Tag Archives: Rob Gronkowski

New England Patriots News 1-20, AFC East Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edelman Remains A Key Component in the Offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots Embracing the Underdog Role:

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots Versatility in the Running Game Key Tonight:

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

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

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

Who You Have This Week? NFL Conference Weekend Predictions:

Final Regular Season 165-89-2

Wildcard Weekend:  0-4

Divisional Weekend: 4-0

New England over Kansas City
New Orleans over LA Rams

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

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

Patriots-Chiefs AFC Championship, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
January 18, 2019 at 7:00 am ET

Round Two Winner Goes to the Super Bowl

The New England Patriots travel to Kansas City on Sunday night to take on the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, the winner of which goes on to Atlanta to the Super Bowl.  The Patriots are advancing to their eighth straight AFC title game, an NFL record. With a win, they’ll also become the third team to appear in three straight Super Bowls.

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, Evan Washburn, and Jay Feely will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (12-5) dominated the LA Chargers 41-28. Sony Michel ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns, Tom Brady completed 34-44 for 343 yards and a score, Julian Edelman caught nine passes for 151 yards and James White caught 15 passes as the offense rolled.

The Chiefs (13-4) beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-13 on a snowy Saturday afternoon. The Chiefs defense played their best game of the year holding the Colts to just 13 points while the offense ran for four scores on the ground. Damien Williams ran for 129 yards on 25 carries and a score. Patrick Mahomes completed 27-41 passes for 278 yards.  

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and the Chiefs are meeting for the 37th time including the playoffs in their history since the days of the old AFL when they would meet twice a year. Kansas City holds the overall lead 18-15-3. The Chiefs hold an 11-3-1 advantage in games played in Kansas City and a 5-1 record at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Patriots won the last meeting between the two teams 43-40 on a Week 6 Sunday Night Football matchup.  

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 Chiefs Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game has been a strength of the team down the stretch. Opposing defenses can’t just pin their ears back and rush Tom Brady as they’ve been able to run and run effectively with Sony Michel. In the first meeting, Michel ran for 106 of the Patriots 173 yards on the ground. Rex Burkhead, James White, and FB James Develin will all contribute on the ground as well. The Pats were 5th (127.3 yards per game) on the ground this season.

The Chiefs defense was pretty awful against the run this season, allowing 132.1 yards (27th) on the ground. Last week, however, they were aggressive and took control of the line of scrimmage and kept the Colts at bay. Chris Jones had a very big game for them.

Look for the Patriots to try to control the line of scrimmage, much like they did last week against a much better defense. However, this week the Chiefs are at home, with the deafening crowd noise, they’ll be able to time the snaps and get a very quick jump off. Michel and the ground game will be key on keeping the balance they need to keep the offense moving. They controlled the line last week and in the first meeting but this one will be tougher. The Jet sweeps weren’t a big factor the first time, but may very well be on Sunday night, taking advantage of the linemen pushing up the field.

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

The Patriots passing game last week took advantage of the Chargers zone defense and Brady shredded them for 343 yards. Brady passed for 340 yards in the first meeting on throwing just 34 passes. The Patriots had the 8th best passing game (266.1 yards per game) in the league in 2018.

The Chiefs pass defense was worse than their run defense in the regular season allowing 273.4 yards per game (31st in the NFL) What they lived off of was their pass rush which is excellent. Chris Jones, Justin Houston, and Dee Ford, can not only get after the opposing quarterback but knock down passes as well. Their secondary should have Eric Berry back and they’ve played much better with him than without.

Look for Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton to try to jam the middle of the field and contest all of the short to intermediate throwing areas that Brady thrives in. If they force him to hold onto the ball a bit longer, it will allow their pass rush to get home.

The Patriots will try to move Edelman around to create some space on the outside, while trying to clear out the flat for James White to work in the passing game. Kansas City allowed the 5th most passing yardage to running backs this season. Brady will look to attack the middle of the field first. Gronkowski hurt the Chiefs with two big pass plays by getting the one-on-one matchups when they were there. That will definitely be in play if it becomes available to them.

Pass protection is everything in this game for the Patriots, regardless of the running game, it is still a complimentary game and they remain a passing team first and foremost. Key matchup here is LT Trent Brown against Chris Jones in both the running and passing games. With crowd noise and not being able to mix up their snaps, the Chiefs will look to tee off. Flashback to Pittsburgh, the OL can’t shoot itself in the foot again with double-digit false starts again.

Next up the Kansas City offense:

Chiefs RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Chiefs lost their workhorse in Kareem Hunt but have gotten nearly identical production in the running game from Damien Williams. He gashed the Colts for 129 yards on 25 carries last week. KC had the 16th best running game in the league, averaging 115.9 yards per game.

Kansas City likes to mix in the jet sweep and with the explosive Tyreek Hill, he blew thru the Indy defense for a 36-yard touchdown last week. The Chiefs rushed for 94 yards in the first meeting with Hunt getting 80 of those and averaging 5.5-yards per rush.

The Patriots run defense has really been trending up the past three games. Last week against Melvin Gordon and the Chargers, they allowed just 19 yards on 10 carries.The defensive line and linebackers have been much, much better. On the season they allowed 112.7 yards on the ground (11th in the league).

Andy  Reid has gotten pass-happy in big games before, will he have the patience to stick with his running game on Sunday? I expect the Patriots will go with a lighter front for much of this one and there should be room to run the ball.

Chiefs WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Chiefs passing game was positively electric this season. Mahomes threw for 50 TDs and they were third in yards this season with 309.3. But everything goes thru Hill, the small but incredibly fast wide receiver who, if he gets the slightest edge outside is gone. That happened in the first meeting, he got a step on one of the Patriots fastest defenders in Duron Harmon and he blew by him like he was a turnstile at the airport.

Mahomes also has Travis Kelce who caught over 100 passes this year, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley, Williams, Specer Ware, and Kelvin Benjamin, who was a healthy scratch last week against the Colts.

The Patriots’ secondary play has improved over the course of the season. Stephon Gilmore had an All-Pro type of season and rookie J.C. Jackson an UDFA from Maryland has come on and played terrific down the stretch. The front seven has gotten plenty of QB pressure but that hasn’t translated into many sacks.

Look for the Reid to run those RPOs (run/pass option) plays that gave New England fits last season. That allows Kelce to get quick separation at the line. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots approach covering Hill. While we fully expect him to be doubled with help over the top, who will draw him? The Patriots will probably get Gilmore on him with safety help over the top. We expect them to chip on Kelce at the line as well, to try to throw off their timing.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots have a solid group of specialists with Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, and returners with Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson returning punts and kickoffs. The coverage units have been much better when the team added veterans Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber after Thanksgiving.

The Chiefs have kicker Harrison Butker and the excellent Dustin Colquitt in their kicking game. They also have the dangerous Hill and Tremon Smith who had a 97-yard return in the first meeting.

This time however, we’re going with experience. Edelman has been at his best in big games and Patterson is as dangerous a kick returner as there is in the NFL. Look for the Patriots to get after a punt this week.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This is shaping up to be an instant classic. The first meeting went right down to the wire with the score tied at 40, Brady hit Gronkowski with a big 42-yard pass play down the field and Gostkowski kicked a FG with three seconds left. We expect another really close game, perhaps not quite as high scoring as the first matchup.

The keys from a Patriots perspective this week are:

Start Fast And Be Ready For the Onslaught:

The Chiefs at home have been ridiculously fast starters, they’ve outscored opponents at home in the first quarter by a huge margin.  Last week against the Colts was no exception. They bolted out to a 14-0 lead and never looked back.

The Patriots have been notoriously slow starters this season, especially on the road. That would be curtains for any chances of winning if that happens. They have to be on top of their game from the opening kickoff. Reid scripts his first 20 plays or so, so we’d expect the Chiefs to throw some wrinkles at them right off the bat. Expect a very aggressive start on both sides of the ball to get the crowd even more into it.

Last week the Patriots got off to the best start in the history of the team in the playoffs last week and that propelled them to an easy win over the Chargers. They need that type of start again.

Mix Things Up:

Offensively, the Patriots have to keep the Chiefs defense off-balance, Third and long situations will unleash the KC pass rush and they have to limit those type of situations. The Pats rolled up 500 yards of offense last time, by doing just that. Running effectively, and spreading the ball around.

Defensively, they won’t pin their ears back and come after Mahomes like they did to Rivers because if he escapes (and frequently does), then a big play is sure to follow. Mix up coverages, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some split coverages by the secondary. The key is contain him and keep him in the pocket. When plays break down and the Chiefs play backyard football, big plays will result.

The Patriots will want to try to slow the pace down this week, a track meet will really favor the Chiefs at home. They want to grind them down with slow, methodical drives that eat the clock.

Win STs/Red Zone:

The Patriots special teams have been much better down the stretch and I expect some big plays to happen this week. Patterson and Edelman will have to kick it up a notch but a STs score or big play will go a long way this week.

The Red Zone will of course, be of paramount importance this week. Kicking field goals in KC is a recipe for losing. They have to score like last week. In the first half the Pats were 5-5 in the red area. On the flip side, they have to manufacture some stops and force the Chiefs to settle for some threes or get a turnover or two.

When the Chiefs beat the Colts, I immediately pegged this as a loss. I thought the Pats would win a tough, close game at home against the Chargers and then go on the road and lose to KC.

But the performance last week, sold me that this team isn’t dead yet. They’ve found their stride and saved their best game of the year for the playoffs. That makes me feel that they can go in and win this game. It won’t be easy and will go down to the wire. But something tells me Brady pulls another big win out of his hat, and Bill Belichick dusts off that Super Bowl game plan he used against the Bills when he was with the Giants. They may dare the Chiefs to run all day long, but they’re going to get it done. Get ready to head to Atlanta.   Patriots 31-28

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

New England Patriots News 1-13, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 13, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-13, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Ignore the Noise: After Chargers beat the Ravens, as expected many of the national pundits raced to tell you why LA was going to win this matchup on the road against New England. The Chargers offense was more explosive, their defense much more stifling, they have playmakers all over the field…did we miss any?

But the numbers don’t really play that out. The explosive Chargers offense? They averaged 26.8 points this year. That scuffling Patriots offense averaged 27.2.  The Chargers defense allowed an average of 20.6 points per game. New England’s much-maligned defense allowed just 20.3 points.

The Bolts are a very good team in 2018 and do have a very good chance of pulling off the win today. But they’ll have to play better than they did a week ago. The Patriots don’t have Lamar Jackson under center. And the Pats are at home. Whoever plays better today will advance, but I wouldn’t buy into the hype that this is it for New England’s dynasty. That’s more wishful thinking than anything else.

Brady’s Cliff Has Different Parameters: Speaking of wishful thinking, several very biased hot take artists have been falling all over themselves to proclaim that Brady’s end is near and that he just doesn’t have it anymore. While issues with his supporting cast this season had as much to do with his numbers falling off as much as anything, but a closer look at those numbers reveal that there is a standard for Brady “falling off” and one for everyone else.

Look at Brady’s biggest rival, Peyton Manning in 2008. Manning completed 371 of 555 passes (66.8%) for 4002 yards, 27 TDs and 12 INTs with a passer rating of 95.0. Now with Brady’s #s in 2018,  375 of 570 (65.8%) for 4355 yards, 29 TDs and 11 INTs with a passer rating of 97.7. One is an MVP year and the other is falling off a cliff? Whose numbers were better?

Why did we bring up 2008? Because Manning’s numbers won him an MVP that year.

Did you Know? With a win today, the Patriots will move on to their eighth straight conference championship game and the 13th of Bill Belichick’s career. The only coach with 10 conference championship games since the 1970 merger is Tom Landry.

Did you Know Pt. 2: The Patriots with a win today will mark a record for Tom Brady in the divisional round at 13-2 in his career, including 12-1 in Foxboro.

Edelman Close to a Personal Milestone: Julian Edelman needs just five catches today to move past Reggie Wayne for second place all-time in playoff receptions. Wayne has 93 and Edelman enters today’s game with 89 career playoff receptions. Not bad for a college QB.

In case you’re wondering, Jerry Rice is far ahead of everyone with 151 catches in the postseason. With 39 receiving yards, Edelman will also move into the Top 10 in playoff receiving yards.

McDaniels Staying Put, At Least Thru 2019:

With the news that he didn’t get the Green Bay head coaching job, Josh McDaniels has announced that he’s off the table in manners of searching for the next head coaching position.

During a conference call with the media, McDaniels didn’t mince words. “The book is closed,” McDaniels said leaving no doubt for anyone to speculate.  “It’s always a humbling experience to have an opportunity to interview with anybody for that position.

“I was thankful for the opportunity to meet with Green Bay; it always gives you greater insight into another organization of how they do things. It’s been very educational for me every time I’ve gone through it and I’ve appreciated every single one of them.”

“I’m completely focused on the Chargers and our season and finishing it strong. And I’ll be here moving forward.”

Kraft Wins Genesis Prize in Israel, the “Jewish Nobel”:

Patriots owner Robert Kraft is being honored for his philanthropy work in Israel and is being awarded the $1 million dollar Genesis Prize, which is often equated as the “Jewish Nobel.” He will be awarded the honor at a gala in Jerusalem in June.

According to a statement released by the Kraft Group, he will be giving the money “to initiatives combatting anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice as well as attempts to de-legitimize the State of Israel.”

Kraft has given more than half a billion dollars to causes including health care, education, the Jewish community, Christian organizations, and local needs.

Genesis Prize chairman Stan Polovets called the Kraft “one of the world’s most generous philanthropists whose charitable giving reflects the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world.”

Patriots Versatility At RB May Serve Them Well This Week:

The Patriots have a versatile group of running backs heading into the postseason with rookie Sony Michel who had 931 yards rushing and six touchdowns is the primary running back in the ground game while James White with 87 receptions was the leading pass receiver of the group. Rex Burkhead who missed all but seven games is the guy who does a little bit of both. James Develin is the blocking fullback who can catch the odd pass. Their versatility helps keep each other fresh and opponents guessing.

This versatility will be needed today, now that the playoffs have arrived. If teams try to stack the box, Brady can put the backs in motion and split them out wide to create matchup problems. If they flood the secondary with defensive backs to stop the pass, they can run the ball and keep the sticks moving.

If the Patriots are going to move on the conference championship, they’ll need big games from their running backs, in both the running and passing games. In last year’s game against the Chargers, Brady completed 14-15 passes for 163 yards to the running backs. Look for them to try to replicate that success again today. And for the Chargers to try to stop that as well.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Divisional Weekend Predictions:

Final Regular Season 165-89-2

Wildcard Weekend: 0-4 (yikes)

Saturday – Kansas City over Indy
                 LA Rams over Dallas

Sunday –   New England over LA Chargers
                 New Orleans over Philly

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have a Big Decision Looming on Shady McCoy:

The Buffalo Bills finally have some long-term stability at quarterback.and now they have to decide on whether or not they move on from running back LeSean McCoy.

McCoy, the 30-year old running back has a lot of treads worn off on his tires after being a workhorse for his entire 10-year career. In 2018, he posted career lows of just 514 yards rushing, a paltry 3.2 yards per rush average and just three touchdowns.

Not all of the fault lies with McCoy, the Bills offensive line was a particular area of weakness this season and a place they’ll be looking to improve upon in 2019. Their passing game was also non-existent at times and teams loaded up the box to stop the run.

With a salary cap hit of $9.05 million dollars in 2019, the Bills will be looking to at least adjust his cap number but they may be looking to start fresh with younger players. One area that points to his decline, however, is in the passing game. McCoy caught 59 passes in 2017, this season they dropped to just 34. His touchdown totals in the past three seasons have fallen from 14 in 2016, to 8 a year ago, to just 3 this season.

Dolphins Expected to Hire Flores As The Next Head Coach:

The Miami Dolphins are bucking the trend with going for the next offensive whiz-kid coach (read next Sean McVay), and are rumored to be hiring Patriots Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores as their next head coach. Miami was targeting defensive coaches and interviewed Saints DC Dennis Allen and Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richards among their candidates.

It is going to be a tough job for Flores who will have to go thru a bit of rebuild in South Beach before the Dolphins are ready to challenge in the AFC East. For the first time, he’ll have to go thru the process of hiring assistants, running the day-to-day operation of a team and have to deal with offensive personnel, something he’s had no experience with. Flores worked his way from the bottom with the Patriots from a scouting assistant, to a positional coach, STs assistant to the defensive coordinator.

But he has a great reputation as a commanding presence in the meeting room while maintaining a very good relationship with his players. He’ll be the second defensive coordinator in the past two seasons to bolt for a head coaching job.

Jets Hire Adam Gase and Bypass McCarthy:

The New York Jets have hired recently fired Miami coach Adam Gase as their new head coach after the fired Todd Bowles after the regular season. Many believed that former Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy was the front-runner for the job, but they turned to Gase, who also has a track record of working with QBs, having worked with Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and had some success working with Ryan Tannehill.

And while many fans, especially those who listen to WFAN were unhappy with the news, Jets’ ownership is quite happy with the hiring. “At the onset of the interview process, I wanted to hire a head coach who was the right person and the right fit for our organization,” Johnson released in a statement. “We talked to a number of excellent candidates and it became clear to me that Adam was the person who will help us establish a winning program and a winning culture.”

“Adam is a young, creative mind, but he also has 22 years of coaching experience,” Johnson said. “He is an innovator whose path saw him succeed at both the college and the NFL levels. He has helped a number of different quarterbacks, at various stages of their careers, reach new heights. We think Sam [Darnold] will continue to develop under his tutelage, but we made the decision because of Adam’s vision for the entire football team.”

Meanwhile, on the “Benigno & Roberts” WFAN show, the duo was lambasting Jets ownership for not hiring McCarthy, which played well to some of the fans on social media. Roberts called Gase this week, “Peyton Manning’s coffee boy.”

Ouch. Welcome to New York Adam Gase.

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.

Patriots Fourth And Two Podcast: Divisional Round Preview – Chargers vs. Patriots Breakdown

Russ Goldman
January 9, 2019 at 12:11 pm ET

In this episode, we looked back at the games on Wild Card Weekend to begin the show. However, the majority of this episode is breaking down the upcoming Divisional Round Playoff Game for the Patriots against the Chargers. This is an in depth super sized preview of the upcoming game.

Patriots Week 17 Report Card in 38-3 Drubbing of the Jets

Steve Balestrieri
January 1, 2019 at 7:00 am ET


The big question on everyone’s mind today and a legitimate one is how much can we really gleam from the Patriots blowout win over the Jets yesterday? I mean, it was obvious the Jets mailed it in, there was no fire in that team.

However, the Patriots had a lot to play for and what we were looking for from them was to look like a team that is getting ready for the playoffs. And in yesterday’s game, they appeared to be just that. A team that very much appeared to be the Patriots team we’ve all been accustomed to watching for quite some time.

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

Quarterback: A-

This week Tom Brady shook off his late-season doldrums and looked like… vintage Tom Brady. Hurt knee? Not from my vantage point. He looked like he was moved well in the pocket and stepped into his throws. Brady waited, slid in the pocket and rolled right to hit Phillip Dorsett in the end zone for a nine-yard TD.

Bailing early on his throws? Nope. He showed great patience on several throws and got lit up on one play by LB Jordan Jenkins as he let it go. On his 17-yard touchdown to James White, Brady gave the play time to develop and then waited as the pocket slowly collapsed before hitting White.

Noodle Arm? Child please. He zipped a laser to Edelman for 18 yards that should answer that silliness. He passed for 250 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs and had a passer rating of 133.8. The one pass he’d love to have back is the play where Chris Hogan was all alone in the end zone and he badly overthrew him.

Running Backs: B

As Tom Brady is fond of saying, when the offense is clicking it makes it hard for the opposing defense to cover everyone. And that was apparent on both the TD catches by Rex Burkhead and James White.

The Jets were in their base package to counter the two-back look and to stuff the run that they assumed was coming with Develin in the backfield  But Brady had Burkhead split wide and the Jets looked unsure. He was mismatched with LB Avery Williamson and Burkhead had two steps on him running down the seam. Brady dropped a perfect pass in the bucket for an easy 18-yard score, that looked like the TD he had last year against the Saintes.

The running game was okay but not great. The Jets did a decent enough job up front but they were bringing a safety up at the snap to help with the run defense, sacrificing the coverage in the passing game.

Sony Michel had a decent game with 50 yards on 14 carries and was oh-so-close when he burst thru the line in the second half to breaking a long touchdown run, but was taken down with a shoestring tackle. Yesterday was a good effort all around and showed their versatility.

Wide Receivers: B

Yes Chris Hogan IS still on the team and for the first time in over 2 months was targeted more than twice. In fact, he was targeted 11 times and had six catches, he should have had another one where Brady missed him wide open in the end zone. Phillip Dorsett was targeted five times and made five catches including a nine-yard touchdown.

Julian Edelman had a very solid game with five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. He’s picked his game up a notch down the stretch. He and Dorsett did a nice job on the Jet sweeps, Edelman ran two for 24 yards and Dorsett ran two for 16, keeping the Jets’ defense off balance.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen were both good in the run blocking department, being able to handle the Jets edge players is a big positive and their value in the running game can’t be overlooked. On one play, Allen lined up as a fullback and crushed LB Neville Hewitt where Michel burst thru the hole for a big gain.

Gronkowski finished finished with just two receptions for 24 yards but his best play was called back for a penalty on Allen of all people. It was a catch and run for 30 yards and on that play, the big man looked like vintage Gronk.

But he wasn’t a big part of the game plan yesterday, he was only targeted twice, three times if you count the penalty.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line had an outstanding day overall in pass protection. Far too often for the Jets, Brady had time to survey the field and go thru his progressions and he made them pay.

Brady was sacked just once, by Leonard Williams where he just blew by Marcus Cannon. Trent Brown was solid but had another holding penalty and allowed one QB hit.

The OL did a good enough job in the running game, they still ran for 136 yards before Hoyer did three kneel downs at the end of the game. But credit the Jets for doing a good job of game planning on how to slow the running game down.

Patriots Defensive Line: A

The Patriots defensive line had an outstanding, not good, outstanding game, dominating the Jets OL along the line of scrimmage. At one point in the first half, Elijah McGuire had nine carries for nine yards, one of which went for 17.  That means his eight other carries went for -8 yards.

Danny Shelton easily had his best game in quite some time, he was the immovable object in the middle and blew up several running plays, he stuffed McGuire for a loss on one and on another, he blew it up which allowed the LBs to come in and clean it up. Maybe sitting him down for a few weeks lit a fire under him. He looked like a totally different player yesterday. If he can play like that in two weeks, the run defense will be in very good shape.

Lawrence Guy had a tremendous game, when playing next to a two-gapping run stuffer, he can (and did) make plays everywhere, including a sack. Trey Flowers continues his hot streak down the stretch with outstanding play. He punched the ball out of McGuire’s hands for a forced fumble that McCourty recovered. The Patriots scored soon after. He blew by tackle Brent Qvale for a third-down sack of Sam Darnold early in the second half. Even Derek Rivers got into the act, recording the first sack of his career.

Linebackers: A-

Kyle Van Noy was all over the field, he set the edge on one running play, giving McGuire nowhere to run and Roberts flew in and dropped him for a loss. He did a good job of staying with the smaller, speedy Trenton Cannon on a wheel route deep down the sideline. In the same series, after Adam Butler knocked the ball out of Darnold’s hand, Van Noy alertly scooped it up and raced 46 yards for a touchdown.

Elandon Roberts was a heat-seeking missile in the running game. He had a tremendous game as he too was all over the field. When Roberts can play that downhill style, he’s incredibly effective and yesterday he hit McGuire at least five times at or behind the line of scrimmage. Dont’a Hightower flashed on a couple of plays as well.

Secondary: A-


Stephon Gilmore smothered Jets WR Robby Anderson. The Jets were short-handed due to injury and the Patriots matched up their best with the Jets best. Yesterday it was no contest. Gilmore was credited with two passes defensed but he blanketed Anderson all day and held him to just 3 catches for 24 yards and one of those wasn’t even on him. Anderson had averaged 104 yards per game in the last three weeks, but Sunday was Gilmore’s day. Darnold targeted him eight times.

UDFA J.C. Jackson continues his stellar play and is now firmly in the #2 corner slot opposite Gilmore supplanting Jason McCourty. Fellow rookie Keion Crossen was beaten for two big pass plays of 25 and 22 yards by Deontay Burnett but one of those was just a terrific catch by the Jets young WR.

The safeties were also very solid, holding talented TE Chris Herndon to just one catch for 8 yards.

Special Teams: B


At first glance it would appear Ryan Allen wasn’t at his best averaging just 39.8 yards per punt, but he was angling his punts toward the sideline, allowing the dangerous Andre Roberts nowhere to run. It was a good, solid job.

Stephen Gostkowski was perfect nailing all five extra points and his only field goal attempt. The return game was so-so with no KRs and four punt returns by Edelman for 28 yards. The coverage units were okay but did allow Roberts 32 yards on one kickoff return.

Coaching: A

Bill Belichick had the troops ready for this one and they showed up ready to play and took care of business. He said it best when summing up the season when he said, “We won next week because we won today.”

Josh McDaniels called an excellent game, the Jets made it clear that they were going to bring a safety into the box for run support so he attacked their linebackers in coverage. The touchdown passes to White and Burkhead were prime examples of that. The only hiccup was the 4th and 1 run at the end of the 1st half. Since they were gashing the Jets in the passing game, that looked like a prime opportunity for a play-action pass against that green secondary.  

Brian Flores kept things simple, the Jets were short-handed at WR, so he put Gilmore on their best wideout and once he was erased, everything else fell into place. They held Darnold to 167 yards passing and sacked him four times. Jets RBs gained just 76 yards.

PatriotsThrottle the Jets 38-3 in Finale, Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But here are our observations from today’s game:

Brady Spread the Ball Around:

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

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

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

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

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

Running Game Still Clicked:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turnovers Are Always a Welcome Sight:

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

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

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

Now We Wait …and Watch:

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

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

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

We’re on to the bye week…

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

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

New England Patriots News 12-30, AFC East Notes

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

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

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

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

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

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

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

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

Ben Watson, a Class Act, Announces His Retirement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belichick Still Onboard With Derek Rivers:

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

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

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

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

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

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 1Predictions:

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

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

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills To Retire After Dolphins Game Today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Balestrieri
December 28, 2018 at 6:30 am ET

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The New England Patriots finish off their 2018 regular season with a home game against the traditional rivals, the New York Jets. As the season closes, once again the teams are moving in opposite directions. The Patriots captured the AFC East for the 10th season in a row and the 16th time in 18 years. The Jets are fighting to keep Todd Bowles’ job.

A Patriots win on Sunday also guarantees a first-round bye in the playoffs for a record ninth consecutive year, no other team has more than four straight byes. But it wouldn’t be the end of the regular season where Manish Mehta, one of the Jets’ beat writers didn’t predict the impending doom of the Patriots dynasty in 2019 with the ascension of the Jets… This is as new as the tired “tomato can” myth.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, at 1:00 p.m. and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn 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 (10-5) are coming off of a much-needed win over the Buffalo Bills 24-12 after dropping two in a row. Sony Michel led the way with 116 of New England’s 273 rushing yards against the #9 defense against the run.

The Jets (4-11) are coming off a heartbreaking 44-38 overtime loss to the Packers. They blew a 15-point 4th quarter lead but were victimized by 16 penalties, several of them of the “questionable” variety. Sam Darnold, however, had his best day as a pro, completing 24-35 for  341 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs for a passer rating of 128.4.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The New England Patriots and New York Jets will meet for the 120th time, including three postseason games, since the series between the AFC East rivals began in the old AFL in 1960. New England leads the series 64-54-1 overall. The Patriots are 34-25-1 all-time at home against the Jets, including 14-4 at Gillette Stadium. Since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994, the Pats have owned a 35-16 record against Gang Green. Last year the Pats earned their 18th series sweep over the Jets and can earn #19 with a win on Sunday after their win in the Meadowlands in Week 12.

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 Jets Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game hit on all cylinders last week as they churned out 273 yards against a tough Bills defense. Sony Michel has had a very nice rookie season grinding out 881 yards on 195 attempts for a 4.5-yard average with six touchdowns. He still has a shot at a 1000 yard season with a big game on Sunday. He’ll be joined by Rex Burkhead, James White and James Develin in the backfield

The Jets aren’t as good as the Bills defense is at defending the run. They allow 126.0 yards per game on the ground which is 26th in the league and 4.6-yards per rush. They missed having Leonard Williams in the middle last week after getting ejected for taking a swing at the Packers Brian Bulaga.

Look for the Patriot to try to run Michel between the tackles again. The big men on the nose, Mike Pennel and Steve McClendon will have to be aware of the wham blocks the Patriots used on the Bills last week. The OLBs Brandon Copeland and Jordan Jenkins are going to have to stay home and not crash down inside or the jet sweeps by Cordarrelle Patterson (if he’s available) and Phillip Dorsett will be very effective. Williams against Shaq Mason should be a big matchup to watch.

Patriots WRs vs Jets Secondary – Razor’s Edge New York

The Patriots passing game has really sputtered lately. The rumors that Tom Brady has a medical issue (sprained MCL) on his knee continues to persist. And, since the Rob Gronkowski touchdown in Miami where he went down after throwing the ball, he simply hasn’t looked the same. Josh McDaniels is pulling out all the stops to generate some life in the passing game. But without Josh Gordon, Brady only targeted Edelman and Patterson at the WR position, Gronkowski at TE, White, and Burkhead at RB. Chris Hogan and Dorsett were not targeted at all.  

The Jets defense is also 26th in the league against the pass allowing an average of 254.7 yards per game. But they have been outstanding on third down and have the 2nd best 3rd down defense in the league allowing only 33.1 percent of opponent’s 3rd downs to be converted.

We’ll be watching the matchup between Edelman and Buster Skrine in this one closely. How well this matchup goes for the Patriots as well as the one between Gronkowski and Jamal Adams will decide the game for New England. We’ll see if the Patriots get James White back in the flow of the offense this week, But I really don’t expect a half dozen throws to be spread between Patterson, Hogan, and Dorsett this week.   

Next up the J-E-T-S offense:

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

The Jets running game has taken some major hits with Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell both being put on IR. That puts the onus on 2nd year RB Elijah McGuire from Louisiana-Lafayette. He’s struggled and is averaging just 3.2-yards per rush in 2018 with three touchdowns. He’ll be backed up by the small but speedy Trenton Cannon from Virginia State. Despite the offense rolling up 38 points a week ago, neither was particularly effective on the ground.

The Patriots were better against the run last week, limiting the Bills to just 72 yards which 30 of were scrambles from Josh Allen. They put Danny Shelton back in the lineup and they really need the big body who can two-gap in this defense. The Patriots have allowed 113.3 yards per game which is 13th in the league.

It will be tough for the Jets to smash the ball with McGuire this week; they’ll have to get creative by mixing things up with the speedster Cannon to get things going. But I look for the Patriots to do a good job against the Jets running game.

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

The Jets passing game is getting better down the stretch as the light has seemed to come on for the rookie Darnold since he returned from his injury. His last three games he’s gotten progressively better and threw the ball very well last week against Green Bay in the overtime loss throwing for a career-high 341 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.

He has Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa (missed last week) and Jermaine Kearse (hasn’t practiced this week) on the outside, with TE Chris Herndon and RBs McGuire and Cannon out of the backfield. This will be a big game for the rookie as he wants to end on a hot streak and this is the team he was drafted to play against.

The Patriots are 23rd in yardage allowed thru the air but are currently 7th in opposing passer rating. At home, the Patriots opposer passer rating is just 77.8. They’ve found a gem in UDFA J.C. Jackson who is really coming on this season to go along with Stephon Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, and Jason McCourty at corner.

The Patriots may try to throw some different looks at Darnold, as he’s never faced him before and try to confuse him. Depending on who’s healthy on Sunday will determine the matchups outside for the Jets. Look for Darnold to target Herndon often who is really coming on nicely this season and Anderson who is coming off a huge day against the Packers.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New York Jets

The Patriots special teams, specifically their coverage units have been up and down this season. This is an area where the Jets can take advantage. Andre Roberts does the work for the Jets in both the punt and kickoff return games and he is as dangerous as anyone they’ve faced. Roberts had a 99-yard TD and a 51-yarder last week and had another big one called back for a penalty.

The Jets coverage units have been good and that too will be an area to monitor as the Patriots return game has been steadily improving this year. Patterson, if healthy is always a player to watch. The Patriots have blocked three punts in the last three games.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Keys from a Patriots perspective this week: And they’ll be looking for a bye week with a  victory on Sunday. The Jets are just playing for pride…and jobs in 2019

Show Up Early, Start Fast: The key for New England is to start fast and get out to an early lead on the Jets who are just 4-11 and whose coach is about to be unemployed. If they can get a quick 10 or 14 points in the early going, it may be all that many of the Jets players need to check out mentally and beginning their offseason plans.

The last thing they need is to have the opposite happen. If the Jets jump out to an early lead or hang around it will give them hope of pulling an upset and knocking the Patriots out of the #2 seed. At that point, they will be playing with house money.

Make the Jets Offense One-Dimensional: The Jets passing game and Darnold have been much better in the last three weeks. But even veteran QBs have trouble when their offense is tilted either one way or the other.

If they can get New York in third and long scenarios often enough, they can dictate the way the game is going and dial up some of their blitzes. The Patriots have actually been very good at getting pressure without blitzing, (top 5 but they haven’t been able to generate enough of those into sacks.

Brady Has to Spread the Ball Around: The Patriots can’t just target two WRs in the passing game. That is a recipe for losing in the playoffs. He has to get Hogan and Dorsett involved in the passing game, and this week will be a perfect time to start getting them jump started. That and get James White a bigger piece of the pie. The Jets linebackers, especially outside have been disappointing this year. It could be an area to take advantage of this week.

New England will lean on Sony Michel and the running game once again. Look for a nice afternoon from White in the passing game as they win franchise victory #500 and get the bye, then watch the scoreboard.  Patriots 27-17

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 16 Report Card, Hats and T-Shirts in Win Over Buffalo

Steve Balestrieri
December 25, 2018 at 7:59 am ET

The Patriots returned home and the results were much better than the previous two weeks as they clinched the AFC East with a 24-12 win over Buffalo. The defense held the Bills to just a pair of field goals until a late garbage-time touchdown, the offense rolled up 273 yards on the ground, and they got some splash from their special teams.

The win, coupled with the Texans loss vaulted the Patriots right back into the #2 seed and a bye if the season ended today. They could be the #1 seed amazingly enough, although both KC and the Chargers would have to lose and then the Pats beat the Jets.

But there was still a lot of sloppiness and they turned the ball over three times which can’t continue.

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

Quarterback: D

Tom Brady threw two interceptions, although neither was his fault. The first one had Rex Burkhead turn outside where Brady expected him to turn across the middle. The result was an easy pick for Lorenzo Alexander. The second was a short pass to Rob Gronkowski where the ball sailed right thru his hands…ditto Jordan Poyer.

The fact that the Pats only threw 25 passes wasn’t a bad thing considering the running game was pounding the ball against the Bills front seven. But with the running game so effective, the play-action passing game should have skewered Buffalo. It did not.

Brady was off on several throws which keeps giving rise to the rumors that his knee isn’t even close to 100 percent. Not one pass was completed beyond 5-6 yards past the line of scrimmage. The pass protection wasn’t great and although Brady moved and slid well in the pocket, he didn’t target Chris Hogan or Phillip Dorsett once. In 89 combined snaps they weren’t targeted at all.

Running Backs: B+

Sony Michel had a big day running the ball, piling up 116 yards in 18 carries. While he was getting good blocking up front (something that several media members hold against only him among running backs when he has a big day), the most impressive thing about his day was after contact. Michel kept his legs churning and carried the pile further for more yardage. It paid off with his touchdown run where he carried the pile into the end zone where he was contacted around the two-yard line.

James White had 41 yards on five carries but his 27-yard touchdown was a beauty. Facing a 3rd and 2, White sliced thru the line and broke to the outside and raced down the left side for a big touchdown run. He had just two catches for 13 yards on four targets in the passing game.

Rex Burkhead had a couple of good plays in both the passing and running games but was also involved in two turnovers. He got the ball punched out after catching a pass from Brady in the first half and then ran the wrong route across the middle leading to an easy interception. He took over for Michel down the stretch, in the kill the clock mode.

Wide Receivers: C

Julian Edelman contributed the only notable splash play in the passing game, catching a six-yard Brady pass on 4th and 4 from the Bills 32-yard line. He was tackled by two Bills defenders but landed on top of them and alertly rolled off and ran into the end zone for the touchdown. He was the only consistent target in the passing game for the WRs catching six passes for 70 yards on ten targets. But Edelman also had two costly penalties and a drop.

Cordarrelle Patterson was targeted twice in the passing game and had one catch for three yards. But Patterson was outstanding at running the ball on the Jet sweeps gaining 66 yards on 4 carries, using his speed to burn past Bills defenders.  Phillip Dorsett had 13 yards on two carries after Patterson tweaked his knee. One was blown up for a four-yard loss but the other was a nice 17-yard scamper.

But neither Dorsett or Chris Hogan was targeted once in the passing game…which is inexcusable.

Tight Ends: C-

Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen were both mainly excellent in the run blocking department, acting as an extra tackle and blowing Bills defenders off the ball which helped create nice running lanes for the running backs to follow.

But neither was a factor at all in the passing game. Gronk was targeted three times and zero catches. Worse, he had a pass zip right thru his hands on the first play of the second half which was picked off by Jordan Poyer.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line did a tremendous job in the running game. Considering that they piled up 275 yards rushing before Brian Hoyer’s kneel-downs, that is exactly what the doctor ordered. Shaq Mason got downfield and put a huge block on Lorenzo Alexander on White’s long touchdown run. Trent Brown consistently was putting Bills defensive end Eddie Yarbrough on roller skates.

But the pass protection was not great. Although Brady was only sacked once, he was under duress far too often in the pocket. And this was on a day where the passing game was dinking and dunking along.

Defensive Line: A-

This was a huge bounce-back game for the defensive line. Danny Shelton was back over the nose and although he made only two tackles, having a big man that cover the two gaps made everything go much smoother in run defense. Bills running backs gained on 42 yards on 13 carries which is a 3.2-yard average.  The Bills only gained 72 yards overall on the ground, a big improvement over the past few weeks.

Trey Flowers was disruptive all game and Lawrence Guy was his normal solid self. Newcomer Ufomba Kamalu played about a dozen snaps and dropped Shady McCoy for a four-yard loss on his first snap as a Patriot.  

Linebackers: B

The Patriots linebackers biggest responsibility in this game was to keep Josh Allen from running rough-shod over them in scrambling from out of the pocket. In the Bills past four games Allen ran for 351 yards out of the pocket when things broke down. In this one, he was able to scramble for only 30 yards on five carries.

Linebackers John Simon and Kyle Van Noy were both very good at staying home and cutting off any lanes for Allen to run.  

Secondary: A-

The secondary had only two blips in the game. In the first quarter, Robert Foster had beaten Stephon Gilmore cleanly down the right sideline and then lost a well-thrown ball in the sun. And Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson collided on a crossing route late in the game allowing Zay Jones to be all alone for a 31-yard touchdown.  Other than that final garbage time drive, the secondary’s play was terrific.

Gilmore broke up a fourth-down pass to Foster in the first half and a 3rd and 3 to Jones in the second half. Jackson flashed great ball skills in picking off a pass which was a poor decision by Allen. He’s rapidly turning into a terrific player and a total steal.

Jason McCourty picked off a pass as well on a nice move. He also ripped the ball out of Jason Croom’s hands on the five-yard line. Pat Chung was a factor and making plays all over the field.

Special Teams: A-

The Special Teams had another strong game, Ryan Allen boomed a 55-yarder pinning the Bills back inside the 10-yard line. He pinned them inside the 20, three times. Julian Edelman had a beauty of a 25-yard punt return which set up a field goal. And Matthew Slater blocked a punt, the third in three weeks.

The only knocks were the final two kickoff returns by Patterson that were blown up by the Bills and Michel who filled in for him after he tweaked his knee, muffed the kick and then got stuffed at the 12. Julian Edelman took a dumb penalty and the second time he’s done this recently by calling for a fair catch and then blocking a gunner.

Coaches: B+

The Patriots coaching staff put the onus on the running game this week which Buffalo’s defense, the best at stopping the pass, was unable to cope with. They also put a premium on stopping Josh Allen from scrambling and opening up plays downfield, which they did quite well. And they obviously wanted to shut down Buffalo’s running game and force Allen into trying to beat them thru the air. They did that and the Bills showed they are incapable of doing that.

We’re on to the Jets…

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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.

Running Game Vaults Patriots To 10th Straight Division Crown

Steve Balestrieri
December 24, 2018 at 7:35 am ET

Running Game Vaults Patriots To 10th Straight Division Crown

The New England Patriots refound their running game and leaned hard on it, running for 273 yards against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon en route to a 24-12 win at Gillette Stadium. The win not only gave the Patriots the AFC Division Crown for the 10th year in a row but for the time being, put the Patriots back in command of their own destiny for a bye during Wildcard Weekend.

The Houston Texans lost on a last-second field goal in Philadelphia which put the Pats back up to the #2 spot. And coupled with the losses by the Chargers and Chiefs, the Patriots could actually still get the #1 seed, however, both teams would have to lose again and have the Patriots beat the Jets. That last second loss in Miami now looms large in the grand scheme of things.

The Pats flipped the script against the Bills from the last two weeks and controlled the line of scrimmage in the running game both offensively and defensively. Both were a welcome sight. Especially with the passing offense mired in neutral all game. Here are some of our observations from Sunday’s game:

Run Defense Much Better:

After being gashed recently against the run, the Patriots run defense was much better this week against the Bills. It was helped by re-inserting Danny Shelton into the lineup and playing him over the nose and filling two gaps. But the rest of the front seven played much better this week, being stout at the point of attack and doing their job.

Buffalo ran for just 72 yards total but their running backs averaged just 3.3 yards per rush while Josh Allen, who’s been scrambling wild lately was held to just 30 yards this week. LeSean McCoy was held to just 9 yards or 6 carries. While he’s been slowed by a bad hamstring, the Bills will have a tough decision to make on him in the spring.

As much as we’ve criticized the front seven’s play the past few weeks, they deserve a lot of credit here. They played the run tough all day and allowed only three rushing first downs all day and held the Bills to a 2-12 and 0-1 totals on third and fourth downs respectively.

Running Game Set the Tone For Keeping the Bills On Their Heels:

Sony Michel led the way with 116 yards on 18 carries as the Pats rolled up 273 yards on the ground. Much of the credit goes to the offensive line who won their matchup with the Bills interior DL and were consistently getting a good push. Michel, who always gets his results pooh-poohed by many of the media members in Boston when he has a good game, was very sharp in this one. Strange, when Ezekiel Elliott or Todd Gurley have big games, do the Dallas or LA media caveat their stories with “yeah but the OL was opening big holes”? Not very likely. Give Michel his due, he’s had a terrific rookie season.

Cordarrelle Patterson was gashing the Bills on Jet sweeps before injuring his knee as they did a terrible job of staying at home and setting the edge. Patterson gained 66 yards on just four carries, although on one play it seemed Lorenzo Alexander was in perfect position but Patterson’s speed just beat him to the edge.

But the Patriots ground game resulted in the Pats controlling the tempo and the clock. At one point they ran seven straight times. On another drive, they ran 10 straight as they held the ball for more than 35 minutes.

Mental Mistakes Still Maddening:

The Patriots allowed the Bills to hang around for far too long in this game because of mental mistakes and turnovers and the majority were made by veterans, not rookie UDFAs. Julian Edelman had a drop on the Patriots first series and then had two penalties, one for blocking on STs after calling for a fair catch, the second time he’s done that in recent weeks. The other was a holding call that erased a nice Sony Michel run (how many times have we heard that this year?).

But Edelman atoned for that with a great heads’ up play where he caught a pass from Brady on a key 4th down call. Facing a 4th and 4 at the Bills 32-yard line, Brady zipped a nice pass to Edelman who easily had the first down. But as two Bills defenders brought him to the turf, he landed on them, never touching the ground and had the presence of mind to keep going…for a 32-yard touchdown pass.

Rex Burkhead fumbled on one run after the catch in the first half. The ball was punched out as he was going to the ground where Micah Hyde recovered and ran it back to the Patriots 40-yard line. But then later in the half, Burkhead cut outside when Brady expected him to cut across the middle and the result was Lorenzo Alexander picking the pass off at the Bills 21.

And on the first play of the second half, Brady targeted Rob Gronkowski who let the ball zip right thru his hands and into the lap of Jordan Poyer

Passing Game Struggles Badly:

The fact that the Patriots ran the ball so effectively covered up the fact that the Bills #1 pass defense totally shut down the Patriots passing game. Tom Brady had very pedestrian numbers of 13-24 for 126 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs. While neither interception was Brady’s fault, it doesn’t hide the fact that the passing game has a ton of work to do.

Brady only targeted two wide receivers Edelman and Patterson, and only went to Patterson twice. Both Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett were not targeted in the passing game at all. Gronkowski was targeted twice with no catches and a pick.

The Bills front seven deserves a lot of credit here, they were getting plenty of pressure on Brady and were forcing bad throws all game long. With Josh Gordon gone, changes will have to be made, but this doesn’t fill one with confidence heading into January. WIth the running game gashing Buffalo, play action should have been wide open but it wasn’t for the vast majority of the game.

Another Blocked Punt for the STs:

For much of the year, the Patriots special teams had uncharacteristically struggled. But they brought back Ramon Humber and signed former Raven Albert McClellan and the results have been very favorable. McClellan blocked a pair of punts in Miami two weeks ago and on Sunday, STs ace Matthew Slater turned the trick on Buffalo.

With about six minutes to go, Slater came in thru the inside and blocked the punt which took a Buffalo roll and actually got 10 yards where the Patriots took over on the Bills 33.

Edelman had a big punt return of 25 yards that set the Pats up in Buffalo territory for a drive that stalled at the Bills five, but they kicked a field goal that effectively sealed the game at that point.

Defense Gets Two Interceptions of Allen:

The Bills passing offense came in ranked among the worst in the league. And on Sunday they showed why. They dropped numerous passes although, in fairness to Robert Foster, a deep ball was right where he lost it in the sun. While several of Josh Allen’s throws were well off target.

However, the Patriots secondary made a couple of nice interceptions. Rookie J.C. Jackson made a nice play on a deep pass from Allen where he definitely shouldn’t have thrown that pass. But Jackson cut in front of the receiver and high-pointed the ball.

Later Jason McCourty also made nice play on another pick. Newcomer Ufomba Kamalu played about a dozen snaps on defense and had a nice tackle for a loss on his first snap as a Patriot.

The Patriots finish out the regular season by hosting the Jets who lost in O.T. to the Packers. Stay tuned…and Merry Christmas

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.