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New England Patriots News 10-28, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
October 20, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 10-20 and AFC East notes this week. 

Game Day, but not for the Patriots who play the Jets on Monday Night Football tomorrow night.   

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Patrick Mahomes – it seems dodged a serious injury on Thursday night in Denver. And that is a good thing not just for Mahomes and the Chiefs but for the league as a whole. Mahomes’ star is rising and he’s quickly becoming one of the new faces of the league. No one wants to see any player, let alone a star suffer a serious injury. Anyone who would do so, needs to seriously reevaluate the lives. 

However, what the heck is wrong with some media types who before Mahomes is even off the deck, turn his injury into some kind of an anti-Patriots diatribe. It was a disgusting lack of empathy. We know you can’t help the slant against the Patriots but for cryin’ out loud, have a little humanity.  His injury at the time had zero to do with NE, a horrible lack of timing there, but it has become par for the course in some places.

Andy Reid – He knows he dodged a bullet with Mahomes’ injury and he’ll return at some point this season. Hopefully, he won’t rush his QB back too soon and risk further injury. Despite the game on Thursday, they have a woeful defense, but they still have plenty enough playmakers on offense to remain competitive in Mahomes’ absence. They’ll still be in a position to carry their division with Matt Moore. They’ll get their QB back for the stretch run and go from there. 

Eric Tomlinson – had a crazy week. According to NESN, the Patriots new tight end signed and practiced with the team on Tuesday, and then jetted off to Texas for the birth of his son who was delivered by Caesarian section on Wednesday morning. He’s back in Foxboro and preparing for his former team the Jets and may see reps at both tight end and fullback.  

Two-Point for Tua? Seemed So- The Miami Dolphins scored a late touchdown last week against the Washington Redskins in the closing moments of the game and trailed 17-16.  Rather than attempt an extra point to tie the game and send it into overtime, Miami, winless like the Redskins, decided to go for the win. But their attempt seemed like they were determined to fail rather than succeed. The Redskins snuffed it out in the backfield and came away with a victory in the debut of interim coach Bill Callahan.

Trent Brown – In case anyone was wondering is a member of the Oakland Raiders. In fact, Oakland signed Brown to the highest contract for an offensive lineman in NFL history this spring. But once Brown was charged with domestic assault, Brown wasn’t a Raider at all. Several media outlets including those here in Boston led off with “Former Patriots OL Trent Brown…” Funny thing is when all of the sexual assault allegations came against Antonio Brown, I didn’t see a single headline stating “Former Pittsburgh Steeler Antonio Brown…” and yet every allegation against him occurred when he was a member of the Steelers. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Brady Rightfully Pi$$ed At Supposed Kraft Dig:

Tom Brady is livid that people who saw a clip of a new Paul Rudd Netflix film, took it to mean that it was a dig against Robert Kraft. And unless everything we’ve ever believed about Brady and his relationship with Kraft is wrong, then yes, people jumped to conclusions before bothering to research the clip and the meaning.

“That’s not what that was about,” Brady said. “I think that was taken out of context, just like you’re taking it out of context and trying to make it a story for yourself, which has a negative connotation to it, which I don’t appreciate. It was meant to be something different than that. The fact it’s a distraction or you’re bringing it up is not something I want to be talking about.”

“It was shot on a green screen,” he said, remarking it was not filmed at a strip mall. “It was agreed to a year ago. It was written four years ago. Again, it’s unfortunate that people would choose to think I would ever do something like that about Mr. Kraft. I think that’s a very bad assessment of my relationship with him. I would never do that.”

Timothy Greenberg, a fan of the New York Jets, said that he wrote the scene as a “subtle dig” at Brady, who at the time was coming off his “Deflategate” suspension. Brady, while exiting the spa is supposed to be a clone of himself, not receiving a “happy ending” at a massage parlor.

“There was this implication that maybe he’s a clone and he’s cheating,” Greenberg said in an interview. “When I wrote it, he was 37 and had won four Super Bowls. And then by the time I actually make the thing, he’s now 41 and he’s just coming off his sixth Super Bowl win. So he became even more perfect. He was our number one choice for that.”

The media ran with the clip without bothering to do due diligence in an attempt to get it out there first and tried to paint it as Brady slamming his boss when the fact of the matter is that it had nothing to do with Kraft or his situation. I’d say we’re shocked, but no…we’re not here. He’s been raked over the coals for nothing for the past several years and one has to wonder when he’ll decide it isn’t worth it anymore.

The filmmakers knew what they were doing, they filmed Brady on a green screen and then after the Kraft situation, superimposed the strip mall to make it look like the Florida spa. They did him dirty, but no worse than all of the sites who ran with the false narrative. The total a$$-covering by the rest is… not surprising.

Will Michael Bennett’s Situation Play Out? Probably Not Well:

After the Patriots suspended DL Michael Bennett for “conduct detrimental to the team”,  it naturally opened up conversations if Bennett is on his way out of Foxboro. It certainly would appear so, his snaps have been steadily decreasing and last Thursday he played in only a handful of snaps against the Giants, most of which at garbage time. That led to what Bennett described as a “philosophical disagreement” with positional coach Bret Bielema. 

Bennett was brought in to help replace Trey Flowers after he bolted in free agency. Bennett thrives in a 4-3 system as a defensive end, which is what the Patriots played in 2018. But the defense morphed into more of a 3-4 defense this season and that hasn’t played into Bennett’s strengths. Because the down linemen in the Patriots 3-4 still have the same two-gap responsibility that they’ve always had. 

Bennett has always been an attacking 4-3 end and a 3-4 defensive end is more of an interior lineman. It hasn’t been a great fit, scheme-wise. When he’s able to pin his ears back and rush the QB, he’s been pretty successful. But with the depth and the production of the linebackers, he’s been relegated to a subpackage interior pass rusher. So, now the question arises, where do they go from here?

The trade market would be very limited, given Bennett’s age and the state of the league. Few of the teams still in the hunt for a playoff spot would be willing to take on or need a player with his strengths. The Lions or the Raiders would possibly make sense or maybe the Rams who are looking for a spark defensively. If the Patriots were to trade Bennett it would free up about $2 million in salary-cap space where they’re right up against the cap.

Releasing Bennett is, of course, an option, if those philosophical disagreements get any worse or continue for that matter. That would free up the cap space and possibly rid the team of any distractions in the locker room. But then you run the risk of another rival picking him up for nothing and adding him to the mix against you down the road in the postseason. And if the team suffered an injury on the defensive front, it would leave the team thinner with their depth. 

Or they could choose to ride things out and hope that they can get Bennett to buy-in for the duration of the season. With several tougher games on the slate, a player like Bennett, especially in the postseason has the experience and pedigree to give the team some outstanding production in those game-changing moments. 

But Bennett is a proud player and in reality, not a great fit for what the Patriots are running defensively right now. And I will be surprised if he’s still with the team by the end of the season. 

Demaryius Thomas’ Tenure With NE as “A Waste of Time” :

The Patriots traded WR Demaryius Thomas to the Jets in the fallout of the signing of Antonio Brown and hindsight being 20/20 it shows that now it was a mistake. Both in trading Thomas and of course signing Brown.

Thomas on Wednesday didn’t mince any words over how things played out and characterized the Patriots and Bill Belichick’s actions as “disrespectful”. 

“Like, you know, you could trust me and I could trust you,” Thomas said. “You told me when you cut me at the [final] cut, sit around you’ll bring me back. And I stayed. I could have easily become a Jet once I got cut.… I could have been here the next day after I got released. But I chose to stay.”

“Bill Belichick came up to me and was like, ‘Uh, we got too many guys. We can’t get the ball around enough and we’re going to trade you to the Jets,’” Thomas added. “And that was that…. Ain’t no reason to yell. They’ve won championships without me. I was only trying to be a part of something that was going to be good when I was there… They’re doing a hell of a job.”

Thomas’ frustration is certainly understandable but he must remember that he told the media that the Patriots were the only team who contacted him after his Achilles injury with the Texans. They worked with him all spring and summer, and in retrospect should have stuck with him. But from a pure football standpoint, the decision between Thomas at this point in his career and Brown is truly a no-brainer.

NFL Schedule Week 7, 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: 7-7
Season: 54-37-1

TNF Kansas City over Denver 1-0 

Buffalo over Miami
Jacksonville over Cincinnati
Minnesota over Detroit
Green Bay over Oakland
LA Rams over Atlanta
Indy over Houston
49ers over Washington
NY Giants over Arizona
Tennessee over LA Chargers
Saints over Bears
Seahawks over Ravens
SNF Philadelphia over Dallas
MNF Patriots over NY Jets

Bye Week – Panthers, Browns, Steelers, Bucs

Early Thursday Night Football pick Minnesota over Washington

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Looking to Be Buyers at the Trade Deadline:

The Buffalo Bills currently have the second-best record in the AFC behind the Patriots and will almost certainly improve that today with a home tilt against the Dolphins. With the trade deadline approaching in less than 10 days, the Bills aren’t looking to unload talent, but bring some in to help for a postseason push where they are still very much alive in the AFC East. 

Buffalo’s defense is stacked although if they were to add a piece there, they may want a defensive end who can get after the QB. The Bills have plenty of depth there but not a ton of production. But overall, their defense is solid and the strength of the team. 

If they can use some help, it would probably be at wide receiver. A.J. Green has been mentioned as a possible Buffalo target (including here), he’d give the Bills a big, physical target who has had plenty of production in his career but has had issues with staying healthy and on the field. 

Other names that have been supposedly tied to Buffalo include the Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, Giants wideout Golden Tate, and TE O.J. Howard. Sanu has played mainly in the slot for the Falcons but can slide inside or outside and has made an average of 64 catches for over 700 yards in his time in Atlanta. 

Tate is a talented receiver but the Giants, who aren’t going anywhere this season have two young talented WRs in Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard and may decide to dangle Tate as a search for draft capital. 

Howard is a very talented tight end who is not being utilized in the Tampa Bay offense. Coupled with the young and talented Dawson Knox, he could give the Bills a huge and athletic target in the passing game. He’s also an excellent blocker.  

Dolphins Drake on the Trading Block:

The Miami Dolphins in the midst of an awful rebuilding program where the fans are either on the “Tanking for Tua” or “Bailing for Burrow” storylines won’t be surprised to see that several teams are contacting the Dolphins about the availability of running back Kenyan Drake for a possible deadline trade. 

The former 3rd-round draft pick has always somewhat under-utilized in Miami’s system under both Adam Gase and now Brian Flores. With the bad offensive line play, Drake is on par for his worst statistical season of his career. 

Drake is in the final year of his rookie deal and would be a really nice pickup for any playoff teams looking for a reliable, versatile player. 

Jets/Docs Dispute Extent of G Kelechi Osemele’s Shoulder Injury:

The New York Jets are facing some backlash over the shoulder injury suffered by guard Kelechi Osemele. He’s been out for four weeks with his injury and the Jets team doctor and an independent doctor have cleared him for play. And if he doesn’t return to practice by Saturday, Osemele is subject to fines and/or suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team.” 

The rub is Osemele is saying he needs surgery to repair his shoulder. The Jets counter that the injury is a pre-existing one that can wait until the season is over. 

“It’s been killing me,” Osemele said to the media on Friday. “I’m just trying to get this done. I’ve done everything I can. I’ve been at work every day, waking up at 5 in the morning, doing all the rehab and the treatments and stuff like that. I’m like the last dude out of here at night. I’m doing everything I can.

“I’m working with my agent. We’re communicating with the team. There’s just no communication between the team and my doctor and my agent. It’s just been butting heads for whatever reason. Hopefully, it gets resolved soon.”

There is a source who reported to the Jets media that Osemele wasn’t cleared by the two doctors and that surgery was recommended, due to a torn labrum. The same source also said Osemele was told to take the painkiller Toradol, prescribed by the Jets’ doctor, so he could play. He did and aggravated it against the Patriots a month ago. He’s making $11.7 million dollars this season (non-guaranteed) but if he’s injured, the Jets can’t cut him loose without forking over the rest of his money.

________________

“Demaryius is a great kid. I have a ton of respect for him. He’s very professional and did everything we asked him to do. Our circumstances changed a couple times in that period leading up to when he was traded, and so I felt like I was always truthful with him, but things changed, and therefore what I said was not the same as what it was – what I had said previously. So, it is what it is..” – Bill Belichick being asked about the comments by Demaryius Thomas on the “insulting and disrespectful” trade by the Patriots with the Jets.

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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.

 

Adam Butler Has Stepped Up His Game For the Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
October 17, 2019 at 7:58 am ET

The New England Patriots defense is off to a tremendous start in 2019, thru the first six games, they’re off to an unprecedented start and are playing some tremendous football. As Bill Belichick would say, “there is a long way to go”, (there is), and the true meat of their schedule lies in front of them. However, regardless of the opponents, the way the defense is playing right now is awfully impressive. 

And speaking of an unprecedented start, third-year defensive lineman Adam Butler has been playing tremendous football. In his first two seasons, the UDFA from Vanderbilt was used mainly as a third-down pass rusher. In 2018, Butler played on 36 percent of the team’s defensive snaps and garnered 3 sacks, 2 passes batted down and one forced fumble. 

Through the first six games this season, Butler’s playing has increased to 50 percent of the defensive snaps. This off-season the Patriots 4-3 base defense has morphed into more of a 3-4 base but they are very multiple and switch fronts and looks constantly. And Butler’s rise in the interior DL has given way to better production, he’s already notched 2.5 sacks, a pair of passes knocked down and 3 quarterback hits. 

Butler’s rise has been a major factor in the reason that Michael Bennett’s snap counts have decreased so much. It isn’t so much that Bennett has been playing poorly, but that Butler has played so well. 

Butler and defensive line coach Bret Bielema spoke in the spring about Butler having a bigger impact and becoming a more complete player. Bielema, it should be noted, that besides being a head coach at Wisconsin and Arkansas, he was a defensive coordinator prior to that at both Kansas State and Wisconsin. He comes from a defensive background. And he’s liking what he’s seeing from the 3rd-year lineman. 

“He’s long, he’s athletic; he has a way to bend. He’s one of those guys that really does very seldom ever get out of position. He has very good balance; understands leverage. He’s a very intelligent player,” Bielema said on a conference call to the media. 

“He truly is a guy that really gets it, understands it, can process it and the thing this year working with him during the course of a game, he literally understands when things happen literally on the spot. He can come to the sideline, digest what just happened, what they’re trying to do, how we can combat it. He gives a lot of really good information. As coaches, sometimes you don’t get all the most accurate information sometimes, but I will say that AB really does take a lot of pride in his skill set on game day and that’s what’s really shown up.”

Butler still is playing his role as a designated interior pass rusher but has expanded his role into more of a base role and has earned his coaches’ respect. Bill Belichick spoke about him after the Buffalo game. 

“Adam’s a very intelligent player and he has very good football instincts,” said Belichick. “So you can give him a lot of information and he kind of knows when to apply it and when not to apply it. So his ability to do the right thing at the right time based on a call, or based on the way that the line blocks, or kind of the protections they use, things like that in the pass rush, even in the running game; he does a good job of recognizing those things quickly and making good decisions, which is really hard to do when you’re in-line like that.”

Belichick added, “All players get better with coaching, all players get better with experience, but his growth in three years now has really been impressive.”

Butler’s rise has been impressive in his third year. On a defense that has been firing on all cylinders, Butler doesn’t do a lot of the flashy stuff that ends up on the highlight reels but he’s been playing his role extremely well and for the 6’5, 300-pound lineman, his coaches have seen his value. And they’re rewarding him with more playing time and responsibility. 

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.

 

Patriots Addressing Tight End With Tomlinson, Watson

Steve Balestrieri
October 15, 2019 at 7:07 am ET

 Ch-ch-changes, There’s gonna have to be a different man

The Patriots are looking to make some needed additions at tight end this week as they prepare for the Jets on Monday Night Football next week.  NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport has reported that the Patriots are signing former Jets and Giants tight end Eric Tomlinson to the 53-man roster. 

Yesterday, Field Yates of ESPN reported that the team was bringing back veteran Ben Watson. Watson was signed this spring but was suspended through the first four games by the league. The team then balked at adding him to the roster, releasing him. Bill Belichick said at the time that there just wasn’t a roster spot for Watson at this time. Apparently, now there is room. 

Matt LaCosse was injured early in the Giants game and reportedly has an injured MCL that will require him to miss several weeks. He’s been dealing with nagging injuries all year. A roster spot was opened up when the Patriots placed fullback Jakob Johnson on IR with a shoulder injury. 

If the Patriots are to add both Tomlinson and Watson, another corresponding roster move must be made and perhaps it is moving LaCosse to IR. But that isn’t official, just speculation at this point. 

The tight end position has been a weak spot for the team through the first six games of the season. LaCosse has only 3 catches for 55 yards while Izzo has made 6 receptions for 114. But neither has done a consistent job in the blocking department. Which is something that has really hurt the Patriots running game. 

The Patriots were starting from scratch this year, with all three TEs from the 2018 roster gone. Rob Gronkowski retired and Dwayne Allen signed with Miami and is now a free agent, while Jacob Hollister is with Seattle and was just added to their 53-man roster. 

If there is one area that the Patriots front office neglected this spring, it is the tight end position. After losing all three including a Hall of Famer in Gronkowski, the team opted to bypass several viable tight ends in the draft and instead, signed veterans Watson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Seferian-Jenkins was given his release to attend to personal problems and Watson, to date, has yet to suit up in a game. Izzo returned from IR and later the team added LaCosse.

Watson is an experienced pass catcher and should immediately help in attacking the seams of the defenses. Tomlinson who has good size at 6’6, 253 has caught only 16 passes, for 193 yards and one touchdown in his NFL career but is known more as a blocker, (something Izzo has struggled with) and STs contributor. 

With injuries at WRs Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett as well, 1st-round draft pick N’Keal Harry is expected to be back at practice tomorrow.  While he has been active in the meeting room with the offense and wide receivers as is allowed by the NFL rules while on IR, he hasn’t practiced with the team since training camp. Bill Belichick said yesterday, he’ll have to show he can out and physically compete at practice. 

He is eligible to return to the active roster in two weeks after the Wednesday date and, if healthy enough, play against the Ravens on November 3.  

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.

 

Patriots Week 6 Report Card, 35-14  Win Over the Giants

Steve Balestrieri
October 14, 2019 at 7:37 am ET

 Patriots Improve to 6-0 but Got Banged Up On Thursday

Time to clean out the notebook from the Giants and begin to move on to Week 7.

The Patriots are 6-0 and remain with the impressive 49ers as the only undefeated teams in the NFL. The landscape changes so much from week to week that winning is far from guaranteed regardless of the competition.

The Patriots were favored by as much as 17 before the game and won by 21 but this game appeared to be anything other than a blowout until the final 8-9 minutes. Six different players were injured and five didn’t return, so the extra off time will prove to be a needed respite this week. 

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

Quarterback: B-

Tom Brady had another interception in the first half where it seemed like either he and Julian Edelman were way off of the same page or the wind affected a deep pass where it was easily picked off by Janoris Jenkins. He also suffered a strip-sack that was returned for a touchdown.

But in the second half, at one point he completed 15 passes in a row and finished 31-41 for 334 yards with an interception. He also scored two touchdowns on quarterback sneaks. Considering that he was playing without Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett and had UDFA wide receivers Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski as his #2-3 WRs, things weren’t as bad as some were painting the situation.

Running Backs: B-

The favorite whipping boy for much of the media and the fan base, Sony Michel was bottled up all night until his final run at the end of the game. He finished with 86 yards on 22 carries, a 3.9-yard average. But the blocking for him just wasn’t there at all. 

James White was stuffed on his two rushing attempts, while Brandon Bolden scored the game’s first touchdown and had 23 yards on three attempts. Brady scored on the other two touchdowns on the ground.

Overall, the Patriots ran for 114 yards on 34 carries [3.4-yard average] which isn’t good enough. And they lost another fullback Jakob Johnson who is going on IR. 

Wide Receivers: C+

Julian Edelman had his second 100-yard game in a row [9 catches 113 yards] and was his normal pain-in-the-backside self to the defense. With no Gordon or Dorsett, the Giants knew they had to stop him but couldn’t. He had two drops that hurt considering the circumstances. 

Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski both contributed with 4 catches for 54 yards and 2 catches for 34 yards respectively. Both are normally working more with the scout team than the offense in practice, so they get high marks for their night. But although the team got by on TNF with them as the #2-3 WRs, this isn’t sustainable. 

Josh Gordon had one catch before getting injured. James White had nine catches on nine targets but for only 46 yards. Michel and Bolden each chipped in with a pair of catches out of the backfield.

Tight Ends: C-

Matt LaCosse was hurt again and left the game in the first half. He has been largely MIA all season. Ryan Izzo gave up the edge on the strip-sack TD on Brady and has not been good on those outside zone runs where the team has been stuffed nearly every time this year [18 outside zone attempts, 21 rushing yards this season]. 

Izzo caught two passes for 31 yards including a 20-yarder where he was able to shake free when Brady had all day to throw. Due to LaCosse’s injury along with others, the team was forced to play in only “11 personnel” [1 RB, 1TE, 3 WRs] for the entire second half on Thursday.    

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line, with the exception of the aforementioned Izzo sack and Marshall Newhouse, had a very solid night of pass protection. The Giants, and rightfully so, targeted Newhouse’s side for their pass rush and were successful. Newhouse has allowed too many sacks and the coaches are going to have to give him some help, especially with the blitz-happy Jets on-deck.

The run blocking remains very much hit or miss, they run well between the tackles but those outside zone runs and sweeps aren’t getting any traction. Short yardage runs are still a sore spot. 

 Defensive Line: B

The defensive line once again was very good. The Giants running game was predictably held in check with no Saquon Barkley with 52 yards on 16 attempts. Lawrence Guy was solid as always upfront and played more than everyone else as they rotated bodies on a short week. 

Deatrich Wise had two QB hits, but the Giants OL did a very good job of limiting pressure from the DL. Michael Bennett’s playing time continues to dwindle, he played in only 11 snaps late in the game and is now the subject of trade rumors, something to keep an eye on with the October 29th trade deadline upcoming.

Linebackers: A-

The Patriots linebackers didn’t dominate the way we’ve seen in the past few weeks, but they were still excellent although they lost Dont’a Hightower in this one. But Kyle Van Noy was the man once again for this unit. Van Noy had the team’s only sack, two QB hits, six hurries and scoop and recovery of a fumble that he returned for a touchdown that put the game away. 

Jamie Collins snuffed out the screen pass to Jon Hilliman and put a big hit on the back jarring the ball loose on the fumble, which Van Noy returned. Hightower, before being hurt had three tackles and a QB hit. 

Secondary: A-

The secondary continues to stick like glue to the opposition’s receivers. Stephon Gilmore continues his outstanding play and Daniel Jones would have been wise to avoid his side of the field. Gilmore was targeted six times and had an interception and five passes broken up. He had another pick right in his hands but couldn’t hold on. He also deflected another that was intercepted by John Simon.

Jonathan Jones battled Golden Tate in the slot all night and gave up the Patriots first touchdown receiving this year. But even on that play, he had tight coverage and got his hand on the ball. But it was a great throw by Jones and a super play by Tate who was able to corral it and haul it in. 

Jones completed less than 50 percent of his throws and had a passer rating of just 35.2 on the night while the defense intercepted him three times. Nuff said.

Special Teams: A-

Mike Nugent had a miss of a field goal that doinked off the upright but the replay clearly showed that holder Jake Bailey didn’t rotate the laces away, so we’ll cut him some slack there. Also, the extra points were all good this week…small steps.

Jake Bailey had to contend with the gusty wind and averaged only 40.7 yards on his punts. The Giants Riley Dixon, also with a strong leg averaged only 39.2 on the night. 

But the STs struck a big blow again when Mr. Do-Everything Brandon Bolden made a tremendous play, pushing Nate Stupar into the punter Dixon, causing the punt to carom off of his head. It was scooped up by Chase Winovich who scored his first NFL touchdown. 

Coaches: A-

The Patriots coaching staff made the adjustments they needed to make offensively, out of necessity on Thursday night when injuries forced Josh McDaniels to operate out of one personnel grouping for the entire second half. Brady mentioned after the game it was the first time he ever remembers the Patriots doing that in his 20 years here. 

Defensively they pushed all the right buttons and limited the Giants to just the one big scoring play and nothing else. They rolled their coverages and created mixed presures that kept the Giants off-balance.  

 

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.

 

Patriots Week 4 Report Card, in Tough 16-10 Win Over the Bills

Steve Balestrieri
October 1, 2019 at 7:42 am ET

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

The Patriots are, despite the hand-wringing going on 4-0 and have already beaten every team in the division. And yes, with the way the defense played, they did deserve to win. The offense, on the other hand, struggled mightily. And the Bills had the same issue, while their defense was lights out, their offense threw four interceptions and had another turnover on downs inside the five-yard line. So it was a tale of two cities…if you will.

Special teams once again played a big role, both positively and negatively in this game but in the end, it was a knock-down grind out contest that the Patriots won, on the road in a very hostile environment. 

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

Quarterback: D+

Tom Brady had a pretty awful day by his standards, completing 18-39 for just 150 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. The pick in the end zone [his first of the season] was particularly bad as it took points off the field and was a bad mental mistake, something that Brady rarely makes. His best throw was early on a 26-yard drop in the bucket to James White that set up the Patriots first touchdown.

But he wasn’t getting a ton of support from his wide receivers nor his offensive line in this game. There was plenty of negativity to go around…and will. 

Running Backs: B-

The Patriots got back James White this week, and as we pointed out in our keys, he figured to be a big part of the passing game [like the Buffalo game a year ago] and he was. White caught eight passes for 57 yards and was his normal, clutch self out there, setting up the Patriots first TD on a 26-yard wheel route where he beat Matt Milano. 

Sony Michel had 63 yards on 17 carries [3.7-yard average] and showed some signs of getting the running game going. He does, however, seem to take an extra half-second or so, with hitting the hole. And in his defense, maybe it is because there isn’t any there. 

Brandon Bolden again got some early work and scored on a nicely designed 4-yard run. Rex Burkhead was limited with a foot injury and got no carries, and had one reception for 7 yards. [More to this below] Jakob Johnson had some nice moments in the blocking game, including a nice clean out of Milano that sprung Michel on a 10-yard run.

Wide Receivers: D

The Buffalo secondary totally dominated this matchup on Sunday as the wide receivers got very little in the way of separation on Sunday. Josh Gordon had 3 catches for 46 yards including a big 31-yard drag route that the Bills challenged. Julian Edelman was banged up and not targeted nearly as much as normal and had only four catches for 30 yards. He also had a drop where he was in the clear and had a lot of running room. Phillip Dorsett, “the man that catches everything thrown his way” was taken away by the Bills. He was targeted 9 times and had 2 catches for 10 yards. Jakobi Meyers wasn’t targeted but once all game.

Last week the top three Edelman, Gordon, and Dorsett had 19 catches for 198 yards. This week they were targeted 23 times and had 9 catches for 86. That ain’t getting it done folks. 

Tight Ends: D-

Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo weren’t targeted once in the passing game. When the TEs’ biggest contribution is whether or not his rub route was a foul or not, the production isn’t getting there. And the blocking has not been great either, not bad per se, but not great. It makes one appreciate Gronk so much more when he blocked like another tackle out there.  

Offensive Line: C-

The offensive line still is having struggles opening holes in the running game, and they’re not getting a push on the opponent. Too many times the Bills stood them up at the line of scrimmage. The stretch runs don’t seem to be nearly as effective as the middle runs are. They were able to spring Michel on a few of them. 

The pass blocking didn’t allow a sack, but a lot of that has to do with Brady being able to get rid of the ball so fast, as in the second half, the Bills pressure put Brady on rollerskates far too many times. 

Coach Scarnecchia is always preaching everyone pulling together, and I believe that he’s going to sort this out. 

Defensive Line: A-

The defensive line led by Lawrence Guy was excellent. Guy constantly takes on double teams and stops the offensive line from getting any push. Danny Shelton, who is really playing well in his second stint in Foxboro, had another strong game inside. 

The Patriots pass rush racked up another five sacks for 40 yards and eight QB hits this week against the Bills QBs. While Frank Gore rolled up 109 yards on 17 carries, [6.4yard average], two of those runs totaled 61 yards and were from players other than the DL not making the plays at or near the line of scrimmage. 

Linebackers: A-

The Patriots linebackers even without Dont’a Hightower had another excellent game on Sunday. Kyle Van Noy, [becoming one of Bill Belichick’s biggest steals] was outstanding on the field for the Patriots. Van Noy was everywhere, eight tackles, including two for a loss, two sacks and four QB hits, including the final play for the defense where he hit Matt Barkley as he was releasing the ball, and allowed Jamie Collins an easy interception. 

Collins was again very good and has to be loving his second go ‘round with the Patriots.He had four tackles, one tackle for a loss, one sack, one QB hit, one pass defensed and one huge interception to seal the deal. 

Ja’Whaun Bentley was solid in filling in for Hightower, but he had one major gaffe early in the game. Gore showed a run to the outside, Bentley reacted too quickly and tried to fill a gap that was set on the edge. Gore recognized it and cut back to a wide-open B gap and ran it for 20 yards. 

Secondary: A-

The secondary had another big day intercepting three passes and limiting the Bills to just 10 points. J.C. Jackson had a pair of interceptions and provided very solid coverage. Zay Jones was held to 2 catches for 4 yards on 8 targets. John Brown and Stephon Gilmore battled hard all day with Brown coming away with 5 catches for 69 yards on 11 targets. Cole Beasley led Buffalo with seven catches for 75 yards with most of them later in the game after matching up with Jonathan Jones. 

Jackson had two mistakes that he’ll hear about from Belichick. On Frank Gore’s 41-yard run, Jackson had a clear attempt to wrap him up about two yards from the line of scrimmage. He turned and attempted a shoulder block that Gore shook off like a dog coming in from the rain and rolled for 41 yard…tsk, tsk. He also left his feet on a blitz against a mobile QB. Uh-oh, BB will take umbrage with that. But overall the second year UDFA had an excellent day.

Pat Chung had a solid game and had excellent coverage on Dawson Knox who just made a fantastic over the shoulder 26-yard catch on a third down. Couldn’t defend it any better than that.  Devin McCourty had his fourth interception in as many games. 

Special Teams: B

Stephen Gostkowski had another miss on the first extra point of the day in an increasingly puzzling development. That miss may have loomed large if the Bills had scored in their final drive.

But the special teams’ units scored a touchdown on a blocked punt by J.C. Jackson that was returned for a score by Matthew Slater, his first touchdown in a stellar 12-year career. Jake Bailey was outstanding again punting nine times for a 48.1 average including two punts of more than 60 yards.

Coaches: B-

The Patriots coaching staff had the team prepared and they made nearly all of the correct calls on defense and special teams. Obviously, they saw something on tape that showed them the Bills were ripe for a punt block and they executed it flawlessly. 

The offense and Joss McDaniels, however, struggled and the play calling was seemingly stagnant. They were relying on too many screens at or behind the line of scrimmage that the Bills were not fooled by all game. The Bills weakness on defense is the middle of the field targeting the linebackers but the Patriots attempted precious few attempts there. Perhaps Edelman being banged up and lack of confidence in the TEs has something to do with that. But Ben Watson should return just in time. 

We’re on to the nation’s capital to take on the Redskins at 4-0, so there is a reason for optimism around these parts. The “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door” 2019 tour continues. 

 

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.

 

Patriots Defense Stifles the Bills, Win 16-10, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
September 30, 2019 at 5:51 am ET

The Patriots are 4-0 and returned home with a hard-fought 16-10 win over the Bills in upstate New York. While they won’t get any style points for this one, a win is a win, and a division win on the road is always important. 

At the quarter-point of the season the Patriots have a one-game lead over Buffalo and have already beaten all three teams in the division. They are also one of only three undefeated teams left. But this one wasn’t like any of the previous three wins, where they won in a cakewalk. This was one of those fingernails on the chalkboard kind of uncomfortable. 

But first the good news. The defense continues its stellar play holding the Bills to just 10 points. The Bills had 200 net passing yards as the defense piled up five more sacks totaling 40 yards, and eight quarterback hits. They also intercepted four passes. 

The front seven, despite missing Dont’a Hightower was very impressive again and today they were led by Kyle Van Noy, who was immense out on the field. Van Noy made eight tackles, including two for a loss, two sacks, and four QB hits. His final QB hit on Matt Barkley forced his pass to go straight up in the air and it was picked off by Jamie Collins to seal the victory. 

J.C. Jackson also had quite a day, intercepting two passes and blocking a punt that was returned for a touchdown by Matthew Slater, his first in his NFL career. Devin McCourty had his fourth interception in as many games this season early in the game. 

The defense had Josh Allen flummoxed badly in the first half, he was constantly trying to hit the homerun pass deep down the field that wasn’t there. His play was much to the chagrin on Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll, who was openly chastising him on the sideline after one interception.

But there were enough plays to give Bill Belichick plenty of fodder for the film room on Monday morning. On Frank Gore’s early 20-yard run, Ja’Whaun Bentley was in perfect position by overshot the gap and left the middle wide open, which the savvy veteran made them pay. 

On Gore’s later 41-yard run, Jackson had a perfect opportunity to wrap up Gore after about a 2-3 yard gain. Instead, he tried to turn his shoulder and bump him down. He bounced off harmlessly and Gore quickly picked up steam and was off the races. Jackson also left his feet on a corner blitz, allowing Allen to easily sidestep him and hit Cole Beasley down inside the red zone. 

However, overall the defense was outstanding again and was on the field an awful lot in the second half. Buffalo was just 2-13 on third down. The defense pulled out this win for the team today. 

Now the not-so-good news… the offense was pretty much awful all day long. Give Buffalo’s defense a ton of credit, we stated in our pregame matchups that the Bills defense is legit. Their secondary is very good and they have a good front seven. 

And once again, everything stems from the offensive line. Fans can clamor for the team to sit Sony Michel all they want, but until the offensive line begins getting a push up front, these issues will persist. The Bills front seven owned the line of scrimmage, far too often, as in the Jets game, they got zero push and frequently got pushed backward. 

It isn’t just the tackles either it is the entire unit, including guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason. They are not off to a good start in 2019, and Dante Scarnecchia has some work to do with his group. 

The Patriots running game had 74 yards on 23 carries which isn’t going to get it done. Now, Michel doesn’t seem to be hitting the line quickly enough, but that could be that there just isn’t anywhere for him to go. On the few times that they opened some holes he did seem to move much better.

Tom Brady had a pretty awful day as well, completing just 18-39 for 150 yards with no TDs and an interception. That one was a particularly bad decision. There was nowhere for him to throw and he tried to force into the corner of the end zone, where it was easily picked off by Matt Milano. It cost them points and gave Buffalo a huge lift in momentum. 

Brady wasn’t helped by his wide receivers, who were mostly invisible and relegated to milk carton status. Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, and Julian Edelman were targeted 23 times, they totaled nine catches for 86 yards. Dorsett, in particular, was having a rough afternoon. Targeted nine times he had two catches for 10 yards. That’s not helping your QB out…at all. Granted Edelman was far less than 100 percent.

The only bright spot in the passing game was James White who had eight catches for 57 yards. The offense generated 11 first downs….burn the tape.

And for the really not-so-good news, Stephen Gostkowski missed another extra point today…it is definitely in his head right now…oy vey. 

And we can’t close without mentioning the injury that Josh Allen suffered, Bills fans and media were screaming that Jonathan Jones should have been ejected. First of all, Allen was still moving forward and trying to get the first down. What was Jones to do, let him pass? It was clear Jones turned his shoulder and attempted to tackle him short of the sticks. There was helmet-to-helmet contact, initiated by Allen. Watch the tape at full speed. It was unfortunate but Allen was hardly a “defenseless runner”. It is more sour grapes and something we’ve become very accustomed to around these parts. 

_________

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New England Patriots News 1-20, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 20, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-20, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning: *No AFC East notes this week*

Politics and Sports: Most of us enjoy sports as an outlet free from the day-to-day politics that now permeate our lives. One of my other jobs is to write about military and politics. And it is frankly much less enjoyable than this one. And it is always an uncomfortable moment at least for some of us when the two worlds of sports and politics collide.

Case in point, the Red Sox Alex Cora stating this week wavering on whether or not he’ll attend the ceremony at the White House to honor the Red Sox. Cora and the Sox are hardly the first in this. It has become a tradition for the standing President to host the winning team for a short visit for the purpose of honoring the champs. Now it has become a big story whoever wins a championship over who is NOT attending.

Perhaps, because this country has become so partisan and intolerant of any views other than their own, it is time for the practice to end. When the President invites someone to the White House, it is supposed to be received as respect for the office and not necessarily the man that the invitee would attend. Sadly, we as a whole have forgotten that.

Brady’s Accomplishments Get Pushed Aside Over the Cliff Talk: Trey Wingo on ESPN had a pretty interesting segment, that I caught on a replay, late on Sunday night after the Patriots win over the Chargers.

Wingo stated that Brady was playing in his 13th conference championship (today) and If you throw out 2008 where he played on the first quarter of the first game, he’s played in 17 NFL seasons. His percentage of reaching the conference championship game is at 76 percent. Wingo stated, Drew Brees just set the NFL record with a 74 % completion percentage this season. Wingo added, “Brady has a higher chance of a reaching a championship game than any QB ever had of completing a single pass.”

But I bet if you watch many of those other national shows, you didn’t see that, right?

Did you Know? From Inside Edge: When Tom Brady has more passing yards than his average (279), his team is 12-2 (.857) since the start of last season — best of 27 Qualified QBs in NFL; League Avg: .487

Did you Know Pt. 2: From Inside Edge- The Patriots are undefeated (16-0) when having the lead at the end of quarter 1 since the start of last season — tied for best in NFL; League Avg: .749 Also… The Patriots are 33-2 (.943) when leading at the end of the first half since the start of the 2016 season — best in NFL; League Avg: .799

Did you Know Pt. 3: From Inside Edge- The Patriots are 29-5 (.853) when forcing 1 or more turnovers since the start of the 2016 season — best in NFL; League Avg: .591

Trade Foles? Folly: After the Eagles dramatic loss to the Saints last week when Nick Foles pass passed right thru Alshon Jeffrey’s hands for an interception to seal a win for New Orleans, we still see the “trade Nick Foles” talk.

Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win last season and got them on a hot streak down the stretch and nearly pulled off a monumental upset last week. Philly would be insane to trade him rather than Carson Wentz. But hey, trade him to New England. With that “cliff” right around the corner, I’d take that guy as my QB in a second.

Edelman Remains A Key Component in the Offense:

Julian Edelman had a huge game for the Patriots last week against the Chargers catching nine passes for 151 yards which comes as a surprise to no one who follows this team regularly. Edelman’s nine catches now rank him #2 all-time in the career playoff list behind only Jerry Rice.

His 151-yard performance was the fifth in his career, the only two players with more 100-yard receiving games in the playoffs (Rice with 9 and Michael Irvin with 6) reside in Canton. Yet when people think of playoff superstars, does Edelman’s name ever come to mind? Perhaps it should start. His catch two years ago against the Falcons in the Super Bowl was the stuff of legend.

His QB knows how valuable he is to this offense and on Monday Brady spoke about how Edelman (much like himself) had grown into a tremendous player. “You just remember when nobody thought about Julian as what he’s become, except Julian,” Brady said.

“That’s a great lesson for all of us: When you believe in yourself, you can accomplish a lot of things. Julian has always had great belief in himself, and he’s had an incredible career. I think yesterday was one of the best games he’s ever played, at the biggest moment. That’s when Julian is at his best — in the biggest moments.”

If the Patriots are to win today and move on to Atlanta in the Super Bowl, they’ll no doubt need another big performance from Edelman. He currently ranks 7th all-time in playoff receiving yardage. With another 141 more, he’ll move all the way into 2nd place there, also behind Rice. Another two games could probably do the trick. It is amazing how underrated Edelman has been in his career. Still known only as a slot receiver, he’s been much, much more here in New England. He can play the “X”, the “Z” or the slot. He’s lined up in the backfield and runs the jet sweeps and returns kicks.

He probably won’t sniff Canton, but perhaps when his playing career is over, he should be in the conversation. Not bad for an option QB, that had to go to Junior College and learn an entirely new position in the NFL.

Patriots Embracing the Underdog Role:

With the end of the Chargers game, Tom Brady in his on-field interview with Tracy Wolfson said what the entire team is feeling and they are embracing it. Everyone outside of New England is wanting the Patriots to lose, picking them to lose and basically hoping they’ll lose. Of course, Brady’s “everyone thinks we suck” quote was reiterated in the locker room which produced a silly hair-splitting response from Andrew Siciliano asking “where did anyone say that?”

On his own network, one former player turned analyst gave the Chiefs every competitive advantage in the two teams’ matchups, (QB, RB, Pass Catchers, Defense, and Coaching).

One said that he’d take any QB over Brady in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Another had Brady 6th among trusted QBs in the playoffs. The ESPN “Power Poll” gives New England the least chance of winning the SB with a 15 percent chance of winning it all. And there were plenty of writers who gladly jumped on the “Patriots dynasty is dead” storyline only to see the Pats put a curb-stomping on the Chargers the likes of which we haven’t seen since “A Bronx Tale” bar scene.

We get it here, everyone is sick of seeing the Patriots win and no one outside of the New England states wants to see Brady and Belichick in another Super Bowl. But stop with this foolishness. I’ve seen several places where it has been said, the Patriots “have to play a perfect game to beat KC.”

Flashback to Week 6, NE gave up a 97-yard KO return, a 67-yard TD pass, a 75-yard TD pass, and Brady fumbled at the New England 29 to set up the Chiefs on a short field. Hardly perfect, but yet the Patriots won. Make no mistake, they have to play an excellent game tonight, but perfect? No. The Chiefs are latest, team du jour who everyone is rallying around as the next great team, and the one they want/hope will dethrone the Patriots.  

Patriots Versatility in the Running Game Key Tonight:

One Patriots’ key to winning this game is to remain balanced on offense and having the running game be effective. Their still a passing team first, however, an effective running game keeps the defenses honest and slows down the pass rushers, allowing Brady to throw from a clean pocket.

The Patriots have been running a lot of “21 Personnel” (2 RB, 1 TE, 2WR) packages down the stretch. And it has been a big reason why the offense has been so effective. They can mix and match different combinations with the backs and it gives options to Brady on how he wants to attack the defense, given how they match up defensively.

During the Week 6 matchup, the Patriots shredded KC’s defense when running the “21” package. They had a 65 percent success rate while running out of it with an average of 5.1 yards per rushing attempt. And an even better success rate of passing out of it, with an 80 percent success rate where Brady averaged 15.4 yards per attempt while passing out of the “21” package.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Conference Weekend Predictions:

Final Regular Season 165-89-2

Wildcard Weekend:  0-4

Divisional Weekend: 4-0

New England over Kansas City
New Orleans over LA Rams

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

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

New England Patriots News 01-06, AFC East Notes

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

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

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AB to the Pats? Not Happening:

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

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

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

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

Young QBs Have Fans Excited in Several Markets:

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

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

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

Who You Have This Week? NFL Wildcard Weekend Predictions:

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

Wildcard Weekend:

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

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

Dolphins Search For the Next Head Coach:

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

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

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

Jets May Have Interest in Baylor HC Matt Ruhle :

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

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

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

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

PatriotsThrottle the Jets 38-3 in Finale, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 31, 2018 at 6:42 am ET

P

We’re on to the bye week… isn’t it crazy how perceptions change? The Patriots are considered to have had a downer of a season. And yet they’ve won 11 games are getting a bye in the first round of the playoffs because of their thumping of the Jets this afternoon in Foxboro.

Yes, before any of Negative Nancy’s are quick to remind everyone, which I’m sure the hot take artists already are…the Jets mailed this one in. This had none of the intensity we’ve come to expect from the Patriots-Jets games, however, that isn’t what’s important.

What is important, is that the Patriots had a job to do today and that was they had to take care of business, win the game to secure a bye week for the team and then prepare for the Divisional Round. Check and check.

Bill Belichick was happy, he was giving much longer answers than normal and despite his normal dour expression, knew that the team performed exactly as they should have. He said it best when discussing the game in his post-game presser when he asked about the significance of the win and the season.

“There were some good things, and there were some things that could’ve been better – but in the end, we are where we are,” Belichick said. “Essentially we won next week because we won today.” Boom… mike drop.

We don’t know how far this team will go, but we say that every year because the playoffs are a one-game elimination where anything can happen, but in the end, as Belichick said, they are where they are. That is one win away from an eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game.

On Friday we posted our keys to the game and key matchups where we broke down the game positionally. And we hit on some and missed on others.

But here are our observations from today’s game:

Brady Spread the Ball Around:

That doesn’t seem like a big point because it seemed like he always did that. But lately, he’d been too locked into certain players. Not so on Sunday. There was a much more even spread to things and that ended up with one of Brady’s best games in a while.

Brady finished 24-33 (72.7%) for 250 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs with a passer rating of 133.8, which was his highest rating since Week 3 of 2017 against Houston. Other than overthrowing a wide-open Chris Hogan in the end zone, he was very sharp and made several really nice throws, his best was the touchdown pass to Rex Burkhead for an 18-yard touchdown.

Chris Hogan, who we were about to put on a milk carton, was rediscovered in the offense today and was targeted 11 times and had six catches for 64 yards. He was wide open in the left half of the end zone where Brady badly overthrew him from the 18, or his numbers would have been even higher. But today was a very welcome sight.

Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett each had five catches, James White chipped in four as the production was spread around pretty evenly. Rob Gronkowski had two catches for 24 yards but had a 30-yarder wiped out by a penalty.

We said we wanted to see the ball spread around more…and they did exactly that. And when they do that, this offense is much harder to game plan around.

Running Game Still Clicked:

The Jets had a sound game plan this week, they knew the Patriots were going to try to run the ball, as they did against the Bills last week. And with the passing game scuffling, they were going to take their chances there. So, they were bringing a safety up into the box at the snap and by bringing that extra body up, made it harder for the running game to find the room at the line of scrimmage. But it opened up room in the passing game, where Brady (as we mentioned above) was very efficient.

But regardless, Josh McDaniels kept things moving along and still found ways to keep the running game going. The Patriots were still able to grind out 131 yards on 30 carries and before three Brian Hoyer kneeldowns, they were averaging 4.96 yards per rush. That creativity is what they’ll need in two weeks and beyond.

While Sony Michel had just 50 yards on 14 carries, he once again came very close to breaking a couple of deep runs. He finished off a very solid rookie regular season with 931 yards rushing and that was with no preseason action and in just 13 games.

The Jet sweeps called by McDaniels were once again very effective, a total of four for 40 yards. Two by Julian Edelman for 24 and two by Dorsett for 16. James White added a really nice 21-yard run in the mix.

Defense Did a Good Job of Keeping the Jets Out of the End Zone:

The Jets were banged up at wide receiver but Sam Darnold threw for nearly 350 yards and three scores last week against Green Bay. And regardless of who is on the field, you still have to make plays.

The run defense was solid all day, the only aberration was a scramble from Darnold that went for 28 yards. Elijah McGuire was bottled up for the entire first half, at one point having nine carries for nine yards, one of which went for 17, so he essentially had eight carries for -8 yards when the game was still in doubt. He ran better in the 2nd half but by then the Pats had gone to lighter fronts to get after Sam Darnold who was forced to throw more.

Darnold finished 16-28 for 167 yards with 0 TDs, 0 INTs and a passer rating of just 74.6. The Patriots were blanketing his WRs, especially Robby Anderson who was covered by Stephon Gilmore (3 catches, 24 yards). After that absolute stinker in Miami, the defense held Pittsburgh to 17 points, Buffalo to 12 (with a garbage time TD) and the Jets to three. That’s trending in the right direction.

Gilmore and Trey Flowers have had outstanding seasons. And the Pats secondary has been one of the strengths of the team this year. There is still some question about the middle of the DL in the running game, but with Danny Shelton back inside, we’ll see how that works out.

In the six games since they came off the bye, they’ve held all of their opponents (except Miami) to 17 points or less.

Turnovers Are Always a Welcome Sight:

The defense has been pretty opportunistic this season forcing 28 turnovers (18 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries) the most the team has had since 2013. They forced three more on Sunday, Trey Flowers punched the ball out of McGuire’s hands in the first half, which they turned into a touchdown shortly after. Adam Butler knocked the ball out of Darnold’s hand which Kyle Van Noy scooped up and returned 46-yards for a TD (which will thrill a certain 2-6 radio show) and Jonathan Jones stripped the ball on the Jets final offensive play before Hoyer’s kneeldowns.

This is important because these things to tend to snowball one way or the other. When a defense isn’t getting any turnovers, they seem to go a long time without one. When a defense starts to get a bunch, that trend also seems to snowball…in a good way.

Another stat to consider is that the defense also had another 10 turnovers by stopping the opponent on downs.

Now We Wait …and Watch:

The Patriots came out of the game relatively unscathed, Devin McCourty suffered a concussion, but he’ll have two weeks to get ready for whoever gets the nod, and that game will be here in Gillette Stadium on Sunday, January 13 at 1:05 p.m.

The Patriots will play either the Texans, Ravens or Chargers, whoever is the highest remaining seed. The Patriots and the Chiefs get the bye and Kansas City, by clinching the top seed in the AFC will draw the lowest remaining seed.

The games should be interesting to watch this week, but we’ll be watching and trying to look at how this crazy 2018 NFL season continues to play out.

We’re on to the bye week…

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.

New England Patriots News 12-30, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 30, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-30, & AFC East Notes.
From all of us here, we wish you all an early very Happy New Year. Having the Patriots playing on a deep playoff run into February would definitely get 2019 started off right…

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Just a reminder that you revisit our keys to the game here:
Also our Players to Watch for today’s game against the Jets.

Did you Know? That Tom Brady is tied with Brett Favre for the 2nd most wins (26) against one franchise, Favre with the Lions, and Brady with the Jets. With a win today Brady would own the top two number of wins against a single opponent, (Buffalo 30, Jets 27). Also, the Patriots are the only undefeated team at home this season. They can finish at home, 8-0 this season with a win today.

Did you Know Pt.2? The Patriots, with a win today will crack the 500 win total, the first of the old AFL teams to do so. Also with a win today, it would guarantee a bye for the Patriots in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Since 2001, the Patriots have had 13 byes, the most in the NFL. The next closest team is the Denver Broncos with 5.

Did you Know Pt. 3: If they score two points or more today, the Patriots will extend their NFL record to 12 straight seasons with at least 400 total points (2007-18). The Chargers previously held the record by scoring at least 400 points in eight straight seasons from 2004-11. The 2018 Patriots are currently eighth in the NFL with 398 points scored.

Sacked by Flowers: Trey Flowers currently leads the team in sacks with 6.5 if he finishes the season with the lead, he will become the seventh player to lead the team in sacks for three consecutive seasons.

Ben Watson, a Class Act, Announces His Retirement:

Former Patriot Benjamin Watson this week announced that the 2018 season will be his last, as he’s retiring to focus on his still growing family. He’s always been active in work off the field and accompanied Patriots owner Robert Kraft on one of his trips to the Holy Land.

Watson has spent 15 years in the NFL, the first of which he was a member of the Patriots. A first-round draft choice out of Georgia, he caught 167 passes for 2102 yards (12.6-yard average) with 20 TDs while a member of New England. In Tom Brady’s first game back after injuring his ACL, Watson caught two touchdowns in the final two minutes to help beat Buffalo on Monday Night Football.

But the play he’s probably most known for was one where he didn’t even have the ball in his hands. During the 2005 divisional playoff game with Denver. Champ Bailey intercepted Tom Brady in the end zone and raced down the sideline in what would have been the longest interception return in NFL history. Watson, on the other side of the field, chased Bailey down and blasted him out of bounds at the one-yard line. The Patriot bias in me still believes that the ball went thru the end zone, but it was close and the Pats certainly weren’t going to get that call in Denver.

Both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick commented on Watson with the news of his retirement and wished him well. Belichick also commented on the news that Bills great Kyle Williams is also retiring.

“Ben’s been a great friend for a long time and had an incredible career,” Brady said. “He’ll certainly be missed. He had a great impact on this team and every team he played for because of the person he is. He’s just a great man, great father, great husband, great player, great teammate. We’ll always be in touch, so I wish him nothing but the very best.”

“Both great players, guys I have a lot of respect for,” Belichick said. “I knew Ben from when he was here but have stayed in contact with Ben through the course of his career. Kyle, I got to know at the Pro Bowl. Both guys are good people, great players who had great careers. I have a lot of respect for both of them.”

Belichick Still Onboard With Derek Rivers:

When the Patriots lost Derek Rivers in the training camp of his first NFL preseason, it set his development significantly back. Not only did he lose his initial NFL season, but it has taken him over a year to get back physically to where he was prior to his injury and now he is truly just now in his rookie campaign.

He’s played very sparingly (65 snaps) and has all of one tackle on his resume. So while many of the fickle faithful are already throwing out the dreaded “B” word about his selection, one person who isn’t is Bill Belichick.  “I like Derek. He’s got a good future,” Bill Belichick said when asked about Rivers on Friday.

“When he’s had an opportunity he’s done well with it, both in practice and in games,” Belichick said. “He’s got a really good future. Glad we have him. He is a good player, it’s just kind of a situational thing right now.”

Belichick said the back end of the roster players are still developing both in meetings and on the practice field. “They should learn something every day,” Belichick said. That’s what we try to do. The only reason they wouldn’t is if they don’t apply themselves. There’s every opportunity to do that. We work with them, do extra things with them and they respond to it because they want to get better and they want to have a professional football career.”

For players like Rivers, Isaiah Wynn, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Duke Dawson, while their development window has been altered due to injuries, they still have the opportunity to show what they can do. For most of them, next season may be where they get evaluated much harder.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 1Predictions:

Last week: 12-4 Season 153-85-2

Miami @ Buffalo: Bills
Atlanta @ Tampa Bay: Falcons
Dallas @NY Giants: Cowboys
Carolina @ New Orleans: Saints
NY Jets @ New England: Patriots
Jacksonville @ Houston: Texans
Detroit at Green Bay: Packers
Philadelphia @ Washington: Eagles
LA Chargers @ Denver: Chargerss
Oakland @ Kansas City: Cheifs
Chicago @ Minnesota: Vikings
Cleveland @ Baltimore: Ravens
San Francisco @ LA Rams: Rams
Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh: Steelers
Arizona @ Seattle: Seahawks
Indianapolis @ Tennessee: Titans

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills To Retire After Dolphins Game Today:

The Buffalo Bills will be saying adieu to DL Kyle Williams who is retiring after 13 outstanding seasons. Williams has spent his entire career with Buffalo and has played in 182 games with 177 starts. He wrote an open letter to the fans of Buffalo and said he’s loved his time there.

“This isn’t easy. It was never going to be,” Williams said. “There’s no perfect time to retire from a game, a franchise and a city that means so much to me and my family. But it’s time to hang up my cleats.”

He thanked the fans stating”I’ve been at this a really long time, but it doesn’t feel like it, and that’s a testament to your unwavering support.”

“It didn’t take me long to identify with this city, with its people, with their attitude and loyalty. This place celebrates grit as much as it does talent, and there is something to be said for that. It’s just not like everywhere else, and it will always be a part of me.”

Despite taking a pay cut this season, Williams never thought about playing anywhere else. “At the end of the day, I’m a Buffalo Bill. Compared to what I made the year before, a million bucks, a half a million bucks, at a certain point it comes down to, who are you? What’s your legacy? And I think, at the end of the day, I’m a Buffalo Bill. And I want to stay that way.”

He told Coach Sean McDermott the news on Monday and then shared it with the rest of the team. He is a shoo-in for the Bills Wall of Fame in short order.

Gase Still High on Tannehill for the Dolphins QB in 2019:

The Miami Dolphins are on their way to chilly Buffalo to put a lid on a very disappointing 2018 season. Miami can finish the season at .500 with a win in Buffalo, but for them, a 7-8 mark at this point is a bad sign.

Rumors are Mike Tannenbaum is out after the game and that GM Chris Grier and coach Adam Gase are probably safe for at least next year. Despite Tannehill having six years on the playing field to prove himself, (he missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL), Gase still believes that the much-maligned QB’s best days are ahead of him. He has said repeatedly that Tannehill, “hasn’t reached his ceiling yet.” He pointed out that injuries and inconsistent play with the offensive line has made it difficult to get an accurate picture of what they have.

Regardless, there should be lots of other changes to the Dolphins roster in 2019.

Jets Can Still Get the #1 Pick in the 2019 NFL Draft:

The New York Jets, according to the overthecap.com are still in the mix for the #1 pick in next years NFL Draft. The site wrote:

If the Jets lose to the Patriots and the Cardinals beat the Seahawks, the Jets will be no worse than No. 2 in the draft order. The Jets can get to No. 1 with a loss combined with a Cardinals win and a 49ers win over the Rams.

If the 49ers lose, the Jets might still beat them in the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker, which goes to the team with the worse strength of schedule. The Jets can beat the 49ers in SOS if three of the four happen: the Giants beat the Cowboys, the Buccaneers beat the Falcons, the Ravens beat the Browns or the Chargers beat the Broncos.

One person who probably NOT be there to reap the benefits of the said #1 or #2 pick will be head coach Todd Bowles. He’s expected to be let go after their game with the Patriots either Sunday evening or Monday.

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.