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New England Patriots News 2-17, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
February 17, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 02-17 and AFC East Notes.

Van Noy On Media Roundrobin: Patriots LB Kyle Van Noy has been seemingly everywhere lately in the media circles after the Super Bowl. And why not? After an outstanding postseason, the well-spoken, likable linebacker is enjoying his time in the spotlight. One of the best spots he did was on the NFL Network show, “Good Morning Football” where he and Nate Burleson spoke about how the Patriots found a way to use his talents and put him in the best position to succeed.

Speaking of Burleson, he did an earlier segment right after the Super Bowl on how well Bill Belichick and the Patriots build a roster from top to bottom. Which of course will not sit well with the “GM Bill is hurting Coach Bill” crowd. Burleson said, “It’s not about where you are, it’s about where you’re headed.” Really good stuff there.

Evaluating the Team Needs by Position Entering 2019:

In a perfect world, a team will sign all of their key free agents and have enough money left over to bring in fresh blood and retool on the fly. But the reality is, with the salary cap and free agency, it is hard to accomplish those goals on a yearly basis. And yet Bill Belichick has done that. So, here is our breakdown by position in terms of team need before free agency begins:

QB – Team Need – High:

While Tom Brady continues to play at a very high level and isn’t going anywhere, the time is here when they have to bring in his eventual replacement. At age 42 when the 2019 season starts, he isn’t getting any younger, (I know, we say this every year),

Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling are the backups and while Hoyer got and deserved huge kudos for running the scout teams of the opponents to prepare the team for the postseason games, neither of those two could step in and win much of anything in case of a Brady injury…or another league-sanctioned vacation over cold weather.

RB – Team Need – Low:

The team is in very good shape here, with Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, and fullback James Develin in the mix. The team had Jeremy Hill in last year and he looked really good all summer before tearing an ACL in Week 1. He’d be a welcome sight if the team brings him back for depth.

WR – Team Need – Very High:

The Patriots currently have Julian Edelman and the unproven Braxton Berrios signed for the 2019 season so far and this position is critical in terms of need. Josh Gordon is a restricted free agent, but the team can’t be reliant on him getting back to the team anytime soon.

Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Phillip Dorsett are all free agents. Even if all three are resigned, which is doubtful, look for the Patriots to address this position heavily in both free agency and the draft.

Tight End – Team Need – High:

With the Rob Gronkowski retirement rumors swirling, the team really needs to add serious depth here this spring whether Gronk returns or not. Dwayne Allen is a terrific blocker but at $7 million with virtually no offensive output in the passing game?

They have some intriguing younger guys in Ryan Izzo and Stephen Anderson but like Jacob Hollister who can’t stay healthy, they’re all unproven. The team needs to address this position in either free agency or the draft.

Offensive Line – Team Need – Low/Medium:

The Patriots offensive line is stacked in the interior with three excellent starters (David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Joe Thuney) and depth behind them. RT Marcus Cannon returns while LT Trent Brown and swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle are free agents.

If Brown bolts in free agency, top 2018 draft pick Isaiah Wynn is waiting in the wings which would go a long way in replacing Brown, who never played LT until last year. Waddle’s status is probably dependent on Brown’s. If he walks, then they’ll probably want to sign him to be the swing tackle again. If both decide to bolt for greener pastures, then the need goes up.

Defensive End/Edge – Team Need – High:

The top free agent for the team is Trey Flowers, he’s also the best front seven player on the defense. If they can’t ink him to a new deal before free agency, they hopefully have an agreement with him to let him find a deal and give the team a chance to match, like what they did with Dont’a Hightower.

Behind Flowers is Dietrich Wise Jr., Adrian Clayborn, Keionta Davis, Derek Rivers, and Ufomba Kamalu. Which adds up to a lot of depth, but not a lot of proven play-making ability there. Resigning Flowers is paramount first. If they don’t do that then they’ll need to sign a free agent as well as address this in the spring.

Defensive Tackle – Team Need –  Very High:

Both Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown are free agents. Both played well in the playoffs and having those big bodies that can stuff the run was a key reason the defense was so good in the final five games (two regular season, three playoff). And why it is critical to address this need this spring.

Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler return but the team needs to decide if either Brown or Shelton returns and then address this position in both the draft and free agency.

Linebacker – Team Need – Low:

My, my what a difference a few months makes. Back in the fall, we were lamenting the lack of an athletic linebacker but after watching the play of Hightower and Kyle Van Noy during the postseason, that need doesn’t seem as glaring right now. Elandon Roberts played well in short stretches as well.

The team needs to bring back John Simon in free agency, he played a valuable role and is versatile, something the team likes. Christian Sam spent the season on IR with the Foxboro Flu and is that athletic guy.

Secondary – Team Need – Low:

The Patriots are young and deep at cornerback. Stephon Gilmore is outstanding and behind him is J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen, and Duke Dawson, all young players. Jason McCourty gave the team a solid veteran presence and may return. Jonathan Jones is a restricted free agent.

At safety, Pat Chung, Devin McCourty, and Duron Harmon are all under contract but McCourty was flirting with retirement. He and Chung are 32 so their replacements, while not imminent this year, need to be addressed at some point in the future.

The team signed Obi Melifonwu who is a physical freak and the feeling is here, that the Patriots will find some way to utilize his physical skills.

Special Teams – Team Need – Very High:

The Pats have both kickers entering free agency. Stephen Gostkowski has been with the team since 2006 when Adam Vinatieri left. Ryan Allen has been outstanding with his directional punting. Resigning them is critical.

Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, and Joe Cardona all return. Two other special teamers that need to be resigned are Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber.

Our Favorite Free Agent Targets For the Patriots:

With free agency getting ready to heat up, the Patriots have a slew of free agents that they’ll ultimately have to make a decision on whether or not to try to resign. But barring that for a minute, here is a list of guys, we’d really like to see the Patriots make a stab at bringing in this spring.

Wide Receivers: There are a couple of names to keep an eye on this spring. First among them is Adam Humphries from the Bucs. Humphries has been a favorite of nearly everyone in the New England area because one look at his game and you can see Patriots written all over it.

Just 26, Humphries had career highs in receptions, (76), yards (816) and touchdowns (5). He shows fantastic quickness off the line and moving horizontally and is very difficult to stop when running those routes underneath coverage and shallow crosses. He has the excellent ability to find holes in zone coverages. He’d seamlessly fit into the Danny Amendola role here in New England from Day 1.

Tyrell Williams from the Chargers, in our opinion, would be a great fit for the Patriots offense. Williams has great size, (6’4, 210) and has very good speed to go along with it. He’s been used as a deep threat in the Chargers offense, but the feeling here is that he could do much more than that with the Patriots and would offer that big body red zone target as well as a player that opponents would have to respect deep.

Golden Tate is long been rumored as someone the Patriots have coveted but his recent comments make it seem like he is wanting to stay in Philly although he had very limited chemistry with Nick Foles and none with Carson Wentz.

Defensive Ends: While we’d rather have Trey Flowers return in 2019, there isn’t a guarantee that happens. One sleeper to keep an eye on is Arizona Cardinal Markus Golden. In 2016 Golden had 12.5 sacks, with four forced fumbles but an ACL tear in 2017 set him back. While not completely healthy in 2018, his numbers dipped to just 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Golden may be available for a one-year prove it type deal with the option to play for a winner and the potential to increase his net worth. He seems to expendable in Arizona with the Cards signing former Falcon Brooks Reed.

Others such as Brandon Graham, Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark et al will likely be too expensive for the Patriots but we’ll have to see how the market plays out.

One other player who can play the edge or in the interior depending on the alignment is Henry Anderson of the Jets.

One name to watch is tight end Jesse James of the Steelers. Known primarily for the “catch that wasn’t”, he’s second on the depth chart behind Vance McDonald and a had modest season with 30 catches for 423 yards and a pair of scores. However, playing on a team the past three years with Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, LaVeon Bell and James Conner, it doesn’t mean he’s not a viable receiver.

James is a very good blocker who was credited in 2018 without missing one according to Sports Info Solution. In describing James, the Athletic’s Mark Kaboly tweeted,   “A 100 percent no-nonsense, hard-working, drama-free tough guy who refuses to miss practice and is an all-around great human. You win with a locker room full of those guys.” After describing the Steelers as the “Kardashians” last season, perhaps James is looking for a fresh start elsewhere.

Gronk Not a First-Ballot HOFer, According to Voters:

Certain things occasionally will slip thru the cracks when given the sheer volume of information that goes thru the Patriots timeline every day. And then there’s what transpired this week. Karen Gueregian of the Boston Herald wrote a piece that jumped off the page when she spoke with five different voting members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (there are 48) about Rob Gronkowski. And the question she posed was, “if Gronkowski retired today would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The short answer from the voters was no.

While they all agreed that “Gronkowski will eventually get in”, these five voters pointed to the lack of stats for Gronkowski as compared to players who are already in, because he’s played substantially shorter than players Tony Gonzalez (17 seasons) and Shannon Sharpe (14), there his catches and yardage numbers are naturally much lower.

Mike Chappel from Fox 59 in Indianapolis had this to say, “Everybody wants guys to be first-ballot guys. And they make it sound like they are no-brainers. The issue with him will be the brevity of his career,” he said.

“If someone said first ballot, I’d say let’s pump the brakes. But then when you look at the body of work when he played at the position, you want difference makers … “

John McLain who covers the NFL in Houston, however, isn’t buying this argument at all. “I’ve been watching football since 1960. When you think about the combination of size, the speed he had at that size, and being an underrated blocker, and being able to line up at so many different spots, his career average is over 15 yards (per catch). I’ll say this, when Gronk is eligible, I’ll vote for him. To me, he’s a no-brainer if he never plays another play.”

Gueregian’s entire piece can be referenced here:

We’ll leave it with this…in his era, nobody has come close to being the most overall dominant tight end in the past decade that Gronkowski has. That’s the true sign of a HOF worthy player. And he’s been at his best in the playoffs while competing against the best in the league. Gronkowski has competed in 16 playoff games, (we won’t bother with the Texans game where he broke his arm or the SB where he was on one leg), and his numbers were this:

Gronkowski 16 games, 81 receptions, 1163 yards, 12 touchdowns. Looking at the career records of Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark, and Tony Gonzalez, they played a total of 39 playoff games and totaled 11 combined touchdowns in the postseason. Isn’t that the definition of a “difference maker”?

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Release TE Charles Clay:

The Buffalo Bills have released tight end Charles Clay. He had one year remaining on the five-year contract he signed before the 2015 NFL season. The Bills will save an estimated $4.5 million on their salary cap where Clay would have counted over 9 million against the cap in 2019.

Playing with a rookie QB, Clay had a down year in 2018 catching only 21 passes for 184 yards. The handwriting was on the wall when Clay was a healthy scratch for the Week 16 loss in New England.

Now the Bills will be revamping the position and trying to get 2nd-year player Jason Croom more involved with the offense. Croom had just 16 receptions as a rookie in 2018. The Bills will definitely be looking to add more depth this spring.

O’Shea – Dolphins to Bring Patriots-like Approach to Game Planning:

The Miami Dolphins have a totally revamped coaching staff, but a lot of them come from New England and they are planning on bringing a Patriot-esque view of how they approach to game planning and coaching.

New offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea, spent 18 years in the Patriots system and when speaking to the Dolphins’ media, he stated that the coaching staff will adjust to the skill set of the players and not the other way around. From the MiamiDolphins.com, he had this to say:

“I think that you have a foundation and some core beliefs that you have offensively, but I think the key is to do what your players do well. It’s our job as a coaching staff to identify what are the skill sets of the players and how can we utilize those skillsets to be a productive offense.”

“That’s why we don’t talk about specific scheme. We talk about being multiple. We talk about being able to adjust. That’s a word that definitely is an important part of our offense is the ability for the coaches to adjust in the way we think as far as our scheme, and our players to be able to adjust and might be able to adjust weekly depending on what we need to do to win the game.”

So, the Dolphins offense should look much different in 2019. But first, they need to decide who their QB is going to be.

Jets Switching to a 4-3 Defense Under Gregg Williams:

The New York Jets are expected to switch to a one-gap attacking style of defense under Gregg Williams which is the style he’s always run and the Jets are hoping for bigger and better things from their defensive leader Leonard Williams.

They believe that playing Williams as a 3-technique with a defensive end on his outside shoulder. This way they hope it will free up more one-on-one matchups inside where Williams can create some mismatches.

But perhaps the biggest beneficiary to Williams’ system is safety Jamal Adams. In Williams’ style of defense, he needs a safety who can be versatile, play over the tight end and who could match up with a running back. Williams will take advantage of his aggressive style of play as well.

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

Patriots Coaching Carousel Takes A Toll But Belichick Remains

Steve Balestrieri
February 12, 2019 at 8:33 am ET

Patriots Coaching Carousel Takes A Toll But Belichick Remains

While this may sound overly simplistic, despite nearly every Patriots defensive coach leaving the team this spring, the most important one, Bill Belichick is staying and the Patriots should be just fine.

That’s not to say that things won’t be challenging to say the least this year, but Belichick has navigated these waters before and he’s retaining two very important pieces in Nick Caserio and Josh McDaniels.

De facto Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores who also coached the linebackers is gone, becoming the new head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Flores took with him cornerback coach Josh Boyer, wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea, and QB assistant coach Jerry Schuplinski. Defensive line coach Brendan Daly is also leaving, heading to Kansas City. Stephen Belichick, the safeties coach is the only holdover from the 2018 defensive staff.

The Patriots are reportedly signing Greg Schiano as the next defensive coordinator. Schiano has long been a friend of Belichick’s and he’s coached 19 players while the head coach at Rutgers that have played for Belichick’s Patriots including Devin and Jason McCourty and Duron Harmon.

Former college head coach Bret Bielema, worked with the defense last season and was rumored to be the next Defensive Coordinator. He’ll likely be the defensive line coach this season if, in fact, he remains after being passed over. Coaching assistants DeMarcus Covington, Mike Pellegrino, Cole Popovich, Atif Austin, and Brian Belichick, Bill’s other son may see a promotion this season.

Pellegrino worked with Boyer and the cornerbacks this season. Austin worked with Ivan Fears and the running backs but has experience working with wide receivers in college. Caserio, the Director of Player Personnel has worn many hats during his tenure in Foxboro. It should be noted that back in 2007 he was the Wide Receivers coach. Could he help out this season on the field with the WRs this season? Surely. He’s been a fixture on the field every year at training camp.

On the offensive side, Carmen Bricillo is joining the team as the assistant offensive line coach coming from Youngstown State. Mick Lombardi, the son of former Patriots coaching assistant Michael is coming to the team as the Assistant QBs coach, a position he held with the Jets, Lombardi served as a coaching assistant here a few years ago.

The bottom line is that this remains Belichick’s defense, while Schiano has a reputation for being very conservative with his defensive play calls, something the Patriots were definitely not this postseason, Belichick may opt to take a more active role in the play calling defensively this year.

Perhaps Belichick’s most difficult season was 2005 when after winning three of four Super Bowls, he lost offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

This will be a challenge, no doubt, and the team may also lean on several veterans, especially on the defensive side to help navigate the ship. Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty are two of the leaders of the defense. Although the team may have to do some work with each on the salary cap side of things, it can be done. One obstacle that might rear its head is that McCourty made mention during the Super Bowl that he may retire if the Patriots won. It may be Belichick and Caserio’s job to convince him and his twin brother to make one last go of it in 2019.  

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 and game analysis.

New England Patriots News 2-10, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
February 10, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 02-10 and AFC East Notes.

 An Emotional Bill Belichick: We are used to seeing to the normally clipped and reserved Bill Belichick over the course of the year, where he always keeps things in perspective and never gets too high or too low. But as the Patriots clinched Super Bowl LIII, all of those shrouds were lifted and we saw the joy for all of the hard work come thru. In typical Belichick style, he gave all of the praise to the players. NFL Films captured it perfectly right here:

Patterson With a Diamond-studded Gift for Brady: Patriots WR/KR/RB Cordarrelle Patterson was obviously very grateful for his 2018 season with the Patriots and especially with Tom Brady. Patterson made a gift of a diamond-studded TB12 logo to Brady after the Super Bowl, which no doubt set him back thousands of dollars. Brady posted a picture of his daughter wearing it on his Instagram page. She saw it and fell in love with it…Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

What a Crowd for the Parade: The Patriots 6th Super Bowl win this week featured a couple of huge crowds which put to rest that the fans were getting blase about the team’s continued success. The turnout for the send-off rally was over 35,000 fans and the Super Bowl parade which had a huge crowd of 1,500,000 fans in downtown Boston. The crowd at the game itself was the first time that the Patriots had a clear advantage in terms of crowd noise. It never gets old or taken for granted.

Did you Know? For the yards are more important than points crowd… The Patriots in SB LIII garnered more yards (407) than their season average (393) against the Rams. While the defense held the Rams to 160 yards fewer (260) than their season average which was 421. When we wrote about the defense coming together late in the season, many scoffed at it. After those last three playoff wins, nobody is scoffing now.

A Return for Amendola? The latest news out of Miami is that the Dolphins are rumored to be moving on from WR Danny Amendola after just one season in South Beach. If that were to happen, could a return to Foxboro be in the cards? Absolutely. And I know a certain QB that would love to see that happen as well.

Close the Roof: With another sound clip from just before the game started, watching Bill Belichick questioning the timing of the roof closure after the flyover shows how detailed the Patriots and their coaches are in preparation for every possible scenario.

Favorite Play of the Game in Super Bowl LIII:

In a game dominated by defense, there are several plays that could fit the bill as favorite plays of the game. The pass breakup by Jason McCourty in the end zone, Stephon Gillmore’s interception, Dont’a Hightower just blowing up Tyler Higbee during the Danny Shelton’s run stuff, but my personal favorite was from Kyle Van Noy.

The Rams rolled Jared Goff out to the right and had three WRs flooding the zone. Josh Reynolds was the main target doing a shallow cross about 3-4 yards off the line of scrimmage with a deeper cross about 12 yards and Cooks running a deep corner route.

Van Noy was supposed to get sucked into Goff which allows his an easy window to complete the pass and have an easier 7-10 yard pass play. But Van Noy recognized the play coming, and slowed up to hit Reynolds with a forearm, flattening him. He then joined the rush after Goff, who had nowhere to throw and was forced out of bounds. It was a tremendous play.

Brian Baldinger from the NFL Network every week does his “Baldy’s Breakdowns” and highlights certain key plays and they are excellent. He calls this particular play here: 

Flores Brings Three Patriots Assistants With Him to Miami:

The Miami Dolphins hired former Patriots de facto Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores this week and Flores has brought three Patriots assistant coaches with him to Miami. Former WRs coach Chad O’Shea will become the Dolphins offensive coordinator. Josh Boyer who coached the NE cornerbacks will handle the same duties in Miami with the added title of defensive passing game coordinator as well. And Jerry Schuplinski, the assistant QBs coach will also handle the same duties there.

Greg Schiano Rumored to be the Next Defensive Coordinator:

With Flores departure for South Beach, the Patriots are looking for a couple of defensive coaches and what was first reported locally by Jim McBride of the Boston Globe, the Patriots are reportedly close to signing former Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano as their next DC.

Schiano spent the last two years as the Ohio State DC and is a friend of Bill Belichick’s. But where Schiano is best known for was his time as Rutgers’ head coach. During his tenure there 19 players who played for him made their way to New England.

Those players included Devin and Jason McCourty, Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan, and current Patriots safety coach, Steve Belichick. Bill Belichick will always surround himself with players he likes, and the Rutgers connection with Schiano is a testament to that. He and Schiano should get along fine.

Patriots Have Large Free Agent Class in 2019:

As tough as it is moving on from Super Bowl LIII, time marches on and now the team will have a lot of tough personnel decisions to make in 2019. Here is the list, and it is lengthy of the Patriots free agents this year.

Trey Flowers
Trent Brown
Chris Hogan
Cordarrelle Patterson
Phillip Dorsett
Jason McCourty
Eric Rowe
Stephen Gostkowski
Ryan Allen
Malcom Brown
Danny Shelton
LaAdrian Waddle
John Simon
Albert McClellan
Ramon Humber
Brian Schwenke
Ulrick John
Jonathan Jones (RFA)
Josh Gordon (RFA)
Ufomba Kamalu
Cody Hollister

Obviously, the two top free agents are Flowers from the defense and Brown on the offense. Flowers has arguably been the Patriots best defensive player for the past three years and has led the team in sacks in those three. The Patriots will no doubt try to find a way to secure Flowers services but he’s in line for a huge payday and is considered one of the top free agents this spring.

Brown was brought on-board last spring and had never played left tackle. He took over the position early in training camp and never looked back. He was very solid in pass protection and was terrific in run blocking, especially in the postseason. He’s another guy inline for a huge payday.

Hogan will probably be gone although I do believe that the team will make efforts to bring back both Dorsett and Patterson, the latter who did a bit of everything this past season, playing wide receiver, running back and returning kickoffs. Patterson had a combined yardage total of over 1100 in 2018. Dorsett was a forgotten man during the time Josh Gordon was on the team, but contributed down the stretch and had a big TD reception in the AFC Championship Game.

Gostkowski and Allen are an excellent duo. Gostkowski has been here since Adam Vinatieri left in 2006. Allen was outstanding in the Super Bowl, pinning the Rams three times inside their 10-yard line.

It will interesting to see if McCourty returns, there were rumors that he and his brother Devin may retire after the Super Bowl but he played well all season and made a huge play in the Super Bowl, coming from across the field to break up a pass for Brandin Cooks in the end zone. Rowe began the year as the #2 corner before landing on IR after just four games.

Brown and Shelton are the two big guys in the middle of the DL.Both played well down the stretch and into the playoffs. However, after passing on the fifth-year options on both, the team may only resign one. Waddle has been a valuable swing tackle, with the health along the OL this season, he wasn’t used as much.

Simon, McClellan and Humber were brought in mid-season and all filled valuable roles. The team will probably look to retain all three. Jones and Gordon are restricted free agents. And the interesting aspect of Gordon is that he can apply for reinstatement in May of this year.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have $80 Million in Cap Space, But Preach Caution:

In a really good piece by Vic Carucci, the Buffalo Bills in the first two seasons under Sean McDermott have been trying to manage expectations and build for long-term sustained success. So with about $80 million in cap space this spring, GM Brandon Beane in a letter to season ticket holders is preaching more caution. The message is to not expect the team to go all-in in free agency for instant gratification.

“The sole focus is to build the Buffalo Bills into a championship contender and help create a culture aimed at long-term, sustained success,” Beane wrote.

That is the correct way to build a winner. The Bills are still a long ways off from being a true contender and now they’ll try to start adding the long-term pieces that they’ll need to surround their young QB Josh Allen.

“The previous two draft classes have begun a new foundation of young players on our roster,” Beane wrote. “We are encouraged by the development thus far by players like Josh Allen, Tremaine Edmunds, Tre’Davious White and others. Each of them was given an individual plan of improvement at season’s end and they understand they have a lot of work in front of them.

“We have opportunities to improve our team this offseason and the Pegulas, Sean (McDermott) and I are all on the same page and determined to bring winning football to the city of Buffalo. Thank you for your loyal dedication to this franchise.”

Dolphins Hire Flores Who Brings Plenty of NE Coaches With Him:

The Miami Dolphins hiring of Brian Flores is a new change of regime, of which the Dolphins have had plenty but this time they are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with a big New England Patriots presence going to South Beach with Flores, Chad O’Shea, Josh Boyer and Jerry Schuplinski also coming on-board.

One of the more surprising bits of news coming out of Miami is that the Dolphins are planning on moving away from WR Danny Amendola, who they brought in a year ago to bring the veteran presence to the Dolphins locker room. That will bear watching.

Flores, like Belichick is behind the power curve in terms of being far behind in preparation for the NFL Combine, but the Dolphins will be looking to find their next franchise QB and are in need of a true nose tackle either in free agency and the draft.

Jets Coaching Staff Seems Like Perfect Choice for Hard Knocks:

The New York Jets hired Adam Gase as the new head coach for Gang Green. And as Rich Cimini of ESPN has pointed out, there is certainly no lack for potential controversy there.

The full staff, announced Friday by the Jets, includes longtime NFL assistant Joe Vitt, Gase’s father-in-law, and Blake Williams, the son of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

This is where it gets interesting.

Vitt and Gregg Williams were members of the New Orleans Saints’ coaching staff implicated in the 2012 BountyGate scandal. In the bounty hearings, conducted by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Vitt accused Williams of lying in his testimony.

Vitt also said the players didn’t take Williams seriously because of his “false bravado” and “schtick.”

Blake Williams, 34, has a reputation for rubbing people the wrong way. As a St. Louis Rams assistant, he upset people in the organization by screaming at a draft prospect in a scouting-combine interview, a source said. He also was reprimanded multiple times for sitting in the wrong seat on the team bus; he kept sitting in a seat reserved for a senior member of the staff.

The Rams fired him after the 2013 season. Williams has only worked for NFL teams in which his father was on the staff.

Gase also hired Jim Bob Cooter as the Jets running backs coach. With an eclectic group like this with all of the potential fireworks with the coaching staff, I believe that this will be a perfect choice for Hard Knocks this summer.

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

New England Patriots News 01-06, AFC East Notes

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

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

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AB to the Pats? Not Happening:

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

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

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

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

Young QBs Have Fans Excited in Several Markets:

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

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

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

Who You Have This Week? NFL Wildcard Weekend Predictions:

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

Wildcard Weekend:

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

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

Dolphins Search For the Next Head Coach:

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

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

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

Jets May Have Interest in Baylor HC Matt Ruhle :

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

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

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

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

New England Patriots News 12-23, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 23, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-23, & AFC East Notes.
From all of us here, we wish you all an early very Merry Christmas.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Just a reminder that you revisit our keys to the game here:

Did you Know? That the Patriots currently have a regular season home winning streak of 11 games dating back to last season. That is currently the fifth longest in team history and can move into a 4th place tie with the team from 2006-2008.

Did you Know Pt.2? The Patriots picked up Cordarrelle Patterson to help with the kickoff return game. The Patriots currently rank 2nd in the league with a 28.6 yards per return average. If that number remains the same or increases, it will be the team’s best average in the Bill Belichick era, beating the 2006 team’s average of 26.8 yards per return.

Did you Know Pt. 3: With just 21 yards passing today, Tom Brady will reach the 4000-yard mark for the 10th time in his career, the 3rd most in NFL history. Also with just three catches, Julian Edelman will move past Ben Coates (490) in career catches with the team, which will put him in 5th place.

Points Allowed Stats: One of the more interesting stats especially for those who like to chime in with the “Bill can’t coach defense anymore” crowd is the fact that since 2001 the Patriots have the most seasons allowing 20 points per game or fewer with 12. The Ravens and Steelers are next with 11 each. Baltimore is a shoo-in for their 12th this season unless they allow 68 points in their last two games, which isn’t likely. The Patriots would have to hold the Bills and Jets combined for 10 points…very unlikely. The Steelers would have to hold their opponents (New Orleans today) to four points or less.

Josh Gordon’s Story Shows Why Mental Health Is Such an Issue :

With the news this week after Josh Gordon announced that he was stepping away from football to concentrate on his own mental health and addiction issues and the league announced that he failed another drug test, the social media world exploded.

Several noted hot take media types including a few here in the Boston market took to calling Gordon “selfish” and not taking “individual or personal responsibility” is short-sighted and wrong. We were guilty of it here as well, not being aware of how deep his mental health issues were initially until the team signed him.

And mental health and addiction issues DO go hand-in-hand. I keep reading and hearing people go on and on about “choices” which is patently ludicrous. Does anyone seriously think that a person with their first drink or taste of an illegal substance plan on becoming an alcoholic or drug addict?

Chris Carter who had his own issues with addiction during his playing career was very emotional about the entire Gordon issue and how he feels most people still don’t understand it all.

“And the kid needs help! He does not need football. He needs help. He needs tools that he can be able to say ‘no.’ No to those drugs. No to the world, and yes to his opportunities. Yes to relationships.

That’s what so upsetting [for] me is just the lack of understanding. This is what addicts do. They don’t show up for work. They lie. They deceive. That’s what they do. But addicts need help. Myself, I need help. Josh needs help. And I hope that he’s able to continue this long, long battle, because there is no cure. The day you’re cured is the day they put you in the ground.”

The Patriots, who are now being roasted by the “I told you so” crowd, certainly knew the risks with signing a player with a troubled history such as Gordon’s. They did everything they could as an organization to help him find his way here. They installed him with a locker right next to Tom Brady’s where the two would certainly interact more.

The coaches stayed late with him, helping him learn the offense and navigate the intricacies of it. Even the PR Dept. of Stacey James took great care with his interactions with the media, trying to keep everything on point and limit the talk about the off-field distractions that had derailed such a promising career.

There were even rumors to the effect that the team had hired people to hang with Gordon in the off-hours to keep him away from the demons that have haunted him. Not like Foxboro on a Friday night will be confused with Vegas. But even that, wasn’t enough for a person/addict with issues to fall back into their destructive behavior. For the first time in his professional career, Gordon was playing for a winner with a chance to write his own redemption story.

That’s the saddest part of the story. I would encourage anyone to attend an Alcoholic’s Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting sometime and listen to the stories of those who tried and failed many, many times before finally slipping away from the bonds of their demons. Rarely if ever it is done on the first attempt.

The Patriots issues at wide receiver are minuscule next to a man’s life. We hope that Gordon, the man, will find his way back to mental health and be able to live his life as normally as possible. Whether or not he ever gets another chance to play in the NFL is secondary at this point.

Ufomba Kamalu Presented With a Chance to Stick:

When the Patriots signed OLB Kamalu to their practice squad on November 5th, it barely registered on the social media spectrum, other than his unusual name. But what is really intriguing about Kamalu, who has been signed to the active roster in the fallout from the Josh Gordon situation is his size and athleticism.

Kamalu originally was an UDFA from Miami and signed with the Houston Texans in 2016. He’s 6’6 and weighs 295 pounds, but for a big man, he’s pretty athletic. Kamalu ran a 4.88 in the 40-yard dash, a 31.5-inch vertical leap, 7.32-second 3-cone drill, and a 4.58-second short shuttle at his pro day.

In his time with the Texans, they used him at OLB and in 13 games with three starts, he logged 11 tackles and three sacks before being let go in the final cutdown this year. He briefly spent time with the Cardinals on their practice squad before signing with the Pats.

Now he’s on the active roster and although Bill Belichick had been wondering how the Pats would use him, maybe this week and next against the Jets, he’ll see some snaps and we’ll catch a glimpse of what he can do. Belichick was asked by NESN’s Doug Kyed a few weeks ago how the team envisioned Kamalu.

“I think we’re trying to figure it out, but he’s an interesting player to work with and a good player to work with,” Belichick said. “He works hard, smart. He’s played outside linebacker to defensive end to defensive tackle. So, he hasn’t really done a lot in our defense. It’s been more scout team and so forth, drills.

“But he works hard, he’s smart. He picks things up. He’s … done and is able to do different things for us. We’ll see how it goes. But yeah, he’s an interesting guy. We don’t really have anyone like him from a skill-set standpoint, so I’d say we’re kind of trying to figure it out. But he gets better every day. So, we’ll keep working with him. We’ll see how it goes.”

With Kamalu’s size, he won’t be an OLB with the Patriots but probably a DE or kick into the interior on passing downs. If he is active today, that would mean he’s leapfrogged both Derek Rivers and Keionta Davis on the depth chart as both have been inactive lately. But it is also said that Belichick remembers when opponents have big games against them. Well in a 2017 preseason game, Kamalu had four tackles, a sack and two QB hits against the Patriots.

On a defense that could really use some help in the front seven, perhaps Kamalu could work himself into a job beginning today.

Patriots Secondary Deep and Underrated:

The most overlooked aspect of the Patriots this season has been the play of their secondary. Which overall this season has been very good. The team has their best corner, Stephon Gilmore playing at a high level, he’s been outstanding from the first snaps during OTAs and has continued that. Even though the team lost Eric Rowe to IR, they’ve scarcely missed a beat with Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, and rookie J.C.Jackson holding down the cornerback position.

They have been playing so well that this year’s 2nd round draft pick Duke Dawson who was injured for most of the first half of the season, hasn’t even played yet. Jackson, the UDFA from Maryland has been terrific so far as he’s making his presence felt in the 2nd half of the season.

At safety, the team still has Devin McCourty and Pat Chung along with the “closer” Duron Harmon and then the team added former 2nd round draft pick Obi Melifonwu. That’s a deep area as well.

Ah, you say, but what about the yards allowed. The Patriots allow 256 yards thru the air each week, only 23rd in the league. But opposing QBs are still not very efficient when facing the Pats secondary. They currently rank 9th in the league in opposing QB rating with an 88.5 mark.

Jackson leads the way (albeit in a limited body of work) with opposing QBs having a rating of just 26.0 when targeting him. Gilmore has an outstanding 60.1 rating, frequently covering the opposition’s top WR. Jonathan Jones who plays the very tough position in the slot where a WR can go in either direction has a rating of 79.5 when being targeted. McCourty brings up the rear with a 98.8 but has played tough all year.

It will be interesting to see if the pass rush picks up how well the secondary can keep playing to their strengths/

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 16 Predictions:

Last week: 9-7 Season 141-81-2

Saturday picks: Titans, Chargers

Cincinnati @ Cleveland: Browns
Tampa Bay @ Dallas: Cowboys
Minnesota @ Detroit: Vikings
Buffalo @ New England: Patriots
Green Bay @ NY Jets: Packers
Houston @ Philadelphia: Eagles
Atlanta @ Carolina: Panthers
NY Giants @ Indianapolis: Colts
Jacksonville @ Miami: Dolphins
LA Rams @ Arizona: Rams
Chicago @ San Francisco: Bears
Pittsburgh @ New Orleans: Saints
Kansas City @ Seattle SNF: Seahawks
Denver @ Oakland: Broncos

**Note, No Saturday Games Next Week**

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Want to Rely on Defense to Keep the Game Close:

The Buffalo Bills are smelling blood in the water this week as absurd as that sounds for a team that is 3-29 against Tom Brady. All of the talk out of Western New York this week centers around “3”. Can the Bills make it three in a row that the Patriots lose?

With their offense improving but still among the worst in the league, Buffalo will have to rely on their defense, including their top-ranked pass defense to keep the score close and give Josh Allen and the offense the opportunity to steal one on the road.

They’ll not only need a big game from their secondary but from the big guy Kyle Williams inside. Buffalo hasn’t got a sack in their last two games but they’ll need Williams to bring pressure inside where Brady can’t step into his throws. If they can do that, they’ll have a puncher’s chance, as they did in October.

Dolphins Trying to Break Out of Mediocrity Slump:

The Miami Dolphins are 7-7 and still in the playoff hunt but to get there they are going to need some help. But the ownership will be looking hard at once again making some changes at the end of the season and that begins with Executive VP of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum and GM Chris Grier.

Tannenbaum has been at the helm for the Dolphins for the past four years and the franchise is no better or worse than they were when he took over. Is this the end for him? Very possibly. And he may not be alone. Head Coach Adam Gase, like his team, has been very inconsistent. These next two games may hold a lot of the future for these two. An 8-8 finish might be the end for the both of them.

The once proud Dolphin franchise is 199-1949 since the 1994 season. The Patriots in the same time frame in the regular season are 277-121. Plus they are 30-14 in the post-season. Since Gase has taken over, the mediocrity has continued with a 23-23 mark. Those numbers would both be under .500 if not for a “miracle” finish.

These next two games may decide a lot. Tannenbaum has the confidence of Matt Higgins, the Dolphins VP and a close confidante of owner Stephen Ross. Higgins is reportedly not happy with Gase. Stay tuned…

Jets Hoping Darnold Can Spark a Win Over the Packers:

The New York Jets 2018 season is over as far as any hopes for a playoff berth are, however, there is an awful lot to play for in the next two weeks against the Packers and then next week at the Patriots. And it isn’t just for pride and jobs in 2019. It is hope.

The Jets are looking for a sign that their fortunes are headed in the right direction. After two decades of having the Patriots dominate the division, the Jets invested heavily in QB Sam Darnold. Any rookie QB starting in the NFL is going to struggle at times and Darnold was no exception.

But he played his best game of the year last week against the #2 seed in the AFC, the Houston Texans and the Jets came up just short of upsetting Houston. Now Darnold gets to take on two of the best QBs of this generation. Aaron Rodgers this week and Tom Brady in the finale in Foxboro. This will be a huge opportunity for the Jets and Darnold to build some momentum for 2019.

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

New England Patriots News 12-16, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 16, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-16, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Just a reminder that you revisit our keys to the game here:
And our players to watch from a Patriots perspective by clicking on the links:

Did you Know? With a win today and a Miami loss or tie, the Patriots would clinch the AFC East for the 10th year in a row, breaking a tie with the Cowboys and Colts for the most consecutive years making the playoffs. It will also be the 16th divisional title since 2001.

Did you Know Pt.2? The Patriots and Steelers are meeting for the 32nd time with New England holding a slim 16-15 edge in wins over but a pretty decisive 4-1 edge in the postseason. The Patriots have won the last five matchups (including the playoffs)

Did you Know Pt. 3: The Patriots and Steelers are #1-2 in several categories since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994.

TOTAL VICTORIES (INCLUDING POSTSEASON)
New England Patriots ………307
Pittsburgh Steelers…………..272
Green Bay Packers………….268
SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONSHIPS
New England Patriots ………….5
Denver Broncos…………………..3
Baltimore Ravens………………..2
Pittsburgh Steelers………………2
Green Bay Packers……………..2
N.Y. Giants …………………………2
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS
New England Patriots………….9
Pittsburgh Steelers …………….4
Denver Broncos …………………4
PLAYOFF VICTORIES
New England Patriots………..28
Pittsburgh Steelers …………..20
Green Bay Packers ………….20
DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIPS
New England Patriots………17
Pittsburgh Steelers ……………13
Green Bay Packers …………..12

Gronk-Brady Connection: With one touchdown reception from Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Brady will tie Dan Marino and Mark Clayton for fourth-most touchdown connections in NFL history with 79. The third most goes to Steve Young -Rice connection with 85 TDs. Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison remain up top with 112, while the duo of Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates (still active) remain in second with 89

Ridley Wants Revenge Now? Not Buying It :

Every so often a player will make some noise about wanting some kind of revenge against another team and it makes sense. And there’s Stevan Ridley. According to Ridley, he’s had this game “circled for a long time.”

Ridley in the latest example of a player screaming “look at me” told the Herald this week that he was trashed by the Patriots after tearing his ACL in 2014. “I’m just going to put it that way. I’m not going to say specifically, but to be a starter for [the Patriots] for four years, to tear my ACL and never get a callback, that’s a tough pill to swallow.”

To be clear in his four years with New England, Ridley started 25 games between 2011-2014 and his 2012 season was his best by far when he rushed for 1263 yards and 12 touchdowns. Since then his career has gone steadily downhill with his final year (2014) with him not being nearly as effective before his injury.

“I don’t really need to harp on [the past]. I don’t want to make this interview too much about me,” Ridley said, making it very much about himself.

“Now they’re still looking for a running back to come in and play,” he added. “How many running backs have been through there to try to give them some consistency as a quote-unquote first- or second-down back? They’re still looking for it right now. Yeah, it’s very personal. It is.”

Apparently, it wasn’t as personal in 2015, when Ridley fresh off his release from New England played for the Jets against the Patriots in Week 15 in the Meadowlands? Since leaving New England, Ridley has been part of six teams, the Jets, Lions, Falcons, Colts, Broncos, Vikings, and the Steelers. There is plenty of room for a lot of grudges in that case.

Either NE or Steelers Playoff Seeding Can Take a Blow Today:

The Patriots and Steelers are always two of the teams that predicted to be among the top seeds of the AFC. This year was no exception but after bad losses in very winnable game situations last week, the team that loses this week could be looking at a fall outside of the teams trying to get a bye week. With the Chiefs on top of the heap with an 11-3 mark, the Patriots lost a key opportunity to leapfrog them at the #1 spot, courtesy of the final play meltdown in Miami. With the Houston Texans also sitting at 9-4, another loss could drop them down to the #3 seed and set up another playoff match on Wildcard Weekend with Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have dropped three in a row and now sit just a half-game ahead of the Ravens who lost in O.T. to the Chiefs last week. With a Patriots victory and Ravens win over Tampa Bay, the Steelers would lose the division lead and drop them down to the #6 seed which would be a road game throughout the playoffs.

Flores Takes the Blame for the Ending in Miami, Ready to Move On:

The Patriots were stunned by the weird finish in Miami last week but Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores wasn’t going to allow any finger pointing on the team, taking the blame for that final play on himself.

“Flo made no bones about it, he felt like it was on him, but at the end of the day, none of us really care. We weren’t like, ‘Man, that was on you.’ It was more like, ‘That’s on all of us. Let’s move forward,'” safety Devin McCourty said to ESPN’s Mike Reiss.

“That’s on us as a coaching staff. It happened, we wish it hadn’t, we’ve watched it, we’ve corrected it as a staff, we’ve corrected it with the team, and we’ve got to move on to Pittsburgh,” Flores said to the media. “So if that situation shows up again, I think we’ll handle it better.”

“He’s on us a lot,” McCourty added. He feels like we need to be an all-about-business defense, and if he feels like it’s slacking, he’ll get on us. If he feels like we’re having too much fun, he’ll get on us. I’ve enjoyed it. Leadership is something he’s meant to do. It’s in him, even outside of just X’s and O’s and football.”

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 14 Predictions:

Last week: 7-9 Season 132-74-2

Thursday night’s pick Chargers over Chiefs 1-0
Saturday picks: Texans over the Jets, Broncos over the Browns

Green Bay at Chicago: Bears
Detroit at Buffalo: Bills
Tampa Bay at Baltimore: Ravens
Arizona at Atlanta: Falcons
Oakland at Cincinnati: Raiders
Tennessee at NY Giants: Titans
Miami at Minnesota: Vikings
Washington at Jacksonville: Jaguars
Dallas at Indianapolis: Cowboys
Seattle at San Francisco: Seahawks
New England at Pittsburgh: Patriots
Philadelphia at LA Rams SNF: Rams
New Orleans at Carolina MNF: Saints

Next Saturday: Titans over the Redskins, Chargers over the Ravens

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Getting Healthier Before Taking on the Lions:

The Buffalo Bills had a bit of good news for a change this week, Derek Anderson sidelined since the Monday Night game against New England in the concussion protocol, six weeks ago, has been finally cleared to play. Also in the good news category was that RB LeSean McCoy seems poised to play after tweaking a hamstring last week in the first series of the game against the Jets. Also injured against the Jets but expected to play was kicker Stephen Hauschka.

McCoy who is mired in a very tough season has played in 12 games and has a career-worst 3.3-yards per rush average. Age and a very heavy workload may have finally caught up to the running back who is 30 and will turn 31 before the 2019 season begins. But with Chris Ivory banged up with a shoulder injury, the Bills need him to play.

Part of the issue may be the play of the offensive line but it certainly seems like McCoy has lost a step. The Bills have a tough decision to make in the spring.

Dolphins Need to End Road Woes Today in Minnesota:

The Miami Dolphins are still in the mix after last week’s improbable win over New England. This week they take on the reeling Minnesota Vikings who dropped their second game in a row to the Seattle Seahawks to move their record to 6-6-1. Minnesota’s playoff hopes are on life support after their two latest losses. Miami at 7-6 has to deal with their road record which sits at 1-5. The Dolphins are 1-10 in their last 11 games away from home. The only road win this season was Week 2 at the Jets.

The Dolphins will have to follow the latest trend in bringing pressure on QB Kirk Cousins who’s been under siege lately. In the first seven games of the season, Cousins had 308.9 passing YPG; 7.2 yards per attempt; a 14-3 TD-INT ratio, and a 101.8 passer rating. Contrast that to the last six games where he’s managed just 256 passing YPG; 6.9 yards per attempt; a 10-6 TD-INT ratio, and a 93.9 passer rating.

Cousins has been bailing backward behind an offensive line playing poorly. Miami meanwhile has not been great at generating pressure but will need big games from their edge rushers Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake to pull off a win today.

Another key to watch is Ryan Tannehill on 3rd down against one of the best 3rd down defenses in the NFL. Tannehill has struggled on 3rd down this year. And while Tannehill is getting raves about his “incredible” game against the Patriots it should also be noted he had less than 200 yards passing before his “miracle” throw last week. I’m taking the Vikings at home in this one.

Jets Place Crowell on IR Prior to Game with the Texans:

The New York Jets are playing the Houston Texans today (Saturday) and will be without leading rusher Isiah Crowell who aggravated an existing toe injury and was placed on IR. Crowell had 685 yards rushing.

He missed last week’s game, the first of his career, he’d played in 77 straight games and Coach Todd Bowles said that the pain his running back was in was “excruciating”.

According to ESPN, Crowell is no lock to return in 2019. He signed a three-year, $12 million contract in free agency, but he can be released with minimal salary-cap implications. The Jets can save $3 million by cutting him, taking a $2 million cap hit for 2019.

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

Patriots Fourth And Two Podcast: We Are On To Pittsburgh!

Russ Goldman
December 12, 2018 at 12:23 pm ET

In this episode, we preview the upcoming game for the Patriots against the Steelers. On top of that, we have a discussion on the potential reasons why the Patriots have dominated the Steelers for several seasons now.

However, we do start the show by looking back at the loss in Miami, and there is plenty of blame to go around.

Patriots Week 14 Report Card, A Very Mixed Bag in the Loss to Miami

Steve Balestrieri
December 11, 2018 at 7:20 am ET


The Patriots went down to Miami and played just well enough to keep a very inferior team in the game long enough for them to steal away a victory on a fluke play on the last snap of the game. Like John Houseman used to say in those old Smith Barney commercials, “They earn it.” And the Pats earned that loss in a game that they should have won.

Some parts of the Pats game was outstanding, others were absolutely terrible. On both sides of the ball. That’s what a wacky game this was. They will get over this one…or perhaps they won’t. They don’t have a lot of time to dwell on it. A trip to Pittsburgh looms next week and don’t expect to see the same Steeler team that lost to the woeful Raiders next Sunday.

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

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady, save for one colossal mistake at the end of the first half was outstanding. Brady completed 27-43 passes for 358 yards (8.3 yards per pass) with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. His accuracy was very good throughout the game and those bogus hot take artists who regularly spew insipid bile about his arm strength need to watch back-to-back plays in the first half.

Facing a 3rd and 10, Brady lasered a rocket to Julian Edelman for 16 yards and a first down. On the next snap, Brady rocketed a 37-yard fastball down the field on a line where Cordarrelle Patterson made a nice grab for a 37-yard touchdown.  

Brady’s one gaffe was a very costly one. With time running down in the first half, Brady held on to the ball too long with no one open and took a sack. At that point, the clock ran out and the Patriots lost a golden opportunity to add points on the board. It was a rookie mistake, he lost track of how many timeouts they had used and it is something, he’s never done. And it couldn’t come at a worse time. That’s what knocks his grade down somewhat.

Running Backs: D

The Patriots running backs were rendered a total non-factor in this game. Despite the Dolphins having a sieve for a run defense for all of this season, they were a stone wall on Sunday and held the Patriots running backs to an awful 2.6 yards per rush average.

Sony Michel had 20 carries for just 57 yards. He had one nice run at the end of the game that looked like the Patriots were finally going to take over but it was wiped out by a holding penalty. It has been a familiar refrain for him all season. He could probably have close to 50 percent of his yardage added to his total that has been lost on flags.

James White whether by the Dolphins defense or the Patriots game plan was invisible on Sunday. Granted Brady was shredding the Dolphin secondary but when the team goes just 3-6 in the red zone, perhaps, White could have been used a bit more. Rex Burkhead also was invisible, carrying four times for two yards with just a single catch for three yards.

James Develin was solid in his blocking and added another short touchdown run. But his penalty hurt at the end of the game.

Wide Receivers: B

Both Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon had outstanding games on Sunday. Edelman had 9 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown and as always he goes into those dangerous spots over the middle. His score was reminiscent of his TD catch in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks. He had a costly drop however where he began to run before securing the ball, a very uncommon mistake for him.

Gordon was outstanding and is looking every week like he’s getting better and better. He’s a monster on those quick, short slants where he uses his size and speed to get position and then is tough to bring down. He had five catches for 96 yards and added a pass interference call as well as a holding call.

Cordarrell Patterson had two catches for 51 yards including a beauty of a 37-yard touchdown. It was a perfect throw and a very nice catch as he stretched out and snagged the ball for the score.

Chris Hogan had only one target and Brady, under pressure overthrew it badly. It was a play we wrote about this weekend, the back of the end zone pass used to be a staple in the Patriots offense and that was one of the first times we’ve seen it in a long time. And it was open too.

Tight Ends: A-

Rob Gronkowski had a very good game, arguably his best of the year on Sunday. He was targeted eight times and made eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. He was taking some big hit and gave the Dolphins a lot of trouble in the passing game. They were convinced that they could cover him with single coverage. They were wrong.

Gronk deserves no criticism for the ridiculousness at the end of the game. He should have never been out there in the first place.

Offensive Line: D+

The offensive line did a tremendous job in the passing game, Brady was sacked just twice and they did a very good job of keeping the interior of the pocket clean where he could step up and throw the ball.

But in the running game? They were singularly awful. Remember this is a Dolphins team that has been gashed all year long but this was their third lowest total allowed. Only two games against the anemic Jets offense did they allow less. The running backs had nowhere to run on Sunday. This was a matchup the offensive line was supposed to win and should have. They did not.

Defensive Line: D

The defensive line like the offensive line and much of the team was really good in one aspect and absolutely terrible in the other. Trey Flowers was once again terrific, he led the way with two sacks, two tackles for loss and four QB hits. And in the pass rush department, the defensive line had another strong game with 3 sacks and six QB hits.

But the Mr. Hyde part of the game was the run defense which was gashed. While that isn’t on just the DL (read below), they share in the grade as they were consistently pushed around in the running game.

Linebackers: D

The Patriots linebackers after their best game of the season against Minnesota had arguably their worst. They did do a good job of getting after Tannehill in blitzes with 1.5 sacks and a pair of QB hits.  Dont’a Hightower had his first sack of the season and John Simon was particularly effective in his best game in a Patriots uniform.

But in run support they were absolutely terrible, Miami rushed for 189 yards on just 21 carries which averages out to 9.0 yards per rush attempt. Brandon Bolden looked like Barry Sanders in his prime flying through open space for a 54-yard touchdown. No one could get off of their blocks. Elandon Roberts had a rough game, getting bulldozed on the Bolden first TD and then whiffing (how many times do we see this?) on an open field tackle attempt on Frank Gore. Hightower was fooled by Tannehill on the first series with a play fake where he ran for 13 yards.

Secondary: C

The secondary took a step back from their stellar game of a week ago. Kenny Stills was giving Jason McCourty fits all game long until he was eventually replaced by J.C. Jackson. Gilmore was beaten by Brice Butler for a touchdown on a post route that was an excellently thrown ball by Tannehill. But the rest of Miami’s receivers had no more than one catch apiece.

But on the topic of the elephant in the room or in this case a Mastodon, there were breakdowns all over the field which all help create a play which will forever be a New England Butt Fumble moment. Another look at the play, (and it is like watching a car wreck) shows some horrible situational football.

Jonathan Jones is in perfect position to make the tackle and end the game since Miami has no timeouts remaining. But instead, he foolishly tries to make a play on the ball and is then, way out of position.  Jackson and Gilmore appear to be more worried about defending another lateral and run like their feet are underwater. Devin McCourty wasn’t on the field (the only snap he missed all game) and Gronk, who isn’t a defender (more to this below) stumbled trying to get the angle on Drake. Epic fail.

Special Teams: C+

The Special Teams blocked two punts, Albert McClellan blocked both by rushing right up the middle. Ryan Allen’s punting was fantastic and the coverage units easily had their best game of the year. But Stephen Gostkowski’s two misses on easy kicks (an extra point and a chip shot 42-yard field goal) cost the team four points, which would have rendered the fiasco at the end moot. Nuff said.

Coaches: C-

The Patriots coaching staff which prides itself on not beating itself and good situational football failed on multiple accounts here. Why was Gronk in the game at all on that last play. With Miami back on its own 31, Tannehill isn’t throwing the ball 75+ yards in the air and even if he does, the team just signed 6’4 Obi Melifonwu who has a 40-inch vertical leap and can run like a scalded dog. It was unfathomable.

While the decision to go for the field goal was considered the “safe, smart” move, I’d have opted for another shot at a touchdown to put the game away and even if you don’t your forcing the Dolphins to start from inside their 5-yard line. Three points there doesn’t ice the game and you’re just giving them better field position to work from.

Just goes to show, Bill isn’t infallible, he can make mistakes. There were plenty of them to go around. We’re on to Pittsburgh…

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.

Miracle Finish Is Fitting End to Dolphins 34-33 Win, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 10, 2018 at 6:30 am ET

The Patriots got another loss in South Florida the old fashioned way…they earned it. Very uncharacteristic mental mistakes abounded and cost the team just about any slim chance they had at securing the #1 seed in the AFC playoff picture. Lost in the wild, wacky, horribly-played lateral play was a plethora of unforced errors and bad situational football which placed them in the position in the first place.

From Stephen Gostkowski doinking an extra point off the goal post and then shanking a gimme 42-yard field goal, to Bill Belichick showing an almost Andy Reid-like clock management skills at the end of the first half, to Tom Brady inexplicably forgetting how many timeouts they had. It only gets better.

Julian Edelman running before he secures the ball on a screen, Stephon Gilmore dropping a gift pick-six by Ryan Tannehill, false starts, an offense that looked unstoppable in the first half, and then scores just six points in the fourth quarter, they set themselves up for just a finish.

The decision not to go for a touchdown on 4th down at the Miami one-yard line can be debated, but a field goal didn’t put the game away and even if a touchdown attempt failed, it would have left Miami with under 30 seconds and 99 yards to go. But the pièce de résistance was the decision to put Rob Gronkowski back as the deep safety with Miami on their 31-yard line with 0:07 seconds to go.

Did the coaching staff really think that Ryan Tannehill was going to (could) throw the ball 75 yards down the field on a final Hail Mary? And even if they did, the team just signed 6’4 safety Obi Melifonwu who had a 40” vertical leap and runs like a deer. Inexplicable…but it is over and you have to own it.

Other observations include:

With the loss, the Patriots have about zero chance of now getting the top seed in the AFC. Baltimore took Kansas City to overtime but ultimately lost. They are now two games back in the standings with just three games to play.

The #2 seed and a bye still remain a very doable proposition, however. The Texans lost to the Colts and the Steelers, like the Patriots, played down to the level of their competition and lost to the 2-10 Raiders.

On a day when the defense sacks the QB five times and you block two punts…you have to get pretty creative to lose but that’s exactly what they did.

The running game was non-existent today as the Patriots managed just 77 yards on 30 carries, a paltry 2.6-yard average. Facing a Miami defense that was being gouged for 144.7 yards a game and nearly double the average yards per carrying, that was a huge win for the Fins defense.

In contrast, the Miami running game, nearly an afterthought for much of the year absolutely gashed the Patriots defense to the tune of 189 yards on 21 carries for a whopping 9.0 yards per play. Old friend Brandon Bolden looked like he was shot out of a cannon and galloped 54-yards untouched for the first of two touchdowns in the first half and Frank Gore was outstanding, rushing 12 times for 92 yards.

Tom Brady was outstanding in the first half, he was virtually unstoppable until the final two minutes, but was held to just a pair of field goals down the stretch and it would come back to haunt them. Brady finished with 27 completions in 43 attempts for 358 yards with 3 TDs and 0 Interceptions.

Both offenses were scoring at will in the first half, up and down the field each team was moving the ball and scoring with ease.

The silly questions about Brady’s arm strength were put to rest (for now) on Sunday. On back-to-back plays, he lasered a 3rd and 10 pass to Edelman for 16 yards and then to Cordarrelle Patterson for a 37-yard touchdown.

Rob Gronkowski had arguably his best game of the season and caught 8 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown on eight targets. He also took some hard shots to his knees and lower body.

Kenny Stills was nearly uncoverable for Miami, turning in a great game catching 8 passes for 135 yards and a score on nine targets. He was consistently getting the better of Jason McCourty and easily won that matchup today.

Josh Gordon turned in another solid game catching 5 passes for 96 yards, several of the difficult variety. Gordon and Patterson give the Patriots the size and speed that they’ve lacked in the passing game. Julian Edelman, doing the dirty work underneath, caught 9 passes for 86 yards, but his drop of a screen pass where it appeared he had some room to run was a drive killer. We’ll have to rewatch the tape of that one.

Albert McClellan was signed to give the Special Teams a boost and today, he did exactly that. Blowing straight up the middle he not only blocked one but two punts. The second one with just under a minute to go in the half gave the Patriots the ball at the 15. Normally this is when the Patriots and Brady put a dagger into the hearts of opponents…however>>>

Clock Management Andy Reid Style 1.0: The Dolphins had the ball at their own 25-yard line with 3:49 left in the half. The Patriots forced a three-and-out but didn’t use their timeouts as the clock ticked down to the two-minute warning. But after taking over at their own 20, they did nothing punted back to Miami with one minute left.

Clock Management Andy Reid Style 2.0: After the Patriots sack Tannehill and have the Dolphins facing a 2nd-and-21, then they finally stop the clock with just 46 seconds left. They then sacked Brock Osweiler, then block the punt and take over at the Dolphins 15-yard line with 30 seconds left. Brady zipped another laser to Gronk put them at the Miami 2 with 21 seconds left. Brady then overthrew an open Chris Hogan along the back of the end zone, (a play we’ve been clamoring for)  and then inexplicably took a sack on third down with no timeouts left and come away with nothing.

Weird play in the third quarter when Trey Flowers punched the ball away from Gore causing a fumble. The officials signaled that Miami had recovered yet when the scrum had cleared the Patriots flipped the ball back to the official. Another one where maybe the tape will clear it up.

The final play will mask what was a pretty good day by the Patriots secondary. Other than Stills, the rest of Miami’s passing game was pretty much held in tow. But that isn’t how the game unfolded.

Then with 0:07 seconds to go, the Dolphins had the ball on their 31-yard line. The Patriots defenders said after the game, that they knew it was too far for a Hail Mary and it would be a lateral situation. Then why place Gronk back there for McCourty? Or Melifonwu for that matter. Tannehill hit Stills with about a 20-yard pass where Jonathan Jones took an angle that we haven’t seen since Jordan Richards whiffed on JuJu Smith Schuster in Pittsburgh a year ago.

Stills lateraled to DeVante Parker who then lateralled to Kenyan Drake and the play unfolded and it looked like Moses parting the Red Sea as Patriots defenders were lost in the wake. Gronkowski stumbled and missed a chance to knock him out at the two-yard line and Miami had the finish that kept alive their playoff hopes for another week.

Now the Pats are on to Pittsburgh, who have dropped three in a row. And lost again in stunning fashion to the lowly Raiders. But don’t expect that kind of performance from them next week. The Patriots coaches will have to work hard with the team after that meltdown.That is the kind of loss that can stick with a team.

New England Patriots News 12-09, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 9, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-09, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Just a reminder that you revisit our keys to the game here:
And our players to watch from a Patriots perspective by clicking on the links:

Stephon Gilmore missed practice on Friday due to an ankle injury which just popped up on the injury report and is questionable. Obviously, if he can’t go it will be a big loss for the Patriots defense today.

Did you Know? With four receptions today, James White will set a new Patriots team record for catches by a running back in a season. Tony Collins caught 77 passes in the 1986 season. White currently has 74 catches on the season.

Did you Know Pt.2? With a win today, The Patriots will improve to 108-29 (.788) since 2001 on or after Thanksgiving (regular and postseason). That is the best record in the NFL during that time by more than 20 wins.

Did you Know Pt. 3: With a win today, the Patriots would clinch the AFC East for the 10th year in a row, breaking a tie with the Cowboys and Colts for the most consecutive years making the playoffs. It will also be the 16th divisional title since 2001.

Running the Ball? Since 2000, New England is 50-1 in the regular season when a Patriot produces 100 or more yards rushing. The only loss during the Bill Belichick
era came at Miami, coincidentally happened on Dec. 20, 2004, when Corey Dillon rushed for 121 yards on 26 carries and the Patriots fell 29-28 to the Dolphins in a MNF meltdown. Since then, New England is 37-0 with a 100-yard rusher. In 2018, RB
Sony Michel has three 100-yard games, including Week 4 against Miami.

Feed JE11 the Ball? Since 2014 (including the playoffs), the Patriots are 18-0 when Julian Edelman scores at least one touchdown.

National Media Are Turning Rodgers into Manning:

Every year, the national media all take turns proclaiming that “this is the year” the Patriots fall, Tom Brady falls off a cliff statistically, etc. The old rule about no cheering from the press box obviously doesn’t apply to journalists rooting against someone. And that someone is TB12. Never has a player that has accomplished so much for the league been the target of some much jealousy off the field. Everyone can’t wait to be the first to mark the demise of the greatest QB to ever lace them up in the NFL. Every pass is dissected looking for flaws, a diminishing arm strength, anything to point toward the door.

While he was still playing, Peyton Manning was the poster boy for the NFL and made out of absolute Teflon. Nothing stuck to Manning, even when he threw three picks to Ty Law in the playoffs, the excuse machine was working in full-blown overtime. The league’s competition committee changed the rules to benefit his wide receivers. But eventually, Brady’s accomplishments left Manning in the dust and even the most jaded Brady haters couldn’t use that argument anymore.

Step to the podium Aaron Rodgers. He’s the next “Chosen One”, the darling of the media and a guy who can never ever do no wrong. Every pass he throws is oohed and aahed over during the highlight shows. And how many times ad nauseam have we heard the past few years, “nobody but Aaron Rodgers can make that throw.” And every week we are subjected to the same Brady-Rodgers drivel that we were during Manning’s career. Except that Rodgers has accomplished even less.

His team has missed the playoffs for the past two years, already eliminated in 2018. Can you imagine the hue and cry against Brady if the Patriots were eliminated just once under his watch the past few years?

So much was made of the Brady-Belichick “feud” with the Alex Guerrero issue and impending divorce the past year or so and the Pats went 13-3 and came to within a strip sack of winning their sixth Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick era. This year, the Patriots are 9-3 and are still in play for the top seed in the conference.  

But the real divorce was going on in the Frozen Tundra where the play of Rodgers, in part because of his feuding with Mike McCarthy has really dropped off. But not a word of that has been spoken. It has all been “McCarthy must go” and now he’s been fired. Rodgers has been remarkably immune to all of this. One can’t help but think that if that happened in Foxboro, and Brady’s record the past two years was 7-9 and 4-7-1, the headlines would be much different. Just like Manning.

Brady: “None of the Past Matters” About Playing in Miami:

The Patriots are 1-4 in their last four trips to Miami and Tom Brady hit the nail right on the head when he said at his Friday press conference, “The reality is that none of that stuff matters — it’s really this team against that team,” he said.

“We have a big challenge.”

Miami is 5-1 at home and 1-5 on the road, so they are a very different team when playing in the confines of their own stadium as opposed to traveling on the road. The Patriots played very poorly there last season, when Jay Cutler, in the midst of a nightmarish season, looked like an All-Pro…for one night.

“The opponent is the Dolphins, not the climate. Playing a good football game is definitely what this week is about for us,” Brady added. “We can’t expect to go out there and play less than our best and win. We should be playing our best — it’s that time of year.”

This season, unlike others, like 2013, and 2015, it is the Dolphins who are beat up and have a lot of players injured or on IR.  There is no mystique, no parquet floor magic about playing in South Florida. The Patriots just need to show up and be ready to play.

Brady at the end of the 2016 season lit up Miami with the following stat line:
Attempts – 33, Completions – 25, Yards – 276, Completion Pct. 75.8, TDs – 3, INT – 0 Passer Rating – 130.4, the result was a Patriots 35-14 blowout victory.  Expect Bill Belichick to have the players ready to go today.

No More ‘Read and React’? Pats Defense Dictating More in 2018:

The Patriots back in training camp hinted that new Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores would be more aggressive, ditching the old “read and react” defense of Matt Patricia that most fans hated, although it is hard to argue with the success that they’ve had with it. However, early in the year, much of what we saw looked similar to the past. But as players have been getting more comfortable in their roles and inside the system, we’re seeing more and more of what was perceived to be a more aggressive unit in 2018.

They showed brief glimpses of it during games against Kansas City and Green Bay but two weeks ago against the Jets and then last week against the Vikings, Flores ‘let slip the dogs of war’ and the defense was dictating how things were going to be. That was the most aggressive that the Patriots have been in a very long time.

With a veteran and very solid secondary, Flores can afford to be more aggressive but the confidence the coaches have shown, especially with rookie corner J.C. Jackson is very telling. They aren’t afraid to put their corners out there against some of the more explosive offenses in the league.

However, being aggressive can result in getting burned and giving up long plays and/or touchdowns. But against Cousins and the Vikings, especially on 3rd down, the Patriots were dictating and they were extremely impressive.

Will they do the same this week against Tannehill or was that to give the Steelers something else to consider for next week?

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 14 Predictions:

Last week: 11-5 Season 125-65-2

Thursday night’s picks Titans over the Jaguars 1-0

NY Jets at Buffalo: Bills
NY Giants at Washington: Redskins
New Orleans at Tampa Bay: Saints
New England at Miami: Patriots
Baltimore at Kansas City: Chiefs
Indianapolis at Houston: Texans
Atlanta at Green Bay: Packers
Carolina at Cleveland: Panthers
Denver at SF: Broncos
Cincinnati at LA Chargers: Chargers
Detroit at Arizona: Lions
Pittsburgh at Oakland: Steelers
Philadelphia at Dallas: Cowboys
LA Rams at Chicago SNF: Rams
Minnesota at Seattle MNF: Vikings

Thursday Early Pick: Chargers over Chiefs

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Cut Benjamin After Just 18 Games:

The Buffalo Bills cut their ties to WRs Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes on Tuesday. Buffalo acquired Benjamin, 27, in a trade from the Carolina Panthers in October 2017 for 3rd and 7th round picks in the 2018 draft. In 18 regular-season games for Buffalo, Benjamin caught 39 passes for 571 yards and two touchdowns. In his career, Benjamin has played in 58 games with 52 starts, amassing 207 catches for nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns.

He ran afoul of the coaches and QBs in both Carolina and Buffalo but perhaps someone like Andy Reid can reach him where others have failed. He has stated he wasn’t a fit for Cam Newton in Carolina and reportedly told Bills quarterback Josh Allen he wouldn’t work on routes with him before a game earlier this season.

“Sometimes change of scenery can be good for a guy and he’s got an opportunity to come in here,” Reid said.

Struggling this season, Benjamin admitted he’d hit “rock bottom” and was disappointed. “It’s just a bad season,” Benjamin said. “It is what it is. Just football, man. You have good seasons, you have bad seasons. I’ve had successful seasons in this league. I’ll have plenty more. For some reason, it’s just not the year.”

Maybe the Chiefs hope that they can catch lightning in a bottle and he can repeat the performance he had against the Patriots in Week 4 of the 2017 season where he caught four passes for 104 yards, in case the two teams meet in the postseason.

Tannehill Key For Dolphins Postseason Hopes:

The Miami Dolphins are still in the mix in the playoff race but if they’re going to get there, they are going to need production from QB Ryan Tannehill. A lot of production. He’s been with the team for seven years and he has yet to show the consistency that is needed to be the type of QB that the Dolphins envisioned when they drafted him.

Despite the over-the-top headline this week that loudly proclaimed “Tannehill Owns the Patriots At Home”, he has a lot of work to do the next month. But it all starts today. And if Tannehill wants to be a Dolphin in 2019, he better turn some heads in the next few games…in a good way.   

“If you’re on the field, you’re getting evaluated,” Tannehill said. “That is what it is. Whatever you put on tape, that’s what this team and every other team has to go on.”

With a career 40-43 record, and middle of the road stats across the board, he may have his coach’s confidence, but eventually, even Adam Gase will be forced to make a decision. Tannehill isn’t just playing for a playoff spot but a roster spot in 2019.

Darron Lee Suspended for the Remainder of the Jets Season:

The New York Jets continuing dysfunction once again raised its ugly head when the league announced linebacker Darron Lee has been suspended four games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

The suspension is effective immediately, meaning his season is over unless he decides to appeal it. The suspension will cost him $325,000 in game checks. Lee is eligible to return to the roster on Dec. 31, the day after their final game.


Lee, leads the team with three interceptions, including one for a touchdown. But he’s had maturity issues. He was benched for a game in 2017 for showing up late to practice. He had a dustup with his girlfriend at a music festival that was caught on cellphone video. His teammate Leonard Williams perhaps saved him from further league issues, by pulling him away.

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