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 Patriots Week 17 Report Card, Crushing Loss to Miami, Bye-Bye Bye Week

Steve Balestrieri
January 1, 2020 at 8:05 am ET

Patriots Come Out Flat And Lose #2 Seed

Happy New Year, from all of us here, we hope that you all had a happy, safe and fun New Year’s Eve and an even better 2020.

The Patriots lost out on a big…and needed opportunity to earn themselves a bye week by losing to the Miami Dolphins at home 27-24 in the final regular-season game of  2019. Entering Sunday’s game Tom Brady had a 15-1 record at home against Miami but like last year, they lost a game to the Dolphins in the final seconds. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the game film before putting the regular season behind us this week.

Quarterback: D

Tom Brady after one of his best performances against the Bills had one he’d rather forget. Brady was sailing the ball high on many of his incompletions and was wearing different cleats (looked like hightops) which may speak to having an ankle issue which would explain part of it. But both he and the team started slowly against a team that was 28th in pass defense. Brady was 2-4 for 10 yards in the first quarter.

His protection overall was outstanding, he had plenty of time to throw for the vast majority of the game. The accuracy and timing just weren’t there. Brady finished 16-29 for 221 yards with 2 TDs and a horrible pick-six to Eric Rowe. 

Running Backs: B

The Patriots running game once again had a pretty solid night rushing for 135 yards with some solid work by Sony Michel (74 yards on 18 carries) and Rex Burkhead (48 yards on six carries). Despite Miami cheating their linebackers up in the box and blitzing on running plays, they consistently gained yardage after contact and have turned it up a notch down the stretch. 

Elandon Roberts once again provided good blocking in the running game, opening the hole for Michel’s touchdown run. And he caught his first NFL pass, which just happened to go for a 38-yard TD.

Wide Receivers: C-

The Dolphins bracketed Julian Edelman all game long and dared the Patriots to beat them elsewhere. Edelman, hobbled by shoulder and knee issues, hasn’t been 100 percent for quite some time. On Sunday he was held to just three catches for 26 yards.

Phillip Dorsett and Mohamad Sanu once again failed to pickup the slack. Sanu had just three catches for 35 yards, that 2nd round draft pick trade is looking worse and worse. Dorsett meanwhile had just one catch a 50-yard bomb from Brady where he did do a nice job of tracking the ball and kept going for some yards after the catch. But that was it, and it isn’t enough. 

N’Keal Harry had three catches for 29 yards on seven targets. Brady’s two touchdowns came on passes to Roberts (38 yards) and to James White on a nicely designed screen pass for 11 yards with a great block by Shaq Mason. 

Tight Ends: C-

Are we seeing a trend here on the Patriots skill position players? Matt LaCosse has been much, much better in the run blocking department lately, helping to open some holes for the backs to get to the second level. But with Miami’s linebackers cheating up and blitzing inside in the running game, we kept waiting for the Patriots to attack the seams and make them pay… nothing materialized and LaCosse didn’t have a catch 

But he wasn’t alone. Ben Watson had just one catch for four yards. This was a disappointing end to what was a disappointing regular season for the tight ends. 

Offensive Line: B+

The offensive line play was not the reason for the team losing on Sunday, they opened holes for the running backs to run for 135 yards and if the defense had played their normally stellar game, then they’d have run for a lot more. Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney were both excellent.

The pass protection for nearly the entire game was terrific, giving Brady oodles of time to throw and look downfield. The only sack given up was by Marcus Cannon on a nice speed rush move by Trent “Toolbox” Harris who may look familiar to Patriots fans. He spent the last two training camps here and was a member of the practice squad in 2018.                  

 Defensive Line: B

The defensive line once again played very solidly against the run, which wasn’t a big surprise as the Dolphins entered the game as the worst running team in the league averaging just 72.9 yards per game. They only managed 63 here, but their running backs had a combined 37 yards on 16 carries. Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton were solid as usual. 

The defensive ends set the edge well but didn’t generate a lot of pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers had some issues with wrapping up and missing tackles which was a small issue but in what has become a concerning trend, the pass rush, while getting pressure has been just short of getting home. Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Dont’a Hightower was getting plenty of pressure on Fitzpatrick, but those big drive ending sacks or QB hits resulting in turnovers haven’t been there. 

Collins had one of their only two sacks and a QB hit, where they generated only four. They are going to need those players to step un next week.  

Secondary: D

The Patriots secondary had, by far, their worst game of the season. Stephon Gilmore had his worst game as a Patriot since perhaps his first month here. DeVante Parker clearly won the matchup against the Patriots top corner as no one has done yet. Parker had eight catches for 137 yards with the vast majority coming against Gilmore.

But Gilmore wasn’t alone, J.C. Jackson allowed six receptions while Jonathan Jones still hobbled by a bad groin allowed five catches on five targets. Mike Gesicki got the better of Pat Chung most of the game and beat him for the game-winning touchdown. 

Special Teams: B

The Special Teams had a solid game on Sunday. Brandon Bolden ripped off his longest return of the season for 38 yards which set the team up with excellent field position for a change. Nate Ebner had a couple of good tackles in coverage while Matthew Slater remains the gold standard for gunners in the league. Nick Folk converted all three extra points and his only field goal attempt. A good day for Joe Judge’s troops 

Coaches: C-

The Patriots coaching staff, and it begins with Bill Belichick had some head-scratching moments this week. After preaching like they were treating this as a playoff game, the Patriots came out flat and it was Miami who looked like it was playing for a playoff bye. And the end of the first half time management looked like the team was playing not to lose (Marty ball?) which isn’t the way the Patriots have performed under Belichick.

Defensively, the Belichicks (plural) were taken to school to Chad O’Shea, who, interestingly enough was fired after the game. They never found a way to counter what Miami was doing or to stop them…And that isn’t a great offense at all. 

Offensively, despite all the hand-wringing over Josh McDaniels play calling, this offense is very flawed, especially at wide receiver and while he may have waited a bit too long to adjust the power running game, he’s working with a short deck. 

We’re on to Tennessee and the Wild Card game… 

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Patriots-Dolphins Week 17, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 27, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots can wrap up the 2nd seed of the 2019 AFC Playoffs with a win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. A win or a loss or tie by the Kansas City Chiefs will mean the Patriots are the #2 seed and earn an all-important bye during Wild Card Weekend next weekend.    

Miami is just playing out the season and is in full rebuilding mode. However, they’ve played much better in the second half of the season.  After starting 0-7, the Dolphins are 4-3 in their last seven games. 

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Greg Gumbel will handle play-by-play duties with Trent Green as the color analyst. Melanie Collins will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (12-3) beat the Buffalo Bills 24-17 to clinch their 11th division title in a row. Tom Brady had his best game in several weeks, while the running game got 143 yards keeping the offense balanced.

The Dolphins (4-11) beat the Cincinnati Bengals 38-35 in overtime. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 419 yards and four touchdowns.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Dolphins have been playing each other twice a year since 1966 when Miami entered the league. The Dolphins lead the all-time series 55-53 which includes 3 games in the postseason, where the Patriots lead 2-1. This series has been dominated by the home team. Miami is 38-17 at home while the Patriots are 35-17 in Foxboro. 

The teams split the series last season. In Week 2 in Miami, the Patriots shut them out 43-0, which happened to be the only game that Antonio Brown suited up for the Patriots this season.  

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Dolphins Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game shined for the second week in a row, and against a much tougher defense in Buffalo running for 143 yards. Sony Michel had the most productive game of his own going for 96 yards on 21 carries. Rex Burkhead scored the game-winning touchdown, breaking two tackles on his way to the end zone.

Miami’s run defense is not good this season. The Dolphins have had equal difficulties stopping the run or the pass. Currently, the Dolphins are 27th against the run, allowing 135.4 yards per game. 

Look for the Patriots to continue to accentuate the run with Michel this week. The Dolphins linebackers have been hit hard by injury this year. Michel and Burkhead should both see a lot of work in this game. With the offensive line play improving, the Patriots should be able to dictate the pace here and open up play-action passing.          

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

The Patriots passing game looked better than they have in months against the Bills. Tom Brady completed nearly 80 percent of his passes and threw for 271 yards. He spread the ball around to nine different players. WIth better pass protection, he looked laser-sharp and just what they need heading into the playoffs.

Miami’s pass defense is 28th in the league this season, allowing over 265 yards per game. They’re missing their best corner, Xavien Howard and have a former Patriots (Jomal Wiltz, Eric Rowe) and a rookie Nik Needham in the secondary. Miami has only generated 22 sacks this season.

Look for Brady to have another solid game and continue to spread the ball around. Julian Edelman is banged up but will no doubt play. Mohamad Sanu has been disappointing but has made noise this week that says he’s feeling better and is ready to be more of a factor. James White and Burkhead out of the backfield should both factor in the passing game. 

Next up the Dolphins offense:

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

The Patriots run defense with Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton have continued to trend upward and they both have been playing excellent football this season. The linebackers are very good at shooting the gaps and stuffing the opponent’s running game, and putting them in must-pass situations. 

Miami’s running game is dead last in the NFL averaging just 72.9 yards per game. The leading rusher for the Dolphins is their journeyman 37-year old QB Fitzpatrick. Nuff said.

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

The Miami passing game with Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a fairly good bright spot this year. As always, Fitzpatrick can get hot and absolutely tear up opposing defenses. But just as fast he can begin turning the ball over as well. He’s thrown 19 touchdowns but 13 interceptions as well. 

Turnovers are what hurts the offense. Fitzpatrick has good weapons to work with DeVante Parker is having an excellent year with 64 catches, 1065 yards, and 9 TDs. Tight end Mike Gesicki has 47 catches and is improving every week. Alan Hurns and Albert Wilson round out the receiver core. 

Stephon Gilmore should be matched up with Parker and that battle should be a good one to watch. I’m looking for the Patriots to get after Fitzpatrick, Miami has allowed 56 sacks this season to force him into being the latter of the two scenarios this week. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots special teams give them a whitewash of the key matchups this week. The coverage units have been outstanding and they’ve blocked four punts this season. Jake Bailey is having a terrific rookie season and Nick Folk has solidified the kicking with extra points and field goals. 

Miami has Jason Sanders who has done a good job in the kicking department. Matt Hauck is the punter. Their return game should be held in check this week. Look for the Patriots to go after another punt this week.  

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

The Patriots and Tom Brady have enjoyed excellent success against Miami at home (In Miami is another story) and are looking to continue that trend. Bill Belichick has stated that last week and this week are essentially playoff games. They need this win to get a playoff bye. Miami has played hard all season for Brian Flores but they’re playing only for pride …and jobs next season.  

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Keep the Running Game Going – The Patriots will attempt to run the ball against a Dolphins defense that has struggled to stop it all season long. The offensive line has played much better the past two weeks and will be looking to make that trend continue. 

Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and James White should all see some snaps in the running game. Also, look for N’Keal Harry to get another shot at a Jet Sweep this week. 

Brady to Spread the Ball Around – With the running game gaining momentum, this opens up play-action passing and look for them to work the middle of the field as well as the perimeters this week. Last week Brady used nine receivers in the passing game and it kept a very good Bills defense off-balance. Look for him to get everyone involved again and spread the wealth. 

Get After Fitzy And Force Some Turnovers – The defense didn’t get any turnovers against the Bills, but as we stated above, that is the big problem with Miami’s offense. On the season the Dolphins are -12 in the turnover department while the Patriots are +25. If the pass rush can get home, they can force Fitzpatrick into making a few errant throws that have been the bane of his career. 

__________

This is a game the Patriots should win easily. They are playing for a bye week while Miami is just playing out the string. While Flores has had the Dolphins playing hard for him all season, a fast start by the Patriots should put them in good position. I look for Brady and the offense to have another big day as New England ends up 13-3 in 2019.  Patriots 31-10

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour gets a week off as the Patriots get a bye week and watch the Wild Card Round resting up before a home game for the Divisional Game.

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 breakdown game analysis

 

 Patriots Week 16 Report Card, Offense Reappears In Big Win Over Buffalo

Steve Balestrieri
December 24, 2019 at 7:00 am ET

Patriots Win 11th Straight Division Title

The Patriots all week leading up to this game stated that this was a playoff game, and judging from their preparation, intensity, and production, they totally bought in. They won their 12th game of the season, a hard-fought 24-17 win over the Buffalo Bills which clinched the AFC East for the 11th year in a row and puts them one step away from a playoff bye and the #2 seed. 

We’ll get to the grades for the players in just a moment, but first a word about the coaching staff. In any profession, perhaps the hardest thing to do is assess oneself critically and be able to say that something isn’t working, even if that something was your idea. The ability to self-assess, or in Patriots parlance “self-scout” is something they are head and shoulders above everyone else in the league since Bill Belichick took the reins. 

Everyone says they’re going to “self-scout” and they all will change up their gameplans, and occasionally many teams come up with a brilliant one. But nobody, nobody can morph their teams from one week to the next, depending upon their opponent and put in the time, preparation and commitment than the Patriots have done the past 20 years. 

And the players have to buy in completely or it doesn’t work. How many times have we heard the past 20 years, “well Team A is more talented across the board” and how many times has Team A looked up at the wrong end of the scoreboard at the end of the day. So at the end of the day, when the votes are in for the Coach du jour, Belichick will get no votes but his team will probably win 13 games, while the naysayers will tell us they can’t win it all again. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the game film before putting a bow on this week.

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady was showing signs of age, decline and his elbow has been bothering him for several weeks. Plus he was facing a team that has increasingly played him tougher and tougher for the past few years and was in the top 3 of most defensive categories. So, how did that work out? Brady had his best game in several weeks, perhaps all season. 

Brady completed 26-33 for 271 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Completing nearly 79 percent of his passes while averaging 8.2 yards per pass attempt against this Bills defense is outstanding work. 

Brady got everyone involved and mixing things up and hitting nine different receivers kept the Bills defense off-balance all night long. His back-shoulder throw to Matt LaCosse for a touchdown showed perfect touch. This was a vintage Brady performance.  

Running Backs: B+

The Patriots running game followed up their most productive game of the season in Cincinnati with a game that was arguably more impressive considering the opponent. The team rushed for 143 yards against a tough Bills defense and were running physical, getting yards after contact and following the blocking well. 

Sony Michel had his best game of the season rushing 21 times for 96 yards. Rex Burkhead, once again turning it on late in the season, rushed 5 times for 20 yards, including the game-winning touchdown run where he was hit in the backfield and broke two tackles to get into the end zone. 

N’Keal Harry had 18 yards on a reverse, with a lead block by Brady (yes everyone bought in). James White chipped in with 13 yards. Brady picked up a key QB sneak to keep the chains moving. The running backs (Michel, Burkhead, and White) combined for 235 yards rushing and receiving. Solid night? You bet.

Wide Receivers: B-

The Patriots wide receivers led by #11 (Who else?) had a solid night. Julian Edelman was questionable with knee and shoulder issues. Then he missed a few series that nearly took a quarter going through concussion protocol. But he still led all WRs with 5 catches for 72 yards. And maybe the Bills thought that as hobbled as he was, they didn’t need to double him. That assessment was wrong. He was beating coverage consistently and late in the game…was doubled. In a league where all the players are physically tough, Edelman is one of the toughest. 

Burkhead led all Patriot receivers with 77 yards on 4 catches, yes he had a fumble on a good defensive play but more than made up for it. He showed excellent vision and followed his blocks well. Jakobi Meyers came off the bench when Edelman was down and collected 3 passes for 25 yards.

Harry caught two passes for 25 while Mohamad Sanu caught 3 passes for 24. Sanu was again a disappointment. While he may have gotten a poor spot on a third-down pass short of the sticks, he totally whiffed on a block on a 4th and 1 with Harry getting stopped by his man on a play that could have went for a big gain. 

Tight Ends: B-

Matt LaCosse scored his first touchdown of the season on an 8-yard pass from Brady down the seam. He also had his best game in the run blocking department, the offense put him in motion and he did a good job, even lining up in the backfield. His pass protection was much, much better this week. 

Ben Watson had three catches on three targets with two going for first downs. He also had a 33-yard touchdown wiped out on an offensive pass interference call on Edelman. This was a much better day for the tight ends than we’ve seen in a while. 

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line play was outstanding on Saturday. Buffalo didn’t sack Tom Brady and for the vast majority of the game he played with a clean pocket. They also cleared out big chunks of yardage in the running game. It is amazing what the backs can do when they are not getting hit four yards deep in the backfield. 

Shaq Mason had a very impressive game in the run department, looking like the guy we’re used to seeing blowing people up in the running game. Ted Karras and Joe Thuney were also excellent in the running game. 

Marcus Cannon hurt an ankle and was replaced by swing tackle Marshall Newhouse who played well, he did a good job in the running game but gave up a pair of QB hurries and a hit. But this unit going against the Bills performed as well as one could hope for.                      

 Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line did a tremendous job of bottling up Devin Singletary holding him to just 46 yards on 15 carries (3.1-yard average). And that begins with Lawrence Guy who was outstanding once again. Guy led the team with six tackles, a sack of Josh Allen and two QB hits. Danny Shelton was also solid in the running game. 

John Simon had a QB sack and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Chase Winovich who is looking like Lucius Malfoy these days with his dyed hair more white than blond, was his normal flying around the field self. 

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers were led by Dont’a Hightower with 1.5 sacks and a pass breakup while Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy weren’t as impactful as they can be and normally are. Ja’Whaun Bentley played his very tough, downhill style in the running game. 

Elandon Roberts played about 20 snaps as a fullback and seems to be relishing his role. “Same on defense, same on offense. When a linebacker steps into the hole, Imma run through their motherf***n’ face. Period. That’s all I think about, making my block, running through a motherf***r’s face.” How can one argue with that?

Secondary: B

The Patriots secondary had a good, but not great day against the Bills. While Josh Allen only completed 50 percent of his throws (13 of 26), hit on two long completions, one for a 53-yard touchdown and the other (33 yards to Dawson Knox) set up a 1-yard touchdown pass on a tackle eligible play. 

Stephon Gilmore got beat on a double move by John Brown and moved to the right. Brown cut left and safety Devin McCourty got caught peeking in the backfield at the pass rush and Brown then blew right by him too. However, it was his only catch of the game. Knox only caught the one big pass over Pat Chung, but was open on a couple of others but was overthrown. 

Cole Beasley caught 7 passes for 108 yards out of the slot and was finding excellent success all game long. The Patriots missed Jonathan Jones who was out with a groin injury. 

Special Teams: B

The Special Teams were led by Nick Folk on Saturday. Folk hit a 51-yarder to give the team the lead and was 3-3 on field goals for the day. You don’t have to hold your breath on kicks for the first time in a while this season. The return game was forgettable and the coverage units were okay but not their usual shutdown selves. Jake Bailey punted twice averaging 46.5 yards but didn’t drop either inside the 20.  

Coaches: A

The Patriots coaching staff gets excellent marks this week. And it begins with Josh McDaniels. McDaniels was extremely creative of trying to get everyone involved in the offense this week and used so many different looks and formations, there were times he had the Buffalo defense thoroughly confused. That doesn’t happen very often. With his play-calling, they were able to put together those long drives in the death-by-1000 cuts mold. 

Defensively, they had Allen very confused early in the game but give the 2nd year QB credit, he made a few outstanding throws and hung in there. But with the Bills driving late in the game, they brought pressure and got a sack and forced a throw off his back foot to get an incompletion in the end zone to salt the game away.  

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Patriots Week 15 Report Card, Back On Winning Track with 34-13 Win Over Cincy

Steve Balestrieri
December 17, 2019 at 6:25 pm ET

 Patriots Defense/Special Teams Key Big Win

The Patriots got back in the win column with a 34-13 win over the lowly and struggling Bengals, The win couldn’t have come at a better time, after dropping two in a row and three of their last five, the team needed this one to begin to try to build some momentum in the final few weeks of the season.

The offense continues to struggle but this week, the defense helped them out by getting four interceptions of Andy Dalton and giving the offense the benefits of short fields as well as a score on a pick-six. 

The win, the 11th of the season marks the 10th year in a row that the team has won 11 or more games. It also punched their ticket to the postseason. This sets up a huge game against the Buffalo Bills next week in Gillette for the division title. 

And with the all-important bye week that comes with the #2 seed still very much in doubt, the Patriots will need to win both of those games against Buffalo and Miami to end the regular season and let some players heal up a bit. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the game film before putting a bow on this week.

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady was facing one of the worst defenses in the NFL on Sunday, and he and the passing offense could muster just 15-29  for 128 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs. His elbow, which has been hurting for a while, was clearly bothering him. He sailed more than one pass well over his intended target. And he short-armed another to Sony Michel that was well behind him which cost the team a touchdown. 

The Patriots passing offense averaged just 4.4 yards per pass play. That is less than Sony Michel averaged on his 19 carries. Let that one sink in for a second. His pass protection was not good, getting pressured on about half of his dropbacks in the first half. And there are the drops, which usually come at the worst possible time. 

Brady really needs some rest which is why the bye week is so important, but there’ll be no rest this week with the Bills and their defense coming to town. 

Running Backs: B

The Patriots running game had their best game of the season, rushing for 177 yards on 30 carries before Brady had a couple of kneel-downs in victory formation. Granted the Bengals rush defense is awful, dead last in the league, but at least they made they look that way. Facing some other poor run defenses they haven’t been able to muster much. 

Sony Michel looked good, gaining 87 yards on 19 carries and showed good vision following his blocks and was able to drive through tackles and gain yards after contact. Rex Burkhead, right on time at the end of the season, chipped in 53 yards on 6 carries including a really nice 33-yard touchdown run. Burkhead ran straight ahead and burst through the line, dipped his shoulder and faked out the safety and had clear sailing into the end zone. 

James White had 13 yards on 3 carries. The team got N’Keal Harry involved on a couple of jet sweeps and the big rookie got 22 yards on two carries and two first downs. A much better day for the backs both in the running game and in the passing game. 

Wide Receivers: C-

The Patriots wide receivers almost rated an incomplete grade here. Julian Edelman tried to play through a myriad of issues and didn’t look anything like his normal self. He was laboring walking, never mind running but tried to gut through it like the professional and tough dude that he is. So it is of little surprise that he caught just two passes for nine yards on Sunday. 

Mohamad Sanu is also playing through an injury and he too isn’t moving anywhere near 100 percent. However, the 4th down drop was not injury-related and that is becoming a troubling trend for the Pats WR. He was targeted eight times and had just 2 catches for 13 yards.

N’Keal Harry had a pair of catches for 15 yards including a really nice 8-yard touchdown pass along the back of the end zone. His best play was wiped out due to a false start by Edelman. Harry beat the coverage down the right sideline and made a beautiful leaping catch that would have gone for 36 yards.

James White was the big recipient on Sunday, getting 3 catches for 49 yards including a nice 23-yard touchdown pass on a screen from Brady. Michel and Burkhead also chipped in as the backs combined for 6 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. 

Tight Ends: C-

Matt LaCosse was targeted 3 times and had 3 catches for 22 yards, that’s it for the group… Yuck. He played about 50 snaps compared to just 34 for Ben Watson who wasn’t targeted and pretty invisible all day. The run blocking overall was better this week. LaCosse had a really nice block on Burkhead’s touchdown run. However, in pass protection LaCosse was victimized several times and gave up several QB hits

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line play was a mixed bag on Sunday. While the team had a season-high number of yards rushing, the pass protection was not great as Tom Brady was pressured on about half of his pass plays in the first half. However, Isaiah Wynn looked much better this week. Joe Thuney was also very good and had an outstanding block that sprung White for his touchdown reception. Thuney got out in front of White and pancaked the in-the-box safety. 

Ted Karras returned to action and played in all 65 offensive snaps at center. Shaq Mason was looking more like himself, especially in the running game, albeit against the Bengals. Marcus Cannon both had a rough day. Mason injured an ankle which will require a close watch this week with the Bills coming into town.                     

 Defensive Line: B-

The defensive line had a rough day trying to contain Joe Mixon who rushed for 136 yards 25 carries. On the Bengals’ first few drives, they made it their intent to run the football and they just lined up and smashed it in there. The defensive line was getting pushed back a lot in the early going. 

Although they had issues with Mixon all game long, the defensive line keyed the big turning point in the game. On a 4th and 1 from the Patriots 30-yard line, they stuffed the run of Mixon getting him for about a half-yard loss. Danny Shelton had six tackles on the day With the only QB hit coming from Deatrich Wise, who made seven tackles and was very active. 

However, the pass rush? It seemed a half-step late, which is something we’re seeing more of in the second half of the season.

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers had some issues (among others on defense) with tackling in this game. Joe Mixon’s 29-yard run should have been a two-yard loss but Jamie Collins couldn’t wrap him up and he broke free. Collins was also so-so in coverage, although he did make a nice play and tipped a pass that appeared wide open. Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower had just five tackles between them, a quiet game for two who are normally near the top of the list. Most of the missed tackles were from the linebackers, which is a bit of an unpleasant surprise.

Ja’Whaun Bentley, however, had a big game using his size and downhill style as a run-thumper to perfection He led the team with eight tackles including 0.5 for a loss. Elandon Roberts gets high marks for playing 24 snaps on defense and 10 for being the fullback on offense.

Secondary: A

The Patriots secondary had a tremendous afternoon, allowing one touchdown an 8-yard pass play where Jonathan Jones fell down but scoring one on a 64-yard Stephon Gilmore pick-six. Gilmore and J.C. Jackson each had two interceptions and are #1 and #2 respectively in opposing QB rating when targeted. Opponents targeting Jackson have a 28.6 QBR while those targeting Gilmore have a QBR of 32.8. 

The Bengals had 6 receptions for 51 yards on 15 targets when targeting either Gilmore or Jackson on Sunday. They had four interceptions including a pick-six and two pass breakups in those plays. That is domination. Gilmore is just in a league of his own. And to think he got outvoted to the Pro Bowl by Marcus Peters? Child, please…

Overall, Andy Dalton was 17-31 for 151 yards with 1 TD and 4 INTs for a QB rating of 39.2 which is great defense, regardless of the opponent. Jonathan Jones was injured on Sunday and his injury is a big one to monitor this week. 

Special Teams: A-

The Special Teams came up with yet another big play made by the outstanding tandem of Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel. Slater as a gunner, flew down the field and jarred the ball loose on Alex Ericson when he tried to field a punt with perhaps far too little room. Bethel recovered and the Patriots took the lead right before the half. 

Nick Folk made all four extra points and two field goals in two attempts. He’s solidified the position. He doesn’t have the range to go for much over 50 yards but he’s playing well and with confidence, something we haven’t had this year. 

Coaches: B

The Patriots coaching staff, especially Josh McDaniels is working overtime, trying to breathe some life into the offense. And for the 2nd week in a row, he put together a drive that went 75 yards for a touchdown. Then the offense struggled to move the ball. 

The defense was getting gashed early (a troubling trend) but then shut down the Bengals holding them to just three points after allowing them to score 10 points in the first quarter. 

Bill Belichick and the staff always seem to make good adjustments to whatever the opponent is doing well and countering it.

So the Patriots last two regular-season games will be at Gillette Stadium.  Starting with the Buffalo Bills. A win gets the Patriots the division-clinching win. But unlike other years with a late-season game against the Bills, this one won’t be easy. 

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

New England Patriots News 12-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 15, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-15 and AFC East notes this week. 

Gameday! The Patriots are in Cincinnati for their final regular-season road game of 2019 against the Bengals. After going just 3-5 on the road a year ago, the team can improve to 6-2 this year with a win today. 

RIP to Pete Frates, who inspired countless people and raised millions of dollars for ALS research. Our thoughts are with his family and friends this weekend.

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Kyle Van Noy – The Patriots linebacker is the team’s nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year and the Week 14 NFLPA Community MVP. He held a celebration for 153 financially disadvantaged foster families at his ‘A Very Van Noy Christmas’ event.

“We are happy to nominate Kyle Van Noy for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “We are so proud of Kyle’s accomplishments on the field as a New England Patriot, but even more so of his character and his contributions in the community. 

His Van Noy Valor Foundation has helped countless children and families. He and Marissa are remembering their childhoods and how foster care and adoption positively impacted their lives. Kyle’s personal connection to the reason behind their foundation is inspiring.” Congrats to Kyle, well deserved. Now vote for him for the Pro Bowl.

Rob Gronkowski – Was named to the NFL100 team and Bill Belichick had a hilarious story of Gronk’s pre-draft visit with the team, where he fell asleep on the floor prior to meeting the Patriots coaches. 

Josh Gable – The trick shot kicker and YouTube star had a very brief tenure on the Patriots practice squad, two days, but may have parlayed his brief stay into a 2020 opportunity to compete for the full-time kicking position. 

“We had a spot available on the practice squad, and it gave us an opportunity to look at a younger kicker,” Bill Belichick said.

” … Rather than just (have him) come in and do a workout, we were actually able to (have him) kick with the team and put him on the practice squad for a couple of days.”

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Noted hot-take artist and Brady-hater Max Kellerman was trying once again (ad nauseam) to denigrate Brady’s accomplishments with Bill Belichick and was telling Damien Woody that “Belichick took that 2000 Patriots team to the playoffs without Brady at quarterback.” It makes for great television hot takes. But Woody, knowing better said, “No he didn’t, they went 5-11.”  Kellerman tried to protest but Woody corrected him again ….and he would know, he was on the 2000 Patriots team that year. He must’ve had Bart Scott fact-checking for him.

4th & 2 Podcast – If you’ve haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, Please do check it out. 

Harry to Get More Involved in the Offense? About Time: 

Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels are trying to get the Patriots offense unstuck out of the mud prior to the end of the regular season and similar to what they did a year ago before embarking on a run to the Super Bowl. One way to do that would be to get 1st round draft pick N’Keal Harry more involved with the passing game. 

So it should come as no surprise when McDaniels said this week that he needs to get the rookie more involved in the scheme moving forward. 

 “I need to do a better job of trying to find a way to get him the ball and get him involved, so that he can do some of those things and do more of them,” McDaniels said, referencing the play Harry apparently scored a touchdown against the Chiefs and his score against the Cowboys.

“He’s here early, he’s here late, and he’s trying to close the ground on being able to go out there and understand who he’s playing against and what he needs to do to be successful,” McDaniels added. “There’s no shortcut to all that, we know that. He’s got a great attitude. He has a skill set that can certainly help us produce and win.”

With Mohamad Sanu still not 100 percent and Phillip Dorsett struggling, getting Harry some snaps and looks in the passing game would take a lot of pressure off of Julian Edelman and James White. And starting with a 1-12 Bengals team may be a great place to start. 

Navy’s Big Improvement on Defense Helped by Bill Belichick:

You know of Bill Belichick’s affinity for the Naval Academy. His father coached there for many years and his formative years were spent there. So, after last season when Navy struggled on defense and lost their third straight game to Army,  Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo called Belichick, who he has become very friendly with, in a story written by USA Today’s Tom Schad. 

As they talked, Niumatalolo was frantically trying to take notes and keep up with up with Belichick as he spoke. The Navy coach said he was too embarrassed to ask Bill to slow down or repeat anything. “It’s like if you’re an artist and you’re talking with Picasso, you know?” Niumatalolo said about speaking with Belichick. “It made me realize that I don’t know crap about football.”

In part of his conversation, Niumatalolo totally revamped the defense, going from a static 3-4 to a more attacking 4-2-5 that allowed the Navy to be more creative, aggressive and deceptive. Their blitzes come from everywhere and there is constant movement at the snap to confuse the opposition (sounds vaguely familiar). 

Out of the 129 Bowl sub-division teams in 2018, Navy was 121st on third down. This season they are 29th. They went from 3-10 a year ago to 9-2 (this is written on Friday night before the big game) and a big reason is the play of their defense. 

It helps to have Bill on speed-dial, but sorry… Go Army.

NFL Schedule Week 15, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. I did it on our weekly Sunday column here and will post it up below. Here is the link if you’d care to pick your own: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/

Last Week: 10-6
Season:131-76-1

Thursday Night Football
Baltimore over NY Jets 1-0 

Sunday
New England over Cincinnati
Tampa Bay over Detroit
Tennessee over Houston
Kansas City over Denver
Miami over NYG
Philadelphia over Washington
Seattle over Carolina
Green Bay over Chicago
Minnesota over LAC
Oakland over Jacksonville
Cleveland over Arizona
LAR over Dallas
San Francisco over Atlanta
SNF Buffalo over Pittsburgh
MNF New Orleans over Indy

Bye week: No teams

Saturday Football –
Houston over Tampa
New England over Buffalo
San Francisco over LAR

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Can Punch Their Ticket to the Postseason Tonight:

The Buffalo Bills are playing in their first Sunday Night Football contest since 2007. And if they can win against the Steelers at Heinz Field, they’ll be in the playoffs for the 2nd time in three years. They travel to New England next week and then finish at home against the Jets. 

Obviously, they’d want to clinch it as early as possible, especially considering their record against the Patriots in Gillette Stadium. But facing the Steelers on the road in a prime-time matchup is a daunting task. Buffalo knows that Pittsburgh watched the Ravens game a week ago, where they pressured Josh Allen all game long. Pittsburgh leads the league with 48 sacks and will be looking to do the same.

One way to beat the pressure on the QB is the quick passing game which means more of Cole Beasley. He’ll be the guy to watch this week and in Foxboro next week.

Dolphins Sign Parker to Lucrative Extension:

The Miami Dolphins have signed WR DeVante Parker to a four-year extension keeping him locked up through the 2023 NFL season. Parker’s extension is worth $40 million, including $21.5 million in guarantees and an $8 million signing bonus, according to the NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. 

In an otherwise dismal rebuilding year for the 3-10 Dolphins, Parker has been a bright spot totaling career highs in receiving yardage with 882 thus far and with six touchdowns. He suffered a concussion last week but could be ready to suit up today against the New York Giants. 

Parker was originally drafted by the Dolphins in the 1st round (#14 overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft. Obviously, head coach Brian Flores feels he’s going to be a key piece of the offense that they can build around. Now about that QB situation…

Jets Downplay Sideline Tiff Between Gase and Darnold:

The New York Jets got blown out by the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday Night Football 42-21, that wasn’t a surprise as the Ravens have been on a roll in the second half of the season. But a sideline tiff between head coach Adam Gase and QB Sam Darnold did raise some eyebrows, but both men immediately downplayed it as just frustration.

As Darnold left the field late in the loss after an incomplete 4th and 1 pass, Gase seemed perturbed with the QB. Darnold walked away but then came back and the two had an animated conversation that ended with Darnold waving his hand dismissively. 

“We were both in the same mind frame where somebody didn’t execute their job, and basically I was bitching about that and he was doing the same thing,” Gase said after the game.

Darnold followed the same line of explanation, “We were not in a disagreement at all. It was just me being … you know, I think just frustrated on the circumstances and what was going on in the game at the time.”

The Jets started well and moved the ball very well but couldn’t finish drives, something that will frustrate the best of QBs or coaches. 

________________

The football team, the football staff and the coaching staff had nothing to do with what happened. Nothing. So, we have no involvement in it.
He was doing his job. That’s what he was doing, he was doing his job. Like we all tried to do. That’s what the football team, the football staff and the coaching staff did last week was try to do their job for Kansas City, and then Cincinnati, and then Buffalo next week and that’s it. I just answered the question. That’s it. We have no involvement in it. Zero.
Yeah, I’ve told you everything. Look, Mr. [Robert] Kraft made a statement, the team made a statement. That’s – I don’t have anything to add.
Do not have anything to add.
Do not have anything to add.Bill Belichick on being pressed with repeated questions about the filming in Cleveland of the Bengals sideline.

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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Patriots-Bengals Week 15 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 13, 2019 at 6:50 am ET

One more for the road. The Patriots play their last regular-season road game of the 2019 schedule with a trip to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. It is the first 1:00 p.m. start for the team in two months.

Several weeks ago before the Baltimore game, we had this one circled as a game where several players may get a respite and see a reduced workload (Julian Edelman) and maybe see a lot of a younger player like Damien Harris and Joejuan Williams. Now, after losing three of five, that isn’t going to happen. This game has become important for holding off  Kansas City for the #2 seed and the all-important bye. And to hold off the Bills in the division. 

With a win on Sunday night, the Patriots would win the 11th game of the year, marking 10 straight seasons with at least 11 wins, which is an NFL record.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Andrew Catalon will handle play-by-play duties with James Lofton as the color analyst. Amanda Balionis will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (10-3) lost to the Chiefs 23-16 last Sunday at Gillette Stadium 

The Bengals (1-12) are coming off of a 27-19 loss to Cleveland 

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Bengals have met 25 times since Cincinnati entered the league in 1968 and the Patriots hold an overall 16-9 all-time edge. Of course, the most famous matchup was the “we’re on to Cincinnati game…which just happened to be after a loss to the Chiefs.

The Patriots have won the last two meetings including a 35-17 win in Gillette the last time the two teams met. The last game in Cincinnati was a 13-6 win for the Bengals back in 2013 in that monsoon game where neither team was able to do anything offensively. 

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Bengals Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Cincinnati

The Patriots running game had an awful outing last week, gaining 94 yards against the Chiefs 31st ranked run defense. Kansas City entered the game allowing 141.3 yards per game and then dominated the Patriots upfront. By the end of the game, the Chiefs woeful run defense was preening and talking about how they hope to see the Patriots again in the playoffs… that is bad. 

Enter Cincinnati’s run defense. If you thought the Chiefs were bad, the Bengals, have been worse. Cincy’s porous run defense is dead last in the NFL allowing a whopping 156.7 yards per game on the ground. This should be a mismatch…right?

The offensive line has to open some holes this week for Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead. But honestly, I’d look at giving some snaps to Brandon Bolden, who has been effective whenever he’s been tasked and Damien Harris, giving Sony a week off. Will they do either of those? Nope. Will the Patriots run roughshod over another sieve run defense? While I’m not from Missouri, …show me. 

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

The Patriots passing game has consisted of Julian Edelman, James White, and a big question mark. That makes the opposing defense’s job a heckuva lot easier. They need both Phillip Dorsett and Mohamad Sanu to step up (sounds like a broken record at this point). Tom Brady’s pass protection has been shoddy and inconsistent for much of the season. 

Cincinnati’s pass defense hasn’t fared much better than their run defense and is 19th in the league. Their corners, William Jackson and Darqueze Dennard are okay but not special. The closest thing to a ballhawk in the back end in safety Jessie Bates with three interceptions. Their pass rush has a couple of names to watch. Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, although they haven’t accounted for a bunch of sacks, just 21 as a team.

Again, on paper, this seems like a mismatch but this time, I do give the edge to the Patriots as Tom Brady can find a way to manipulate this secondary….if he has time to throw. Atkins is a big, disruptive inside presence. He can do damage and will be going against the #3 center in James Ferentz. Dunlap and Sam Hubbard are guys who can bring the pressure from the edges. Protection is the key here.

So, Josh McDaniels, are the Patriots going to get N’Keal Harry more involved in the passing game anytime soon? This would be a prime week to do so. It isn’t exactly like Dorsett and Sanu are lighting it up and not allowing him a chance to play…throw him the damn ball this week.  

Next up the Bengals offense:

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

The Patriots run defense has been rock solid and it all begins with the outstanding work of Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton inside. They’re both doing a great job of penetrating and holding up the line of scrimmage allowing the Patriots linebackers to fly up and make plays. 

Cincinnati has a couple of talented running backs in Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard, but when they’re constantly playing catchup, it has been difficult for them to stick with the running game, which is why their paltry 85.8 yards per game average is a tad misleading. Mixon has gained 789 yards and six touchdowns on the ground this year and is capable of producing a big game. 

Look for Cincinnati to get Mixon going this week in an attempt to stick close and dictate the pace and tempo of the game. But this is a matchup the Patriots can and should win with the play of the front seven which has been very good all season.  

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

The Bengals passing game has Andy Dalton back under center and he gave the team, their only win of the season over the Jets. He’s kept games close, and will try to once again. The problem with their passing game sounds like the Patriots. He has Tyler Boyd, who is having a very good year (73 catches, 833 yards, 3 TDs), Gio Bernard out of the backfield and a not a lot elsewhere. John Ross is their speedster and is back after spending time on IR. Bengals QBs have been sacked 43 times for 309 yards this season. 

The Patriots pass defense has been excellent this season. Expect Boyd to get matched up with Stephon Gilmore this week and Ross to get watched by Jonathan Jones or J.C. Jackson. Bernard will bear watching out of the backfield, he’s a very good weapon there. But look for the defense to be aggressive in this one and try to get after Dalton to force the issue and some turnovers.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New Englan

The Patriots special teams has Nick Folk back as their kicker. While he had a field goal blocked last week, that was a rare failure of the blocking up front. Jake Bailey has been outstanding punting this season and the coverage units have been terrific. Nate Ebner blocked the Patriots’ fourth punt of the season. 

Cincinnati has the reliable Randy Bullock who has been perfect on PATs and has made 21-25 field goal attempts. Kevin Huber had done a very good job of punting. Like NE, the Bengals haven’t generated much in way of the return game. Look for the Patriots to try to make it five blocks this season and give their struggling offense a short field.

Next up, who wins and why…

The Patriots are looking to improve to 11-3 and now this game becomes a must-win, there are no more alibis left to give if they want a bye and a guaranteed home game for the division round of the postseason.   

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

Protect Brady and Get Others Involved in the Passing Game – The Patriots can’t be a two-man passing team in the last three games and into the postseason. That means other players have to step up and the coaches have to get others involved. This is a prime week to make that happen.

Getting Harry, Dorsett, Sanu, and Jakobi Meyers more involved in the passing game, shouldn’t be that hard, but yet here we are. It all begins with Brady’s protection but they have to start winning some battles on the line. Getting more from tight ends Ben Watson and Matt LaCosse would be a welcome sight as well. Get it done.

The Defense Should Pin Their Ears Back- The Patriots defense has been a constant bright spot all season, this week, they should feast on a Bengals offensive line who have been gashed for 43 sacks. With a limited offense, the Patriots can dictate where and when the pass rush is coming from. Look for Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins to be very active this week.

Turnover Time  – The Patriots are +19 in the turnover department, tops in the NFL. Cincinnati is -11, 30th in the league and a big reason they are 1-12. The Patriots defense was huge earlier in the year at getting turnovers and helping out the offense. That has slowed a bit in the second half…time to feast.

___________

Prediction: 

This should be a walk in the park for the Patriots who are clearly the better team. But the offensive struggles have made every game a slogfest. The Bengals are playing for nothing but pride and jobs at this point of the season. But this week is their Super Bowl with a chance to knock off the defending champs. Plus the entire filming fiasco of last week, should light a fire under their behinds. Unless the defense gets a score or a slew of turnovers, this one will remain closer than anyone wants.  Patriots  20-10

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” heads back home for the final two regular-season games of the season and next week is a big one with the Buffalo Bills for the AFC East.

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 breakdown game analysis

 

 Patriots Week 14 Report Card, Loss to the Chiefs 23-16

Steve Balestrieri
December 10, 2019 at 4:24 pm ET

Patriots fall to 10-3, Poor Execution Once Again Offensively Sinks Team 

The Patriots dropped their second game in a row, a hard-fought 23-16 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Once again, as in all three losses, they fell behind big early and weren’t able to dig themselves out of a hole.

The defense got figured out by Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes who had a big second quarter where KC entered halftime with a 20-7 lead. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise, the Chiefs are the most explosive 2nd quarter team in the NFL. But the Belichicks (plural) figured it out. 

The defense really tightened up in the 2nd half and held the Chiefs to just three points on an opening drive field goal and created some turnovers giving their team a chance to win. The offense, however, was another story and struggled once again. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the game film before putting a bow on this week. Unless you’re hung up on the latest scandal involving the Patriots. (We’ll have more to say about that later). But for us… We’re on Cincinnati.

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady had another struggle from start to finish on Sunday. For the hot-take dweebs on national television, this is manna from heaven. But starting with the offensive line and going through his wide receivers and tight ends, this is arguably the worst supporting cast Brady has had to deal with in his 20 seasons with the team. 

Very little of Brady’s struggles had to do with his play per se, he was either not getting time (more to that below), no one was getting open, and his WRs were dropping third-down conversions or touchdowns. 

Brady got a boatload of criticism for ignoring Jakobi Meyers on the Patriots’ final offensive play of the game, who was wide open. But I’m not blaming Brady for that. Meyers seems to be fighting the ball right now and had dropped two passes, including a touchdown.  

Running Backs: C+

The Patriots running game was once again unable to get anything going, gaining only 94 yards on 22 carries (4.3-yard average). This was against a KC run defense that has been abysmal this season allowing nearly 50 yards more per game. 

James White (no surprise) goes to the head of the class. He averaged 5.5 yards per rush (6 attempts for 33 yards) and added 27 yards on 5 catches. He is making it easy for the coaches to give him the lion’s share of work down the stretch. 

Sony Michel was once again victimized by poor blocking. Opponents are sniffing run whenever he’s in the backfield, and it seemed like white jerseys were in the backfield whenever he carried the ball.

We thought Rex Burkhead would play a large role in Sunday’s game but his impact, like the vast majority of the offense was negligible. Just 7 carries for 15 yards on the ground, and 0 catches on one target through the air. 

Brandon Bolden got one carry, for 10 yards and a TD, his fourth of the season. We know he’s not a world-beater, but on a season where the offense has precious few producing, hasn’t he at least earned a few more carries, especially on short-yardage and the around the goal line? 

Wide Receivers: D-

If you are a die-hard Patriots fan, you should pray and pray very hard to the football gods that Julian Edelman can make it through the end of the season and playoffs. Without him, this offense is absolutely awful. And it isn’t great with him on it, but just imagine if he was forced to miss any time.  Edelman had eight catches for 95 yards including a 37-yard touchdown on the team’s first possession. 

Phillip Dorsett? No catches, no yards. He did draw a slightly questionable pass interference penalty. And should have drawn a second. But his production is non-existent, as is his presence outside. 

Mohamad Sanu has to be playing through pain because his production has flat-lined in the past few games. He had one catch for 13 yards and was invisible the rest of the game was invisible. 

N’Keal Harry played just two snaps (why?) and caught one pass that officially went for 12 yards but was truly a 15-yard touchdown pass. Jerome Boger’s crew screwed the pooch on that one. It was eminently fixable, but the call like Boger’s crew was lost. 

Jakobi Meyers is fighting the ball right now and dropped two big passes on Sunday, one of them a touchdown. He did catch a flip from James White for 35-yards. As a group, the WRs are overthinking things, playing tight and playing terribly. 

Tight Ends: C-

Ben Watson was targeted three times and had a single catch for 7 yards. Matt LaCosse was targeted four times and 2 catches for 14 yards. Those numbers are just not good enough, especially when it seemed like Josh McDaniels wanted to attack the Chiefs down the seams in this one. That failed. Their blocking in the running game isn’t good enough.

Offensive Line: D

The offensive line was terrible on Sunday against the Chiefs. Joe Thuney stopped the grade from being lower than it already was. The Chiefs’ front, dominated on the ground all year, controlled the line of scrimmage and shut down the running game. 

KC does have a good pass rush and they were bringing the heat on Brady on nearly 50 percent of his dropbacks. Isaiah Wynn had a rough outing, allowing a sack, constant QB pressure as well as getting flagged for a false start. Brian Ferentz got overwhelmed a few times. Shaq Mason’s struggles continue this season.

Kansas City’s run defense entered the game 30th in the league, watch the tape and the amount of preening they’re doing after the plays and you’d think it was 3rd. That’s how poorly the offensive line play was.                     

 Defensive Line: B-

The defensive line once again did a really good job of bottling up the Chiefs running game. Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton did a great job of shutting down the running game. The Chiefs averaged just 2.6 yards per rush on 29 attempts. 

The defensive line didn’t do a great job, however, in the pass-rushing department getting only one sack (Deatrich Wise) and were only so-so in QB pressure. 

Linebackers: B

The linebackers had a good but not great game. The running game was an area they were doing a great job in. Jamie Collins chased down a play to the sideline and just thumped the tackle Schwartz, knocking him to the ground and then hitting the ball carrier. Collins also broke up a pass. 

Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy were both very solid in run support but weren’t their usual disruptive selves in the pass rush side of things. Shalique Calhoun forced a fumble and rookie Chase Winovich got in on a big hit on Mahomes. 

Secondary: B

The Patriots secondary had a rough second quarter but after that was pretty solid. Stephon Gilmore did a bang-up job on Sammy Watkins and should have had a possible scoop and score if not for the incompetence of the Boger officiating crew. J.C. Jackson had a nice interception. 

Lots of fans are on Jonathan Jones but covering Tyreek Hill and Hardman (48-yard TD) is no routine assignment, especially when the pass rush isn’t getting home. But he missed on several tackles though, something that will certainly draw the coaches ire. 

Devin McCourty’s one-two punch on Travis Kelce got the ball out for a fumble and was a fantastic play when the team really needed it. Jason McCourty returned after missing two games with a groin injury. 

Special Teams: B-

The Special Teams were up and down. Nate Ebner blocked a punt, giving the Patriots life in the 2nd half. But Nick Folk had a field goal blocked with some uncharacteristic poor blocking up front. Jake Bailey dropped a pair of punts inside the 20.

The coverage units did well but the return game, as it has most of the year was terrible. 

Coaches: C+

The Patriots coaching staff had an up and down night as well. After Andy Reid and the Chiefs figured out what the Patriots were doing defensively and had a big 2nd quarter, the Patriots made their adjustments and did a great job of limiting their passing game and were making them take small pieces at a time and as a result did a good job of shutting them down in the final 30 minutes. 

Offensively, the Patriots wanted to run the ball, needed to run the ball and tried to run the ball. Running on nearly every first down early in the game is great if you’re successful. But they weren’t, so the Chiefs were able to pin their ears back and pressure Brady on about 50 percent of his throws. 

Josh McDaniels is resigned to using trick plays to get the offense moving. He really needs to get Harry more involved in the passing game. And Bolden more in the running game. 

So we’re on to Cincinnati (Sounds vaguely familiar) and their final regular-season away game.  

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Patriots Lose Tough One to Kansas City 23-16, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 8, 2019 at 10:12 pm ET

The Patriots dropped their second game in a row getting stopped on a 4th down pass in the end zone as they fell to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-16 in a very exciting if at times aggravating game.

And while fans will point to the truly awful officiating (and it was), the reason they were behind the eight-ball didn’t have to do with the officiating, but we’ll get to Jerome Boger’s crew in due time. 

The Patriots had to overcome a bad second quarter where the Chiefs went into halftime scoring 20 unanswered points and then found themselves down 23-7 and in a position where they could have easily been blown out. Andy Reid and the Chiefs offense had figured out what the Patriots were doing defensively and Patrick Mahomes was shredding them in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, the Patriots offense after a nice opening drive was doing a lot of nothing. But they didn’t quit and forced a couple of key turnovers and put themselves in a position to either win or force overtime. And the defense made their own adjustments and held the Chiefs to just three second-half points. 

Other observations include:

Kansas City’s defense played a heckuva game, they did what I have said I’d do if I were an opposing defensive coordinator. I’d blitz the heck out of Tom Brady because other than Julian Edelman and James White, he has no one he can depend on to make plays consistently. And he doesn’t. 

Phillip Dorsett drew one long defensive pass interference penalty, and should have drawn another, but other than that? Zip, zilch, zero, nada. Zero catches, zero yards. Mohamad Sanu had one catch for 13 yards. As we said last week, when your #2 and #3 wide receivers have no production, it is awfully hard to win football games. 

The Patriots running game managed just 94 yards against a Chiefs defense that came in allowing 141.3 per game. That is a win for KC. The Chiefs defensive line was pushing around the offensive line of New England all night long. And their pass rush harried Brady on nearly every throw. 

Josh McDaniels has been pulling out all the stops and trying to find something that works offensively. On the first drive, they ran a flea-flicker with a very different look as James White took the handoff and ran to the right before tossing it back to Brady. Julian Edelman was wide open and he and Brady connected on a 37-yard touchdown pass that was aided by two pass interference calls on third down. 

The Patriots had chances to go up big, they intercepted Mahomes on the third snap for the Chiefs when J.C. Jackson undercut Tyreek Hill and picked it off at the Chiefs 40, but they went backward one yard and two passes went incomplete. 

After Mahomes led the Chiefs to a field goal, the Patriots then went on a 13-play, 56-yard drive that stalled at the Chiefs 23-yard line. Nick Folk’s 41-yard field goal was blocked when Tanoh Kpassagnon broke through the middle of the line cleanly and knocked it down. That was the turning point of the game and momentum. 

But the rest of the first half was all KC. Mahomes seemed to injure his throwing hand when it looked like he connected with one of his own players’ helmets with the pinkie on his hand. But he made some tremendous plays and had the Chiefs on the verge of a blowout. 

Facing a 3rd and 19 at their own 46, Mahomes was under heavy pressure and delivered a 21-yard strike to Tyreek Hill. Then on 2nd and 25 from the Patriots’ 48, he hit rookie Mecole Hardman for a 48-yard touchdown strike. That made the score 10-3.

Tom Brady was picked off on an unusual play on the first play of the ensuing series. Brady was attempting to hit Matt LaCosse down the numbers after he beat a linebacker in coverage. But Bashaud Breeland who was covering Julian Edelman outside on a short crossing route was fooled and kept running deep. He ran right into the play where Brady’s pass was going and picked it off, cutting in front of LaCosse 

Mahomes and the Chiefs wasted no time in converting their chance with Travis Kelce taking a direct snap on a 3rd and goal from the 4-yard line, scoring easily making it 17-7. 

The Patriots turned it over on downs. And a few plays highlight what has been troubling the offense. On 2nd a 7 from the Chiefs 27, they were showing an all-out blitz. And they did, Brady threw hot to Phillip Dorsett who ran a deep route down the numbers. He has to recognize that and cut his route short. On 3rd and 7, Jakobi Meyers dropped a pass that would have moved the sticks. 

Mahomes drove the Chiefs down just before the half with a chance to blow the game wide open. The Patriots defense stiffened and held them to a field goal and went into the half down 20-7.

The Chiefs took the second-half kickoff and went down and kicked another field goal to make it 23-7. It was then that the Patriots defense made their own adjustments and really tightened things up, holding the Chiefs scoreless for the final 25 minutes. 

On the Chiefs’ next possession, Nate Ebner burst up the middle and blocked a punt giving the Patriots excellent field position at the KC 19. Two plays later Brandon Bolden ran it in from 10 -yards out and the score was 23-13 after the two-point conversion failed.

During the Chiefs next possession is when the wheels on Boger’s staff came right off. Facing a 3rd and 4, from the KC 35, Mahomes drilled a crosser to Sammy Watkins who was tackled by Stephon Gilmore. The side judge gave Watkins a huge favorable spot at the 40-yard line when the replay clearly showed him catching it at the 39-yard line, very close to the yard marker. 

Bill Belichick threw a challenge flag, not only on the spot but asking for an offensive pass interference penalty on Travis Kelce. While the spot may have been a 1st down regardless, the officials ruled that the initial spot was correct. And Kelce clearly interfered with Gilmore. He ran a route about 2-3 yards and stopped and then stuck his ass out which clearly made contact with Gilmore. But both calls were denied by the replay officials. That would come back to haunt the Patriots. 

Five plays later, facing a 3rd and 2 at the NE 37, Mahomes hit Kelce on a short crosser. He initially made a first down but ran backward of his own accord and then was hit and fumbled. The ball bounced behind him where Gilmore made a scoop with a lot of green in front of him. But the officials blew the call dead and deemed Kelce down by contact. 

Normally, this year, the officials will let a play run itself out and then determine if a turnover occurred. But not here. Belichick was forced to use his second challenge. The call was reversed and the Patriots recovered but the scoop and probable score by Gilmore was negated. 

Brady drove the Patriots down to the KC 15 where on 1st down, he hit N’Keal Harry on a short pass to the left. Harry broke to the outside, and launched himself over the pylon for what appeared to be a touchdown. One official ruled him in, the other said he stepped out at the three. If they went with a touchdown it would have been automatically reviewed. The replays were clear, Harry was well within bounds, but because Boger’s crew had blown those two earlier calls, the Patriots had no challenges left. 

Worse, the players had begun to leave the field, believing a touchdown had been scored. With the play clock running out, Brady hurried them to the line and White was stuffed for a 2-yard loss on a play that had no chance of success. On 2nd down, Brady’s pass was dropped by Meyers in the end zone. A 3rd down sack forced a field goal making it 23-16. 

But Boger’s crew wasn’t done, on the Patriots final drive, Brady had a 3rd and 6 and went deep to Phillip Dorsett who was clearly interfered with but no flag was forthcoming. Brady did convert the 4th and 6, scrambling in slow motion for 17. They stalled and on 4th and 3 from the KC 5, Brady’s pass to Edelman was broken up. Ball game. 

Obviously, had the Harry score upheld, the 4h down would have been a field goal attempt to tie and send the game into another overtime. And while Boger’s crew deserve all of the bile that will come their way, (they remain the worst crew in the NFL), the reason the Patriots were in that position in the first place was their own lack of execution earlier and the Chiefs big second quarter. 

They didn’t quit and the defense showed why they are among the best in the league again. It is a frustrating loss but they’re still 10-3 and remain the #2 seed. 

We’re on to Cincinnati (that sounds vaguely familiar)  

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.

No Panic Necessary, Patriots To Stay the Course With the Offense in 2019

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

The Patriots offense has been scuffling along for the majority of the 2019 season and we’re now three-quarters of the way through. The team struggles in the red zone, on third down and doesn’t seem to have an offensive identity. 

Much of the fanbase has descended into full-blown panic mode, begging the owner of the team to sign one of the most self-centered players to suit up in the NFL within memory. Forgetting that the same player has only himself to blame for his ouster. All he had to do was shut up and play football. That was too much to ask. Ciao…

So, with the offensive struggles, we’ve heard the same things, we hear every year, “the Patriots are done, Brady is done, they can’t win…yawn. Wash, rinse, and repeat. As my friend Terry said the other day, “Bashing Tom Brady has become a cottage industry.”

After the loss to the Texans that dropped the team to 10-2, (gasp, how horrible!) the crescendo rose even louder. But what about the Patriots? Is there any panic coming from Gillette Stadium? Nope. Frustration, sure, who wouldn’t be? 

Flashback to Week 15 last year, the offense was ugly in the 17-10 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh and everyone (again) wrote the team off. They figured things out and then won their last two games of the regular season averaging 31 points and then three playoff games where they averaged 30 more.

We’re in Week 13 now, with the Chiefs who are playing much better now than they were about a month or two ago. So, they have a month instead of two weeks to figure it out. 

I know, I know, “this team doesn’t have that feeling that they can turn it around” right? How many times have we heard that one? The issues on offense, HAVE been consistent, so is the panic justified this time or is it just more of the same old rot?

However, the fact remains that what ails this offense is execution issues. The plays are there, they’re schemed up but for some reason, aren’t getting done.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been one to say that they lack speed on the outside and it influences the way opponents play them. And I’ll stand by that, however, (comma), the Patriots have never really had a bunch of speedy wide receivers. 

So, what’s the difference this year (so far), execution. Just like Bill Belichick says all the time that pass defense is a combination of pass coverage and pass rush, the passing game is a combination of three things. 

The offensive line has to give the quarterback enough protection to allow him to go through his progressions to hit the open receiver. The wide receivers have to run precise routes and be on the same page as the quarterback in terms of route selection. And the quarterback has to make his reads and deliver the ball accurately to where the receivers are. 

Too often this year, one or more of those three items have broken down, sometimes several on the same play. These items are still fixable. Two of the wide receivers (Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry) are rookies with Harry only playing in a couple of games due to injury. Mohamad Sanu came over in midseason from the Falcons and may still be hobbled a bit by his ankle injury. 

Phillip Dorsett is coming off a concussion, however, he’s now in his third season with the Patriots and his production is far from what it should be now. It seems like ages ago we were discussing his streak of completed passes thrown his way. 

All of them can be better, and in doing so, take some of the pressure off Julian Edelman. 

The offensive line has been in flux all season. Isaiah Wynn was taking over at left tackle and then was injured and put on IR. He’s been back just two games. David Andrews was lost for the year on IR, Ted Karras took over at center, now he’s hurt and may miss a few weeks. Marcus Cannon has been fighting an illness for two weeks. And Shaq Mason just isn’t having the type of season we’re accustomed to seeing from him. 

We have seen some improvement in the run blocking, the team ran for a season-high 145 yards on Sunday, facing a team (KC) that is pretty awful at defending the run (141.3-yard average), it is imperative that they run the ball well. 

Which leads us to Brady. Of course, the national bobos who glance at stats and will have you believe that he’s done have been saying that BS for years. But if you see the game and not just watch it, the truth says differently. Can he be better? Of course, but the lack of a running game, hit or miss protection and an inexperienced WR core have taken its toll. Is the trust factor real or imagined? I tend to believe it, but some ex-players have pooh-poohed the idea as overrated.

Josh McDaniels on a conference call with the media earlier today (Dec.4) spoke about what the team needs to do to right the ship. 

“I think there’s a lot of factors in the passing game that would determine what being on the same page really means, but practice, repetition – there’s no shortcut to it, he said. 

“Every rep we take in practice, every pass we throw, every side session that we’re able to take part in, every conversation, every one-on-one drill that we do in practice, every film session that we’re in, it just continues to try to build off of the last one. I think patience is something that – I know everybody wants everything to be a finished product, and we do too, but at the same time you have to understand there’s going to be a process and we’re going to try to stick to it.” 

He added, “We have to be committed to it, and we know that it’s productive when we stay the course and continue to coach the right things and fix the right things and then the players go out and make corrections and they have success with it.”

There is a month to go, tough matchups with KC and Buffalo are at home where they tend to play better. Those games are sandwiched around their last away game in Cincinnati and at home against Miami. Both of those are eminently winnable. 

They have a month to figure things out, can they do it? While many people tend to think that they can’t, their track record speaks otherwise. 

I’ve seen many, too many posts that say… “There’s no way they beat Kansas City this week!” I’m going to drink the Kool-Aid this week and say the offense plays much better and begins to turn things around. 

Who knows? That’s why they play the games. Check back later tomorrow and we’ll have the breakdown of the Chiefs game and the key matchups.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Tom Brady Explains Video Of Himself Screaming At Teammates, Hear The Sideline Audio

Robert Alvarez
December 4, 2019 at 9:40 pm ET

The New England Patriots fell to 10-2 following a 28-22 loss in Houston Sunday night.

During the game, quarterback Tom Brady was caught by cameras screaming at some of his receivers who had a rough night vs the Texans secondary.

Speaking with Westwood One’s Jim Gray Monday night, Brady clarified what happened, and explained its a usual occurrence.

“I do that quite a bit in practice,” Brady said. “I know they don’t always pick it up when I do speak, but I speak a lot in meetings and [on the] practice field, and certainly in the games, and in the huddle. I’m just trying to communicate what I see. A lot of other guys are doing the same thing.”

It’s no secret the offense has struggled, but Brady remains optimistic and is pleased with the effort so far.

“Guys are trying. I have no problem — I love playing with Phillip Dorsett,” Brady said on WEEI Monday. “I love playing with N’Keal. N’Keal is working his tail off. He hasn’t had a lot of opportunities out there and he’s learning as he’s going. To expect someone to go out in their third game of the year and be perfect, I think that is unrealistic for anyone. I love what N’Keal is bringing. We’re gaining confidence every week. I love what Jakobi (Meyers) is doing. We’re gaining confidence every week. Gaining confidence with Mohamed (Sanu). Julian (Edelman) and I, we’ve played together for a long time and I think that shows itself pretty well. I think you see, James (White) and I, we’ve played together a long time.”

The Patriots released mic’d up sights and sounds from the game, and you can hear some of Brady’s sideline words in the link below.