Tag Archives: NFL

Falcons, Like the Patriots Are Still Searching For Consistency

Steve Balestrieri
October 19, 2017 at 8:30 am ET

 

For most of the first six games of the 2017 season, the Patriots have scuffled along. At times playing very well, others they’ve looked lost out on the field with blown assignments and coverages and have allowed far too many yards and points. This was hardly the team that many experts were picking to finish 16-0 and repeat as Super Bowl Champions. And neither has been their foe in the Super Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons.

Atlanta too has struggled with their consistency and although they’ve consistently stated that they’ve put that Super Bowl collapse behind them, their play on the field has shown that while they’ve stated that, they still may not have taken that lesson to heart yet.

They allowed the Patriots to come back from 25 points in the Super Bowl and eventually win in overtime. Last week the Falcons had a 17-0 lead over the Dolphins at home in their new domed stadium and somehow lost 20-17 to a Miami team that is struggling to score points with QB Jay Cutler.

This was coming off of their bye after they dropped another home game to the Buffalo Bills despite leading at the half in that one also. Perhaps the old myth that New England goes to the playoffs every season because they play in the AFC East will not get much play in Atlanta after the past three weeks.

Here are some of our first impressions of the Falcons this week as they face off with the Patriots on Sunday Night Football.

Matt Ryan Isn’t Producing Anything Close to 2016 Level: The Falcons quarterback was operating on a different plane in 2016. Ryan completed a career-high 69.9 percent of his passes for 4944 yards with 38 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. He led the league in a plethora of passing categories. Yards per attempt (9.3), Touchdown percent (7.1), Yards per Completion (13.3), and Passer Rating (117.1).

Ryan followed that up with an outstanding performance in the three playoff games, completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 1014 yards (338 per game) with 9 touchdowns and zero interceptions for a passer rating of 135.3.

Thru his first five games of 2016, Ryan threw for 1740 yards with 12 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. In those games, after dropping the opener to the Bucs, the Falcons ripped off four wins in a row. In his first five games of 2017, his completion percentage has dropped but is still a very good 65.9 percent, but his yardage and touchdowns are way down and his interceptions are way up. Ryan has thrown for 1357 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. The Falcons are 3-2 and have had a couple of close calls in games they should have won easily….sound vaguely familiar?

Things may be looking up for Ryan this week, the Patriots defense has given every QB they’ve faced at least 300 yards passing. They’ve had numerous breakdowns in the secondary in coverage and the communication, even after six weeks is still hit or miss. Ryan should get Mohamed Sanu back this week which coupled with Julio Jones and their other receivers will be a big boost to the passing game. And New England will probably be without two of their top their corners in Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore who are injured and won’t play.

Running Backs Will Present Biggest Challenge: Even with a healthy secondary, one area that the Patriots defense is really struggling is covering the running backs and the Falcons have a pair of very good ones in either running or catching the ball out of the backfield. Devonta Freeman has 79 carries for 353 yards, 4.5 yards per carry and 5 touchdowns so far in 2017. No one can forget his first play from scrimmage in the Super Bowl when he ripped off a 37-yard run to begin the game. Tevin Coleman has rushed 38 times for 213 yards, 5.6 yards per carry and a score so far.

But working underneath in the passing game is where they’ll be most dangerous against a team that has struggled to defend it. Freeman has 11 catches for 81 yards and Coleman has 14 receptions for 157 yards, 11.2 yards per catch and a score. With a secondary already missing two corners, the safeties of New England will be hard-pressed to keep up with the wide receivers of the Falcons. So who is going to cover the backs? Kyle Van Noy has struggled in coverage, Dont’a Hightower has been used as an edge rusher.  Elandon Roberts or Jordan Richards? That is a big mismatch that the Falcons will exploit.

Defense Hasn’t Created Enough Pressure: The Falcons had a lightning-fast defense in 2016 and one that gave the Patriots fits thru the first three quarters of the Super Bowl. One of the reasons they were so successful is that they were able to bring pressure on Tom Brady throughout the game, sacking him five times.

Despite investing heavily in the defense this season, they haven’t been able to ratchet up the pressure that they hoped to so at this point of the season. As a team, they have just 12 sacks which is tied for 21st in the league after five games. One of the trickle-down effects of this is that the team isn’t generating turnovers. Atlanta as a team has generated just three turnovers thru five games, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery. Think back to how dominant they were, rolling thru the playoffs generating six turnovers in three playoff games.

Coming into Sunday’s game against Miami, Jay Cutler had been sacked 10 times in four games. The Falcons with a big 17-point lead in the second half should have been in prime position to push the envelope and get after Cutler and create pressure and perhaps force a turnover or two which could have broken the game open. But they didn’t sack Cutler once and Miami came back and forced a turnover of their own after scoring 20 straight points.

The Time is Now For the Falcons to Turn It Around: The Falcons schedule isn’t filled with easily winnable games the rest of the way of the 2017 season. If they can regain their winning formula of the 2016 season, they are still in good position to take their division once again. And it won’t be easy, Carolina is playing better this season and is a half-game up at 4-2. New Orleans, has turned things around and sits with them at 3-2.

A look at the Falcons remaining 11 weeks is a tough slate. After facing the Patriots on the road on Sunday Night Football, they return home to face the Jets and then go away to Carolina, home against the Cowboys, away against the Seahawks, home against the Bucs, Vikings, and Saints, away against the Bucs and Saints, before finishing up with the Panthers at home. That finale (admittedly very far in the future), could be the difference in the division’s crown.

Other than the Jets, who admittedly have been playing much tougher this season, there are no easy wins on this schedule. They have a tough slate of games to go. But what better way for them to re-ignite their season than to beat the Super Bowl champs on Sunday Night Football on the road?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quarterback: B

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

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

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

Running Backs: B+

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

Wide Receivers: B

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

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

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

Tight Ends: A-

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

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

Offensive Line: B+

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

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

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

Defensive Line: B+

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

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

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

Linebackers: B-

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

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

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

Secondary: B-

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

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

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

Special Teams: A-

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

Coaches: B-

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

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

Matt Patricia got Bademosi ready to play and he acquitted himself well, but the secondary continues to have communications issues six weeks into the season, allowing receivers to run free down the field. But overall, it was a win, on the road, against a divisional opponent. They’ll take it.

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

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

Five Monday NFL Thoughts After Week 6

Ian Logue
October 16, 2017 at 8:40 am ET

Sunday was an interesting afternoon with a variety of stories from around the league that stood out.  We’ll attempt to cover a few of them here each week, including several from yesterday.

1)  Undefeated no more – The Kansas City Chiefs suffered their first loss of 2017 after the Pittsburgh Steelers came into Arrowhead Stadium and dropped them to 5-1 on the season after a 19-13 loss.  They held the Chiefs to just three points through three quarters and the 12-3 lead Pittsburgh managed to put together over that span ended up being enough to hold them off.  Kansas City closed to within 12-10 with just over six minutes to go in the game, but Ben Roethlisberger came right back and hit Antonio Brown for a 51-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive to put the game away.

Roethlisberger was coming off of a loss to the Jaguars the previous week where he questioned whether or not he still “had it”, but that seemingly was just him whining after he came out earlier in the week calling himself “one of the best in the world”.

“You wake up Monday morning, and you realize, ‘Man, I’m still one of the best in the world [to] do what I do,’ ” Roethlisberger said via the Post-Gazette. “I’m gonna have that confidence. I’m gonna have that when I go out there Wednesday to practice and Sunday when we go to Kansas City.”

Fortunately for Roethlisberger, his team did enough to improve to 4-2 on the season and lift his ego for at least another week, while also helping New England’s chances at getting the top seed now that the Chiefs finally have one in the loss column.


Rodgers won’t get an opportunity to potentially battle with Brady in February.

2) Tough break for Rodgers – Aaron Rodgers season may have come to an abrupt end after the veteran took a big shot out in Minnesota that saw him get carted off the field during a 23-10 loss out in Minneapolis.

Unlike New England, where there the news might have taken a few days to come out, the Packers announced the injury over their Twitter channel saying that “he could miss the rest of the season.”  It’s disappointing because his loss likely will put the Packers’ postseason chances in jeopardy, eliminating a potential match-up between Brady and Rodgers in February.

Brady found out about the injury during his press conference.

“I didn’t know that. That sucks,” said Brady.

Rodgers’ injury turns the reins over to back-up Brett Hundley, who head coach Mike McCarthy said is “my quarterback”, with Joe Callahan as his back-up as the team now tries to move forward with Rodgers sidelined.

3) Colin Kaepernick trying to land a death blow to the CBA – For some odd reason, Kaepernick seems to believe that his ongoing unemployment is related to NFL owners conspiring against him, which will now reportedly see the quarterback file a collusion grievance, which holds some significance due to its potential effect on the CBA if he’s successful.

According to ProFootballTalk.com, Kaepernick is hoping to trigger the termination of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement if he’s able to prove collusion by the owners.

It seems to be a long shot, because one of the things that’s seemingly gotten lost surrounding the beleaguered quarterback is the fact that he’s not unemployed because of the fact he started the kneeling movement during the national anthem.  People seem to forget he was wearing police portrayed as pigs on his socks during training camp, as well as featuring a police officer badge as a “runaway slave patrol badge.”


Kaepernick’s bad decisions, not his anthem protests, are likely the reason he’s still unemployed.

Those statements were pretty telling and while his actions sparked the current league movement, what Kaepernick has already done has been ugly enough where given that teams are escorted by police and security on a weekly basis, bringing a player who openly wears socks portraying them with a word that most officers dislike being called is something that is probably the bigger reason keeping owners from seeking his services.  Not to mention the fact that adding that drama and attention to their locker room is another thing they likely don’t want either.

Given that some of Kaepernick’s concerns involve racially charged accusations that most people dislike making blanket statements about, it’s ironic that Kaepernick made such strong blanket statements about police.  While it’s hard to deny that there may certainly be legitimate things that need to be discussed with this issue, he didn’t handle it as well as he could have and he really went too far, which has also hurt his cause.

The other issue is the fact that Kaepernick wasn’t playing at a high level during his final days in San Francisco and the negatives he brings as a distraction likely outweighs a substantial enough reason for a team to take the chance of bringing him in.  Had he knelt and then made his thoughts known to media outlets to bring his grievances to light in a more controlled manner, it might have played out differently.  But the pig socks and the strong Twitter statements haven’t helped his cause, and when you take into account the national backlash the league is already feeling over the anthem protest to begin with, it would be tough for one member club to want to take the additional baggage surrounding Kaepernick on.

Let’s be honest, when you look at how things have been handled by concerned players even here in New England, it’s completely different from Kaepernick’s actions.  Even Indianapolis has handled things better, with former Patriots Darius Butler and Kamar Aiken doing positive things to try and spark productive discussions with local police.  It’s a stark contrast to what the now unemployed player did, and it’s amazing that people seem to have forgotten that.

At the end of the day, Kaepernick had the right intention with his plight but it’s ultimately been his poor execution and decision-making that has him in this position.  He may try and prove collusion, but these are likely the real reasons his NFL career may be over.

He needs to look in the mirror instead of pointing any fingers when it comes to why NFL owners don’t want anything to do with him.  Hopefully the progress he ultimately makes someday years from now in sparking a positive change, which if Kaepernick is being truthful in some of the other things he’s said, will be more rewarding than the NFL career he cost himself by going too far with his actions.

He’s his own worst enemy.  The sooner he admits that and shifts his focus to truly wanting to finish what he started, the sooner maybe he’ll finally bring about the change he sought to begin with.


Matt Ryan fell apart Sunday against Miami.

4) Dolphins come away with big second-half over Atlanta – With the Falcons set to visit Gillette Stadium next Saturday night, they’ll likely be fired up after dropping a disappointing game at home against the visiting Miami Dolphins.

Atlanta put together a 17-0 first half lead, but were shut out by Miami in the second half as the Dolphins put up 20 unanswered points and forced an interception by Matt Ryan with 0:47 to go with the Falcons sitting at the Dolphins’ 26-yard line.  The turnover sealed the win for Miami, who improved to 3-2 on the season and kept them even with the 3-2 Bills, who are on a bye this week.

It’s the second loss to an AFC East team in successive weeks for Atlanta and it’s also the second-consecutive loss at home for the Falcons, who will face another AFC East foe this week on the road when they come to Foxboro next Sunday in a rematch of February’s Super Bowl.

Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen said that two home losses is a disgrace and at 3-2, they need to “reset” with a critical game on tap next weekend.

“We’ve got to reset,” Allen said via ESPN. “It ain’t no other way. What you going to do, just lay down? There’s s— else you can do. You’ve got be a man. You’ve got to know what we work for when we wake up every morning. What we grind for. What this team stands for. We’ve got to reset.”


Rivers and the Chargers did just enough to beat the Raiders Sunday.

5) Chargers Upset Oakland – Despite a hapless Los Angeles team that seemed like their season was headed into the tank, the Chargers managed to get their second win of the year after beating the Raiders 17-16 with a last-second field goal.

The Raiders saw quarterback Derek Carr return from his back injury but he’s clearly still hampered, with Carr struggling his way through a 21-of-30 performance that included two interceptions.

For the Chargers, it’s their second straight victory as they appear to be gaining some momentum and confidence despite playing in a division where they’re going to have their work cut out for them in catching the 5-1 Chiefs and 3-2 Broncos.

“I thought the guys stepped up and made plays when we had to,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said via ESPN.  “That’s what we’ve been talking about. I’m so proud that they starting to see the fruit of their labor because these men work hard every single week.”

The Chargers will visit New England in two weeks on 10/29 and one stat to watch will be the fact that Los Angeles’ defense has struggled in the first quarter, having been outscored 50-7 in the opening quarter through six games.   The Patriots have had some success scoring points in the first quarter, which has been the Patriots’ second highest scoring quarter with 40.  The Patriots’ highest scoring quarter has been the second quarter, which has seen them put up 71 points through six games.

Ugly Start, Uglier Finish, But the Patriots Win 24-17 Over the Jets

Steve Balestrieri
October 15, 2017 at 8:03 pm ET

The Jets were given a Bronx cheer by the replay officials in New York just across the river and it played a key point why the Jets weren’t going to overtime. But in the end, the Patriots were able to hold on again 24-17 as Tom Brady became the NFL’s all-time winningest quarterback in regular season history with his 187th win breaking a tie with Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. He’s already the NFL’s all-time leader in wins with both regular season and playoffs combined.

But back to the controversy. Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught a pass at the four-yard line and rolled to the end zone, where just at the pylon, Malcolm Butler tried to and for the briefest of moments jarred the ball free. But Jenkins never really lost control and rolled out of bounds in the end zone in what appeared to 77,562 people in the stands and thousands on television as a touchdown. But NY overturned the call on the field and ruled it a touchback and New England’s ball on the twenty. A huge gift and swing of momentum.

And before my timeline fills up with Patriots Nation telling me it was the right call, switch the teams around and picture Rob Gronkowski rumbling to the end zone and the same play happens….is it a fumble then? It was the worst call in a generally terribly officiated game.

After having 10 days to prepare for the Jets, the Patriots took the first 15 minutes to figure out if the game was at 1:05 not 1:45. The defense was gashed badly on the Jets first drive as Josh McCown looked like a guy QBing a well-oiled machine instead of an offense averaging 156 yards per game. The Jets went 88-yards going 4-4 on third down and immediately thoughts were …”Here we go again.”

The Patriots were gashed on defense and turned the ball over on offense and it was 14-0 Jets before the Pats finally decided to kick it in gear. The lights then came on for Belichick’s crew and they rallied for 24 straight points and seemed poised for taking total control of the game over. But some sloppy play and indifferent defensive play struck again and the team had to hold on for another seat-of-your-pants type of win.

The Patriots recovered from a bad sequence at the end of the half to get a turnover and then went down the field in just 26 seconds to score a game-tying touchdown on a pass from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski. Gronk who was interfered with horribly on an earlier non-call where Stephen Gostkowski missed a 47-yard field goal when it seemed the team would go into the half trailing 14-7 or worse.

The Jets were moving but McCown made a mistake when he got greedy. He made a bad decision to throw on the sideline where Malcolm Butler was in great position to jump the route and he did intercepting the ball. Brady then hit a beautiful rainbow play to Brandin Cooks to set the Patriots up at the two where Gronkowski outmuscled rookie Jamal Adams for the tying score.

Receiving the ball for the second half kickoff, Brady marched them down the field where Gronkowski scored his second touchdown of the game getting behind the secondary for a 33-yard touchdown and suddenly New England is up 21-14. It was their best sequence of the day and at that time, they looked poised to put the Jets far in the rear-view mirror. But it was not to be and the team allowed McCown, to march up and down the field in the fourth quarter like they were facing Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan, who coincidentally comes to Foxboro next week.

Other observations include:

  • The Patriots Run Defense was actually quite good today, holding the Jets to 74 yards overall and Jets running backs were held to 20 carries for 47 yards.  Alan Branch seemed like the Alan Branch of old and was doing a great job of stuffing the interior. Malcom Brown had two run stuffs for negative yardage.
  • The Pass Rush isn’t getting it done. Can’t blame Matt Patricia for being too conservative in this one. The Patriots rushed five many times and used the corner blitz often in an attempt to influence the play. It didn’t do it enough. Often McCown had tons of time and of the four sacks, the Patriots got, thank the coverage on most of those.
  • Brady was noticeably off with his accuracy for much of the day. He completed only 20-38 for 257 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He threw deep into double coverage a couple of times and the second time was picked off by Buster Skrine. But in the middle of the game when the team found their rhythm, he was hitting some big third and long completions. His deep ball to Cooks was his best throw by far, 42 yards which set up the tying touchdown, right in the bucket.
  • Cooks and Gronkowski had very productive days, Cooks caught 6 passes for 93 yards and Gronk had six for 83 with a pair of touchdowns. But Chris Hogan had a quiet day, catching just one pass for 19. Danny Amendola and James White also had only so-so production with 3 catches for 40, and 4 for 22 respectively.
  • Kyle Van Noy had a productive day with a pair of sacks, and three quarterback hits and seven tackles. Dont’a Hightower and Malcom Brown were credited with the other sacks.
  • Dion Lewis had another good day running the football, with 11 carries for 52 yards and a touchdown. He had a long run of just 11 but once again, he appeared close on a few occasions of breaking on. Mike Gillislee had a costly fumble but also ran well, gaining 44 yards on ten carries.
  • Josh McDaniels had an up and down afternoon. The Patriots didn’t get anything going until the second quarter. And he got too impatient before the half where with a minute and a half to go, the Patriots were on the Jets 30 and tried the deep ball twice in a row without success where Gostkowski missed a field goal.  In the fourth quarter facing a 2nd and 5 from the Jets 6, he called a crossing route where a run would have had a much greater chance of success.
  • With both Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe out, Johnson Bademosi got the start with Jonathan Jones in the slot. Surprisingly, the Jets went after Malcolm Butler and not Bademosi. He didn’t play badly but played as better than what can be expected. However, the overall pass defense once again was very leaky.

There were positives to report, such as the Patriots not panicking once they got down by 14 points. They raised their level of play on both sides of the ball and showed a ton of resiliency against a division opponent on the road in a loud stadium. On a day where they weren’t playing their best. They rebounded and climbed out of a big deficit.

While they didn’t start or end the game particularly well, the Patriots showed the mental toughness that champions must have.

But there is no sugar-coating the play of the defense where although they ‘officially’ allowed only 17 points, their level of play early and late in the game just isn’t going to get it done.

And now Matt Ryan and the Falcons are coming to town next week, fresh off of blowing a seventeen point lead at home against the Dolphins. One other footnote for the game is to call attention to all of the people who constantly rail about the Patriots making the playoffs because of how weak the AFC East is. Well the AFC “Least” has more wins in Atlanta this season, than the Falcons do.

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

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

New England Patriots News 10-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packers at Vikings – Green Bay

Redskins- Washington

Lions at Saints – Detroit

Dolphins at Falcons – Atlanta

Browns at Texans – Houston

Patriots at Jets – New England

Buccaneers at Cardinals – Arizona

Rams at Jaguars – Los Angeles

Chargers at Raiders – Oakland

Steelers at Chiefs – Kansas City

Giants at Broncos – Denver

MNF Colts at Titans – Tennessee

Bye week: Bills, Bengals, Cowboys, Seahawks

Next Thursday Night Oakland over Kansas City

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series History:

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

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up the Jets offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

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

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

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

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

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

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

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

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

Who Are Those Jets Tied With the Patriots?, 5 Initial Impressions of Gang Green

Steve Balestrieri
October 11, 2017 at 9:37 am ET

Raise your hand if you saw that coming this summer. Don’t look now but the Jets are in first place. Yes they are, the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets, have overachieved this season thru the first five weeks as Todd Bowles crew has bought into his system and his message.

Many people believed that the Jets wouldn’t win one game in 2017, never mind three in a row as the players have ignored the noise and are gutting out wins. Bowles was saddled with a team gutted by the front office in a total purge of big salaries and most of the NFL pundits believed that they were tanking in hopes of getting the top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to get the franchise quarterback that has eluded them. But Bowles, who is coaching for his job, not the #1 pick has the team playing hard every week. While their wins, especially last week against Cleveland wasn’t a pretty one, no one cares at the end of the season how many style points you have, wins and losses is the measuring stick.

The surprising Jets are 3-2 and tied with the Bills and Patriots for the top spot in the AFC East, the Dolphins are a half-game back at 2-2. No one would have thought that they would be playing the Patriots in Week 6 with the top spot in the AFC East on the line. They’re playing with house money right now. I’d expect them to come out loose and ready to empty the tank in front of the home crowd in an attempt to steal a win away.

Here are our five initial impressions of the Jets heading into this week:

Sacks Have Been Hard to Come By …For Now:
The Jets have two of the better interior defensive linemen in the league with Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson. And while the two have been solid thus far, the one thing that has been missing so far is the sacks. Neither one has been able to notch a sack this season.

That has been especially frustrating for Williams, a 2016 Pro-Bowl lineman who listed as one of his goals this season was to notch a sack a game. Bowles, for one, isn’t worried about the sack totals per se, “They’re playing hard. I don’t worry about their sacks,” Bowles said on his Monday conference call. “Their sacks will come, but they’re playing hard. They’re taking a lot of doubles up for everybody else, but there are certain schemes that require different things, and they are doing those different things. They are great team players and great individual players, so the sacks will come.”

This week they’re going against a New England offensive line that is giving up far too much pressure and sacks on quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots quarterback has been sacked more in the first five games (16) than he was in all 12 games of 2016. So, this may be the week where those two look to get off the schneid.

Jets Offense Hasn’t Been Bad in the Early Going:
After releasing so many of their skill position players in the spring and suffering injuries this summer, the outlook for them was really not looking good this season. And while the team is still #26 in terms of yardage in the NFL, they haven’t been as bad as advertised.

The running game with Bilal Powell is in the middle of the pack, 13th in the NFL averaging 111.4 yards per game. The passing game is currently 25th averaging just 189 yards per game. They are scoring an average of 18.4 points per game which is good for 23rd in the league.

Josh McCown, the journeyman QB in his 15th season has played well. He’s completing 71.4 percent of his passes but for only 1020 yards thus far. Translation, he’s doing the things he needs to do and throwing the safe passes underneath for the most part.

But his most impressive drive this year? Last week against the Browns, they stopped Cleveland on their three-yard line and McCown took them on a 97-yard touchdown drive that put the game away. While they’ve struggled at times, they’ve also had some good moments as well. But for the game, they managed only 212 yards and 34 on the ground.

Running Backs Hurting:
As of Tuesday evening, we don’t know if the Jets will be without running backs Matt Forte and Bilal Powell for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Forte has missed the last two games with a turf-toe injury and Powell is dealing with a calf strain. He exited the game on Sunday with the Browns just before halftime. He’s listed as day-to-day.

If those two aren’t able to go that would leave the job to rookie Elijah McGuire as the feature back and Travaris Cadet as their third down specialist. McGuire is a 5’11, 214-pound rookie out of Louisiana-Lafayette. He’s run well thus far in 2017 carrying the ball 34 times for 176 yards, good for a 5.2-yard average, including a big, 69-yard touchdown run against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s an athletic, good runner with good ball security and shows good acceleration in getting to the hole. He has deceptive speed in getting to the edge. He’s also a decent pass receiver out of the backfield and has caught five passes thus far this year.

The Patriots will no doubt attempt to stop the run and force the Jets to beat them via the pass. So, we can expect that the play in the trenches will be key here. As of right now, Bowles told the press that the team doesn’t expect to sign another running back in the interim.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins Should Be a Big Target:
The Jets big tight end should see a lot of action going his way in the passing game this week. With the Patriots primed to slow or stop the run, play action passing from McCown will have to be spot on this week and the Jenkins may be the guy he turns to first.

Jenkins was one of the bright spots on an offense that didn’t have a great day against the Browns a week ago. He was targeted eight times in the game and hauled in six passes. While he gained just 29 yards, many of his receptions were just enough to keep the chains moving including a touchdown that gave the Jets the lead in the third quarter.

Jenkins will get matched up with either a safety (Pat Chung) or one of the linebackers and this will be a big matchup to watch this week. Despite playing in just three games this season, the big tight end has caught 15 passes for 106 yards and a score. Jets tight ends in 2016 caught a combined 18 passes in 2016. The Jets asked him to drop some weight this offseason and he did. He lost 30 pounds and moves much quicker and has shown better hands thus far than he has in the past.

Two Rookie Safeties Helping Turn the Defense Around:
Last season, the Jets defense was a mess and a lot of the struggles centered around weak play from the safety position. So they replaced Marcus Gilchrist and Calvin Pryor this spring by using a first and second-round draft picks to draft Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye respectively this April.

To be fair, Gilchrist and Pryor were far from the only problems on the Jets back end last year. But the team felt they needed a big upgrade there and so far it has worked very well. Adams and Maye became the first rookie starting safety tandem in the league since the AFL/NFL merger. The two rookies have impressed from Day 1 and won their starting jobs this summer and have not looked back.

Last year the Jets surrendered 13 plays of at least 40 yards in the passing game. Thus far in 2017, they’ve allowed one. This week, they’ll face a tough test in the form of Rob Gronkowski who Adams admits was one of the first people he thought of when he was drafted. Adams, in particular, has been very versatile. He’s lined up as a strong safety, free safety, nickel linebacker, slot corner, even splitting out wide as an edge corner a few times. The Jets took some heat drafting two safeties back to back but so far, they are performing even better than they could have hoped for and now offer positional stability for years to come.

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

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

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

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

Defense Rebounds a Bit in Florida

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

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

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

Quarterback: B

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

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

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

Running Backs: B

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

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

Wide Receivers: B+

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

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

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

Tight Ends: INC

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

Offensive Line: C

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

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

Defensive Line: C

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

Linebackers: B

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

Secondary: B-

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

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

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

Special Teams: B-

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

Coaches: A-

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

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

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

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

Ian Logue
at 6:24 am ET

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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