Tag Archives: Sam Darnold

Patriots 2019 Opponents, First Impressions of the Jets

Steve Balestrieri
September 18, 2019 at 8:17 am ET

The New York Jets had very different designs on the start of the 2019 season. After firing everyone and beginning a fresh start, they hired head coach Adam Gase, who they hoped would jump-start Year 2 for QB Sam Darnold, were big spenders in free agency signing Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley to big-money contracts.

But a combination of injuries and illness have taken their toll on the roster and the Jets find themselves in an 0-2 hole. Now they’re coming to Foxboro to take on their hated rival New England Patriots who have dominated the matchups in recent years. 

With the offense banged up and already on their third starting QB of the season, they’ll have to lean on their running game and their defense this week if they want to pull an upset. Here’s our first look at the 2019 J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets.

Luke Falk is the Starting QB for Now:

Luke Falk went from practice squad QB and running the scout team to being the Jets starting QB in a matter of hours.

The football gods dealt the Jets a couple of haymakers early this season. Starting QB Sam Darnold was feeling sick before the opener against the Bills and later it was learned that he contracted mononucleosis and will be out for at least a month. With the weight loss and fatigue that is associated with the illness, there is a dangerous chance of his spleen becoming enlarged, which would put him at serious risk of injury if he were to play before being completely healed.

The team had signed free agent Trevor Siemian this offseason. He spent 2018 with the Vikings after three years of being on the QB carousel with John Elway and the Broncos. Siemian is a smart, strong-armed passer but has had accuracy issues. He got the starting nod [13-11 record as a starting QB] against the Browns. But on a hit by Miles Garrett as he was releasing the ball caused his foot to get caught up in the turf under him. The result was a gruesome-looking injury. He tore the ligaments in his ankle and is lost for the year. 

Luke Falk, c’mon down… It is a tough position for Falk to step into. The Jets will be signing another QB this week to back up Falk but Gase said he will be the starter until Darnold returns from his illness. Falk also signed with the Jets this spring after spending much of his rookie season on IR with the Dolphins. He entered in the second quarter after Siemian went down and completed 20 of 25 passes for 198 yards. He had a 99.7 passer rating. 

Injuries Everywhere For the Jets:

It isn’t just being down two quarterbacks where the Jets are hurting. They are banged up everywhere. WR Quincy Enunwa was lost for the season on IR after suffering a serious neck injury. Le’Veon Bell had an MRI on his shoulder after getting banged up on Week 1 against the Bills. He did play and play well against the Browns but will be operating on a short week.

Newly acquired wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was already dealing with a hamstring issue with the Patriots before his trade to Gang Green, reinjured it on Monday night and it would be surprising to see him play on Sunday. That leaves Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder at WR with Bell out of the backfield, Ryan Griffin at tight end and a lot of question marks.

The defense is banged up too. ILB C.J. Mosley who the Jets signed to a huge free-agent contract was playing outstanding in the opener, scoring a TD on a pick-six as the Jets raced out to a 16-0 lead. But once he left with a groin injury, the Bills scored 17 unanswered points and took the game 17-16. He missed the Browns game and is considered day-to-day for New England this week. 

Quinnen Williams, the #3 pick overall in this spring’s NFL Draft injured his ankle against the Bills and also missed the Browns game. Jordan Jenkins injured his calf against the Browns and isn’t expected to be ready for the Patriots game this weekend.

Le’Veon Bell “Frustrated By 0-2 Start”, Vows to Remain Upbeat:

The Jets laid out some big money for running back Le’Veon Bell this spring and thus far he’s done everything they’ve asked and then some, totaling up 229 all-purpose yards on offense for the Jets after sitting out the 2018 season in a contract squabble with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But the look on his face on Monday Night was unmistakable as he was visibly frustrated as the Jets fell to 0-2 with a 23-3 loss to the Browns. Now the Jets travel to New England, whose defense has been playing outstanding for the first two games. Bell, who was not used to losing in Pittsburgh was quick to point out that he was looking forward.

Bell took to Twitter and put any questions to rest…for now. “It’s easy to get down, but I don’t let that negativity affect me. I’m BLESSED! I’m healthy, secure, & back doing what I love! Yea, I’m frustrated things haven’t went our way. But I look at life and think, how can I complain? I’m grateful to be in this position & to play this game.”

Expect the Jets to lean heavily on Bell in both the running and passing games on Sunday in Foxboro. 

Jamal Adams Benched, Trying to Force His Way Out of NJ?

During Monday night’s 23-3 loss to the Browns, Jets safety Jamal Adams was benched, albeit shortly [five snaps], but it was his reaction that set tongues wagging. After the game, Adams, changed his Twitter bio that previously read “Former LSU All-American – Defensive Back for the New York Jets.” to “Let the lord fight your battles. He hasn’t lost one yet!”

This immediately got the social media world gaga over his comments, believing that he, like Antonio Brown and Minkah Fitzpatrick was trying to force his way off the Jets and move on to greener pastures. His comments after the fact did little to dispel those rumors. 

He called the questions to his bio change just “outside noise” and insisted he was “just focused on this team.” But his explanation of his benching, although brief, was alarming in its tone. “Yeah, I was benched. They benched me. I tried to anticipate a play … and I anticipated wrong,” Adams said in an interview with WFAN Sports Radio on Tuesday. “It happens.”

The Jets also benched high-priced cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who they gave a five-year $72 million dollar contract last year, but his benching was for the entire game. Whether they are just sending a message or they’re done with Johnson will be an area to watch this Sunday.

Gregg Williams Aggressive Defense Will Be Front and Center on Sunday:

There are fewer controversial figures than the Jets defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams. Williams is no shrinking violet the way he coaches his defense and the manner in which they play. But sometimes, both he and they cross the line. 

Prior to MNF, Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. called out Williams and accused Williams of coaching “dirty football.” He cited a 2017 preseason game where Beckham Jr. said, Cleveland players told him after the game that Williams wanted the WR targeted for dirty or late hits. 

Williams was suspended for the 2012 season following a tape that was made while he was the defensive coordinator of the Saints where he openly encouraged Saints players to take out opposing players for a monetary bonus.“Kill the head and the body will die”, he was recorded as saying. The tape made its way to the league and both he and head coach Sean Payton were suspended. 

Regardless of those charges, the Jets and Williams should be even more aggressive on Sunday. His team’s offense is struggling and the defense will have to keep them close enough to try to force an upset. The Patriots offensive line is minus three starters including both starting tackles. Williams’ defenses are always aggressive and use the blitz liberally. Come Sunday, look for him to be even more aggressive.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

New England Patriots News 11-25, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
November 25, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, we hope that everyone had a terrific Thanksgiving and that you were surrounded by the Four “F”s, friends, family, food and football on this very American holiday. Here is your Sunday Patriots news 11-25, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning

No Brady? Don’t Count on That:  Friday, was a very rare occurrence where Tom Brady missed the practice and was listed as Questionable for today’s game against the Jets. He popped up on the injury report with a knee injury from the Titans game. Other than his 2008 ACL tear in Week 1, Brady hasn’t missed any games due to injury. He did miss 4 games in 2015 due to the Patriots playing in cold weather.

Bob McNair, the owner of the Texans passed away on Friday at the age of 81. He was the driving force to bring the NFL back to Houston after the Oilers left for Tennessee in 1996. The team didn’t announce the cause of death, but McNair had dealt with several various forms of cancer in the past.

Did you Know? That with 252 yards passing today, Brady will have surpassed 3000 yards passing for the 16th time in his career. He will tie Drew Brees and Peyton Manning for the second most seasons. Brett Favre had 18.  

Did you Know Pt.2? With three touchdown passes, Brady will tie Favre for the second-most TD passes in the regular season with 508, (Manning has 539), and he’d tie Manning for the most TD passes for both the regular and postseason combined with 579.

Did you Know Pt. 3: Since 2015, James White is second in NFL running backs with receptions with 222, Theo Riddick leads the NFL with 227 (and added 7 more on Thanksgiving Day).

“Friends” Thanksgiving Video: The Patriots took a step back in the nostalgia machine by compiling a Thanksgiving montage of the show Friends best Thanksgiving moments and superimposing Patriots’ heads on them… a bit corny but well done.

New England continues to live rent-free in Lane Johnson’s head. After winning a SB with Philly last year, he talked about NE incessantly during the offseason and now with the champs at 4-6 continues to talk about the Patriots…file under: fix your priorities.

Gordon Still Has a Lot More to Contribute:

Pats WR Josh Gordon has helped stretch defenses out since signing here and is averaging a big 18.3 yards per reception with 26 catches for 477 yards and two touchdowns in 7 games. That projects out to a 60-catch, 1100-yard season over 16 games which isn’t bad considering he’s essentially missed nearly three years.

Gordon, however, told MassLive.com that he’s capable of much more and is hoping to show that down the stretch. Granted he was learning a new offense on the fly and was dealing with a balky hamstring during most of that time. Now both of those issues should be fixed although his chemistry with Brady is still a bit of a work in progress.

Will he ever again be that burner that people used to sit back and marvel at? That is still up in the air, he possesses very good speed but it has been quite a bit off of what we saw back in 2013. And his catch percentage of 53.1 percent could use improving but it is about where it has been his entire career.

The Patriots could use a productive Gordon down the stretch and the wide receiver is anxious to play meaningful games for the first time in his professional career in December and January.

 “It’s different, that’s for sure. It’s exciting, though,” Gordon said to MassLive. “It’s motivational for me, for everybody. I’ve never really had the opportunity before, considering the circumstances. So it’s great to have the opportunity now. It’s a blessing.”

Pats Hoping For Vintage Gronk Down the Stretch:

With the Patriots offense scuffling in Tennessee, the bye week came at a perfect time to let Rob Gronkowski have some extra time to heal up from the back woes that have sidelined him for three of the past four games.

Gronkowski is expected to suit up today and play and at his press conference on Friday was proclaiming himself ready to go. In just 7 games this season, Gronkowski has just 29 catches for 448 yards and one touchdown, numbers far less than his normally stellar production.

He made the trip down to Nashville, but the team held him out, probably to give him an extra two weeks to get ready with the bye week last Sunday. A healthy Gronkowski means the rest of the offense operates at close to peak performance. Tom Brady is happy to hear that the big man is returning soon.

“Absolutely. I’ve played a lot of football with him, and I think I have a lot of trust and confidence in a lot of the things that have happened over the years,” Brady said. “When he’s not there, there’s a different level with other players. Sometimes we don’t try things because Gronk isn’t in there. Sometimes we do.

“Obviously, the more dependable, consistent players you have on the field, the more productive and efficient you’ll be, which leads to more points, which leads to better opportunities to win the game, which is ultimately the reason we’re all here.”

Burkhead Return Should Be a Great Help to the Offense:

Much like Rob Gronkowski, getting Rex Burkhead back for the Minnesota game should be a significant boost to the offense. Burkhead went on IR after the Lions game due to concussions but now he’s been back at practice and we haven’t heard about any setbacks in his rehab, so things are looking up.

Burkhead has been (when healthy) a valuable, versatile part of the team’s offense. While he doesn’t run as well as Sony Michel, nor catch the ball as well as James White, he does both of those things quite well, so when he’s on the field, the opposition doesn’t have a clue as to what the Patriots will do.

If he continues on with his rehab and is ready for a stretch run for the Pats, along with  Gronkowski, the offense will be much harder to stop. The team hasn’t had a full offensive roster at any time this season.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 11 Predictions:

Last week: 8-5 Season 104-55-2 Bye Week: Chiefs, Rams

Thursday night’s picks  Bears, Cowboys, Saints 3-0

Cleveland at Cincinnati: Bengals
San Francisco at Tampa Bay: 49ers
Jacksonville at Buffalo: Jaguars
Oakland at Baltimore: Ravens
Seattle at Carolina: Panthers
New England at NY Jets: Patriots
NY Giants at Philadelphia: Eagles
Arizona at LA Chargers: Bolts
Miami at Indianapolis: Colts
Pittsburgh at Denver: Steelers
Green Bay at Minnesota (SNF): Vikings
Tennessee at Houston (MNF): Texans

Thursday Early Pick: Saints over Cowboys

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Josh Allen Returns for the Bills Against Trash-talking Ramsey:

The Buffalo Bills take on the Jacksonville Jaguars today at New Era Field, the first time the teams have met since the Wildcard game of 2017 where the Jags held off Buffalo in a very ugly 10-3 win. But both teams learned that being the hunted is not so easy. The Jags started off 2-0 but have since gone 1-7. The Bills are also 3-7 and seasons of high hopes for both teams have gone up in smoke.

Now Josh Allen returns from an injury and his job is to the get the Buffalo offense going. And he is going to have the luxury of working thru much rust after missing a month. Allen was not very accurate before his elbow injury and facing one of the better pass defenses in the league will be a daunting task.

The Bills and OC Brian Daboll kept things simple for Allen in the early going and it will be interesting to see if he takes the training wheels off for the rookie this week. After Jalen Ramsey called Allen “trash” and a “stupid pick”, you think the Bills coaches wouldn’t love to see their top draft pick light up the Jags secondary (and Ramsey) with a big game today?

All About the QBs Today for the Dolphins/Colts:

The Miami Dolphins hit the road for Indy today and face the much-improved Colts in a big game for both teams. Today it is all about the signal callers for both teams and how well (or not) each plays which will determine who walks away with a win.

The Dolphins defense has to find a way to slow down Andrew Luck, who has been on a roll lately for the Colts. Luck knows his go-to guy, T.Y. Hilton will be locked up with Xavien Howard all day and that will be a battle to watch. But while other teams do that, Luck has leaned heavily on TE Eric Ebron who is leading the Colts in receptions, touchdowns, and targets. Covering him will be safety, big nickel LB, Minkah Fitzpatrick. The rookie will have his hands full today.

Ryan Tannehill has missed a month and the Dolphins offense without him has looked…at times, awful. Like Allen, Tannehill will have no time to work thru the rust factor. The Fins are 4-6 and have zero wiggle room left if they want to make a playoff run this year. The time is now or never for Tannehill, and the pressure is on him to produce. Not next year, or next month, or even next week. For Tannehill, the playoffs start today.

Jets Look to Follow the Blueprint to Beat New England:

The New York Jets have seen the Jaguars, Lions, and Titans blast the Patriots this season, and they know the key is getting off to a fast start as the Patriots have struggled in the first quarter of the road games they’ve lost this year. And getting their 29th ranked offense and 32nd ranked 3rd down offense off and running quickly. Just like the Titans did two weeks ago.

Sam Darnold won’t play but the wily veteran Josh McCown, played a very solid game in the Meadowlands last year where they Jets converted 9 of 17 third downs. Tennessee scored 17 points in the first 10 minutes, more than they were averaging over 60 minutes and the Jets know that starting fast is imperative.

They also will be getting Gronkowski back against them this week. Gronk has traditionally been a thorn in the Jets backside. In 13 games against Gang Green, Gronkowski has 60 catches for 738 yards and 8 touchdowns. Plus, he’s a very good blocker in the running game. They will look to put a lid on Gronkowski and force Brady to look elsewhere in the passing game.

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 12, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 23, 2018 at 6:45 am ET

The New England Patriots come off their bye week and take on the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. Both teams are coming off a needed rest after getting beaten badly the week before.

With the teams moving in different directions, this one will take on a familiar feel. The Patriots are gearing up for the stretch run while the Jets are trying to save Todd Bowles job. But the last several games against the Jets, especially on the road have been very close encounters.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, November 25 at 1:00 PM ET 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 (7-3) are coming off of a much-needed bye week. Prior to that, they traveled to Nashville and were beaten by Tennessee. Now they’ll look to right the ship and prepare for a stretch run

The Jets (3-7) are also coming off of a bye week after a disastrous 41-10 drubbing by Buffalo. The Jets have lost four in a row and Coach Todd Bowles is on the hot seat.

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 119th 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 63-54-1 overall. The Patriots are 29-29 all-time on the road against the Jets, including 5-3 at MetLife Stadium. Since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994, the Pats have owned a 34-16 record against Gang Green. Last year the Pats earned their 18th series sweep over the Jets
with a 24-17 road win on Oct. 15, followed by a 26-6 victory at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 31 to close out the regular season.

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 has been decimated by injuries this season. Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead were placed on IR, Sony Michel sustained an injury in the preseason, then again versus Chicago but has returned and should give the team a great boost. When he’s been healthy, he’s been very good, averaging 4.3 yards per carry.

The Jets are kind of in the middle of the pack defensively against the run, they are 20th in rushing yards allowed but 13th in yards per attempt. It begins with the big men in the middle with nose tackles Mike Pennell and Steve McClendon. They have to be stout at the point of attack. If they are, inside linebackers Darron Lee and Avery Williamson are free to make plays.

With getting Shaq Mason back and Michel an extra week of getting back into the fold will help matters for the Pats running game which has been inconsistent. Look for Michel to get a lot of work between the tackles this week with Cordarrelle Patterson to see a few snaps as well.

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

The Patriots passing game has also suffered thru bouts of inconsistency this season but getting the offensive line back healthy will definitely help their protection issues and TE Rob Gronkowski is slated to return this week. If he’s anything close to 100 percent, he is a force multiplier for the NE offense. He scored two TDs in the first meeting last year in NJ and he’ll see a lot of Jamal Adams in this one. Tom Brady knows he has to do a better job of spreading the ball around to his receivers, Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Phillip Dorsett.

The Jets defense is currently tied for 15th in the league against the pass allowing an average of 242 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 percent of opponent’s 3rd downs to be converted.

Watching the matchup between Gordon and Morris Claiborne and Edelman and Buster Skrine in this one closely. How well each of these goes for the Patriots will greatly determine how successful the offense does on Sunday. Of course, Gronkowski’s health and status are of major significance. Brady should have a good game throwing against the Jets secondary, but the difference between another close one and a comfortable win is having a healthy Gronkowski. Look for James White to be targeted a lot in the red zone 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 been a mirror image of how their games have gone. When they’ve won, they ran the ball extremely well including a season-high 323 yards against the Denver Broncos in their blowout win. When they don’t run the ball well, including their last four games, they’ve lost. They use Isiah Crowell as their feature back since Bilal Powell went on IR. If Sam Darnold is able to suit up (foot injury), he’ll be someone to monitor for scrambling out of the backfield.

The Patriots have been better against the run lately, although they gave up 150 yards on the ground against Tennessee. Kyle Van Noy has really stepped up as well as Lawrence Guy. But the team really needs a much better, consistent effort from Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton.

This is the key to the game offensively from a Jets perspective. They have to protect Darnold who struggled before his injury. They want to keep the game close and pound the ball with Crowell to keep Brady and the offense off the field. It will also allow for better 3rd down situations as well as open up play-action passing down the middle.

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

The Jets passing game is currently mired in 29th in passing yardage averaging just 206.1 yards per game. However, as we saw in Tennessee if the Patriots defense doesn’t show up ready to play, they can be abused quite easily. Darnold has been learning on the job as a rookie, completing 55 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His two biggest targets are banged up, Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson are both dealing with injuries and even if they play won’t be 100 percent.

The Patriots are 26th in yardage allowed thru the air, but that statistic is just a bit misleading as they are currently 10th in opposing passer rating. However, the inconsistent pass rush (just 15 sacks) can haunt them at times. Facing a less than stellar offensive line this week that has allowed 29 sacks, the Pats have to dial up some pressure and perhaps force Darnold into some errors.

The Jets will look to target the middle of the field and attack the linebackers in space. That’s where opponents have been most successful. If Darnold is able to go, the Pats defense will try to mix up their looks and show him some different things he hasn’t seen before. It will be interesting to see if Obi Melifonwu is active and sees the field this week. He could help with covering TEs and possibly play the “big nickel” safety/LB role that the Patriots like to use. This would be a good week in easing him into the system.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New York Jets

The Patriots special teams, specifically their coverage units have been uncharacteristically poor this season. This is an area where the Jets, like the Titans, can take advantage. Andre Roberts does the work for the Jets in both the punt and kickoff return games, where the NE coverage units rank 29th and 31st respectively.

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.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This rivalry goes back to the earliest days of the old AFL before the merger and the old cliche “throw out the records of each team” is an apt description. These games are usually close, rarely with a team winning by more than 10 points. So with that in mind…

Keys from a Patriots perspective this week: And if they look similar to the Tennesse game, that is because they are.

Show Up Early, Start Fast: We keep harping on this while on the road, but the Patriots have been awful in the first quarter (outscored 58-16 in road losses) of road games this season. In Nashville, they allowed the Titans 17 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, and that team was averaging less than that for an entire game.

This Jets team is free falling right now. They’ve lost four in a row and are openly talking about playing for their jobs for next season. They’re ripe for the plucking, which also makes NE ripe for another kick in the teeth. Another slow start and allowing the Jets to either hang around or take the lead is a disaster waiting to happen. They’ll feel an upset coming on and will play accordingly. It will also get the crowd, loud and boisterous.

The Pats need to actually show up ready to play in the first quarter and put the Jets on their heels and get them playing catchup.  

Force The Ball into Darnold’s Hands: The Jets are 29th in passing (yes I remember the Titans were #30). They aren’t built from playing from behind. The Jets offense isn’t prolific throwing the ball and have turned it over a lot. Darnold and McCown have tossed 16 interceptions this year.

Putting them into a position where they have to throw will allow Brian Flores and Bill Belichick to dial up more pressure for the pass rush and hopefully generate a turnover or two.

Third Down/Red Zone Woes Have to Cease: The Jets have the #2 defense on 3rd down in the NFL, getting into 3rd and manageable is key for Brady this week. And while they’ve moved the ball well most of the year, the red zone play on both sides of the ball has to improve. Defensively the Patriots need to force the Jets into three and outs.

They need to get aggressive on both sides of the ball this week and force the issue with the Jets. Something to consider, despite the games being close in score, Tom Brady is 25-6 against the Jets during his career.

New England will rediscover their running game with Sony Michel and force a couple of turnovers to pull away late in the game.  Patriots 27-14

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

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

New England Patriots News 8-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 12, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 8-12, & AFC East Notes. The Patriots are getting to back work this afternoon after their first preseason game on Thursday night. Bill Belichick has been taking a slower approach to training camp, having given the players several days off already. Belichick did say that the long 2017 season and the increased workload on the players definitely have an effect on how they approach the workload for the current training camp.

And lost in all the Malcolm Butler hoopla was this. On the Packers first drive of their preseason game against Tennessee, Brett Hundley completed a 48-yard bomb to Davante Adams who blew by Butler, giving the Packers a first and goal at the two. Maybe it is the conspiracy theorist in me, but if Butler had picked it off and went to the house, what would you think the odds would be that the play would have been all over the sports talk radio world?

Quick Hitters:  
With many missed tackles in the first preseason game and some general sloppy tackling all around, one reason (other than rust) could be the lack of live tackling and physicality in practice. It will be interesting to watch if that ramps up a bit now.

Ralph Webb had a really nice night in his professional debut scoring a pair of touchdowns and two, 2-pt conversions.  The former Vanderbilt running back was called up by Bill Belichick for congratulations after the team’s win and in his post-game press conference, Belichick had several compliments for the rookie. Washington lost very promising rookie RB Derrius Guice to a torn ACL for the season in the game. They stated that for the time being, they were going to stay with the players they have. However, Webb is still a longshot to make the 53-man roster. If the Patriots try to sneak him onto the practice squad in a few weeks, don’t be shocked if the Redskins make a move to bring him to their squad after his game this week.

Tom Brady’s $5 million dollar incentive clause into his contract was a head scratcher earlier this week. If earned, that $5 million will vault Brady up into the Top 10 of QB salaries, tied with Blake Bortles but less than Sam Darnold, who has yet to throw a pass in the NFL yet. Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston called it a band-aid fix and we’re inclined to agree here. A look at the list of QBs making more money than Brady, other than Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers is a Who’s Who? Of QBs having never accomplished a smidgen of what Brady’s done. So his contract, even at 41 is still a bargain. But tying the $5 million to incentives? Really? I don’t get that one.

Terrible setback for Pats LB Harvey Langi who made the roster in 2017 and then was in an awful car wreck last fall while stopped at a red light. Langi returned this year and had been having a good camp thus far until he took a hit to his side and suffered an internal laceration according to Jeff Howe of the Athletic. Because of concerns to his kidney, he will be out 4-5 weeks.

Very sad news about former Patriots LB Jerod Mayo and his 5-year old Bulldog who went missing after supposedly going for a walk with the dog’s trainer. The family and police searched for the dog and after two months the dog’s body was found in plastic bags inside a closet in the trainer’s house outside of Cranston, RI. The trainer, Amelia Ferreira told Wrentham, MA police the dog Knox, disappeared after slipping his leash at a conservation area in Wrentham. Charges are pending. And hopefully will be severe.

Derek Rivers Looks Strong in First Game Back From ACL Tear:
Less than a year removed from his torn ACL surgery, not only was DE Derek Rivers back on the field, he played at a high level showing good physicality and exceptional strength. The 2nd year player got the start at defensive end and had several good plays.

Derek Rivers during 2016 training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Perhaps his best was when he bull rushed Redskins tackle, John Kling. Rivers exploded off the snap and had Kling on roller skates. He then gave Kling a big shove pushing him into QB Colt McCoy and getting his hand up trying to knock down the pass attempt. The move against Kling is a total body type of movement from Rivers who when asked about his ACL and repaired knee from Henry McKenna of USA Today said, “It felt awesome,” Rivers said. “No complaints. Praise God.”

Make no mistake, the mental part of getting over an ACL injury is the biggest hurdle. This summer I spoke with UMass Medical Center Dr. Brian Busconi, who has performed hundreds of ACL surgeries on MLB and NFL as well as college and high school athletes. It was rumored he performed the surgery on Julian Edelman. Busconi would neither confirm or deny it, however, a signed picture of Edelman hangs in the office and a source of ours passed Edelman in the office earlier this summer. So take it for what it is worth.

Busconi said the surgery was only 30 percent of the fix for the athlete. The other 70 percent was doing the rehab work, strengthening the muscles that will atrophy because of the injury and the resultant layoff and most importantly, the mental hurdle to test the joint once it is ready. Edelman admitted last week he “doesn’t have his football legs” back under him yet. He looks to be in terrific shape, it is probably more a mental block more than anything.

That’s why it was so important for Rivers (and Edelman) to get out on the field and run and cut and do all the things they did without thinking prior to their injury. Rivers looked good for the most part, he also had his not-so-good moments as well. On one play, he ducked his head and lost the running back, who zipped past his gap for a big gain.

However, for the first preseason game and after a year layoff from the field, Rivers took a great big leap back to being part of the edge player rotation. With Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn expected to be the starters, he and Deatrich Wise could combine and form a much better group at getting after the QB in 2018.

He leaped over the first hurdle. We’ll be watching him next week closely to see if he can continue to improve and produce when the Patriots play the Eagles in Week 2 of the preseason.

Hightower on the Block? Troy Brown Thinks It Could be a Possibility:

The Patriots welcomed back linebacker Dont’a Hightower in his first game action since October after the big man went on IR last season. Hightower played extensively, into the second quarter. At the time, we thought it nothing more than the coaching staff wanting to shake off the rust after not playing for about 10 months. But after the game, former Patriots WR Troy Brown thought the Patriots may be shopping the big LB.

Dont’a Hightower is back and played into the second quarter against Washington. (SBalestrieri photo)

Brown on NBC Sports Boston said, “Sometimes you gotta put people on the market and let people see what they can do.” At first glance, that stance would appear to be ludicrous, no one was more instrumental to the Patriots defense, Hightower was the one player on defense that they could ill afford to lose. While the talk centered around Malcolm Butler after the Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia, the absence of Hightower was a far greater loss overall.

Brown doubled down on his thought by adding, “You have to ask yourself…why is he still out there so long?” Assuming his take is correct, who would they trade Hightower to and what could they get in return that would help the team? Unless they’re making a push to the Raiders with Hightower a piece of a package for Khalil Mack, then it wouldn’t make sense.

From our view, we’re sticking with the “knocking the rust off”  scenario, but we’ve seen stranger things in Foxboro in the past.  

Bentley Makes a Strong Debut at Linebacker:
Ja’Whaun Bentley, the Patriots fifth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft wasn’t highly thought of when he was going thru the draft process, in fact, was considered to be a UDFA and wasn’t even invited to the NFL Combine. But the Patriots liked what they saw from the big Purdue linebacker in his first NFL preseason action.

Bentley had six tackles, two for a loss and QB hit and should have been credited with a forced fumble that the officials ruled forward progress had been stopped. A play Bill Belichick tried to challenge and when told he couldn’t, said it was “F***ing BS.”

Bentley was considered a Brandon Spikes throwback, a two-down run stuffer who couldn’t cover on passing downs. So far, he’s proving the critics wrong. He has had a strong training camp and followed it up with good performance in the opening PS game.

Rookie LB Ja’Whaun Bentley has been impressive thus far thru camp, especially in coverage. (SBalestrieri photo)

“I just wanted to come out and put my best foot forward to do the best I could as far as assignments and just make sure all my guys were ready to go,” Bentley said. “And I feel like we did a good job of that. Of course, we got some kinks to work out, but we did a very good job.”

Bentley also had some time calling the signals with the green dot communication device which is a great learning step for a rookie on the defense to be able to learn his responsibilities but also everyone else’s to call out the signals is a testament to his learning the system quickly.

His best play came in the first half. With the Redskins inside the three-yard line, they tried to pound the ball in the middle for a touchdown. Bentley, at his MLB position, read the play, waited for the right time until the RB committed and flew into the hole, dropping him for no gain.

He still has a long way to go but for now, he’s looking very good and appears to be almost a lock for the 53-man roster.

Jeremy Hill Buys In, And Shows Impressive Burst in Opener:
After a disappointing 2017 from Mike Gillislee, the Patriots drafted Sony Michel this spring and then added veteran Jeremy Hill who had lost his starting gig with the Bengals. Hill is bigger (6’1, 230 pounds) than most of the Patriots running backs, but it is something they need for certain situations, (goal line and short-yardage) with the offense.

Hill, whose snaps and numbers have steadily gone down in Cincinnati, at first glance didn’t seem like a good fit. But Hill had surgery to remove some bone spurs in his ankles. He also bought into the Patriots offseason conditioning system and lost weight in an attempt to add a bit of quickness to his step.

Jeremy Hill had a big game on Thursday night and is looking to turn that into a roster spot. (SBalestrieri photo)

He certainly appeared that way on Thursday night, hitting the holes with authority and showing nice vision cutting back against the grain. He appeared much quicker than Gillislee with the ability to convert those short-yardage situations.

His ability to flash in the passing game helped. Facing a 3rd and 8 from the 30-yard line midway thru the third quarter, Hill caught a short pass from QB Brian Hoyer and then made the first tackler miss and was able to convert the first down by stiff-arming a linebacker and then lowering his head and getting past the sticks.

The Patriots insist all of their running backs pass block as well and Hill had a highlight reel play when he planted LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, giving Hoyer time to hit FB Henry Poggi on a check down out of the backfield.

Again, there is a long way to go, but Hill with his performance didn’t do a thing to hurt his chances to not only make the team but earn some significant snaps. Especially with Sony Michel on the shelf for the time being.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Allen Has Buffalo Abuzz After Preseason Debut:
The Buffalo Bills played the Carolina Panthers in their Week 1 preseason opener but it was strictly the Josh Allen show for the fans, and who can blame them? The Bills fans have been waiting for that next franchise QB since Jim Kelly retired. And after moving up to take him in the first round of the NFL Draft this spring, fans are excited.

Head coach Sean McDermott wasted little time in letting Allen uncork his arm which is his strongest asset. He lasered a 60-yard pass downfield on his first snap which was caught by WR Robert Foster but just out of bounds.

Yes, his footwork is inconsistent and his decision making can still be suspect but Allen possesses a cannon for an arm and it as well as his playmaking ability were on full display. He completed 9 of 19 for 119 yards and a touchdown while rushing three times for 29 yards, twice converting third downs with his feet.

For now, he’ll remain the 3rd QB on the depth chart and be the future. But Buffalo fans caught a glimpse of that and can’t wait for him to be the present.

Dolphins Tannehill Aces First Test:
The Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill played his first football since the 2016 season in an albeit short but impressive stint against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tannehill played a series and took the Dolphins into field goal range but the most important feature was that he looked comfortable, cool in the pocket and in control of the offense. The offensive line gave him plenty of time to throw, coach Adam Gase said Tannehill was “back there peeling an orange.” to push home the point.

One thing that the Dolphins seem intent on doing is getting Mike Gesicki the ball in the end zone and that combination with the big rookie TE and Tannehill looks intriguing. We’ll expect to see more of it next week against Carolina.

Jets QBs Shine In Preseason Win Over Atlanta:
The New York Jets unleashed rookie QB Sam Darnold in their preseason opener and the rookie taken with the #3 pick in the draft didn’t disappoint. Darnold shined, completing 13-18 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in a little over two-quarters worth of work. He received thunderous applause from the Jets fans and didn’t disappoint, hitting on eight of his first 9 throws.

Teddy Bridgewater on his first action of the season after returning from an injury was also very sharp hitting on 7-9 for 85 yards including a 16-yard touchdown. Coach Todd Bowles said Darnold looked poised out there and it is clear that the Jets organization is going to give Darnold every opportunity to win the starting job over veterans Josh McCown and Bridgewater.

McCown started the game but played only one series and completed the only pass he attempted for four yards. It will be interesting to see how the Jets decide to play this out. While the temptation is there to get Darnold on the field, with two good veterans, there should no attempt to rush him into the starting lineup until he’s ready for it.

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Quincy Enunwa: The Patriots Are Vulnerable This Year

Steve Balestrieri
May 1, 2018 at 12:00 pm ET

Is it 2010 or 2018? Raise your hand if you’ve heard this every spring for the last decade. “The Patriots are vulnerable this year, and this MAY be the year Team “X” dethrones them.”

Yawn, Rinse, Repeat. Yes, both the Jets and the Bills picked up what they are finally hoping are franchise quarterbacks this season and for teams that have been looking up in the standings for the past two decades in the AFC East, the spring is always one of hope.

In an interview on CBS Radio Friday, Quincy Enunwa told Brandon Tierney and Tiki Barber, the hosts of the show, that he believes the Patriots are “vulnerable” heading into next season. The Jets receiver later doubled down on SiriusXM NFL Radio. First Enunwa stated that he was merely responding to a question in that interview, but then couldn’t help himself and added that he sees no reason why New York can’t win the AFC East.

“Obviously, I just wanted to agree,” Enunwa said. “I think they may be. But I also think that we’re capable of finally dethroning them. I think that we’ve always been. It’s just about getting over that hump of finishing games. Not to add more bulletin board material for them, but I think for us, we’re hyper-confident and believe that we can do that.”

Hope is running high in New York, both in the city and in Buffalo where the Jets landed Sam Darnold as their quarterback of the future while the Bills drafted gunslinger Josh Allen from Wyoming as their own.

The Jets have really been searching for a franchise quarterback since the days of Joe Namath…yes that long. Darnold was expected to be the first player off the board during the 2018 NFL Draft but in a surprise move, the Cleveland Browns selected Baker Mayfield as their choice. Mayfield was the odds-on favorite to go to the Jets but instead, Gang Green had Darnold fall into their lap, with many considering him the top QB in the draft.

Will Darnold start this season? Not if the Jets are smart. They have an experienced bridge in place in the ageless Josh McCown. While McCown isn’t going to light the world on fire, he’s solid, will not give games away and can serve as a good mentor to Darnold. They would be best served to let Darnold learn the team’s offense and let him find his way into the NFL for his rookie season and not throw him straight out there.

Of course, if the Jets were smart, they wouldn’t be making statements like this, that we’ve heard every year it seems. Darnold may very well be the real deal and be a top quarterback for several years to come. But will he come into the league and light it on fire from Day 1? The chances of that are doubtful.

But he will have Enunwa who missed the 2017 season because of neck surgery. But the Jets wide receivers aren’t going to scare a lot of opposing team’s defensive coordinators.

Part of Enunwa’s confidence springs from the fact that it is widely reported that the supposed “rift” between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady has grown wider and that the relationship between the two is the worst that it has ever been.

The last game Brady played in? Without top wide receiver Julian Edelman who missed all of 2017, he passed for 505 yards against a very good Philadelphia Eagles defense. Edelman is back and they’ve added some other key pieces to the mix.

The Patriots aren’t going anywhere this season. They’ve won the division for the past nine years in a row in 15 of the past 17. Their consistency has been the hallmark of Belichick coached teams where it seems you can pencil them in for 12 wins a year. You want to knock them off, then step up to the table.

Hope springs eternal, especially this time of year. We get it. The Jets are excited, they have a new quarterback and the confidence to rise up and make people take notice. But do it on the field, not in the media. But after the Patriots bye week, the Jets will get their chance on November 25, the teams will meet for the first time in 2018.

Maybe Darnold will already be under center for the Jets. Then do your talking.