Tag Archives: Patriots

Ugly MNF Loss As Miami Dominates the Flat Patriots 27-20

Steve Balestrieri
December 12, 2017 at 8:30 am ET

Yes, we know how short-handed the Patriots were on Monday night, missing several key players and losing another in the first half, but that wasn’t the story on Monday night in Miami. The Dolphins were the team ready to play on Monday night and it showed. They dominated in all three phases of the game and the final 27-20 score doesn’t do justice to how much they pressured and stymied the Patriots offense.

Monday night was the Patriots worst game since their early season struggles. They were sluggish from the opening snap and Miami’s offense set the tone early. The Dolphins were running short crossing routes and the Patriots defenders were having trouble with their communication and the crossers and rub routes were very effective. Jay Cutler didn’t resemble anything close to the aging QB who has struggled all season in South Beach and had arguably his best game of the season. Cutler, scraggly neck beard and all, even showed some fire on the field as he beat New England for the first time in his career.

On the opposite side, Tom Brady was flustered and off-balance all night. The Patriots offense had to rely on their running backs as their wide receivers were MIA in Miami all game long and were a complete non-factor. The Patriots also ended their streak of allowing 17 points or less as well as their 14-game road winning streak. Other observations from tonight’s game include:

Play Calling Curious: Josh McDaniels abandoned the running game far too early in this one. Despite being dominated in the first half, the team was down only 13-10 at halftime. The last time the two teams met, New England rushed for nearly 200 yards. To only give your running backs 10 carries? Curious.

Late in the game, needing two scores, Danny Amendola was tackled right near the goal line giving the team first and goal at the one-foot line. Rather than attempting to run it in, they passed, steadily moving backward until they faced a 3rd and goal from the 15-yard line. They kicked a field goal but the onside kick was comically bad and Miami recovered and killed the clock.

But had they scored a touchdown there, a field goal would have been all that was needed to tie the score. Very un-Patriot like.

Offensive Line Issues Abound: With the running game an after-thought, the Patriots offensive line was not up to the task of protecting Brady. Miami was blitzing all night, normally a sign that New England would be eating them up offensively, but not tonight.

Brady was under duress from all points of the compass and pointing the finger at just Cameron Fleming is wrong. They were beat all along the line and the communication there wasn’t the best.

The worst part is, the pressure Miami was bringing was right up the middle, not allowing Brady to step up enough and throw in the pocket.

Dolphins Secondary Dominates: Miami did a great job of taking away the middle of the field. Granted, that is a spot where Gronkowski normally dominates, but other than passes to the running backs, Brady and the wide receivers were never able to get anything going in the middle of the field until very late in the game.

Xavien Howard erased Brandin Cooks tonight, and intercepted Brady twice. Cooks was shut out until the fourth quarter when the Dolphins dropped into a zone and had a bad bust in coverage. But holding Cooks and Hogan to one catch a piece is a big win for their secondary.

Danny Amendola ended up with six catches with all of them coming in the second half. Miami forced Brady into his first two-interception game in the regular season since 2015 against Philadelphia. And the Patriots were an astounding 0-11 on third down.

Brady Battered and Flustered: Tom Brady was hit hard again and this time, the effects were shown. He finished 24-43 for 233 yards with one touchdown and two picks. His QB rating of 59.5 was his lowest since 2013.

Unable to convert a single third down and a combined 2-12 when targeting Cooks and Hogan, Brady was unloading those low percentage deep balls time and again. In the first quarter, the Patriots got two (2) yards of offense. Two, that is not the way you want to start.  In the second half, they got away from targeting the running backs as they were forced to stay in and help with pass protection.

Kenyan Drake Shreds the Defense: The former Alabama third down specialist is now an every-down back and he’s electric. The Dolphins wanted to get him the ball more as he’s got tremendous speed. And his array of moves was on full display tonight. He faked Pat Chung with a spin move leaving Chung holding air that was amazing. And once he hits the hole, if the defense doesn’t lay a hand on him, he has the speed to take it to the house.

Drake finished with 25 carries for 114 yards and five catches for 79 more in the passing game. They split him out wide and isolated him on Elandon Roberts which is a total mismatch. While Roberts has issues in coverage, asking him to cover Drake deep is a win-win for Miami. He burned Roberts for a 47-yard gain deep down the right sideline.

If Drake can hold up physically, he’s going to be an intriguing member of the Fins to watch next year.

Butler Has Rough Game: Malcolm Butler had one of his least memorable games in Miami tonight. He was constantly behind in coverage and was beaten badly by Jakeem Grant a couple of times, one for a 25-yard touchdown and on another on a deep pass by Cutler that was perfectly thrown and the wide-open Grant dropped it.

Butler is going to have to have a very short memory this week as he’ll be facing Antonio Brown this week in Pittsburgh. And judging from the game Brown had on Sunday and Butler had last night, the Steelers will be going to the well early and often against Butler this Sunday afternoon.

Branch Injury Leaves Defense More Depleted: The Patriots defensive line took another shot as Alan Branch injured his knee in the first half, tried to return but left for good leaving an already depleted defense even thinner. Facing the Steelers offensive line and Le’Veon Bell on a short week, if Branch is unable to go, that will be a huge loss.

Right now they have Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, and Adam Butler inside, with Guy playing some on the edge as well with Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy out. Vincent Valentine hasn’t even begun practicing yet so expecting help from him this week is not going to happen.

The Patriots simply were outplayed from start to finish in this one. Miami was hungrier, more motivated and came out with a purpose. This is what we expected from New England. So the Dolphins are alive for one more week and the Patriots still hold their destiny in their hands. With a win over the Steelers, they’d still own the #1 seed.  We’ll have more on this game later in the week.

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

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

New England Patriots News 12-10, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 10, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 12-10, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots are playing in their first Hat and T-shirt game of 2017 on Monday Night Football. Any scenario of a Bills loss/tie or a Patriots win/tie guarantees them the AFC East crown for the ninth year in a row. We know that they set their sights much higher, but it all begins with winning the division. And they’ve been remarkably consistent in the Bill Belichick era at doing just that.

Tom Brady began his Saturday presser with an apology to Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels, saying that it had bothered him all week after his outburst early in the game in Buffalo last week. “I’ve been feeling bad all week and haven’t had a chance to say it. He knows how much I love him.” Brady said.

Chris Hogan Could Return This Week:
The Patriots could really use the return of Chris Hogan this week as they head down to Miami today without Rob Gronkowski who is suspended for this game. Hogan practiced, albeit in a limited capacity this week, but his return would be a shot in the arm for the Patriots passing game.

Both Malcolm Mitchell and Vincent Valentine have been spotted in the locker room this week. The Patriots only have one IR slot for a player to return remaining, so it may be one or the other depending on what the team needs are. Mitchell was a nice target in the red zone down the stretch last season. If he’s ready to go, he could be a nice addition to the offense.

Nate Solder, A Worthy Choice for the Team’s Walter Payton Award :
With the Patriots, as most of the NFL teams do, the players have to make so many appearances in the community as part of their contracts to give back. But many of the players go far beyond the minimum as they embrace their role in the community.

One player who has been out in the community a lot has been left tackle Nate Solder. Solder and his wife have been very active in supporting hospitals that deal with childhood cancer. His own 2-year-old son Hudson is undergoing treatment for his second go-round with cancer treatments after previously been in remission. Solder was the Patriots’ team choice to represent them in the NFL Walter Payton Award that recognizes a player’s strong play on the field with his involvement with the community off the gridiron.  Bill Belichick was asked about Solder last week before the Bills game and had this to say:

“Nate has a lot of maturity and discipline and physical and mental toughness to do what he does day after day, week after week. We have a lot of respect for him, Lexi, Hudson and the entire family.”

McDaniels, Caserio At the top of the List for the GIants Potential Fits::
Whenever there is a turn over in a head coaching or General Manager position, the Patriots’ Nick Caserio, Josh McDaniels, and Matt Patricia are always names that seem to come up at the top of lists. And once the Giants announced that they’d fired both their coach and GM, that got the tongues wagging once again.

Caserio and McDaniels both would be great fits in New York with the G-men. If there is someone who could light a fire out of that offense and get those players pulling in the same direction it is McDaniels. And Caserio is about as solid as a GM candidate as there is.

One has to wonder if the Giants are interested in them and with the current regime with Bill Belichick and his feelings known about the Mara family, he’d support the move there if it came down to it. It would be a tremendous loss for the team but Belichick would understand that the men were looking for the next big step in their career progression and being in New York with the Giants is big time.

“They Know Who He is Now”, Eric Lee Making An Impact:
The Patriots plucked DE Eric Lee off of the Buffalo Bills practice squad just a few weeks ago and the young player has certainly made an impact in his first two NFL games. After just a few days of practice, he played in about 40 percent of the snaps against the Dolphins, mostly in the second half and notched his first NFL sack. Last week against the Bills with Trey Flowers out, Lee was pressed into a lot of snaps [85 %] and the rookie made some major impact right away on the first drive of the game.

Although the Bills were running at him early, on that first drive of the game, once they got down in the red zone, Lee dropped into the throwing lane and intercepted Tyrod Taylor to snuff out the Bills’ scoring chance and he added 1.5 sacks, a couple QB hits and a tackle for a loss. His good, far outweighed the bad. And the rookie has now caught the eye of his fellow players as well as the coaches.

During the telecast last week, Tony Romo told the funny story how Lee in his first game, made a play and on the Patriots bench Tom Brady and Danny Amendola were talking and didn’t know who Lee was. Amendola said, “Eric Lee? Who is that? Wait, he’s on our team?”

“Brady looked at Amendola and says, ‘Who is Eric Lee?”  Romo added on the telecast that “They know who he is now.”

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 14:
Last week 12-4 mark. Season Total: 125-67.

This week’s Thursday games I went with New Orleans (0-1) over Atlanta. Now for the rest of the slate:
Colts at Bills – Buffalo
Cowboys at Giants – Dallas
Lions at Buccaneers  – Detroit
Raiders at Chiefs – Oakland
49ers at Texans  – Houston
Packers at Browns – Green Bay
Bears at Bengals – Cincy
Vikings at Panthers – Minnesota
Redskins at Chargers – Los Angeles
Jets at Broncos – New York
Titans at Cardinals – Tennessee
Eagles at Rams – Philadelphia
Seahawks at Jaguars – Jax
SNF Ravens at Steelers – Pittsburgh
MNF Patriots at Dolphins – New England
Next Thursday Denver over the Indy:

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Taylor’s Status a Game-time Decision for the Bills:

The Buffalo Bills enter today’s game against the Colts with more uncertainty at quarterback. Tyrod Taylor, who injured his knee against the Patriots last week is officially a game-time decision on whether or not he can go and if he can’t Nathan Peterman may get his second NFL start.

Taylor was just a limited participant all week and although he’s had plenty of snaps of practice in the past, it may just be that he’s not physically capable of playing this week. Peterman threw five interceptions in his only start against the Chargers and then played late in the game last week against the Patriots after Taylor left the game.

If Peterman does get the call, his coach, Sean McDermott praised the rookie’s poise and control and stated that he is very steady for such a young player.

Dolphins’s Gase and Cutler talk about facing New England:

The Miami Dolphins face the Patriots for the second time in just three weeks on MNF  and Miami coach Adam Gates was asked about the Patriots pass rush.

“They’re a little bit more difficult than people give them credit for. There’s a reason why they haven’t let up more than 17 points since about the fourth week of the season,” Gase said.

“They force you to get the ball out quick. We had a couple of protection errors. That really put Matt [Moore] in a bad spot where a few times he thought he was good and all of a sudden somebody came free in his face, whether it was oline, running back, tight end – we all took our turns – play calling. There were a couple of those in there where I didn’t really give him a good chance and kind of put him in a bad spot. We’ve just got to do a better job of making sure that we handle that up front. They make it difficult because those guys, they do a good job game planning. They find your weakness and they try to maximize using the information they have.

QB Jay Cutler was asked about facing the Patriots defense and had this to say:
“I think it’s the whole team in general. It’s a very, very smart team. [They are] situationally aware. They do things the right way. I think they tackle well on defense.”

 

He added, “Their assignments are on point. I think he’s [Bill Belichick] notoriously taken away your number one receiver. He makes you get to two and three. (He) makes you do things that are maybe a little bit out of your comfort zone. I think they do a really good job of keeping things in front of them, making offenses go the long road – three, four or five first downs – to score. We’ve just got to figure it out.

Jets Now Have a Nice WR Tandem in Kearse, Anderson :

The New York Jets haven’t followed the script this season. They were supposed to be a team that may go winless, but this scrappy bunch of players from Coach Todd Bowles have ignored the noise and have been in nearly every game this season while going a respectable 5-7.

The Jets have found their wide receivers for QB Josh McCown in Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson and the duo have both gone over 100 yards in the past two games. They now face the Denver Broncos defense which will be a big test for the pair on Sunday. Anderson leads the Jets with 871 yards receiving and Kearse has set a career high in catches with 51 for Gang Green in 2017.Both were undrafted free agents.

If the Jets are to beat Denver today, they’ll need both Kearse and Anderson to step up their game. Anderson was undrafted out of Temple and had some off the field issues plague him in college. Kearse’s time in the 40 during the Combine caused his stock to fall but carved out a solid role with the Seahawks. The Patriots will see this duo in Foxboro in a few weeks.

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

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

Patriots – Dolphins MNF Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge

Steve Balestrieri
December 8, 2017 at 12:10 pm ET

The Patriots go back out on the road for their fourth game in the last five as they take on the Miami Dolphins in South Florida on Monday Night Football. This is a hat and t-shirt game for the Patriots. With a win or a tie, the Patriots clinch the AFC East once again for the ninth straight time and the 17th since Robert Kraft took over the team in 1994.

This week’s game will be broadcast by ESPN on Monday, December 11 at 8:30 p.m. and can be seen on WCVB, Channel 5 in Boston. Sean McDonough will handle play-by-play duties with Jon Gruden as the color analyst. Lisa Salters will work from the sidelines.The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (10-2) are coming off a 23-3 blowout win over the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park. The running game ran for nearly 200 yards while the defense for the eighth game in a row allowed 17 points or less.The Patriots secondary held Buffalo to just 82 yards passing

The Dolphins (5-7) are coming off of a 35-9 blowout win over Denver. The team snapped a five-game losing streak and are looking to get some consistency.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 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 are meeting for the 105th time overall with Miami holding a 53-51 lead all-time in the teams’ rivalry. However, the Patriots have won 12 of the last 15 meetings including the lone from two weeks ago where the Patriots rolled 35-17 behind 196 yards on the ground.

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 has been steadily improving behind the tandem of Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis. Two weeks ago against Miami, Lewis ran for 112 yards on 15 carries. They controlled the clock, the tempo and the line of scrimmage./

Miami has issues with the run with DE Andre Branch and DT Jordan Phillips having problems in the running game. If the Patriots see these two on the same side, look for them to run right at them. While they may not roll up 200 yards on the ground again, they should still find plenty of room to be more than a complimentary piece.

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

The Patriots passing game is averaging 292 yards per game, tops in the NFL. Tom Brady however, won’t have his top receiver, Rob Gronkowski in the game as he’ll be serving a one-game suspension. But…the team may get back Chris Hogan this week. He’s been at practice all week and if he’s able to go would signal a huge boost in the Patriots passing game outside the numbers.

Miami got after Brady with very good pressure from everyone across the defensive line in the first matchup. They’ll need an effort like that again because their best corner  Cordrea Tankersley could miss this week with ankle and knee woes. Without Gronkowski look for Brady to spread them out and try to use their quickness all over the field. They’ll try to get Brandin Cooks the ball in space and Hogan (if he plays) may get the chance to go deep on a few plays down the field. The backs will again be a major factor in both the running and passing games.

Next up the Dolphins offense:

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

The Dolphins running game hasn’t been the same since they traded the freelancing Jay Ajayi to the Eagles. The carries have been shared between Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams, but Williams is dealing with a shoulder issue and may not go.

The Patriots run defense has not been good and was gashed pretty well by the Bills last week although the return of Malcom Brown should help things. But will the Dolphins have the depth to force enough leverage there? The feeling here is no especially if they find themselves falling behind again.

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

Miami will have Jay Cutler back under center this week. He’s a different player than Matt Moore, so we’ll probably see some more shots down the field. Jarvis Landry had eight catches for 70 yards in the first one and he, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker with tight end Julius Thomas should be much more productive than they are.

The Patriots pass defense is playing tremendous right now. It is a possibility that we’ll see some of Eric Rowe on Landry this week as he has a bit of size, although Jonathan Jones matched up well with Landry in the first meeting.

Look for the Patriots to be much more aggressive against this beatable Miami offensive line again. They teed off in the second half and got six sacks. Cutler isn’t mobile and the Patriots may call down the dogs this week.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski is having an outstanding season. His kickoffs are pinning teams deep and the outstanding coverage units are smothering the opposition. The Dolphins have solid kickers but aren’t generating anything in the return game. The Patriots Special Teams has been scoring points, blocking kicks, and last time ran a fake punt for a big first down that set up a touchdown.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one is a divisional matchup on Monday Night so, as we’ve seen all season, anything can happen. But unless the Patriots implode, I can’t see the Dolphins beating New England this week. However, the Patriots have traditionally not played well in the heat of Miami. It does help that this one is at night so that shouldn’t be a big factor.

Having No Rob Gronkowski is a big blow for the Patriots offense but if Chris Hogan is able to come back and play this week it will be a nice boost to the outside passing game. Look for the running game to continue their solid play and Brady to spread the Dolphins defense out. Miami may run the ball effectively, but I don’t see Cutler having a good night against the secondary. New England heads to Pittsburgh 11-2 setting up a big game next week.  Patriots 30-13

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

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

Patriots  Week 13  Report Card, Patriots Pummel the Bills 23-3

Steve Balestrieri
December 5, 2017 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots took care of business in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon using a running game that gashed the Bills for nearly 200 yards behind Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead and the defense which held the Bills woeful passing game to just 85 net yards and three points.

Rob Gronkowski had nine catches for 147 yards and was uncoverable. He also committed a stupid, flagrant cheap shot after the whistle in the fourth quarter that will cost him. If he serves his one-game suspension, he’ll probably miss out on the final of his bonus incentives in his contract which will be expensive.

Simply put, the Patriots outplayed and outcoached the Bills again. Brady improved his record to a ridiculous 27-3 against the Bills and the team clinched a virtual tie for the division. Any Buffalo loss or New England win in the next month clinches the division again for the Patriots. Every spring and early summer we hear the “will this be the year that the Patriots are dethroned in the AFC East?” and this season, even after a slow start, it is essentially wrapped up with four games to go.

With the win, they improve to 10-2, and more importantly, they keep the pressure on the Steelers who will have to win against Cincinnati later tonight to keep pace as the top team in the AFC.

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

Quarterback: B-

Tom Brady wasn’t sharp, especially in the first half but he and the team heated up in the third quarter and they scored on two impressive drives and put this one away early. Brady ended up with pedestrian numbers (for him), 21-30, 258 yards with zero touchdowns and an interception. The pick was the play that Rob Gronkowski was flagged and suspended for and should have been a penalty (two actually) on TreDavious White.

But Brady missed a wide-open Phillip Dorsett on a deep incompletion to Brandin Cooks, which ignited a mini-brouhaha with Josh McDaniels, but he made a couple of really nice throws to Gronkowski. Brady also slides in the pocket and steps up better than anyone in the business. He has the innate ability to feel the rush and when to step up and slide left or right.

Running Backs: A

The Patriots two-headed monster of Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead gashed the Bills defense badly. A week after holding the Chiefs to less than 60 yards on the ground, the Patriots ran for nearly 200 yards.

Burkhead ran 12 times for 78 yards with two scores and added three catches for 25 yards in the passing game. Lewis ran 15 times for 92 yards. Each broke a long gainer as the running game and the Bills were powerless to stop them.

James Develin and James White both were pressed into support status this week but each played a role and the Patriots running game is getting better and better each week. White had five carries for 18 yards and four catches for 32 more. Not bad production for the third man in the rotation this week.

Wide Receivers: C-

The wide receivers this week were a non-factor in the game. Buffalo’s secondary did a great job of bottling them up and taking away the deep chunks and the sideline routes of the wide receivers.

Brandin Cooks had just receptions for 17 yards, Danny Amendola had just two catches for 34 yards. Dorsett wasn’t targeted, however, he was wide open for that big gain where Brady missed him all alone down the left sideline.

Tight Ends: A

Rob Gronkowski once again tortured the Bills defense in Buffalo. He caught fire in the second half and they don’t have anyone that can match up with him. He caught nine passes for 147 yards despite being held and hit downfield on seemingly every snap. But what followed after the pick was inexcusable.

We get that the frustration of seven years is taking its toll on the big guy, but he frankly has to be smarter than that. And while part of the blame has to fall to the referees who let every team clutch and grab Gronkowski on every down, while if he breathes on an opponent an OPI flag is thrown, it doesn’t excuse what he did…at all. Nuff said.

Dwayne Allen had one catch for three yards but has really improved in his run blocking and provided good support in the running game. Jacob Hollister had one target in the passing game and plays a regular role on Special Teams.

Offensive Line: B

The offensive line was missing right tackle Marcus Cannon again as well as swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle and had Cameron Fleming in there this week. Center David Andrews returned this week. The pass protection was a bit iffy this week again. Buffalo, who came in with just 17 sacks, had three on the day and was getting good pressure on Brady.

The running game was clicking again. The Patriots offensive line was winning the battles there and opened up big holes for the backs to exploit. They were getting to the second level and keeping the linebackers off the runners.  

Defensive Line: B

It was a mixed bag for the offensive line who gave up a whopping 183 yards to LeSean McCoy, Tyrod Taylor et al. but it seemed every time they needed a big stop they were getting it. McCoy had just 30 yards in the second half. And the Bills ended up with a total of three points in their own building. The pass rush was once again very good, the Patriots were getting a good push from everywhere. Malcom Brown had a really solid day in his return from injury with a sack, a pair of quarterback hits and a couple of run stuffs.

Eric Lee was victimized a little bit early in the running game, but he ended up having a big day, with an interception inside the red zone, 1.5 sacks, 3 QB hits, a tackle for a loss and two passes defensed. His interception was set up with nice pressure from Alan Branch who pushed his man into Taylor, possibly effecting the throw

Linebackers: B-

Kyle Van Noy who injured his calf in the game against Miami, seeming re-aggravated it in the third quarter and didn’t return. He did have a half sack, a QB hit, and a pass defensed. Elandon Roberts and David Harris had some issues in run support this week, as they got washed out on a few of the Bills running plays.  They struggled a bit in pass coverage as well. Harris had some good pass rushes in the interior and had 1.5 sacks and a QB hit.

Secondary: A

Stephon Gilmore had an outstanding day again. The Bills tried to attack him in his return to Buffalo this week. It failed miserably. Gilmore blanketed Zay Jones all day. Overall the Patriots secondary was outstanding. Buffalo had just 115 yards passing with a net of 85 and 3.4 yard per pass average. The Bills longest play of the day thru the air was 14 yards. Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman, and Joe Webb were a combined 15 -34 for 115 yards.

The Patriots secondary had their best game of the year. And the good news was that they got Eric Rowe back in the lineup after missing seven weeks with a groin injury. Rowe shook off the rust and had a pass defensed.

Special Teams: B

There wasn’t a heckuva lot to complain about here. Stephen Gostkowski is on a roll, he kicked all three field goal attempts despite having the wind be a factor in the kicking game. His kickoffs and the resultant excellent coverage by the Special Teams units kept Buffalo deep in their zone all day.

Newly signed Bernard Reedy returned one punt for 11 yards and Geneo Grissom replaced Nate Ebner on the STs roster. For a unit short Ebner, Trevor Reilly and Matthew Slater, they didn’t miss a beat.

Coaches: A

Bill Belichick raked Sean McDermott over the coals in their first AFC East meeting on Sunday afternoon. McDermott didn’t come off remotely ready to challenge the Patriots for the division and when they needed to come up with an answer, they chose the Wildcat. That’s how you’re going to beat Belichick and the Patriots? By running the Wildcat? The team was focused, ready to go and had a good game plan that was effectively put into operation.

Josh McDaniels stayed patient with the running the football, and they took what was there. Matt Patricia’s unit gets high marks on Sunday. Buffalo’s best drive was their first one, and they came away with zero points.Overall very good marks for the Patriots. We’re on to Miami.

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

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

Patriots Running Game, Defense Throttle the Bills 23-3

Steve Balestrieri
December 3, 2017 at 7:33 pm ET

The Patriots offense this year is no longer the chuck-it 50 times a game and run it once in a while kind of show. For the second week in a row, they took advantage of a team trying to sell out to protect against the passing of Tom Brady and they made them pay. Buffalo couldn’t stop the Patriots running game and New England for the second week in a row running for nearly 200 yards on the day and the defense stuffed the Bills in a 23-3 blowout win in Buffalo.

With the victory, the Patriots improved to 10-2 and for the next 24 hours hold the top spot in the AFC until Pittsburgh plays Cincinnati on Monday Night Football. They have effectively clinched a tie for the AFC East once again, they are four games up on Buffalo with four to play. Tom Brady improved to 27-3 against the Bills all time which is a new NFL record for wins against one franchise.

There was also some fireworks at the end of the day with Rob Gronkowski that may see him get a hefty fine for an inexcusable cheap shot. Other observations include:

Pass Defense Steps Up Big Again: Remember the calls that Stephon Gilmore is a bust? That the pass defense was historically bad? Well in the last eight games the Patriots allowed 17 points or fewer in each of them, averaging 11.9 points allowed. The pass defense? Buffalo had 85 net passing yards today. Stephon Gilmore was outstanding once again in coverage on Sunday. Buffalo tried to make some kind of point by repeatedly trying to beat him for a touchdown down in the red zone. They didn’t and turned the ball over on downs….that is so Buffalo.

In the last six games, the Patriots pass defense is allowing 195.1 yards per game. Let that one roll around for a minute. What a turnaround for Matt Patricia’s crew.

“Who the H**L is Eric Lee?”: I must have heard this about 3-4 times during the game today. The youngster, plucked off of Buffalo’s practice squad just last week had himself a day in just his second NFL game.

Lee stopped the Bills’ first drive of the game, Buffalo took the opening kickoff and drove easily down the field. But inside the 10-yard line, Lee dropped back into the passing lane where the Bills like to throw a slant and Tyrod Taylor obliged by the throwing a pass right to him.

Lee’s stat line on the day? One and a half sacks, a tackle for a loss, three QB hits and an interception. These last two weeks have to be a whirlwind for the young man. He gets plucked off of the Bills practice squad, gets pressed into action just a few days later and gets his first sack against Miami. Then coming back to face his former team, has a tremendously productive day.

Brady Has Mostly a Quiet Day: Tom Brady’s stat line on the day was a modest 21-30 for 258 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. The pick shouldn’t have counted as there were at least two fouls on Gronkowski on the play but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Brady did, however, move in the pocket extremely well and it was his ability to slide away from pressure, step up and deliver is what separates the men from the boys so to speak. He did this time and again. He had a bit of frustration as he and Josh McDaniels had a small tiff on the sidelines.

Brady’s best drive was the opening one in the second half, Brady moved them easily down the field for the first touchdown of the game. On the drive, he mixed in runs and passes and hit Gronkowski three times for 50 yards before Rex Burkhead powered in for the score.

The Two-Headed Monster With Lewis and Burkhead was Outstanding: Buffalo tried to stymie Tom Brady by selling out in pass defense. The Patriots made them pay by gashing them for 193 yards on the ground before two Brian Hoyer kneel downs. This offense is varied and versatile and led by Lewis and Burkhead, they’re getting better and better every week.

Lewis led the way with 92 yards on 15 carries and narrowly missed back-to-back 100 yards games. He’s having an incredible season. Hard to believe Lewis was the subject of trade rumors in October. Burkhead had another very solid outing rushing for 78 yards on with two touchdowns. Burkhead had a long for 31 yards while Lewis added a 44-yarder as the running game is beginning to break some big chunk plays every week.

Gronkowski Has a Big Second Half Until a Huge Gaffe: The Patriots and Brady didn’t target Rob Gronkowski much in the first half, the big man had just a pair of catches for 28 yards. But all of that changed after half-time.

As we mentioned above, Brady targeted him three times for 50 yards on the opening drive of the third quarter. Gronkowski ended up with nine catches for 147 yards. And that is when all hell broke loose.

Facing a 3rd and long, Brady was looking for Gronkowski who was held and interfered with twice by TreDavious White. White actually came down with the ball, having intercepted it on the play. Gronkowski’s frustration spilled over and he delivered a very cheap shot to the head of White on the ground. There is no excuse for that kind of behavior however and Gronkowski should know better.

We get that no one is held more and interfered with more than Gronk. He also always gets these ticky-tack BS offensive pass interference penalties that no one else ever gets called on. As he said after the game, it has been going on for seven years.

As for a suspension? No. He’s never been accused of anything dirty before. Usually, it is him that opponents are taking cheap shots on, going after his knees and his head. Micah Hyde rushed to judgment saying that the league can’t tolerate plays like that. He conveniently neglected to mention that on the same play, he ripped Danny Amendola’s helmet off his head in a very dirty and unnecessary as well move. And then complained that he didn’t know what he had done… so Buffalo.

Gronk has no priors so a healthy fine should be on the way. But 9-147? He definitely likes playing in front of his old hometown. Just imagine the day he could have if he wasn’t held or interfered with on every play.

Tyrod Taylor Crowd is Eerily Quiet: We’ve been saying this for three years that Taylor is not a good QB. It isn’t rocket science why Buffalo averages under 200 yards passing a game for the past several years. It is why stats, which are good, can be very, very misleading. Taylor was 9-18 for 65 yards with no touchdowns and a pick. He lost 25 yards on three sacks so he netted 40 yards passing. That’s a 2.2 yard net on every pass attempt.

But the Twitter-verse is chocked full of Taylor apologists and they continually sing this guy’s praises. When Buffalo’s running game isn’t operating at peak capacity, he’s incapable of putting a team on his back and leading them to a victory.

Taylor suffered a leg injury and was carted off the field late making way for Nathan Peterman. On the day, the Bills averaged 3.4 yards per pass play.

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

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

New England Patriots News 12-3, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 11-26, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots and Bills game today marks the 115th time the two teams have met. And while the crowd at Orchard Park is loud and boisterous, the Patriots and specifically Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have had great success there. In the Bill Belichick era, the Patriots have owned the Bills in Buffalo, winning the last five meetings and 12 of their last 13 up there. It will be interesting to see if they can get out to fast start today that they’ve been doing well, especially in the last month.

Buffalo has been outscored in every quarter but the fourth, coincidentally, the Patriots have outscored their opponents in every quarter but the fourth, so something has to give… right?

To Remove Brady Early in Blowouts? Belichick Doesn’t Think So:
With the Patriots seemingly comfortably ahead in the win over Miami, questions naturally were being asked, if it was time to remove Brady and not risk him to injury. Dan Fouts even mentioned it on the telecast. So, after the game is over, the media did its job and asked Bill Belichick if he thought about taking Brady out. Belichick, already not happy with the somewhat at times the sloppy performance of the team, got snarky with the reporter, in this case, Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. It went down like this:

Guregian: “Did you have any thoughts about taking Tom Brady out of the game late with the score out of hand?”
Belichick: “What, on the kneel-downs? What difference does it make?”
Guregian: “What about before that?”
Belichick: “No. I mean it’s easy for you to sit there and say the game is out of hand. I mean, if you watch games in the National Football League, a lot can change in a hurry. The only time I think the game is in hand is when they’re not going to have enough possessions to get the number of points that they need. Sorry, we just see that one totally differently.”

There are certainly cases where removing Brady from the game is a good idea. And while there have been times that I’d be inclined to agree, Sunday wasn’t one of them. When Miami scored with 11 minutes to go, the score of the game was still close enough to warrant Brady remaining in. But it was a legitimate question and Guregian, was within her rights to ask. She isn’t one of those reporters who is looking to pick at anything negative. She’s one of the good guys/gals who put the work in every day at Gillette. To her credit, she asked her questions and didn’t make a big deal of it, unlike some other writers who did later.

Could Belichick have handled that question better? No doubt. One has to think he was still salty about the way the team had played in his mind as he wasn’t looking like a coach whose team had just won by 18 points. Or perhaps the way the Dolphins were playing as they seemed intent on taking as many cheap shots as they could in the second half. But wouldn’t that lend itself to removing Brady from the line of fire?

Injuries Piling Up for the Patriots in 2017:
With both Martellus Bennett and Nate Ebner being placed on IR this week, that brings the total of players on IR or on the non-Football Injury/Illness list to 13 players. Bennett’s loss was not entirely unexpected, the team knew they were taking a risk when he was released from Green Bay with his shoulder that required surgery. It was hoped that he’d be able to play thru it, and he gave them two games but it was too much to bear.

Besides the players on IR, the team has eight questionable players for the Buffalo game this week. If we saw one thing that can derail this team’s chances, it is injuries. In both 2013 and 2015, the team was beset by injuries and that had a big hand in their undoing.

They haven’t reached that tipping point yet but Sunday’s win was a costly one with Ebner, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Marquis Flowers, LaAdrian Waddle and Trevor Reilly all leaving via injuries. We’ll see today if those losses last week factor into the game in Orchard Park.

Ebner Loss Difficult to Replace: Bill Belichick wasn’t at a loss for words when describing the value he, and the team placed on Nate Ebner and his role on Special Teams. Ebner was lost for the season after injuring his knee on a fake punt in the first quarter of the Miami game last Sunday.
Ebner’s role as the “personal protector” of the punter. Belichick said, was one of the most difficult spots to play.

“It’s kind of like playing quarterback,” Belichick said. “But you play quarterback for, you call 60 plays a game, 70 plays a game. You only punt five to 10 times. Somewhere in there. But there’s a lot of different variables, … a good personal protector takes all those into consideration, just like a quarterback does. A: Protect the punter. B: He’s the last line of defense. “So a lot of times, even if your protection is not right on the front, if that guy gets the right guy and does the right thing, you still could possibly save a blocked punt by just him doing the right thing, even though somebody else has made a mistake in the front of it.”

“It’s not an easy job at all if you want to do it right and get the most out of it.”

With Ebner out for the season, that job has fallen to Jordan Richards who fulfilled it on Sunday. Pat Chung has also played that position in the past.

Van Noy’s Role Has Evolved to be a Key Member of NE Defense:
Kyle Van Noy is a player that seems like a typical New England Patriots pickup. A former high draft pick that didn’t pan out with his former team, Bill Belichick picks him up in a low-key move and finds a role for the player to be successful.

Kyle Van Noy has become one of the most versatile pieces of the Patriots defense. (SBalestrieri photo)

But in Van Noy’s case, he’s morphed into much more than just a role player in the Patriots defense. Because of injuries to Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Derek Rivers and Harvey Langi and the retirement of Rob Ninkovich, he’s been moved all over the place. And to his credit, he’s responded well no matter where he’s been asked to play. He’s been the coverage linebacker, the middle linebacker calling the signals as well as the outside rush player on the edge.

“Kyle’s a smart guy,” Belichick said. “Something maybe a little bit different this week. He’s a good communicator, so he’s good at getting other people around him coordinated and in the run spot or when we need to make a call, he’ll make the call, and he’s decisive. He’ll make it with good judgment but also make it decisively so everyone has the confidence to be able to execute it. “So, he does a good job of that. That’s one of the advantages of having him in different positions. And since he’s played other spots, he understands what that person needs to know and maybe what the stress is on.”

Belichick loves players who are versatile and can do multiple things, and while Van Noy may not have been the team’s first to do certain things, [MLB, Ninkovich’s role on the edge], he’s thriving. It was thought that Rivers was going to be groomed to take over that role after being drafted by the team with their first pick in the draft. But a training camp injury sidelined him for the duration of the season. Van Noy still doesn’t get much love around the league’s media types, but Belichick sees his value and that is all that matters,

“Everybody doesn’t have to be able to do 11 different things,” Belichick said. “It’s good to have the guys who can do one thing really well. That’s great, but somewhere along the line with the variety of offenses we see and different formations … for someone to be able to have some versatility to help us handle those multiple situations, it’s a lot easier than having to send guys on and off the field and try to get them matched up and so forth. “If you can just move one or two players around to do that. Guys like Kyle and Pat Chung, Devin [McCourty], guys who give us linebacker to safety, linebacker to defensive end, those kinds of comparable spots, dependent on what we’re facing, there’s a lot of value to that.”

With Ninkovich, Hightower, McClellin, Rivers, and Langi gone, if the Patriots are going to have postseason success in 2017, they’re going to need Van Noy to step up. And he’s shown that he’s been equal to the task.

Belichick- “I’m Really Happy When We Score”:  The Patriots’ Bill Belichick was miked up last week for the Dolphins game and one of the funnier scenes is the reaction of the Patriots bench when the Patriots scored all five of their touchdowns. As the players all celebrate, with the radio call of Bob Socci on the play-by-play nails down the exact time of the scores, Belichick remained stoic. He was asked (jokingly) if he was happy when the team scored.

Belichick’s response was classic Bill, “Yeah, I don’t know,” Belichick said. “I mean, I’m happy when we score. I’m really happy when we score, but there’s a decision to be made on the next play, and the next play and the next series.”

Bill Belichick addresses the media before practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

“So we have a lot of fans that come to the game,” he added. “They cheer. They do a great job. I feel like a big part of my job is decision making and planning ahead for the next play, the next series, the next situation. There is sometimes a little bit of time between a score and the kickoff when you go out on defense or how you’re going to kick the ball off or so forth that I feel like I need to do a good job at that. I don’t want to let the team down in the responsibilities that I have.”

Manning the Least of the Giants Worries: Look, there are a lot of ways to take the Eli Manning benching for the Giants. If his level of play were so awful or he completely lost the team in the huddle, then you’re forced to make a move. But his offensive line has been a sieve. The play-calling by McAdoo has been awful and their playmakers are either hurt, not producing or not utilized right.

If New York had a young QB, like a Patrick Mahomes for example, making a move now makes sense. You’re 2-9 and not going anywhere and you can see what you have in the youngster. But Geno Smith? Are there any illusions about Smith at this point? Does McAdoo really think Smith gives the G-Men a better chance of winning than Manning? Bad move Giants. One can see the entire regime being cleaned out of there as soon as this season is over.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 13:
Last week 11-5 mark. Season Total: 113-63.

This week’s Thursday games I went with Washington (0-1). Now for the rest of the slate:
Vikings at Falcons – Atlanta
Texans at Titans – Tennessee
Chiefs at Jets – Kansas City

Broncos at Dolphins – Miami
Colts at Jaguars – Jacksonville
Buccaneers at Packers – Green Bay
Lions at Ravens – Baltimore
Patriots at Bills – New England
49ers at Bears – San Francisco
Browns at Chargers – Los Angeles

Giants at Raiders – Oakland
Panthers at Saints – New Orleans

Rams at Cardinals – Los Angeles

SNF Eagles at Seahawks – Philadelphia

MNF Steelers at Bengals – Pittsburgh

Next Thursday New Orleans over the Atlanta

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Have to Limit Gronkowski on Defense:

The Buffalo Bills are going to try to reverse the trend of the Patriots dominating on the Bills home turf and to do so, they’ll need a complete team effort. And part of that is the play of the defense covering tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots big man has been at his best when playing before his former hometown. Last year, Gronkowski torched Buffalo for 109 yards and a touchdown on five catches in Orchard Park.

To slow down the big man will take a collective effort between the linebackers and the safeties, the Bills don’t have anyone that can cover Gronk 1-on-1. Preston Brown, on the Bills website, spoke about the difficulty covering Gronkowski.

“When you are matched up against him just try to get some pass breakups and no run after the catch,” Brown said. He always seems like he’s dragging people down the field and people are jumping on his back and he’s still running for 10 yards. No yards after the catch.”

Brown may draw Gronkowski off the line and knows he’ll need to get a good jam to slow him down. “He does everything to get open. He has the speed to get by people. He’s just a good tight end,” Brown said. “You have to find ways to slow him up any way you can. Sometimes you have to double team him. Sometimes you have a safety over top. Anything you can do to slow him down because he’s going to try and make plays, especially coming back home.”

Is Cameron Wake Going to Chase a Ring? Nope, He’s Staying with the Dolphins:

The Miami Dolphins reached the playoff last season with a 10-6 record. But the season of promise in 2017 where they thought they’d make the next step has evaporated. The team is 4-7 and not going anywhere. Not this year. While some players have plenty of time to get a shot at a ring, Cameron Wake doesn’t.

Wake will soon be 36 years old and although the sack specialist is still productive, he needs two sacks to reach his fifth season with 10 or more sacks, he knows he’s closer to the end of his career than he is to the beginning or even the middle.

So, the question that was posed to him by the Miami Herald this week, would he consider leaving South Beach for a winner?  The short answer was no but sometimes these situations take a life of their own. Wake was keeping his eyes on the present for the time being.

“Another team has not crossed my mind for years,” Wake said. “Legacy hasn’t. Again, I’m a laser-focused guy. I’ve got blinders on. That’s way out of left field. I couldn’t care less about that right now.”

So he isn’t considering leaving despite Miami’s lack of success, but he remains optimistic. “Every time’s a little different,” Wake said. “Last time I came back it was because obviously, I felt a tremendous amount of comfort and history here and this organization. I have belief in the players, belief in the coaching staff. The city, fans, all of the above. For me to go somewhere else it would have to be a dramatically different opportunity, and I feel like the best opportunity is right here in Miami.”

Revis Returns to NY, This Time to Face the Jets in a Chiefs Uniform:

The New York Jets face a desperate team in Kansas City today that has been free-falling after a red-hot start. The Chiefs started 5-0 and have since five of their last six. But this week, at least at the start of the game, all eyes will be on the Chiefs newest player, cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Revis was released by the Jets after the 2016 season and has been looking for a team all year. So the injury-bitten Chiefs signed him, hoping he can help their defense regain their winning ways and hold onto a division lead that has suddenly tightened up. For Revis though, returning to New Jersey holds no special motivation.

“I don’t think it’s any extra motivation,” said Revis, to ESPN. “For me throughout my career, it’s always been about timing. I just felt where I was at in my training that I was fit and ready to come back and play football.”

So, Revis was asked, is there any ill-will towards his former team?

“We have a long history … I had an awesome time there. Most of my legacy was with the Jets, so I don’t think it’s anything [personal]. I’m just on another team. This is my fourth ball club throughout my career, and now I’m focused on our team goals and what we’re trying to do as a team and accomplish.”

“For me personally, I don’t think there’s any ill will or anything to take a stab at or get back at the Jets for any reason.” His welcome may not be too warm, however.

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

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

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

Steve Balestrieri
December 1, 2017 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots head back out on the road for the next three weeks and begin their road trip in Buffalo to take on the Bills. The games there are always loud and raucous and with playoff implications for both teams for a change, this one takes on added meaning.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, November 19 at 1:05 p.m. and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson 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 (9-2) are coming off a 35-17 blowout of the Miami Dolphins at home. Tom Brady passed for four touchdowns, Dion Lewis rushed for 112 yards as the Patriots as a team rushed for 196 on the day. The defense forced three turnovers and held the Miami offense to just 10 points.

The Bills (6-5) snapped a three-game losing streak with a big 16-10 win in Kansas City to put them back into the playoff race. Tyrod Taylor returned to the starting lineup and tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Zay Jones while the defense smothered the Chiefs offense, holding them to under 250 yards and 2 for 13 on third down

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 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 Bills history go back to the earliest days of the AFL in 1960. Sunday will mark the 115th meeting between the two franchises. Overall the Patriots hold a 70-43-1 edge, including a 34-22-1 record in Buffalo. The Patriots have dominated in the Bill Belichick era, taking 29 of 33, including 12 of the last 13 games in Buffalo. Last year the teams split the series with Buffalo shutting out New England with Jacoby Brissett at QB 16-0. The Patriots then took the final game in Buffalo 41-25.

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 Bills Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game had its best game of the year last week gashing the Dolphins for 196 yards, Dion Lewis led the way with 112 and Rex Burkhead chipped in with 50 of his own.

The Bills run defense was excellent during the first seven weeks of the season. But during their recent three-game losing streak they allowed 638 yards rushing. Last week they righted the ship and allowed the Chiefs only 55 yards on the ground. So who shows up this week the unit that got gashed or the one that allowed only 616 yards rushing in all their other games?

I look for the Patriots to try to continue with what they’ve been doing, spreading out opponents and try to run inside. The key for the offensive line is whether or not they can move Buffalo’s big men inside, Adolphus Washington and Kyle Williams on the interior line and Preston Brown at linebacker. It seems like the Bills stopped the bleeding there in the run defense, so it may be tough sledding for the running game this week. Especially with two starters on the offensive line that may be missing again as well as the top swing tackle.

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

The Patriots passing game despite missing key receivers has continued to hum along averaging just under 300 yards per game. Again, the key is the health of the offensive line and if they can hold up to a defense that hasn’t gotten many sacks this season but will probably be aggressive this week.

Buffalo’s pass defense has been ok against the pass, they’ve allowed a good amount of yards but have been ball hawks, especially when they’ve won, they’ve generated a ton of turnovers. They’ll be looking to do exactly that this week to give their offense a boost and keep the score close.

The key here is the quickness that Tom Brady gets rid of the ball and Rob Gronkowski. Gronk had shredded the Bills, especially in Buffalo, his hometown. In six career games, Gronk has 35 catches for 583 yards (97.1 yards per game) and seven touchdowns. Over a full season that would come out to 1553 yards and 17 touchdowns. Look for Brady to try to get Gronkowski involved early. It will be a big matchup against Micah Hyde this week, who was the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for November.

Next up the Bills offense:

Bills RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Buffalo

The Bills running game still goes thru LeSean McCoy and he leads the team with 758 yards although his yards per carry is way down (for him) to 3.9. The Patriots will have to be aware of Taylor scrambling as well. The Bills offense works best when he’s making plays with his feet.

The Patriots run defense has struggled inside in 2017, with Malcom Brown injured and Vincent Valentine and Dont’a Hightower on IR, the middle of the line has been suspect. Alan Branch will be playing against his former team this week and we’d expect him to turn his game up a notch this week.  

Look for Buffalo to test the edges with Taylor and McCoy this week, that is an area where the defensive line has struggled at times this year in setting the edge. They’ll want to dictate the pace, keep NE’s defense on the field and limit the chances for Tom Brady and the Patriots offense to score.

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

Buffalo’s passing game has been middling along about 15th in the league averaging just 182.5 yards per game. Taylor doesn’t turn the ball over, he likes to roll out where he can see the field in front of him and make the safe pass. A key this week will be getting outside the pocket and making plays with his feet.

The Patriots pass defense has been vastly improved the past five games. They’re allowing just 217 yards per game in the past five contests. The secondary play has been much, much better, although because of a mobile QB, they will be playing more zone this week, which isn’t their strength.

Look for Taylor to try to make plays with his feet. They’ll lean on McCoy as well in the passing game. This is a “Big Nickel” kind of week for the Patriots defense with three safeties. Containment of Taylor in the pocket is essential.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski has been having a very good season. His short kickoffs coupled with outstanding coverage has put the Patriots in excellent field position defensively every week. He’s been very steady in the kicking game and has scored 111 points already. Ryan Allen’s punting has been okay this year. But the coverage units, the field goal, and punt blocking units have been very tough.

The Bills Special teams have been very good as well Stephen Hauschka has been money from beyond 50 yards, making 14 in a row. Colton Schmidt has had a very good season as well. With the high level of play the New England STs have been performing it is tough to give anyone else the edge. But the loss of Nate Ebner, and the injuries to Trevor Reilly and Marquis Flowers will bear watching to see if it affects the Special Teams this week. 

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one will have a playoff-type atmosphere this week because it essentially is for the Bills. They need to win and keep winning to get into the playoffs. The crowd will be loud and rowdy (as always) and the Bills will be playing for something in December for the first time in a very long time.

The key from the Patriots perspective is getting off to a fast start and forcing the Bills to play catchup, which is not their strength. With all of the injuries facing the team, however, they may be hard-pressed to take advantage of their edge in many positions. Brady will have to be aware of where Hyde is, he’s been the Bills’ biggest ballhawk. But the Patriots just have too many weapons for Buffalo this week. Look for the backs to get involved early as well in the passing game. Having time to throw will be a big factor in whether or not Brady and Brandin Cooks attempt to stretch the field this week. It is going to be close, probably a lot closer than many Patriots fans expect but I think this one goes down to the wire in a close divisional matchup. Brady will make more plays than Taylor and the Patriots hold serve with a big divisional win and will head to South Beach at 10-2.  Patriots 28-20

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.

Bills Look to Erase 17 Years of Frustration Against the Patriots

Steve Balestrieri
November 30, 2017 at 9:42 am ET

The Patriots and Buffalo Bills will meet for the first time in 2017 on Sunday in Buffalo as the schedule makers don’t have the division rivals face each other until December. The rivalry has gone back and forth but the Bills have had a nightmarish record against the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era.

The Patriots won 15 in a row at one point and Tom Brady has held mastery over Buffalo. Brady is 28-3 overall against the Bills but one loss was the season finale in 2014 where the Pats rested many of their starters and Brady played in the first half. But 2017 is a new year and this Buffalo team is still in the playoff hunt as the season enters Week 13. If the Bills are going to end their own 17-year playoff drought, they’ll have to start taking some of these matchups with New England.

A sweep by the Patriots this year would doom any post-season hopes the Bills have. The teams split last year but the Week 4 win in Foxboro last season was against the Patriots #3 QB Jacoby Brissett while Brady was serving his Deflategate suspension and Jimmy Garoppolo was hurt. So, the normally raucous crowd will be even louder this week, since the Bills actually have something to play for this week and it will have the crowd and the team fired up.

Here are some things that we’ve identified this week as things to keep an eye on:

Defense Regains its Swagger…. “We’re Back”: The Bills defense had been gashed and gashed badly during the three-game losing streak. In the three blowout losses to the Jets, Saints, and Chargers, the Buffalo defense gave up 638 yards rushing. In all of their other games, they allowed just 616 yards on the ground. Last week, they righted the ship and stuffed the Kansas City running game to the tune of just 57 yards on the ground and 236 yards overall in the 16-10 win in Kansas City.

This led linebacker Matt Milano to reflect on the re-emergence of the defense stating “It got lost,” l Milano said of the defensive swagger, “but it’s back. We’re back.”

The Bills have a young and talented secondary, they’ve gotten very good play from safety Micah Hyde. In the Bills victories earlier in the year, they were generating a ton of turnovers and that’s what they’ll need this week to slow the New England offense and keep up with them scoring wise. Much will have to come from the Bills pass rush which has just 17 sacks on the season. They’ll have to bring pressure on Brady if they’re going to win this one at home.

The Offense Still Goes Thru Shady McCoy: McCoy is averaging a very unMcCoy-like 3.9 yards per carry this season. And he had a rough day against the Chiefs defense running for just 49 yards on 22 carries. He leads the team with 758 yards rushing on the season, with four touchdowns, still good for eighth in the league. So, he’ll be amped up for this one in front of the home crowd, especially with things to play for.

McCoy leads the team in receptions with 46 as well, far ahead of the next most productive receiver in Charles Clay with 29. So the Patriots focus will be on slowing down McCoy this week. The Patriots run defense hasn’t been great and since Buffalo isn’t a dynamic passing team, they’ll be looking to run the ball with McCoy and Tyrod Taylor scrambling, which will set up their play-action passes and bootlegs to the perimeter of the defense.

It is possible that McCoy, who is playing in his ninth NFL season is starting to show some wear on the treads. But the Patriots won’t be looking at him this way and their defense will put him down as the #1 target to slow down. He’s nearly 33 percent of the Bills offense. Buffalo needs a big game from McCoy this week to pull off the upset.

Taylor Has To Step Up His Game…Now: Most people don’t believe that the Bills will carry quarterback Tyrod Taylor into the 2018 season. The Bills are figuring him to be gone by then. The fact that they went with rookie Nathan Peterman two weeks ago kind of confirmed that they are looking to upgrade. Taylor can throw a monkey wrench into their plans by giving them a good reason to hold on to him. He can win out, and bring the Bills a playoff berth, something they haven’t done in 17 years. But he’s going to have to step up and be able to put the team on his back, something he hasn’t been able to do in his three seasons at the helm.

A look at his stat sheet would put Taylor in the upper half of the NFL’s QB hierarchy. I’d dispute that. Taylor has a good completion percentage and very rarely turns the ball over. They like to roll him out where he can make the safe passes that are right in front of him. And he has the option to run, where he can make plays with his legs. When the Bills running game with McCoy is thriving, he puts up nice numbers. But he’s never been able to show the ability to put the team on his back and win games when the running game has slowed. He plays it safe, checks down too often and is too frequently completing passes short of the sticks on third down. This week and the game in New England later in December, Taylor can help himself out by putting the team on his back. Throwing for an average of 182.5 yards per game and 20 points won’t win many games against New England. The Bills have been outscored in every quarter but the fourth this season…that will have to change and it starts with Taylor.

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

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

Patriots  Week 12  Report Card, Patriots Run Over Miami Again

Steve Balestrieri
November 28, 2017 at 10:30 am ET

Wash, rinse, repeat. The Patriots used a familiar formula to beat the Miami Dolphins in Foxboro where Miami has struggled to win in the last decade. They were the more physical team and controlled the line of scrimmage, they were smarter and refused to partake in the increasingly chippy, cheap-shot play that is always the Miami M.O. when they fall behind. The result was a 35-17 win where the Patriots didn’t bring their A-game to the table but were sufficiently better than their opponents.

The running game and passing games were very evenly balanced in this one and the defense allowed only 10 points while notching seven sacks. All in all, it was a game where Bill Belichick and the coaches will find plenty to critique but at the same time, they had to like what they saw. Scoring 35 points on a day where you aren’t clicking on all cylinders is pretty impressive

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

Quarterback: B+

Tom Brady wasn’t as sharp as he’d been the previous two weeks but he still finished with four touchdown passes and a 114.1 passer rating on the day. He started off uncharacteristically off with two back-to-back poor throws on the first series but then quickly went about his business of dismantling the Dolphins defense.

As the game went on, Miami’s pass rush was getting more and more pressure on him, but Brady kept his eyes downfield and delivered. He got knocked flat on his back but delivered a 15-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski.Brady also recognized mismatches and delivered easy scoring throws to Rex Burkhead and Gronkowski again.

But he made an uncharacteristic poor decision by trying to squeeze a pass into too tight a window which Bobby McClain picked off. He also bobbled a shotgun snap that caused him to end up getting sacked by Cameron Wake.

But the feeling here was, the Patriots found big holes in the secondary and if they had to, they could have exploited them even more, they decided to go the conservative route in the second half.

Running Backs: A

The Patriots continue to ride Dion Lewis’ hot hand and he rewarded them with a career-high 112 yards on 15 carries on the ground. Lewis is an elusive back as you will find, Chris Price equated trying to tackle Lewis as trying to tackle a puff of smoke. But some of his most impressive runs were the ones of the shorter variety. Hit behind or at the line, he’d spin and show good power and drag a defender for a short gain, making something out of nothing.

Rex Burkhead continues to shine and shows that his signing was indeed a bargain move. He rushed for 50 tough yards on the ground and scored a touchdown on both a run and a pass, a mismatch that Brady recognized and hit him for an easy score.

James White’s snap counts are down right now but don’t despair, the team will need him before the season is finished and he’s an integral part of things. With Josh McDaniels, it is all about the matchups and they’re riding the hot hands right now.

James Develin was solid as always at fullback and played about 20 snaps. Mike Gillislee was inactive for the third week in a row.

Wide Receivers: B

Brandin Cooks once again was the big gainer for the offense in the passing game, catching six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. His score was on a glorified handoff flip from Brady on a Jet sweep where Cooks turned on his afterburners and raced for the pylon and then rode Rob Gronkowski like a racehorse off the field. On a third and 13, Cooks toasted Miami for a 37 yard gain where he was wide open. Those dreaded communication breakdowns…

Phillip Dorsett did the same thing where the Dolphins blew the coverage and Brady hit Dorsett for a 39 yard gain. Good to see him getting involved a bit. He’s been working hard but hasn’t had much to show for it.

Danny Amendola had a quiet day catching just one pass for 15 yards. He and Bobby McCain got tangled up after a running play and McCain threw a punch and got tossed as a result.

Tight Ends: A

Rob Gronkowski was a mismatch that we pinpointed in our pregame matchup piece and the Dolphins just don’t have anyone that they can put on him. He beat Reshad Jones on his first touchdown, using his size and strength, bodying Jones away for an easy TD from Brady. On his second, he was too fast for Kiko Alonso and easily beat him to the sideline. He ended up with five catches for 82 yards and a pair of scores. And to show that he’s an equal opportunity scorcher, he smoked safety T.J. McDonald selling a block and shooting past him for a 21-yard gain.

Dwayne Allen continues his strong play of late and was very good in the running game with some excellent blocking. He also caught one pass for just two yards. He and Gronkowski both made excellent blocks on Cooks touchdown.

Jacob Hollister played less than five snaps on offense and Martellus Bennett was a scratch and has been placed on IR.

Offensive Line: C+

The offensive line was missing two starters again, right tackle Marcus Cannon and center David Andrews but this time, they got pushed around in pass protection. Although they allowed just one sack, Brady was harassed for most of the afternoon and hit hard eight times. And each lineman got beat at different times. Ted Karras subbing for David Andrews snapped a ball too soon while Brady was still checking the defense and the ball was recovered for a Miami touchdown.

The running game was a different story. Taking advantage of Miami’s aggressiveness, the Patriots rushed for 200 yards, taken back to 196 because of Brady kneel downs. That was impressive and they opened up big holes for the backs to exploit. So while the pass protection was bad across the board, the run support was outstanding.

Defensive Line: A-

Yes, Virginia, the Patriots do have a pass rush. The Patriots defensive line took advantage of having a big lead and the Dolphins abandoning their running game and teed off. They were in straight attack mode in the second half and the sacks came in bunches. Miami’s offensive line was overmatched at the point of attack and it showed.

Trey Flowers had his best game this month, getting a pair of sacks, a few QB hits and two tackles for a loss behind the line. He also forced a fumble.

Malcom Brown returned from an injury and looked stout at the point of attack. Ditto for Alan Branch and Lawrence Guy. The Pats even got a good push from the interior of the line which was a plus.

Rookie Eric Lee in his first NFL game got about 20 snaps due to the situation and showed what he could do. He got his first NFL sack on a nicely designed twist and a QB hit. The Dolphins rushed for only 67 yards on Sunday, while part of that had to do with the score, that is the kind of day, the coaches were looking for.

Linebackers: B+

Elandon Roberts had arguably his best game as a Patriot on Sunday. Matt Patricia knows he’s at his best as an attacking downhill player and Roberts utilizing the Hightower/Collins A-gap blitz was very effective. He showed good patience and waited for the line to part and exploded up the middle throwing down Matt Moore for one sack and used his speed to chase him down on another.

Kyle Van Noy playing a mix of LB/edge rusher had a sack as well as a pair of quarterback hits before he left with an injury. Roberts and Van Noy were outstanding on Sunday. David Harris had a mixed day, missing on a couple of tackles he normally makes but providing good thumping depth inside. Trevor Reilly and Marquis Flowers continue to provide good serviceable depth at linebacker although each was injured in the game.

Secondary: A

Stephon Gilmore had an outstanding day. He drew DeVante Parker one-on-one and held him to one catch for five yards. At the end of the first half, he came up with a huge play, perfectly covering Parker on a fade and then reacting well to the ball in the air, snatching it away for an interception. He should have had another on the Dolphins final play of the day, again in perfect position, but Duron Harmon snatched the ball away from him.

Jonathan Jones had a very solid day. The Dolphins decided to pick on him with Jarvis Landry and while Landry had a solid day, Jones was feisty, stuck to his man and limited the YAC (yards after the catch). The more he plays the more confidence he’s playing with.

Malcolm Butler had a mixed day, intermingling some great plays with some not-so great. He took a brutal 34-yard penalty on Kenny Stills where if he turned around, he had an easy interception. Stills, however, while not “getting in Tom Brady’s head” with his sidelines trash talking, was invisible until the second half when the game was out of reach. The same for tight end Julius Thomas, who at first glance, had a solid day, five catches for 52 yards. But all of it came in garbage time. Pat Chung had a solid game as did Devin McCourty. Duron Harmon’s snaps were limited this week as the Pats went with three corners. Jordan Richards got about a dozen snaps late.

Special Teams: B

The Special Teams got off to a great start with Nate Ebner taking a fake punt on the Patriots first possession and racing for a first down. Great call and superb execution, with a tremendous block by Brandon Bolden to free him…Hulk Smash. Unfortunately, Ebner was injured on the play and was placed on IR. Losing Ebner, Reilly, and Flowers on the ST units hurt their coverage, which was just ok.

Ryan Allen missed an opportunity to pin Miami deep and put just his third punt of the year into the end zone. Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs were spot on, forcing Miami to run them out and was perfect on all five extra points.

Coaches: A

Bill Belichick eased back the workload this week after a long two-week road trip and although the execution wasn’t as sharp on Sunday, the team was ready to play and showed good restraint, not getting drawn into the cheap shot game that Miami has been doing for years. The biggest difference between the two teams, (other than QB) is the self-discipline, the Patriots have it and Miami has little of it. And it shows.

Josh McDaniels had a great game plan, taking advantage of a leaky Miami run defense and keeping Miami off balance all day long. They recognized mismatches all over the field and McDaniels made them pay. The Patriots were 5-5 in the red zone.

Matt Patricia’s defense is getting better and better and as they become more comfortable in their roles, he’s opening things up more and more. We saw A-gap blitzes, corner blitzes, safety blitzes. They’re not predictable and it is going to give opponents something to think about in the weeks ahead. Miami was 2-11 on third down and in the past five games, Patriots opponents are averaging just 217.2 yards passing per game and just 13.1 points.

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.

The Defense Never Rests in New England, But They’re Improving Every Week

Steve Balestrieri
November 27, 2017 at 10:22 am ET

Things have certainly turned around for Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia’s defense since the first month of the season. The constant breakdowns in communication, big plays being hit all over the field and the defense allowing a ton of yards and points now seem a distant memory. And it should. The defense has made remarkable strides in the past seven games, holding opponents to 17 points or less in each one.

There hasn’t been any magical elixir or fairy dust sprinkled on the players, just old-fashioned hard work as the players have put the time in, worked hard and have gotten more comfortable in their respective roles. It has put the team in very good shape heading into the final five games of the regular season.

Run-Defense, Pass Rush Still Issues: To be sure, they are far from perfect. The run defense is giving up far too many yards and could be much better. The pass rush has been very inconsistent, which sounds funny this morning a day after the team notched seven sacks for 61 yards against the Dolphins. But overall this year, opposing quarterbacks have had too much time to survey the field. Against the Dolphins, the Pats took advantage of the situation , in being well ahead and cut the dogs loose.

Malcom Brown returned after missing a few games and he definitely helped in the running game. He, Alan Branch, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Ricky Jean Francois have a good nucleus on the interior.

Trey Flowers led the way with a pair of sacks before injuring his ribs. He returned briefly but then left and went to the locker room for treatment. His situation will bear monitoring as the team is very thin and inexperienced at defensive end. Rookie Eric Lee who was on the roster for just a few days got his first NFL action and played about 20 snaps, and got his first NFL sack as well as a QB hit.

The coaches didn’t put too much on his plate, he was in a rush only situation so Lee was able to go out and play instinctively. He’s a bit bigger than Cassius Marsh so theoretically he should be able to set the edge in the running game. We’ll get a better feel for that in the coming weeks, but for his first NFL action…well done.

Kyle Van Noy had a very solid game as well until he too was injured. Elandon Roberts the past few weeks has been playing the best football of his brief NFL career. He came untouched on an A-Gap blitz and notched a pair of sacks.

Secondary Now Playing The Way it Was Envisioned: While the media is still basing the Patriots secondary off of those awful September numbers, the unit is playing tremendously better and each week has gotten better since Week 4. Malcolm Butler has shaken off the shaky early season play where his contract situation was affecting his play and is back to his normally solid self at left corner. Butler is relentless, has nice catch-up speed and has a very short memory. He won’t dwell on getting beat on a play and comes back and plays harder for the next snap.

Stephon Gilmore was the poster child for the “Belichick made a mistake signing him” group after struggling the first few weeks. Gilmore was one of the worst offenders in the communication gaffes in the first month of the season. However, all of that has changed. Starting in Week 5 he did a very solid job of shadowing Tampa’s Mike Evans. But he suffered a concussion that week and then missed the next three games. Since returning, he’s been the shutdown corner that everyone envisioned they were getting this spring. Besides shutting down DeVante Parker on Sunday, Gilmore had a huge interception at the end of the first half. And nearly had another on the Dolphins final play of the day.

Jonathan Jones has flourished in his increased workload since Eric Rowe suffered what has to have been a very serious groin injury and missed the past seven games. The safeties, Devin McCourty, Pat Chung and Duron Harmon have been excellent this season.

If you still think the pass defense is suspect, take a look at the numbers opposing quarterbacks have put up against them in the past five weeks. While it is a given that they’re not facing a murderers row, the fact is, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, and Derek Carr are far from slouches either. In the last five games Opposing QBs have the following.

Attempts – 179

Completions – 109

Completion % – 60.8%

Yards Allowed – 1118 yards  

Yards per game – 217.2

Touchdowns – 5

Interceptions – 5

Passer rating – 76.5

Sacks/Yards – 10/93 (a bit skewed after Sunday’s game)

Points per game – 13.1: Those are some pretty impressive numbers and this is what we expected to see this summer when training camp opened.

Injuries Need Monitoring: As we mentioned at the top, the win over the Dolphins almost has a feeling of a Pyrrhic victory to it. The Patriots suffered six injuries and at least one, to Nate Ebner is expected to be of the season-ending type.

The ones to Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy will be the ones to monitor closely as the team really can’t afford to lose either one. But Trevor Reilly and Marquis Flowers are not only standout special teams performers, like Ebner, but have been getting increasing amounts of snaps on defense as well.

With the next three games away from home, divisional games against Buffalo and in Miami before visiting Pittsburgh, the Patriots can wrap up the division and a first round bye with continued solid play. The offense has found its groove and now the defense is playing well too. That’s what the coaches want to see at this time of the year.

There is still work to do and they can definitely improve in a few areas but overall, this unit is playing very good football right now.

We’re on to Buffalo…

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.