Tag Archives: N’Keal Harry

Despite Patriots Loss, End of Dynasty Talk Can Wait For Some Other Day

Bob George
January 6, 2020 at 10:29 am ET

End of an era?  Save that for March when some famous quarterback’s contract expires.

It doesn’t feel like it, but it’s over.  No more football in New England until this summer.  The 2019 season came to an abrupt end on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, as former Patriot Mike Vrabel led his Tennessee Titans to a hard fought 20-13 win over the former Super Bowl Champion Patriots, sending his charges to Baltimore to take on the top-seeded Ravens next weekend.  Derrick Henry rushed for 182 yards last night, but the Titans’ defense may give up 282 rushing yards to Lamar Jackson next week.  That’s Tennessee’s problem, not New England’s.

What is their problem is what to do moving forward.  This team turned out to be one of the worst 12-4 teams in recent NFL history.  This season was clearly mischaracterized by the ridiculously easy early first half of the season, where the Patriots went 8-0 and beat teams that woebegone UMass might have given a good game.  Once the good teams started lining up on the opposite side of the ball, things began to change.  The last two games, home losses to Miami and Tennessee, revealed to the pro football world what the 2019 Patriots really were.  Key injuries, key retirements, and a general misjudging of the talent on this team all combined to lead to their early playoff exit, something not seen around these parts in exactly a decade when Baltimore came into Gillette Stadium and blew out the Patriots, 33-14 in the last Wild Card round game this team has played until last night.

That said, here are the five main reasons why the team crashed and burned and saw their Super Bowl championship come to an end last night.

#5 – Offensive line needed more than just Coach Scar

 This was a bad year for the offensive line, period.  David Andrews was lost in training camp for the season due to blood clots in his lungs (more on him later), which got things off to a bad start.  But basically, this unit never jelled at all.  For much of the season, the line started guys like Ted Karras, Marshall Newhouse and Jermaine Eluemunor.  Starting tackles Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon missed significant playing time.  Wynn came back for the Dallas game, but the team went only 3-4 after he came back.   Cannon had a substandard season at right tackle when he did play.  Karras is simply no Andrews, and Newhouse and Eluemunor were stopgap fill-ins, nothing more.  Except for a few nice runs by Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead here and there, this line had a bad year.  Tom Brady’s pass blocking protection this year was mostly non-existent (his season passer rating of 88 was his lowest since 2013).  If Brady either retires or winds up leaving the Patriots, one has to wonder if the bad performance of the offensive line will be a major factor.

#4 – A vastly overrated defense, totally exposed in the end

 They were being held up there with the 1985 Bears, 2000 Ravens and 2002 Buccaneers as one of the best one-season defenses in NFL history.  They were 8-0, and fantasy owners who had the Patriot defense (Yours Truly included) enjoyed astonishingly high numbers.  Then along came Lamar Jackson and everything changed.

Granted, Jackson has made a lot of defenses look like a combination of matadors, young guys suddenly looking old as dirt, and befuddled dopes who would have problems stopping a high school option offense.  But the Patriots always seemed to have an answer for everything.  They were powerless to stop Jackson, but that soon begat getting shredded at home by Patrick Mahomes and Ryan Fitzpatrick, and bludgeoned by Mark Ingram, Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry.  They could not stop a final scoring drive at home from Miami with a first-round bye on the line.  All-Pro Stephon Gilmore suddenly looked like 1997 top draft pick Chris Canty when trying to cover Devante Parker in that hideous regular season finale.

Explaining the offensive line was easy.  Explaining the collapse of the defense isn’t.  Granted, the unit played okay Saturday night and allowed only 13 points, but stopping Ryan Tannehill (previously 0-6 lifetime against the Patriots) is like Dietrich Wise or Adam Butler trying to stop a six-year old kid from entering a candy store.  Henry won the game for Tennessee Saturday night, not Tannehill, and they even allowed some Harvard grad named Anthony Firkser to catch a touchdown and make a key third down catch late in the game.  There was no clutch in this group down the stretch, and all the big plays that are usually made were not made this year.

Wow.  First Fitzpatrick, and now Firkser.  Let’s send some more Patriot scouts to Cambridge from now on.

#3 – Brady cannot totally blame his receivers for lack of chemistry

 Late in his career, the Celtics allowed the late, great John Havlicek to report to training camp late.  He simply needed more rest at his advancing age.  Problem is, the last two Celtics teams he played on were knocked out of the playoffs by Philadelphia, and failed to make the playoffs in his final season.  Was Havlicek reporting late the reason why?  Certainly not, as the front office made one bad trade after another and by 1978, the team was so bad that perhaps Red Auerbach could be forgiven if he yelled “Russell is not coming through that door!  Neither is Heinsohn, Cousy, or anyone named Jones!”

For the last two offseasons, Brady has missed all of the voluntary OTAs.  He is spending more time with his wife Gisselle and his children, consorting with his personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, and working with his personal quarterback coach, former Red Sox lefty reliever Tom House (whose only other claim to fame is catching Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run in 1974 in the Atlanta Braves bullpen).  At Brady’s age, you have to figure that he’s earned it.  He’s the GOAT, and he doesn’t need all this voluntary offseason stuff that the younger, more mortal players need.

But as the Ghost of Christmas Past told Ebenezer Scrooge in one of the many versions of A Christmas Carol (this is the version that stars George C. Scott as the Humbug Homey), “You have shown me what you have gained!  Now I will show you what you have lost!”

Brady gains valuable family time, and is totally comfortable with Guerrero and House, as most of us all know (especially if you watched that Facebook feature Tom Vs Time two years ago).  But his not attending the OTAs meant that he didn’t get a chance to build a rapport with Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, Gunner Olszewski and Matt La Cosse.  In past years, this was why a Wes Welker could be cast aside and a Danny Amendola or Julian Edelman could be groomed to take his place.  By not attending the OTAs, Brady never got that time in.

As a result, in most of the games played, all defenses had to do was account for Edelman and James White, and that was that.  Brady was never on the same page with anyone other than those two veterans.  You can’t count Antonio Brown in this discussion, as he was only here for one week.  But his choosing to spend time away from Foxborough in the offseason did have some repercussions.

#2 – Injuries to Andrews and Develin were not overcome

 Andrews, as previously stated, had blood clots in his lungs and was declared out for the season in training camp.  That left all his responsibilities to Karras, and the dropoff was noticeable.  The center does a lot more than snap the ball.  He calls out blocking assignments and sets the line for the next play.  Of course, he also has to be a good blocker.  In both areas, Karras simply did not account for the loss of Andrews.  Dante Scarnecchia had plenty of time to develop either Karras or some other player to at least hold down the fort in Andrews’ absence.

Develin’s injury may have been even more damaging.  His lead blocking for Michel and Burkhead might be seen by some as overlooked, but not by those who really know the game.  Linebacker Elandon Roberts turned out to be the replacement for Develin as Jakob Johnson also went down with an injury.  Roberts was much like Karras in that he did okay but was clearly no Develin.  Roberts was called upon to try and convert a third and one on Saturday night but was stuffed for no gain.  He did crack off some nice lead blocks, but the failed first and goal at the one exposed the absence of Develin at a time where a touchdown was badly needed but a field goal was all they got.

#1 – Gronkowski was never replaced, even slightly

 Rob Gronkowski retired last March, and kept true to his word.  Several experts predicted he would come back around November, but he never did.  He is still trying to become a comedian on the Fox pregame show rather than trying to surprise Patriot Nation with a late return to the Patriot lineup.  He is done with football.  Period.

The Patriots did not draft a tight end.  All the Patriots did was to bring in La Cosse and ancient former Patriot Ben Watson, who had to be talked into coming out of retirement.  Even Jacob Hollister was cast adrift, now catching tosses from Russell Wilson for the Seattle Seahawks.

Brady missed Gronk big time.  Yes, the Patriots did win Super Bowl LI with that biblical comeback without Gronk in the lineup.  But over an entire season, the Patriots had no Martellus Bennett this year.  Without Gronkowski or Bennett to worry about, defenses double teamed Edelman with no qualms or trepidations.  They didn’t worry about Dorsett, Harry or Meyers.  This all combined to throw Brady off kilter and reduce the Patriot passing attack to something merely mortal.

Patriot Nation certainly knew what it had with Gronkowski.  Sometimes Bill Belichick can get away with personnel magic, but he couldn’t this time.  Both Brady and Gronkowski made it to the NFL Network’s Top 100 list at their respective positions (as did Belichick).  It could be that Belichick didn’t restock on tight end because perhaps he thought Gronk would come back in November.  Didn’t happen.

Add it all up, and it’s someone else’s turn this year.  Any talk about the end of the dynasty can wait for some other day.

Five Thoughts Following the Patriots Playoff Loss to Tennessee

Ian Logue
January 5, 2020 at 1:17 pm ET

Saturday night’s loss to the Titans was certainly disappointing, leaving the Patriots on the outside looking in and marking the start of an offseason full of questions.

Here are some thoughts following this one:

1) A lot of the headlines this morning centered around Titans running back Derrick Henry’s performance Saturday night, who finished with 182-rushing yards during the Patriots frustrating Wild Card playoff loss to Tennessee. However, as good as Henry was, give the Patriots defense credit for eventually settling down and limiting the damage after a fast start.

Henry picked up 49-yards on the first drive on 7 carries and finished the first half with 106-yards, but New England’s defense did a decent job in the second half, coming up with several stops that were key in keeping the game close, including a big turnover thanks to a fourth-quarter interception by Duron Harmon. However, the biggest issue in this game was the simple fact the Patriots couldn’t come up with the plays they needed to score touchdowns instead of kicking field goals.

New England was 1-for-3 in the red zone Saturday night, including just 1-of-2 on goal to go. Considering this one was being played at home, it was surprising to again see them struggle the way that they did.

Anytime a Tom Brady led team has a defense hold the opponent to 14-points, that should be good enough to win the game. Saturday night, it obviously wasn’t but as much as people will talk about Henry’s performance, the defense gave it their all out there and just didn’t get any help on the other side of the football.


Brady and the offense got into the end zone just once Saturday night.

2) The 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line early in the first half was a frustrating sequence, especially when they tried three times and couldn’t punch it in.

The first play saw running back Sony Michel dropped for a 1-yard loss, followed by a run by Burkhead that picked up a yard and put them back at the 1-yard line. However, on 3rd-and-1, they tried running Michel again and Tennessee’s defense was able to break through and drop Michel for a 2-yard loss.

Oddly enough, that was the first time all year the Patriots failed to punch it in facing a 3rd-down on the opponents’ one-yard line, with the offense having scored all three times on their three previous attempts. Brandon Bolden scored in the second quarter back in their October meeting against the Giants on a 3rd-and-1, while Michel scored twice in the same situation in a road game against the Jets a couple of weeks later, with 1-yard TD runs in the second and fourth quarter.

For whatever reason, this year’s offensive line just wasn’t able to provide the same push as last year’s group, which was also obviously missing Rob Gronkowski’s terrific blocking ability. But their inability to score at that point in the game was probably one of the biggest moments in the contest because instead of going up 17-7, New England settled for just a field goal. That took the pressure of Tennessee, who ended up marching down the field and punching it in on their next possession, which gave them their final offensive points of the evening and it ended up being enough to win the game.

3) This has been mentioned before but one of the most frustrating aspects of the later part of this season was the fact the Patriots just didn’t have the offensive skill players to come up with big plays in key situations, which was probably the most notable difference from past seasons.

2019 will probably mark the gutsiest performance of Julian Edelman’s career, with the veteran receiver putting forth an unbelievable effort over the final half of the year. While Edelman had a key drop Saturday night, one thing worth noting was the fact that he appeared to suffer a hand injury after making a diving attempt prior to that play.

Edelman finished the night with 3 receptions for 30-yards as well as two carries for 12-yards, which included a touchdown.

But aside from Edelman, the Patriots never had anyone else step up. Rookie N’Keal Harry had some good moments, but he was targeted 7 times with just two receptions. Mohammed Sanu’s performance was a disaster, with Sanu finishing with just one catch on five targets, including the ball going off his hands on their final possession and ending up in the hands of Logan Ryan, who took the interception into the end zone for the touchdown.

Phillip Dorsett became a non-factor down the stretch after suffering a midseason injury and he was a dismal 1-of-4 catching the football Saturday night, with his one reception going for just six-yards.

You can’t win football games that way and it’s just amazing given how deep they were in the preseason that things turned out the way they did. One would have to believe this will definitely be a focus this offseason heading into the 2020 season.


It would be hard to imagine life without Brady.

4) Listening to Brady after the game on Saturday night, he sounds like a player who is really hoping to return next season.

Brady was asked about his future after the game and said that he doesn’t know what the future looks like and also called any chance of retirement “unlikely”. I posted this on our message board last week but going back to before the start of the season, the sense I get is that something was seemingly said during the negotiations that may have upset him, which appeared to lead to the sequence of events where we heard about the “no franchise tag” clause after this season, his house going up for sale, etc. Brady’s an emotional guy and he’s not the type of player to become greedy and selfish, and there were moments for the first few weeks where he was lauded for not appearing to be happy after wins. That makes me think there was possibly something more behind the scenes playing a factor.

It’s been a long, frustrating year and things might have turned out differently had it not been for two players completely blowing up in their face. For Brady, the situations with Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon, two guys who he invested a lot personal time and energy with, were obviously the most frustrating. Both players each imploded in their own ways and both, most notably Brown, would have certainly been helpful Saturday night. Instead, they lacked playmakers and couldn’t come up with key plays to come away with the win.

For now, it sounds like Brady wants to come back but that there might be a concern about whether or not the team wants him back at whatever number he and his agent are looking for. As a result, that will probably lead to an offseason that will likely be fairly interesting.


Will Belichick be here in 2020?

5) Another report after the game that raised some eyebrows came from Greg Bedard of Boston Sports Journal, who indicated that like Brady, Bill Belichick’s future may be in question.

According to Bedard, there are rumblings that hadn’t previously been heard and that any move by the head coach would likely have to come “soon”.

“There have been increasing NFL rumors that perhaps Belichick is not as wedded to Foxborough as many of us, certainly me, thought. Is Belichick setting up a final test on whether he has complete control of the football operations? I think Belichick would be OK with Brady being back, but not at the expense of the rest of the team. There are four openings out there and they won’t last forever. If Belichick is contemplating a move, it would have to come soon. There’s no solid intel, but some rumblings I hadn’t heard before. So I don’t rule anything out,” wrote Bedard.

“For the record, my money is still on Bill and Tom being back together again for Year 21.”

As frustrating as that would be to see him leave, unfortunately, the timing sort of makes sense. If Belichick was to start over with another franchise, making a move now would be the logical choice. At age 67, if he planned on coaching for another 4-5 years, it would make sense to do it now vs in another few years when he turned 70. The big question that we’d have to wonder about is where a potential landing spot might be. Obviously, everyone knows about his affinity for the Giants and the other franchise that seems to be gaining steam appears to be the Cowboys, with many within the Dallas media pushing for owner Jerry Jones to throw however much money it might take to get him there.

Needless to say, this should set up an interesting few weeks. One would have to believe if it is going to happen, Bedard is probably correct in terms of a move needing to be made fairly quickly. Hopefully, it’s just noise but if the unthinkable does happen, hopefully, we’ll at least find out fairly quickly whether or not we’re finally about to experience an end of an era with either of the two greatest pieces of this franchise to begin 2020.

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

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

Patriots Come Out Flat And Lose #2 Seed

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

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

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

Quarterback: D

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

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

Running Backs: B

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

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

Wide Receivers: C-

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

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

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

Tight Ends: C-

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

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

Offensive Line: B+

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

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

 Defensive Line: B

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

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

Linebackers: B-

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

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

Secondary: D

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

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

Special Teams: B

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

Coaches: C-

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Four Patriots Thoughts Heading into the Playoffs

Ian Logue
December 31, 2019 at 12:08 pm ET

Some quick thoughts as we turn the page to the postseason.

1) As much as it would be nice to remain optimistic about the Patriots chances of playing in February, it’s hard to deny the fact that Sunday’s loss to Miami was definitely significant. Losing the bye was critical because New England’s success desperately hinges on the health of wide receiver Julian Edelman, who was in dire need of a week off to recuperate given how banged up he’s been. Unfortunately now, he’s not going to get it.

The other key part of this equation also falls on Tom Brady who, as much as he wants to continue to deny it, is clearly still dealing with pain in his throwing elbow after cameras caught him looking uncomfortable again on Sunday while throwing on the sideline.

Let’s not kid anyone, Edelman has been key during New England’s previous championship runs and the fact he’s as hampered as he is doesn’t bode well for their postseason hopes. With the offense struggling badly, it remains a group that still hasn’t quite come around and certainly isn’t riding any momentum heading into January.

Unlike previous years, they’re heading into the playoffs coming off of a short week and it gives them little time to fix a unit that, with the Titans up next, may struggle if this becomes a high-scoring affair against a team that blew them out in a previous meeting. Unlike the Patriots, Tennessee has been playing their best football as of late and that makes them a pretty dangerous foe heading into Saturday night’s showdown at Gillette Stadium.

2) On a side note, my family and I spent the holiday week on vacation and that led to two instances where I was unable to watch the game and instead forced to listen to the radio broadcast with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak, which was a bit eye-opening for anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to hear them. Zolak is a breath of fresh air as a color commentator, offering up terrific insight and honest analysis. More importantly, he more or less calls it how he sees it, with Zolak being quite critical of wide receiver Mohammed Sanu and he blamed Sanu’s drop on Sunday for Brady’s pick-six, as the interception came just after Sanu’s miscue, leaving Brady likely leary of looking his way. Instead, he tried to force the football to Edelman, with former Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe being far too familiar with that connection and he stepped in front and took off for the races. That doesn’t excuse Brady from the interception but listening to how the sequence played out, it definitely put a negative spotlight on Sanu, who hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations since they traded for him.

Zolak also went on to call Sanu “useless” while also mentioning that he’s “not worth” the second-round pick the Patriots gave up to Atlanta to acquire him. Add in some of the officiating issues from the previous week in Buffalo, which led to Zolak pointing out the official that continually overlooked the abuse N’Keal Harry took against the Bills’ secondary, and moments like that are ones that definitely made for some entertaining radio.

All-in-all, Zolak’s approach is pretty refreshing given how stale and “safe” a lot of on-air analysis tends to be these days. While some may disagree, it’s nice to hear him echo the thoughts that many fans may have while watching the game and listening to the broadcast. Don’t get me wrong, former broadcaster Gino Cappeletti will always be a legend in New England and in his prime was one of the best during his time as the color commentator with the late Gil Santos. However, Zolak really has been an outstanding replacement and it makes me wish there was an easier way to sync the broadcast each week, especially considering some of the people on the national networks that we’re forced to listen to over the course of the football season.


The Patriots are missing playmakers like Gronkowski around Edelman on offense this season.

3) Getting back to some additional thoughts heading into the playoffs, while I don’t think a deep playoff run or Super Bowl shot is impossible, there’s no question that the Patriots now face a remarkably uphill battle in order to pull it off.

The obvious reason is the fact they’re just not playing well offensively and have been undeniably inconsistent. This is the first season in recent memory where they’ve literally been a completely different team from week-to-week and just can’t seem to string together anything positive on the offensive side of the football from one week to the next. In years past, we’ve seen them slowly make progress and get better, but that just hasn’t happened this year as Brady continues to struggle building chemistry with the weapons they’ve provided him with this season.

Rookie N’Keal Harry continues to get a little better, with Brady going to him a little more each week but they still haven’t quite gotten completely on the same page. Jakobi Meyers has also had some good moments, but it’s been a similar story. We’ve already mentioned Sanu, who Zolak said needed to “wake up” and become someone who can start making the key plays.

Truthfully, that’s what New England is missing right now. They just don’t have enough guys who can make a big play in a key situation, which obviously has been the hallmark of this club in past years. Heading into this postseason, they don’t have additional players like Rob Gronkowski or even Chris Hogan to compliment Edelman, which is a little concerning. They’re also still having a tough time running the football, which was also one of their strengths at this time last season.

It’s not going to be easy. Honestly, they’re about to embark on what they hope is a 4-0 run to win it all with one of the toughest roads imaginable. Playing Tennessee, despite the fact they’ll face them at Gillette Stadium, is no easy task and the prospect of having to venture into Kansas City missing the key faces that helped them win there the last time is also daunting. Factor in that the next step would be having to beat the Ravens at home (if Baltimore advances) to earn a shot at a trip to Miami won’t be easy either.

Obviously, plenty of people also didn’t expect the Giants from pulling off a similar feat years ago when they ran the table and shocked the unbeaten Patriots in a game that no one here in New England likes to talk about. But Eli Manning did that with a serviceable group of receivers and an offense that happened to peak at the right time. Brady is going to have to do it with his best receiver dealing with a sore knee and a banged-up shoulder while relying on other players that he’s seemingly just not confident with. It would be great if they picked next week to start putting it all together, but we haven’t exactly been given reasons to believe that’s going to happen.

It’s not impossible, but it’s not going to be easy. It’s hard enough to win four straight games in this league as it is, even against so-so competition. Having to take on that task facing the NFL’s best with a group that’s scrambling to find themselves may be the biggest challenge of Brady’s career and it remains to be seen whether or not they can finally figure things out.


New England’s defense couldn’t quite close out the game on Sunday against Miami.

4) The other concerning part of this equation is the fact that New England’s defense has been shaky in recent weeks and even more importantly, has struggled closing out opponents. Sunday’s loss to Miami was clearly the worst, especially given what was on the line since New England held the lead during those final moments of the contest and all they had to do was keep the Dolphins out of the end zone. Instead, they couldn’t do it.

Injuries have been an issue on that side of the football in recent weeks, which is another huge reason why losing the bye was so important. They’re now forced to spend this week trying to get healthy on a short week against a pretty good passing offense. While many will talk about Ryan Tannehill’s issues in Miami, he doesn’t look like the same player with the Titans after they’ve done a good job of helping him turn things around and it’s been one of the big reasons why Tennessee is in this position.

Meanwhile, no one probably expected Ryan Fitzpatrick to pull off what he did on Sunday, especially given how bad he played in the previous meeting. But the frustrating part of that wasn’t the fact Fitzpatrick was able to make some plays on Sunday, but rather that the defense allowed a game-winning drive where all they needed to do was keep Miami from scoring a touchdown.

Should New England find themselves in a tight game with the lead, what happened on Sunday will likely be fresh in their minds and until they prove they can close things out, it’s going to be hard for Patriots fans to not be a little nervous.

We’ll see if Saturday night will be the start of something great or just the culmination of a frustrating season. At this point, history has shown that anything can happen. Now we just have to hope that Bill Belichick and Brady still have a little magic left in them when it all begins this weekend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series History:

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

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

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up the Dolphins offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

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

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

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

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

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

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

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

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

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

__________

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

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

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

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

 

Best Of Social Media: Week 16 Bills vs Patriots

Robert Alvarez
December 24, 2019 at 10:54 am ET

The Patriots returned home to Gillette Stadium for a rare Saturday night matchup with the rival Buffalo Bills.

With a win, the Patriots would clinch their 11th consecutive AFC East title and remain on track for a first round bye in the playoffs as the two seed.

Check out all the best sights and sounds as they occurred over social media from the game below.

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Urgency. #GameDay

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In the first quarter, the Bills made it known earlier this team was different than past years.

A forced fumble by safety Jordan Poyer gave the Bills an opportunity for points and a lead.

A Stephen Hauschka 35 yard field Goal gave the Bills the early road lead.

The Patriots responded, with quarterback Tom Brady finding tight end Matt Lacosse for a 7-3 lead after a quarter.

The second quarter opened with Brady continuing his hot start, passing aside, Brady also showed off his rare blocking abilities.

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Let’s Ride‼️

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A Nick Folk 36 yard field goal pushed the lead to seven. 10-7 Patriots midway through the second.

With the clock winding down on the first half, the Bills continued to show their resiliency and creativity.

A big man touchdown for Bills lineman Dion Dawkins tied the game at ten going into halftime.

Rex Burkhead bounced back from his earlier mistake to setup a go-ahead field goal with career highs in receiving yards.

A 13-10 Patriots lead following a Nick Folk 51 yard good attempt.

Once again the Bills battled back on the heels of Josh Allen’s arm.

A John Brown 53 yard touchdown pass Allen gave the Bills a 17-13 after three quarters.

Needing a spark on offense, who else but Julian Edelman to get it going for the Patriots to open the fourth quarter.

The Bills defense held up, and the Patriots had to settle with a Nick Folk 20 Yd Field Goal to cut the deficit to one at 17-16.

With five minutes to go in the game, and the Patriots defense remaining stout, a Brady QB sneak setup the go-ahead winning score.

A Rex Burkhead rushing touchdown following by a successful two-point conversion to Julian Edelman gave the Patriots a 24-17 lead.

Now trailing by seven, Allen and the Bills had one more opportunity to keep the game alive and force overtime.

A defensive stop inside the 15 gave the Patriots the victory and a division title.

The Patriots move to 12-3 with a 24-17 victory over the Bills.

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The force is strong in my family…

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My savages!! Great pic @adamrichinsphoto

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Hats&T-Shirts.

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The fam ❤️

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

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:00 am ET

Patriots Win 11th Straight Division Title

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

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

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

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

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

Quarterback: A-

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

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

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

Running Backs: B+

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

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

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

Wide Receivers: B-

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

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

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

Tight Ends: B-

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

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

Offensive Line: A-

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

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

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

 Defensive Line: B+

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

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

Linebackers: B-

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

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

Secondary: B

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

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

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

Special Teams: B

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

Coaches: A

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

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

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

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

 

VIDEO: Elite Eats With Kyle Van Noy – N’Keal Harry

Robert Alvarez
December 19, 2019 at 10:21 pm ET

New England Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy released a new episode of his “Elite Eats” food review show over YouTube Thursday.

“New England Patriots Linebacker Kyle Van Noy and Wide Receiver N’Keal Harry stop by Rochambeau in Boston. The new restaurant features a variety of French dishes. N’Keal steps up as unofficial sous-chef in the kitchen and whips up some lobster cavatelli. They hop on Twitter for some fan questions and N’Keal is put on the spot: What’s it going to take for him to cut his hair?” 

Check out the duo’s review in the link below.

For more video content, checkout and subscribe to Van Noy’s YouTube channel.

Best Of Social Media: Week 15 Patriots vs Bengals

Robert Alvarez
December 18, 2019 at 9:56 am ET

The Patriots rolled into Cincinnati on Sunday looking to break their two game losing streak and prevent the first three game one since 2002.

Echoes of the 2014 “On to Cincinnati” rally cry were in the air leading up to the game as optimistic built for a December turnaround.

Check out all the best sights and sounds from social media as the game progressed from start to finish below.

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Game time. #LFG

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In the first quarter, the Patriots scored on their opening drive for the second consecutive week, as James White darted down the field for a 23 yard touchdown reception.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B6HettEpa-q/

The Bengals answered back when wide receiver Cethan Carter hauled in the tying score.

A Randy Bullock 34 yard field goal gave the Bengals a surprising 10-7 lead after a quarter.

In the second, a Nick Folk 40 yard field goal knotted the game at ten but the special teams unit provided another opportunity for points.

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Team work makes the dream work

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The fumbled punt lead to another Nick Folk field goal just before halftime to give the Patriots a 13-10 lead.

In the third quarter, the Patriots defense began to tighten up and dominate quarterback Andy Dalton and his offense.

Who else but cornerback Stephon Gilmore to get it going?

The pick turned into points.

Rookie wideout N’Keal Harry hauled in a seven yard pass from Tom Brady for his second (should be third) career touchdown.

20-10 New England.

A Stephon Gilmore 64 yard pick six on the ensuing Bengals drive broke the game open and pushed the Patriot lead to 27-10.

 

In the fourth quarter, a Randy Bullock 48 Yd Field Goal would be all the Bengals could muster for the remainder of the day.

A Rex Burkhead 33 yard touchdown run in his return to Cincinnati sealed the Patriots eleventh win of 2019 with a 34-13 victory and a playoff berth

FINAL 34-13 NE

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Coming home with a W. #OnToBuffalo

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My brother 🤞🏾

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let me tell my side…

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#Patswin

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WeNeedThat.

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Passionate.

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W.

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WARNING: NSFW, Language.

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

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

 Patriots Defense/Special Teams Key Big Win

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

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

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

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

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

Quarterback: C

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

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

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

Running Backs: B

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

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

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

Wide Receivers: C-

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

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

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

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

Tight Ends: C-

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

Offensive Line: B-

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

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

 Defensive Line: B-

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

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

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

Linebackers: B-

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

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

Secondary: A

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

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

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

Special Teams: A-

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

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

Coaches: B

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

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

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

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

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