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Brady, Patriots Defense Shine in Blowout of Raiders in Mexico City

Steve Balestrieri
November 20, 2017 at 8:52 am ET

Don’t look now but the Patriots defense has turned things around and looks like the unit we envisioned back this summer. The Pats defense held the Raiders to just eight points while Tom Brady carved up Jack Del Rio’s defense once again as the Patriots rolled to a 33-8 blowout win that wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate.

Brady improved to 9-1 against Del Rio’s defenses with a ridiculous 25 touchdowns to one interception. Oh and Stephen Gostkowski booted a 62-yard field goal as time ran out in the first half that may have been good from 72. The win allows the Patriots to keep pace with the Steelers at 8-2 in the AFC and coupled with another blowout loss by the Bills gives New England a commanding three-game lead in the AFC East.

Bill Belichick earned another career milestone moving past Tom Landry in all-time wins by an NFL head coach with 271 with the victory. He now resides in third place all-time amongst NFL head coaches. Other observations without the benefit of a film review from the game include:

Brady likes the rarified air the past two weeks: Brady started off laser hot, hitting his first 12 passes and he finished 30-37 for 339 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. In the past two games in the altitude in Denver and Mexico City Brady is a combined 55 of 71 for 605 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has a completion percentage of 77.4 and a passer rating of 130.3.

Those are some remarkable numbers for a guy who the national pundits proclaim every year that this will be the one that he falls off the cliff and shows his age. On the season, Brady is completing 68.7 percent of his passes, (261-380) for 3146 yards with 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions for a passer rating of 110.9.

Tony Romo made a good analogy before the game, Brady, he said, is like an old schoolteacher who already knows the answers to the questions on his tests. He knows his offense inside and out and against the Del Rio defense that he’s faced so many times, there were no surprises. Del Rio always runs a “we do, what we do” type of defense and Brady simply eviscerates them every time.

Brady made a terrific fake on the first touchdown, looking left and at the last second turning right and hitting Dion Lewis who juked and cut, leaving three Raiders in his wake for a beautiful touchdown putting the Patriots up 7-0. Lewis had another very solid day.

Patriots Defense Shines South of the Border: Matt Patricia’s unit has turned a corner and is playing some really good football during this current six-game winning streak. The Patriots haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 17 points since the last minute loss to Carolina in Week 4.

In the past six games, the Patriots are allowing an average of just 12.5 points per game. That is winning football. The secondary is playing light years better than they were earlier in the year and the communication breakdowns that plagued the team are seemingly a distant memory.

Stephon Gillmore and Malcolm Butler are playing very solidly at corner and they’re being backed ably by Jonathan Jones and Johnson Bademosi. They held the explosive two wideouts of the Raiders, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree under check today. Combined the two wideouts had nine catches for just 79 yards.

Jared Cook who entered the game red-hot had just two catches for 36 yards with the safeties, Pat Chung, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon did a great job of keeping him under wraps. Elandon Roberts also played well in coverage on Sunday.

Issues persist with the run defense and pass rush, but this unit is in far better shape than the group who was struggling mightily the first month of the season.

Patriots Secondary Coming Together: To piggyback off the above paragraph, the Patriots secondary is really beginning to come together. The first half dozen games, teams were routinely throwing for 300 yards, not any longer. While the Raiders had a number of drops on Sunday, the play of the secondary has to be a bright spot with the coaches this week.

Raiders QB Derek Carr’s numbers reflect a very pedestrian day, 28-49 for 237 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 68.2 on the afternoon. Carr didn’t even pass 100 yards through the air until early in the fourth quarter. On his last couple of drives, he piled on a number of yards underneath in garbage time as the Patriots with a big lead were more than content with allowing him to throw short underneath passes buying time for space. Carr averaged just 4.8 yards per throw on the day.

Scarnecchia Influence Felt on the Offensive Line: Game ball should go to Ted Karras and LaAdrian Waddle who filled in ably on the offensive line. Karras was filling in at center for David Andrews who was a late scratch due to what was characterized as altitude sickness late last week. Karras had played guard in college and had never played center before. There was no issue at all with his shotgun snaps during the game, the communication between the interior offensive linemen seemed fine and Karras did a good job in the running game as they ran the ball effectively between the tackles.

Waddle filled in for the second week in a row and faced one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers in Khalil Mack. Last week he faced Von Miller. In both games, Waddle, with some help from chipping tight ends has fared extremely well. He allowed one sack to Mack in the two games and has been solid in pass protection.

The influence of Dante Scarnecchia can’t be overstated here. His attention to detail and the proper technique that he instills in his linemen are always in the best position to succeed. For Waddle, the road doesn’t get any easier, he’ll face Cameron Wake next week if Cannon is still banged up. But Scarnecchia will have them ready. Game balls for all three.

Situational Football, Gostkowski Has a Monster Day: The Patriots special teams had another big day and it was just highlighted by the team’s stress of practicing situational football. Because of the altitude, Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski was able to make 70-yard field goals in the warm-ups and the team knew that if the situation arose they could count on him.

That came late in the second quarter with the Patriots leading 14-0. The Raiders were driving for a score and WR Seth Roberts caught a Carr pass and did a terrible job of securing the football on the Patriots five-yard line. Marquis Flowers punched the ball loose and the Pats recovered on the 7-yard line with just 33 seconds left in the half.

Like they’ve done so many times at practice and at training camp, the situational football drill was performed to perfection. Brady drove the Patriots from their seven to the Raiders 45-yard line in just 28 seconds setting the stage for Gostkowski.

Gostkowski boomed the 62-yarder for a field goal as time expired in the half and it wasn’t even close. The ball hit the netting beyond the goal posts and would have been good from 70-yards. The Patriots got the ball first in the second half. On the third play, Brady hit a streaking Brandin Cooks for a 64-yard touchdown, in the span of five plays the Patriots scored 10 points. Game over, thanks for coming, have a safe trip home.

Gostkowski added field goals from 51, 40 and 29 yards on the day. It was his third game where he’s had two field goals from 50+ yards in the same game. Situational football and special teams are hallmarks of Bill Belichick’s teams and on Sunday, they shined once again.

Brandin Cooks has a Monster Day: The Patriots wide receiver has been having a terrific 2017 season. But while he’s been consistently very good, he hasn’t had that one big day where he blew the game open. That block has been checked.

When he was brought in to the team this spring, it was immediately noted that Cooks brings a different element to the table. The Patriots were known as a quick team that thrived on the short, intermediate parts of the field. But they lacked that one true speed demon who can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. Cooks has filled that need quite well. He and Brady went to great lengths this summer working on their deep ball game, something that Brady supposedly couldn’t do anymore.

After missing on a deep throw early in the second quarter on a third and five. On the Patriots next possession, Brady went right back to it on first down. He and Cooks hooked up perfectly for a 52-yard gain. That set up the second touchdown, a Brady pass to Danny Amendola.

He and Cooks hooked up again on the third play of the third quarter. The Raiders, short-handed at corner, had rookie safety Obi Melifonwu playing corner opposite Cooks. It was a poor matchup for Oakland and Brady caught the rookie peeking into the backfield while Cooks did a double move and was gone. Brady laid the ball in perfectly and the deep safety help was very late in getting over and Cooks was gone for a 64-yard score. He ended up with six catches for 149 yards and the score.

Cooks has bought into the team first concept where Brady is spreading the ball around to everyone and thus far he has just 45 catches on the season. But he’s on pace for a 1250 yard+ season, which would be a career high. He leads the league with catches of 40 yards or more with six. He also has a dozen catches for 20+ yards.

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 11-19, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
November 19, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 11-19, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots game today in Mexico today will be the first game they have played outside the US since they appeared in London in 2012, a 45-7 win over the Rams. This will be the Patriots and Raiders third appearance in the International Series, and the Patriots first in Mexico City. The team did play a preseason game there in 1998.

Just in case anyone was wondering, five teams have not played in the International Series, the Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, and Tennessee Titans.

“Don’t Hand it to Me Buddy, it’s Yours” Lewis Nearly Commits a Gaffe:
Lost in the Patriots dominance on special teams last Sunday night in Denver was a mistake by Dion Lewis that could have been costly but luckily for the team was a non-factor.

When the Broncos kicked off, the ball soared deep into the end zone. Dion Lewis catches it cleanly about 7 yards deep and promptly flips the ball to the official. The issue was, Lewis hadn’t taken a knee yet and the play was still live.

The official, more out of instinct, caught it and promptly handed it back where Lewis took a knee. Had the official let the ball go, things could have gotten interesting especially if the ball had rolled out of the back of the end zone.

Patriots Two Starters on the Offensive Line This Week:
The Patriots were without Marcus Cannon last week in Denver, who had been dealing with an ankle injury and he was ably replaced by LaAdrian Waddle. Cannon is out again this week and will be joined by David Andrews. Andrews was a late addition to the injury report which was characterized as an illness. It was reported that Andrews was suffering from a delayed reaction to the altitude.

In his stead, the team is expected to start Ted Karras this week. Karras could play center or guard. If they move him to guard, they’d slide out Joe Thuney to center.

Belichick Flying High At the Air Force Academy:
The Patriots decided to remain in Colorado after the Denver game for a couple of different reasons. One, that it cut down on the travel time that the team would be forced to deal with. A secondary reason was that it allowed the team extra bonding time on the road, which can never be overlooked and third, perhaps most importantly, with the game today in Mexico City at about 7200 feet above sea level, the air is even thinner than in Denver which is about 2000 feet lower than Mexico City. Coupled with the smog, which at times is very thick, it can be very difficult to breathe there. I spent months there a few years ago and it is a tough place to play football.

But Belichick, who arranged for the team to stay at the service academy which is located 6000 feet above sea level, the location couldn’t have been a coincidence. Belichick grew up at the Naval Academy and has great respect for the military and their traditions. And on Friday, when Mike Reiss of ESPN reported that Belichick watched all 4000 cadets march to lunch, and had the opportunity to address them, he had to be in his glory. Reiss reported that Belichick was presented with an Air Force Academy hoodie by Lt. General Silveria, the Commandant of the Academy. Belichick then presented the general with a Patriots hoodie. Belichick then presented the general with a Patriots hoodie. Reiss stated that Mitchell Hall erupted.

While the trip logistically made perfect sense, I’m sure that Belichick used the time to give the team a tour of the facility and did an impromptu history lesson while they were there.

Mass Native Melifonwu Excited About the Opportunity to Play vs the Pats:
The Raiders drafted Grafton-native Obi Melifonwu in the 2nd round of the 2017 NFL Draft this spring. The big safety put on a show at the NFL Combine and he shot up draft boards. But an injury in training camp derailed the start of his career and began the season on IR.

Melifonwu grew up a fan of the Patriots, players like Kevin Faulk, Troy Brown and Antowain Smith, now he’ll be facing them. He played sparingly in his first action last week against Miami but logged three tackles. He’ll be looking across at TE Rob Gronkowski this week.

“He hasn’t been able to be available for us, but we’re expecting him to step up,” Raiders’ defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said to the media this week. “This is the world champions, the guys who have been doing it really well for a long time. Obi is going to get introduced at a high level, but he’s very confident. We’re expecting him to play at a high level and accept the challenge.”

“I think he’s ready to help us. He’s big, strong, fast and he cares a lot,” Raiders’ head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Hopefully we can get him more involved this week and he can play well for us.”

For the rookie, he knows the assignment is tough but excited for the challenge. “I feel like a lot of people try to out-physical him and it’s just, play to your strengths,” Melifonwu said. “He’s a big, physical guy with strong hands, so it’s definitely gonna be tough. But it’s a matchup that’s gonna be fun.”

Stop Empowering the “Tin-Foil Hat” Wearers:
There has never been a shortage of naysayers on the internet who try to take down the legacy of Tom Brady by repeating the ridiculous notion that he’s a “system QB” and more a product of his coach than anything else ad nauseam. One particular troll has a full-time job on Twitter trying to engage every Patriot fan by twisting around facts to make you believe that Brady really isn’t that good at all. Okay. and just in case anyone was wondering, this guy lives in Western PA and is a diehard Manning apologist.

So while it makes for good ratings by inflaming the masses, stop giving this nincompoop the air time by putting him on the radio. And if you do, don’t act all incredulous at the drivel he spews.

Years ago during the Reagan administration, there was a guy who stood across the street from the White House wearing nothing but black trash bags and would point and yell at tourists that, “Reagan is putting the nation in the trash” amongst other things not fit to print. I don’t remember that guy getting airtime on CNN. Take advice from Bill Belichick, “Ignore the Noise” and quit feeding the trolls.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 11:
Last week 10-4 mark. Season Total: 94-52.

This week’s Thursday Night Football Game I went with Pittsburgh over the Titans (1-0). Now for the rest of the slate:
Lions at Bears – Detroit
Jaguars at Browns – Jacksonville
Ravens at Packers – Baltimore
Panthers at Texans – Carolina
Buccaneers at Dolphins – Miami
Rams at Vikings – Los Angeles
Chiefs at Giants – Kansas City
Redskins at Saints – New Orleans
Bills  at Chargers- Los Angeles
Bengals at Broncos – Denver
Patriots at Raiders – New England
SNF Eagles  at Cowboys –  Philadelphia
MNF Falcons  at Seahawks – Seattle

Bye week: Panthers, Colts, Jets, 49ers

Next Thursday Detroit over Minnesota, Dallas over the Chargers and Washington over the Giants

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Peterman Gets the Start at Bills Quarterback:

The Buffalo Bills made a surprise decision to start rookie QB Nathan Peterman over Tyrod Taylor this week on the road in Los Angeles. Two weeks ago the Bills were making noise about overtaking New England and gaining control of the AFC East. But after two blowout losses in a row, they’re now reeling and Coach Sean McDermott has mixed things up by replacing Taylor who was never the long-term answer anyway.

Peterman was the fifth QB taken in this season’s draft, in the 5th round and the 171st player overall.

With the game out of hand last week, he came on in garbage time and completed 7-10 passes with a touchdown against the Saints. This week, he’ll be leaning on the running game of Shady McCoy and have to do the heavy lifting if the situation calls for it.

With Buffalo still locked in a playoff spot, it is a calculated gamble by McDermott that this will ignite his team. If he struggles and McDermott goes back to Taylor, it could really hurt their playoff hopes and possibly damage the rookie’s confidence. We’ll be watching that one.

Dolphins Season On the Brink With the Bucs This Week:

The Miami Dolphins have lost three straight games, scoring an average of just 15 points per game and losing by a combined 67 points in those three games. They sit at 4-5 and after going 10-6 a year ago are in danger of falling out of the playoff race. If they have any hopes of rescuing a playoff berth they have to beat the 3-6 Buccaneers today.

But it hasn’t just been the offense struggling, the defense has been faltering as well, having given up 112 points in those three games.

A loss will drop them to 4-6 with a road trip to New England next week where they haven’t won since the Wildcat game in 2008. One thing the Dolphins will try to do this week is getting the ball in RB Kenyan Drake’s hands more, especially in space. The speedster from Alabama is electric, as evidenced by his 66-yard touchdown run against the Panthers last week. In the last two games, Drake has runs of 66 and 42 yards. While Damien Williams is technically the starter right now, Drake’s role should see a big increase down the stretch.

Jets During the Bye Week are Sticking With McCown:

The New York Jets are off this week but are surprisingly 4-6 as they hit the bye. They’ve already won more games than anyone would have thought possible and although a real long shot, they still have a chance at making the postseason. Raise your hand if you thought that possible by Week 10.

So despite the slim postseason hopes, the team is not going to throw in the towel and go with young QBs, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. They’re going to stick with QB Josh McCown, who has played very well this season.

Any further wins may hurt the Jets’ chances of finding a franchise QB in the 2018 NFL Draft, but Head Coach Todd Bowles isn’t concerned with that. He’s got his players focusing on the now and keeping their jobs. Now the only question is, does the front office step in and demand to see what they have in the two young QBs, or do they already feel that the two aren’t going to be the answer?

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

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

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

Steve Balestrieri
November 17, 2017 at 10:57 am ET

¡Bienvenidos a México! The Patriots finish up the first two-game leg of their road trip with an outside the border game in Mexico City this Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, November 19 at 4:25 p.m. and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines.The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (7-2) are coming off a big 41-16 win in Denver, Tom Brady and Dion Lewis were AFC Offensive and Special Teams Players of the Week respectively as the Pats rolled to an easy victory.

The Raiders (4-5) are coming off of their bye week. This was a team that was picked by many to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this season. But they struggled in the early going and dug themselves into a deep hole. They’ll have to go no worse than 6-1 down the stretch to make the postseason and have a chance for a deep playoff run. For the Raiders, the playoffs start on Sunday.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Raiders have played one another since 1960 but have only met 34 times. However, the two playoff matchups both ended with very controversial calls. While many Raiders fans point to the “Tuck Rule” game of 2001, they forget the 1976 game in Oakland when referee Ben Dreith, an admitted Raiders fan called the phantom roughing the passer penalty on Ray Hamilton in the closing seconds of that one.

Overall the Patriots lead the series 18-15-1 and have won the last four meetings including a 16-9 win in Foxboro in 2014.

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 Raiders Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Oakland

The Patriots running game has been improving but still isn’t where they want it to be. They average just under 108 yards per game. The coaches seem to be settling on a duo of Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead because it keeps opponents off balance and the team is just as likely to pass as run. James White is the third-down back and Mike Gillislee was a surprise healthy scratch last week.  

The Raiders run defense hasn’t been great allowing 116.6 yards per game but they’ve gotten a boost by adding NaVorro Bowman who was cut by the 49ers. The big man can’t move like he used to but remains a sure tackler inside and has been very productive in his three games with the Raiders.

Look for the Patriots to run just enough to keep the Raiders defense honest this week. I don’t expect a big game from either Lewis or Burkhead on the ground, but if they can get out to a lead, they may add some yards down the stretch.

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

The Patriots passing game is averaging 301.6 per game and Tom Brady continues his torrid 2017 season. Even with a banged up receiving core, with Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell on IR and Chris Hogan injured, the beat goes on. Brady still has Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and Phillip Dorsett outside, with Rob Gronkowski and newly added Martellus Bennett at tight end with White, Burkhead and Lewis out of the backfield. There are plenty of options still to use and Brady does. The team has five players with 30 or more catches. The favorite target? The open one.

The Raiders secondary has struggled badly this season, their top three cornerbacks were among the worst rated at their position in the NFL. They lost their top draft pick, rookie corner Gareon Conley to IR. Their pass rush despite having Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Mario Edwards have netted just 13 sacks. They have an issue covering the tight ends as well where it could be a big mismatch with Gronkowski.

Look for the Patriots and Tom Brady to air it out this week. Oakland’s secondary has yet to record an interception this season and with the WRs and TEs putting pressure on the back seven, the running backs in the passing game should give Brady a huge edge here. It will be interesting to see if Oakland puts rookie Obi Melifonwu on Gronkowski. He has the size and speed to keep up with the big man. That’s why they drafted him. But he began the season on IR and has one game under his belt. But Gronkowski against either Reggie Nelson or Karl Joseph is a huge mismatch. We’re one of Obi’s biggest fans here, but this may be a tough matchup in just his second game.

Next up the Raiders offense:

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

The Raiders running game has been a disappointment in 2017. Last year the Raiders were 6th in the league and thought that adding former Bill and Seahawk Marshawn Lynch would vault them to the top. Things haven’t worked that way yet this season. The Raiders average just 87.6 yards per game this season, just 26th on the season.

The Patriots run defense has struggled in 2017, they were gashed early in the year with Dont’a Hightower playing outside and Alan Branch benched. Teams were running very effectively up the middle. But Branch has stepped up his game and although Hightower was lost for the year, veteran David Harris and Elandon Roberts are doing well in run support.

Look for the Raiders to try to get Lynch involved and active early in this game. It will help set up their big-play abilities in play action to take shots down the field. Lynch, if he can get going, gets more effective as the game goes on, so they’ll have to stay patient with the running game.   

Raiders WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Oakland

Oakland’s passing game got off to a very slow start. Part of the issue could be that they’re under a new Offensive Coordinator, Todd Dowling. They have all the necessary ingredients to be a tremendous passing offense with Derek Carr at QB, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Cordarrelle Patterson outside, Jared Cook at tight end and DeAndre Washington out of the backfield. But they’ve only averaged 237 yards per game throwing the ball.

The Patriots pass defense is playing much better since a nightmarish start to the season. Last week they got back Stephon Gilmore from a concussion injury and he held Demaryius Thomas to just 44 yards on five catches. He and Malcolm Butler are a fine tandem and if they get back Eric Rowe this week, it will be a huge boost. The Patriots pass rush is struggling as well, logging only 16 sacks themselves.

The Raiders passing game is beginning to round into form. In their last three games, Carr has thrown for 1025 yards against Kansas City, Buffalo, and Miami. Cooper is heating up as well as Cook. Cook has been thrown to 21 times the past three weeks and has 18 receptions. This will be a huge test for Matt Patricia’s defense. Have they truly turned the corner in the back seven? This will be a big measuring stick to find out.

The key from a Patriots perspective is to limit the big plays and make the Raiders work their way down the field. Carr is going to get his yards, but they must make the stops in the red zone and make the Raiders settle for threes.  

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski is having a very solid season. His kickoffs have been terrific to pin opponents deep.  The coverage units have been outstanding and keep getting better. The return game has been getting a boost by Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis. Lewis returned a kickoff 103 yards last week and 71 in the game prior. Ryan Allen has improved as the season has gone on.

The Raiders Special Teams boast one of the most dangerous returners in the game with Patterson and one of the best punters with Marquette King who owns a 50.3-yard average… (not a typo) In the thin air of Mexico City, King may put one in the traffic pattern at Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México. But the Patriots STs are operating on another plane right now and get the slightest of edges here.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one as we mentioned is a must-win game for the Raiders. A loss here will put them is in real danger of missing the postseason. The Patriots too need this game to keep pace with the Steelers who won on Thursday night to move to 8-2 in the AFC. The Raiders are coming off their bye and have had two weeks to prepare. But if there is a criticism of Jack Del Rio and Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr., they are a “we do what we do defense” If they don’t mix things up quite a bit, Brady will have a field day against this secondary. Mix in the unknown factor of playing in the altitude of Mexico City. The Patriots seem well prepared by their staying in Colorado this week.  Patriots 34-24

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

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

Patriots  Week 10 Report Card, Dominate Broncos on the Road

Steve Balestrieri
November 14, 2017 at 9:30 am ET

The Patriots quickly put the Denver Broncos in the rear view mirror due to outstanding special teams play on Sunday night and then with a tremendous offensive game plan, kept Denver’s defense off-balance and in chase mode all night long in a 41-16 rout.

With the stadium at Mile High in Denver has been a house of horrors for the Patriots, they’ve now won there in back-to-back seasons. Even more importantly, the win allows the Patriots to keep pace with Pittsburgh having the best record in the AFC at 7-2 and opened up a two-game lead in the AFC East due to Buffalo getting spanked at home by New Orleans.

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

Quarterback: A

The “No-Fly Zone” didn’t apply to Tom Brady on Sunday night. Denver’s strength on defense is their three cornerbacks, who are arguably the best in the NFL and their pass rush. So Josh McDaniels and Brady did the smart thing. They got the ball out quickly to negate the pass rush and attacked their weakness, the linebackers in coverage.

In our pregame matchups we pointed out that the place to attack was the linebackers with the tight ends and backs. And Brady was absolutely clinical in doing so, Denver had no answer for that. Brady’s first touchdown was to Rex Burkhead who easily beat his coverage on a skinny post to open the scoring.

Brady used play action passing to freeze the linebackers on more than one occasion but the best one was arguably on the deep 26-yard completion to Gronkowski where there was a huge gap in the coverage. Brady finished 25-34 for 266 yards with three touchdowns and should have had a fourth with the call on Gronkowski being called incomplete when the ball never touched the ground.

Brian Hoyer got to come in late and got in a bit of working going 3-3 including a really nicely designed and conducted screen pass to Brandin Cooks that went for 27 yards.

Running Backs: A-

The running backs were part of the focus this week and they didn’t disappoint. On a night where Mike Gillislee was a healthy scratch, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis were the focal points and both had very solid outings.

While the running game wasn’t dominant, it was good enough. Denver, other than last week in Philly has been very stout against the run and getting just under 100 yards kept the defense honest and allowed Brady to run play action.

Lewis didn’t have a catch but was good in the running game, lugging the ball between the tackles. Burkhead provided good power also between the tackles, moving the pile a few times in short yardage and picking up a key fourth down run. He was also very productive in the passing game. Both featured key moments on STs which we’ll get to below.

James White didn’t get a ton of snaps this week but he had a nice touchdown reception from Brady where he put an excellent move on safety Will Parks and had an easy pitch and catch for the score. James Develin was outstanding in run support getting the ball carriers to the second level.

Wide Receivers: B-

This was more by design than anything else. The team was shorthanded with Chris Hogan out so, they attacked the Denver weak spots using the backs and tight ends. However, they kept Denver’s secondary honest by targeting Cooks 11 times, mostly in short underneath routes. Phillip Dorsett and Danny Amendola were only targeted six times total but responded with six catches.

On a night the coaches were putting the onus elsewhere, the wide receivers still had decent production and did exactly what was asked of them.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski had a typical Gronkowski evening, seeing double, at times triple coverage down close to the goal line but still had good production with four catches for 74 yards. He also had a diving 19-yard catch for a touchdown erased by an official ruling that the ball hit the ground, but we’ve beat that horse to death enough.

Martellus Bennett was back in a Patriots uniform and although he played only about 8 snaps made his presence felt, catching 3 passes for 38 yards. His first catch was a big 27-yarder where the Broncos had a communication breakdown (other teams have them too), and two linebackers went after Burkhead leaving Bennett all alone.

Dwayne Allen finally got a catch and it was a big one, a touchdown catch where he was held by Von Miller and then made a nice catch on an outside pass by Brady. He was also very good in the running game. Jacob Hollister didn’t play on offense but had a couple of big plays on Special Teams.

Offensive Line: A

The offensive line heard all week about the fearsome Denver pass rush especially by Von Miller. Miller was facing backup swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle filling in for injured Marcus Cannon at right tackle and had one pressure all night on Brady. Waddle, receiving little extra help, was mainly left on his own and held up extremely well. Ditto for Nate Solder. Shane Ray on the other side was relegated to milk carton status. The only sack given up was on a safety blitz where James White uncharacteristically whiffed on a pass block, with Brady getting sacked inside Denver’s 10 yard forcing a field goal.

The run blocking was okay but not great. But the bottom line is that the Patriots scored on seven straight possessions. That doesn’t happen…ever unless Brady is getting excellent protection. And yes they aced this test.

Defensive Line: B-

The Patriots defensive line was good but not great in this one. They did a decent job of defending the run although the Broncos did have a couple of really good chunk plays, most of those came after the team was comfortably ahead. But they were stout in the red zone which is a plus, with the Broncos scoring only one touchdown.

The pass rush however was virtually non-existent. Brock Osweiler was nearly as comfortable as Brady was in the pocket. This will be an area to monitor moving forward but they couldn’t get any consistent pressure even when Matt Patricia dialed up some blitzes.

Linebackers: B-

Kyle Van Noy gets high marks for his continuing high level of play all over the field. With Hightower gone for the year, Van Noy calls the signals for the defense and will rush the passer, cover the backs in the flat and drop into coverage. He read a play perfectly and blasted in dropping Jamaal Charles for a loss on one running play. David Harris got the most work of the season and was very good in run support and put a jarring hit on TE Jeff Heuerman knocking the ball loose. Elandon Roberts got good pressure on an A-Gap delay blitz and forced Osweiler to unload the ball.

Special teamers Marquis Flowers and Trevor Reilly got some work in as Matt Patricia worked everyone into the system and all played well.

Secondary: B

While Malcolm Butler had a very rough first half, Emmanuel Sanders had 114 yards receiving by halftime. He recovered however, and played tough and physical in the second half where Sanders could manage just 23 yards after the break. It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination but Butler has a short memory and he doesn’t get down or sulk when he’s not playing well.

Stephon Gilmore returned from his concussion and played well. He was tasked with coverage on Demaryius Thomas and neutralized him quite well. Thomas had five catches for 44 yards. In Thomas’ nine games previously against the Patriots he has averaged 92.5 yards per game and 16.6 yards per reception. Thomas did snag a touchdown on Gilmore but that was just a well designed play by Osweiler. His play action fake froze the linebackers just long enough and Roberts didn’t get a deep enough drop where he’d have been right in the throwing lane. Thomas had inside position on Gilmore and made the catch for the score.

Devin McCourty was his normally solid self in centerfield and was forced to make a couple of key tackles when Sanders was getting loose. Pat Chung and Duron Harmon played well and Chung got an interception off of Osweiler when he read the play and jumped the route in front of Heuerman.

Special Teams: A+

The Special Teams get very high marks this week for turning in three tremendous big plays that easily turned this game into the laugher that it was. After the Pats were held to a three and out on their first possession, Jonathan Jones flew up the field on punt coverage and Broncos returner Isaiah McKenzie, who has shown a tendency for bobbling punts muffed this one. Jones blasted him, allowing Jacob Hollister to recover the ball. The Patriots would then score on seven straight possessions.

Dion Lewis had a 103-yard kickoff return for a score getting several key blocks including good ones from Hollister and Dwayne Allen. Once he reached the outside, he had clear sailing and no one was going to catch him. That silenced the crowd quickly.

Rex Burkhead came clean on a punt block after a fantastic play by Brandon Bolden freed him up. Bolden caused his man to step out wide and Burkhead burst thru the gap like he was shot out of a cannon. That set the Patriots up with a short field for a score.

Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs were a stake in the heart of the Broncos. He dropped them just short of the goal line time and again and the coverage units were outstanding. Trevor Reilly unloaded on McKenzie on one where it was amazing that McKenzie was able to hold onto the ball.

Denver made the night complete by jumping offside on a 4th and 5 where the Patriots lined up to punt. The first down resulted in the Patriots putting another score on the board where they completed a 16-play, 94-yard drive.

Coaches: A

Bill Belichick’s team had two weeks to prepare to face a team that always seems to have its way with New England at home. Belichick and the staff came up with a fantastic game plan to attack the middle of the field with the tight ends and running backs and they simply eviscerated a very good, very proud defense where they scored on seven straight possessions. That doesn’t happen very often, if at all to Denver at home.

The players were focused and executed the game plan extremely well. Belichick likes to talk about producing in “All 3 Phases” of the game. The team did it and more. They allowed only one touchdown and just 16 points on defense, scored 41 points and had tremendous splash plays on special teams.

This was the perfect way to start off the second half of the season and a long road trip that will feature five of the next six games on the road.

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

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

Patriots Smother Broncos 41-16, Move to 7-2, Quick Observations

Steve Balestrieri
November 13, 2017 at 12:50 am ET

Don’t look now but the Patriots have the same record as they did last year after nine games. And they won their fifth game in a row but blasting the Denver Broncos in Denver, winning there for the second season in a row 41-16 on Sunday Night Football.

The story of the game was the play of the Patriots Specials Teams. As we stated in our pregame matchups, Denver’s STs play has been awful and that would be an area to watch. A muffed punt, a blocked punt, a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Dion Lewis and a too many man on the field penalty on a punt which resulted in a first down was just one of the nightmares that Denver will have to live with.

And the vaunted Denver pass rush was rendered immaterial by a tremendous game plan by Josh McDaniels and superior execution by Tom Brady. The Broncos have as talented a trio of cornerbacks as anyone. So Brady and the Patriots didn’t challenge them, they ignored them and worked the middle of the field with the tight ends and running backs and Denver couldn’t stop them. The Patriots scored on seven straight possessions until late in the fourth quarter when the game was over.

Brady was cool, calm and collected and consistently found the open man. He finished 25-34 for 266 yards and 3 TDs and no interceptions. He completed passes to nine different receivers and at least six of them had three or more catches. Rex Burkhead, with Mike Gillislee inactive, picked up a bunch of his slack and had a heck of a game. He carried 10 times for 36 yards, had 3 catches for 27 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown which opened the scoring and blocked a punt.

Denver can’t blame this blowout loss on the quarterback this week. Brock Osweiler played a pretty solid game, completing 18 of 33 passes for 221 yards with a TD and an interception. The vast majority of his success came with his finding Emmanuel Sanders open. Sanders caught 6 passes for 137 yards on the night with 114 of them coming in the first half. He gave Malcolm Butler fits all night long.

Other observations include:
LaAdrian Waddle Gets a Game Ball: How many times did we hear Von Miller’s name tonight? Waddle, filling in for an injured Marcus Cannon played a heckuva great game at right tackle. But the offensive line overall was outstanding. Denver’s strength is their pass rush and Brady had a clean pocket to work from nearly all night long. Nate Solder was also outstanding, as Shane Ray was invisible. The only sack Denver got was on a safety blitz and James White had a rare miss in pass blocking.

But Waddle gets very high marks tonight. Denver had to see that matchup as a mismatch but Waddle, frequently out there alone, more than held his own.

Gilmore Returns and Has a Very Solid Night: Stephon Gilmore returned from his concussion and played a very good game matching up with Demaryius Thomas. Gilmore had Osweiler looking elsewhere almost all night long. Thomas ended up with 5 catches for 44 yards with the one touchdown where he beat Gilmore on a slant but for the most part, was rendered ineffective. Gilmore looked sharp all night long and his return is definitely a good sign for the defense…

Matt Patricia’s Crew is Getting it Figured Out:  With the exception of Malcolm Butler who had a rough night with Sanders, the defense is looking better each week. Despite missing several key players, they did exactly what they needed to do and allowed just 16 points. During the five-game winning streak, the Patriots defense has allowed an average of just 13.4 points per game. While it still needs some work, overall, this unit looks light years better than the unit that struggled so badly the first few weeks of the season.

Red Zone Offense Looks Better: The Patriots “officially” went 4-6 in the red zone tonight, and against Denver’s defense, on the road, that is a big improvement. They lost one opportunity on a sack of Brady inside the 10-yard line and the other on a blown call by the officials. Brady hit Rob Gronkowski on what looked like a touchdown pass, but the officials ruled it incomplete. The play was reviewed and the call was upheld. One has to wonder if Walt Coleman used the logo tablet to review the call or not. The ball never touched the ground. Coleman’s crew missed an obvious pass interference call on Chris Harris where he clearly grabbed Brandin Cooks arm on a deep pass by Brady in the end zone. Inexcusable.

Spreading the Wealth: Denver’s defense was done in by the Patriots versatility and depth on offense. Brady was brutally efficient at spreading the ball around in the passing game. Cooks had six catches for 74 yards, Gronkowski had four catches for 74 yards, Martellus Bennett had three catches for 38 yards, Danny Amendola had four catches for 36 yards and Burkhead chipped in with his three catches and a score. Dwayne Allen finally got off the schneid and got his first catch as a member of the Patriots and it ended being a touchdown. James White added a touchdown catch as well.

The running game was handled by Dion Lewis and Burkhead and they produced enough to keep the Broncos linebackers honest in the pass rush department. Overall, the Patriots kept the Broncos off-balance and reeling all game long. They dictated the pace and won the battle of the trenches.

Where Do We Go From Here: The Patriots improve to 7-2 tied with the Steelers for the top record of the AFC and game ahead of Kansas City. The win coupled with Buffalo’s loss gives New England a two-game lead in the AFC East.

The Patriots will remain in Colorado and work out at the Air Force Academy this week as they get further acclimated to the altitude when they travel to Mexico City next week to face the Raiders. The stadium in Mexico is about 2000 feet higher in altitude than Denver so it makes sense to remain, make it a shorter travel week and get more work in the thinner air.

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 11-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
November 12, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 11-12, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots are coming off the bye tonight and traditionally under Bill Belichick, they’ve done well with the extra week to prepare but with all of the injuries they’re currently suffering from, and given that Denver has always been a tough place for them to win in, makes for a very intriguing game tonight.  

Patriots Bring Back Martellus Bennett After His Release From Green Bay:
The Patriots brought back tight end Martellus Bennett after he was released by the Green Bay Packers this week putting in a waiver claim on him. The Packers said is that he was released for “failure to report an injury designation.”  He is reportedly suffering from a torn rotator cuff and shoulder labrum which will require surgery.

But he’s going to attempt to play thru the pain as evidenced by his appearance at practice on Friday.  Bennett was a very well respected member of the team during their Super Bowl run in 2016. He was productive in the passing game, he had 55 catches for 701 yards and seven touchdowns, as well as a tremendous blocker and he got high marks for playing through a myriad of ankle, knee and shoulder injuries all year.

Bennett took to social media on Friday to explain his side of the injury situation in Green Bay and lashed out at both team doctors and the front office.:
“The Packers examined my shoulder on my visit March 10 and cleared it,” he said “They even gave me an x-ray as well. It got worse during the season, specifically against the Cowboys [on Nov. 8], so I asked to have it checked and we checked it. After a few days of contemplating to play with it or get surgery, I chose surgery. Now here we are…”

“They tried to f— over me.”. “Dr. [Patrick] McKenzie trying to cover his own ass. After trying to persuade me to play thru a major injury and me choosing to get surgery. They have access to all my medical records. My shoulder wasn’t where it is now at the beginning of the season. I f—– it up playing for the Packers.”

“Dr. McKenzie didn’t make feel safe and was pushing to play, which I thought was weird. Not that he was trying to get me play thru it but the way he was saying things. I didn’t trust him. So I got three other opinions from doctors, who all said I need to get it fixed. So I decided to do that. And they decided to waive me with some bullshit excuse. Failure disclose.”

“Every week we do a body evaluation sheet in the weight and pretty much every week I circled my shoulder. I just kept playing, but it got worse. During the bye week, I got off anti-inflammatories to clean my system and could really feel the pain. So I asked to examine it [the] first day back in. And that’s when we found out it was really f—– up.”

“They knew.” “They panicked. Thinking that I was trying to go on the IR and be on their books next year. When I mentioned that I would possibly retire. So they tried to f— me before they thought I would f— them. This was all about the money. All about the money. I get it. But don’t lie, homie. You know wtf was up.”
“I had intentions of playing all eight games, as I mentioned in the post during the bye week, but found out it was worse than I felt after getting it checked out. Now I’m like f— it. I chose my health over the ‘team.’ They chose money over me.”

Patriots Minus At Least Three Starters Tonight, Several More Questionable:
The Patriots despite coming off of the bye week are still dealing with a multitude of injuries. Chris Hogan, dealing with a shoulder injury suffered against the Chargers is out. Likewise for starting right tackle Marcus Cannon and DL Malcom Brown.

There are five more players officially listed as questionable tonight who are also dealing with injuries. Tight end Martellus Bennett, wide receiver Danny Amendola (knee), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle), defensive end Cassius Marsh (shoulder) and cornerback Eric Rowe (groin).

Gilmore spoke with the media early in the week and stated that he should be ready to return to game action. Amendola will probably suit up as well as the wide receiver position is banged up with Hogan hurting and Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell on IR. Mitchell is eligible to come off of IR and has recently started running again so he’s still several weeks away.

Filling in for Hogan this week is WR Phillip Dorsett who came over in the Jacoby Brissett trade. Dorsett has played sparingly thus far in 2017 and has just three catches. He, Amendola and Brandin Cooks are the only healthy wide receivers right now.

Ricky Jean Francois, “I’m In Dunkin Donuts Heaven” :
With the injury to Malcom Brown in the interior of the Patriots defensive line, the team signed free-agent veteran Ricky Jean Francois to help with the depth of the team. It is especially thin given that Vincent Valentine is still on IR and hasn’t begun practicing yet.

Francois, 28, has been investing his money down South in a very New England franchise, Dunkin Donuts and owns 30 of them between Savannah Georgia and Hilton Head, South Carolina.

This week, ESPN’s Mike Reiss asked him about how he felt coming to New England where not only the Patriots but DDs is such a part of the fabric of the area. This brought a laugh from Francois. “Believe me, that was one thing as soon as I got off the airplane, every block I hit I saw a Dunkin’ Donuts,” he said. “I was laughing; I must be in Dunkin’ Donuts heaven here.”

Reiss asked Francois if he had seen the commercials with Rob Gronkowski, and he laughed again. “I love him, because he has business booming. I told him every time I look at that commercial, I smile now.”

Francois isn’t an interior pass rusher, he’s more in the mold of an Alan Branch, a two-gap eating run stuffer. And he should see some action this week against Denver. He’ll wear #94. So if the Patriots win tonight Ricky, will there be 94 cents coffee in Savannah on Monday?

Waddle Will Have the Tough Task of Blocking Von Miller Tonight:
With Marcus Cannon out for tonight’s game with an injury, his starting slot at right tackle will fall to LaAdrian Waddle and he knows all eyes will be on him on national television as Miller is one of the premier pass rushers in the league.

The 6’6, 315-pound Waddle started in place of Cannon earlier this season against the Houston Texans and has the confidence of the coaching staff to get the job done. He’s leapfrogged Cameron Fleming for the top swing tackle job on the team behind Cannon and Nate Solder.

The coaching staff will keep a close eye on things and if Waddle begins to have trouble with Miller, we can expect one of the running backs to stay in and block or a tight end to chip on their way out in the pattern. But this will be one of the areas to watch tonight.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 8:
Last week wasn’t  a great one with some of my picks and I finished with a 7-6 mark. Season Total: 84-48.

This week’s Thursday Night Football Game I went with the Seattle over the Cardinals (1-0). Now for the rest of the slate:
Packers at Bears – Green Bay
Browns at Lions – Detroit
Steelers at Colts – Pittsburgh
Chargers at Jaguars – Jacksonville
Saints at Bills – Buffalo
Jets at Buccaneers – Tampa Bay
Vikings at Redskins – Washington
Bengals at Titans – Tennessee
Texans at Rams – Los Angeles
Cowboys at Falcons – Dallas
Giants at 49ers – New York

SNF Patriots at Broncos- New England
MNF Dolphins  at Panthers – Carolina

Bye week: Ravens, Chiefs, Raiders, Eagles

Next Thursday Night Pittsburgh over Tennessee.

And They Are Dancing in Jacksonville:
The Jacksonville Jaguars are playing good football right now and the investments made in the defense are paying tremendous dividends. The Jaguars are 5-3 and tied for first in their division. They are there primarily because of the play of their defense.

The Jaguars are third in the NFL in terms of yards allowed and first in the league in points allowed with just 117 points scored against them in eight games. Which comes out to just 14.6 points per game which is excellent.

On Sunday the Jaguars on social media released an animated GIF on Twitter showing the team dancing in the locker room after a victory. And invited fans to send in a video of their own celebratory dance moves after a victory. The responses are fun to watch.

For a franchise that has been down for a number of years, it is good to see the Jaguars turning the corner and being relevant again.

So, to see some of the video responses, type in the link: Tweet a video of you celebrating with #JagsWinDanceSweeps for a chance to win a signed football.

http://bit.ly/JagsPromo  
#SponsoredByEA

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Playoff Quest Begins With Big Matchup Against Brees, New Orleans:

The Buffalo Bills have to pick themselves off the mat after a terrible performance against the Jets 10 days ago on Thursday Night Football. The 5-3 Bills are locked into the playoff race and can’t have any more meltdowns such as last week.

This week they welcome Drew Brees and the Saints who are the hottest team in the NFL right now with New Orleans rolling off six wins in a row. The Saints offense still goes thru the ageless Drew Brees who is throwing for about 275 yards per game, but they are much more balanced now which is keeping opponents honest.

The big changes have been on the New Orleans defense, they are young and very fast. After suffering through the growing pains of communications breakdowns thru the preseason and the first two games, the Saints have figured it out and are playing very well for the first time in many years on the defensive side of the ball.

However, the Bills are 4-0 at home and Brees has struggled somewhat in the colder weather….and it is going to be cold in Buffalo today. Look for the Bills defense to have a big, bounceback day today and win a very close contest to move to 6-3.

Copycat League? Carolina Will Use the TE in Attacking the Dolphins:

The Miami Dolphins lost last week against the Oakland Raiders and during the game, one of Derek Carr’s biggest targets was tight end Jared Cook who caught nine passes for 126 yards and seemed to be dominating the matchup with LB Kiko Alonso as well as safety Reshad Jones. This week, we’ll watch as the Carolina Panthers may try to exploit the same matchups using Ed Dickson, the big tight end who is averaging 15.9 yards per catch. Dickson started off the season slowly but has been steadily getting better in the Carolina offense replacing All-Pro Eric Olsen who could come off IR in the coming weeks.

And it won’t just be the Panthers watching today’s contests; the NFL is a copycat league, all of Miami’s upcoming opponents have productive tight ends and they’ll see if last week was an anomaly or a trend.

The Patriots with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, have a pair of games upcoming, ditto for Buffalo’s Charles Clay. Kansas City with Travis Kelce, and Tampa Bay with O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are all on the schedule. So the Dolphins defense, which has been better this season has some work ahead of it.

Jets Kearse Joins Chorus of NFL Players Who Want TNF Gone:

The New York Jets’ wide receiver Jermaine Kearse watched on Thursday night as his friend and former teammate suffered a season-ending injury, tearing his Achilles tendon against the Cardinals. Sherman didn’t practice all week leading up to the game for his Achilles already being injured.

Ah man, that sucks,” Kearse said of Sherman’s injury to the NY Daily News. “It’s definitely tough because I’ve seen that dude play through a lot of stuff, and I know it means a lot of him, especially him being out there with his teammates. I know it’s hurting him. But he’s going to bounce back. He has that grit and that perseverance.”

“Guys are putting their bodies on the line, day in and day out, even through practice. You see Deshaun Watson, who has a significant injury during practice, and not even in the game. So I think we definitely have to have a discussion on it.”

“You’re asking a lot of guys on one day to give it their all, and then have them come back and play just a couple days after, that’s asking a lot,” Kearse said. “This game is 100-percent injury rate. That’s the truth. That’s the facts. And…guys might be dealing with stuff from previous games that they’re still trying to recover from, but they’re still going out there on Sundays and playing and giving it their all and then you give them a short week like that, it’s tough.”

“Some guys are fighting their recovery until the night of the game,” Kearse added.

Could Sherman’s injury have occurred on Sunday if the teams had three more days of preparation? Of course, but in a physical game where the players are always getting banged up, asking them to turn around and do it again on three days rest doesn’t sit with the organization that constantly touts “player safety.”

The league saw a chance to increase profits by sticking these Thursday games into the season so now they rule on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays. The revenue pours in and the owners reap the benefits. The players, like Sherman, have to pay the bill.

This is a situation that the Players Association has to dig their heels in about when the next CBA comes about. They can’t take no for an answer. TNF must go.

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

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

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

Steve Balestrieri
November 10, 2017 at 8:44 am ET

The New England Patriots begin the second half of the regular season when they travel to take on the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football.  

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC on Sunday, November 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on NBC Boston – 10. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya 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 (6-2) are coming off the bye week. In their last game, they defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 21-13. They are banged up and missing several key players.

The Broncos (3-5) return home after an ugly 51-23 shellacking at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles. They’ll be looking to get back on track at the hands of their hated rivals, who they always seem to beat in Denver.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Broncos have met since the beginnings of the old AFL in 1960 and the games have always gone in streaks. However, in Denver, the Patriots always seem to play poorly and have had a rough time getting many victories there. Denver holds an all-time 30-22 advantage in their history and a commanding 23-10 edge at home. Although the Patriots took last year’s meeting 16-3 in Denver.

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 Broncos Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Denver

The Patriots running game has been emerging the past few weeks as they have been tinkering with different looks and formations. Dion Lewis has been the workhorse and figures to see the bulk of the carries again on Sunday. But they will use Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead liberally as well as they try to remain balanced.

The Broncos were allowing only about 72 yards per game on the ground after being gashed last season. However last week against Philadelphia, they were run on to the tune of 197 yards and three touchdowns. Don’t expect a repeat performance of that in Denver. Domata Peko has been an excellent acquisition for them in the running game.

Look for the Patriots to mix things up this week to try to keep the pass rush off balance. Lewis and Burkhead will probably the key runners to watch this week with Gillislee in for any short-yardage/goal line situations. It won’t be a big statistical day for the backs but if they can run enough to keep them honest it will be enough.

Patriots WRs vs Broncos Secondary – Razor’s Edge Denver

The Patriots passing game is averaging 300 yards per game, 2nd best in the league this season, despite Tom Brady being under a lot of pressure every week. Now they’re facing one of the better pass rushing teams in the league with Von Miller and the Denver secondary, the “No-Fly-Zone” which will be a big test for the passing game.

With no Julian Edelman and no Chris Hogan, Tom Brady will have Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Phillip Dorsett on the outside. The running backs, James White, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis will have to pick up some slack in the passing game this week. Denver has allowed just 192 yards per game via the air.

The key this week for New England is the tight ends. Rob Gronkowski will be the target that Brady will try to match up with. Denver’s defense, if it has a weakness is defending the tight ends. Of course, they know the Patriots are short-handed at WR and will try to matchup accordingly. This week we may see more of the rookie tight end, Jacob Hollister, attacking the seams in two tight end sets. The outside linebackers are very good pass rushers but aren’t as comfortable in coverage. Marcus Cannon may not play which means LaAdrian Waddle will be going against Von Miller. Another matchup to watch.

Next up the Broncos offense:

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

The Broncos running game has been up and down this season. When they won three of their first four, the new-found commitment to running the ball was paying dividends. But during their four-game losing streak, the running game has faltered and put too much pressure on their quarterbacks, who aren’t getting it done. The Broncos have a trio of good backs in C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, and Devontae Booker.

The Patriots have not been good against the run despite seeming to turn the corner in recent games. Against the Chargers, other than one play they set the edge and stuffed the inside very well. But that one play was one where everything broke down and resulted in an 87-yard touchdown run. Such has been the defense for much of this year.

This is the key to the game here. If Denver can’t run effectively enough to make play action passing a factor, and has to put the ball in Brock Osweiler’s hands, then it is a losing proposition for them. Alan Branch and Ricky Jean Francois, filling in for the injured Malcom Brown will have to step up. And setting the edge is extremely important this week.

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

Denver’s passing game has been mired in mediocrity because of quarterback play. They still have Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas at wide receiver, former Patriot A.J. Derby at tight end as well as Charles, Booker and Anderson out of the backfield. Broncos QBs have been sacked 28 times and intercepted 12 times.

The Patriots pass defense was historically bad thru the first six games of the season. But they’ve begun to turn things around and the past two games against Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers the secondary has been much improved. The team should get Stephon Gilmore back this week, helping the depth and hopefully Eric Rowe soon.

The key this week from a New England perspective is putting the ball in Osweiler’s hands. If he’s forced to throw in third and long all game long, that is a winning formula for New England. Denver’s pass protection has been shoddy, but the Patriots pass rush hasn’t exactly been superb this season. We’ll see if Matt Patricia dials up some different looks in an attempt to generate some turnovers.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski has had a very solid season. His kickoffs have been spot on to pin opponents deep.  The coverage units have been outstanding and getting better. The return game has been getting a boost by Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis in recent games. Ryan Allen’s average hasn’t been great, but he’s consistently putting punts inside the 20-yard line.

The Broncos Special Teams has been pretty awful. Brandon McManus has missed five field goals out of his first 15 attempts before going 3-3 last week. Their coverage units haven’t been great and this is another area that the Patriots could exploit this week.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be a typical New England game in Denver where they always seem to struggle offensively to put points on the board. In the past five years, the Patriots average scoring 36 points in three home games against Denver and just 18.5 points a game in four away games.

Turnovers are going to be key here, the Patriots have to win the turnover battle. Back in 2015 they were controlling the game when a muffed punt opened the door for Denver to roar back and win the game in overtime. The Broncos offense has struggled to score in their four-game losing streak. Don’t give them any short fields for easy points.

Look for Brady to target his running backs a lot in this one to try to neutralize the Denver pass rush. James White and Rex Burkhead could figure prominently in this one. Look for Osweiler to make a mistake or two, as he’s been prone to do. This one won’t win any style points this week and could easily go the other way, but the Pats are on to Mexico with a 7-2 record.  Patriots 20-13

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

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

Denver’s Offensive Woes Continue As the Team Struggles to 3-5 Start

Steve Balestrieri
November 8, 2017 at 12:00 pm ET

The Broncos have lost four straight and are officially on the hot seat and can watch their hopes of making the postseason blow up with another loss on Sunday night to the Patriots. Denver is limping into this one at 3-5 and the reason they’re struggling has to do with the offense.

The defense has been holding up their end of the bargain despite last week’s anomaly in Philadelphia where everything that could go wrong did. But Denver’s offense has scored just 52 points during the current four-game losing streak. And 14 of those points came in garbage time when the game was already lost in Philly. That won’t win many games and the team is struggling to find the answers to right the ship.

Here are a few of our first impressions of the Broncos before Sunday night’s matchup.

Carousel Under Center: Quarterback Trevor Siemian has been benched and the team has turned to Brock Osweiler. Osweiler started in place of an injured and aging Peyton Manning in 2015 and played well. The highlight of his career could easily be the Sunday night game where he beat the Patriots in a thrilling overtime win. However, soon after Denver’s Super Bowl win, Osweiler bristled at GM John Elway’s waffling on whether to sign the young QB to an extension or to sign Manning to a one year deal.

Osweiler bolted to Houston for a big money contract, who could blame him? But he quickly flamed out with the Texans and with them drafting DeShaun Watson, they shipped Osweiler to the Cleveland Browns. And he couldn’t make the team there, despite the woes of the QB position in Cleveland. With the injury to QB Paxton Lynch, he’s was brought back full circle to the Broncos.

He didn’t play well in Philadelphia last week, but neither did any of the other players. Now the team is hoping he can catch lightning in a bottle twice against the Patriots and hold the season together (with their defense) until they know what they have in Lynch, who Elway spent a first-round draft pick on in 2016. He’s getting healthier and if Osweiler doesn’t want to be replaced again in Denver, Sunday night is a big one.

Running Game Needs to be the Focus on Sunday: In Denver’s first few games of the 2017 season, they ran the ball down the throat of their opposition and jumped out to a 3-1 start and people were already pencilling them in for a long playoff run, thanks in no small part to their dominant defense.

A big part of their quick start was the running game. Running back C.J. Anderson was averaging 82.5 yards per game, (nearly 100 in their three wins). But during the four-game losing streak, Anderson’s production has plummeted. He’s gotten only 152 yards the past four weeks with 78 of them coming against the Giants.

But don’t dismiss the Denver running game, or in case you need a refresher for your memory, think back to that snowy game in 2015. Anderson ran for 113 of Denver’s 179 yards and that running game opened up a big game for Osweiler who passed for 272 yards.

Denver as a team are averaging 4.2 yards per rush, which is exactly what Anderson is averaging. Jamaal Charles is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and Devontae Booker is tops with a 4.6 yard per carry average. Defensively for the Patriots here is where the game will be won or lost.

The Patriots aren’t doing a great job of stopping the run and with Malcolm Brown and Dont’a Hightower out, it will make the running game a harder option to stop. When Denver has run well, they’ve won. When they haven’t, their quarterback play has suffered and they’ve lost. It isn’t hard to see where the Patriots defensive focus will be this week.

Turnovers Have Plagued the Team During Recent Skid: Like everyone else with an offense that is struggling, the Broncos can’t afford turnovers and that is exactly what they’ve been doing during the recent losing streak. Denver right now is woeful -12 in the turnover department. One of the reasons that Siemian was benched was turnovers. In the seven games that he started, he turned the ball over 15 times with 10 interceptions and five fumbles.

On the flip side of that, the Denver defense will be looking to feed off of the normally raucous crowd of their home field and force a couple of turnovers of their own. They are feeling a bit salty after allowing 51 points in Philly and the Patriots are always Public Enemy #1 for them.

Again, going back to that 2015 game, what turned the tide? A turnover. Chris Harper muffed a punt in the second half and the Patriots went from having a double-digit lead to quickly being down and having to force an overtime. Turnovers will be key to both teams this week.

Don’t Expect Defensive Meltdown At Home: Pundits are entirely too quick to throw dirt on this Broncos team, especially the defense. Even many Broncos fans on social media have been quick to predict gloom and doom this week as the two teams will meet on primetime Sunday night.

Besides giving up the 51 points last week, particularly galling for members of the defense was HOW they gave them up. Philadelphia had over 400 yards of offense but 197 of them were on the ground. Entering the game last week, Denver had allowed just 510 yards rushing or 72.8 yards per game.

Von Miller spoke about that game and how the team was approaching the rest of the season this week to ESPN.  “We are where we are right now,” Miller said. “Right now, [Sunday] … we’re not a good football team.

“We still have time. We still have time to be great,” he continued. “We’re not a great football team right now, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a great football team within us. But [Sunday], we’re not a good football team, offensively, defensively, special teams, whatever. We’re just not good right now.”

Don’t expect to see Dion Lewis running wild this week. Look for the Broncos to be much better and back to their normal selves on Sunday night.

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

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

Patriots Mid-season Report Card: Still a Work in Progress But Trending Up

Steve Balestrieri
November 6, 2017 at 8:54 am ET

The Patriots enter the bye week at 6-2, a game ahead of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East and now surprisingly in control of their own destiny in the AFC playoff seedings. After laying a stinker on opening night against the Chiefs, and dropping the home game to Carolina, they were essentially three games behind Kansas City. But courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys, the Chiefs have dropped three of their last four games which puts the Patriots and Steelers at 6-2 atop of the AFC. The two teams will meet later this season. It just goes to show how the season is a marathon and not a sprint.

The season started with the offense just clicking on nearly all cylinders and the defense looking historically bad. With the last four weeks, however, the offensive output has noticeably cooled while the defense, still far from perfect is allowing just 12.8 points per game and has backboned the team on the four-game winning streak.

This being New England, we always tend to focus on the what-ifs. And I’ve heard the same yada-yada that the team could easily be anywhere between 2-6 and 7-1. Well they’re not, they are what their record says they are…(sound familiar), which is 6-2

Here is our look at the team and where they stand at the midway point of the season. We’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady leads the league attempts (309), completions (206) and yards (2,541). He’s tied for second in fewest interceptions (two), tied for third in touchdowns (16) and is fifth in completion percentage (66.7). Those are tremendous numbers and he’s at the top of the list for players who could be in line for the MVP if the season were to end today.

But Brady is his own worst critic and after the victory over the Chargers (almost said San Diego), he lamented the lack of red zone production the team is suffering. He obviously has to share in some of that. He’s not immune to making mistakes and has made some.

I believe that he’s still missing his biggest target of the past several years in Julian Edelman. While everyone around him has stepped up, it is still a significant loss.

Running Backs: B

The running backs diverseness and versatility are the keys to what makes the offense so potentially lethal. They are deep and each of the top four backs brings something a little different to the table than the others.

James White is still at the head of the class. He followed up a tremendous Super Bowl with a very solid first half of the season. He leads the team with 43 receptions and ranks 2nd in the NFL in receptions by a running back. He remains a good runner between the tackles and a tremendous pass blocker. Dion Lewis was a ghost early in the season and the frequent target of trade rumors. No longer. Lewis has emerged as the lead back in the running game and is getting that shifty, waterbug elusiveness that we saw early in 2015. He’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry which is impressive.

Mike Gillislee has been a bit of a disappointment thus far. Although he has rushed for four touchdowns, he hasn’t been able to run with the consistency that we were expecting to see. We’ve seen flashes the past few weeks of him turning the corner, and maybe his comfort level in the offense will begin to take hold and we’ll see him turn it on.

Rex Burkhead missed four-plus games with a rib injury he suffered in the first half of Week Two in New Orleans. But as he’s been eased back into the lineup the past two games, he’s shown the ability to run the ball well as well as catch it and be a nice option in the passing game. James Develin remains one of the better blocking fullbacks in the league. The biggest issue facing this group has been the maddening inability to pick up short yardage runs. This is an area that must be improved down the stretch.

Wide Receivers: B+

The Patriots wide receivers despite missing Julian Edelman have performed very well in the first half of the season while dealing with a myriad of injuries. Besides Edelman, second-year receiver Malcolm Mitchell began the season on IR. Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola both have suffered from different injuries.

Brady has spread the wealth very equitably thus far, Brandin Cooks and Hogan have 33 receptions and Amendola 31. Add in tight end Rob Gronkowski’s 34 receptions and you have a true sharing of the spoils. Cooks has been the deep threat receiver that can stretch the field that they’ve lacked and is on pace for an 1100 yard season. He can be a bit more consistent in the short areas of the field but has been as good as advertised.

Hogan has stepped up his game from a year ago and has been very dependable and frequently makes plays despite taking some big shots this year. Amendola always seems to make the big catches at crunch time in big situations and has arguably the best hands on the team. Phillip Dorsett was brought in for depth and has contributed but not a lot as he’s been very limited in his snaps.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski has been able to stay healthy this season after coming back from back surgery last season that saw him land on IR. He’s on pace for a 70 catch, 1000 yard season despite being held more than any tight end on a consistent basis. As closely as the referees watch him from pushing off, they seem to miss him being mugged constantly as he’s running down the field.

Dwayne Allen has been a total bust thus far. Through eight games he’s still looking for his first reception as a member of the Patriots. His inability to carve out even the slightest of roles in the passing game has been a major disappointment and factors into the team’s red zone woes. It has affected his blocking as well.

Rookie Jacob Hollister is still a work in progress but has shown a nice ability to threaten the seams of the defense. He may see an uptick in red zone targets as he gets more comfortable in the offense.

 

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line has had their share of struggles this season. Tom Brady has been sacked more this season than he was all of last year. However, both Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon have been playing hurt and the number of sacks has trended down the last few weeks. They face a big test in Denver on Sunday night, and this will be a matchup worth watching closely this week.

The interior of the line has been solid in pass protection for the most part and they are beginning to find their comfort level in the running game. That being said, the offensive line has struggled to open holes for the team in short yardage. The Patriots rank only 21st in yards per carry with 3.7. That must improve down the stretch.

Defensive Line: C+

The Patriots defensive line started the season, like much of the defense woefully slow and the normally stout defensive line against the run was being gashed. Alan Branch started very slowly and saw little playing time and was a healthy scratch. Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy both had their issues early as well.

The pass rush, as expected, has struggled with bouts of inconsistency. Trey Flowers has been good but after that, it has been just flashes from everyone else. Deatrich Wise has shown good ability to get after the passer as has Cassius Marsh and Adam Butler. But they’ve struggled at times in setting the edge and maintaining their lanes. Those things are expected with young players. Dont’a Hightower missed time after the first game and then tore a pectoral muscle against Atlanta and is gone for the year which is a big blow.

Linebackers: C

With Dont’a Hightower out for the year, the onus is now on Kyle Van Noy. I thought the Patriots had both of those players out of position early this season. When they moved both back to positions of strength (inside for Hightower, outside for Van Noy), the defense responded much better.

David Harris was a forgotten man for much of the early season but is getting on the field more lately and he and Elandon Roberts provide excellent downhill run support while being limited in a coverage role.

Shea McClellin should be activated soon from IR and that should help the linebackers across the board with run support, coverage and the pass rushing potential. Marquis Flowers and Trevor Reilly are special teams players only at this point.

Secondary: C

This was supposed to be the Patriots strength on defense and instead for the first four games, was a nightmare of blown assignments, poor communication and the very alarming trend of allowing big plays.

Newcomer Stephon Gilmore struggled early but showed signs of turning things around when he suffered a concussion. Eric Rowe has missed significant time with a groin injury. But the good news is that depth players Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones have played surprisingly well at corner. Malcolm Butler also started slowly but has responded and is playing better each week.

Safeties Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon have all been solid at safety after a slow start and allowing some uncharacteristic big plays. Things are trending up for this unit.

Special Teams: A-

Stephen Gostkowski has missed a few field goals but overall has been very solid this season while making a career-long 58-yarder. His kickoffs continuously allow the Patriots coverage units to get downfield and stuff opponents deep in their territory. Those coverage units have been consistently good and getting better now that Matthew Slater has returned. Ryan Allen has had an up and down year. Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis are giving the team the needed boost in return yardage. The team has blocked two field goals with Marsh and Guy each notching one. The one other knock has been penalties, which need to be curtailed moving forward.

Coaches: B+

Bill Belichick has had to deal with injuries to two of his key players on offense and defense with Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower. The new faces on defense struggled badly in the early going. But as he always does, he finds a way to get things done. The team is playing much better now on defense which Matt Patricia also shares in the blame early and the credit now that they’ve turned it around.

Josh McDaniels has had to tinker with a constantly changing lineup and they have tremendous potential but have struggled lately to score and put teams away. And yet they’re tied for the lead in the AFC and are on top of the division. This is the time of year that they consistently begin aim to put things together. Belichick preaches that around Thanksgiving is when you see what kind of team you have. And the Patriots are trending upward. The only question that remains is, can they stay healthy for the stretch run?

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 11-5, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
November 5, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 11-5, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots are on the bye this week, and it couldn’t come at a better time. The team is beat-up with a slew of injuries and the extra time will hopefully give their hurt players a chance to heal up and get back on the field.  

Check back with us this week as we’ll give our Mid-Season Report Card by position and see where the team is in terms of getting to where they want to be.

Patriots Trade Garoppolo, Add Hoyer During the Bye:
The Pats made a very big surprise move at the trade deadline, moving Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers for a second-round draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Many felt (including us here), that after not trading him this spring that the team would make a move to keep him around Brady’s backup. Bill Belichick said in his comments after the trade that they wanted to keep Garoppolo but it wasn’t sustainable. The draft pick for Garoppolo is expected to be either the 33rd or 34th in the 2018 NFL Draft which is essentially a late first rounder.  

The team made another move the next day bringing back former Brady backup QB Brian Hoyer as the new backup quarterback, giving Hoyer a three-year deal. That could be a significant development as it could signify the team hopes to have Brady’s replacement in place by then, or it could mean nothing. According to ESPN’s Field Yates “the deal is worth a total of $4.41 million, with Hoyer set to earn $476,000 in 2017, $915,000 in 2018 and a base salary of $2.85 million ($1.5 million guaranteed with a $200,000 roster bonus) in 2019.”

Hoyer was a UDFA in 2009 from Michigan State and was here from 2009-11.He has since had stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2012), Arizona Cardinals (2012), Cleveland Browns (2013-14), Houston Texans (2015), Chicago Bears (2016) and 49ers (2017). He should quickly re-learn the Patriots offense as while some things have changed, the terminology remains the same. So, without further ado…

No Guarantee the 2018 Draft Will Hold Brady’s Successor:
With two early picks in the NFL Draft in the first 33-34 selection range, the Patriots will be expected to take another quarterback. That player will immediately be judged as Tom Brady’s successor. Right or wrong, good or bad, that player will be under the microscope from the first minicamp practice.

But as the Patriots well know, this is a calculated gamble. This wasn’t the arrogance that they can easily find another franchise QB. They know there is zero assurance that anyone they draft, early or late, can ever become “that guy” despite being outstanding at recognizing and building a talent-laden team, year in, year out. Look around the league at the players that have been drafted to replace legends. They’ve drafted a slew of QBs during the Belichick era and other than Brady and Garoppolo, most of them, including Hoyer, are eminently forgettable.

While there are some intriguing names out there this upcoming draft, it will be interesting to see who the team likes in the draft process, as this young player will be immediately tied to the Patriots which may drive up that player’s draft stock. The vultures are already circling around Patriots Place waiting for Belichick and Nick Caserio to make a big mistake and then scream, “gotcha!” Two factors will bear watching to ultimately tell if the trade was a good or a bad one. The first is how well Garoppolo plays as the #1 QB. Is he a true franchise signal-caller? And the second is how well the Patriots draft the “next” Patriots QB. That may take some time to find out. Because the drafting of Garoppolo lifted Brady’s play and at an age where he should have begun a steady decline, he elevated the level of his game to even higher heights.

Kraft, Jones Deposed in Kaepernick’s Lawsuit Against the NFL:
Well, this is going to get ugly quickly…. Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones are among the owners who have been deposed to testify at the Colin Kaepernick collusion case against the NFL.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported on Friday that Kraft will be deposed for the case and that he, Jones and others will be asked to turn over all cell phone records and emails in relation to the case. Kaepernick’s lawyers filed suit against the league on October 15, charging that the team’s owners colluded against him being offered another job as a quarterback in the NFL.

One owner being deposed is Texans’ owner Bob McNair. His team had Kaepernick in for a workout this week after DeShaun Watson blew out his ACL in practice this week. Despite the many people carrying a torch for Kaepernick on social media because of his social stances, the fact of the matter is, he’s no better than on par with most of the QBs already on rosters in the league. In five seasons he averaged less than 180 yards passing per game. Those are hardly the numbers of a “must sign” quarterback.

And there remains the question of a fit for his strengths. The Texans, Cowboys, Panthers and a few others that use a mobile quarterback where they have a run-pass option. Teams like New England? Zero fit. But that won’t stop the silly cacophony of every team “must sign CK.”

Thuney Fined Same Amount as Alonso, Suh? Nada:
Who would have “thunk” it? The NFL’s track record for being consistent in doling out player discipline has always been suspect at best so the news this week is hardly shocking, but it never fails to amaze, especially when the league is constantly touting “player safety” as one of its primary concerns.

During the Patriots-Chargers game, New England guard Joe Thuney was flagged for clipping and the Bolts’ Hayes Pullard got flagged for a facemask. Each of them was fined $9115 for their infractions. So what’s the beef?

The NFL flagged Dolphins LB Kiko Alonso the same amount for knocking Joe Flacco out of the game with a deliberate hit to his head. Flacco was going into a slide when Alonso who neither pulled up or tried to deflect away from Flacco’s head. Instead, he targeted him and delivered a crushing blow that caused a concussion.  Ndamukong Suh wasn’t fined at all after he grabbed QB Ryan Mallett around the throat because, in his words, he was afraid that Mallett was going to attack him. That defense is ludicrous concerning Suh’s track record and while not a slam on Mallett, but he isn’t exactly known for terrorizing those poor defenseless defensive linemen after the whistle. Once again, the league makes a joke over their lack of consistency concerning player discipline.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 8:
Last week was a good one with some of the easier picks of the season and I finished with an 11-2 mark. Season Total: 78-41.

This week’s Thursday Night Football Game I went with the Buffalo over the Jets (0-1). Now for the rest of the slate:
Falcons at Panthers – Carolina

Bengals at Jaguars- Jacksonville

Rams at Giants – New York

Bucs at Saints – New Orleans

Ravens at Titans – Baltimore

Redskins at Seahawks – Seattle

Colts  at Texans – Indianapolis

Cardinals at 49ers – San Francisco

Chiefs at Cowboys – Dallas

SNF Raiders at Dolphins –  Oakland
MNF Lions at Packers – Green Bay

Bye week: Bears, Browns, Chargers, Vikings, Patriots, Steelers

Next Thursday Night Seattle over Arizona.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Incognito Critical of Thursday Night Football:

The Buffalo Bills Richie Incognito wasted few words in slamming the league for the Thursday Night Football schedule. In a scathing review, Incognito blasted the NFL, ESPN’s Mike Rodak reported on Friday.

“They suck,” Incognito said. “They throw a wrench in our schedule. It’s absolutely ridiculous that we have to do this. As physical as this game is, as much work and preparation that goes into this, to force us to play games on four-day weeks, it’s completely unfair and bulls—. The league makes money off it, and that’s all they care about anyway.”

We are in total agreement with Incognito on this issue as well. Especially when a team has a physical contest on a Sunday and then has to travel? What you commonly witness is what we saw on Thursday night. The Bills were sloppy, missing tackles, and taking stupid penalties. However, Bills’ Coach Sean McDermott wasn’t buying that as an excuse.”[The Jets] were challenged with the same short week as us and had the same amount of time to prepare, so give them credit.”

It isn’t an excuse, but the fact remains most Thursday Night Football games are a far cry from the Sunday versions of the same games. And once again the issue of “player safety” rears its head as well.  

Gase Shakes Up Dolphins, Offense with Trade of Ajayi:

The Miami Dolphins are 4-3 but their offense which was supposed to be a juggernaut …or close to it this season has been awful. Adam Gase ripped his team and RB Jay Ajayi last week and just sent a big message to his team. He made a huge trade, shipping Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 4th round draft choice.

“I’m just trying to find ways to make sure that we can move in the direction that we need to move into, not just this year, but into the future,” Gase said. “We kind of need to figure out what we want to do [offensively] moving forward, see who we have and give guys opportunities. Really, at the end of the day, we need the offense to play a greater role in these games. Right now we’ve been holding this team back.”

The Dolphins currently rank last in the league in both total offense (252.4 yards per game) and points per game (13.1). Besides Ajayi, there were rumors that the team was trying to deal leading WR Jarvis Landry. Landry leads the team with 50 catches for 398 yards and three touchdowns but is a pending free agent. Rumors have it that he will be a difficult free agent to keep this offseason, but the team stood pat with him. Miami hosts the Oakland Raiders today, another team that has underachieved this year.

Jets Tanking for #1 Pick? No One Told Bowles, Players:

The New York Jets were supposed to be 0-16 in 2017, at best 2-14 and in firm control of the #1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft so that they can draft the franchise quarterback that has eluded them for decades now.

The Jets were supposed to be bad, even historically bad. But no one told coach Todd Bowles and his Jets players. One can imagine him giving a speech like Lou Brown in Major League before the first game of the season.

Unlike the lovable inept Indians in that film, the Jets aren’t making the playoffs although, at 4-5, they are still alive. After a couple of close losses, the Jets could have been even more alive in the playoff hunt. Of course, this will no doubt hurt their draft position this next spring.

And while we’ll never be confused with Jets fans around here, I’ve always been a fan of their hiring of Bowles, who I think is a fine coach, there is something to be said for a coach getting his players to buy in. And the Jets players have bought into Bowles and his system this year. Josh McCown is having a career year at quarterback and some of their rookies and castoffs are playing very well. Tanking? Don’t tell that to the Bills who were looking to “make a statement” that they’ve arrived this season. They got run off the field in the Meadowlands to their hated division rival. It was just supposed to be the other way around.

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

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