Tag Archives: Ryan Tannehill

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.

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

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

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

 

New England Patriots News 01-06, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 6, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-06, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

No…This IS 41: Last week in the aftermath of the Jets game, another hot-take artist of Fox Sports radio with an ax to grind, first complained that the league conspired to get the Patriots the bye because of what he called a terrible call of roughing the passer by the Jets against Brady. “NFL badly needed the Patriots to get that #2 seed. This call is total garbage. Patriots eventually score, up 21-3.”

Then he cherry-picked a missed throw by Brady to Hogan in the end zone to claim, “This is 41.” The funny part was the next day, he called out another writer for having a “garbage take” on the Antonio Brown saga. Glass houses, especially when in the game against the Jets, Brady completed over 70 percent of his throws, threw 4 TDs and had a passer rating of 133.8.

But we can cherry pick too, so…here’s your “This is 41”

Did you Know? Since 2001, the Patriots have had 13 byes, the most in the NFL. The next closest teams are the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers with 5. This is the ninth consecutive year earning a bye, the most prior to this Patriots run has been four. . Dallas and San Francisco earned four straight byes from 1992 through 1995 and Denver had four straight from 2012 through 2015.

Did you Know Pt. 2: The only NFL team to win a championship and is no longer in the league was from New England. The Providence Steamroller was part of the league from 1925 -1931 and won the NFL Championship in 1928. Besides being one of two teams (Chicago Cardinals) to be the first to play a night game in 1929, Providence, due to a scheduling snafu and bad weather played four games in a six-day stretch which the night game, attended by 6000 fans was the second game of the stretch.

Patriots Unveil 2018 Playoff Motto: The Patriots, as part of their M.O., have unveiled a motto for the playoffs this year, “Everything We Got.” They unveiled a short video that showed many of the national pundits calling for the demise of the Pats dynastic run.

Then the video shows the team in a quick series of vignettes and then the narrator says:
To get everything,
It’s going to take everything.
So we’re going to give everything.
EVERYTHING WE GOT.

Is it as good as “Do Your Job”? Nope. But it is a step up from “One More” in our opinion. Enjoy the Wildcard Weekend’s slate of the games. There were 12 good teams entering the playoffs this weekend, 11 of them will lose their last game of the year. That’s why our motto, which we’d steal from Hollywood, would be. “There Can Be Only One!”

With McDaniels and Flores Being Courted, Focus on O’Shea, Bielema:

Like clockwork, the staff of Bill Belichick is being raided again as multiple teams have requested interviews with coordinators Josh McDaniels and Brian Flores. McDaniels is rumored to be the top choice for the Green Bay Packers and is very much in the mix for Cleveland, he turned down a request to interview with Cincinnati. It might sound strange but the better job overall and probably better for McDaniels may be Cleveland.

The Packers have a 36-year old QB who got his last coach fired. The offense runs through Rodgers, it is doubtful, he’s going to want to learn a new system at this stage of his career. Cleveland has a good young defense, an exciting rookie QB that knows how to win and is a team trending up.

But we digress… If one, or both leave who will take over the reins as the coordinators for the Patriots in 2019? On offense, it seems like a no-brainer in that Chad O’Shea will take over the play calling there. He’s been being groomed for that spot for some time now. O’Shea has been with the team for 10 years and called the plays during the preseason last summer. That one seems like a slam-dunk. However, O’Shea’s name is being floated around as a possible Offensive Coordinator for Matt Patricia in Detroit. We’ll have to monitor that situation.

Defensively, the situation will be difficult as they have no clear-cut coach lined up to take the reins. In reality, Flores isn’t even a “true” defensive coordinator, as he’s not been even given the title of it yet… why, is a story for another time.

Bill Belichick would probably take most of the onus on himself as the defensive coordinator for 2019, however, there isn’t a clear-cut successor ready yet. The best choice? Bret Bielema who was a head coach at both Wisconsin and Arkansas. Brendan Daly, who coaches the Defensive Line, may become a candidate in a year or two, but right now, the odds would be against him.

AB to the Pats? Not Happening:

When the news broke about the deteriorating situation in Pittsburgh with Antonio Brown, it was amazing how dysfunctional that team truly is. Mike Tomlin has always run a loose ship and that has come home to roost. But as soon as the story broke about Brown requesting a trade, Patriots fans jumped all over the story, wanting Belichick to swing a deal for Brown.

But there is no way that’s happening. For one, the Steelers would still be on the hook for Brown’s huge 2019 cap hit. They’ll probably try to mend the relationship between Brown, QB Ben Roethlisberger, and Tomlin. Barring that, if they do decide to trade him, one place they never would trade Brown to would be New England.

And as ridiculously talented Brown is, I can’t imagine that there would be a mutual interest in bringing him here. Can you imagine Brown’s Facebook Live video going on while Belichick is addressing the team in a post-game setting? And Brown, although in the midst of a terrific season, was mad because Roethlisberger was making JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had an even better 2018, the focal point. I can’t see Brown accepting a role where he’s not “the guy” that the offense runs thru.

After last season and the tabloid-like story on the divorce of Brady/Belichick, while the team was going 13-3 and on their way to another Super Bowl, is there going to be a big breaking piece on the disintegration of the Steelers’ locker room? Their two most talented offensive players quit on their team this season…but we’re not holding our breath on that one.

Young QBs Have Fans Excited in Several Markets:

The NFL had an influx of young QBs this year and many of them played big roles for their teams right off the bat. And it is a great thing for several NFL franchises that have been downtrodden for a number of years as these young QBs generate hope and excitement for the next generation.

The league has their established stars in QBs like Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers but the story this season really wasn’t about any of them but Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes, while technically not a rookie lit the league on fire this fall. While perennial bottom feeders in Cleveland now have an exciting young QB, Baker Mayfield who has instantly brought hope and respectability to the franchise. Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen have had different levels of success but at least have their fans tuning in.

No one knows if any of these young studs can keep up the long-term success that they’ve found in their first year of playing.  There are no guarantees, injuries occur as well as other issues that can arise, but right now, the 2019 season looks to be, on paper one to really look forward to.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Wildcard Weekend Predictions:

Last week: 12-4 Final Regular Season 165-89-2

Wildcard Weekend:

Saturday – Houston over Indy,
                 Seattle over Dallas
Sunday –   Baltimore over LA Chargers (tough start time for West Coast teams)
                Chicago over Philadelphia

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have Their Man in Josh Allen, Now Need a Surrounding Cast:

The Buffalo Bills picked their guy in the QB Class of 2018 in the person of Allen, the big, strong-armed youngster from Wyoming who had a very up-and-down year, which isn’t a rarity for rookie QBs.

Allen has some obvious flaws in his game. He can be woefully inaccurate at times, but those are mechanical issues that can be solved thru coaching. But for a big guy (6’5, 237) he runs deceptively fast from the pocket.

The Bills need to surround Allen with better weapons next year. Although they have Zay Jones and Robert Foster, they could use another WR, RB, TE and a heckuva lot better support along the offensive line.

Allen ended the season in dramatic fashion, throwing for three TDs and running for two more, the first Bills QB to account for five TDs in a game since Jim Kelly. That left fans in Western NY, itching for a winner, looking forward to 2019. That may even stop them from throwing sex toys on the field during games… Maybe not.

Dolphins Search For the Next Head Coach:

The Miami Dolphins, in a mild surprise, fired head coach Adam Gase after the season was over, but the way the team finished their final quarter of the season, it shouldn’t have been. After an improbable, last-second fluke win over the Patriots, Miami was blown out in Minnesota, lost by 10 to Jacksonville and by 25 to Buffalo.

The Dolphins are busy trying to find their next head coach. GM Chris Grier has interviewed the Patriots’ Brian Flores, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and now are set to interview Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. For Bieniemy, this season was just his first as a coordinator but it was his fourth interview this week. He also met with the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Other names included in the search include Vic Fangio, Mike Munchak, Jim Harbaugh, and Dolphins’ Special Teams Coach Darren Rizzi.

Jets May Have Interest in Baylor HC Matt Ruhle :

The New York Jets are in Texas this weekend, interviewing Cowboys’ assistant coach Kris Richard but multiple sources are reporting that the Jets may also have a lot of interest in Baylor head coach Matt Ruhle.

Ruhle would be an interesting choice as he’s been instrumental in turning around a couple of college programs. Ruhle was born in New York City and spent a year on Tom Coughlin’s staff as an assistant offensive line coach.

He was the QB coach and offensive coordinator at Temple before becoming the head coach for four seasons. His last two in Temple, the team won 10 games, the only time in the program’s history that they accomplished that.  He then moved to Baylor to a program that had been rocked by a sexual assault scandal. In 2017, his team went 1-11. This season, they went 7-6. Ruhle got some interest from the Colts last year in their coaching search. He’d be a good coach it is believed to work with Sam Darnold.

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 Week 14 Report Card, A Very Mixed Bag in the Loss to Miami

Steve Balestrieri
December 11, 2018 at 7:20 am ET


The Patriots went down to Miami and played just well enough to keep a very inferior team in the game long enough for them to steal away a victory on a fluke play on the last snap of the game. Like John Houseman used to say in those old Smith Barney commercials, “They earn it.” And the Pats earned that loss in a game that they should have won.

Some parts of the Pats game was outstanding, others were absolutely terrible. On both sides of the ball. That’s what a wacky game this was. They will get over this one…or perhaps they won’t. They don’t have a lot of time to dwell on it. A trip to Pittsburgh looms next week and don’t expect to see the same Steeler team that lost to the woeful Raiders next Sunday.

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

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady, save for one colossal mistake at the end of the first half was outstanding. Brady completed 27-43 passes for 358 yards (8.3 yards per pass) with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. His accuracy was very good throughout the game and those bogus hot take artists who regularly spew insipid bile about his arm strength need to watch back-to-back plays in the first half.

Facing a 3rd and 10, Brady lasered a rocket to Julian Edelman for 16 yards and a first down. On the next snap, Brady rocketed a 37-yard fastball down the field on a line where Cordarrelle Patterson made a nice grab for a 37-yard touchdown.  

Brady’s one gaffe was a very costly one. With time running down in the first half, Brady held on to the ball too long with no one open and took a sack. At that point, the clock ran out and the Patriots lost a golden opportunity to add points on the board. It was a rookie mistake, he lost track of how many timeouts they had used and it is something, he’s never done. And it couldn’t come at a worse time. That’s what knocks his grade down somewhat.

Running Backs: D

The Patriots running backs were rendered a total non-factor in this game. Despite the Dolphins having a sieve for a run defense for all of this season, they were a stone wall on Sunday and held the Patriots running backs to an awful 2.6 yards per rush average.

Sony Michel had 20 carries for just 57 yards. He had one nice run at the end of the game that looked like the Patriots were finally going to take over but it was wiped out by a holding penalty. It has been a familiar refrain for him all season. He could probably have close to 50 percent of his yardage added to his total that has been lost on flags.

James White whether by the Dolphins defense or the Patriots game plan was invisible on Sunday. Granted Brady was shredding the Dolphin secondary but when the team goes just 3-6 in the red zone, perhaps, White could have been used a bit more. Rex Burkhead also was invisible, carrying four times for two yards with just a single catch for three yards.

James Develin was solid in his blocking and added another short touchdown run. But his penalty hurt at the end of the game.

Wide Receivers: B

Both Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon had outstanding games on Sunday. Edelman had 9 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown and as always he goes into those dangerous spots over the middle. His score was reminiscent of his TD catch in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks. He had a costly drop however where he began to run before securing the ball, a very uncommon mistake for him.

Gordon was outstanding and is looking every week like he’s getting better and better. He’s a monster on those quick, short slants where he uses his size and speed to get position and then is tough to bring down. He had five catches for 96 yards and added a pass interference call as well as a holding call.

Cordarrell Patterson had two catches for 51 yards including a beauty of a 37-yard touchdown. It was a perfect throw and a very nice catch as he stretched out and snagged the ball for the score.

Chris Hogan had only one target and Brady, under pressure overthrew it badly. It was a play we wrote about this weekend, the back of the end zone pass used to be a staple in the Patriots offense and that was one of the first times we’ve seen it in a long time. And it was open too.

Tight Ends: A-

Rob Gronkowski had a very good game, arguably his best of the year on Sunday. He was targeted eight times and made eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. He was taking some big hit and gave the Dolphins a lot of trouble in the passing game. They were convinced that they could cover him with single coverage. They were wrong.

Gronk deserves no criticism for the ridiculousness at the end of the game. He should have never been out there in the first place.

Offensive Line: D+

The offensive line did a tremendous job in the passing game, Brady was sacked just twice and they did a very good job of keeping the interior of the pocket clean where he could step up and throw the ball.

But in the running game? They were singularly awful. Remember this is a Dolphins team that has been gashed all year long but this was their third lowest total allowed. Only two games against the anemic Jets offense did they allow less. The running backs had nowhere to run on Sunday. This was a matchup the offensive line was supposed to win and should have. They did not.

Defensive Line: D

The defensive line like the offensive line and much of the team was really good in one aspect and absolutely terrible in the other. Trey Flowers was once again terrific, he led the way with two sacks, two tackles for loss and four QB hits. And in the pass rush department, the defensive line had another strong game with 3 sacks and six QB hits.

But the Mr. Hyde part of the game was the run defense which was gashed. While that isn’t on just the DL (read below), they share in the grade as they were consistently pushed around in the running game.

Linebackers: D

The Patriots linebackers after their best game of the season against Minnesota had arguably their worst. They did do a good job of getting after Tannehill in blitzes with 1.5 sacks and a pair of QB hits.  Dont’a Hightower had his first sack of the season and John Simon was particularly effective in his best game in a Patriots uniform.

But in run support they were absolutely terrible, Miami rushed for 189 yards on just 21 carries which averages out to 9.0 yards per rush attempt. Brandon Bolden looked like Barry Sanders in his prime flying through open space for a 54-yard touchdown. No one could get off of their blocks. Elandon Roberts had a rough game, getting bulldozed on the Bolden first TD and then whiffing (how many times do we see this?) on an open field tackle attempt on Frank Gore. Hightower was fooled by Tannehill on the first series with a play fake where he ran for 13 yards.

Secondary: C

The secondary took a step back from their stellar game of a week ago. Kenny Stills was giving Jason McCourty fits all game long until he was eventually replaced by J.C. Jackson. Gilmore was beaten by Brice Butler for a touchdown on a post route that was an excellently thrown ball by Tannehill. But the rest of Miami’s receivers had no more than one catch apiece.

But on the topic of the elephant in the room or in this case a Mastodon, there were breakdowns all over the field which all help create a play which will forever be a New England Butt Fumble moment. Another look at the play, (and it is like watching a car wreck) shows some horrible situational football.

Jonathan Jones is in perfect position to make the tackle and end the game since Miami has no timeouts remaining. But instead, he foolishly tries to make a play on the ball and is then, way out of position.  Jackson and Gilmore appear to be more worried about defending another lateral and run like their feet are underwater. Devin McCourty wasn’t on the field (the only snap he missed all game) and Gronk, who isn’t a defender (more to this below) stumbled trying to get the angle on Drake. Epic fail.

Special Teams: C+

The Special Teams blocked two punts, Albert McClellan blocked both by rushing right up the middle. Ryan Allen’s punting was fantastic and the coverage units easily had their best game of the year. But Stephen Gostkowski’s two misses on easy kicks (an extra point and a chip shot 42-yard field goal) cost the team four points, which would have rendered the fiasco at the end moot. Nuff said.

Coaches: C-

The Patriots coaching staff which prides itself on not beating itself and good situational football failed on multiple accounts here. Why was Gronk in the game at all on that last play. With Miami back on its own 31, Tannehill isn’t throwing the ball 75+ yards in the air and even if he does, the team just signed 6’4 Obi Melifonwu who has a 40-inch vertical leap and can run like a scalded dog. It was unfathomable.

While the decision to go for the field goal was considered the “safe, smart” move, I’d have opted for another shot at a touchdown to put the game away and even if you don’t your forcing the Dolphins to start from inside their 5-yard line. Three points there doesn’t ice the game and you’re just giving them better field position to work from.

Just goes to show, Bill isn’t infallible, he can make mistakes. There were plenty of them to go around. We’re on to Pittsburgh…

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.

Miracle Finish Is Fitting End to Dolphins 34-33 Win, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 10, 2018 at 6:30 am ET

The Patriots got another loss in South Florida the old fashioned way…they earned it. Very uncharacteristic mental mistakes abounded and cost the team just about any slim chance they had at securing the #1 seed in the AFC playoff picture. Lost in the wild, wacky, horribly-played lateral play was a plethora of unforced errors and bad situational football which placed them in the position in the first place.

From Stephen Gostkowski doinking an extra point off the goal post and then shanking a gimme 42-yard field goal, to Bill Belichick showing an almost Andy Reid-like clock management skills at the end of the first half, to Tom Brady inexplicably forgetting how many timeouts they had. It only gets better.

Julian Edelman running before he secures the ball on a screen, Stephon Gilmore dropping a gift pick-six by Ryan Tannehill, false starts, an offense that looked unstoppable in the first half, and then scores just six points in the fourth quarter, they set themselves up for just a finish.

The decision not to go for a touchdown on 4th down at the Miami one-yard line can be debated, but a field goal didn’t put the game away and even if a touchdown attempt failed, it would have left Miami with under 30 seconds and 99 yards to go. But the pièce de résistance was the decision to put Rob Gronkowski back as the deep safety with Miami on their 31-yard line with 0:07 seconds to go.

Did the coaching staff really think that Ryan Tannehill was going to (could) throw the ball 75 yards down the field on a final Hail Mary? And even if they did, the team just signed 6’4 safety Obi Melifonwu who had a 40” vertical leap and runs like a deer. Inexplicable…but it is over and you have to own it.

Other observations include:

With the loss, the Patriots have about zero chance of now getting the top seed in the AFC. Baltimore took Kansas City to overtime but ultimately lost. They are now two games back in the standings with just three games to play.

The #2 seed and a bye still remain a very doable proposition, however. The Texans lost to the Colts and the Steelers, like the Patriots, played down to the level of their competition and lost to the 2-10 Raiders.

On a day when the defense sacks the QB five times and you block two punts…you have to get pretty creative to lose but that’s exactly what they did.

The running game was non-existent today as the Patriots managed just 77 yards on 30 carries, a paltry 2.6-yard average. Facing a Miami defense that was being gouged for 144.7 yards a game and nearly double the average yards per carrying, that was a huge win for the Fins defense.

In contrast, the Miami running game, nearly an afterthought for much of the year absolutely gashed the Patriots defense to the tune of 189 yards on 21 carries for a whopping 9.0 yards per play. Old friend Brandon Bolden looked like he was shot out of a cannon and galloped 54-yards untouched for the first of two touchdowns in the first half and Frank Gore was outstanding, rushing 12 times for 92 yards.

Tom Brady was outstanding in the first half, he was virtually unstoppable until the final two minutes, but was held to just a pair of field goals down the stretch and it would come back to haunt them. Brady finished with 27 completions in 43 attempts for 358 yards with 3 TDs and 0 Interceptions.

Both offenses were scoring at will in the first half, up and down the field each team was moving the ball and scoring with ease.

The silly questions about Brady’s arm strength were put to rest (for now) on Sunday. On back-to-back plays, he lasered a 3rd and 10 pass to Edelman for 16 yards and then to Cordarrelle Patterson for a 37-yard touchdown.

Rob Gronkowski had arguably his best game of the season and caught 8 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown on eight targets. He also took some hard shots to his knees and lower body.

Kenny Stills was nearly uncoverable for Miami, turning in a great game catching 8 passes for 135 yards and a score on nine targets. He was consistently getting the better of Jason McCourty and easily won that matchup today.

Josh Gordon turned in another solid game catching 5 passes for 96 yards, several of the difficult variety. Gordon and Patterson give the Patriots the size and speed that they’ve lacked in the passing game. Julian Edelman, doing the dirty work underneath, caught 9 passes for 86 yards, but his drop of a screen pass where it appeared he had some room to run was a drive killer. We’ll have to rewatch the tape of that one.

Albert McClellan was signed to give the Special Teams a boost and today, he did exactly that. Blowing straight up the middle he not only blocked one but two punts. The second one with just under a minute to go in the half gave the Patriots the ball at the 15. Normally this is when the Patriots and Brady put a dagger into the hearts of opponents…however>>>

Clock Management Andy Reid Style 1.0: The Dolphins had the ball at their own 25-yard line with 3:49 left in the half. The Patriots forced a three-and-out but didn’t use their timeouts as the clock ticked down to the two-minute warning. But after taking over at their own 20, they did nothing punted back to Miami with one minute left.

Clock Management Andy Reid Style 2.0: After the Patriots sack Tannehill and have the Dolphins facing a 2nd-and-21, then they finally stop the clock with just 46 seconds left. They then sacked Brock Osweiler, then block the punt and take over at the Dolphins 15-yard line with 30 seconds left. Brady zipped another laser to Gronk put them at the Miami 2 with 21 seconds left. Brady then overthrew an open Chris Hogan along the back of the end zone, (a play we’ve been clamoring for)  and then inexplicably took a sack on third down with no timeouts left and come away with nothing.

Weird play in the third quarter when Trey Flowers punched the ball away from Gore causing a fumble. The officials signaled that Miami had recovered yet when the scrum had cleared the Patriots flipped the ball back to the official. Another one where maybe the tape will clear it up.

The final play will mask what was a pretty good day by the Patriots secondary. Other than Stills, the rest of Miami’s passing game was pretty much held in tow. But that isn’t how the game unfolded.

Then with 0:07 seconds to go, the Dolphins had the ball on their 31-yard line. The Patriots defenders said after the game, that they knew it was too far for a Hail Mary and it would be a lateral situation. Then why place Gronk back there for McCourty? Or Melifonwu for that matter. Tannehill hit Stills with about a 20-yard pass where Jonathan Jones took an angle that we haven’t seen since Jordan Richards whiffed on JuJu Smith Schuster in Pittsburgh a year ago.

Stills lateraled to DeVante Parker who then lateralled to Kenyan Drake and the play unfolded and it looked like Moses parting the Red Sea as Patriots defenders were lost in the wake. Gronkowski stumbled and missed a chance to knock him out at the two-yard line and Miami had the finish that kept alive their playoff hopes for another week.

Now the Pats are on to Pittsburgh, who have dropped three in a row. And lost again in stunning fashion to the lowly Raiders. But don’t expect that kind of performance from them next week. The Patriots coaches will have to work hard with the team after that meltdown.That is the kind of loss that can stick with a team.

New England Patriots News 12-09, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 9, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-09, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Just a reminder that you revisit our keys to the game here:
And our players to watch from a Patriots perspective by clicking on the links:

Stephon Gilmore missed practice on Friday due to an ankle injury which just popped up on the injury report and is questionable. Obviously, if he can’t go it will be a big loss for the Patriots defense today.

Did you Know? With four receptions today, James White will set a new Patriots team record for catches by a running back in a season. Tony Collins caught 77 passes in the 1986 season. White currently has 74 catches on the season.

Did you Know Pt.2? With a win today, The Patriots will improve to 108-29 (.788) since 2001 on or after Thanksgiving (regular and postseason). That is the best record in the NFL during that time by more than 20 wins.

Did you Know Pt. 3: With a win today, the Patriots would clinch the AFC East for the 10th year in a row, breaking a tie with the Cowboys and Colts for the most consecutive years making the playoffs. It will also be the 16th divisional title since 2001.

Running the Ball? Since 2000, New England is 50-1 in the regular season when a Patriot produces 100 or more yards rushing. The only loss during the Bill Belichick
era came at Miami, coincidentally happened on Dec. 20, 2004, when Corey Dillon rushed for 121 yards on 26 carries and the Patriots fell 29-28 to the Dolphins in a MNF meltdown. Since then, New England is 37-0 with a 100-yard rusher. In 2018, RB
Sony Michel has three 100-yard games, including Week 4 against Miami.

Feed JE11 the Ball? Since 2014 (including the playoffs), the Patriots are 18-0 when Julian Edelman scores at least one touchdown.

National Media Are Turning Rodgers into Manning:

Every year, the national media all take turns proclaiming that “this is the year” the Patriots fall, Tom Brady falls off a cliff statistically, etc. The old rule about no cheering from the press box obviously doesn’t apply to journalists rooting against someone. And that someone is TB12. Never has a player that has accomplished so much for the league been the target of some much jealousy off the field. Everyone can’t wait to be the first to mark the demise of the greatest QB to ever lace them up in the NFL. Every pass is dissected looking for flaws, a diminishing arm strength, anything to point toward the door.

While he was still playing, Peyton Manning was the poster boy for the NFL and made out of absolute Teflon. Nothing stuck to Manning, even when he threw three picks to Ty Law in the playoffs, the excuse machine was working in full-blown overtime. The league’s competition committee changed the rules to benefit his wide receivers. But eventually, Brady’s accomplishments left Manning in the dust and even the most jaded Brady haters couldn’t use that argument anymore.

Step to the podium Aaron Rodgers. He’s the next “Chosen One”, the darling of the media and a guy who can never ever do no wrong. Every pass he throws is oohed and aahed over during the highlight shows. And how many times ad nauseam have we heard the past few years, “nobody but Aaron Rodgers can make that throw.” And every week we are subjected to the same Brady-Rodgers drivel that we were during Manning’s career. Except that Rodgers has accomplished even less.

His team has missed the playoffs for the past two years, already eliminated in 2018. Can you imagine the hue and cry against Brady if the Patriots were eliminated just once under his watch the past few years?

So much was made of the Brady-Belichick “feud” with the Alex Guerrero issue and impending divorce the past year or so and the Pats went 13-3 and came to within a strip sack of winning their sixth Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick era. This year, the Patriots are 9-3 and are still in play for the top seed in the conference.  

But the real divorce was going on in the Frozen Tundra where the play of Rodgers, in part because of his feuding with Mike McCarthy has really dropped off. But not a word of that has been spoken. It has all been “McCarthy must go” and now he’s been fired. Rodgers has been remarkably immune to all of this. One can’t help but think that if that happened in Foxboro, and Brady’s record the past two years was 7-9 and 4-7-1, the headlines would be much different. Just like Manning.

Brady: “None of the Past Matters” About Playing in Miami:

The Patriots are 1-4 in their last four trips to Miami and Tom Brady hit the nail right on the head when he said at his Friday press conference, “The reality is that none of that stuff matters — it’s really this team against that team,” he said.

“We have a big challenge.”

Miami is 5-1 at home and 1-5 on the road, so they are a very different team when playing in the confines of their own stadium as opposed to traveling on the road. The Patriots played very poorly there last season, when Jay Cutler, in the midst of a nightmarish season, looked like an All-Pro…for one night.

“The opponent is the Dolphins, not the climate. Playing a good football game is definitely what this week is about for us,” Brady added. “We can’t expect to go out there and play less than our best and win. We should be playing our best — it’s that time of year.”

This season, unlike others, like 2013, and 2015, it is the Dolphins who are beat up and have a lot of players injured or on IR.  There is no mystique, no parquet floor magic about playing in South Florida. The Patriots just need to show up and be ready to play.

Brady at the end of the 2016 season lit up Miami with the following stat line:
Attempts – 33, Completions – 25, Yards – 276, Completion Pct. 75.8, TDs – 3, INT – 0 Passer Rating – 130.4, the result was a Patriots 35-14 blowout victory.  Expect Bill Belichick to have the players ready to go today.

No More ‘Read and React’? Pats Defense Dictating More in 2018:

The Patriots back in training camp hinted that new Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores would be more aggressive, ditching the old “read and react” defense of Matt Patricia that most fans hated, although it is hard to argue with the success that they’ve had with it. However, early in the year, much of what we saw looked similar to the past. But as players have been getting more comfortable in their roles and inside the system, we’re seeing more and more of what was perceived to be a more aggressive unit in 2018.

They showed brief glimpses of it during games against Kansas City and Green Bay but two weeks ago against the Jets and then last week against the Vikings, Flores ‘let slip the dogs of war’ and the defense was dictating how things were going to be. That was the most aggressive that the Patriots have been in a very long time.

With a veteran and very solid secondary, Flores can afford to be more aggressive but the confidence the coaches have shown, especially with rookie corner J.C. Jackson is very telling. They aren’t afraid to put their corners out there against some of the more explosive offenses in the league.

However, being aggressive can result in getting burned and giving up long plays and/or touchdowns. But against Cousins and the Vikings, especially on 3rd down, the Patriots were dictating and they were extremely impressive.

Will they do the same this week against Tannehill or was that to give the Steelers something else to consider for next week?

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 14 Predictions:

Last week: 11-5 Season 125-65-2

Thursday night’s picks Titans over the Jaguars 1-0

NY Jets at Buffalo: Bills
NY Giants at Washington: Redskins
New Orleans at Tampa Bay: Saints
New England at Miami: Patriots
Baltimore at Kansas City: Chiefs
Indianapolis at Houston: Texans
Atlanta at Green Bay: Packers
Carolina at Cleveland: Panthers
Denver at SF: Broncos
Cincinnati at LA Chargers: Chargers
Detroit at Arizona: Lions
Pittsburgh at Oakland: Steelers
Philadelphia at Dallas: Cowboys
LA Rams at Chicago SNF: Rams
Minnesota at Seattle MNF: Vikings

Thursday Early Pick: Chargers over Chiefs

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Cut Benjamin After Just 18 Games:

The Buffalo Bills cut their ties to WRs Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes on Tuesday. Buffalo acquired Benjamin, 27, in a trade from the Carolina Panthers in October 2017 for 3rd and 7th round picks in the 2018 draft. In 18 regular-season games for Buffalo, Benjamin caught 39 passes for 571 yards and two touchdowns. In his career, Benjamin has played in 58 games with 52 starts, amassing 207 catches for nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns.

He ran afoul of the coaches and QBs in both Carolina and Buffalo but perhaps someone like Andy Reid can reach him where others have failed. He has stated he wasn’t a fit for Cam Newton in Carolina and reportedly told Bills quarterback Josh Allen he wouldn’t work on routes with him before a game earlier this season.

“Sometimes change of scenery can be good for a guy and he’s got an opportunity to come in here,” Reid said.

Struggling this season, Benjamin admitted he’d hit “rock bottom” and was disappointed. “It’s just a bad season,” Benjamin said. “It is what it is. Just football, man. You have good seasons, you have bad seasons. I’ve had successful seasons in this league. I’ll have plenty more. For some reason, it’s just not the year.”

Maybe the Chiefs hope that they can catch lightning in a bottle and he can repeat the performance he had against the Patriots in Week 4 of the 2017 season where he caught four passes for 104 yards, in case the two teams meet in the postseason.

Tannehill Key For Dolphins Postseason Hopes:

The Miami Dolphins are still in the mix in the playoff race but if they’re going to get there, they are going to need production from QB Ryan Tannehill. A lot of production. He’s been with the team for seven years and he has yet to show the consistency that is needed to be the type of QB that the Dolphins envisioned when they drafted him.

Despite the over-the-top headline this week that loudly proclaimed “Tannehill Owns the Patriots At Home”, he has a lot of work to do the next month. But it all starts today. And if Tannehill wants to be a Dolphin in 2019, he better turn some heads in the next few games…in a good way.   

“If you’re on the field, you’re getting evaluated,” Tannehill said. “That is what it is. Whatever you put on tape, that’s what this team and every other team has to go on.”

With a career 40-43 record, and middle of the road stats across the board, he may have his coach’s confidence, but eventually, even Adam Gase will be forced to make a decision. Tannehill isn’t just playing for a playoff spot but a roster spot in 2019.

Darron Lee Suspended for the Remainder of the Jets Season:

The New York Jets continuing dysfunction once again raised its ugly head when the league announced linebacker Darron Lee has been suspended four games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

The suspension is effective immediately, meaning his season is over unless he decides to appeal it. The suspension will cost him $325,000 in game checks. Lee is eligible to return to the roster on Dec. 31, the day after their final game.


Lee, leads the team with three interceptions, including one for a touchdown. But he’s had maturity issues. He was benched for a game in 2017 for showing up late to practice. He had a dustup with his girlfriend at a music festival that was caught on cellphone video. His teammate Leonard Williams perhaps saved him from further league issues, by pulling him away.

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-Dolphins Week 14, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 7, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The New England Patriots head out for the first of their final two road games of the 2018 regular season. They play in Miami this week and Pittsburgh next week in games that will go a long way in determining where they stand in terms of AFC Playoff seeding.

The Patriots can clinch their 10th straight AFC East title with a win or a tie and would set a record for making the playoffs in10 straight years. They are currently tied with the Dallas Cowboys (1975-83) and the Indianapolis Colts (2002- 10) as the only teams to play in the postseason for nine straight seasons.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS 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 (9-3) beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-10 in Foxboro as the defense was outstanding limiting the Vikings offense to just 278 yards while rolling up 471 of their own.

The Dolphins (6-6) beat the Buffalo Bills 21-17 as Ryan Tannehill threw for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter come-from-behind win.

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 Dolphins are meeting for the 107th time in their history. Miami holds the overall edge 54-52 with each team holding big advantages at home. Against the Dolphins in Miami, the Patriots are 4-15 in the month of December.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge. First up is the Patriots offense:

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

The Patriots running game is nearly back to full strength with Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead as the three main backs in the backfield. But Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson both will see some carries on Jet Sweeps. James Develin, their big blocking fullback is now a short-yardage option. He scored a pair of touchdowns last week against Minnesota.

The Dolphins run defense was first gashed by the Patriots to the tune of 175 yards this season after Miami began 3-0. Since then they allowed 164 to the Bears, 248 vs the Lions, 188 to Houston, 195 to Green Bay, and 198 to the Bills. Miami is allowing an average of 144.7 yards per game and 5.0 yards per rush, which is 30th in the league.

Look for the Patriots to try to pound the rock all day between the tackles. Miami’s defensive tackles Davon Godchaux and Akeem Spence have not played well against the run and neither have linebackers, Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso. If DC Matt Burke tries to bring the safeties up into the box in run support or blitz the linebackers, it will open up play-action passing.

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

The Patriots passing game has been playing their cards close to their vest lately as their being fairly conservative in the passing game. But in Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan at wide receiver, Rob Gronkowski at tight end and James White, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel out of the backfield, Tom Brady has a plethora of weapons. Add it Patterson and Phillip Dorsett and the depth is there for them to mix it up.

Miami may be without their best defensive player in Xavien Howard who has a knee injury. He’s an All-Pro talent who leads the team with seven interceptions this year. With him injured they’ve been forced to play Minkah Fitzpatrick at the other corner with Bobby McCain in the slot. If Howard can’t go, 2nd-year corner Torry McTyer will get the start. Miami has two very talented edge rushers in Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake but they’ll need to get pressure up the middle if they want to be successful there.

Look for Brady to utilize the “Pony” backfield with White and Burkhead on third down a lot in this one, they’ll try to isolate the linebackers in coverage and keep the sticks moving. If Howard is indeed out, look for Brady and Gordon to test McTyer. Chris Hogan could be an “X-Factor” this week.  

Next up the Miami offense:

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

The Dolphins running game is averaging 102.7 yards per game (24th) this season with a 4.3 average yards per carry. They have two very good backs in the ageless Frank Gore who leads the team with 616 yards and the dangerous Kenyan Drake. Their problem has been the offensive line hasn’t been on the field enough because of injuries.

The Patriots rush defense is currently 13th allowing 106.7 yards per game. They’ve been trending up in that regard and this week, they’ll have their hands full as the Dolphins will try to mix things up by using both Gore and Drake. They’ll have to get a big game out of their linebackers, especially Kyle Van Noy who Adam Gase was talking about this week.

Look for the Patriots to go to a bigger front this week with Gore in the lineup and try to get Miami into the 3rd and long passing situations. They’ll have to set the edge this week as the Dolphins should be much more patient with their running game than the Vikings were.

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

The Miami passing game is 28th in the league averaging just 199.4 yards per game. But getting Ryan Tannehill back from injury has helped and in the last two games, he’s had a passer rating of over 100 against the Colts and Bills defenses. He has DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Danny Amendola as wide receivers with Nick O’Leary and Mike Gesicki at tight end with Drake out of the backfield. The team was much more explosive before Jakim Grant and Albert Wilson went on IR.

The Patriots defense had their best game of the year last week against the Vikings. The secondary stuck like glue to the receivers and they had constant pressure on QB Kirk Cousins. Can they do that again in South Florida?

I would expect they will try to match Stephon Gilmore on Stills which should be a great matchup to watch. And I’d expect either Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson on Parker with either McCourty or Jonathan Jones on Amendola in the slot. The key is getting pressure on Tannehill and look for the Patriots to attack the middle/right side where the Dolphins OL is banged up and RG Jesse Davis has not played well.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Miami

Both teams have gotten solid play in the kicking game from punter Matt Haack and kicker Jason Sanders for Miami and Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski for New England. But Sanders gives the Dolphins the edge in the kicking game, especially at home. While Patterson in the return game is always a threat to return a big one. But although Miami misses Grant in the return game, the Pats coverage units have been uncharacteristically very inconsistent.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one is a playoff game for both teams. Unlike 2013 and 2015 when the Patriots came limping into Miami beat up, this year it is the Dolphins who are all banged up with injuries while the Patriots are as healthy as one can expect at this time of year.

Last year the Pats got caught looking ahead to Pittsburgh and got their butts handed to them. But last year they afford that loss and keep the #1 seed as long as they beat Pittsburgh the next week. This year they don’t have that luxury and they know Miami still has a shot for a playoff berth.

Three keys from a Pats perspective:

Run the Ball Between the Tackles:
Miami isn’t good against the run and they’re ranked 30th for a reason. Spread the wealth between the three RBs and keep their defense on their heels. Plus it will open up play action and slow down their edge rushers.

Win the Turnover Battle:
Miami isn’t an offense that scores a lot of points, they can’t afford to get into a shootout situation. Their 29th in offense and 29th in defense. They are still in the hunt because they force a lot of turnovers. Make them go the length of the field with no easy scoring drives is a win-win situation.

Get After Tannehill:
Dolphins QBs have been sacked 31 times this year, the offensive line is suspect. Especially in the center and on the right. The Patriots don’t have a lot of sacks this year but they are among the top teams at creating pressure. They need to do that and force Tannehill into making mistakes. When they’ve lost to Miami down there, he was standing flat-footed in the pocket for much of those games.

Look for the Pats to play much better this time around. Belichick will harp on the way they looked past them last December and they should be ready to play. Look for Michel, Burkhead, and White to all have big games for the Patriots as the defense clamps down this time in South Beach. The East goes thru New England again.   Patriots 27-13

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Patriots Smash Dolphins 38-7 In Dominant Fashion, Three Up, Three Down

Steve Balestrieri
October 1, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

For one week at least, the Patriots have calmed the fears of fans of New England as they broke a two-game losing skid in dominant fashion, demolishing the not-ready-for-primetime Miami Dolphins 38-7.

On Sunday afternoon, Miami came in riding high at 3-0 while the Pats limped in at 1-2 and much was made of whether the Patriots defense, which seemed slow and unathletic would be able to keep up with the team speed of Miami. The defense answered the bell today and Miami never seriously threatened to score until a garbage time drive by their backup quarterback as New England dominated in all three phases of the game.

The Patriots won the physical game up front, both the offensive and defensive lines clearly won the 1-on-1 matchups as the Pats rolled for 175 yards on the ground, springing Sony Michel and James White for big chunks of yardage all game long, something that had been sorely missing for the past two weeks.

Michel who was foolishly labeled a draft bust by the hot takes crowd after just two weeks and after having missed all of the preseason rushed for 112 yards on 25 carries with a touchdown. White had 112 yards from scrimmage with 44 yards rushing, 68 yards receiving and had a touchdown rushing and receiving.

Defensively, the Patriots front seven stuffed the Dolphins on early downs, putting QB Ryan Tannehill in third and long situations all game long. Of course, getting two of their best defenders in Trey Flowers and Pat Chung back helped. We wrote in our pregame matchups that the defense had to get out of early holes that made third-down conversions easy. Tannehill faced third downs needing 12, 10, 10 (converted via penalty), 13, 8 and 24 yards in the pivotal first half. That is much, much better.

Miami was only 1-6 on third down in the first half, and that came as the half was winding down and the defense was giving them the underneath stuff.  By the time the first 30 minutes were over, the game was over with the Patriots going into intermission with a 24-0 lead.

Even more encouraging, the passing game got going against a very good Dolphins secondary. Tom Brady threw for 274 yards and three touchdowns but they got the big chunk plays that they’ve been missing. Brady hit Cordarrelle Patterson for a 55-yard touchdown, James White and Phillip Dorsett who caught a somersaulting 9-yard touchdown pass from Brady rounded out the scoring.

After having no success throwing to his wide receivers thru the first three weeks, they contributed 10 receptions for 166 yards. Hardly earthshattering numbers, but much better. And with the news that Julian Edelman returns on Monday, this should have an immediate impact on the passing game.

Newcomer Josh Gordon played only 18 snaps but did have an immediate impact. He caught two passes for 32 yards, both third-down conversions, and drew a penalty giving the offense another first down. But perhaps the best indicator from him was the nice block he made downfield on White’s 22-yard touchdown run. That is something the Patriots pride themselves on with the WRs and it is an early sign that Gordon is buying in.

The Patriots offensive line looked much, much better in springing the backs this week, and giving them the needed space to make the tough yards inside where they like to run and after the criticism, they’ve had to endure the past few weeks, this was a big, bounce-back game. Defensively, the line was penetrating, Miami had nowhere to run, with most of their 56 yards rushing coming long after this one was settled. Again in the pivotal first half, Miami rushed six times for seven yards.

The Dolphins had just 172 yards of offense, 75 of which came on the final garbage time drive led by backup QB Brock Osweiler where they scored with under three minutes to go. Tannehill, who entered the game completing 72 percent of his throws and with a passer rating of 121.8, completed just 11-20 for 100 yards with no touchdowns and an Interception.

Although he was sacked just twice, the Patriots had good pressure around the pocket all day where he wasn’t able to step into his throws all day. That’s why it seemed many of his passes sailed on him. His best throw was on the first snap of the game, where he drilled a 22-yard pass to Kenny Stills right between two defenders. That would be the Dolphins longest play of the day.

The Patriots defense allowed just 3.1 yards per rush and 4.3 yards per pass. Malcom Brown had a big bounce-back game as well as Dont’a Hightower. Lawrence Guy and Kyle Van Noy were particularly very good for the defense, who got solid contributions from everyone in the secondary, including rookie J.C. Jackson who got his first NFL interception on a pass that Tannehill underthrew a bit on a deep fly.

UP AND DOWN –

UP: Unlike a week ago, we could easily name several players here, and will add on to our three up just a tad this week.

Sony Michel: Imagine a rookie 1st round running back being labeled a bust after just two games when that back missed all of the preseason. Welcome to the world of New England overreaction sports radio. Michel looked much more comfortable in the Patriots offense this week and was showing more and more flashes of why the team thought so highly of him with a very solid performance.

Michel had 112 yards on 25 carries with a TD in the best game of his young career and quieted the critics for a week at least. As he gets more comfortable out there, his vision will continue to improve and we’re starting to see that burst he was so known for at Georgia.

James White: Last week, Tom Brady lamented that the coaches needed to get White more involved in the offense as he’s always a big playmaker. Mission accomplished. White had a typically big-play day with a 22-yard touchdown run and a 14-yard touchdown reception where Brady dropped a dime in the corner of the end zone as he was getting drilled.

Lawrence Guy: The big man inside is always one of the more underrated members of the Patriots defense and on Sunday afternoon he contributed big time to the overall defensive effort. The Patriots mixed up their fronts and at times, Guy shifted over to a DE spot and was outstanding, as the front seven was overall against the run.

Josh Gordon: His Patriots debut in front of a loud and raucous home crowd was just a small sample size (18 plays), but a successful one. His two catches were both on third down which signals that Brady wasn’t afraid to go to him right off the bat.

Both of his catches and a drawn penalty helped keep drives alive. He made a nice downfield block on White’s touchdown run and said all the right things after the game. So far, so good

Down:

Injuries: On a short week, with a game on Thursday night against the Colts, there are three injuries that need to be monitored. Rob Gronkowski, who was nursing an ankle injury before the game, left in the third quarter when he re-aggravated it.

Elandon Roberts who played a very solid, active game at middle linebacker left with looked like a fairly serious ankle or foot injury. Adam Butler was also injured in the second half and was on the ground in obvious pain.

Brady Decision Making: On what was otherwise a very good game by Tom Brady, he was victimized by the ball-hawking Dolphins secondary twice in the game, and both could be characterized by poor decision-making.

His first pick was actually a play where Brady was fooled by the Miami coverage. Bobby McCain was running with Chris Hogan on a deep post. Phillip Dorsett was supposed to cut inside Hogan for a deep cross. But McCain passed off Hogan to the safety and sat right in the throwing lane. He made a smart heads-up play for the pick.

On the second interception, Brady just got too greedy up 38-0 and tried to force the ball into tight coverage when he should have just thrown the ball away. It may be just a tad nitpicky here, but these are the kinds of mistake we generally don’t see from #12.

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Players To Watch Patriots-Dolphins Week 4

Steve Balestrieri
September 28, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

Big AFC East Matchup

The New England Patriots limp home after a 0-2 and uncharacteristically poor start on the road for 2018. The team is just 1-2, and although we’re used to seeing slow starts from the Pats in September, this week’s game, because of that slow start takes on very high significance.

Miami enters the game on a roll at 3-0 and is two games up on New England in the division. A win in Foxboro, where Miami rarely wins will put the Dolphins up three games plus the tiebreaker which puts the Pats far in the rearview mirror. No one picked Miami to make much noise this season, Adam Gase has his team believing and this is a big benchmark game for them.

The Patriots are searching for answers both offensively and defensively. Injuries are have already ravaged the team after just three weeks, with nearly their entire draft class of 2018 on IR. This is an even bigger game from New England’s point of view. They can ill-afford to drop a home game against a divisional opponent, and one that is already two games up on them in the division.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots traded for Gordon less than two weeks ago and his every move has been scrutinized despite being slowed by a hamstring problem that has left him limited in practice. And with that issue, along with him trying to learn the offense, would lend itself to lowered expectations, at least initially.

But the opposite is actually in effect here. Many people believe that Gordon is going to light it up immediately in Foxboro as soon as he hits the field, even if they have just a small package of plays for him to start.

Truthfully, whether you loved the trade or hated it bringing Gordon to New England, putting so much on this player’s plate after having barely played in the NFL for the past five years is a tad of a reach. But at this point, after such a buildup, we just want to see him on the field now.

John Simon:

The Patriots picked up the former Colts DE/LB this week and although he will only get a few days of practice, we do expect to see him on the field. Simon has had production in the NFL and was let go because the Colts were changing their system and his talents didn’t fit the direction they were going.

Which leads us to the intriguing question, how do the coaches visualize using Simon?  He’s at his best as a 3-4 outside linebacker and wasn’t greatly suited to be a 4-3 defensive end, hence his release from Indy. The Patriots have been primarily a 4-3 team, although Bill Belichick hates being pigeonholed. So, does this mean we’ll see some 3-4 looks or even some of those five-man fronts we’ve seen in the past?  Possibly, and with the issues they’ve had stopping the run, something had to be done.

Simon does have some talent at rushing the QB and setting the edge in the running game which is very important moving forward. It will be intriguing to see how Belichick and Brian Flores decide how to use Simon here.

James White:

The Patriots Swiss Army Knife of the offense had his looks and snaps curtailed a bit as the team was pushing Sony Michel, trying to shake the rust off of him after the rookie running back missed nearly a month of training camp, all of the preseason and the first game of the year. Now, they need the veteran to step up his game.

White’s versatility in the passing game will be put to the test this week. With the Patriots wide receivers struggling to win 1-on-1 matchups, the running backs will be looked to even more to take up the slack. Rex Burkhead was a favorite receiver of Tom Brady’s but he’s injured again and on IR. Michel is just finding his feet in the NFL so White will have to step up his game again.

Look for White to get a lot of looks against the Miami secondary this week. Brady will try to isolate him on a linebacker and create favorable matchups to keep the chains moving. White can also chip in with the running game but this week, they need him to get 7-10 catches out of the backfield.

Trey Flowers/Pat Chung:

Last week, the Patriots really missed these two starters against the Lions. Flowers is their best defensive lineman and arguably their best defensive player period. He’s excellent in run support and is a good pass rusher off the edge. Chung is outstanding in run support down in the box and has always given good coverage against opposing tight ends. With the defense reeling, they need both back this week.

They both were in concussion protocol last week and missed the game in Detroit, and both have still been limited in practice this week.  Having the two of them back for this game will be a big boost for a defense that is in search of a spark.

We’re looking for them to bounce back this week and play solid against a talented Dolphins offense. We’re watching the Flowers matchup against Miami RT Ju’Wuan James this week. If the Patriots are going to be successful, they’ll need Flowers to get the better of that one on Sunday afternoon.

Rob Gronkowski:

The Patriots big tight end has been off to a slow start during the past two games and the Patriots offense needs him to get it going. Gronkowski is a force multiplier when he’s on top of his game, it elevates the rest of the offensive players around him.

There are already some rumblings that he can’t run anymore, and that he needs to build up his speed down the field. Comments like that are always good fodder to get the competitive juices flowing even more.

Perhaps the addition of Gordon, if even for a few plays this week, will open up just enough space for Gronkowski to get his game back on track. There is nothing like a little home cooking with the crowd at Gillette to ignite the big man and awake this slumbering offense. Brady will be looking to get him involved early and often in this one.

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.