Tag Archives: Obi Melifonwu

New England Patriots News, 3-17, AFC East Notes

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

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-17 and AFC East Notes.
We hope everyone has a great, happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day.

Favorite St. Patrick’s Day memory? Taking the train into North Station in a blizzard and my Dad taking me, my brother and two cousins to my first Bruins game. Against the Montreal Canadiens.

Quick Hitters:

Adrian Clayborn – the veteran pass rusher will only complete one season as a Patriots and was released on Friday as per his wishes. His release gives the team an extra almost $3.5 million dollars in salary cap room.

Clayborn wrote on Twitter a thank-you note to the Patriots.

“Thank you Patriots for my time with the organization. gained so much respect for how you do things and win championships. It’s done the right way through hard work. Thank you for granting my release. I’m ready for this next chapter.”

He garnered 2.5 sacks, 13 QB hits, and a forced fumble after signing a two-year free-agent deal last spring. He added a sack and five QB hits during the Patriots Super Bowl run. With Trey Flowers a member of the Detroit Lions and Clayborn released, the Patriots depth chart on the edge consists of Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise Jr., John Simon, Ufomba Kamalu, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, and Trent  “Toolbox” Harris.

Michael Bennett – Speaking of the latest addition, Bennett spoke with Patriots.com

“I used to hate the Patriots,” he said. “I hated it because they would win so much. I hated it because Tom Brady’s hair was long. I hated that Belichick would wear sweaters. But now that I’m here, I love it. I love Tom Brady’s hair. I love being a Patriot obviously because it is all about winning. I think everything about the organization is being team-first, and just about doing what we need to do to get to where we want to go as a group. I love that.”

KC’s Hill Under Investigation For Child Abuse – Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill is under scrutiny by law enforcement personnel for battery against a minor. This is the second brush with the law in 10 days. Police were called to his home for a child abuse/neglect call on March 5 but closed the case without any charges being filed.

Again on March 14 police officers received a call at the same address and Hill’s three-year-old son was reportedly the victim with a broken arm. Hill has not been charged with any crime at this point.

Law enforcement officials won’t comment on an on-going investigation. Hill back in 2015 pleaded guilty of  domestic assault and battery by strangulation in August 2015. He received three years probation.

He reportedly punched and choked Espinal, who was then eight weeks pregnant with their son, on Dec. 11, 2014.  She is now pregnant with twins. Hill has been in negotiations with the Chiefs on a new deal that would make him among the highest players at his position. But for now, those negotiations are probably on hold. Both the Chiefs and the NFL said that they are aware of the incident.

“The club is aware of the investigation involving Tyreek Hill,” the Chiefs said in a statement. “We’re in the process of gathering information and have been in contact with the league and local authorities. We’ll have no further comment at this time.”

This isn’t good news for Hill, the Chiefs or the NFL. The league just suspended former Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt for eight games in 2019 for violation of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy. After he was captured on video kicking and shoving a woman in the hallway of a Cleveland hotel. 

Bolden and McCourty Return – After a year in Miami, Patriots special teams ace and backup running back Brandon Bolden is returning to Foxboro on a two-year deal. The popular locker room presence spent the first six years of his career in Foxboro. Tom Brady responded to Bolden’s Instagram post about his return with an “F**k Yeah!”

Jason McCourty is also returning on a 2-year deal. The 31-year old, came on board with the team last year and played very well, giving the cornerback position another veteran presence along with Stephon Gilmore.

Dorsett and Simon Back – The Patriots also brought back two more of their own free agents by re-signing WR Phillip Dorsett and DE John Simon.  Dorsett seemed primed for a big role in the offense after a solid training camp but he never really had a big impact, catching 32 passes for 290 yards and three TDs. Once the team brought in Josh Gordon, Dorsett lost most of his reps. He has a one-year, prove-it type deal in 2019. The one strange thing in this, however, was whenever his number was called, he generally came thru, with a 76 percent catch rate. Will the third season be a charm?

Simon was signed in late September after being released by the Colts. He was a valuable role player both defensively and on STs, where his role increased down the stretch last season and into the playoffs. He was one of the players who found a nice role when the team used their “Amoeba Defense.” The deal was for two years and $7.2 million dollars.

Melifonwu Surprised by Grafton High School Honor – Patriots reserve safety Obi Melifonwu was asked by his old high school in Grafton, Mass. to come in and speak with the students. I was covering it for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and the Grafton News.

He did and spoke about the importance of schoolwork and how it helped a freshman struggling to fit in find his way into a college where he not only starred in football but graduated with two degrees in 2017. But the school surprised Melifonwu by presenting him with his high school jersey which will be permanently displayed at the school. He was a star both offensively and defensively in CMass football before moving on to UConn and then the NFL.

He admitted he was shocked by the gesture and very appreciative. Afterward, he spoke about preparing for this upcoming season, he’s working with a trainer in Foxboro, outside the facility to prepare himself. He also spoke about learning how to better prepare his body, something he learned the hard way, after being injured for the first time and the resultant therapy.

“Sometimes you train a certain way thru high school and into college that you believe is preparing your body correctly,” he said. “But you learn that certain body parts have been neglected which can lead to overcompensating in certain areas, which ultimately lead to injuries.”

Asked about his Super Bowl experiences, he said, although he didn’t play, his focus was on helping his teammates. “I knew early in the week that I wasn’t going to play, so your focus is completely different,” he said. “Then, your entire mindset is to help the offense, by trying to emulate the Rams defense the best that you can in practice.”

Obi Melifonwu poses with his high school jersey at Grafton High School. (SBalestrieri photo)

While CMass Division III football isn’t exactly a hotbed for NFL players, the Indians have had a few make their mark. Beside Melifonwu, another former Grafton alum, Steve Spagnuolo is now the Defensive Coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.

The draft and spring workouts will be an interesting one for Melifonwu. When the Patriots signed him it was for two years, with 2019 in mind. How they feel about the ridiculously athletic safety will be put to the test in April. They normally target a safety early in the draft. If they do or don’t take a strong safety early will probably tell you how they feel about his long-term viability in their system.

Patriots Add Five Free Agents But No Sexy Names…Surprised? Shouldn’t Be:

We knew this was coming…right? While teams were overpaying for the premium name free agents in a feeding frenzy before the actual free agency period even began, the Patriots stood pat. They did bid on a couple of free agent wide receivers, especially Adam Humphries and to a lesser extent Cole Beasley. But if you really expecting OBJ or Golden Tate, you were bound to be disappointed, just like nearly every other spring.

The team did add five free agents, but they weren’t any of the sexy names fans were clamoring for. The Patriots signed wide receivers Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris, tight end Matt LaCosse, special teams safety Terrence Brooks and defensive tackle Mike Pennel.

Fans shouldn’t be worried at this point in just mid-March about the state of the wide receiver position. Team building is just in the infantile stages here. Trades are still available and with 12 draft picks, there will be some deals to be made. And with 12 picks in the upcoming draft, they have the capital to move around or make a deal

Of all the players the biggest impact player may just be Mike Pennel. If you listen to our Patriots 4th & 2 podcasts, you’d have heard me say, I believe the Patriots were going to add Pennel as a free agent. He’s a big, 6’4, 330-pound space eater who will be the nose tackle in 2019. With Malcom Brown a Saint and Danny Shelton a free agent, the team needed a big body to anchor the middle of the field, something they needed a year ago.

As Bill Belichick said a year ago before the Patriots played the Jets, guys who are 330 pounds don’t grow on trees. He’s big, very strong and will be a very good addition against the run. He’ll be a starter on Day 1.

Bruce Ellington is a small, 5’9 WR who has had trouble staying healthy and on the field. He has excellent speed and had 31 catches in just seven games a year ago. He has KR and PR ability and this may be why the team brought him in to replace Corrdarrelle Patterson this season. In 2017, he had a good game against the Patriots in Foxboro, catching four passes for 59 yards including a 29-yard touchdown from Deshaun Watson. Bill Belichick loves bringing in players who have done well against his team in the past.

Maurice Harris is a former Redskins WR who has never really put things together. He has very good size at 6’3, 200 pounds with some return ability as well. An UDFA in 2016, he seemed destined to break out last year after a big training camp. But he never did and gets a fresh start with New England. He had 28 catches for 304 yards a year ago, however, over half of those receptions (15) came in two back-to-back games.

Matt Lacosse from the Broncos has boom or bust written all over him. He signed a two-year deal worth $4.8 million dollars and has the frame (6’6, 255) to be a very good blocker in the running game.

He caught 24 passes for 250 yards and a TD last year after working his way from the #3 TE to being the starter after injuries hurt the position. He too will be getting a fresh start in New England. He’ll get the chance to be the #2 or #3 TE here in 2019.

Terrence Brooks is a safety but is more known for his special teams’ acumen. He was one of the standout players on one of the better STs units in the league last year. The Patriots struggled in the kicking game especially kickoff and punt coverage early last season. Once they brought in Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber, both free agents, things solidified. Bringing back Bolden and signing Brooks should be a boost overall for the ST units in 2019.

Patriots ST’s Kickers Remain Unsigned:

The Patriots are getting a lot of air time with the usual hot take hosts about their lack of depth at wide receiver. But right now, they have no players in the kicking game with the exception of long-snapper Joe Cardona.

Both kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen remain unsigned. Gostkowski has been with the team for longer than Adam Vinatieri was and is one of the top kickers in the league. Allen, while in the middle of the road in terms of gross punting average is outstanding at directional punting and could have been a legitimate Super Bowl MVP candidate by pinning the Rams back deep in their zone all game long.

Bottom line here is there isn’t a better kicker on the market than Gostkowski. We still expect both to return at some point, but it remains an area to monitor.

Patriots Still “Tentatively Planning” on Having Gronk Back in 2019:

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski still hasn’t announced his decision on whether to return to the team in 2019 or retire. He’s openly talked retirement in the past but the opportunity to have one last shot at the team’s seventh Super Bowl championship may be a big draw for him.

Of course, Gronkowski can also point to the cash he’s due, he’ll count for $11,859,375 against the salary cap in 2019. If he retires, the team will have an additional $9,859,375 to spend this year.

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported, “My understanding is when you talk to people close to him, they think there is a better chance that he comes back again than he doesn’t. And I do believe that the Patriots are at least tentatively planning as if they will have Gronk for the 2019 season.”

With the release of Dwayne Allen, the Patriots depth chart at tight end consists of the newly signed Matt Lacosse, Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson, and Ryan Izzo.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Bring In Weapons for Josh Allen:

The Buffalo Bills signed some very needed receivers for their offense in free agency inking WRs John Brown and Cole Beasley, tight end Tyler Kroft as well as offensive line help in Mitch Morse and Ty Nsekhe. This should aid in helping QB Josh Allen in helping transform what was a moribund offense in 2018.

The team also inked the ageless Frank Gore at running back on a one-year deal, giving Buffalo the oldest RB group with Gore who will be 36 along with Chris Ivory (30) and LeSean McCoy (30). It should be noted, however, that Gore averaged 4.7 yards per carry last year with the Dolphins.

Brown gives the Bills the deep speed they lack and he had his best season last year in Baltimore catching 65 passes for 1003 yards. Beasley is a Julian Edelman clone, who the Bills hope will transform their short passing game, where Allen was 32nd in the league a year ago. Kroft had a breakout season with 42 catches in 2017 but broke his foot and played in only five games a year ago.

This will be an interesting year to see how much Allen can progress, the Bills spent a lot of cash to upgrade their weapons for him and added two WRs and a badly needed TE. With the draft upcoming, the Bills will probably still address WR and RB to get a bit younger there.

Dolphins Trade QB Tannehill to the Titans:

The Miami Dolphins have traded their seven-year starter at QB, Ryan Tannehill to the Tennessee Titans on Friday. The Dolphins packaged a 6th round draft pick in 2019 along with Tannehill for the Titans 7th round pick in 2019 and a 4th round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Tannehill had his moments but could never put it all together for Miami who paid him a few years ago as their franchise QB. He completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 1,979 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 11 games last year. Now he’ll serve as the backup to Marcus Mariota. Tannehill is playing on a one-year deal with $7 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The one-year deal goes to $12 million+ with playtime and other incentives. The Dolphins are on the hook for $5 million of the $7 million guaranteed in the form of a signing bonus.

Miami, which tried to bring in QB Teddy Bridgewater, now has only Jake Rudock and Luke Falk at QB. They’ll either try to swing a trade for an established QB, or draft a young one in the NFL Draft, perhaps both.

Jets Go All in On Free Agency:

The New York Jets were expected to make a splash in free agency with a ton of cap space to spend it on and they didn’t disappoint. The laid out big money for RB Le’Veon Bell, ILB C.J. Mosely, slot receiver Jamison Crowder and then added slot corner Brian Poole who came over after spending three years with the Falcons.

Bell, is the most notable free agent having sat out 2018 in a contract dispute with the Steelers, and the money he signed for is actually less than the Steelers offer of five-years and $70 million. Bell signed for four years and $52 million with $25 million guaranteed. He has a ton of wear on his tires but after taking a year off, he may go into the season refreshed. But the Jets offensive line scarcely resembles the Steelers unit that helped Bell launch in his career. The Jets did make a move in that direction by trading for LG Kelechi Osemele from Oakland.

Mosely is one of the best interior linebackers in the league, a true leader for the defense and a smart, physical player who will be on the field for all three downs. He’s an instant upgrade for them at the position, but the Jets ponied up a ton of money, guaranteeing a whopping $51 million. They also had Anthony Barr agree to a deal but he ended up getting cold feet and ultimately left the Jets at the altar.

Crowder gives the Jets a big play option in the slot with the speed to make a ton of YAC. This should allow them to move Quincy Enunwa to the outside. But the question with Crowder is can he stay healthy? He missed seven games a year ago.

The Jets made a big splash, but will these moves pay off? We’ll see, but it never stops Manish Mehta from making one of his patented silly predictions. In Manish’s latest “look at me” moment, he made his prediction for the top QBs for the AFC East in 2019.

Current starting QBs in the AFC East… from projected best to worst in 2019:

1) Sam Darnold
2) Tom Brady
3) Josh Allen
4) Luke Falk

But before you get too hard on Manish, he got exactly what he was looking for as Boston sports radio couldn’t wait to get him on to defend his position…hmm

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.

Best Of Social Media: AFC Championship Patriots vs Chiefs

Robert Alvarez
January 23, 2019 at 9:09 pm ET

The New England Patriots entered the AFC Championship game seeking their first AFC title on the road since 2004.

For the first time since the 2014 AFC Championship in Denver, the Patriots found themselves as the underdog in a playoff game.

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If you happen to be lucky…

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2️⃣6️⃣

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In the first quarter, Rob Gronkowski reached another career milestone to open the game.

Much like the Chargers a week ago, the Patriots again put together a lengthy scoring drive on their first possession.

Sony Michel logged the games first points and it was 7-0 NE midway through the first.

https://twitter.com/TheHall/status/1087138581817237504

More deja vu carried over from the Charger game on defense, as the Patriots pressured quarterback Patrick Mahomes early and often.

The Chiefs were held scoreless and it was 7-0 Patriots after one.

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Just when it appeared the Patriots were going to jump out to a 14-0 lead to open the second, a Tom Brady mistake in the end zone gave the Chiefs much needed life.

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Despite the miscue, the Patriots defense continued to keep the Chiefs high powered offense off the field.

With the Chiefs threatening for the first time late in the second quarter, linebacker Trey Flowers had other ideas.

https://twitter.com/davidortiz/status/1087150991252819969

With two minutes to go until halftime, Brady and the offense capitalized on their final possession and took a 14-0 lead into the locker room. .

Tom Brady can in fact, throw the deep ball.

14-0 Patriots at halftime.

Needing to desperately get something going in front of their home fans, Mahomes and the Chiefs finally woke up.

They’d score their first touchdown of the night in just under two minutes to open the second half.

Patrick Mahomes found Travis Kelce to cut the Patriots lead in half.

14-7 Patriots.

A Stephen Gostkowski 47 yard field goal pushed the Patriots lead back to ten at 17-7 after three quarters.

Then, just like the regular season meeting between these two, the floodgates opened in the fourth quarter.

The Chiefs quickly scored on a Mahomes touchdown to
Damien Williams to cut the deficit to three.

After the touchdown, the Patriots response stalled inside the Chiefs 25 when Rex Burkhead was stuffed on fourth down.

Momentum began shifting to KC.

https://twitter.com/Chiefs/status/1087167845534814209

Disaster nearly struck when Julian Edelman nearly fumbled away a kick return. The ruling after review stated the ball never touched him.

Unfortunately just two players later the Chiefs regained the ball anyway.

A fan ran on the field immediately after the interception.

Needing to take advantage of Edelman’s mistake, Damien Williams burned the Patriots again and the Chiefs had their first lead of the night with seven to go. 21-17 Kansas City.

Tom Brady and the offense fought back, but another crucial fourth down arose that could have ended the game.

Sony Michel had other ideas.

The Patriots regained the lead 24-21.

Again the Chiefs refused to die, feeding off the home crowd as Damien Williams found the end zone for a third time.

28-24 Chiefs but a full two minutes for Tom Brady to work with.

With 42 seconds remaining in the game, Rex Burkhead gave the Patriots the lead back at 31-28.

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The 23 year old Mahomes showed no fear despite limited time remaining.

The potential league MVP had one final drive left in him as he set up a Harrison Butker 39 yard field goal to knot the game at 31 all.

For the second time on championship Sunday, the trip to the Super Bowl would be decided in overtime.

The Patriots won the overtime coin toss, and like in a previous Super Bowl, it would be the final drive of the game.

The Patriots overtime drive saw Tom Brady complete not one, but three 3rd and 10s that setup the winning score.

On second and goal inside the five, Brady handed off to Rex Burkhead to clinch the AFC Championship for the New England Patriots.

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A 37-31 final score that send the Patriots to an unprecedented third Super Bowl in a row and the fourth in five seasons.

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AFC champs! #yesssssirrrr

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TD-REX, FTW.

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On we go. #TeamDub

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“I LOVE YOU GUYS.”

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Reppin’ the East.

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W

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“ATLANTA, WE THERE.”

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We’ll see you in the A!

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Back to the Bowl!! Let’s go!!

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We’re coming home

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Local tradition. #BeatLA

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No “Yeah Buts” Patriots Defense Is Coming Together Right On Time

Steve Balestrieri
December 5, 2018 at 8:40 am ET

With the Patriots win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Patriots are 9-3 and are currently the #2 seed of the AFC. They can clinch their division with a win over the Dolphins on Sunday, the first “hat and T-shirt” game of the season.

Nothing is guaranteed yet, there are still four games left to play and they could finish anywhere from the #1 seed to out of the playoffs if they drop all four. But is there anyone really out there that can see that scenario?

Things you can set your watch/calendar by:

  • The Pats laying a stinker or two in Sept.
  • National media rushing to be “first” to predict the end of NE’s run
  • Patriots fans screaming on social media every time an opponent completes a pass of more than 10 yards, “They’re trash!”
  • The team slogging thru the midway point of the season stringing together wins
  • Post-Thanksgiving, the team is suddenly among the AFC’s top seeds…again
  • After every win, especially against big opponents, the “yeah buts” come out
  • That “trash” defense begins to come together

Did we miss any? One fan who follows us on social media proclaimed during the Lions game that the team was “going 5-11 as Bill has gutted this team with terrible drafting”, and yet here we are again.

The best thing to watch on Sunday was the work of the Patriots defense. The one constant about the Patriots defense is that it is always changing. They don’t have the one signature aspect that everyone can point to and say, “Team “A” is going to have to deal with this” or that “Team “B” can’t match up with that”. It is, under Bill Belichick a unit that changes from week to week depending on the team and can morph into totally different entities.

Against the Jets, they went to a heavier package trying to stop the running game that was base-heavy. Against Minnesota, they went to nearly all sub-packages, at times having Trey Flowers as the only down lineman, daring them to run, while trying to stop the pass. They did a masterful job of disguising their blitzes and the safety group was moving all around which confused Kirk Cousins to where he was forced to check down time and again to outlet receivers where the defense cleaned them up.

This requires a massive amount of work and study and having players that are smart and versatile, especially the secondary which gets far too little credit. The Patriots have quietly amassed a very talented group in the secondary and they are getting better each week.

Last week, facing the Vikings talented duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, the Pats defense, didn’t do their normal M.O. which is to try to take away their top threat and make you beat them elsewhere, they DID take away both.

Thielen, who had amassed nine 100-yard games was held to just five catches for 28 yards and a 5-yard TD. Diggs had five catches for 49 yards. And right smack in the middle of it all was Stephon Gilmore.

Gilmore is a corner who doesn’t get nearly the credit that he deserves for being the player that he is. Other than the Titans game where he and everyone else played terribly, he’s been lights out since the earliest days of OTAs. Joining him is Jason McCourty, who not only is playing meaningful games for the first time in his career, is also playing some of the best football of his career. Jonathan Jones and the surprising rookie emergence of J.C. Jackson has to be a source of confidence moving forward.

The safety group now has four players that the team can use in just about any situation. Pat Chung and Devin McCourty are both ramping their games up to an extremely high level with Duron (The Closer) Harmon and newcomer Obi Melifonwu providing depth and versatility for the coaches to throw different looks at the opposition.

While everyone south of the North Pole laments the amount of yardage that they allow. But yards passing doesn’t win football games…points do. Otherwise, the Pats would have cruised in the SB against the Eagles. And don’t look now, but that “trash” defense of the Patriots? They’re currently tied with Seattle for 9th best in points allowed with 21.6. Right on time. And the opposing passer rating, they’re currently 6th, with opponents QBs having a passer rating of just 85.9.

They aren’t the most talented group in the front seven, with the exception of Trey Flowers on the defensive line, there are a bunch of workmen who bring their lunch pails to the stadium every day. Lawrence Guy, in particular, has been a great pickup for them.

The Linebacker group is the same. Are Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy All-Pros? Nope but in this defense, they are as valuable as them. Elandon Roberts is someone we frequently criticize but he has the confidence of his coaches and on Sunday was flying around the field which is a good thing. They miss their rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley but who should be even better next season.

Are they now a Top-10 defense? Nope. But they’re competitive and with a confidence level that they feel they can match up and slow down anyone they meet. We all heard the noise (all year) but especially before last week’s game. “They can’t stop Thielen”, or “Diggs will eat them up”, “Who is going to cover Cook underneath.” It was the same when they faced Aaron Rodgers but of course, after that game, there were the endless…yeah buts.

One of the things that Bill Belichick talks about, and one of the hardest thing to do as a coach, is getting a team to “buy-in” to what they’re trying to get across with a team philosophy. We saw that fail in 2009 when he lamented on the sideline in New Orleans that the team wouldn’t do so. Judging from what we saw on Sunday, this team is all-in. What happens from here? Nobody knows, they could run the table or get booted in the first round. “Yeah but what about the Steelers’ offense?” But just this time, for once, sit back and enjoy the ride.

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.

Brady, Patriots Defense Shine in Blowout of Raiders in Mexico City

Steve Balestrieri
November 20, 2017 at 8:52 am ET

Don’t look now but the Patriots defense has turned things around and looks like the unit we envisioned back this summer. The Pats defense held the Raiders to just eight points while Tom Brady carved up Jack Del Rio’s defense once again as the Patriots rolled to a 33-8 blowout win that wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate.

Brady improved to 9-1 against Del Rio’s defenses with a ridiculous 25 touchdowns to one interception. Oh and Stephen Gostkowski booted a 62-yard field goal as time ran out in the first half that may have been good from 72. The win allows the Patriots to keep pace with the Steelers at 8-2 in the AFC and coupled with another blowout loss by the Bills gives New England a commanding three-game lead in the AFC East.

Bill Belichick earned another career milestone moving past Tom Landry in all-time wins by an NFL head coach with 271 with the victory. He now resides in third place all-time amongst NFL head coaches. Other observations without the benefit of a film review from the game include:

Brady likes the rarified air the past two weeks: Brady started off laser hot, hitting his first 12 passes and he finished 30-37 for 339 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. In the past two games in the altitude in Denver and Mexico City Brady is a combined 55 of 71 for 605 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has a completion percentage of 77.4 and a passer rating of 130.3.

Those are some remarkable numbers for a guy who the national pundits proclaim every year that this will be the one that he falls off the cliff and shows his age. On the season, Brady is completing 68.7 percent of his passes, (261-380) for 3146 yards with 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions for a passer rating of 110.9.

Tony Romo made a good analogy before the game, Brady, he said, is like an old schoolteacher who already knows the answers to the questions on his tests. He knows his offense inside and out and against the Del Rio defense that he’s faced so many times, there were no surprises. Del Rio always runs a “we do, what we do” type of defense and Brady simply eviscerates them every time.

Brady made a terrific fake on the first touchdown, looking left and at the last second turning right and hitting Dion Lewis who juked and cut, leaving three Raiders in his wake for a beautiful touchdown putting the Patriots up 7-0. Lewis had another very solid day.

Patriots Defense Shines South of the Border: Matt Patricia’s unit has turned a corner and is playing some really good football during this current six-game winning streak. The Patriots haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 17 points since the last minute loss to Carolina in Week 4.

In the past six games, the Patriots are allowing an average of just 12.5 points per game. That is winning football. The secondary is playing light years better than they were earlier in the year and the communication breakdowns that plagued the team are seemingly a distant memory.

Stephon Gillmore and Malcolm Butler are playing very solidly at corner and they’re being backed ably by Jonathan Jones and Johnson Bademosi. They held the explosive two wideouts of the Raiders, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree under check today. Combined the two wideouts had nine catches for just 79 yards.

Jared Cook who entered the game red-hot had just two catches for 36 yards with the safeties, Pat Chung, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon did a great job of keeping him under wraps. Elandon Roberts also played well in coverage on Sunday.

Issues persist with the run defense and pass rush, but this unit is in far better shape than the group who was struggling mightily the first month of the season.

Patriots Secondary Coming Together: To piggyback off the above paragraph, the Patriots secondary is really beginning to come together. The first half dozen games, teams were routinely throwing for 300 yards, not any longer. While the Raiders had a number of drops on Sunday, the play of the secondary has to be a bright spot with the coaches this week.

Raiders QB Derek Carr’s numbers reflect a very pedestrian day, 28-49 for 237 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 68.2 on the afternoon. Carr didn’t even pass 100 yards through the air until early in the fourth quarter. On his last couple of drives, he piled on a number of yards underneath in garbage time as the Patriots with a big lead were more than content with allowing him to throw short underneath passes buying time for space. Carr averaged just 4.8 yards per throw on the day.

Scarnecchia Influence Felt on the Offensive Line: Game ball should go to Ted Karras and LaAdrian Waddle who filled in ably on the offensive line. Karras was filling in at center for David Andrews who was a late scratch due to what was characterized as altitude sickness late last week. Karras had played guard in college and had never played center before. There was no issue at all with his shotgun snaps during the game, the communication between the interior offensive linemen seemed fine and Karras did a good job in the running game as they ran the ball effectively between the tackles.

Waddle filled in for the second week in a row and faced one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers in Khalil Mack. Last week he faced Von Miller. In both games, Waddle, with some help from chipping tight ends has fared extremely well. He allowed one sack to Mack in the two games and has been solid in pass protection.

The influence of Dante Scarnecchia can’t be overstated here. His attention to detail and the proper technique that he instills in his linemen are always in the best position to succeed. For Waddle, the road doesn’t get any easier, he’ll face Cameron Wake next week if Cannon is still banged up. But Scarnecchia will have them ready. Game balls for all three.

Situational Football, Gostkowski Has a Monster Day: The Patriots special teams had another big day and it was just highlighted by the team’s stress of practicing situational football. Because of the altitude, Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski was able to make 70-yard field goals in the warm-ups and the team knew that if the situation arose they could count on him.

That came late in the second quarter with the Patriots leading 14-0. The Raiders were driving for a score and WR Seth Roberts caught a Carr pass and did a terrible job of securing the football on the Patriots five-yard line. Marquis Flowers punched the ball loose and the Pats recovered on the 7-yard line with just 33 seconds left in the half.

Like they’ve done so many times at practice and at training camp, the situational football drill was performed to perfection. Brady drove the Patriots from their seven to the Raiders 45-yard line in just 28 seconds setting the stage for Gostkowski.

Gostkowski boomed the 62-yarder for a field goal as time expired in the half and it wasn’t even close. The ball hit the netting beyond the goal posts and would have been good from 70-yards. The Patriots got the ball first in the second half. On the third play, Brady hit a streaking Brandin Cooks for a 64-yard touchdown, in the span of five plays the Patriots scored 10 points. Game over, thanks for coming, have a safe trip home.

Gostkowski added field goals from 51, 40 and 29 yards on the day. It was his third game where he’s had two field goals from 50+ yards in the same game. Situational football and special teams are hallmarks of Bill Belichick’s teams and on Sunday, they shined once again.

Brandin Cooks has a Monster Day: The Patriots wide receiver has been having a terrific 2017 season. But while he’s been consistently very good, he hasn’t had that one big day where he blew the game open. That block has been checked.

When he was brought in to the team this spring, it was immediately noted that Cooks brings a different element to the table. The Patriots were known as a quick team that thrived on the short, intermediate parts of the field. But they lacked that one true speed demon who can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. Cooks has filled that need quite well. He and Brady went to great lengths this summer working on their deep ball game, something that Brady supposedly couldn’t do anymore.

After missing on a deep throw early in the second quarter on a third and five. On the Patriots next possession, Brady went right back to it on first down. He and Cooks hooked up perfectly for a 52-yard gain. That set up the second touchdown, a Brady pass to Danny Amendola.

He and Cooks hooked up again on the third play of the third quarter. The Raiders, short-handed at corner, had rookie safety Obi Melifonwu playing corner opposite Cooks. It was a poor matchup for Oakland and Brady caught the rookie peeking into the backfield while Cooks did a double move and was gone. Brady laid the ball in perfectly and the deep safety help was very late in getting over and Cooks was gone for a 64-yard score. He ended up with six catches for 149 yards and the score.

Cooks has bought into the team first concept where Brady is spreading the ball around to everyone and thus far he has just 45 catches on the season. But he’s on pace for a 1250 yard+ season, which would be a career high. He leads the league with catches of 40 yards or more with six. He also has a dozen catches for 20+ yards.

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

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

Final Mock Draft 4.0 – Patriots Snag a Big Surprise at #72

Steve Balestrieri
April 26, 2017 at 9:14 am ET

The Patriots got their man with Mike Gillislee, signing the restricted free agent running back to a two-year deal and in the process, lost their 5th round draft pick to Buffalo. That effectively means that they won’t be drafting a back, we looked toward a bigger one this weekend.

There is a fascinating tool to use for doing a mock draft made possible by the guys over at Fanspeak.com that we touted last year and is, even more, fun to use in 2017.
In their “On the Clock” simulator, you are the GM for any NFL team. You can choose how many rounds you’d like to draft for (1-7), and pick one of nine different big boards to choose from.

The big boards for each site differ and the site has a random selection process that picks for the other 31 teams based on the best player available and team needs that are constantly updated until it is your time to pick.

For this final Mock Draft before tomorrow (4-25), I used the big board of CBS

Right now, the Patriots don’t pick until Round 3, #72 due to some of the trades that they’ve swung for Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy. Talk is still swirling that the Pats may swing a deal involving either Malcolm Butler or Jimmy Garoppolo. I don’t see either of them going anywhere in 2017. And if they were to trade Butler, then they’d be in the market for a cornerback. And with Belichick, he prefers the known commodity. The defense with Butler, Stephon Gillmore and Eric Rowe at corner is stacked.

Here is our Patriots Mock Draft 4.0:

Round 3, Pick #72 SS Obi Melifonwu, UConn:
Bill Belichick loves to draft safeties early in the draft and after the disappointing performance by Jordan Richards, they’ll be looking for a long-term replacement for Pat Chung at the strong safety position. Melifonwu is an athletic freak at 6’4, 225. He ran a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, with a 44-inch vertical.

Frankly, we doubted that Melifonwu would be around in the 3rd. But the big board of CBS Sports has him falling all the way to New England at #72. He won’t be a free safety, he’ll be best in the box, where he has the size and athleticism to run with tight ends or step up in run support. The Patriots “big nickel”? He’s a perfect fit.

He has the speed and athleticism to run with the big wide receivers in certain situations as well. Huge steal for NE in the 3rd round.

Round 3, Pick #96 Edge, Tarrell Basham, Ohio:
The Patriots have scouted Basham and reportedly have a high level of interest. This would be a quintessential Belichick pick. In a draft chock full of talented edge players, taking a guy who has totally flown under the radar playing at Ohio.

He has an NFL-ready frame at 6’4, 269-pounds with long arms and big, strong hands. Basham was the Mid-American Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year 50 tackle including 16 for a loss, 11.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

He’s got the explosion off the ball with short area burst to get to the quarterback. He’s strong and sets the edge well. He’d project to be a third down sub-package player in his rookie year and a potential starter in Year 2.

Round 4, Pick #131 TE George Kittle, Iowa:
No change from Mock 3.0. Kittle is a 6’4, 247-pound tight end that will help build the depth they need at the position. Kittle was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick last season, in 11 starts, he produced 22 catches for 314 yards and four TDs.

He’s got good size, has very good speed with a 4:52 time in the 40-yard dash with excellent hands. He had only one drop with 48 career receptions. He’s a good and willing blocker inside. Kittle has the speed to be a vertical threat down the seam, although his route-running needs polishing.

Round 5, Pick #183 OT Erik Magnuson, Michigan:
Magnuson is a 37-game starter for the Wolverines and is a solid run blocker who can get to the second level, has very good pass protection skills. He uses his hands well and can mirror pass rushers. He’s strong, physical and tough with good athleticism at the position.

He’s 6’4, 303-pounds, he’s never played left tackle but right tackle and guard while at Michigan. He’s a versatile kid with upside but like Joe Thuney before him, the Patriots may decide to kick him inside at center.

Round 6, Pick #200 LB Connor Harris, Lindenwood:
Harris is a throwback, an extremely versatile kid who can play linebacker, running back and punt in an emergency. A three-time captain his stats speak of an era when players played for 60 minutes. In 2016, he made an incredible 138 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss, two INT, one for a TD. During his career, Harris also contributed as a running back with 50 carries for 328 yards and seven TDs. As a punter, he had a 38.8-yard average, with six downed inside the 20-yard line in 2016.

While he doesn’t have the length, you’d like at linebacker at 5’11, 242-pounds, he is a film junkie who is extremely well prepared and has tremendous production. He’s an inspirational leader on and off the field (3-year captain), who can play all three downs. Non-stop motor, and the ability to make plays all over the field.

Round 7, Pick #231 Edge Keionta Davis, Chattanooga:
Davis had his second straight FCS All-American season in 2016, tallying 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. At 6’3, 274-pounds he has the length and strength to take on offensive linemen in the trenches.

He plays low to the ground and sets the edge very well in the running game. However, he’s a bit stiff in the hips and doesn’t have the bend on the edge that you’d like to see in an edge rusher. The strength and conditioning coaches may have him bulk up another 10-15 pounds and kick him inside as a sub-package interior rusher.

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

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

All the DBs Impressed, But Melifonwu, Patriots Are a Great Fit

Steve Balestrieri
March 6, 2017 at 4:01 pm ET

The Patriots have some holes to fill and some intriguing decisions to make in the coming weeks with Free Agency right around the corner and the NFL Draft coming up in April.  And in the Patriots secondary, with Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon probably leaving via free agency, the holes to fill are big. Well, UConn has a big safety that may be just what the doctor ordered in Obi Melifonwu.

Melifonwu crushed it at the Combine; he measured in at 6’4, 224-pounds. He’d be the biggest member of the secondary by far. But the kid can move, he had a broad jump of 11’9 and a vertical leap of 44 inches. But the thing was, when they announced his vertical leap, he seemed disappointed that it wasn’t more. He then ran a 4.40 in the 40 which is incredible for a player of his size.

Mike Mayock was raving about his versatility and that may be his biggest selling point. Melifonwu can play centerfield as a deep safety, has the size, physicality and tackling ability to play in the box. And as Mayock pointed out, with a matchup team like the Patriots and Bill Belichick, he can matchup with big tight ends one week and the next week be put outside on a big wide receiver the following week.

Melinfonwu was an outstanding player in Central Mass at Grafton High School before going to UConn. We reached out to his high school coach, Chris McMahon about what makes him tick and what kind of young man he is.

“He’s a great kid,” McMahon said on Monday afternoon. “He’s very quiet and very business-like. He took everything seriously and worked very hard for everything he’s gotten.”

McMahon credited Melifonwu’s mother, who kept his feet and those of his brothers firmly on the ground. “You’ll never find a nicer, polite group of kids and I credit Mrs. Melifonwu for raising them that way.”

“I knew he had unlimited potential, and you knew just from watching him if he could put everything together, he would explode. And his on-field performance today…that was just incredible. He’s a tremendous athlete and an extremely hard worker. Even during college spring breaks, the kids all go to Florida, he’d come back up here and hit the weight room,” McMahon said.

“Obi was one of the best players ever to come thru our program [Grafton] and one of the best in CMass in years. He played QB, RB, WR, and returned kicks he scored fifty-something touchdowns for us, and on defense, he played corner, safety, and even some linebacker.

“It seems like yesterday that came here as a freshman and amazing to see the man that he’s become. Like I said, you always knew it was there, and it happened really quick for him at UConn. McMahon talked about the buzz that is going on with the draft now and the fact that Melifonwu may end up being a first-round draft pick. “My phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” he added.

The crazy part is, Melifonwu may not even be the best football player in the family. His younger brother Ifeatu, known locally as “Iffy” just finished a stellar high school career at Grafton and is heading for Syracuse. Last summer while working out with the Syracuse coaches he ran a 4:50 in the 40….but that is for another day.

The Patriots could add a very intriguing, and versatile piece of the defense in April when the draft rolls around. It is easy to envision Melifonwu wearing a bunch of different hats depending on the opponent from week to week.

He’d be a tremendous fit in the Patriots defense as well as in the locker room. And he’d fulfill a position of need.

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

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