed what he could do. He got his first NFL sack on a nicely designed twist and a QB hit. The Dolphins rushed for only 67 yards on Sunday, while part of that had to do with the score, that is the kind of day, the coaches were looking for.

Linebackers: B+

Elandon Roberts had arguably his best game as a Patriot on Sunday. Matt Patricia knows he’s at his best as an attacking downhill player and Roberts utilizing the Hightower/Collins A-gap blitz was very effective. He showed good patience and waited for the line to part and exploded up the middle throwing down Matt Moore for one sack and used his speed to chase him down on another.

Kyle Van Noy playing a mix of LB/edge rusher had a sack as well as a pair of quarterback hits before he left with an injury. Roberts and Van Noy were outstanding on Sunday. David Harris had a mixed day, missing on a couple of tackles he normally makes but providing good thumping depth inside. Trevor Reilly and Marquis Flowers continue to provide good serviceable depth at linebacker although each was injured in the game.

Secondary: A

Stephon Gilmore had an outstanding day. He drew DeVante Parker one-on-one and held him to one catch for five yards. At the end of the first half, he came up with a huge play, perfectly covering Parker on a fade and then reacting well to the ball in the air, snatching it away for an interception. He should have had another on the Dolphins final play of the day, again in perfect position, but Duron Harmon snatched the ball away from him.

Jonathan Jones had a very solid day. The Dolphins decided to pick on him with Jarvis Landry and while Landry had a solid day, Jones was feisty, stuck to his man and limited the YAC (yards after the catch). The more he plays the more confidence he’s playing with.

Malcolm Butler had a mixed day, intermingling some great plays with some not-so great. He took a brutal 34-yard penalty on Kenny Stills where if he turned around, he had an easy interception. Stills, however, while not “getting in Tom Brady’s head” with his sidelines trash talking, was invisible until the second half when the game was out of reach. The same for tight end Julius Thomas, who at first glance, had a solid day, five catches for 52 yards. But all of it came in garbage time. Pat Chung had a solid game as did Devin McCourty. Duron Harmon’s snaps were limited this week as the Pats went with three corners. Jordan Richards got about a dozen snaps late.

Special Teams: B

The Special Teams got off to a great start with Nate Ebner taking a fake punt on the Patriots first possession and racing for a first down. Great call and superb execution, with a tremendous block by Brandon Bolden to free him…Hulk Smash. Unfortunately, Ebner was injured on the play and was placed on IR. Losing Ebner, Reilly, and Flowers on the ST units hurt their coverage, which was just ok.

Ryan Allen missed an opportunity to pin Miami deep and put just his third punt of the year into the end zone. Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs were spot on, forcing Miami to run them out and was perfect on all five extra points.

Coaches: A

Bill Belichick eased back the workload this week after a long two-week road trip and although the execution wasn’t as sharp on Sunday, the team was ready to play and showed good restraint, not getting drawn into the cheap shot game that Miami has been doing for years. The biggest difference between the two teams, (other than QB) is the self-discipline, the Patriots have it and Miami has little of it. And it shows.

Josh McDaniels had a great game plan, taking advantage of a leaky Miami run defense and keeping Miami off balance all day long. They recognized mismatches all over the field and McDaniels made them pay. The Patriots were 5-5 in the red zone.

Matt Patricia’s defense is getting better and better and as they become more comfortable in their roles, he’s opening things up more and more. We saw A-gap blitzes, corner blitzes, safety blitzes. They’re not predictable and it is going to give opponents something to think about in the weeks ahead. Miami was 2-11 on third down and in the past five games, Patriots opponents are averaging just 217.2 yards passing per game and just 13.1 points.

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 11-26, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
November 26, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 11-26, & AFC East Notes.

We hope that all of our readers had a happy and safe Thanksgiving with their families this week. And from all of us here, we’re thankful for all of you, our readers make it all possible here.

Gone too soon: Condolences go out to the family of former Patriots WR Terry Glenn who died tragically in a car accident this week. Glenn was a very talented, speedy wide receiver who the Patriots selected in the first round (7th overall) of the 1996 NFL Draft.

Robert Kraft spoke about Glenn on the Patriots website:

“We were shocked and deeply saddened by today’s news that Terry Glenn died in an auto accident,” Kraft said. “Terry was one of the most gifted receivers we have ever had.”
“One of my favorite memories came when we hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional playoff game. It was my first home playoff game as an owner and just the second home playoff game in our history. It will always be remembered for the fog that filled Foxboro Stadium that day. Yet, on the first play from scrimmage, Drew Bledsoe threw a deep pass that disappeared in the fog and reappeared 53 yards downfield in Terry Glenn’s hands. We scored on the next play and ended up winning 28-3. Our thoughts and prayers are with Terry’s family, his former teammates, and friends who mourn his loss.”


Patriots Face the Dolphins Twice in 3 Weeks: The Patriots game today against the Dolphins will be the first of two meetings between the two teams in just three weeks. Due to a scheduling quirk, the two teams will meet again in Miami on Monday Night Football, December 11th.

That situation, playing an opponent twice so close together has only happened once before since Bill Belichick became the head coach. And it was against the Colts in his first season in 2000.

Marsh Release, Prompts the Inevitable Questions About Belichick the GM:
Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before. This spring everyone was raving about the terrific offseason the Patriots were having. And after the release of Kony Ealy and Cassius Marsh, now the same people that were openly predicting the Patriots were going 19-0 are now doing the backstroke and saying, “hold the fort here, maybe Belichick had a terrible spring after all.”

Well, to that, I say horse hockey… actually, I’d use a more fitting description but this being a family site, you get the idea. The second biggest myth surrounding the Patriots besides that “Brady is a system quarterback”, is the old—- “Belichick the GM is hurting Belichick the coach.”

Let’s take a look at the signings and trades that the team has done since the offseason began back in March to include signing some of their own free agents.

Trades: Dwayne Allen (Indy), Brandin Cooks (NO), Kony Ealy (Carolina), Marquis Flowers (Cincy), Cassius Marsh (Seattle), Johnson Bademosi (Detroit), Phillip Dorsett (Indy)
Free agents: Stephon Gilmore, Lawrence Guy, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, restricted FAs Brandon Bolden, Duron Harmon, Dont’a Hightower, Alan Branch, Cameron Fleming, Brandon King, Malcolm Butler, David Harris, Ricky Jean-Francois, Martellus Bennett, Brian Hoyer, Eric Lee

Draft: Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Tony Garcia, Connor McDermott

UDFA: Adam Butler, Cole Croston, Jacob Hollister, Cody Hollister, Andrew Jelks, David Jones, Harvey Langi, Keionta Davis

The trade for Allen seemed like a total bust, he was invisible in the passing game and wasn’t doing his normal solid blocking job either. Then the team the brought back Bennett and either the light finally came on or it lit a fire under him. File under: Still could go either way. Ealy and Marsh were both clearly misses. But the Patriots gave up very little for Ealy, sliding back eight slots in the draft so it was worth the risk.

Cooks has been everything advertised since Day 1 of Minicamp. Anyone telling you different might be watching the games but not seeing them. Bademosi and Dorsett were both hits. Each came in and have done exactly what’s been asked of them. In Bademosi’s case even more so. He was deemed a Special Teams guy only and has stepped in and played some good, productive snaps at corner.

In the case of the free agents, Gilmore, Guy, and Burkhead have all played integral parts of the team all season. Gilmore and Burkhead were banged up and missed time but there is no doubt about their worth. Gilmore had his struggles in the first month of the season but no more. Burkhead is valuable as a runner, pass receiver and on STs.

Bringing back their own free agents was a no-brainer especially looking at Hightower, Harmon and Branch and Butler. David Harris has been getting more and more work now that Hightower is on IR. Bennett immediately paid dividends as he’s familiar with this offense. Lee may see some action this today so we’ll see how it plays out. He starts with a clean slate.

In regards to the draft, the Patriots drafted Rivers and Wise to replace the departed Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard. The thought was for Wise to be on the edge and Rivers to be a hybrid, edge rusher, and OLB at times with one more season of having Rob Ninkovich. If Belichick is to blame for not seeing Ninkovich retire in camp and Rivers getting hurt …so be it. Ditto for Tony Garcia who it was thought would challenge Fleming and/or Waddle for the top backup tackle position. Croston was brought in for future potential, same as Jelks and Davis who was an impressive edge rusher in college.

The UDFAs made the team out of training camp which always seems to happen each summer. Langi’s season was cut short as a result of an auto accident.

So taking a look at the overall picture, they had a couple of misses (Ealy and Marsh) and two others that could go that way (Allen, Gillislee) but for the rest, Belichick, like always assembles a team, not a fantasy football squad. The Patriots beginning to hit their stride now in late-November tied for the best record in the AFC is proof once again that he’s doing the right things. And yet every year we hear the same criticisms. After 17 years of solid decision making, and unparalleled success, one would think that he’d be given the benefit of the doubt.  

Touchdown Celebrations? They’re Getting Lamer By the Week:
The Patriots have yet to (thankfully) done one of those lame, ridiculous touchdown celebrations that are becoming the rage of the NFL. With each game, teams are trying to outdo each other with the over-the-top celebrations that are quickly resembling the reason that the league banned them in the first place.

It is only a matter of time before a player on the opposition is going to take offense at one of these canned celebrations and chaos will ensue.

Mark us down for good spontaneous celebrations, a Gronk spike or the like. But these take all of the spontaneity out of the celebration. As for the Patriots, again, thankfully we haven’t seen any of that stuff, as they’re taking the old adage of “act like you’ve been there” to heart. Of course, it may have something to do with Bill Belichick. Asked earlier this week about the celebrations across the league, he gave a typical Bill response.

Yeah, we’re really focused more on trying to keep the other team out of the end zone and trying to get into the end zone,” Belichick said. “We haven’t really spent a lot of time on the halftime show.”

Jerry Jones Finds, Like Kraft, the Other Owners Aren’t Biting:
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones now knows what it felt like to be Robert Kraft. During the Deflategate saga, Kraft tried to get the other owners on-board in bucking the system, and Commissioner Roger Goodell’s authority to punish Tom Brady when there was no credible evidence to suggest he or the Patriots did anything wrong.

During that time, Jones, jealous of the success of New England, practically rubbed his hands with glee and gushed over what a great job of Goodell was doing. Now with the shoe on the other foot and Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott in much the same predicament and getting a six-game suspension from the Commish, Jones is crying foul worse than a seventh-grade girl stood up at the Junior High Prom.

Jones wanted someone other than Goodell in the chair and wanted to abolish the compensation committee and have all 32 owners input on the compensation for Goodell. But Jones learned a cruel truth that Kraft found out two years ago. The other owners aren’t interested in rocking the boat while they are all raking in the dough with a very successful NFL product.

Jones made some comments about Kraft that were uncalled for, calling the Patriots owner “a pussy” because he backed down from his threat of a lawsuit while threatening to go to the mattresses against Goodell. I’m sure Jones doesn’t want to be reminded of that just now.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 12:
Last week 8-6 mark. Season Total: 102-58.

This week’s Thursday games I went with Detroit, Dallas, and Washington (1-2). Now for the rest of the slate:
Bills at Chiefs – Kansas City
Jaguars at Browns – Jacksonville
Titans at Colts – Tennessee
Browns at Bengals – Cincinnati
Buccaneers at Falcons – Atlanta
Dolphins at Patriots – New England
Bears at Eagles – Philadelphia
Panthers at Jets – Carolina
Seahawks  at 49ers- Seattle
Saints at Rams – New Orleans
Jaguars at Cardinals – Jacksonville
Broncos at Raiders-  Oakland
SNF Packers  at Steelers – Pittsburgh
MNF Texans at Ravens – Baltimore

Next Thursday Washington over the Cowboys

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Both Bills and Chiefs Struggling, the Time is Now For One to Step Up:

The Buffalo Bills are reeling. Losers of three straight blow-out games, they now have to travel to one of the tougher venues in the NFL in Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs.

But the Chiefs are struggling as well and after a torrid start to the season, they’ve dropped four of their last five games. The Chiefs’ offense has cooled down quite a bit and their run defense is struggling, something the Bills have the power to take advantage of.

Both teams are still in the thick of the hunt in terms of playoff seeding, the Chiefs still own the lead in the AFC West and the Bills are in the wild-card hunt but a loss this week for either team could be disastrous, especially for the Bills. They have two games upcoming against the Patriots in four weeks and they have fared poorly against Tom Brady since 2001.

The key for Buffalo is to get the running game untracked with LeSean McCoy which would open up play-action passing by Tyrod Taylor who returns to the starting quarterback role after the debacle last week of Nathan Peterman.

Landry Keeps the Mindset that the Dolphins Will Sweep New England:

Jarvis Landry made the bold prediction this spring that the Miami Dolphins would sweep the Patriots in 2017. The Dolphins, fresh off of a playoff appearance were confident about taking the next step. Landry wasn’t trying to be cocky or arrogant, just alluding to the confidence that one needs to be a success in the NFL. And despite things having gone south for Miami this season, Landry feels that this may be the week they turn things around and save their season.

“Honestly, it’s a pride thing and also, it’s something for us, a mindset,” Landry said. “I spoke about it. They’re a team that I have great respect for always. I know guys over there, Tom. It’s nothing against them. It’s just something that, as a competitor, you want to win. Just like every game, I approach it the same, and that’s the mindset.”

The Miami Herald asked Landry if he was he surprised that those his remarks were being rebroadcast this week?

“Of course,” Landry said. “Of course. I knew you guys wouldn’t let that die. … I’m just excited about the opportunity, excited about the challenge with these guys. We have the opportunity to go up there and compete, just like every week.”

It is going to be tough sledding for the Dolphins. They haven’t won in New England since 2008 in the Wildcat game, but that was against Matt Cassel. The last time they beat New England in Foxboro with Brady at the helm was back in 2005 on the last day of the season. Brady started by sat after throwing just eight passes. Matt Cassel again was the QB who played the majority of that game. Doug Flutie kicked a drop kick an extra point in that one.

Asked if the Jets Must Win Out for Playoffs, Bowles Answers with a Gem:

The New York Jets have over-achieved in 2017 and entering Week 11 are still in the playoff hunt. Yes, the Jets are still very much alive for a playoff berth, which is surprising considering that many people picked them to finish winless.

So when the Jets media asked coach Todd Bowles, if the 4-6 Jets have to win-out to realistically have a shot at the postseason, Bowles gave an obvious if hilarious response that no one was expecting.

“Excuse the language, but that’s probably a no-s–t statement,” Bowles said as he shrugged as he takes it to be a no-brainer. “We’re trying to win every game.”

Veteran Morris Claiborne liked what he heard from the coach. “I agree totally,” Claiborne said. “We need to take advantage of all these games that are coming up.”

“As a team, we’re still together. We know what’s going on right now. We know that we’re still in this thing,” Claiborne said. “We just got to take care of our business on Sunday and the weeks after that.”

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 – Dolphins Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge

Steve Balestrieri
November 24, 2017 at 9:16 am ET

The Patriots return home for one game this week against the Miami Dolphins before heading back out on the road for a three-game road trip. In a weird quirk in the NFL’s scheduling, the Patriots and Dolphins meet twice in three weeks.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, November 19 at 1:05 p.m. 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 (8-2) are coming off a very successful two-game road trip with blowout wins coming against the Denver Broncos 41-16 and last week in Mexico City against the Oakland Raiders 33-8. Tom Brady continues his torrid pace in 2017 and the defense for the sixth game in a row allowed 17 points or less.

The Dolphins (4-6) have lost four in a row and in danger of falling out of the playoff race after entering the season with so much hope of earning back to back playoff berths.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 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 Dolphins history has been a streaky one with Miami holding an overall 53-50 lead all-time in the teams’ rivalry. However, the Patriots have won 11 of the past 14 meetings including the last eight at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots swept the series last season, 31-24 in Week 2 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at the helm and in the regular season finale 35-14 in Miami.

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 Dolphins Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game has been improving with Dion Lewis taking over the bulk of the running game with Rex Burkhead getting the complimentary carries and James White just a few here and there. Mike Gillislee has been a healthy scratch for two weeks in a row. The Patriots haven’t run the ball a ton lately because they’ve been so adept at passing it but this week could see more emphasis on the running game.

Miami for the first month of the season looked vastly improved in the running game. But during their losing streak, they’ve been getting gashed by the run. Having released Rey Maualuga at middle linebacker won’t help matters as he was impressive as a run stuffer.

Look for the Patriots to mix things up quite a bit this week. Miami’s defensive ends will be looking to influence the passing game by teeing off, so they’ll attempt to run right at them on Sunday.

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

The Patriots passing game is averaging over 300 yards per game, tops in the NFL. Tom Brady has been brilliant about spreading the ball around to a plethora of different receivers and they’re continually able to find mismatches. With their wide receivers banged up, they haven’t missed a beat.

Miami’s pass defense is allowing just 229 yards per game but opposing QBs are completing nearly 70 percent of their throws and have an average passer rating of 104.3 which is second worst in the league.

Look for Brady to work the tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett as well as the running backs, James White and Rex Burkhead heavily into the mix this week. The Dolphins pass rush has had issues getting to the QB, and if Brady has time, he’ll carve them up in death by 1000 cuts.

Next up the Dolphins offense:

Dolphins RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Miami

The Dolphins traded their top running back Jay Ajayi to the Eagles earlier in the season and now are going with Damien Williams and the intriguing Kenyan Drake who’s averaging about 5.5 yards per carry. The Dolphins have been struggling to run averaging just 80.4 yards per game and score, with just one rushing touchdown on the season.

The Patriots run defense has struggled in 2017, with Malcom Brown injured and Vincent Valentine and Dont’a Hightower on IR, the middle of the line has been suspect. Coupled with less than stellar play that we’ve come to expect from Alan Branch, it is an issue. The Raiders ran the ball effectively last week but the Patriots jumped out to such a big lead they were forced to abandon it.

Look for Miami to feature Drake more this week. Williams has been the de facto starter since Ajayi left but that may change as they are looking for answers to get their offense untracked. And we feel here, Drake will have a solid day on the ground.

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

Miami’s passing game has been mired in mediocrity since Ryan Tannehill went down in camp. The team signed Jay Cutler and he hasn’t gotten it done. With the targets he has in the passing game with Jarvis Landry (3rd in the NFL with 67 catches), Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Julius Thomas at tight end and the running backs, the Dolphins passing game should be its strength.

The Patriots pass defense is playing much better since a nightmarish start to the season. Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler did a fine job on the duo of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper last week. Landry is their go-to guy to move the sticks but Stills is the Miami big play guy and if Eric Rowe isn’t ready to go, that will fall to Jonathan Jones, who has played well this year.

Cutler was in concussion protocol this week but did return to practice, albeit in a limited fashion on Thursday, which means he probably passed. If so, he’ll probably get the start but one has to wonder if the Dolphins would be better suited to go with the steady if unspectacular Matt Moore in there.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski was the AFC STs Player of the Week after booting a pair of 50+ yard field goals (62 and 51) in a 4-4 day against the Raiders. His short kickoffs coupled with outstanding coverage has put the Patriots in great advantageous position. Ryan Allen’s punting has been steadily improving and it seems like every week the Patriots are getting big plays from their STs units.

The Dolphins Special teams have been playing very well. Their own coverage units are very solid and they have a pair of very good kickers but their return game hasn’t had a big impact. With the way New England’s STs units are playing right now, they get the nod.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one will be an intriguing one to keep an eye on. The Patriots will want to get off to a fast start and see if Miami, who has dropped four in a row answer the bell or pack it in. Two of their four losses in the last month have been blowouts. The Patriots secondary has been much, much better the past month and I look for them to continue that trend this week. It is a much different atmosphere for the Dolphins when they play at Foxboro. They haven’t won in New England since the Wildcat game in 2008 when Matt Cassel was the QB for New England.

Look for Tom Brady to spread the Dolphins out and find the mismatches underneath. Getting T.J. McDonald back from an eight game suspension should help in defending the tight ends, but he and Reshad Jones can only do so much. The running backs in the passing game may open up some down the field options for Brandin Cooks.

The Patriots hold serve at home with another big win and head to Buffalo at 9-2.  Patriots 34-16

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 – Miami, Despite Dropping Four in a Row, Dolphins Still in the Hunt

Steve Balestrieri
November 22, 2017 at 11:15 am ET

After a very good 2016 where they made the playoffs, the confidence was high in Miami this season. The team had surrounded Ryan Tannehill with a very nice array of weapons and the defense was looking to make a big turnaround.

But things haven’t worked out that well. Tannehill was hurt in training camp and was lost for the season. The team signed Jay Cutler and he hasn’t worked out. The Dolphins offense has sputtered along and is currently 30th in the NFL in yards and 31st in scoring averaging just 15.7 points per game. Jay Ajayi was traded in midseason and the running game is mired in neutral.

The defense, while the middle of the road in terms of yardage is 25th in points allowed and hasn’t made the strides that they envisioned.

Here are some other of our first impressions of the Dolphins:

Down But Not Out: Miami’s dropped four in a row and is now sitting at 4-6, but they are still very much in the hunt for a playoff spot. They’re only a game behind the Bills and Ravens who are 5-5 for the final playoff berth.

So while head coach Adam Gase must get things turned around quickly for the Dolphins, a loss this weekend doesn’t spell the end of their season although no one wants to lose five straight.

Parker Has Been Disappointing this Season: Jarvis Landry has been the go-to guy in the Dolphins passing offense in 2017. He’s been the guy to move the chains and leads the team with 67 catches and 6 touchdowns. Kenny Stills has been their home run threat averaging 14.7 yards per reception with 40 catches with 5 touchdowns. But the third part of their three-headed monster at wide receiver, DeVante Parker has been a disappointment this season. He has just 34 catches for 404 yards and one touchdown.

This was supposed to be both Parker and Tannehill’s coming out party this season and despite a stellar training camp where he turned heads and was expected to light it up in 2017. Part of the reason is a nagging ankle injury that caused him to miss some time.

He’s still not 100 percent and the feeling around Miami is beginning to develop that Parker is just one of those players that just won’t perform at a high level unless he’s feeling great.

While all eyes will be on Landry this week, the guy to watch is Stills who they’ll probably operate out of the slot against Jonathan Jones. Miami quarterbacks have a 117.4 passer rating when targeting Stills in 2017. For Parker, who was targeted nine times last week and caught just four passes for 26 yards, Dolphins QBs have just a 77.9 passer rating when targeting him.

Running on Empty: The Dolphins running game is averaging just 80.4 yards per game this season which is just 29th in the league. They jettisoned Jay Ajayi who is currently loving life in Philadelphia. That leaves them with Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake. Williams has been getting the most reps but that may be about to change. Williams ripped off a 69 yard run last week. But his other 10 runs netted just 9 yards.

Drake meanwhile is averaging a stellar 5.5 yards per carry and has the blazing speed that makes him dangerous.

Tight end Anthony Fasano who has played with Jamaal Charles and DeMarco Murray likes what Drake in limited reps has been able to do and thinks he’s just scratching the surface. In an interview with Palm Beach Post, he raved about the 2nd year running back.

Once they break through the secondary, they’re a threat to go the entire field,” Fasano said Friday. “At any moment. That breakaway speed they all have in common. DeMarco has great vision. And can really find holes. Jamaal has elusiveness and can bounce it. And Drake is the same way. So I could just say the breakaway speed and the vision are similar.”

Dolphins Pass Defense Will Be Tested This Week: On the surface, Miami’s pass defense looks to be very stout. They’re allowing just 229.3 yards per game and have given up just one pass play of 45 yards or more all season.

But opposing quarterbacks can be patient and work their way down the field as opposing QBs have completed 67.6 percent of their passes. Miami has only three interceptions on the season and has allowed 18 touchdown passes. Opponents’ passer rating is 104.3. This type of game plays into what the Patriots and Tom Brady do well.

One area to monitor will be the tight ends. Miami has struggled to cover tight ends and the Patriots can throw to three at any given time. Rob Gronkowski will be a matchup to watch this week. Whoever gets him and it may be two defenders it will open up single coverage on someone else.

The Dolphins pass rush hasn’t been as productive as they’ve hoped. They’ve logged just 17 sacks, the same number that the Patriots have. Cameron Wake leads the way with six and Ndamukong Suh has 3.5 and as always, they’ll have to be accounted for. Wake seemed to tire at the end of games lately so it will be imperative for the coaches to limit his reps and work in Charles Harris and William Hayes into the lineup.

Check back later this week with us and we’ll have a detailed breakdown of all the key matchups in this game.

Happy Thanksgiving all….

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 Tuesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots  Week 11 Report Card, Fiesta in Mexico, Pats Blow Out Raiders

Steve Balestrieri
November 21, 2017 at 8:55 am ET

The Patriots put a definitive stamp on their two-game road trip with a second blowout win, dismantling the Oakland Raiders from start to finish in a 33-8 that was far more one-sided than the score would indicate.

The Patriots looked like the team coming off the bye instead of Oakland. They dominated in all phases of the game and the Raiders didn’t seem prepared at all. Not for New England’s offense, the elements at altitude and coping with a big game.

The win puts the Patriots at 8-2 with a three-game lead in the AFC East with Buffalo’s third blowout loss in a row and keeps them tied with Pittsburgh for home-field advantage in the AFC. The two teams will meet on December 17 in Pittsburgh, possibly for the first of two meetings in 2017.

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

Quarterback: A

The GOAT was masterful on Sunday. He was in control from the start and he and the coaches had a plan to pressure the shaky and thin Oakland secondary. Brady started off with a very sharp 12-12 performance in the first quarter and never looked back.

He finished 30-37 for 339 yards with 3 TDs and zero interceptions.

Brady’s first touchdown to Dion Lewis was classic Brady. He looked left and the safeties naturally drifted that way. Then he pump faked which froze the defenders and quickly turned right, where he was going all along and Lewis had gotten a step on linebacker Cory James and the eel-like RB split two Raiders before diving into the end zone.

Brady hit two deep bombs (diminishing arm strength?) to Brandin Cooks for 51 yards and a 64-yard touchdown to start the second half. But it was his poise in the situational drill at the end of the first half that separates the men from the boys.

Oakland fumbled at the Patriots seven-yard line with 33 seconds to go. Brady moved the Patriots brilliantly to the Oakland 45 where Stephen Gostkowski booted a 62-yard FG as time expired. Outstanding situational football. Three plays into the third quarter Brady hits Cooks streaking down the field for a score. Game over, thanks for coming, enjoy your flight home…don’t drink the tap water.

Running Backs: B

Dion Lewis has the hot hand and the Patriots are letting him run with it. Lewis had the first touchdown where he made an incredible cut and seems at times to be absolutely unstoppable with the moves he puts on people in the open field. That score reminded one of the Dallas game a few years ago. Lewis also averaged six yards a carry in the running game, definitely an afterthought this week, still looked pretty good running between the tackles.

Rex Burkhead had a fumble and a drop although the pass from Brady wasn’t one of his better throws on the day. James White was barely used but the Patriots are letting Lewis ride his hot streak. Nothing to worry about there. James Develin had some solid blocks inside in the running game as he does every week.

Wide Receivers: A

Brandin Cooks has a history of big games against the Raiders and Sunday he didn’t disappoint. Cooks had six catches for 149 yards with a 64-yard touchdown where he just blew by the coverage and the safety help over the top was late. On his 51-yarder he blew by double coverage to haul in Brady’s pass. After that, he was getting a large cushion underneath and that is an area that the Patriots will look to exploit in the future.

Danny Amendola was his usual money in the short to intermediate passing game. He was targeted nine times and caught eight including a nice touchdown running along the back of the end zone. Brady bought time by sliding in the pocket and Amendola broke free and made a nice catch, getting both feet down before being pushed out of bounds.

Tight Ends: B+

Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, and Martellus Bennett had a very solid day catching all eight throws to them for 75 yards. Gronkowski and Allen were constantly chipping the edge rushers especially Khalil Mack on their way out in the pattern and that can’t be overlooked.

Allen had a couple of catches, made several nice blocks in the running game but his biggest play was his fumble recovery after Rex Burkhead was stripped on the Pats opening drive, keeping the drive alive. On a day where the wide receivers were the focus, the tight ends were plenty good enough

Offensive Line: A

The offensive line was missing two starters, right tackle Marcus Cannon and center David Andrews and they never missed a beat. LaAdrian Waddle at RT had help by the tight ends chipping Mack but held up very well once again. Ted Karras who had never played center before stepped in for Andrews and was outstanding. On what was should have been a mismatch for the Raiders turned out to be a position of strength for New England. Brady was sacked just once. The run blocking was pretty solid all day as well.

Defensive Line: C

The Patriots defensive line got pushed around in the running game as Marshawn Lynch was off to his best start of the season, but thanks to the offense getting off to a big lead, it didn’t come back to haunt them. The Raiders were getting a good push inside in the running game. Lynch had a 25-yard run where Cassius Marsh was sealed outside and Lawrence Guy got pushed back inside allowing a big seam for Lynch to exploit.

The pass rush was non-existent for most of the first half but got a bit better later in the game. It is definitely an area that needs to improve. The Patriots must lead the league in “almost getting there” in pass rush situations

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers weren’t bad on Sunday but weren’t great either. David Harris and Kyle Van Noy both missed a few tackles in the running game although Van Noy looked good on a speed rush and got a sack of Carr. Elandon Roberts did a much better job in coverage this week and that is a positive sign. Marquis Flowers saw action on third down and showed great awareness on the play at the end of the first half. He punched the ball out of WR Seth Roberts’ hands who was carrying the ball way too far from his body.

Secondary: A

Malcolm Butler countered one of his worst games last Sunday with one of his best against the Raiders. Butler drew the talented Amari Cooper this week and basically rendered him a non-factor. Cooper had three catches for just 28 yards and a garbage-time touchdown when the score was 30-0 in the fourth quarter.

Stephon Gilmore had another very strong game going against Michael Crabtree and he provided very tight coverage all day. His confidence and comfort level in the defense is getting higher every week and other than having to leave for dehydration (along with Amendola) he had an outstanding day.

The safeties were tasked with covering Jared Cook who had been targeted 21 times with 18 catches the three previous weeks. Cooks was targeted five times and made just two catches for 36 yards. Duron Harmon made a great play on a deflected pass for an interception.

Special Teams: A

The Special Teams had another outstanding game. Stephen Gostkowski hit all four field goals including a personal and team record 62-yarder at the end of the half that would have been good from 72. He also hit kicks from 51,40 and 29 yards. Not wanting to allow the dangerous Cordarrelle Patterson to influence the return game, he boomed all of his kicks out of the end zone except one at the end of the game where the coverage unit stopped the return at the 23. Another win. Ryan Allen punted only twice but pinned Oakland each time. The only minus was the slightly ticky-tack penalty on Van Noy for running into the kicker. Oakland then went for a 4th and 1 and got stuffed but that could’ve turned out differently.

Coaches: A

Bill Belichick leaves nothing to chance. And the preparation showed this week had one thinking it was New England coming off of the bye week rather than the Raiders who looked ill-prepared for New England or the altitude.

The Patriots stayed in Colorado to deal with the thin air to prepare for Mexico City and it didn’t seem to affect them much at all. They then tested the Raiders who elected to stay at sea-level by going hurry up and winding them.

The situational football that the Patriots practice so much of during training camp paid dividends at the end of the half. The huge swing and then coupled with a quick touchdown put the game away in the early moments of the third quarter. Josh McDaniels had an excellent game plan and the offensive performance was pretty flawless in carrying it out.

Matt Patricia’s defense continues to improve every week. In the past four games, their opponents are averaging just 217.7 yards per game passing and 11 points scoring. Contrast that with the first month of the season.

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

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

Brady, Patriots Defense Shine in Blowout of Raiders in Mexico City

Steve Balestrieri
November 20, 2017 at 8:52 am ET

Don’t look now but the Patriots defense has turned things around and looks like the unit we envisioned back this summer. The Pats defense held the Raiders to just eight points while Tom Brady carved up Jack Del Rio’s defense once again as the Patriots rolled to a 33-8 blowout win that wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate.

Brady improved to 9-1 against Del Rio’s defenses with a ridiculous 25 touchdowns to one interception. Oh and Stephen Gostkowski booted a 62-yard field goal as time ran out in the first half that may have been good from 72. The win allows the Patriots to keep pace with the Steelers at 8-2 in the AFC and coupled with another blowout loss by the Bills gives New England a commanding three-game lead in the AFC East.

Bill Belichick earned another career milestone moving past Tom Landry in all-time wins by an NFL head coach with 271 with the victory. He now resides in third place all-time amongst NFL head coaches. Other observations without the benefit of a film review from the game include:

Brady likes the rarified air the past two weeks: Brady started off laser hot, hitting his first 12 passes and he finished 30-37 for 339 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. In the past two games in the altitude in Denver and Mexico City Brady is a combined 55 of 71 for 605 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has a completion percentage of 77.4 and a passer rating of 130.3.

Those are some remarkable numbers for a guy who the national pundits proclaim every year that this will be the one that he falls off the cliff and shows his age. On the season, Brady is completing 68.7 percent of his passes, (261-380) for 3146 yards with 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions for a passer rating of 110.9.

Tony Romo made a good analogy before the game, Brady, he said, is like an old schoolteacher who already knows the answers to the questions on his tests. He knows his offense inside and out and against the Del Rio defense that he’s faced so many times, there were no surprises. Del Rio always runs a “we do, what we do” type of defense and Brady simply eviscerates them every time.

Brady made a terrific fake on the first touchdown, looking left and at the last second turning right and hitting Dion Lewis who juked and cut, leaving three Raiders in his wake for a beautiful touchdown putting the Patriots up 7-0. Lewis had another very solid day.

Patriots Defense Shines South of the Border: Matt Patricia’s unit has turned a corner and is playing some really good football during this current six-game winning streak. The Patriots haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 17 points since the last minute loss to Carolina in Week 4.

In the past six games, the Patriots are allowing an average of just 12.5 points per game. That is winning football. The secondary is playing light years better than they were earlier in the year and the communication breakdowns that plagued the team are seemingly a distant memory.

Stephon Gillmore and Malcolm Butler are playing very solidly at corner and they’re being backed ably by Jonathan Jones and Johnson Bademosi. They held the explosive two wideouts of the Raiders, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree under check today. Combined the two wideouts had nine catches for just 79 yards.

Jared Cook who entered the game red-hot had just two catches for 36 yards with the safeties, Pat Chung, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon did a great job of keeping him under wraps. Elandon Roberts also played well in coverage on Sunday.

Issues persist with the run defense and pass rush, but this unit is in far better shape than the group who was struggling mightily the first month of the season.

Patriots Secondary Coming Together: To piggyback off the above paragraph, the Patriots secondary is really beginning to come together. The first half dozen games, teams were routinely throwing for 300 yards, not any longer. While the Raiders had a number of drops on Sunday, the play of the secondary has to be a bright spot with the coaches this week.

Raiders QB Derek Carr’s numbers reflect a very pedestrian day, 28-49 for 237 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 68.2 on the afternoon. Carr didn’t even pass 100 yards through the air until early in the fourth quarter. On his last couple of drives, he piled on a number of yards underneath in garbage time as the Patriots with a big lead were more than content with allowing him to throw short underneath passes buying time for space. Carr averaged just 4.8 yards per throw on the day.

Scarnecchia Influence Felt on the Offensive Line: Game ball should go to Ted Karras and LaAdrian Waddle who filled in ably on the offensive line. Karras was filling in at center for David Andrews who was a late scratch due to what was characterized as altitude sickness late last week. Karras had played guard in college and had never played center before. There was no issue at all with his shotgun snaps during the game, the communication between the interior offensive linemen seemed fine and Karras did a good job in the running game as they ran the ball effectively between the tackles.

Waddle filled in for the second week in a row and faced one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers in Khalil Mack. Last week he faced Von Miller. In both games, Waddle, with some help from chipping tight ends has fared extremely well. He allowed one sack to Mack in the two games and has been solid in pass protection.

The influence of Dante Scarnecchia can’t be overstated here. His attention to detail and the proper technique that he instills in his linemen are always in the best position to succeed. For Waddle, the road doesn’t get any easier, he’ll face Cameron Wake next week if Cannon is still banged up. But Scarnecchia will have them ready. Game balls for all three.

Situational Football, Gostkowski Has a Monster Day: The Patriots special teams had another big day and it was just highlighted by the team’s stress of practicing situational football. Because of the altitude, Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski was able to make 70-yard field goals in the warm-ups and the team knew that if the situation arose they could count on him.

That came late in the second quarter with the Patriots leading 14-0. The Raiders were driving for a score and WR Seth Roberts caught a Carr pass and did a terrible job of securing the football on the Patriots five-yard line. Marquis Flowers punched the ball loose and the Pats recovered on the 7-yard line with just 33 seconds left in the half.

Like they’ve done so many times at practice and at training camp, the situational football drill was performed to perfection. Brady drove the Patriots from their seven to the Raiders 45-yard line in just 28 seconds setting the stage for Gostkowski.

Gostkowski boomed the 62-yarder for a field goal as time expired in the half and it wasn’t even close. The ball hit the netting beyond the goal posts and would have been good from 70-yards. The Patriots got the ball first in the second half. On the third play, Brady hit a streaking Brandin Cooks for a 64-yard touchdown, in the span of five plays the Patriots scored 10 points. Game over, thanks for coming, have a safe trip home.

Gostkowski added field goals from 51, 40 and 29 yards on the day. It was his third game where he’s had two field goals from 50+ yards in the same game. Situational football and special teams are hallmarks of Bill Belichick’s teams and on Sunday, they shined once again.

Brandin Cooks has a Monster Day: The Patriots wide receiver has been having a terrific 2017 season. But while he’s been consistently very good, he hasn’t had that one big day where he blew the game open. That block has been checked.

When he was brought in to the team this spring, it was immediately noted that Cooks brings a different element to the table. The Patriots were known as a quick team that thrived on the short, intermediate parts of the field. But they lacked that one true speed demon who can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. Cooks has filled that need quite well. He and Brady went to great lengths this summer working on their deep ball game, something that Brady supposedly couldn’t do anymore.

After missing on a deep throw early in the second quarter on a third and five. On the Patriots next possession, Brady went right back to it on first down. He and Cooks hooked up perfectly for a 52-yard gain. That set up the second touchdown, a Brady pass to Danny Amendola.

He and Cooks hooked up again on the third play of the third quarter. The Raiders, short-handed at corner, had rookie safety Obi Melifonwu playing corner opposite Cooks. It was a poor matchup for Oakland and Brady caught the rookie peeking into the backfield while Cooks did a double move and was gone. Brady laid the ball in perfectly and the deep safety help was very late in getting over and Cooks was gone for a 64-yard score. He ended up with six catches for 149 yards and the score.

Cooks has bought into the team first concept where Brady is spreading the ball around to everyone and thus far he has just 45 catches on the season. But he’s on pace for a 1250 yard+ season, which would be a career high. He leads the league with catches of 40 yards or more with six. He also has a dozen catches for 20+ yards.

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 11-19, AFC East Notes

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

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 11-19, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots game today in Mexico today will be the first game they have played outside the US since they appeared in London in 2012, a 45-7 win over the Rams. This will be the Patriots and Raiders third appearance in the International Series, and the Patriots first in Mexico City. The team did play a preseason game there in 1998.

Just in case anyone was wondering, five teams have not played in the International Series, the Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, and Tennessee Titans.

“Don’t Hand it to Me Buddy, it’s Yours” Lewis Nearly Commits a Gaffe:
Lost in the Patriots dominance on special teams last Sunday night in Denver was a mistake by Dion Lewis that could have been costly but luckily for the team was a non-factor.

When the Broncos kicked off, the ball soared deep into the end zone. Dion Lewis catches it cleanly about 7 yards deep and promptly flips the ball to the official. The issue was, Lewis hadn’t taken a knee yet and the play was still live.

The official, more out of instinct, caught it and promptly handed it back where Lewis took a knee. Had the official let the ball go, things could have gotten interesting especially if the ball had rolled out of the back of the end zone.

Patriots Two Starters on the Offensive Line This Week:
The Patriots were without Marcus Cannon last week in Denver, who had been dealing with an ankle injury and he was ably replaced by LaAdrian Waddle. Cannon is out again this week and will be joined by David Andrews. Andrews was a late addition to the injury report which was characterized as an illness. It was reported that Andrews was suffering from a delayed reaction to the altitude.

In his stead, the team is expected to start Ted Karras this week. Karras could play center or guard. If they move him to guard, they’d slide out Joe Thuney to center.

Belichick Flying High At the Air Force Academy:
The Patriots decided to remain in Colorado after the Denver game for a couple of different reasons. One, that it cut down on the travel time that the team would be forced to deal with. A secondary reason was that it allowed the team extra bonding time on the road, which can never be overlooked and third, perhaps most importantly, with the game today in Mexico City at about 7200 feet above sea level, the air is even thinner than in Denver which is about 2000 feet lower than Mexico City. Coupled with the smog, which at times is very thick, it can be very difficult to breathe there. I spent months there a few years ago and it is a tough place to play football.

But Belichick, who arranged for the team to stay at the service academy which is located 6000 feet above sea level, the location couldn’t have been a coincidence. Belichick grew up at the Naval Academy and has great respect for the military and their traditions. And on Friday, when Mike Reiss of ESPN reported that Belichick watched all 4000 cadets march to lunch, and had the opportunity to address them, he had to be in his glory. Reiss reported that Belichick was presented with an Air Force Academy hoodie by Lt. General Silveria, the Commandant of the Academy. Belichick then presented the general with a Patriots hoodie. Belichick then presented the general with a Patriots hoodie. Reiss stated that Mitchell Hall erupted.

While the trip logistically made perfect sense, I’m sure that Belichick used the time to give the team a tour of the facility and did an impromptu history lesson while they were there.

Mass Native Melifonwu Excited About the Opportunity to Play vs the Pats:
The Raiders drafted Grafton-native Obi Melifonwu in the 2nd round of the 2017 NFL Draft this spring. The big safety put on a show at the NFL Combine and he shot up draft boards. But an injury in training camp derailed the start of his career and began the season on IR.

Melifonwu grew up a fan of the Patriots, players like Kevin Faulk, Troy Brown and Antowain Smith, now he’ll be facing them. He played sparingly in his first action last week against Miami but logged three tackles. He’ll be looking across at TE Rob Gronkowski this week.

“He hasn’t been able to be available for us, but we’re expecting him to step up,” Raiders’ defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said to the media this week. “This is the world champions, the guys who have been doing it really well for a long time. Obi is going to get introduced at a high level, but he’s very confident. We’re expecting him to play at a high level and accept the challenge.”

“I think he’s ready to help us. He’s big, strong, fast and he cares a lot,” Raiders’ head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Hopefully we can get him more involved this week and he can play well for us.”

For the rookie, he knows the assignment is tough but excited for the challenge. “I feel like a lot of people try to out-physical him and it’s just, play to your strengths,” Melifonwu said. “He’s a big, physical guy with strong hands, so it’s definitely gonna be tough. But it’s a matchup that’s gonna be fun.”

Stop Empowering the “Tin-Foil Hat” Wearers:
There has never been a shortage of naysayers on the internet who try to take down the legacy of Tom Brady by repeating the ridiculous notion that he’s a “system QB” and more a product of his coach than anything else ad nauseam. One particular troll has a full-time job on Twitter trying to engage every Patriot fan by twisting around facts to make you believe that Brady really isn’t that good at all. Okay. and just in case anyone was wondering, this guy lives in Western PA and is a diehard Manning apologist.

So while it makes for good ratings by inflaming the masses, stop giving this nincompoop the air time by putting him on the radio. And if you do, don’t act all incredulous at the drivel he spews.

Years ago during the Reagan administration, there was a guy who stood across the street from the White House wearing nothing but black trash bags and would point and yell at tourists that, “Reagan is putting the nation in the trash” amongst other things not fit to print. I don’t remember that guy getting airtime on CNN. Take advice from Bill Belichick, “Ignore the Noise” and quit feeding the trolls.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 11:
Last week 10-4 mark. Season Total: 94-52.

This week’s Thursday Night Football Game I went with Pittsburgh over the Titans (1-0). Now for the rest of the slate:
Lions at Bears – Detroit
Jaguars at Browns – Jacksonville
Ravens at Packers – Baltimore
Panthers at Texans – Carolina
Buccaneers at Dolphins – Miami
Rams at Vikings – Los Angeles
Chiefs at Giants – Kansas City
Redskins at Saints – New Orleans
Bills  at Chargers- Los Angeles
Bengals at Broncos – Denver
Patriots at Raiders – New England
SNF Eagles  at Cowboys –  Philadelphia
MNF Falcons  at Seahawks – Seattle

Bye week: Panthers, Colts, Jets, 49ers

Next Thursday Detroit over Minnesota, Dallas over the Chargers and Washington over the Giants

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Peterman Gets the Start at Bills Quarterback:

The Buffalo Bills made a surprise decision to start rookie QB Nathan Peterman over Tyrod Taylor this week on the road in Los Angeles. Two weeks ago the Bills were making noise about overtaking New England and gaining control of the AFC East. But after two blowout losses in a row, they’re now reeling and Coach Sean McDermott has mixed things up by replacing Taylor who was never the long-term answer anyway.

Peterman was the fifth QB taken in this season’s draft, in the 5th round and the 171st player overall.

With the game out of hand last week, he came on in garbage time and completed 7-10 passes with a touchdown against the Saints. This week, he’ll be leaning on the running game of Shady McCoy and have to do the heavy lifting if the situation calls for it.

With Buffalo still locked in a playoff spot, it is a calculated gamble by McDermott that this will ignite his team. If he struggles and McDermott goes back to Taylor, it could really hurt their playoff hopes and possibly damage the rookie’s confidence. We’ll be watching that one.

Dolphins Season On the Brink With the Bucs This Week:

The Miami Dolphins have lost three straight games, scoring an average of just 15 points per game and losing by a combined 67 points in those three games. They sit at 4-5 and after going 10-6 a year ago are in danger of falling out of the playoff race. If they have any hopes of rescuing a playoff berth they have to beat the 3-6 Buccaneers today.

But it hasn’t just been the offense struggling, the defense has been faltering as well, having given up 112 points in those three games.

A loss will drop them to 4-6 with a road trip to New England next week where they haven’t won since the Wildcat game in 2008. One thing the Dolphins will try to do this week is getting the ball in RB Kenyan Drake’s hands more, especially in space. The speedster from Alabama is electric, as evidenced by his 66-yard touchdown run against the Panthers last week. In the last two games, Drake has runs of 66 and 42 yards. While Damien Williams is technically the starter right now, Drake’s role should see a big increase down the stretch.

Jets During the Bye Week are Sticking With McCown:

The New York Jets are off this week but are surprisingly 4-6 as they hit the bye. They’ve already won more games than anyone would have thought possible and although a real long shot, they still have a chance at making the postseason. Raise your hand if you thought that possible by Week 10.

So despite the slim postseason hopes, the team is not going to throw in the towel and go with young QBs, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. They’re going to stick with QB Josh McCown, who has played very well this season.

Any further wins may hurt the Jets’ chances of finding a franchise QB in the 2018 NFL Draft, but Head Coach Todd Bowles isn’t concerned with that. He’s got his players focusing on the now and keeping their jobs. Now the only question is, does the front office step in and demand to see what they have in the two young QBs, or do they already feel that the two aren’t going to be the answer?

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.