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New England Patriots News 1-19, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 19, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-19 and AFC East notes this week. 

With the latest winter storm rolling through the area, it is a good time to relax and stay home and watch some playoff football, unfortunately, the Patriots aren’t involved in the conference championships for the first time in many years. 

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Tom Brady – It turns out, he didn’t move to Greenwich, and didn’t buy a house there, but wait, he’s moving as soon as his kids finish school now? Ugh, the next almost 60 days are going to be unbearable with this stuff. 

Stephon Gilmore – Congrats to the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Gilmore was outstanding all season long and was very much deserving of the honor. 

Ben Watson – One of the nicest guys to play the game announced that he played all season on a partially torn Achilles. Unbelievable toughness there. But it does beg the question…Are the Patriots going to get in trouble by not listing Watson on the injury report? We know other teams have seemingly fudged on it as well… but, this is NE.

Luke Keuchly – The excellent Panthers and BC linebacker announced his retirement at age 29. He along with Rob Gronkowski, Andrew Luck, and others are finishing their careers before they reach the age of 30. But premature retirement as some say? Keuchly’s eight-year stint is twice as long as the average player. But he’ll be missed. 

Jimmy Johnson – The former coach had a very emotional moment on the Fox broadcast when he was announced as being selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And then when they cut to Green Bay where Troy Aikman, who played for Johnson in Dallas was clearly moved by the news, it was an incredibly moving moment. Well deserved coach.

CBA – Don’t expect much movement on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Players Association and the Owners anytime soon. 

The league sent out a letter to all 32 teams stating that “[a] number of important issues remain to be resolved and we remain committed to the bargaining positions reviewed with you at the December meeting.”

Tre Roberson – The Patriots have brought in yet another ex-QB for a workout. Roberson was on the Vikings PS as a cornerback but has played in the CFL for the past two seasons. With Calgary in 2018, he won the Grey Cup and had 3 INTs. Last season he had seven INTs and returned a fumble 93-yards for a TD.  

4th & 2 Podcast – If you’ve haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, Please do check it out.  

Curious Timing With AH Docuseries or Coincidence:

I haven’t watched the Aaron Hernandez docuseries on Netflix yet, but judging from the reactions I’ve seen on social media, it has inflamed many of the same reactions it did when the news first broke about him being arrested for the murder of his friend, Odin Lloyd. Some were still outraged at him throwing away a promising career while others still have sympathy for him, mainly because of who he played for. 

I just find the timing of the release of this series a bit suspect. If the Patriots had won their last regular-season game, they’d have been playing the Chiefs at home last week, and this week could have been hosting the AFC Championship (a lot of ifs…to be sure). But don’t for a second think that that exact scenario didn’t enter the minds of the folks in charge of Netflix. It seems like every year, there pops up something in the middle of a playoff run…sorry folks. Your miniseries isn’t going to get near the attention it would have gotten if Brady and Co. were playing today. 

Belichick’s Staff Has Been Raided A Lot:  

Last week we wrote: “With every passing year, it always seems that Bill Belichick’s coaching staff is getting picked through as many of his coaches, move up and move on. The latest was STs Coordinator/WR coach Joe Judge.” 

We read a great bit from a good friend on Twitter @Patriots7thRing who posted that in the 20 years that Bill Belichick has been the Patriots coach, he’s had 54 assistants get poached from other teams in that timeframe. That’s nearly three per year. 

So the next time someone says that the only reason the Patriots win is that they cheat, then ask why the rest of the league is so anxious to hire his staff. This year, they lost ST’s Coordinator Joe Judge, while OC coordinator Josh McDaniels and Head of College Scouting Monti Ossenfort interviewed for open GM positions with the Cleveland Browns. 

 Speaking of Judge, he’s off to a good start. He retained excellent STs coach Thomas McGaughey and then he hired former Patriots assistant and Dolphins DC Patrick Graham to run the defense. On Friday, they signed former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett as their offensive coordinator. Say what you will about Garrett as a head coach. But he’s a very good coordinator and it will be interesting to see what he can with Daniel Jones.

Some Interesting Free Agents to Help the Passing Game:

The Patriots need some playmakers to help the passing game in 2020. Especially at tight end. The team needs an influx of playmakers to stretch the seams and attack the middle of the field. At wide receiver, they can really use a speedy wide receiver that can turn a 5-yard slant into a 55-yard touchdown. 

Here’s a look at some of the free-agent tight ends that will be available in March. I’d expect that the team may look at both free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft to restock the position. However, we thought that last year, so this is just spit-balling at this point. But the lack of production in 2019, pretty much concludes that something has to be done at the position. 

Austin Hooper – 2019 with the Falcons. Hooper is only 25 years old and had a really good year in Atlanta. He had 75 catches for 787 yards with 6 TDs. Hooper is more of a “move” tight end than a traditional in-line tight end. He isn’t a great blocker but for production, he’d be a great fit. Whether Atlanta lets him walk is another story.

Hunter Henry – 2019 with the Chargers. Henry is just 25 as well, he’s 6’6 and had 55 catches for 652 yards with 5 TDs. Again, he’s more of a receiving threat than a traditional blocking TE, but he’d be a great fit in the offense. 

Eric Ebron – 2019 with the Colts. Ebron had modest numbers this year, 31 catches, 375 yards with 3 TDs. But in 2018, he had 66 catches for 750 yards and 13 TDs. GM Chris Ballard made it clear that Indy was probably moving on, believing that the TE had regressed. Would it possible for the Patriots to make another run at O.J. Howard? Maybe, but they’ll have to convince Tampa Bay to let him go. 

Just a couple of wide receivers to look at right now, I’m sure they’ll have plenty of other targets at wideout. Several people are saying that the team will target A.J. Green in free agency, maybe, but I don’t think they’ll be interested…we’ll see. 

Robby Anderson – 2019 with the Jets. Anderson had 52 catches for 779 yards and 5 TDs in 2019. He’s just 26 and has that speed that the Patriots wide receivers lack. And he has the ability to put it to use. 

Emmanuel Sanders – 2019 with Broncos/49ers. Sanders is a player that the Patriots have coveted for some time. They tried to sign him a few years ago but the Steelers matched their offer. Although he’s 32, he’s still very productive. He had a combined 66 catches for 869 yards and 5 TDs this year. As a fit, absolutely. How much will it cost? That may be a show stopper. But definitely worth kicking the tires on. 

NFL Schedule Conference Championship Weekend, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. Here is the link if you’d care to pick your own: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/
Final Regular Season:162-93-1
Divisional  Weekend: 3-1

Conference Championship Round –

San Francisco over Green Bay – Aaron Rodgers hasn’t fared well on the road in general and especially against good teams. Facing teams at least six games over .500 on the road, he’s 0-7. Facing the #1 defense on the road…he’s 0-4. The Niners running game and their TE George Kittle should be the difference as well as their defense here.

Kansas City over Tennessee – This should be a very interesting matchup. The Titans won an earlier matchup 35-32 in Nashville when Derrick Henry rumbled for 188 yards. But Patrick Mahomes threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns. The Chiefs are at home and should present a tough matchup for the Titans defense. I believe Henry will keep the game close, and maybe close enough to win, but at home, I like the Chiefs to advance to Miami.

No AFC East Notes this week, we’ll have those back next week after the Conference Championships.

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#5 – Offensive line needed more than just Coach Scar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2 – Injuries to Andrews and Develin were not overcome

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

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

#1 – Gronkowski was never replaced, even slightly

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

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

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

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

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

Brady on What He’ll Do If His Future Is Without the Patriots? – ‘I Just Don’t Know’

Ian Logue
at 9:51 am ET

Tom Brady is certainly heading into uncharted territory this offseason as he’s potentially a 6-time Super Bowl Champion without a team in 2020.

After losing in the Wild Card round at the hands to Tennessee on Saturday night, Brady heads into this offseason with a contract that’s about to expire and a fair amount of uncertainty.  It seems strange to imagine, but the idea of whether or not an extension will get hammered out to keep him in the fold heading into next season doesn’t seem to be a given.

It’s a bizarre place for someone of Brady’s stature to be, especially given his history with this organization and all the unbelievable moments he’s brought to this region over the last 20-years.  Most would think that bringing him back would be a no-brainer, but there doesn’t appear to be any guarantees at this point.  In fact, even Brady doesn’t seem to know what his future holds.

So what will he do if his future isn’t with New England?  While many are already starting to speculate, with Dallas, the LA Chargers and Miami Dolphins among destinations people are already pondering, even Brady doesn’t know what he’ll do if the door closes on a return with the Patriots.

Speaking with Peter King, Brady admitted that he’s not sure what will he’ll do if he doesn’t take the field at Gillette Stadium next season.

“Yeah,” said Brady when King asked him what it was like to be a ‘free man’ this offseason. “I think I’m just . . . I’ll explore those opportunities whenever they are. If it’s the Patriots, great. If that doesn’t work, I don’t know. I just don’t know. I love playing football. I still want to play football. I think I still can play at a championship level. I’ve just got to go do it. I’m motivated to get back to work and training.”

Former receiver Antonio Brown posted on his social media accounts that he doesn’t want to play for anyone but Brady in 2020, which given his past comments, that bridge appears to be burned for Brown in New England.  As a result, that would likely have Brown rooting for Brady to play elsewhere.  But given the importance Brady places on his family, the thought of having to pack everything up and move them somewhere else would seem to be a worst-case scenario that he and his agent would seemingly only consider if things reach a point of no return.

For now, Brady sounds like a player who really wants to stay.  The only problem appears to be that he may not be willing to take another home town discount, which could keep Bill Belichick from making the financial commitment to keep him here.  There’s no question that they need to surround him with additional talent, but the team is also faced with the challenge of re-signing free agents like Kyle Van Noy, Joe Thuney and Devin McCourty, along with whoever else they may look to bring in this offseason.

Needless to say, it’s a difficult situation.  At this point, you can tell by Brady’s comments that he’s a player who is hoping to stick around.  Whether or not the team is willing to pay him what it may take for that to happen now remains the biggest question heading into this offseason.

Titans, Henry Boot Patriots From Postseason 20-13

Steve Balestrieri
January 5, 2020 at 12:09 am ET

The Tennessee Titans behind a crushing running game of Derrick Henry who rushed for 182 yards and a tough defense smothered the Patriots and will move on in the playoffs, knocking off New England 20-13.

The Patriots will not play in the AFC Championship Game for the 1st time since the 2010 season when they lost to the Jets in the Divisional Round. The Patriots offense failed them when they needed it the most. After moving the ball well and scoring 10 points early, the offense, as it had done often in the second half of the season sputtered and fell flat. 

But the Titans behind Henry was the story of the game. Henry had 204 of the Titans 272 yards from scrimmage. And he had 182 of the Titans 201 rushing yards. And the Patriots failure in the red zone was once a big part of the outcome. After taking the opening kickoff and driving the ball down to the Tennessee 18-yard line they stalled and had to settle for a field goal.

Tennessee’s first possession featured Henry gashing the Patriots run defense for 44 yards. When Pat Chung injured his ankle, the Titans went right after Terrance Brooks and Ryan Tannehill hit a touchdown pass to tight end Anthony Firsker for 12 yards and put Tennessee up 7-0. 

Brady then led another nice drive and this time they would finish. Sony Michel had a big 25-yard run. Brady then hit Ben Watson for 11 and they were in business. From the five-yard line, Julian Edelman ran a jet sweep early in the 2nd quarter and scored easily to put New England up 10-7.

After stopping the Titans twice, the Patriots had the momentum and a nice …and rare punt return from Mohamad Sanu put the team at the Titans 47. The team moved easily and when Brady hit Rex Burkhead with a screen, it looked like he would score. But the Titans stopped him at the one. That’s when the game turned. Three times the Patriots ran the ball, Michel lost a yard, Burkhead gained a yard and Michel lost a yard again. The Titans regained the initiative and wouldn’t give it back. The field goal made the score 13-7.

Once again, bad situational football doomed the team. Henry ran for 29 yards on first down and he gashed the Patriots on the ground and got them to the New England 23. Then he caught a 22-yard screen pass down to the one. He’d power it in to give Tennessee a 14-13 halftime lead. 

The Patriots were shut out in the 2nd half and as we’ve seen so many times this season, a big gain was wiped out by a penalty. Brady connected with Watson for 38 yards but Shaq Mason was called for being illegally downfield. 

Tannehill got pressured early in the 4th quarter and throwing off his back foot, had the pass sail and die where Duron Harmon picked it off. 

With a final chance to move from their 11, with 4:32 to go. Brady hit James White for 20 yards but they would stall and opt to punt with 3:30 to go on 4th and 6. The killer was on 2nd down when Julian Edelman was wide open and dropped a pass that would have moved the sticks.

The Titans held the ball and punted with just about 20 seconds to go. Brett Kern hit a beauty and it rolled and died at the Patriots one. And in a fitting way to end the season, Brady’s pass bounced off of a receiver’s hands right to the Logan Ryan who returned it for a pick-six. Ball game 20-13 Titans and they move on to Baltimore. 

A very disappointing end to what promised to be another special season. The offense, specifically the passing game needs an overhaul. We’ll go over that later but for now, the Patriots season is over and they had plenty of opportunities right in front of them but couldn’t convert.

 

Patriots-Titans Wild Card Game, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge

Steve Balestrieri
January 3, 2020 at 7:35 am ET

The Patriots are at home against the Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card game of the 2019 NFL Playoffs. The Patriots (12-4) are the #3 seed while the Titans (9-7) are the #6 seed in the AFC. 

The Patriots have been outstanding at home in the playoffs and have won a playoff game for an NFL record eight years in a row. 

The Patriots were five and a half minutes away from a bye week if they held on to beat the Dolphins last week but that loss knocked them into the Wild Card weekend. Tennessee has been very good since installing Ryan Tannehill in at quarterback. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and have scored at least 20 points in their last seven. 

However, he will be making his first postseason start while Tom Brady will be making his 41st career start in the postseason. 

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally 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.  

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 Titans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tennessee

The Patriots running game has taken off in the past three games against Cincinnati, Buffalo, and Miami giving them something to build off of. For much of the season, they were stuck in neutral due to injuries and subpar play along the offensive line. But that part of the equation has ratcheted up and the backs, Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead have looked much better and more explosive lately. 

The Titans are solid against the run coming in at #12 in yards against and #7 in yards per carry. They have the big guys upfront DaQuan Jones in the middle, with Jeffery Simmons and Jurrell Casey on the ends in their 3-4. 

The Patriots need to establish the run early to get their passing game going and I expect Michel, Burkhead, and James White will get plenty of work. But I also expect former Patriots coaches Mike Vrable and DC Dean Pees to take a page out of Miami’s book and cheat the linebackers up and run blitz to disrupt the running game and dare the Patriots to beat them in the middle of the field with the tight ends.         

Patriots WRs vs Titans Secondary – Razor’s Edge Tennessee

The Patriots passing game has had issues most of the season and while people will talk about Tom Brady’s decline, after Julian Edelman (100 catches) the next wide receiver in production of Phillip Dorsett with 29 catches. The tight ends have been disappointing in their production as well. Brady has had to rely on the consistent but banged up Edelman and James White (72 receptions) out of the backfield. 

The Titans pass defense isn’t great and finished at #24 in the league allowing 255 yards per game. With corners Logan Ryan and Adoree Jackson, safeties Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro they have a good group but they miss former Patriot Malcolm Butler who is on IR. 

The Patriots need everyone to step up this week and that includes the tight ends, who have to occupy the middle of the field. Tennessee has 43 sacks on the year, which is led by Harold Landry with nine. They can get after the QB and we’d expect some blitz action on third downs as Pees will mix things up. Protection for Brady, like always is key here. 

Next up the Titans offense:

Titans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tennessee

The Patriots run defense with Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton has continued to play outstanding football and have been excellent at slowing or stopping the run at the point of attack and allowing the linebackers to make plays. 

Tennessee has Derrick Henry who led the NFL with 1540 yards, an average of 5.0 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was a big reason they were so successful down the stretch. Dion Lewis is their #2 back who can run or catch out of the backfield. QB Ryan Tannehill is very mobile and can run as well.

A big key for the Patriots is not only to slow Henry at the point of attack but setting the edge here as well. If Henry gets to the edge, bad things will happen for the Patriots defense. The defense has had some issues with big backs this season, Frank Gore, Nick Chubb, and Joe Mixon have all given them problems. On a short week with several players less than 100 percent, this could be problematic.  

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

The Tennessee passing attack has thrived under Ryan Tannehill who has played outstanding since taking over and getting out of Miami for a fresh start. Tannehill easily had the most impressive season in his career, completing 70 percent of his passes with a QB rating of 117.5 since taking over. He threw 22 TDs and just six INTs. 

Tannehill has several good weapons at his disposal. Rookie WR A.J. Brown, Corey Davis (who roasted the Patriots for 125 yards last season) and two good tight ends in Jonnu Smith and Andrew Firkser with Dion Lewis out of the backfield. 

The Patriots pass defense (until last week) was outstanding all season allowing just 180 yards per game It will be interesting to see if the Patriots decide to use Gilmore on Brown or Davis. With both Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones hobbling with groin injuries it cuts down on their depth. Tannehill won’t have slot WR Adam Humphries who is out with an injury. 

The pass rush, so dominant earlier this season has to ratchet it up now. The Patriots had 47 sacks but in the past few games, they’re just not getting home, just missing with the sacks. The Titans allowed a whopping 56 this season, and this is an area that the Patriots have to exploit or it could be a long night for the defense. Look for a similar gameplan like Kansas City where the Patriots try to keep everything in front of them.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots special teams have been a big bright spot with four blocked punts and outstanding coverage. Nick Folk now has the team confident that he can consistently make field goals and extra points. Jake Bailey had a terrific rookie season with 36 punts downed inside the 20. 

The Titans like New England have gone through four kickers this season. Greg Joseph took over for the injured Ryan Succop two weeks ago and hasn’t attempted a field goal yet. Punter Brett Kern had an outstanding season averaging 47.1 yards per punt with 37 inside the 20 with just two touchbacks. 

Neither has much of a return game but the Patriots get the edge at home here and could use a big play (or two) from their STs this week.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

The Patriots have a tough matchup this week with a very hot Titans team that has scored 20 points or more seven weeks in a row. When the defense has allowed 20 or more points this season, they’ve lost. So, the 20 point plateau is a benchmark to monitor.  

Here are our keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Slow Down Henry and the Run Game – The Patriots have to slow down Henry and force Tannehill into obvious passing situations. The linebackers have to have their best game of the year. Bringing down Henry is no easy task and they have to get him running east-west at the point of attack. 

With the Titans’ deep group of receivers, the Patriots won’t have the luxury of stacking the box as the Titans will on defense. The front seven will have to stand up and be the “Boogeymen” this week. If Henry gets going and puts the Titans on his back with second and third downs with short yardage, it will be a long game. 

Start Quickly and Get the Lead – The Patriots got off to a horrible start last week and appeared to be sleepwalking through the first quarter. They can’t have that this week if they want their season to continue.

The offense needs to get going early and get some points on the board and force the Titans to play catchup. It will put a little bit of pressure on Tannehill who is playing in his first-ever playoff game.

They have to have the lead late in the game and again put Tannehill in a position where he has to throw. A great bit by Mike Dussault of Patriots.com, Henry in the last seven games has 250 yards more than any other running back, 10 touchdowns and averaging 8 yards per carry in the second half of the Titans games. 

Brady Has to Get Everyone Involved – With the playoffs here, the Titans are going to stack the box to take away the run and dare Brady to beat them down the field. Expect Edelman to get bracketed all game long. So, they’ll need the secondary receivers, Mohamad Sanu, Phillip Dorsett, N’Keal Harry to step up and produce. 

This will be a big week for the tight ends if they can produce. The middle of the field will be there for the taking but Matt LaCosse and Ben Watson haven’t been able to do much this year. If they can hit a few seam passes it will open up a lot of room for the struggling players outside.  

Where are the Turnovers, They Need Turnovers – The defense hasn’t got any turnovers for the past two games and this week they could really use a few. If the pass rush can get to Tannehill, a strip-sack or a forced throw for an interception would go a long way in helping an offense that is having trouble consistently scoring points. 

Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson were both off their game a week ago. Look for them to be more competitive this week and try to steal a pass in some tight windows. 

___________

This is not a great matchup for the Patriots. Coming off of a short week, facing a physical and hot Tennessee team where the coaching staff and several players have plenty of experience in the New England system. 

We know the Patriots are very tough at home in the postseason and haven’t dropped a home playoff game since 2013.  But the Titans being able to mix things up on offense and having a tremendous red-zone offense (scoring 75.6 percent of the time) is a tough matchup this week.

There are plenty of ways I can see the Patriots circling the wagons and toughing out a hard-fought win at home. We’ve seen it too many times to count. But the feeling here is that the offense won’t be able to keep up and allow them to move on. Titans 24-17

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

Steve Balestrieri
December 24, 2019 at 7:00 am ET

Patriots Win 11th Straight Division Title

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

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

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

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

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

Quarterback: A-

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

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

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

Running Backs: B+

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

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

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

Wide Receivers: B-

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

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

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

Tight Ends: B-

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

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

Offensive Line: A-

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

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

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

 Defensive Line: B+

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

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

Linebackers: B-

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

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

Secondary: B

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

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

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

Special Teams: B

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

Coaches: A

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

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

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

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

 Patriots Defense/Special Teams Key Big Win

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

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

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

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

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

Quarterback: C

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

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

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

Running Backs: B

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

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

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

Wide Receivers: C-

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

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

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

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

Tight Ends: C-

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

Offensive Line: B-

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

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

 Defensive Line: B-

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

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

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

Linebackers: B-

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

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

Secondary: A

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

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

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

Special Teams: A-

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

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

Coaches: B

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

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

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

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

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Patriots Defense Keys Big 34-13 Win Over Cincinnati

Steve Balestrieri
December 15, 2019 at 8:26 pm ET

This is the week of Eleven. The Patriots punched their ticket to the postseason with a 34-13 win over Cincinnati and won their 11th game of the season for the 10th straight season. This is also their 11th straight playoff appearance.

The defense picked off Andy Dalton four times and the Special Teams recovered a fumble as once again those units carried the team to an easy victory. But none of the questions about the offense were answered, despite putting up 34 points. 

Some of our observations include:

The offensive line had a very mixed day, on one hand they did very good in run support as the team rushed for a season-high 175 yards on 32 carries. Of course, Cincinnati has the worst run defense in the NFL and came into this one allowing over 150 yards per game. But the pass protection for Tom Brady was terrible for virtually most of the game. Brady was sacked twice and pressured on half of his dropbacks.

Sony Michel had a good, solid day and ran for 89 yards on 19 carries. He displayed good vision and followed his blocks well. He was able to break a few tackles and was getting some nice yards after contact.  

Brady was clearly bothered by his elbow injury. During the warmups, Mike Giardi of NFL Network said he was having trouble throwing the ball. He sailed several throws including one to Mohamad Sanu in the end zone. 

He also short-armed a throw to Sony Michel on a perfectly designed play that should have been a touchdown. Brady finished 15 – 29 for just 128 yards with 2 TDs and 0 Interceptions.

Edelman and Sanu are both hobbled, Edelman especially so. He looks like he can barely move at this point. He finished with just two catches for nine yards on five targets. Sanu had just two catches for 13 yards on eight targets. He had another key drop on fourth down,

Josh McDaniels said earlier this week that they were planning on getting N’Keal Harry more involved with the offense. He had two carries in the running game for 22 yards and two catches for 15 yards including a nice 8-yard touchdown pass reception where he cut across the back of the end zone. 

Harry also had the Patriots best play of the day, he beat his coverage down the right sideline where Brady dropped a perfect pass to him where he made a nice catch for a 36-yard gain. Unfortunately, it was wiped out by a false start by Edelman.

The offense continues to struggle especially in the passing game. On their opening drive where they went 75 yards in eight plays where James White hit a very nicely executed screen pass for a 22-yard touchdown. It was keyed by an excellent block by Joe Thuney, however, they didn’t put together another long drive for the rest of the game. Fortunately, the defense and STs set them up with short fields.  

The run defense was gashed early, on Cincinnati’s opening drive, Joe Mixon was proving very hard to bring down and the Bengals ran the ball on every play all the way to the Patriots eight-yard line. There Andy Dalton threw his first pass, an eight-yard TD to TE Cethan Carter with Jonathan Jones falling down in coverage. It would be the only TD that the Bengals would score.

Although the defense stiffened and allowed only two field goals after that, they never really figured out stopping Mixon who had a very good day on the ground, gaining 136 yards on 25 carries. 

With the score tied at 10-10, the game flipped with one big special teams’ play. Jake Bailey skied a punt and Matthew Slater racing downfield stripped the ball away from Alex Erickson. Justin Bethel recovered at the Cincinnati 23. Although the offense moved backward with a sack on 3rd down. It allowed them to kick a field goal and go into the half with a 13-10 lead. 

That’s when the wheels came off for Dalton and the Bengals. On the third play from scrimmage in the 3rd quarter, Stephon Gilmore picked him off, cradling the ball in his right arm while holding off Tyler Boyd with his left. 

Brady moved them 43 yards on a short field for a touchdown with Harry making the catch at the back of the end zone. Dalton moved the Bengals to the Patriots 41 when he was too late throwing an out route and Gilmore jumped the route and picked it off going 64-yards for another touchdown making the score 27-10 and the rout was on.

The Bengals kicked a field goal making it 27-13 and then tried an on-side kick that went only five yards. The Patriots took over at the Cincinnati 40 and cashed in again. After a two-yard pass from Brady to Matt LaCosse and a five-yard penalty on the Bengals, Rex Burkhead took a handoff up the middle, juked the safety Bates and raced 33 yards for a touchdown making it 34-13. 

The secondary once again was stellar, besides Gilmore’s two interceptions, J.C. Jackson had two of his own, both were outstanding plays. The first he went up high and after corralling the ball, he was able to come down with both feet inbounds. On the other Dalton tried to go deep down the left sideline and Jackson turned and tracked the ball, getting inside leverage, picked it off easily. 

Dalton finished 17-31 for 151 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. His QB rating was just 39.2. While the pass rush didn’t record a sack, they did bring some pressure on Dalton and did influence some of those picks. 

But scoring 34 points on short fields against the 1-13 Bengals is one thing. With a passing game averaging 4.4 yards per play? That isn’t going to cut it. With awful pass protection and wide receivers again dropping more passes (New England now leads the league in that dubious category), it hardly appears they’ve found an identity. And the Bills defense is coming to town next week. 

The defense and special teams will always give them a chance to win but the play of the offense remains a huge red flag with two games left on the regular-season schedule. If they can win those next two games, they’ll get an all-important bye until the divisional round. They can use the rest of the bye, but first, a huge game for the division awaits against the Bills. 

__________________

Prior to the game, social media was abuzz at the film that the Bengals released of the Patriots filming their sideline in Cleveland. This was just a short clip that was gotten by Jay Glazer. We’ll learn more later when the entire film is released but contrary to what Patriots fans are saying, this…if it is indicative of the entire film (and a big if), then it is damning evidence. 

It doesn’t show the field, the plays or the Cleveland sideline, it is focused on the Cincinnati bench. Of course, since the Bengals released this, could it be that they want to release something more beneficial to their side? Of course, but that tape, again, if it is indicative of the entire film, will result in a stiff penalty… No reason for being that dumb to leave a large monitor in the press box showing what you’re doing. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

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New England Patriots News 12-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-15 and AFC East notes this week. 

Gameday! The Patriots are in Cincinnati for their final regular-season road game of 2019 against the Bengals. After going just 3-5 on the road a year ago, the team can improve to 6-2 this year with a win today. 

RIP to Pete Frates, who inspired countless people and raised millions of dollars for ALS research. Our thoughts are with his family and friends this weekend.

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Kyle Van Noy – The Patriots linebacker is the team’s nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year and the Week 14 NFLPA Community MVP. He held a celebration for 153 financially disadvantaged foster families at his ‘A Very Van Noy Christmas’ event.

“We are happy to nominate Kyle Van Noy for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “We are so proud of Kyle’s accomplishments on the field as a New England Patriot, but even more so of his character and his contributions in the community. 

His Van Noy Valor Foundation has helped countless children and families. He and Marissa are remembering their childhoods and how foster care and adoption positively impacted their lives. Kyle’s personal connection to the reason behind their foundation is inspiring.” Congrats to Kyle, well deserved. Now vote for him for the Pro Bowl.

Rob Gronkowski – Was named to the NFL100 team and Bill Belichick had a hilarious story of Gronk’s pre-draft visit with the team, where he fell asleep on the floor prior to meeting the Patriots coaches. 

Josh Gable – The trick shot kicker and YouTube star had a very brief tenure on the Patriots practice squad, two days, but may have parlayed his brief stay into a 2020 opportunity to compete for the full-time kicking position. 

“We had a spot available on the practice squad, and it gave us an opportunity to look at a younger kicker,” Bill Belichick said.

” … Rather than just (have him) come in and do a workout, we were actually able to (have him) kick with the team and put him on the practice squad for a couple of days.”

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Noted hot-take artist and Brady-hater Max Kellerman was trying once again (ad nauseam) to denigrate Brady’s accomplishments with Bill Belichick and was telling Damien Woody that “Belichick took that 2000 Patriots team to the playoffs without Brady at quarterback.” It makes for great television hot takes. But Woody, knowing better said, “No he didn’t, they went 5-11.”  Kellerman tried to protest but Woody corrected him again ….and he would know, he was on the 2000 Patriots team that year. He must’ve had Bart Scott fact-checking for him.

4th & 2 Podcast – If you’ve haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, Please do check it out. 

Harry to Get More Involved in the Offense? About Time: 

Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels are trying to get the Patriots offense unstuck out of the mud prior to the end of the regular season and similar to what they did a year ago before embarking on a run to the Super Bowl. One way to do that would be to get 1st round draft pick N’Keal Harry more involved with the passing game. 

So it should come as no surprise when McDaniels said this week that he needs to get the rookie more involved in the scheme moving forward. 

 “I need to do a better job of trying to find a way to get him the ball and get him involved, so that he can do some of those things and do more of them,” McDaniels said, referencing the play Harry apparently scored a touchdown against the Chiefs and his score against the Cowboys.

“He’s here early, he’s here late, and he’s trying to close the ground on being able to go out there and understand who he’s playing against and what he needs to do to be successful,” McDaniels added. “There’s no shortcut to all that, we know that. He’s got a great attitude. He has a skill set that can certainly help us produce and win.”

With Mohamad Sanu still not 100 percent and Phillip Dorsett struggling, getting Harry some snaps and looks in the passing game would take a lot of pressure off of Julian Edelman and James White. And starting with a 1-12 Bengals team may be a great place to start. 

Navy’s Big Improvement on Defense Helped by Bill Belichick:

You know of Bill Belichick’s affinity for the Naval Academy. His father coached there for many years and his formative years were spent there. So, after last season when Navy struggled on defense and lost their third straight game to Army,  Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo called Belichick, who he has become very friendly with, in a story written by USA Today’s Tom Schad. 

As they talked, Niumatalolo was frantically trying to take notes and keep up with up with Belichick as he spoke. The Navy coach said he was too embarrassed to ask Bill to slow down or repeat anything. “It’s like if you’re an artist and you’re talking with Picasso, you know?” Niumatalolo said about speaking with Belichick. “It made me realize that I don’t know crap about football.”

In part of his conversation, Niumatalolo totally revamped the defense, going from a static 3-4 to a more attacking 4-2-5 that allowed the Navy to be more creative, aggressive and deceptive. Their blitzes come from everywhere and there is constant movement at the snap to confuse the opposition (sounds vaguely familiar). 

Out of the 129 Bowl sub-division teams in 2018, Navy was 121st on third down. This season they are 29th. They went from 3-10 a year ago to 9-2 (this is written on Friday night before the big game) and a big reason is the play of their defense. 

It helps to have Bill on speed-dial, but sorry… Go Army.

NFL Schedule Week 15, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. I did it on our weekly Sunday column here and will post it up below. Here is the link if you’d care to pick your own: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/

Last Week: 10-6
Season:131-76-1

Thursday Night Football
Baltimore over NY Jets 1-0 

Sunday
New England over Cincinnati
Tampa Bay over Detroit
Tennessee over Houston
Kansas City over Denver
Miami over NYG
Philadelphia over Washington
Seattle over Carolina
Green Bay over Chicago
Minnesota over LAC
Oakland over Jacksonville
Cleveland over Arizona
LAR over Dallas
San Francisco over Atlanta
SNF Buffalo over Pittsburgh
MNF New Orleans over Indy

Bye week: No teams

Saturday Football –
Houston over Tampa
New England over Buffalo
San Francisco over LAR

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Can Punch Their Ticket to the Postseason Tonight:

The Buffalo Bills are playing in their first Sunday Night Football contest since 2007. And if they can win against the Steelers at Heinz Field, they’ll be in the playoffs for the 2nd time in three years. They travel to New England next week and then finish at home against the Jets. 

Obviously, they’d want to clinch it as early as possible, especially considering their record against the Patriots in Gillette Stadium. But facing the Steelers on the road in a prime-time matchup is a daunting task. Buffalo knows that Pittsburgh watched the Ravens game a week ago, where they pressured Josh Allen all game long. Pittsburgh leads the league with 48 sacks and will be looking to do the same.

One way to beat the pressure on the QB is the quick passing game which means more of Cole Beasley. He’ll be the guy to watch this week and in Foxboro next week.

Dolphins Sign Parker to Lucrative Extension:

The Miami Dolphins have signed WR DeVante Parker to a four-year extension keeping him locked up through the 2023 NFL season. Parker’s extension is worth $40 million, including $21.5 million in guarantees and an $8 million signing bonus, according to the NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. 

In an otherwise dismal rebuilding year for the 3-10 Dolphins, Parker has been a bright spot totaling career highs in receiving yardage with 882 thus far and with six touchdowns. He suffered a concussion last week but could be ready to suit up today against the New York Giants. 

Parker was originally drafted by the Dolphins in the 1st round (#14 overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft. Obviously, head coach Brian Flores feels he’s going to be a key piece of the offense that they can build around. Now about that QB situation…

Jets Downplay Sideline Tiff Between Gase and Darnold:

The New York Jets got blown out by the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday Night Football 42-21, that wasn’t a surprise as the Ravens have been on a roll in the second half of the season. But a sideline tiff between head coach Adam Gase and QB Sam Darnold did raise some eyebrows, but both men immediately downplayed it as just frustration.

As Darnold left the field late in the loss after an incomplete 4th and 1 pass, Gase seemed perturbed with the QB. Darnold walked away but then came back and the two had an animated conversation that ended with Darnold waving his hand dismissively. 

“We were both in the same mind frame where somebody didn’t execute their job, and basically I was bitching about that and he was doing the same thing,” Gase said after the game.

Darnold followed the same line of explanation, “We were not in a disagreement at all. It was just me being … you know, I think just frustrated on the circumstances and what was going on in the game at the time.”

The Jets started well and moved the ball very well but couldn’t finish drives, something that will frustrate the best of QBs or coaches. 

________________

The football team, the football staff and the coaching staff had nothing to do with what happened. Nothing. So, we have no involvement in it.
He was doing his job. That’s what he was doing, he was doing his job. Like we all tried to do. That’s what the football team, the football staff and the coaching staff did last week was try to do their job for Kansas City, and then Cincinnati, and then Buffalo next week and that’s it. I just answered the question. That’s it. We have no involvement in it. Zero.
Yeah, I’ve told you everything. Look, Mr. [Robert] Kraft made a statement, the team made a statement. That’s – I don’t have anything to add.
Do not have anything to add.
Do not have anything to add.Bill Belichick on being pressed with repeated questions about the filming in Cleveland of the Bengals sideline.

________________

“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.

 Patriots Week 14 Report Card, Loss to the Chiefs 23-16

Steve Balestrieri
December 10, 2019 at 4:24 pm ET

Patriots fall to 10-3, Poor Execution Once Again Offensively Sinks Team 

The Patriots dropped their second game in a row, a hard-fought 23-16 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Once again, as in all three losses, they fell behind big early and weren’t able to dig themselves out of a hole.

The defense got figured out by Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes who had a big second quarter where KC entered halftime with a 20-7 lead. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise, the Chiefs are the most explosive 2nd quarter team in the NFL. But the Belichicks (plural) figured it out. 

The defense really tightened up in the 2nd half and held the Chiefs to just three points on an opening drive field goal and created some turnovers giving their team a chance to win. The offense, however, was another story and struggled once again. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the game film before putting a bow on this week. Unless you’re hung up on the latest scandal involving the Patriots. (We’ll have more to say about that later). But for us… We’re on Cincinnati.

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady had another struggle from start to finish on Sunday. For the hot-take dweebs on national television, this is manna from heaven. But starting with the offensive line and going through his wide receivers and tight ends, this is arguably the worst supporting cast Brady has had to deal with in his 20 seasons with the team. 

Very little of Brady’s struggles had to do with his play per se, he was either not getting time (more to that below), no one was getting open, and his WRs were dropping third-down conversions or touchdowns. 

Brady got a boatload of criticism for ignoring Jakobi Meyers on the Patriots’ final offensive play of the game, who was wide open. But I’m not blaming Brady for that. Meyers seems to be fighting the ball right now and had dropped two passes, including a touchdown.  

Running Backs: C+

The Patriots running game was once again unable to get anything going, gaining only 94 yards on 22 carries (4.3-yard average). This was against a KC run defense that has been abysmal this season allowing nearly 50 yards more per game. 

James White (no surprise) goes to the head of the class. He averaged 5.5 yards per rush (6 attempts for 33 yards) and added 27 yards on 5 catches. He is making it easy for the coaches to give him the lion’s share of work down the stretch. 

Sony Michel was once again victimized by poor blocking. Opponents are sniffing run whenever he’s in the backfield, and it seemed like white jerseys were in the backfield whenever he carried the ball.

We thought Rex Burkhead would play a large role in Sunday’s game but his impact, like the vast majority of the offense was negligible. Just 7 carries for 15 yards on the ground, and 0 catches on one target through the air. 

Brandon Bolden got one carry, for 10 yards and a TD, his fourth of the season. We know he’s not a world-beater, but on a season where the offense has precious few producing, hasn’t he at least earned a few more carries, especially on short-yardage and the around the goal line? 

Wide Receivers: D-

If you are a die-hard Patriots fan, you should pray and pray very hard to the football gods that Julian Edelman can make it through the end of the season and playoffs. Without him, this offense is absolutely awful. And it isn’t great with him on it, but just imagine if he was forced to miss any time.  Edelman had eight catches for 95 yards including a 37-yard touchdown on the team’s first possession. 

Phillip Dorsett? No catches, no yards. He did draw a slightly questionable pass interference penalty. And should have drawn a second. But his production is non-existent, as is his presence outside. 

Mohamad Sanu has to be playing through pain because his production has flat-lined in the past few games. He had one catch for 13 yards and was invisible the rest of the game was invisible. 

N’Keal Harry played just two snaps (why?) and caught one pass that officially went for 12 yards but was truly a 15-yard touchdown pass. Jerome Boger’s crew screwed the pooch on that one. It was eminently fixable, but the call like Boger’s crew was lost. 

Jakobi Meyers is fighting the ball right now and dropped two big passes on Sunday, one of them a touchdown. He did catch a flip from James White for 35-yards. As a group, the WRs are overthinking things, playing tight and playing terribly. 

Tight Ends: C-

Ben Watson was targeted three times and had a single catch for 7 yards. Matt LaCosse was targeted four times and 2 catches for 14 yards. Those numbers are just not good enough, especially when it seemed like Josh McDaniels wanted to attack the Chiefs down the seams in this one. That failed. Their blocking in the running game isn’t good enough.

Offensive Line: D

The offensive line was terrible on Sunday against the Chiefs. Joe Thuney stopped the grade from being lower than it already was. The Chiefs’ front, dominated on the ground all year, controlled the line of scrimmage and shut down the running game. 

KC does have a good pass rush and they were bringing the heat on Brady on nearly 50 percent of his dropbacks. Isaiah Wynn had a rough outing, allowing a sack, constant QB pressure as well as getting flagged for a false start. Brian Ferentz got overwhelmed a few times. Shaq Mason’s struggles continue this season.

Kansas City’s run defense entered the game 30th in the league, watch the tape and the amount of preening they’re doing after the plays and you’d think it was 3rd. That’s how poorly the offensive line play was.                     

 Defensive Line: B-

The defensive line once again did a really good job of bottling up the Chiefs running game. Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton did a great job of shutting down the running game. The Chiefs averaged just 2.6 yards per rush on 29 attempts. 

The defensive line didn’t do a great job, however, in the pass-rushing department getting only one sack (Deatrich Wise) and were only so-so in QB pressure. 

Linebackers: B

The linebackers had a good but not great game. The running game was an area they were doing a great job in. Jamie Collins chased down a play to the sideline and just thumped the tackle Schwartz, knocking him to the ground and then hitting the ball carrier. Collins also broke up a pass. 

Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy were both very solid in run support but weren’t their usual disruptive selves in the pass rush side of things. Shalique Calhoun forced a fumble and rookie Chase Winovich got in on a big hit on Mahomes. 

Secondary: B

The Patriots secondary had a rough second quarter but after that was pretty solid. Stephon Gilmore did a bang-up job on Sammy Watkins and should have had a possible scoop and score if not for the incompetence of the Boger officiating crew. J.C. Jackson had a nice interception. 

Lots of fans are on Jonathan Jones but covering Tyreek Hill and Hardman (48-yard TD) is no routine assignment, especially when the pass rush isn’t getting home. But he missed on several tackles though, something that will certainly draw the coaches ire. 

Devin McCourty’s one-two punch on Travis Kelce got the ball out for a fumble and was a fantastic play when the team really needed it. Jason McCourty returned after missing two games with a groin injury. 

Special Teams: B-

The Special Teams were up and down. Nate Ebner blocked a punt, giving the Patriots life in the 2nd half. But Nick Folk had a field goal blocked with some uncharacteristic poor blocking up front. Jake Bailey dropped a pair of punts inside the 20.

The coverage units did well but the return game, as it has most of the year was terrible. 

Coaches: C+

The Patriots coaching staff had an up and down night as well. After Andy Reid and the Chiefs figured out what the Patriots were doing defensively and had a big 2nd quarter, the Patriots made their adjustments and did a great job of limiting their passing game and were making them take small pieces at a time and as a result did a good job of shutting them down in the final 30 minutes. 

Offensively, the Patriots wanted to run the ball, needed to run the ball and tried to run the ball. Running on nearly every first down early in the game is great if you’re successful. But they weren’t, so the Chiefs were able to pin their ears back and pressure Brady on about 50 percent of his throws. 

Josh McDaniels is resigned to using trick plays to get the offense moving. He really needs to get Harry more involved in the passing game. And Bolden more in the running game. 

So we’re on to Cincinnati (Sounds vaguely familiar) and their final regular-season away game.  

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

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